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JAMES FANCIS DWYER

THE CAVE OF THE INVISIBLE

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RGL e-Book Cover©
Based on a photograph of Borobudur Temple, Indonesia


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First published in Bluebook, April 1939

Collected in Avon Fantasy Reader, Avon Novels Inc., 1950
This e-book edition: Roy Glashan's Library, 2021
Version Date: 2021-12-24

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Blue Book, April 1939, with "The Cave Of The Invisible


ABOUT THE AUTHOR


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James Francis Dwyer


JAMES FRANCIS DWYER (1874-1952) was an Australian writer. Born in Camden Park, New South Wales, Dwyer worked as a postal assistant until he was convicted in a scheme to make fraudulent postal orders and sentenced to seven years imprisonment in 1899. In prison, Dwyer began writing, and with the help of another inmate and a prison guard, had his work published in The Bulletin. After completing his sentence, he relocated to London and then New York, where he established a successful career as a writer of short stories and novels. Dwyer later moved to France, where he wrote his autobiography, Leg-Irons on Wings, in 1949. Dwyer wrote over 1,000 short stories during his career, and was the first Australian-born person to become a millionaire from writing. —Wikipedia




JAN KROMHOUT, the big Dutch naturalist, lowered himself into a huge rattan chair and looked out across the green swath of palms and canarium trees. Kromhout's camp, in which I was a guest, was close to the village of Brajonolon, in central Java; and from the terrace of the bungalow we could see the great Temple of Bororboedoer. In splendid majesty it rose before us; the mighty Tjandi Bororboedoer, "Shrine of the Many Buddhas."

Not as large as the monuments of Angkor Wat, Ajanta and Alara, the Temple of Bororboedoer is considered more beautiful in architectural design. Its carvings, still intact after twelve hundred years, brings thousands of tourists to stare at the bas-reliefs. Those bas-reliefs, if placed in a straight line, would extend for more than three miles. Here was the centre of Buddhist influence in Java in the Sixth Century...

"Belief is a strange thing," said Kromhout, his eyes upon the temple. "There are many places throughout the world where the atmosphere has been charged with a definite spiritual quality put into it by the reverence of believers. Buddhism in Java is dead—Mohammedanism has throttled it; but a blind person who came close to this sanctuary would sense the awe and mystery that is still here. Still here after centuries have passed. Ja. Into the mixture of oxygen, hydrogen and carbon-dioxide has filtered a spiritual compound that does not react to the instruments of the scientists. It is Faith.

"Do you know that argon, one of the constituents of the atmosphere, was only discovered forty years ago? It is present in seven or eight parts to a thousand in the air we breathe; but we did not know it was there till Lord Rayleigh and Sir William Ramsay discovered it toward the end of the last century. That discovery makes me hopeful. Sometimes—sometimes I think that in the days to come, we might have instruments so delicate that we could measure the spiritual intensity of places like this temple. Measure the degree of faith, of hope, of longing for a better world. I would like to measure the holy dreams that fill the Oude Kerk in Amsterdam, that was built in about 1300, or the air of St. Paul's and St. Peter's, or that place in the Mosque of Saint Sophia at Stamboul that is called 'The Holy Wisdom.'"

For a long interval the big naturalist remained quiet; then with a strange eagerness in his voice he went on: "If such an instrument were perfected, one might also be able to measure the devilish quality of places. Of demon-filled places that I have visited in the Malay."

In silence we sat and stared at Tjandi Bororboedoer. The sun had set; and a soft rose tint spread slowly over the porous trachyte and lava blocks of which the temple is constructed. This tint deepened to a gorgeous crimson, changed to a dark red; then with a fierce suddenness the tropic night plunged upon the building and blotted it out.

Filled with black gloom now were the interminable galleries with their two hundred scenes of Buddha's spiritual experiences. Invisible were the thrilling bas-reliefs beginning with that of Mâya, the mother of Buddha, watching the white elephant descending on a lotus flower from heaven to symbolize the conception of her son, and ending with the last thrilling scenes that show the weapons of the Prince of Darkness turning into flower petals as they fall upon the head of the saint.

From the soft dusk came the voice of Jan Kromhout. The great Buddhist sanctuary seemed to be nearer now. It was, I thought, squatting just beyond the row of flame trees whose red flowers perfumed the night.

"At times," said the big Dutchman, "the East frightens me. I become the victim of terrors. Then I pack my things and take a trip home to Amsterdam, so that I can get my courage back. There is sanity in Holland. Much sanity. I am nearer to God when I put my feet on Kalver Straat. I go and sit in the Oude Kerk, and those stained-glass windows of the Lady Chapel make me feel clean and good. There is a lot of faith in stained glass. And I go to the Rijksmuseum and look at the fine pictures by Frans Hals and Rembrandt and Rubens, and so I cure myself. Ja, ja. I cure myself.

"Five years ago I went back to see my sister and her husband. I stayed a month; then the East came in the night and whispered to me. I thought that the whimperings of little animals came up to my room from the Leidsche Kade. My sister cried and begged me to stay, but I could not.

"On the ship that brought me to Batavia, I made friends with a strange man. He was a Russian named Andrey Ilyin, and he was an archaeologist. He was but thirty-four years of age, and he was big and strong and bold-looking. And he was a dreamer. A great dreamer. Some one has said that there is no rest for the man who is both a dreamer and a man of action, and this Russian was of that type. He knew the East. He thought it the cradle of life, the home of all the mysteries. He had many ideas that were disturbing; and in the hot, heavy nights crossing the Indian Ocean we stayed up on deck and argued till the dawn.

"He put forward theories that were not supported by scientific evidence; but that lack of evidence did not trouble him. Neen. He just jumped across the gulfs, and when you asked him how he got to the other side, he laughed. He thought that scientists lacked imagination, that they spent too much time building bridges instead of hopping mentally to the other side. It may be so. Dreamers see many things.

"One of his theories I had big cause to remember. I will never forget it. He thought that longevity was a matter of breathing the same atmosphere that we had started to breathe. That life depended on the constancy of the atmosphere. You see, we did not know what the atmosphere was composed of, till Cavendish made his tests at the end of the Seventeenth Century. And Cavendish did not know of argon and of other substances.

"'The atmosphere we are breathing is not the same as the Pleistocene or the Neolithic man breathed,' said Ilyin. 'It is not the atmosphere in which the mammoth and the dinosaur lived. We know nothing of its composition in those days. A change in it might have killed them off. Then again the longevity of Methuselah might be accounted for by the air he breathed. Some special brand.'

"Sometimes he made me laugh; sometimes he puzzled me. When we were near Tandjong Priok, he told me the reason of his visit. He was searching for old atmosphere! Old. Ja, oud! Atmosphere that had not changed for hundreds of years. Air which was the same air that blew over the Malay in the days when King Asoka sent a piece of Buddha's body to Java as propaganda for Buddhism. They were good propagandists in those days.

"'How can you find such a place?' I asked Ilyin.

"'There might be an old temple bottled up and forgotten,' he said. 'You know how wine gets better with age? If I found such a place, the atmosphere might have improved.'

"I said good-bye to that Russian at Tandjong Priok. I was not sorry. He talked too much. We Dutch say, Der gaan veel woorden in een zak. Many words go into one sack."

Kromhout rose from his chair as a soft whimper came from within the bungalow. The black ape was on the point of becoming a mother, and the big naturalist went inside to comfort her. I could hear his voice assuring her that he was close by, and that no harm could befall her.

Returning to the veranda he took up his story. "I went here and there in my business of collecting specimens. I made a trip to Samarinda in Dutch Borneo, and I went from there to Makassar and on to the little San Miguel group in the Sulu Sea. Now and then I thought of that Russian and his theories. It was not easy to forget him. Ideas that are a little crazy stay in our heads when we forget matters that are founded on common-sense.

"I came back to Batavia, and I got a commission which took me to the volcanic country near Padjagalan. It is bad. The sulphur fumes and the carbonic gas kill birds and animals that are fool enough to stay around. It is a little piece of country that looks as if it might blow up at any moment, when some of the old volcanoes start their fires again.

"I had been there two weeks when that Russian fellow Ilyin walked into my camp. 'It is old Tête-de-Fromage!' he cried. 'Old Tête-de-Fromage who will not be convinced!'

"He told me that he was camped some fifteen miles away, and that he was quite happy and contented. 'I heard that a Dutchman was trapping here, and I thought it might be you,' he said. 'I'm pleased because I wanted to tell you something. You remember our talks about atmosphere? Well, I have found proof of what I said to you on the ship.'

"'What have you found?' I asked.

"He grinned at me. 'I have found a place where the air is six hundred years old,' he said. 'Six hundred years old, and pure.'

"'Pure?' I asked.

"'That is what I said, Dutchman,' he answered. 'Dry and pure. It has been bottled up for centuries. Six centuries or more. There has been no opening except one small door that is not used once in a century. The things living there, toads and lichen, die immediately when in contact with modern air.'

"'You mean that they are killed by the light?' I said.

"'No, by the air,' said Ilyin. 'I have moved them in the night. It is the air that kills them.'

"I sat silent, waiting for Ilyin to tell me more, and he did. 'There is something else about this place,' he said. 'Something extraordinary: the Past is there.'

"'How?' I snapped.

"'In the atmosphere,' he said quietly. 'The air of the place is impregnated with old memories. It has clung to them. They have been held in a sort of atmospheric solution because there has been no fresh air to disturb them. At times—at times you can feel and see enough to reconstruct what happened there.'

"'Ja,' I said, 'I know all about those spots. They are not good. They are vicious. If you go trying to reconstruct events that have happened here six hundred years ago, you will get yourself into the crazy house, and the Dutch will ship you back to Russia.'

"'Imagination,' said that fellow, 'is one of the greatest gifts of God. The straight back-heads of the Dutch and the Germans make it impossible for them to carry the gift. If you feel inclined to come over and visit me, I will show you all the proof that you want.'

"Of Course I was curious to know what that fellow had found. My skin prickled with curiosity. He had given me directions; and three days after his visit, I went along the jungle path that led to his camp. That part of Java has many old temples. Quite close are the ruins of Brambaran, which was a Brahman temple dedicated to Vishnu and Siva. I found that Ilyin's camp was alongside a small temple so completely covered with crawling vines that you might pass it, thinking it was a green hill.

"Ilyin grinned when he saw me. 'I knew you would come,' he said; 'I have been watching the road for three days. Cheese and mysteries are great things to attract Dutch naturalists. Tell me, Kromhout, why you people put caraway seeds in your cheese?'

"'To make fools ask the reason,' I snapped. 'Where is your old atmosphere that you were bragging about?'

"'You must not approach it in that spirit,' said Ilyin. 'You see, there are reasons. I am not the owner or the real discoverer. I will introduce you, but if you please, try to look as if you believed, even if you lack the imagination to see beyond your nose.'

"I was annoyed, but I had come to see what I could see, so I followed Ilyin through the jungle till we came to a thatched hut. In the hut were an old man and a girl of about eighteen. First I will tell of the man. He was a Sundanese; and when I saw him, he was what is called latah. His eyes were glazed and his nostrils distended. I did not like the look of him.

"The girl—Ach! the girl was something that the gods of the jungle had made to peep at. She was just meeting womanhood. Her skin was of beaten gold, and all the dreams of the world were in her big frightened eyes. Eyes like the little musk deer that spoke to you, saying, 'Do not harm me; I am nice and innocent and I will be good.' Ja, they were wonderful eyes. And she had little teeth so white and beautiful that you wished that she could get annoyed and bite you with them. And she was dressed as she should be dressed. She had a six-foot strip of scarlet silk wound tightly around her waist, then thrown loosely across her bosom and over one of her shoulders. Sometimes that sash slipped from her shoulder, or maybe the little devils of the jungle pulled it away. In her left nostril she had a small ruby that winked at you as much as to say: 'Wouldn't you like my job?'

"Ilyin spoke to the Sundanese, but that fellow was in dreamland and did not hear. The girl answered for him. She said we could not visit the temple that day. The man was latah; I would have to wait. That Russian tried to bully her, but she would not give way, although she was afraid of Ilyin, who was big and strong and did not think much of women. When that scarlet sash slipped from the girl's shoulder, Ilyin would grin like a tiger that meets a young antelope.

"'Dutchman, you must stick around,' he said. 'It will be worth it. You will know things after you have seen what I have seen.'

"For three days we waited. And we argued a lot. When I spoke of Hanne's 'Handbuch der Klimatologie' or Woeikof's 'Die Klimate der Erde,' that Russian would laugh at me. 'All the fellows that have written about climate and atmosphere write of them in relation to health and industry and crops,' he said. 'Not one of the idiots writes about the relation of climate to the soul. They tell how altitude affects the circulation and respiration of the body, and how winds are bad for persons with certain complaints, but they say nothing of the effect of places on the vital principle, on the spirit. Look at this place! Wouldn't the atmosphere of this spot transform a man? Wouldn't it get into his blood?'

"'If the damned leeches left him any blood!' I snapped. There was a strange quality around that place, but I would not let that Russian bully me. There is something that you say in the United States. Ja! That is it: you say 'I am from Missouri.' Well, I was from Amsterdam, and I wanted to be shown too."

Again the black ape called to the naturalist. Kromhout hoisted himself from the chair and hurried to comfort her. As I listened, I detected a whispering accompaniment to his words. Other small captives knew of the condition of the black ape, and were troubled.

"On the fourth day that Sundanese got over his bout with hashish," continued Kromhout, as he returned. "He did not like me. He said the place was kramat; that meant it was too sacred and magical for me to put my big feet inside it. Ilyin swore at him. At last the Sundanese gave way.

"First we entered the temple proper. That was only an antechamber to the real place. But we entered quick, so that not much fresh air could get in, and that no old air could escape. It was quite dark, but the Sundanese took my hand and led me. I would sooner have had the little hand of the girl, but that Russian had grabbed her as a guide.

"'Why not a flashlight?' I asked.

"'There is no need for one,' said Ilyin. 'There is light in the vault where we are going.'

"That puzzled me, but I said nothing. We came to the far end of the temple and climbed down a stone stairway. I could see nothing, but I understood that we were in front of a stone doorway. Ilyin spoke to me. 'It is necessary to enter quick,' he said. 'When the old man pulls the lever, the stone will swing back. It will be light then. Sava, the girl, will go first, then you, then I and the old man. But move quick! Poskoréye! Poskoréye!' He was all excited.

"I could not understand how it would be light when the stone door opened, but I said nothing. Then the door swung back, and I found that Ilyin had spoken the truth. Through the lighted space hopped the girl; I stumbled after her, and after me came Ilyin and the old man.

"We were twenty feet underground, and there was no opening to that vault except the door through which we had come, but the place was illuminated. It was lit up like a phosphorescent sea. I thought for a moment that the light came from millions of fireflies, or the luminous beetles of the Lampyridae that are related to glow-worms. I was wrong. The light came from a type of lichen that I had never seen. A variety of Lecanora calacarea that is mentioned by Engler and Prantl in their book 'Die natürlichen Pflanzenfamilien.' It sweats in the dark places where it grows, and its sweat is phosphorescent.

"That lichen covered the walls and the roof of that big vault—covered them like a silver tapestry. Lichen is strange stuff. Some day when the world dies, the lichen will make a death shroud. Ja, ja. And it will be very pretty. The blue-green algae, the red and yellow Agyrium, and the phosphorescent Lecanora that covered the walls and roof of that great vault. Lichen is the beard of death.

"After I got over the shock from that growing stuff, I noticed the air. It was heavy, very heavy. It was so thick that you thought you could chew it, but it was not unpleasant. Not at all. It was soothing. Have you ever tried opium? Neen? Well, the air of that place brought to me the nice loosening of the nerves that you get after the first whiffs of an opium pipe. It rubbed against my face like an invisible kitten. It touched my hands and my bare calves. It got into my hair and tickled my scalp. It had the ways of a bazaar woman. Now and then I swung round with the belief that some one had touched me with a finger on the back of the neck.

"There were small toads hopping about on the stone floor of the vault—the jerboa type of toad, with long legs. Ilyin, the old man, and the girl Sava took care not to step on the toads; and when the girl saw that I did not take much care, she spoke to the Russian, and he whispered to me: 'Please be careful,' he said; 'the old man will get annoyed if you squash them.'

"'Why?' I asked.

"'The old man speaks to them,' said Ilyin. 'When he wants to show me something extraordinary, he tells them to keep close to the wall so that they will not he trodden on by the others.'

"'What others?' I snapped.

"'You'll see,' he grinned. 'You'll see, Dutchman.'

"He was full of mystery, was that fellow. It was bubbling out of him. And the air that had fingers, and the phosphorescent lichen, were the hypodermic syringes with which he tried to squirt it into my system.

"We walked the length of that place. It was enormous. The pillars were beautifully carved with figures of birds and monkeys, and at the bottom of each pillar was a square stone box like those at Brambanan, that are filled with the dust of the dead. We did not speak. The only sounds were the slap slap of the toads as their bellies hit the floor. It was not nice. The only sweet thing in that place was the girl. I thought she was afraid of that vault—quite a lot afraid of it.

"We came out from that place in the same manner as we went in—slipping quickly through the door at the bottom of the stairs. For an hour or so I felt that I had been drugged; then I was myself again, and able to argue with that Russian. I had to admit that the air was curious, but more I would not admit.

"'You have no imagination!' cried Ilyin. 'The French named you Dutch well when they called you Têtes-de-Fromage. Cheese-heads you are! You could not feel the Past in that place?'

"'I felt the air, and I heard the jerboa toads,' I said. 'Not more than that. It is good to have belief, but it is not good to have too much of it. That is the way to madness.'

"'Wait around,' said the Russian; 'you will see what you will see. The girl has promised me.'

"He smacked his lips when he spoke of that girl. There are two nations that strut when they speak of women—the Germans and the Russians; but the Russian has more charm. He is more dashing. He is a little mad, and women like madmen.

"I wanted to go away from that place, but I could not. It held me there because I felt that something would happen, something big. Have you noticed that lots of tragedies have been photographed? Those photographers have been there with the machines aiming at the spot where an automobile turns over, or some racehorse falls down, or that Balkan king is shot. You think it is luck? It is not. The man with the camera sensed the accident before it happened. That is what makes the good press photographer. Sometime I will tell you a story about that business of sensing a smash.

"Each day I would see that Russian stalking the girl. Ja, stalking her like a black panther stalking a mouse deer. Whenever I saw the flash of her scarlet sarong in the jungle, I would see Ilyin close to her. And I would watch her eyes and watch those of the Russian. The fear was growing greater in hers; in his was the belief that he would conquer. He would pull his moustaches and brag about the girls that had loved him in Moscow when he was at the university. He made me sick with his talk.

"'You had better watch that old man,' I said to him.

"'Pooh!' he cried. 'He is nothing. The girl—ah, the girl is something precious. Do you know, Kromhout, that she believes she is a reincarnation from other days. She speaks as if she was around here when things were happening.'

"'Then she will know too much for you,' I snapped.

"'No woman knows too much for me,' said that fool. 'At the university they called me "Little Andrey, the Fisher of Souls." She will be mine very soon.'

"Men are fools. We Dutch say: 'Roasted pigeons do not fly through the air.' It is a good proverb.

"One morning I saw that old Sundanese creeping through the jungle on his hands and knees. I could not see Ilyin or the girl, but I guessed that old man was hunting for them.

"That afternoon Ilyin was very gay. He sang little Russian songs that were all about girls who loved very much and who were willing to kill themselves for fellows. He sang them in his own language, but he translated them for me. I thought them foolish. Dutch girls would not do the things that those songs told of. Not much. Dutch girls keep their feet on the ground very hard.

"'Tonight, Kromhout,' said Ilyin, 'something might happen. It has been a big day for me. Sava loves me. Da! She loves me a lot. And she has promised me that she will make old sulky Mokhan put on a show tonight to celebrate our love-pact. In that vault we might see the Past.'"

The naturalist paused in his narrative. He sat silent in his big chair. I thought he might be marshalling the events of that evening of long ago, putting them in order, shaping them so that they could be intelligible. Or perhaps he thought that the pause might let the caressing fingers of the Malayan night bring to my mind the capacity for belief. Belief in the strange tale that he wished to unfold.

"It happened as that Russian thought it would happen," he said, and his voice was lowered as if afraid that the Tjandi Bororboedoer, squatting out in the thick darkness, might be annoyed at hearing him tell of the secrets of the long-buried past. "The girl persuaded the old man to put on a big show. Ja, a big show. And he did!

"When we climbed down into that vault, I thought the lichen was more phosphorescent than the first time. It might have been just fancy. I don't know. Perhaps I was excited. The air was that air that had fingers which tickled the back of my neck and rubbed my scalp.

"The Russian did not know what was going to happen. I do not think the girl knew. It was just the business of the old man. He was not latah now. He was alive. His black eyes were sparkling, and at times I thought there was a grin of delight on his face.

"We had walked about twenty paces when the noise started. Ja, the noise. It started at the far end of the vault, some hundred feet from where we were standing; and it came creeping toward us, eating up the silence. Eating up the silence like a great invisible mouth. It was funny. At first it was not a great noise. It was soft and rather soothing, but as it crept nearer and nearer, it became louder. Much louder.

"Now and then it would stop for a few seconds—stop as if it had been throttled. And all our eyes were turned to the spot where it had halted. Do you understand? We knew, although we could see nothing, that it had a certain point. It was near this or that carved pillar that supported the roof. A noise made by something that we could not see. Moving and stop moving and stopping.

"It grew louder. Much louder. New noises joined up with it. Noises that I could not place, noises that had been lost to the world when that temple went out of business. There was a devilish rumble that seemed to be the backbone of the clamour. It came at intervals. It seemed to shake the temple. And it carried a poisonous fear with it. Drums of hell was that noise. Ja, drums of hell!

"When that big queer noise came, I thought the veins in my head would burst. It led the others to a sort of crescendo; then it snapped off quick so that it hurt your head. And you could see nothing. Nothing at all. In that vast underground vault there was only the old man, Ilyin, the girl and myself. Ja, and the toads. Those toads were banked now inches high around the walls and around the pillars. They were afraid—those toads. Possibly they saw things that we did not see. That bufo-jerboa is clever. Very clever.

"Closer and closer came that racket. Bulging its way toward us! I leaned forward, pop-eyed and sweating, in an effort to see something. I have heard all the noises of the jungle, but I have never heard noises like those. They were devilish. They were beyond the intelligence of man. They woke memories of things that were snaky and shiny, things of the past when the bull-roarer struck fear into the hearts of those who heard it.

"In the bones of our ears are echoes that have been asleep for hundreds of years. Frightening echoes. They are in the cells of our brains. They are part of us. We collected them in our climb out of the dark womb of the world. This civilization of ours is a small thing. It is of yesterday. It is the thin scum of conceit that we have placed upon the terrors of other days. And when we are frightened, that scum that is civilization, that is modernity, that is law and order and smugness and silly pomp and humbug, is broken by those memories that are mostly hooked up with sounds.

"They come out of the depths. The beat of the tom-toms, the clang of the devil-gongs, the hiss of big serpents, the whirring of the wings of vampires and pterodactyls. Ach! This memory of ours is a terrible thing—for the subconscious is filled with sounds. There is stored the bellow of the mammoth and the sound made by the slime dripping from the scaly legs of the plesiosaurus!

"Now, years after, I can hear those sounds of that vault when the world is quiet. I will always hear them. They are in my flesh, in my bones, in my blood. They are a fear-poison that has got into my body through my ears.

"I wished to run, but I could not. My legs had lost their power. They were boneless, and I was afraid that I would fall to the floor. The noise had swung a little to the left of us, and for that I was glad. You bet I was. If it had swept over us, I would have died from fear.

"The old man, the girl and the Russian did what I did—turned their heads to follow the sound. It was now surging between two great pillars of the vault, surging through them like a cataract of clamour!

"It was then that the girl cried out. She shrieked and pointed. Pointed at nothing that we could see, but something that was plain to her. Something or somebody. Somebody, I think. Ja, I am sure that she saw some one, at that instant.

"She shrieked again, and sprang forward; but that Russian was not going to let her get into that racket of noise. He grabbed hold of her waist and tried to hold her. He was strong, as I have told you; but she wished to touch something in the stream of noise. She was slippery like a snake. Her sarong was almost torn from her body as she wrestled; then as she leaped forward again, she and the Russian were in that frightening river of noise. They were in it! We knew!

"That Russian was six feet and a little bit. He weighed two hundred pounds, and he had muscles of steel. But his size and his weight did not matter much then. They were nothing to the forces that were around him. Nothing at all. Something picked him up. For an instant he was held horizontally at about three feet from the floor; then he was jerked head high and thrown across the vault, thrown across with such force that he struck the wall some twenty feet away. Struck it and dropped to the floor.

"That noise stopped then. Stopped with a suddenness that made me think I had become deaf. We did not move till we heard the slap-slap of the toads as they moved away from the walls and the pillars. It was comforting to hear those jerboa toads moving about.

"I went over to the Russian. He was quite dead. His head had struck the wall, and his skull was fractured. I remembered his face for a long time. There was fear on it. A great fear. I have often wondered if he saw what it was that picked him up and tossed him across the vault...

"Ja, there was an inquiry. The Dutch were angry about that business. They sent a magistrate from Djokja, and police came from Soerakarta. I told what I had seen and heard, and those police grinned. They were stupid fellows who could not believe anything unless they saw it with their little piggy eyes. And the fat magistrate from Djokja was so stuffed with rijsttafel that there was no room for imagination.

"The girl would not speak. She was a little frightening. That fat magistrate asked her if the Russian had seduced her; and she looked at him in a way that gave him cold shivers. She did not like that question.

"The old man would not say much. When the magistrate asked him what had made the noise in the vault, he gave a funny answer. He said: 'They are the dead, that the years have eaten their bodies, but whose souls walk.'

"The police ruined that vault. They smashed down a part of the wall, and all that phosphorescent Lecanora calacarea shrivelled in an instant when it met the air of the day. And those jerboa toads turned over on their backs and died with little croaks. It was a pity. I would have liked that some big man, some scientist of the order of Regnault or Angus Smith, should study the air of that chamber. Now it is too late."

The big Dutchman rose and went within the bungalow.

I sat silently looking out across the dark stretch to where Tjandi Bororboedoer, "Shrine of the Many Buddhas," rose imperially. That foolish idea that the temple had moved closer to hear Kromhout's narrative was still upon me. I was a little afraid.

The big Dutchman reappeared. "The black ape has got a little one," he said, and his voice was soft with tenderness. "Come and look at it. She thinks it is the most wonderful baby ape that the Malay Archipelago has ever seen."


THE END


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