Chapter 16THE light grew stronger as we advanced. In a little time it was nearly as strong as the phosphorescence on Cavor's legs. Our tunnel was expanding into a cavern, and this new light was at the farther end of it. I perceived something that set my hopes leaping and bounding.
"Cavor," I said, "it comes from above! I am certain it comes from above!"
He made no answer, but hurried on.
Indisputably it was a gray light, a silvery light.
In another moment we were beneath it. It filtered down through a chink in the walls of the cavern, and as I stared up, drip, came a drop of water upon my face. I started and stood aside - drip, fell another drop quite audibly on the rocky floor.
"Cavor," I said, "if one of us lifts the other, he can reach that crack!"
"I'll lift you," he said, and incontinently hoisted me as though I was a baby.
I thrust an arm into the crack, and just at my finger tips found a little ledge by which I could hold. I could see the white light was very much brighter now. I pulled myself up by two fingers with scarcely an effort, though on earth I weigh twelve stone, reached to a still higher corner of rock, and so got my feet on the narrow ledge. I stood up and searched up the rocks with my fingers; the cleft broadened out upwardly. "It's climbable," I said to Cavor. "Can you jump up to my hand if I hold it down to you?"
I wedged myself between the sides of the cleft, rested knee and foot on the ledge, and extended a hand. I could not see Cavor, but I could hear the rustle of his movements as he crouched to spring. Then whack and he was hanging to my arm - and no heavier than a kitten! I lugged him up until he had a hand on my ledge, and could release me.
"Confound it!" I said, "any one could be a mountaineer on the moon;" and so set myself in earnest to the climbing. For a few minutes I clambered steadily, and then I looked up again. The cleft opened out steadily, and the light was brighter. Only -
It was not daylight after all.
In another moment I could see what it was, and at the sight I could have beaten my head against the rocks with disappointment. For I beheld simply an irregularly sloping open space, and all over its slanting floor stood a forest of little club-shaped fungi, each shining gloriously with that pinkish silvery light. For a moment I stared at their soft radiance, then sprang forward and upward among them. I plucked up half a dozen and flung them against the rocks, and then sat down, laughing bitterly, as Cavor's ruddy face came into view.
"It's phosphorescence again!" I said. "No need to hurry. Sit down and make yourself at home." And as he spluttered over our disappointment, I began to lob more of these growths into the cleft.
"I thought it was daylight," he said.
"Daylight!" cried I. "Daybreak, sunset, clouds, and windy skies! Shall we ever see such things again?" As I spoke, a little picture of our world seemed to rise before me, bright and little and clear, like the background of some old Italian picture. "The sky that changes, and the sea that changes, and the hills and the green trees and the towns and cities shining in the sun. Think of a wet roof at sunset, Cavor! Think of the windows of a westward house!" He made no answer.
"Here we are burrowing in this beastly world that isn't a world, with its inky ocean hidden in some abominable blackness below, and outside that torrid day and that death stillness of night. And all these things that are chasing us now, beastly men of leather - insect men, that come out of a nightmare! After all, they're right! What business have we here smashing them and disturbing their world! For all we know the whole planet is up and after us already. In a minute we may hear them whimpering, and their gongs going. What are we to do? Where are we to go? Here we are as comfortable as snakes from Jamrach's loose in a Surbiton villa!"
"It was your fault," said Cavor.
"My fault! " I shouted. "Good Lord!"
"I had an idea!"
"Curse your ideas!"
"If we had refused to budge"
"Under those goads?"
"Yes. They would have carried us!"
"Over that bridge?"
"Yes. They must have carried us from outside."
"I'd rather be carried by a fly across a ceiling."
I resumed my destruction of the fungi. Then suddenly I saw something that struck me even then. "Cavor," I said, "these chains are of gold!"
He was thinking intently, with his hands gripping his cheeks. He turned his head slowly and stared at me, and when I had repeated my words, at the twisted chain about his right hand. " So they are," he said, "so they are." His face lost its transitory interest even as he looked. He hesitated for a moment, then went on with his interrupted meditation. I sat for a space puzzling over the fact that I had only just observed this, until I considered the blue light in which we had been, and which had taken all the colour out of tlie metal. And from that discovery I also started upon a train of thought that carried me wide and far. I forgot that I had just been asking what business we had in the moon. Gold -
It was Cavor who spoke first. "It seems to me that there are two courses open to us."
"Either we can attempt to make our way - fight our way if necessary - out to the exterior again, and then hunt for our sphere until we find it, or the cold of the night comes to kill us, or else -"
He paused. "Yes?" I said, though I knew what was coming.
"We might attempt once more to establish some sort of understanding with the minds of the people in the moon."
"So far as I'm concerned - it's the first."
"You see," said Cavor, "I do not think we can judge the Selenites by what we have seen of them. Their central world, their civilised world will be far below in the profounder caverns about their sea. This region of the crust in which we are is an outlying district, a pastoral region. At any rate, that is my interpretation. These Selenites we have seen may be only the equivalent of cowboys and engine-tenders. Their use of goads - in all probability mooncalf goads - the lack of imagination they show in expecting us to be able to do just what they can do, their indisputable brutality, all seem to point to something of that sort. But if we endured -"
"Neither of us could endure a six-inch plank across the bottomless pit for very long."
"No," said Cavor; "but then -"
"I won't," I said.
He discovered a new line of possibilities. "Well, suppose we got ourselves into some corner, where we could defend ourselves against these hinds and labourers. If, for example, we could hold out for a week or so, it is probable that the news of our appearance would filter down to the more intelligent and populous parts -"
"If they exist."
"They must exist, or whence came those tremendous machines?"
"That's possible, but it's the worst of the two chances."
"We might write up inscriptions on walls"
"How do we know their eyes would see the sort of marks we made?"
"If we cut them - "
"That's possible, of course."
I took up a new thread of thought. "After all," - I said, " I suppose you don't think these Selenites so infinitely wiser than men."
"They must know a lot more - or at least a lot of different things."
"Yes, but -" I hesitated.
"I think you'll quite admit, Cavor, that you're rather an exceptional man."
"Well, you - you're a rather lonely man - have been, that is. You haven't married."
"Never wanted to. But why - "
"And you never grew richer than you happened to be? "
"Never wanted that either."
"You've just rooted after knowledge?"
"Well, a certain curiosity is natural - "
"You think so. That's just it. You think every other mind wants to know. I remember once, when I asked you why you conducted all these researches, you said you wanted your F.R.S., and to have the stuff called Cavorite, and things like that. You know perfectly well you didn't do it for that; but at the time my question took you by surprise, and you felt you ought to have something to look like a motive. Really you conducted researches because you had to. It's your twist."
"Perhaps it is -"
"It isn't one man in a million has that twist. Most men want - well, various things, but very few want knowledge for its own sake. I don't, I know perfectly well. Now, these Selenites seem to be a driving, busy sort of being, but how do you know that even the most intelligent will take an interest in us or our world? I don't believe they'll even know we have a world. They never come out at night - they'd freeze if they did. They've probably never seen any heavenly body at all except the blazing sun. How are they to know there is another world? What does it matter to them if they do? Well, even if they have had a glimpse of a few stars, or even of the earth crescent, what of that? Why should people living inside a planet trouble to observe that sort of thing? Men wouldn't have done it except for the seasons and sailing; why should the moon people?...
"Well, suppose there are a few philosophers like yourself. They are just the very Selenites who'll never have heard of our existence. Suppose a Selenite had I dropped on the earth when you were at Lympne, you'd have been the last man in the world to hear he had come. You never read a newspaper! You see the chances against you. Well, it's for these chances we're sitting here doing nothing while precious time is flying. I tell you we've got into a fix. We've come unarmed, we've lost our sphere, we've got no food, we've shown ourselves to the Selenites, and made them think we're strange, strong, dangerous animals; and unless these Selenites are perfect fools, they'll set about now and hunt us till they find us, and when they find us they'll try to take us if they can, and kill us if they can't, and that's the end of the matter. If they take us, they'll probably kill us, through some misunderstanding. After we're done for, they may discuss us perhaps, but we shan't get much fun out of that."
"On the other hand, here's gold knocking about like cast iron at home. If only we can get some of it back, if only we can find our sphere again before they do, and get back, then -"
"We might put the thing on a sounder footing. Come back in a bigger sphere with guns."
"Good Lord!" cried Cavor, as though that was horrible.
I shied another luminous fungus down the cleft.
"Look here, Cavor," I said, "I've half the voting power anyhow in this affair, and this is a case for a practical man. I'm a practical man, and you are not. I'm not going to trust to Selenites and geometrical diagrams if I can help it. That's all. Get back. Drop all this secrecy - or most of it. And come again."
He reflected. "When I came to the moon," he said, "I ought to have come alone."
"The question before the meeting," I said, "is how to get back to the sphere."
For a time we nursed our knees in silence. Then he seemed to decide for my reasons.
"I think," he said, "one can get data. It is clear that while the sun is on this side of the moon the air will be blowing through this planet sponge from the dark side hither. On this side, at any rate, the air will be expanding and flowing out of the moon caverns into the craters. ... Very well, there's a draught here."
"So there is."
"And that means that this is not a dead end; somewhere behind us this cleft goes on and up. The draught is blowing up, and that is the way we have to go. If we try to get up any sort of chimney or gully there is, we shall not only get out of these passages where they are hunting for us - "
"But suppose the gully is too narrow?"
"We'll come down again."
"Ssh!" I said suddenly; "what's that?"
We listened. At first it was an indistinct murmur, and then one picked out the clang of a gong. "They must think we are mooncalves," said I, "to be frightened at that."
"They're coming along that passage, said Cavor.
"They must be."
"They'll not think of the cleft. They'll go past."
I listened again for a space. "This time," I whispered, "they're likely to have some sort of weapon."
Then suddenly I sprang to my feet. "Good heavens, Cavor! " I cried. "But they will! They'll see the fungi I have been pitching down. They'll - "
I didn't finish my sentence. I turned about and made a leap over the fungus tops towards the upper end of the cavity. I saw that the space turned upward and became a draughty cleft again, ascending to impenetrable darkness. I was about to clamber up into this, and then with a happy inspiration turned back.
"What are you doing? " asked Cavor.
"Go on! said I, and went back and got two of the shining fungi, and putting one into the breast pocket of my flannel jacket, so that it stuck out to light our climbing, went back with the other for Cavor. The noise of the Selenites was now so loud that it seemed they must be already beneath the cleft. But it might be they would have difficulty in clambering in to it, or might hesitate to ascend it against our possible resistance. At any rate, we had now the comforting knowledge of the enormous muscular superiority our birth in another planet gave us. In other minute I was clambering with gigantic vigour after Cavor's blue-lit heels.