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From the Ocean’s Depths by Sewell Peaslee Wright

 


Her head was a little to one side, in the attitude of one who listens intently.

From somewhere out on the black, heaving Atlantic, the rapid, muffled popping of a speed-boat’s exhaust drifted clearly through the night.

Man came from the sea. Mercer, by his thought-telegraph, learns from the weirdly beautiful ocean-maiden of a branch that returned there.

I dropped my book and stretched, leaning back more comfortably in my chair. There was real romance and adventure! Rum-runners, seeking out their hidden port with their cargo of contraband from Cuba. Heading fearlessly through the darkness, fighting the high seas, still running after the storm of a day or so before, daring a thousand dangers for the sake of the straw-packed 377 bottles they carried. Sea-bronzed men, with hard, flat muscles and fearless eyes; ready guns slapping their thighs as they––

Absorbed in my mental picture of these modern free-booters, the sudden alarm of the telephone startled me like an unexpected shot fired beside my ear. Brushing the cigarette ashes from my smoking-jacket, I crossed the room and snatched up the receiver.

“Hello!” I snapped ungraciously into the mouthpiece. It was after eleven by the ship’s clock on the mantel, and if––

“Taylor?” The voice––Warren Mercer’s familiar voice––rattled on without waiting for a reply. “Get in your car and come down here as fast as possible. Come just as you are, and––”


What’s the matter?” I managed to interrupt him. “Burglars?” I had never heard Mercer speak in that high-pitched, excited voice before; his usual speech was slow and thoughtful, almost didactic.

“Please, Taylor, don’t waste time questioning me. If it weren’t urgent, I wouldn’t be calling you, you know. Will you come?”

“You bet!” I said quickly, feeling rather a fool for ragging him when he was in such deadly earnest. “Have––”

The receiver snapped and crackled; Mercer had hung up the instant he had my assurance that I would come. Usually the very soul of courtesy and consideration, that act alone would have convinced me that there was an urgent need for my presence at The Monstrosity. That was Mercer’s own name for the impressive pile that was at once his residence and his laboratory.

I threw off the smoking-jacket and pulled on a woolen golfing sweater, for the wind was brisk and sharpish. In two minutes I was backing the car out of the garage; a moment later I was off the gravelled drive and tearing down the concrete with the accelerator all the way down, and the black wind shrieking around the windshield of my little roadster.

My own shack was out of the city limits––a little place I keep to live in when the urge to go fishing seizes me, which is generally about twice a year. Mercer picked the place up for me at a song.

The Monstrosity was some four miles further out from town, and off the highway perhaps a half-mile more.

I made the four miles in just a shade over that many minutes, and clamped on the brakes as I saw the entrance to the little drive that led toward the sea, and Mercer’s estate.


With gravel rattling on my fenders, I turned off the concrete and swept between the two massive, stuccoed pillars that guarded the drive. Both of them bore corroded bronze plates, “The Billows,” the name given The Monstrosity by the original owner, a newly-rich munitions manufacturer.

The structure itself loomed up before me in a few seconds, a rambling affair with square-shouldered balconies and a great deal of wrought-iron work, after the most flamboyant Spanish pattern. It was ablaze with light. Apparently every bulb in the place was burning.

Just a few yards beyond the surf boomed hollowly on the smooth, shady shore, littered now, I knew, by the pitiful spoils of the storm.

As I clamped on my brakes, a swift shadow passed two of the lower windows. Before I could leap from the car, the broad front door, with its rounded top and circular, grilled window, was flung wide, and Mercer came running to meet me.

He was wearing a bathrobe, hastily flung on over a damp bathing suit, his bare legs terminating in a pair of disreputable slippers.

“Fine, Taylor!” he greeted me. “I suppose you’re wondering what it’s all about. I don’t blame you. But come in, come in! Just wait till you see her!”

“Her?” I asked, startled. “You’re not in love, by any chance, and bringing me 378 down here like this merely to back up your own opinion of them eyes and them lips, Mercer?”


He laughed excitedly.

“You’ll see, you’ll see! No, I’m not in love. And I want you to help, and not admire. There are only Carson and myself here, you know, and the job’s too big for the two of us.” He hurried me across the broad concrete porch and into the house. “Throw the cap anywhere and come on!”

Too much amazed to comment further, I followed my friend. This was a Warren Mercer I did not know. Usually his clean-cut, olive-tinted face was a polite mask that seldom showed even the slightest trace of emotion. His eyes, dark and large, smiled easily, and shone with interest, but his almost beautiful mouth, beneath the long slim mustache, always closely cropped, seldom smiled with his eyes.

But it was his present excited speech that amazed me most. Mercer, during all the years I had known him, had never been moved before to such tempestuous outbursts of enthusiasm. It was his habit to speak slowly and thoughtfully, in his low, musical voice; even in the midst of our hottest arguments, and we had had many of them, his voice had never lost its calm, unhurried gentleness.

To my surprise, instead of leading the way to the really comfortable, although rather gaudy living room, Mercer turned to the left, towards what had been the billiard room, and was now his laboratory.

The laboratory, brilliantly illuminated, was littered, as usual, with apparatus of every description. Along one wall were the retorts, scales, racks, hoods and elaborate set-ups, like the articulated glass and rubber bones of some weird prehistoric monster, that demonstrated Mercer’s taste for this branch of science. On the other side of the room a corresponding workbench was littered with a tangle of coils, transformers, meters, tools and instruments, and at the end of the room, behind high black control panels, with gleaming bus-bars and staring, gaping meters, a pair of generators hummed softly. The other end of the room was nearly all glass, and opened onto the patio and the swimming pool.


Mercer paused a moment, with his hand on the knob of the door, a strange light in his dark eyes.

“Now you’ll see why I called you here,” he said tensely. “You can judge for yourself whether the trip was worth while. Here she is!”

With a gesture he flung open the door, and I stared, following his glance, down at the great tiled swimming pool.

It is difficult for me to describe the scene. The patio was not large, but it was beautifully done. Flowers and shrubs, even a few small palms, grew in profusion in the enclosure, while above, through the movable glass roof––made in sections to disappear in fine weather––was the empty blackness of the sky.

None of the lights provided for the illumination of the covered patio was turned on, but all the windows surrounding the patio were aglow, and I could see the pool quite clearly.

The pool––and its occupant.


We were standing at one side of the pool, near the center. Directly opposite us, seated on the bottom of the pool, was a human figure, nude save for a great mass of tawny hair that fell about her like a silken mantle. The strangely graceful figure of a girl, one leg stretched out straight before her, the other drawn up and clasped by the interlocked fingers of her hands. Even in the soft light I could see her perfectly, through the clear water, her pale body outlined sharply against the jade green tiles.

I tore myself away from the staring, curious eyes of the figure.

“In God’s name, Mercer, what is it? Porcelain?” I asked hoarsely. The thing had an indescribably eery effect.

379

He laughed wildly.

“Porcelain? Watch ... look!”

My eyes followed his pointing finger. The figure was moving. Gracefully it arose to its full height. The great cloud of corn-colored hair floated down about it, falling below the knees. Slowly, with a grace of movement comparable only with the slow soaring of a gull, she came toward me, walking on the bottom of the pool through the clear water as though she floated in air.


Fascinated, I watched her. Her eyes, startlingly large and dark in the strangely white face, were fixed on mine. There was nothing sinister in the gaze, yet I felt my body shaking as though in the grip of a terrible fear. I tried to look away, and found myself unable to move. I felt Mercer’s tense, sudden grip upon my arm, but I did not, could not, look at him.

“She––she’s smiling!” I heard him exclaim. He laughed, an excited, high-pitched laugh that irritated me in some subtle way.

She was smiling, and looking up into my eyes. She was very close now, within a few feet of us. She came still closer, until she was at my very feet as I stood on the raised ledge that ran around the edge of the pool, her head thrown back, staring straight up at me through the water.

I could see her teeth, very white between her coral-pink lips, and her bosom rising and falling beneath the veil of pale gold hair. She was breathing water!

Mercer literally jerked me away from the edge of the pool.

“What do you think of her, Taylor?” he asked, his dark eyes dancing with excitement.

“Tell me about it,” I said, shaking my head dazedly. “She is not human?”

“I don’t know. I think so. As human as you or I. I’ll tell you all I know, and then you can judge for yourself. I think we’ll know in a few minutes, if my plans work out. But first slip on a bathing suit.”

I didn’t argue the matter. I let Mercer lead me away without a word. And while I was changing, he told me all he knew of the strange creature in the pool.


Late this afternoon I decided to go for a little walk along the beach,” Mercer began. “I had been working like the devil since early in the morning, running some tests on what you call my thought-telegraph. I felt the need of some fresh sea air.

“I walked along briskly for perhaps five minutes, keeping just out of reach of the rollers and the spray. The shore was littered with all sorts of flotsam and jetsam washed up by the big storm, and I was just thinking that I would have to have a man with a truck come and clean up the shore in front of the place, when, in a little sandy pool, I saw––her.


She was laying face down in the water, motionless, her head towards the sea, one arm stretched out before her, and her long hair wrapped around her like a half-transparent cloak.

“I ran up and lifted her from the water. Her body was cold, and deathly white, although her lips were faintly pink, and her heart was beating, faintly but steadily.

“Like most people in an emergency. I forgot all I ever knew about first aid. All I could think of was to give her a drink, and of course I didn’t have a flask on my person. So I picked her up in my arms and brought her to the house as quickly as I could. She seemed to be reviving, for she was struggling and gasping when I got here with her.

“I placed her on the bed in the guest room and poured her a stiff drink of Scotch––half a tumblerful, I believe. Lifting up her head, I placed the glass to her lips. She looked up me, blinking, and took the liquor in a single draught. She did not seem to drink it, but sucked it out of the glass in a single amazing gulp––that’s the only 380 word for it. The next instant she was off the bed, her face a perfect mask of hate and agony.

“She came at me, hands clutching and clawing, making odd murmuring or mewing sounds in her throat. It was then that I noticed for the first time that her hands were webbed!”


Webbed?” I asked, startled.

“Webbed,” nodded Mercer solemnly. “As are her feet. But listen, Taylor. I was amazed, and not a little rattled when she came for me. I ran through the French windows out into the patio. For a moment she ran after me, rather awkwardly and heavily, but swiftly, nevertheless. Then she saw the pool.

“Apparently forgetting that I existed, she leaped into the water, and as I approached a moment later I could see her breathing deeply and gratefully, a smile of relief upon her features, as she lay upon the bottom of the pool. Breathing, Taylor, on the bottom of the pool! Under eight feet of water!”

“And then what, Mercer?” I reminded him, as he paused, apparently lost in thought.

“I tried to find out more about her. I put on my bathing suit and dived into the pool. Well, she came at me like a shark, quick as a flash, her teeth showing, her hands tearing like claws through the water. I turned, but not quickly enough to entirely escape. See?” Mercer threw back the dressing robe, and I saw a ragged tear in his bathing suit on his left side, near the waist. Through the rent three deep, jagged scratches were clearly visible.


She managed to claw me, just once,” Mercer resumed, wrapping the robe about him again. “Then I got out and called on Carson for help. I put him into a bathing suit, and we both endeavored to corner her. Carson got two bad scratches, and one rather serious bite that I have bandaged. I have a number of lacerations, but I didn’t fare so badly as Carson because I am faster in the water than he is.

“The harder we tried, the more determined I became. She would sit there, calm and placid, until one of us entered the water. Then she became a veritable fury. It was maddening.

“At last I thought of you. I phoned, and here we are!”

“But, Mercer, it’s a nightmare!” I protested. We moved out of the room. “Nothing human can live under water and breathe water, as she does!”

Mercer paused a moment, staring at me oddly.

“The human race,” he said gravely, “came up out of sea. The human race as we know it. Some may have gone back.” He turned and walked away again, and I hurried after him.

“What do you mean. Mercer? ‘Some may have gone back?’ I don’t get it.”

Mercer shook his head, but made no other reply until we stood again on the edge of the pool.

The girl was standing where we had left her, and as she looked up into my face, she smiled again, and made a quick gesture with one hand. It seemed to me that she invited me to join her.


I believe she likes you, Taylor,” said Mercer thoughtfully. “You’re light, light skin, light hair. Carson and I are both very dark, almost swarthy. And in that white bathing suit––yes, I believe she’s taken a fancy to you!”

Mercer’s eyes were dancing.

“If she has,” he went on, “it’ll make our work very easy.”

“What work?” I asked suspiciously. Mercer, always an indefatigable experimenter, was never above using his friends in the benefit of science. And some of his experiments in the past had been rather trying, not to say exciting.

“I think I have what you call my thought-telegraph perfected, experimentally,” he explained rapidly. “I fell asleep working on it at three o’clock, or thereabouts, this morning, and some 381 tests with Carson seem to indicate that it is a success. I should have called you to-morrow, for further test. Nearly five years of damned hard work to a successful conclusion, Taylor, and then this mermaid comes along and makes my experiment appear about as important as one of those breakers rolling in out there!”

“And what do you plan to do now?” I asked eagerly, glancing down at the beautiful pale face that glimmered up at me through the clear water of the pool.


Why, try it on her!” exclaimed Mercer with mounting enthusiasm. “Don’t you see, Taylor? If it will work on her, and we can direct her thoughts, we can find out her history, the history of her people! We’ll add a page to scientific history––a whole big chapter!––that will make us famous. Man this is so big it’s swept me off my feet! Look!” And he held out a thin, aristocratic brown hand before my eyes, a hand that shook with nervous excitement.

“I don’t blame you,” I said quickly. “I’m no savant, and still I see what an amazing thing this is. Let’s get busy. What can I do?”

Mercer reached around the door into the laboratory and pressed a button.

“For Carson,” he explained. “We’ll need his help. In the meantime, we’ll look over the set-up. The apparatus is strewn all over the place.”

He had not exaggerated. The set-up consisted of a whole bank of tubes, each one in its own shielding copper box. On a much-drilled horizontal panel, propped up on insulators, were half a score of delicate meters of one kind and another, with thin black fingers that pulsed and trembled. Behind the panel was a tall cylinder wound with shining copper wire, and beside it another panel, upright, fairly bristling with knobs, contact points, potentiometers, rheostats and switches. On the end of the table nearest the door was still another panel, the smallest of the lot, bearing only a series of jacks along one side, and in the center a switch with four contact points. A heavy, snaky cable led from this panel to the maze of apparatus further on.


This is the control panel,” explained Mercer. “The whole affair, you understand, is in laboratory form. Nothing assembled. Put the different antennae plug into these jacks. Like this.”

He picked up a weird, hastily built contrivance composed of two semi-circular pieces of spring brass, crossed at right angles. On all four ends were bright silvery electrodes, three of them circular in shape, one of them elongated and slightly curved. With a quick, nervous gesture, Mercer fitted the thing to his head, so that the elongated electrode pressed against the back of his neck, extending a few inches down his spine. The other three circular electrodes rested on his forehead and either side of his head. From the center of the contrivance ran a heavy insulated cord, some ten feet in length, ending in a simple switchboard plug, which Mercer fitted into the uppermost of the three jacks.

“Now,” he directed, “you put on this one”––he adjusted a second contrivance upon my head, smiling as I shrank from the contact of the cold metal on my skin––“and think!”

He moved the switch from the position marked “Off” to the second contact point, watching me intently, his dark eyes gleaming.

Carson entered, and Mercer gestured to him to wait. Very nice old chap, Carson, impressive even in his bathing suit. Mercer was mighty lucky to have a man like Carson....


Something seemed to tick suddenly, somewhere deep in my consciousness.

“Yes, that’s very true: Carson is a most decent sort of chap.” The words were not spoken. I did not hear them, I knew them. What––I glanced at Mercer, 382 and he laughed aloud with pleasure and excitement.

“It worked!” he cried. “I received your thought regarding Carson, and then turned the switch so that you received my thought. And you did!”

Rather gingerly I removed the thing from my head and laid it on the table.

“It’s wizardry, Mercer! If it will work as well on her....”

“It will, I know it will!––if we can get her to wear one of these,” replied Mercer confidently. “I have only three of them; I had planned some three-cornered experiments with you, Carson, and myself. We’ll leave Carson out of to-night’s experiment, however, for we’ll need him to operate this switch. You see, as it is now wired only one person transmits thoughts at a time. The other two receive. When the switch is on the first contact, Number One sends, and Numbers Two and Three receive. When the switch is on Number Two, then he sends thoughts, and Numbers One and Three receive them. And so on. I’ll lengthen these leads so that we can run them out into the pool, and then we’ll be ready. Somehow we must induce her to wear one of these things, even if we have to use force. I’m sure the three of us can handle her.”

“We should be able to,” I smiled. She was such a slim, graceful, almost delicate little thing; the thought that three strong men might not be able to control her seemed almost amusing.

“You haven’t seen her in action yet,” said Mercer grimly, glancing up from his work of lengthening the cords that led from the antennae to the control panel. “And what’s more, I hope you don’t.”


I watched him in silence as he spliced and securely taped the last connection.

“All set,” he nodded. “Carson, will you operate the switch for us? I believe everything is functioning properly.” He surveyed the panel of instruments hastily, assuring himself that every reading was correct. Then, with all three of the devices he called antennae in his hand, their leads plugged into the control panel, he led the way to the side of the pool.

The girl was strolling around the edge of the pool, feeling the smooth tile sides with her hands as we came into view, but as soon as she saw us she shot through the water to where we were standing.

It was the first time I had seen her move in this fashion. She seemed to propel herself with a sudden mighty thrust of her feet against the bottom; she darted through the water with the speed of an arrow, yet stopped as gently as though she had merely floated there.

As she looked up, her eyes unmistakably sought mine, and her smile seemed warm and inviting. She made again that strange little gesture of invitation.

With an effort I glanced at Mercer. There was something devilishly fascinating about the girl’s great, dark, searching eyes.

“I’m going in,” I said hoarsely. “Hand me one of your head-set things when I reach for it.” Before he could protest, I dived into the pool.


I headed directly towards the heavy bronze ladder that led to the bottom of the pool. I had two reasons in mind. I would need something to keep me under water, with my lungs full of air, and I could get out quickly if it were necessary. I had not forgotten the livid, jagged furrows in Mercer’s side.

Quickly as I shot to the ladder she was there before me, a dim, wavering white shape, waiting.

I paused, holding to a rung of the ladder with one hand. She came closer, walking with the airy grace I had noted before, and my heart pounded against my ribs as she raised one long, slim arm towards me.

The hand dropped gently on my shoulder, pressed it as though in token 383 of friendship. Perhaps, I thought quickly, this was, with her, a sign of greeting. I lifted my own arm and returned the salutation, if salutation it were, aware of a strange rising and falling sound, as of a distant humming, in my ears.

The sound ceased suddenly, on a rising note, as though of inquiry, and it dawned on me that I had heard the speech of this strange creature. Before I could think of a course of action, my aching lungs reminded me of the need of air, and I released my hold on the ladder and let my body rise to the surface.


As my head broke the water, a hand, cold and strong as steel, closed around my ankle. I looked down. The girl was watching me, and there was no smile on her face now.

“All right!” I shouted across the pool to Mercer, who was watching anxiously. Then, filling my lungs with air again, I pulled myself, by means of the ladder, to the bottom of the pool. The restraining hand was removed instantly.

The strange creature thrust her face close to mine as my feet touched bottom, and for the first time I saw her features distinctly.

She was beautiful, but in a weird, unearthly sort of way. As I had already noticed, her eyes were of unusual size, and I saw now that they were an intense shade of blue, with a pupil of extraordinary proportion. Her nose was well shaped, but the nostrils were slightly flattened, and the orifices were rather more elongated than I had ever seen before. The mouth was utterly fascinating, and her teeth, revealed by her engaging smile, were as perfect as it would be possible to imagine.

The great mane of hair which enveloped her was, as I have said, tawny in hue, and almost translucent, like the stems of some seaweeds I have seen. And as she raised one slim white hand to brush back some wisps that floated by her face, I saw distinctly the webs between her fingers. They were barely noticeable, for they were as transparent as the fins of a fish, but they were there, extending nearly to the last joint of each finger.


As her face came close to my own, I became aware of the humming, crooning sound I had heard before, louder this time. I could see, from the movement of her throat, that I had been correct in assuming that she was attempting to speak with me. I smiled back at her and shook my head. She seemed to understand, for the sound ceased, and she studied me with a little thoughtful frown, as though trying to figure out some other method of communication.

I pointed upward, for I was feeling the need for fresh air again, and slowly mounted the ladder. This time she did not grasp me, but watched me intently, as though understanding what I did, and the reasons for it.

“Bring one of your gadgets over here, Mercer,” I called across the pool. “I think I’m making progress.”

“Good boy!” he cried, and came running with two of the antennae, the long insulated cords trailing behind him. Through the water the girl watched him, evident dislike in her eyes. She glanced at me with sudden suspicion as Mercer handed me the two instruments, but made no hostile move.

“You won’t be able to stay in the water with her,” explained Mercer rapidly. “The salt water would short the antennae, you see. Try to get her to wear one, and then you get your head out of water, and don yours. And remember, she won’t be able to communicate with us by words––we’ll have to get her to convey her thoughts by means of mental pictures. I’ll try to impress that on her. Understand?”


I nodded, and picked up one of the instruments. “Fire when ready, Gridley,” I commented, and sank again to the bottom of the pool.

I touched the girl’s head with one 384 finger, and then pointed to my own head, trying to convey to her that she could get her thoughts to me. Then I held up the antennae and placed it on my own head to show that it could not harm her.

My next move was to offer her the instrument, moving slowly, and smiling reassuringly––no mean feat under water.

She hesitated a moment, and then, her eyes fixed on mine, she slowly fixed the instrument over her own head as she had seen me adjust it upon my own.

I smiled and nodded, and pressed her shoulder in token of friendly greeting. Then, gesturing toward my own head again, and pointing upward. I climbed the ladder.

“All right, Mercer,” I shouted. “Start at once, before she grows restless!”

“I’ve already started!” he called back, and I hurriedly donned my own instrument.

Bearing in mind what Mercer had said, I descended the ladder but a few rungs, so that my head remained out of water, and smiled down at the girl, touching the instrument on my head, and then pointing to hers.

I could sense Mercer’s thoughts now. He was picturing himself walking long the shore, with the stormy ocean in the background. Ahead of him I saw the white body lying face downward in the pool. I saw him run up to the pool and lift the slim, pale figure in his arms.


Let me make it clear, at this point, that when I say that I saw these things, I mean only that mental images of them penetrated my consciousness. I visualized them just as I could close my eyes and visualize, for example, the fireplace in the living room of my own home.

I looked down at the girl. She was frowning, and her eyes were very wide. Her head was a little on one side, in the attitude of one who listens intently.

Slowly and carefully Mercer thought out the whole story of his experiences with the girl until she had plunged into the pool. Then I saw again the beach, with the girl’s figure in the pool. The picture grew hazy; I realized Mercer was trying to picture the bottom of the sea. Then he pictured again the girl lying in the pool, and once again the sea. I was aware of the soft little tick in the center of my brain that announced that the switch had been moved to another contact point.

I glanced down at her. She was staring up at me with her great, curious eyes, and I sensed, through the medium of the instrument I wore, that she was thinking of me. I saw my own features, idealized, glowing with a strange beauty that was certainly none of my own. I realized that I saw myself, in short, as she saw me. I smiled back at her, and shook my head.


A strange, dim whirl of pictures swept through my consciousness. I was on the bottom of the ocean. Shadowy shapes swept by silently, and from above, a dim bluish light filtered down on a scene such as mortal eyes have never seen.

All around were strange structures of jagged coral, roughly circular as to base, and rounded on top, resembling very much the igloos of the Eskimos. The structures varied greatly in size, and seemed to be arranged in some sort of regular order, like houses along a narrow street. Around many of them grew clusters of strange and colorful seaweeds that waved their banners gently, as though some imperceptible current dallied with them in passing.

Here and there figures moved, slim white figures that strolled along the narrow street, or at times shot overhead like veritable torpedoes.

There were both men and women moving there. The men were broader of shoulder, and their hair, which they wore to their knees, was somewhat darker in color than that of the women. Both sexes were slim, and there was a 385 remarkable uniformity of size and appearance.

None of the strange beings wore garments of any kind, nor were they necessary. The clinging tresses were cinctured at the waist with a sort of cord of twisted orange-colored material, and some of the younger women wore bands of the same material around their brows.


Nearest of all the figures was the girl who was visualizing all this for us. She was walking slowly away from the cluster of coral structures. Once or twice she paused, and seemed to hold conversation with others of the strange people, but each time she moved on.

The coral structures grew smaller and poorer. Finally the girl trod alone on the floor of the ocean, between great growths of kelp and seaweeds, with dim, looming masses of faintly tinted coral everywhere. Once she passed close to a tilted, ragged hulk of some ancient vessel, its naked ribs packed with drifted sand.

Sauntering dreamily, she moved away from the ancient derelict. Suddenly a dim shadow swept across the sand at her feet, and she arrowed from the spot like a white, slim meteor. But behind her darted a black and swifter shadow––a shark!

Like a flash she turned and faced the monster. Something she had drawn from her girdle shone palely in her hand. It was a knife of whetted stone or bone.

Darting swiftly downward her feet spurned the yellow sand, and she shot at her enemy with amazing speed. The long blade swept in an arc, ripped the pale belly of the monster just as he turned to dart away.


A great cloud of blood dyed the water. The white figure of the girl shot onward through the scarlet flood.

Blinded, she did not see that the jutting ribs of the ancient ship were in her path. I seemed to see her crash, head on, into one of the massive timbers, and I cried out involuntarily, and glanced down at the girl in the water at my feet.

Her eyes were glowing. She knew that I had understood.

Hazily, then, I seemed to visualize her body floating limply in the water. It was all very vague and indistinct, and I understood that this was not what she had seen, but what she thought had happened. The impressions grew wilder, swirled, grew gray and indistinct. Then I had a view of Mercer’s face, so terribly distorted it was barely recognizable. Then a kaleidoscopic maze of inchoate scenes, shot through with flashes of vivid, agonizing colors. The girl was thinking of her suffering, taken out of her native element. In trying to save her, Mercer had almost killed her. That, no doubt, was why she hated him.

My own face appeared next, almost godlike in its kindliness and its imagined beauty, and I noticed now that she was thinking of me with my yellow hair grown long, my nostrils elongated like her own––adjusted to her own ideas of what a man should be.


I flung the instrument from my head and dropped to the bottom of the pool. I gripped both her shoulders, gently, to express my thanks and friendship.

My heart was pounding. There was a strange fascination about this girl from the depths of the sea, a subtle appeal that was answered from some deep subterranean cavern of my being. I forgot, for the moment, who and what I was. I remembered only that a note had been sounded that awoke an echo of a long-forgotten instinct.

I think I kissed her. I know her arms were about me, and that I pressed her close, so that our faces almost met. Her great, weirdly blue eyes seemed to bore into my brain. I could feel them throbbing there....

I forgot time and space. I saw only 386 that pale, smiling face and those great dark eyes. Then, strangling, I tore myself from her embrace and shot to the surface.

Coughing, I cleared my lungs of the water I had inhaled. I was weak and shaking when I finished, but my head was clear. The grip of the strange fantasy that had gripped me was shaken off.

Mercer was bending over me; speaking softly.

“I was watching, old man,” he said gently. “I can imagine what happened. A momentary, psychic fusing of an ancient, long since broken link. You, together with all mankind, came up out of the sea. But there is no retracing the way.”


I nodded, my head bowed on my streaming chest.

“Sorry, Mercer,” I muttered. “Something got into me. Those big eyes of hers seemed to tug at threads of memory ... buried.... I can’t describe it....”

He slapped me on my naked shoulder, a blow that stung, as he had intended it to. It helped jerk me back to the normal.

“You’ve got your feet on the ground again, Taylor,” he commented soothingly. “I think there’s no danger of you losing your grip on terra firma again. Shall we carry on?”

“There’s more you’d like to learn? That you think she can give us?” I asked hesitantly.

“I believe,” replied Mercer, “that she can give us the history of her people, if we can only make her understand what we wish. God! If we only could!” The name of the Deity was a prayer as Mercer uttered it.

“We can try, old-timer,” I said, a bit shakenly.

Mercer hurried back to the other side of the pool, and I adjusted my head-set again, smiling down at the girl. If only Mercer could make her understand, and if only she knew what we wanted to learn!

I was conscious of the little click that told me the switch had been moved. Mercer was ready to get his message to her.

Fixing my eyes on the girl pleadingly, I settled myself by the edge of the pool to await the second and more momentous part of our experiment.


The vision was vague, for Mercer was picturing his thoughts with difficulty. But I seemed to see again the floor of the ocean, with the vague light filtering down from above, and soft, monstrous growths waving their branches lazily in the flood.

From the left came a band of men and women, looking around as though in search of some particular spot. They stopped, and one of the older men pointed, the others gathering around him as though in council.

Then the band set to work. Coral growth were dragged to the spot. The foundation for one of the semi-circular houses was laid. The scene swirled and cleared again. The house was completed. Several other houses were in process of building.

Slowly and deliberately, the scene moved. The houses were left behind. Before my consciousness now was only a vague and shadowy expanse of ocean floor, and in the sand dim imprints that marked where the strange people had trod, the vague footprints disappearing in the gloom in the direction from which the little weary band had come. To me, at least, it was quite clear that Mercer was asking whence they came. Would it be as clear to the girl? The switch clicked, and for a moment I was sure Mercer had not been able to make his question clear to her.


The scene was the interior of one of the coral houses. There were persons there, seated on stone or coral chairs, padded with marine growths. One of the occupants of the room was a very old man; his face was wrinkled, and his hair was silvery. With him were a man and a woman, and a little 387 girl. Somehow I seemed to recognize the child as the girl in the pool.

The three of them were watching the old man. While his lips did not move, I could see his throat muscles twitching as the girl’s had done when she made the murmuring sound I had guessed was her form of speech.

The scene faded. For perhaps thirty seconds I was aware of nothing more than a dim gray mist that seemed to swirl in stately circles. Then, gradually, it cleared somewhat. I sensed the fact that what I saw now was what the old man was telling, and that the majestic, swirling mist was the turning back of time.

Here was no ocean bottom, but land, rich tropical jungle. Strange exotic trees and dense growths of rank undergrowth choked the earth. The trees were oddly like undersea growths, which puzzled me for an instant. Then I recalled that the girl could interpret the old man’s words only in terms of that which she had seen and understood. This was the way she visualized the scene.


There was a gray haze of mist everywhere. The leaves were glistening with condensed moisture; swift drops fell incessantly to the soaking ground below.

Into the scene roamed a pitiful band of people. Men with massive frames, sunken in with starvation, women tottering with weakness. The men carried great clubs, some tipped with rudely shaped stone heads, and both men and women clothed only in short kittles of skin.

They searched ceaselessly for something, and I guessed that something was food. Now and then one or the other of the little band tore up a root and bit at it, and those that did so soon doubled into a twitching knot of suffering and dropped behind.

At last they came to the edge of the sea. A few yards away the water was lost in the dense steaming miasma that hemmed them in on all sides. With glad expressions on their faces, the party ran down to the edge of the water and gathered up great masses of clams and crabs. At first they ate the food raw, tearing the flesh from the shells. Then they made what I understood was a fire, although the girl was able to visualize it only as a bright red spot that flickered.

The scene faded, and there was only the slowly swirling mist that I understood indicated the passing of centuries. Then the scene cleared again.


I saw that same shore line, but the people had vanished. There was only the thick, steamy mist, the tropic jungle crowding down to the shore, and the waves rolling in monotonously from the waste of gray ocean beyond the curtain of fog.

Suddenly, from out of the sea, appeared a series of human heads, and then a band of men and women that waded ashore and seated themselves upon the beach, gazing restlessly out across the sea.

This was not the same band I had seen at first. These were a slimmer race, and whereas the first band had been exceedingly swarthy, these were very fair.

They did not stay long on shore, for they were restless and ill at ease. It seemed to me they came there only from force of habit, as though they obeyed some inner urge they did not understand. In a few seconds they rose and ran into the water, plunged into it as though they welcomed its embrace, and disappeared. Then again the vision was swallowed up by the swirling mists of time.


When the scene cleared again, it showed the bottom of the sea. A group of perhaps a hundred pale creatures moved along the dim floor of the ocean. Ahead I could see the dim outlines of one of their strange cities. The band approached, seemed to talk with those there, and moved on.

I saw them capture and kill fish for 388 food, saw them carve the thick, spongy hearts from certain giant growths and eat them. I saw a pair of killer sharks swoop down on the band, and the quick, deadly accuracy with which both men and woman met the attack. One man, older than the rest, was injured before the sharks were vanquished, and when their efforts to staunch his wounds proved unavailing, they left him there and moved on. And as they left I saw a dim, crawling shape move closer, throw out a long, whiplike tentacle, and wrap the body in a hungry embrace.

They came to and passed other communities of beings like themselves, and a city of their own, in much the way that Mercer had visualized it.

Fading, the scene changed to the interior of the coral house again. The old man finished his story, and moved off into a cubicle in the rear of the place. Dimly, I could see there a low couch, piled high with soft marine growths. Then the scene shifted once more.

A man and a woman hurried up and down the narrow streets of the strange city the girl had pictured when she showed us how she had met with the shark, and struck her head, so that for a long period she lost consciousness and was washed ashore.


Others, after a time, joined them in their search, which spread out to the floor of the ocean, away from the dwellings. One party came to the gaunt skeleton of the ancient wreck, and found the scattered, fresh-picked bones of the shark the girl had killed. The man and the woman came up, and I looked closely into their faces. The woman’s features were torn with grief; the man’s lips were set tight with suffering. Here, it was easy to guess, were the mother and the father of the girl.

A milling mass of white forms shot through the water in every direction, searching. It seemed that they were about to give up the search when suddenly, from out of the watery gloom, there shot a slim white figure––the girl!

Straight to the mother and father she came, gripping the shoulder of each with frantic joy. They returned the caress, the crowd gathered around them, listening to her story as they moved slowly, happily, towards the distant city.

Instead of a picture, I was conscious then of a sound, like a single pleading word repeated softly, as though someone said “Please! Please! Please!” over and over again. The sound was not at all like the English word. It was a soft, musical beat, like the distant stroke of a mellow gong, but it had all the pleading quality of the word it seemed to bring to mind.

I looked down into the pool. The girl had mounted the ladder until her face was just below the surface of the water. Her eyes met mine and I knew that I had not misunderstood.

I threw off the instrument on my head, and dropped down beside her. With both hands I grasped her shoulders, and, smiling, I nodded my head vigorously.

She understood, I know she did. I read it in her face. When I climbed the ladder again, she looked after me, smiling confidently.

Although I had not spoken to her, she had read and accepted the promise.


Mercer stared at me silently, grimly, as I told him what I wished. Whatever eloquence I may have, I used on him, and I saw his cold, scientific mind waver before the warmth of my appeal.

“We have no right to keep her from her people,” I concluded. “You saw her mother and father, saw their suffering, and the joy her return would bring. You will, Mercer––you will return her to the sea?”

For a long time, Mercer did not reply. Then he lifted his dark eyes to mine, and smiled, rather wearily.

“It is the only thing we can do, Taylor,” he said quietly. “She is not a scientific specimen; she is, in her 389 way, as human as you or I. She would probably die, away from her own kind, living under conditions foreign to her. And you promised her, Taylor, whether you spoke your promise or not.” His smile deepened a bit. “We cannot let her receive too bad an opinion of her cousins who live above the surface of the sea!”


And so, just as the dawn was breaking, we took her to the shore. I carried her, unresisting, trustful, in my arms, while Mercer bore a huge basin of water, in which her head was submerged, so that she might not suffer.

Still in our bathing suits we waded out into the ocean, until the waves splashed against our faces. Then I lowered her into the sea. Crouching there, so that the water was just above the tawny glory of her hair, she gazed up at us. Two slim white hands reached towards us, and with one accord, Mercer and I bent towards her. She gripped both our shoulders with a gentle pressure, smiling at us.

Then she did a strange thing. She pointed, under the water, out towards the depths and with a broad, sweeping motion of her arm, indicated the shore, as though to say that she intended to return. With a last swift, smiling glance up into my face, she turned. There was a flash of white through the water. She was gone....

Silently, through the silence and beauty of the dawn, we made our way back to the house.


As we passed through the laboratory, Mercer glanced out at the empty pool.

“Man came up from the sea,” he said slowly, “and some men went back to it. They were forced back to the teeming source from whence they came, for lack of food. You saw that, Taylor––saw her forebears become amphibians, like the now extinct Dipneusta and Ganoideii, or the still existing Neoceratodus, Polypterus and Amia. Then their lungs became, in effect, gills, and they lost their power of breathing atmospheric air, and could use only air dissolved in water.

“A whole people there beneath the waves that land-man never dreamed of––except, perhaps, the sailors of olden days, with their tales of mermaids, which we are accustomed to laugh at in our wisdom!”

“But why were no bodies ever washed ashore?” I asked. “I would think––”

“You saw why,” interrupted Mercer grimly. “The ocean teems with hungry life. Death is the signal for a feast. It was little more than a miracle that her body came ashore, a miracle due perhaps to the storm which sent the hungry monsters to the greater depths. And even had a body come ashore it would have been buried as that of some unknown, unfortunate human. The differences between these people and ourselves would not be noticeable to a casual observer.

“No, Taylor, we have been party to what was close to a miracle. And we are the only witnesses to it, you and Carson and myself. And”––he sighed deeply––“it is over.”

I did not reply. I was thinking of the girl’s odd gesture, at parting, and I wondered if it were indeed a finished chapter.