Translated by António Monteiro
With many thanks to Ex Occidente Press. All rights reserved.
The manuscript that is at the bottom of this extraordinary adventure was discovered at the latitude of 92º 57’ North and the longitude of 6º West, that is to say, more or less at the location of the Scilly Islands, by a group of students that had left in a boat from Lands End, the South-western tip of Eng land. It was not encapsulated in a bottle, as the oceanic secrets of the same kind usually are, nor in a cask eaten by the ship worm and coated with shells, due to a long sojourn in the water.
It had been placed in a curious appliance obviously designed to hold out the sea for a long time, in spite of storms and break waters. It was a kind of copper-plated spindle, absolutely water proof and garnished with two floaters made of unbreakable glass.
The holidaying students belonged to the school of Professor Sittard, in Falmouth, and the teacher that accompanied them was a young and promising pedagogue, Professor Robert Falcone.
When the floater was opened, only two thin parchment sheets were found, covered with a thoroughly unreadable handwriting; the young travellers freely expressed their disappointment, but Robert Falcone shook his head and declared that their find de served closer examination.
The young people that had taken their places aboard the yacht from Sittard School were all born into fine families, each of them more sportive than studious, and the performances of their racers interested them more than any graphological research.
When they were back at Falmouth, where the majority of them had gone just long enough to fasten their suitcases and catch the holiday train, they barely thought of their strange find in the Scilly Isles. But one of the boarders was not going away. His name was Quentin Curland: a sixteen-year old boy whose parents, living in the colonies, did not care much about their son, except in so far as they paid for his education and sent him some pocket money.
It must, however, be stressed that the Curlands did things well, from that point of view; and if the letters that Quentin received from Lahore contained few words of affection, they were, nonetheless, filled with generous checks.
Naturally the young boy would have willingly gone without those pounds sterling in exchange for a nice motherly letter filled with tender thoughts or a fatherly epistle crammed with sound and affectionate advice.
But the Curlands knew but one thing: to make money, lots of money, and to see their colonial possessions, rich in mines and plantations, grow every year.
In the evening of the general departure, only one window remained lit in the vast wall overlooking the garden of Sittard School: that of Professor Falcone’s room.
Having taken off his jacket, because of the strong heat, which the evening barely attenuated, he set to work, and his pipe sent thick rolls of smoke towards the ceiling.
The lamp with its green shade drew a large circle of light on the table, leaving the rest of the room in shadow.
In the illuminated area were the two handwritten sheets, as well as a small number of notes that the young scholar examined feverishly.
In the end, he put down his pencil and started to drum thoughtfully on the table.
“My science fails me,” he mumbled. “I can barely decipher one quarter of this manuscript and even that is the part containing the least explanation. At first sight, the writing is cuneiform; at closer range, though, it is only partly so. But the words and expressions that I have managed to translate fully can easily be rendered in modern language. One would think that the author of this document has acted on purpose, so that his work cannot be read by anyone but a scholar… and what a scholar, since I cannot handle it and, all modesty apart, I may consider myself as no ignoramus in such matters!…”
He blew a long streak of smoke towards the open window and went on: “Ah! if I were a rich man instead of a schoolmaster! I would go away on this prodigious adventure, instead of handling editing jobs that only pay for my tobacco and my cigars!”
And in a louder voice, he added: “Ah, if I had money!…”
“What would you do with it?”
Robert Falcone turned around swiftly and saw that he was no longer alone in his room: Quentin Curland, dressed in white flannel, with a Muratti cigarette on his lip, watched him sympathetically.
“You were so absorbed, Professor,” he said, “that I have knocked on your door three times getting no answer. So, I took the liberty of pushing a bit, because it was not completely closed. Coming in, I have heard you make that wish, and I repeat my question: what would you do if you had money?”
The young professor moved a map of England towards him, and with the dry point of a pair of compasses marked a precise spot.
“I would go there,” he said.
“What would you be doing, dear Lord, in that forsaken corner of the Orkney Islands?”
“I would be searching for a lost world.”
In that moment, Quentin’s look fell on the manuscript.
“Is that lost world by any chance connected to the strange little floater we found at the Scillys the other day?”
“And if it were a joke?”
Robert Falcone shook his head energetically.
“The man who wrote this undoubtedly knew what he was doing and cannot be a liar. This is what I think, although I must confess that such conviction is based on a secret instinct more than in tangible facts.”
“Have you succeeded in deciphering the manuscript?”
“Only in part. Here it is:
I wish to communicate with a man from the surface of the Earth… I am getting very old… Great science of the centuries… There is here a lost world… Great dangers… courage, intelligence… I await confidently…
“As to the designation of the place, it is extremely clear, and such clarity seems to me to be intended to discourage those who would take too long undertaking such the adventure and discourage research. The island indicated is little more than a rocky islet that can be found between the islands of Westra and Rownsa, in the Orkneys group. I do not believe that it is inhabited. A minuscule but extremely deep lake is mentioned, in a sort of glen that is located in the centre of that islet.
“As I carried on my study of the manuscript, I found, hidden below characters of the highest antiquity, some modern words, such as the word ‘scaphander’. It is as if the stranger who had written this plea had wished to stress that one should be pre pared with diving apparatus to reach this unknown world.”
“Vacations this year are quite long, are they not, professor?” asked Curland.
“Twelve weeks exactly…”
“Then, considering that it will take us three days to get equipped and another three days to reach your islet, we would still have a considerable amount of time to make that trip to that wonderland.”
“As long as some kind genie, similar to the one from Aladdin’s lamp, should hear and fulfill my wish!” replied Robert Falcone laughing.
“I am that genie!” said Quentin Curland. And he placed his checkbook on the young scholar’s table.
I. The Door Under the Water
A boat from the border of Pentland had taken them to the isle, where they landed in a small natural haven. People from the Orkneys are the least talkative in the world and they simply grumbled as they pocketed the steep crossing fare. Long used to the thousand and one fantasies of holiday campers, they were less astonished than ever by the exploits of foreigners.
The islet had no remarkable features, save for the tiny interior lake, which had an area of less than three hectares. That aside, it looked just like any other of the small desolate lands in the archipelago, painted only slightly green by poor summer vegetation and frequented only by loud flocks of seagulls and guillemots.
Our two new Robinsons had raised their tent on the shore of the pond; and they had soon made the tour of their solitary domains.
Surely three hectares of water surface do not represent much in themselves, but for a diver they constitute a vastness to explore.
Robert Falcone lost himself in his thoughts and deductions, allowing his glance to wander the waves, just shivering in the wind of the dawn.
“The author of the manuscript knows what he wants,” he murmured. “And if this involved going down to depths unreachable with simple diving devices, he would not have indicated such means. Our gear, supplied by Halett and Halett of Glasgow, allows for a safe descent of thirty metres. Let us put the sonde to work, Quentin!”
But that kind of glen is almost always quite deep. So, after hours of research, the explorers found themselves rather disenchanted because everywhere they found depths between one hundred and one hundred and twenty metres, and hence out of bounds for their scaphanders.
It was the cormorant that saved them.
That palmiped, the greatest of divers, had been resting for some time on a rock point, with its black piercing eyes fixed in the dark water. All of a sudden, the two men saw it leave its perching spot, make a brief orbit above the lake and fall like a pebble into the waters.
When it came up again, it carried a large rockfish and it flew like an arrow with its big catch, towards the shore.
The manoeuvre of the bird had attracted Falcone’s attention.
“The rockfish lives in rocky bottoms,” he thought, “and it never leaves its hole except in dark weather and sometimes at dusk. Now, it’s impossible that the cormorant dove one hundred metres to catch it. There must be a shallower area around there…”
The sonde was taken to the water again and after a few trials it did indeed reveal a very narrow underwater platform, about twelve metres deep.
The diving apparatuses that our explorers carried were autonomous. Reservoirs of compressed air, with oxygen added, strapped to their backs, allowed for easy breathing.
The descent was made with the help of ropes ballasted with lead weights and, once touching bottom, these were fastened to aid an eventual ascent.
Laymen frequently imagine that divers, once under water, are deaf and dumb; nothing of the sort: a flexible string joins the helmets and transmits words to tiny microphones. So, our friends could chat as easily as if they were in open air. The first thing that Quentin Curland entrusted to the acoustic wire was an expression of surprise.
“There are steps!”
A greenish daylight that allowed for adequate sight reigned over that world of silence, because the sun sent its oblique rays into thoroughly still water. A few sombre shades passed in front of the crystal windows of the helmets: they were small salmonids, scared by that intrusion, which hastily gained a safer refuge.
The steps, which did not seem to owe anything to the human hand, resembled those natural terraces that are frequently found in Miocene rocks, or in the large erratic boulders close to volcanoes.
Robert Falcone noticed this, as he used them to reach ever-greater depths.
Quentin felt the reservoirs becoming heavier, as an obstinate pressure imposed on his shoulders and back.
“Breathe slowly,” advised Robert Falcone.
Presently they moved inside a kind of narrow stair tunnel that was quickly filled with shadows; above their heads, the green disk of the sun seemed to jump in the air and aventurine sparkles palpitated.
The professor lit a small electric bulb lodged under the top of his helmet and he saw the pointer in his depth manometer oscillate dangerously.
“Stop!” he commanded.
Whereas the two men had reached the limit of diving for their gear, the natural stairs still descended below them.
“What do you feel, Quentin?” asked Falcone.
His voice was remote, muffled, and it resounded through an obsessive frying noise.
“It is terribly hot!” answered the young man sorrowfully.
Falcone checked his thermometer: it read five degrees above zero and approached the freezing point in a vertical chute.
The professor was not unaware of the properties of the deep waters in the glens, whose temperature drops suddenly; so the heat his companion felt alarmed him.
“Excessive pressure,” he murmured, “linked to considerable cardiac activity. Must we interrupt our descent?”
In that moment of hesitation they were suddenly pushed with violence and the control needle abruptly regained its place.
A huge air bubble had just welled up from the bottom and surrounded them like a vaguely milky sphere.
“Hey!” exclaimed Falcone, “I don’t know what deviltry lies behind this, but it is certain that the danger caused by the pressure has ceased.”
The gaseous bubble seemed to be attached to the two men, slightly stretched like an oval with Falcone in the wider end and Quentin in the narrower one.
They started down the steps again, now with their movements encumbered by the weight of their costumes, which was not adequately compensated by the pressure from the water.
They presently moved in a shadow closer and closer to complete darkness, feeling from time to time the soft shocks of other air bubbles rising from the abyss and brushing against them as they went up.
“Who is playing with soap bubbles?” asked Quentin.
Falcone almost smiled, because such a remark was precise. The arrival of the subtle spheres greatly resembled the naughty (but how gigantic!) rise of soap balloons.
“We will soon find out,” he said into the microphone. “We are approaching the last step…”
The gaseous globe that had protected them so far suddenly incorporated the volume of one of its peers, became huge, and established the divers in the middle of a hollow sphere, against which the formidable wall of black waters pressed impotently.
“If it bursts, we are dead,” thought Robert. “The pressure will flatten us like oat puree on a dish.”
He unconsciously repeated that simile: an oat puree on a dish.
“We have reached the bottom!” announced Falcone.
He clicked and a small underwater projector that he had taken with him sent a cone of white light ahead of them.
“Holy God!” exclaimed the young Curland. “Kick me, Professor. Knock on my helmet, that it may resound like a bell, otherwise I will think that I am dreaming!”
With a shaking hand he raised into the light of the projector the thin steel cane that aided him in his march.
The cane presently touched the shining sooty wall of underwater rock.
“Holy God!” repeated Robert Falcone… “So the manuscript did not lie!”
On the stone wall, a door had opened.
II. The Eighth Porthole
A door, indeed, but what a door!
A huge steel porthole, a portion of its base garnished with formidable W-shaped hinges. In the centre an oblong hatch, closed by a metallic shutter, could be seen.
Overcoming a slight hesitation, Falcone struck that porthole with his cane, as if expecting a reply to come from the other side.
Come it did.
The hatch moved and disappeared in a crack, revealing a square of thick glass that for a moment lit up with an orange light and then was dark again.
“What a phantasmagoria!” said Falcone very softly. “I can barely believe it…”
A moment later they felt some pressure on their backs and realized that the air mattress that protected them had changed its shape. It stretched, becoming elongated and seemed to fight against violent whirls. At the same time, the two men sensed a vague rumour.
“The door is opening!” cried Quentin Curland.
A powerful push thrust them against the steel disk, which gave inward.
What took place then was so quick and so unexpected that they did not realize it until it was over.
They both rolled, their helmets hitting each other, into a sombre recess, amid a whirlpool of milky water.
The growl of a giant organ was heard and the two companions were shaken like trees in the wind.
But Falcone was beginning to understand! They were in a narrow recess filled with water, which was being quickly emptied with the help of mechanical pumps. The beam from his projector illuminated the movement of the liquid and struck the iron walls from time to time.\
“We are dry!” exclaimed the professor.
The metal wall opened, like a double door, and a series of lamps attached to the walls of a vast hall dazzled them.
Falcone and his pupil stood motionless, dumbfounded, barely believing their own senses, when a disk of very white light appeared on the facing wall. At the same time, upon that luminous background, shadows ran and took on the shape of characters.
An invisible hand began to write on that screen:
“Take off your scaphanders!”
Falcone obeyed and Curland did the same.
When they were free from their heavy attire, they felt around them a pure, very fresh and slightly ozoned air.
The white disk once again filled with writing:
“Follow the lights!”
The hall stretched into a corridor where lamps shone as far as the eye could see. The floor was dry and covered with very fine gravel, propitious for walking.
“Since we have come this far!” said Falcone, signalling his young friend to follow him.
The sight held nothing fantastic. It was like a good old train tunnel, the walls plastered with metal plates riveted and pierced at regular intervals with ceiling lamps that gave a normal light. All in all, Falcone and Curland, marching at a quick pace, were a bit disappointed. For this reason the change was as abrupt as it was total.
The corridor suddenly widened into an enormous circular room, with smooth walls pierced here and there by huge portholes closed by powerful metallic shutters. The light presently fell from the arch in a wide vaguely orange beam, which, moving slowly went from one porthole to the next.
In the end the light stopped over one of the portholes, whose shutter slid like the one in the underwater door had done.
The two voyageurs of the unknown heard a great cry of distress…
The following text is the diary written by Robert Falcone in a feverish hand. However, towards the end it is Quentin Curland who assumed the task of transcription.
Diary of Dr. Robert Falcone
The flap vanished and we saw… a study. Yes, a very common study with out-of-fashion furniture, of very old taste and of a comfort as little modern as can be. Quentin and I could almost laugh!
Would it be necessary to dive to the depths of a mysterious glen, to find an iron palace with unusual illumination and in comprehensible mechanisms, to find oneself all of a sudden in the office of a countryside notary? We immediately went in and found an armchair of embossed leather, caned chairs and a bookcase with books. But what books! Tales… children’s tales! They were all there, from those by Perrault and Mme d’Aulnoy to those of Mother Goose and Alice in Wonderland!
Yes, but, prior to this, someone had uttered a great cry of fear, a true call of ultimate anguish. Who?…
We have vainly explored the study, which was spacious, but found nothing. But Quentin, who certainly has a lucky hand, uncovered a cunningly hidden cupboard, containing a crypto graph mounted on a sort of electrical keyboard, which immediately made us think that the luminous messages came from this study.
“Who can have written?” asked Quentin.
And a moment after he answered his question himself: “Maybe it was the same person who uttered that cry of anguish…”
And another question, more troubling this time, imposed itself on our minds: why that cry?
We have turned the study upside down, finding nothing. The drawers were empty, except for a single one, where some brown tablets giving an aromatic odour were stacked. I was bold enough to taste them and immediately I felt thoroughly fortified. It was a true balsam that in an instant calmed thirst and hunger. The floor was covered with a thick carpet made of wool or some similar substance. We lay on it as on a bed and fell asleep.
When we woke up, nothing in the room had changed.
The lamps were still lit and the orangish beam of light continued its circular movement around the huge iron hall.
Recapitulating: the world we are in is reduced to a relatively long corridor leading to an underwater door, a large round room and an archaic study.
Each of us took half a tablet and the best of breakfasts would not feed us more perfectly.
Quentin amused himself by crying at the top of his voice: “Hello, is anyone there?… Anyone?…”
He achieved nothing but tiring his vocal cords immensely and getting himself almost aphonic.
I would like to understand the manoeuvre of the beacon with the orange light, but so far I have not been able to. It is no use thinking of reaching the archway, because I believe it is more than twenty feet high.
The metal of which the walls are made and that had seemed at first sight to be iron, in fact is not iron. It is very hard, of a matte black colour and is not scratched by steel. Quentin tried with the diamond on his ring, but to no avail. So, there we have another unknown factor among so many others.
I have examined the lights or in fact the lamps. They do not have any filaments similar to those of electric bulbs, but seem to be filled with a very luminous gas; their power to shed light is not constant and goes through sweet shades, very pleasant to the eye.
The air is thoroughly breathable and very fresh, although no ventilation is perceived. The flame of a gasoline pocket lighter is absolutely motionless and hence does not betray any breath of air.
But what is there behind the closed portholes? I have counted them; there are twelve in all. The wide orange ray goes on illuminating each one in turn, but no longer stops on any one of them.
Quentin made a remark that seemed sensible.
“The yellow ray stopped for a few seconds on the porthole that subsequently opened on that ridiculous notary cabinet. Could that light be in some way the key that opens these mysterious doors?”
I observed the turning beacon more closely, but in vain. If it really has some secret, it does not seem willing to give it away.
On the other hand, we have uncovered that of the luminous writing very quickly. It really did not take a genius, because the same apparatus has been known on earth for several years; however, something puzzles us, something of no small importance. We ignore the nature of the moving force used: no transmitting cables, no relays… nothing that can, from that point of view, be related to earthly technique. We can easily make the apparatus work, but it leads us nowhere: to whom would we address any messages?
…Devilish Quentin! It was he who, once again, had the right answer. A few moments ago, while we were sitting in the oldish cabinet with wilted furniture, he murmured: “All in all, we have found but a single machine in this so curiously equipped world, and it is a luminous writing ma chine. Could it not also command the beacon of orange rays?”
I immediately examined the apparatus and ended up finding a device, the use of which I had not previously grasped.
It was a slight metallic protuberance that turned on an internal axis. When I moved it from left to right, a small control lamp lit on the panel. Quentin, who had taken a position by the entrance of the cabinet, looked into the circular room.
All of a sudden, he cried: “Something is changing up there. The light is turning green!”
A moment afterwards, a cone of a wonderful emerald hue burst from the arch.
We anxiously followed with our eyes the slow rotation of the beam.
It travelled, according to the usual rhythm, on the sooty walls, illuminating each closed porthole, but caused no reaction. It was thus that it reached the eighth porthole, flooding it with its beautiful green light. We heard a slight rumbling sound and the shutter slid…
III. The Glass Prison
Forgetting elementary caution, we burst forward.
What an amazing wonder!
The porthole is still closed, in reality, because a transparent disk, which seems to be made of the purest crystal, still seals it.
Our glances dive into an ethereally beautiful world.
One thinks of the main lane in a dream garden, bathed in a very sweet slightly pinkish light.
Arborescent ferns form the background and at the same time close the perspective, but what can one say of the fore ground!
There are clumps of totally unknown flowers, rich with every hue of the prism. The fine sand floor is sprinkled with multicoloured stones that shine like precious gems, and I do not think I am wrong in stating that that is exactly what they are.
One would think that a steady breeze blows over the luxuriant vegetation, because the flowers and the leaves undulate and their hues change harmoniously in accordance.
Quentin murmured: “Eden!… The paradise lost!”
For hours we remained in boundless admiring contemplation, unable to avert our eyes from such an extravaganza.
In our confusion, we expected to see living beings appear amidst that ancient tale’s decor, but nothing of the kind happened. Among the branches and ramifications, we can see portions of sky shining with extremely rich colours. Ah! if only one could follow that lane, dive into the wonderful mystery of the far away fern forest, touch with one’s hand the nacreous corollas and ravish from the floor the treasure of its stones! But the crystal barrier is as good as a thick metal one, and only our eyes may venture into that rainbow world!
At long last we subtracted ourselves from that heavenly sight, to get a little rest from the common setting of the notary cabinet. Stretching on the carpet of high wool, we felt as if we had fallen from a heaven of delights to a land of misfortune.
It was then that for the first time I concocted a theory that could be appropriate. The central light could indeed be a “key of light” whose waves exerted a dynamic action on the fastening system of the portholes. Each concrete light would open a concrete porthole. It remained for us to find them and to make the beacon emit them, with the help of the command apparatus on the desk.
Quentin listened attentively when I explained such conjectures and suddenly declared: “Not everything seems to be perfect in this world, however, since we have been greeted by a cry of anguish.”
It was true… All my enthusiasm suddenly vanished.
While my young friend dozed on our improvised bed, I went on to further hypotheses. A privileged creature would inhabit that place. It had felt the need to get in touch with the outside world, through the floater and the manuscript. It had wished to address men intelligent enough to understand it and for that reason it had made its message a true cryptogram. That creature had kindly supervised our arrival; it had sent us the help of the air bubbles, without which we could not have got to it. It was willing to receive us by sending us successive messages through the luminous screen, but just when we were going to reach it, that danger of which the manuscript speaks had suddenly manifested itself… Hence the cry we had heard…
I have resumed this diary.
According to our watches, which I wind faithfully every twelve hours, I estimate that we have been guests in this un known world for seven days. The tablets continue to ensure our subsistence in the most thorough way, although we suffer from the lack of water to our hygiene.
We have vainly tried to find the reservoirs into which that from the entering valve must have flowed: the metal walls have revealed no secrets to us on that subject.
We are currently able to switch the orange and the green light at will. When the former is on, the eighth porthole immediately closes. Up to now, despite all our attempts, we have extracted no other manoeuvre from the machine.
Just now, Quentin said: “What if we try a combined action?”
He suggested that we activated the screen and the action of the green light at the same time.
After a few tries, we have managed to do so.
Nothing changed immediately, but the witness lamp, lighting up, no longer gave a steady light, but started having regular occultations instead.
… … …
“Let us try the rhythms!” I cried.
By turning the disk, while Quentin worked the one for the screen, we have obtained the following occultations:
Three… four… three. No result.
Three… three… three. No result.
We get nothing but sequences of three and four lightings and extinctions in a row.
Four… three… four. No result.
Four… four… three.
Quentin Curland exclaims: “The light changes!”
As a matter of fact, the beacon in the arch darkens quickly and a beautiful blue light invades the circular room.
With hearts beating madly, we follow with our eyes the slow turning of the bluish light along the portholes.
The beam slides. It goes beyond the sixth and the seventh circular doors, leaves closed the eighth one, whose mystery we have penetrated, goes beyond the ninth without causing any reaction, reaches the eleventh and suddenly extinguishes itself. The room is flooded in deep darkness; at the same time, the lamps on the desk turn to dark red and their clarity fades.
But in the distance the eleventh porthole is visible, like a huge milky eye, opened towards the night.
We run towards it, anticipating other strange wonders.
There are none… nothing but a large crystal disk lighted on its polished surface. At last, we see! Ah! What a dreadful difference between the prodigious revelation of the green light and that of its blue sister!
We can see a room with bare walls, poorly lit by an invisible source of clarity. Strange shadows stretch.
With some difficulty, we perceive at last the dim silhouettes of unfathomable machines. They are slender or stocky, without visible mechanical parts.
They all have a grotesquely human look. One would think of mechanisms caricatured by a farcical mind.
All of a sudden and for the first time we had a glimpse of life. Something moves in the shadow of the poorly seen room, but it is no more than a distant silhouette.
Panting, we wait for it to become more precise.
Quentin utters a cry: “A man!”
Anticipating an unknown danger, I swiftly cover his lips with my hand. Thanks to the total obscurity reigning over the circular room where we stand, we are able to see the interior of the one uncovered by porthole number eleven, without being seen ourselves.
With trepidation I realize that my companion was right.
A man, very tall and skeletally thin, comes out of the back ground and advances in very slow steps towards the porthole, with a movement almost similar to that of a snake. We cannot make out his physiognomy, but he appears to be very old and moves with difficulty.
A long tabard covers him from neck to feet.
All of a sudden, we witness a particularly harrowing scene. The man passes near one of the machines and it begins to move.
It glides to him and pushes him.
The man takes one step to one side and tries to come forward, but another machine advances and makes an obstacle to his progress. He hesitates visibly and seems to make up his mind suddenly: he begins to run.
He does not go far: the machines set in motion, are quicker than he and once again block his path.
A man imprisoned by machines! That is the awesome vision that is offered to our horrified eyes.
We see one of the slim devices put a sort of amorphous arm on the man’s neck and press him against the ground.
A slow and ferocious waddling animates the iron things, as if they found some infernal joy in their unfathomable victory.
In the dark, we fled towards the cabinet, where we felt for the writing machine with our hands.
Soon the orangish light bursts from the arch.
Porthole eleven is closed.
IV. The Red Light…
“God, what have I done!”
Professor Falcone had begged me not to touch the machine again, but I could not resist temptation.
We have not opened porthole eleven again and have only put the green light to work to find some oblivion in the marvels of the unknown garden in the eighth door.
Falcone was at the door and had mentioned a little weariness as a pretext to remain in the cabinet.
The machine exerted a dangerous attraction over my whole being. I got closer, still decided not to touch it.
But the task was too hard. I started to operate the buttons and to look for new rhythms.
Bad fortune determined that I should be lucky almost at once, obtaining the following occultations of the lamp:
Five… two… five. No result.
Two… five… five. No result.
Five… five… two.
A shrill whistle, like that of a steam siren tore the air and I raised a horrified look to the entrance of the cabinet.
The big circular room was bathed in a violent red light and the beacon turned very quickly.
I heard Robert Falcone shriek in terror.
At the same time, all space was filled with a hellish tumult.
Under the fiery light I saw unimaginable forms running awkwardly in the room, bumping against each other, entangling in one another. They were frenetic machines agitating shapeless tentacles, grasping the air, snatching the void and whining atrociously.
All of a sudden, above the chaos, a desperate voice cried in English:
“Unfortunates!… Switch on the orange light, before it is too late!”
My hands clenched on the keyboard, I failed to do the proper manoeuvres, I mixed the commands… The orange light did not come; but suddenly the door to the cabinet closed with a snapping sound.
…I have been imprisoned for over three hours. Dull thuds shake the porthole, but it resists. From the other side of that solid barrier, I hear inhuman howls.
The machine seems to be totally broken down and little multicoloured sparks crackle incessantly.
I write this in feverish haste… My last hope is that this diary may leave this fearful world, to inform our far away friends at the surface of our fate, which is as abominable as it is uncertain.
Outside, something strikes… and strikes… and strikes…
The diary of Robert Falcone, ended by Quentin Curland, was found during the month of December, on the eastern coast of Greenland.
Searches had been undertaken, six weeks after their departure. The island in the Orkneys had been explored from top to bottom, without revealing any traces except those of the perfunctory encampment established by the two travellers on the shore of the glen.
When the diary manuscript was found and the searchers convinced themselves that it had indeed been written by the two missing men, new searches were performed on the island, notwithstanding its fantastic character. From the waters of the small inner lake, the leaded ropes that Falcone and Curland had left for their return were found.
At first, a cry of incredulity rose from all quarters, and even more so from the scientific sectors.
But afterwards some reversal seemed to be achieved. The name of Atlantis was once again mentioned.
Everybody knows that that continent, vanished for thousands of years, still plays a part in works of the imagination, but there are also scholars who believe that Atlantis, its mysterious civilization, its advanced science, could very well not be totally lost.
Did Falcone and Quentin have the fearsome privilege of penetrating the last province of that mysterious land, which had somehow managed to preserve itself against time and the elements?