ERB'S EMBRYONIC JOURNEY:
THE TRIMESTERS OF CASPAK
Woodrow Edgar Nichols, Jr.
(Dedicated to George McWhorter)
OUT OF TIME'S ABYSS
(Chapter 4 concluded)
We left Bradley and the Galu girl walking along the dark passageway that
runs alongside the River of Death. The girl has just explained to Bradley
a current legend about Wieroo history and their theory of doing things
the right way, that is, the Wieroo way, called tas-ad, or in English, justified
murder. Bradley has not thought too much about the girl, but he did note
a certain thrill he got when she grasped his arm after he dropped into
the river after her. We will have to see whether Bradley regards himself
as a ladies’ man.
“As the girl talked, the two moved steadily along the dark
passageway beside the river. They had advanced a considerable distance
when there sounded faintly from ahead the muffled roar of falling water,
which increased in volume as they moved forward until at last it filled
the corridor with a deafening sound.
How’s that for an ERB mind twister? Did she really say An-Tak? And was
Bradley really willing to leave the girl behind out of some noble idea
that only he would then have to die?
Then the corridor ended in a blank wall; but in a niche to the right
was a ladder leading aloft, and to the left a door opening onto the river.
Bradley tried the latter first and as he opened it, felt a heavy spray
against his face. The little shelf outside the doorway was wet and slippery,
the roaring of the water tremendous.
There could be but one explanation – they had reached a waterfall in
the river, and if the corridor actually terminated here, their escape was
effectually cut off, since it was quite evidently impossible to follow
the bed of the river and ascend the falls.
“As the latter was the only alternative, the two turned toward it and,
the man first, began the ascent, which was through a well similar to that
which had led him to the upper floors of the temple. As he climbed, Bradley
felt for openings in the sides of the shaft; but he discovered none below
fifty feet. The first he came to was ajar, letting a faint light into the
well. As he paused, the girl climbed to his side, and together they looked
through the crack into a low-ceiled chamber in which were several Galu
women and an equal number of hideous little replicas of the full-grown
Wieroos with which Bradley was now quite familiar.
“He could feel the body of the girl pressed close to his tremble as
her eyes rested upon the inmates of the room, and involuntarily his arm
encircled her shoulders as though to protect her from some danger which
he sensed without recognizing.
“‘Poor things,’ she whispered. ‘This is their horrible fate – to be
imprisoned here beneath the surface of the city with their hideous offspring
whom they hate as they hate their fathers. A Wieroo keeps his children
hidden until they are full-grown lest they be murdered by their fellows.
The lower rooms of the city are filled with many such as these.
“Several feet above was a second door beyond which they found a small
room stored with food in wooden vessels. A grated window in one wall opened
above an alley, and through it they could see that they were just below
the roof of the building. Darkness was coming, and at Bradley’s suggestion
they decided to remain hidden here until after dark and then to ascend
to the roof and reconnoiter.
“Shortly after they had settled themselves they
heard something descending the ladder from above. They hoped that it would
continue on down the well and fairly held their breath as the sound approached
the door to the storeroom. Their hearts sank as they heard the door open
and from between cracks in the vessels behind which they hid saw a yellow-slashed
Wieroo enter the room. Each recognized him immediately, the girl indicating
the fact of her own recognition by a sudden pressure of her fingers on
Bradley’s arm. It was the Wieroo of the yellow slashing whose abode was
the place of the yellow door in which Bradley had first seen the girl.
“The creature carried a wooden bowl which it
filled with dried food from several of the vessels; then it turned and
quit the room. Bradley could see through the partially open doorway that
it descended the ladder. The girl told him that it was taking the food
to the women and the young below, and that while it might return immediately,
the chances were that it would remain for some time.
“‘We are just below the place of the yellow door,’
she said. ‘It is far from the edge of the city; so far that we may not
hope to escape if we ascend to the roofs here.’
“‘I think,’ replied the man, ‘that of all the
places in Oo-oh this will be the easiest to escape from. Anyway, I want
to return the place of the yellow door and get my pistol if it is there.’
“‘It is still there,’ replied the girl. ‘I saw
it placed in a chest where he keeps the things he takes from his prisoners
“‘Good!’ exclaimed Bradley. ‘Now come, quickly.’
And the two crossed the room to the well and ascended the ladder a short
distance to its top where they found another door that opened into a vacant
room – the same in which Bradley had first met the girl. To find the pistol
was a matter of but a moment’s search on the part of Bradley’s companion;
and then, at the Englishman’s signal, she followed him to the yellow door.
“It was quite dark without as the two entered
the narrow passage between two buildings. A few steps brought them undiscovered
to the doorway of the storeroom where lay the body of Fosh-bal-soj. In
the distance, toward the temple, they could hear sounds as of a great gathering
of Wieroos – the peculiar, uncanny wailing rising above the dismal flapping
of countless wings.
“‘They have heard of the killing of Him Who Speaks
for Luata,’ whispered the girl. ‘Soon they will spread in all directions
searching for us.’
“‘And will they find us?’
“‘As surely as Lua gives light by day,’ she replied;
‘and when they find us, they will tear us to pieces, for only the Wieroos
may murder – only they may practice tas-ad.’
“‘But they will not kill you,’ said Bradley.
‘You did not slay him.’
“‘It will make no difference,’ she insisted.
‘If they find us together they will slay us both.’
“‘Then they won’t find us together,’ announced
Bradley decisively. ‘You stay right here – you won’t be any worse off than
before I came – and I’ll get as far as I can and account for as many of
the beggars as possible before they get me. Good-bye! You’re a mighty decent
little girl. I wish that I might have helped you.’
“‘No,’ she cried. ‘Do not leave me. I would rather
die. I had hoped and hoped to find some way to return to my own country.
I wanted to go back to An-Tak, who must be very lonely without me; but
I know that it can never be. It is difficult to kill hope, though mine
is nearly dead. Do not leave me.’” (OTA/4.)
He hasn’t even yet found out what her name is. So, just how is our hero
going to respond to this new dilemma?
“An-Tak!’ Bradley repeated. ‘You loved
a man called An-Tak?’
This is the first we’ve heard that Wieroo robes come equipped with hoods,
but it is a good thing that they do since otherwise the fact that both
the girl and Bradley have hair on their heads while the Wieroos are hairless
from crown to foot would have given them away. It would have had to cover
most of their faces as well, since there are no female Wieroos, and Bradley
must have needed a shave after two days in captivity. They would also have
had to keep the fronts of the robes as closed as possible for obvious reasons.
“‘Yes,’ replied the girl. ‘An-Tak was away, hunting,
when the Wieroo caught me. How he must have grieved for me! He also was
cos-ata-lu, twelve moons older than I, and all our lives we have been together.’
“Bradley remained silent. So she loved An-Tak.
He hadn’t the heart to tell her that An-Tak had died, or how.
“At the door of Fosh-bal-soj’s storeroom they
halted to listen. No sound came from within, and gently Bradley pushed
open the door. All was inky darkness as they entered; but presently their
eyes became accustomed to the gloom that was partially relieved by the
soft starlight without. The Englishman searched and found those things
for which he had come – two robes, two pairs of dead wings and several
lengths of fiber rope. One pair of the wings he adjusted to the girl’s
shoulders by means of the rope. Then he draped the robe about her, carrying
the cowl over her head.
“He heard her gasp of astonishment when she realized
the ingenuity and boldness of his plan; then he directed her to adjust
the other pair of wings and the robe upon him. Working with strong, deft
fingers she soon had the work completed, and the two stepped out upon the
roof, to all intent and purpose genuine Wieroos. Besides his pistol Bradley
carried the sword of the slain Wieroo prophet, while the girl was armed
with the small blade of the red Wieroo.” (OTA/4.)
“Side by side they walked slowly across
the roofs toward the north edge of the city. Wieroos flapped above them
and several times they passed others walking or sitting upon the roofs.
From the temple still rose the sounds of commotion, now pierced by occasional
I know, I know, just when you have gotten used to ERB throwing curve balls
at our heroes every time they almost make their escape, he fools everyone
by allowing them to escape without incident. Yes, he always has a surprise
up his sleeve, even when there is no surprise. We must assumed that once
they were in the wood, they discarded their Wieroo disguise.
“‘The murderers are abroad,’ whispered the girl.
‘Thus will another become the tongue of Luata. It is well for us, since
it keeps them too busy to give the time for searching for us. They think
that we cannot escape the city, and they know that we cannot leave the
island – and so do I.’
“Bradley shook his head. ‘If there is any way,
we will find it,’ he said.
“‘There is no way,’ replied the girl.
“Bradley made no response, and in silence they
continued until the outer edge of roofs was visible before them. ‘We are
almost there,’ he whispered.
“The girl felt for his fingers and pressed them.
He could feel hers trembling as he returned the pressure, nor did he relinquish
her hand; and thus they came to the edge of the last roof.
“Here they halted and looked about them. To be
seen attempting to descend to the ground below would be to betray the fact
that they were not Wieroos. Bradley wished that their wings were attached
to their bodies by sinew and muscle rather than by ropes of fiber. A Wieroo
was flapping far overhead. Two more stood near a door a few yards distant.
Standing between these and one of the outer pedestals that supported one
of the numerous skulls Bradley made one end of a piece of rope fast about
the pedestal and dropped the other end to the ground outside the city.
Then they waited.
“It was an hour before the coast was entirely
clear and then a moment came when no Wieroo was in sight. ‘Now!’ whispered
Bradley; and the girl grasped the rope and slid over the edge of the roof
into the darkness below. A moment later Bradley felt two quick pulls upon
the rope and immediately followed to the girl’s side.
“Across a narrow clearing they made their way
and into a wood beyond. All night they walked, following the river upward
toward its source, and at dawn they took shelter in a thicket beside the
“At no time did they hear the cry of
a carnivore, and though many startled animals fled as they approached,
they were not once menaced by a wild beast. When Bradley expressed surprise
at the absence of of the fiercest beasts that are so numerous upon the
mainland of Caprona, the girl explained the reason that is contained in
one of their ancient legends.
Bradley too is culture bound, a little slow on the uptake. If he had any
ideas about the girl, they were soon shattered when he discovered that
she was in love with An-Tak. Plus from her story it would not have been
hard for him to imagine a sexual relationship between them. In the Victorian
mind of the Englishman, she was no longer a virgin and thus “spoiled” as
a potential mate, since almost all men during this period would not marry
any one less than a virgin, unless they were “perverted.” He must have
realized that this barrier did not exist in the mind of the girl, but he
still thinks of her as a savage, beneath the dignity of an English gentleman.
Of course, he does not seem to have the same prejudices as the Americans,
Bowen and Billings, who, nevertheless, still managed to overcome them.
“When the Wieroos first developed wings upon
which they could fly, they found this island devoid of any life other than
a few reptiles that live either upon land or in the water and these only
close to the coast. Requiring meat for food the Wieroos carried to the
island such animals as they wished for that purpose. They still occasionally
bring them, and this with the natural increase keeps them provided with
“‘As it will us,’ suggested Bradley.
“The first day they remained in hiding, eating
only the dried food that Bradley had brought with him from the temple storeroom,
and the next night they set out again up the river, continuing steadily
on until almost dawn, when they came to low hills where the river wound
through a gorge – it was little more than a rivulet now, the water clear
and cold and filled with fish similar to brook trout though much larger.
Not wishing to leave the stream the two waded along its bed to a spot where
the gorge widened between perpendicular bluffs to a wooded acre of level
land. Here they stopped, for here also the stream ended. They had reached
its source – many cold springs bubbling up from the center of a little
natural amphitheater in the hills and forming a clear and beautiful pool
overshadowed by trees upon one side and bounded by a little clearing upon
“With the coming of the sun they saw they had
stumbled upon a place where they might remain hidden from the Wieroos for
a long time and also one that they could defend against these winged creatures,
since the trees would shield them from an attack from above and also hamper
the movements of the creatures should they attempt to follow them into
“For three days they rested here before trying
to explore the neighboring country. On the fourth, Bradley stated that
he was going to scale the bluffs and learn what lay beyond. He told the
girl that she should remain in hiding; but she refused to be left, saying
that whatever fate was to be his, she intended to share it, so that he
was at last forced to permit her to come with him. Through the woods at
the summit of the bluff they made their way toward the north and had gone
but a short distance when the wood ended and before them they saw the waters
of the inland sea and dimly in the distance the coveted shore.
“The beach lay some two hundred yards from the
foot of the hill on which they stood, nor was there a tree nor any other
form of shelter between them and the water as far up and down the coast
as they could see. Among other plans Bradley had thought of constructing
a covered raft upon which they might drift to the mainland; but as such
a contrivance would necessarily be of considerable weight, it must be built
in the water of the sea, since they could not hope to move it even a short
“‘If this wood was only at the edge of the water,’
“‘But it is not,’ the girl reminded him, and
then: ‘Let us make the best of it. We have escaped from death for a time
at least. We have food and good water and peace and each other. What more
could we have upon the mainland?’
“‘But I thought you wanted to get back to your
own country!” he exclaimed.’” (OTA/4.)
“She cast her eyes upon the ground and
half turned away. ‘I do,’ she said, ‘yet I am happy here. I could be little
This Bradley is full of surprises. Who could have imagined the first mate
of a tug boat coming from a well-to-do English family? He has a reputation
to uphold, whatever reasons caused him to become a sailor. He is, after
all, an officer and a gentleman. If he goes for this little savage, what
is his father going to think?
“Bradley stood in silent thought. ‘We have food
and good water and peace and each other!’ he repeated to himself. He turned
then and looked at the girl, and it was though in the days that they had
been together this was the first time that he had really seen her. The
circumstances that had thrown them together, the dangers through which
they had passed, all the weird and horrible surroundings that had formed
the background of his knowledge of her had had their effect – she had been
but the companion of an adventure; her self-reliance, her endurance, her
loyalty, had been only what one man might expect of another, and he saw
that he had unconsciously assumed an attitude toward her that he might
have assumed toward a man. Yet there had been a difference – he recalled
now the strange sensation of elation that had thrilled him upon occasions
where the girl had pressed his hand in hers, and the depression that had
followed her announcement of her love for An-Tak.
“He took a step toward her. A fierce yearning
to seize her and crush her in his arms, swept over him, and then there
flashed upon the screen of recollection the picture of a stately hall set
amidst broad gardens and ancient trees and of a proud old man with beetling
brows – an old man who held his head very high – and Bradley shook his
head and turned away.” (OTA/4.)
“They went back then to their little
acre, and the days came and went, and the man fashioned spear and bow and
arrows and hunted with them that they might have meat, and he made hooks
of fish-bone and caught fishes with wondrous flies of his own invention;
and the girl gathered fruits and cooked the flesh and the fish and made
beds of branches and soft grasses. She cured the hides of the animals he
killed and made them soft by much pounding. She made sandals for herself
and for the man and fashioned a hide after the manner of those worn by
the warriors of her tribe and made the man wear it, for his own garments
were in rags.
And who can blame her? Strike two for Bradley. Even then they have found
their Garden of Eden. In this little God’s Acre, we know that Eve has already
taken a bite out of the apple. In the meantime she must wait for her Adam
to eventually succumb to temptation and also eat of the fruit. And that
is where we will leave him at the conclusion of Chapter 4.
One more chapter to go. Stay tuned.
“She was always the same – sweet and kind and
helpful – but always there was about her manner and her expression just
a trace of wistfulness, and often she sat and looked at the man when he
did not know it, her brows puckered in thought as though she were trying
to fathom and to understand him.
“In the face of the cliff, Bradley scooped a
cave from the rotted granite of which the hill was composed, making a shelter
for them against the rains. He brought wood for their cook-fire which they
used only in the middle of the day – a time when there was little likelihood
of Wieroos being in the air so far from their city – and then he learned
to bank it with earth in such a way that the embers held until the following
noon without giving off smoke.
“Always he was planning on reaching the mainland,
and never a day passed that he did not go to the top of the hill and look
out across the sea toward the dark, distant line that meant for him comparative
freedom and possibly reunion with his comrades. The girl always went with
him, standing at his side and watching the stern expression on his face
with just a tinge of sadness on her own.
“‘You’re not happy,’ she said once.
“‘I should be over there with my men,’ he replied.
‘I do not know what may have happened to them.’
“‘I want you to be happy,’ she said quite simply;
‘but I should be very lonely if you went away and left me here.’
“He put his hand on her shoulder. ‘I would not
do that, little girl,’ he said gently. ‘If you cannot go with me, I shall
not go. If either of us must go alone, it will be you.’
“Her face lighted to a wondrous smile. ‘Then
we shall not be separated,’ she said, ‘for I shall never leave you as long
as we both live.’
“He looked down into her face for a moment and
then: ‘Who was An-Tak?’ he asked.
“‘My brother,’ she replied. ‘Why?’
“And then, even less than before, could he tell
her. It was then that he did something he had never done before – he put
his arms about her and stooping, kissed her forehead. ‘Until you find An-Tak,’
he said, ‘I will be your brother.’ “She drew away. ‘I already have a brother,’
she said, ‘and I do not want another.’” (OTA/4.)
(Continued in Part Twenty-Six)