Edgar Rice Burroughs
Several years had elapsed since I had found the opportunity to do anybig-game hunting; for at last I had my plans almost perfected for areturn to my old stamping-grounds in northern Africa, where in otherdays I had had excellent sport in pursuit of the king of beasts.
The date of my departure had been set; I was to leave in two weeks. Noschoolboy counting the lagging hours that must pass before thebeginning of "long vacation" released him to the delirious joys of thesummer camp could have been filled with greater impatience or keeneranticipation.
And then came a letter that started me for Africa twelve days ahead ofmy schedule.
Often am I in receipt of letters from strangers who have foundsomething in a story of mine to commend or to condemn. My interest inthis department of my correspondence is ever fresh. I opened thisparticular letter with all the zest of pleasurable anticipation withwhich I had opened so many others. The post-mark (Algiers) had arousedmy interest and curiosity, especially at this time, since it wasAlgiers that was presently to witness the termination of my coming seavoyage in search of sport and adventure.
Before the reading of that letter was completed lions and lion-huntinghad fled my thoughts, and I was in a state of excitement bordering uponfrenzy.
It—well, read it yourself, and see if you, too, do not find food forfrantic conjecture, for tantalizing doubts, and for a great hope.
Here it is:
DEAR SIR: I think that I have run across one of the most remarkablecoincidences in modern literature. But let me start at the beginning:
I am, by profession, a wanderer upon the face of the earth. I have notrade—nor any other occupation.
My father bequeathed me a competency; some remoter ancestors lust toroam. I have combined the two and invested them carefully and withoutextravagance.
I became interested in your story, At the Earth's Core, not so muchbecause of the probability of the tale as of a great and abiding wonderthat people should be paid real money for writing such impossibletrash. You will pardon my candor, but it is necessary that youunderstand my mental attitude toward this particular story—that youmay credit that which follows.
Shortly thereafter I started for the Sahara in search of a rather rarespecies of antelope that is to be found only occasionally within alimited area at a certain season of the year. My chase led me far fromthe haunts of man.
It was a fruitless search, however, in so far as antelope is concerned;but one night as I lay courting sleep at the edge of a little clusterof date-palms that surround an ancient well in the midst of the arid,shifting sands, I suddenly became conscious of a strange sound comingapparently from the earth beneath my head.
It was an intermittent ticking!
No reptile or insect with which I am familiar reproduces any suchnotes. I lay for an hour—listening intently.
At last my curiosity got the better of me. I arose, lighted my lampand commenced to investigate.
My bedding lay upon a rug stretched directly upon the warm sand. Thenoise appeared to be coming from beneath the rug. I raised it, butfound nothing—yet, at intervals, the sound continued.
I dug into the sand with the point of my hunting-knife. A few inchesbelow the surface of the sand I encountered a solid substance that hadthe feel of wood beneath the sharp steel.
Excavating about it, I unearthed a small wooden box. From thisreceptacle issued the strange sound that I had heard.
How had it come here?
What did it contain?
In attempting to lift it from its burying place I discovered that itseemed to be held fast by means of a very small insulated cable runningfarther into the sand beneath it.
My first impulse was to drag the thing loose by main strength; butfortunately I thought better of this and fell to examining the box. Isoon saw that it was covered by a hinged lid, which was held closed bya simple screwhook and eye.
It took but a moment to loosen this and raise the cover, when, to myutter astonishment, I discovered an ordinary telegraph instrumentclicking away within.
"What in the world," thought I, "is this thing doing here?"
That it was a French military instrument was my first guess; but reallythere didn't seem much likelihood that this was the correctexplanation, when one took into account the loneliness and remotenessof the spot.
As I sat gazing at my remarkable find, which was ticking and clickingaway there in the silence of the desert night, trying to convey somemessage which I was unable to interpret, my eyes fell upon a bit ofpaper lying in the bottom of the box beside the instrument. I pickedit up and examined it. Upon it were written but two letters:
They meant nothing to me then. I was baffled.
Once, in an interval of silence upon the part of the receivinginstrument, I moved the sending-key up and down a few times. Instantlythe receiving mechanism commenced to work frantically.
I tried to recall something of the Morse Code, with which I had playedas a little boy—but time had obliterated it from my memory. I becamealmost frantic as I let my imagination run riot among the possibilitiesfor which this clicking instrument might stand.
Some poor devil at the unknown other end might be in dire need ofsuccor. The very franticness of the instrument's wild clashingbetokened something of the kind.
And there sat I, powerless to interpret, and so powerless to help!
It was then that the inspiration came to me. In a flash there leapedto my mind the closing paragraphs of the story I had read in the clubat Algiers:
Does the answer lie somewhere upon the bosom of the broad Sahara, atthe ends of two tiny wires, hidden beneath a lost cairn?
The idea seemed preposterous. Experience and intelligence combined toassure me that there could be no slightest grain of truth orpossibility in your wild tale—it was fiction pure and simple.
And yet where WERE the other ends of those wires?
What was this instrument—ticking away here in the great Sahara—but atravesty upon the possible!
Would I have believed in it had I not seen it with my own eyes?
And the initials—D. I.—upon the slip of paper!
David's initials were these—David Innes.
I smiled at my imaginings. I ridiculed the assumption that there wasan inner world and that these wires led downward through the earth'scrust to the surface of Pellucidar. And yet—
Well, I sat there all night, listening to that tantalizing clicking,now and then moving the sending-key just to let the other end know thatthe instrument had been discovered. In the morning, after carefullyreturning the box to its hole and covering it over with sand, I calledmy servants about me, snatched a hurried breakfast, mounted my horse,and started upon a forced march for Algiers.
I arrived here today. In writing you this letter I feel that I ammaking a fool of myself.
There is no David Innes.
There is no Dian the Beautiful.
There is no world within a world.
Pellucidar is but a realm of your imagination—nothing more.
The incident of the finding of that buried telegraph instrument uponthe lonely Sahara is little short of uncanny, in view of your story ofthe adventures of David Innes.
I have called it one of the most remarkable coincidences in modernfiction. I called it literature before, but—again pardon mycandor—your story is not.
And now—why am I writing you?
Heaven knows, unless it is that the persistent clicking of thatunfathomable enigma out there in the vast silences of the Sahara has sowrought upon my nerves that reason refuses longer to function sanely.
I cannot hear it now, yet I know that far away to the south, all alonebeneath the sands, it is still pounding out its vain, frantic appeal.
It is maddening.
It is your fault—I want you to release me from it.
Cable me at once, at my expense, that there was no basis of fact foryour story, At the Earth's Core.
Very respectfully yours,
—— and —— Club,
June 1st, —.
Ten minutes after reading this letter I had cabled Mr. Nestor asfollows:
Story true. Await me Algiers.
As fast as train and boat would carry me, I sped toward my destination.For all those dragging days my mind was a whirl of mad conjecture, offrantic hope, of numbing fear.
The finding of the telegraph-instrument practically assured me thatDavid Innes had driven Perry's iron mole back through the earth's crustto the buried world of Pellucidar; but what adventures had befallen himsince his return?
Had he found Dian the Beautiful, his half-savage mate, safe among hisfriends, or had Hooja the Sly One succeeded in his nefarious schemes toabduct her?
Did Abner Perry, the lovable old inventor and paleontologist, stilllive?
Had the federated tribes of Pellucidar succeeded in overthrowing themighty Mahars, the dominant race of reptilian monsters, and theirfierce, gorilla-like soldiery, the savage Sagoths?
I must admit that I was in a state bordering upon nervous prostrationwhen I entered the —— and —— Club, in Algiers, and inquired for Mr.Nestor. A moment later I was ushered into his presence, to find myselfclasping hands with the sort of chap that the world holds only too fewof.
He was a tall, smooth-faced man of about thirty, clean-cut, straight,and strong, and weather-tanned to the hue of a desert Arab. I likedhim immensely from the first, and I hope that after our three monthstogether in the desert country—three months not entirely lacking inadventure—he found that a man may be a writer of "impossible trash"and yet have some redeeming qualities.
The day following my arrival at Algiers we left for the south, Nestorhaving made all arrangements in advance, guessing, as he naturally did,that I could be coming to Africa for but a single purpose—to hasten atonce to the buried telegraph-instrument and wrest its secret from it.
In addition to our native servants, we took along an Englishtelegraph-operator named Frank Downes. Nothing of interest enlivenedour journey by rail and caravan till we came to the cluster ofdate-palms about the ancient well upon the rim of the Sahara.
It was the very spot at which I first had seen David Innes. If he hadever raised a cairn above the telegraph instrument no sign of itremained now. Had it not been for the chance that caused Cogdon Nestorto throw down his sleeping rug directly over the hidden instrument, itmight still be clicking there unheard—and this story still unwritten.
When we reached the spot and unearthed the little box the instrumentwas quiet, nor did repeated attempts upon the part of our telegraphersucceed in winning a response from the other end of the line. Afterseveral days of futile endeavor to raise Pellucidar, we had begun todespair. I was as positive that the other end of that little cableprotruded through the surface of the inner world as I am that I sithere today in my study—when about midnight of the fourth day I wasawakened by the sound of the instrument.
Leaping to my feet I grasped Downes roughly by the neck and dragged himout of his blankets. He didn't need to be told what caused myexcitement, for the instant he was awake he, too, heard the long-hopedfor click, and with a whoop of delight pounced upon the instrument.
Nestor was on his feet almost as soon as I. The three of us huddledabout that little box as if our lives depended upon the message it hadfor us.