A Strange Manuscript Found in a Copper Cylinder, by James De Mille

Chapter XVII

Belief and Unbelief

The doctor was here interrupted by Featherstone, who, with a yawn, informed him that it was eleven o’clock, and that human endurance had its limits. Upon this the doctor rolled up the manuscript and put it aside for the night, after which supper was ordered.

“Well,” said Featherstone, “what do you think of this last?”

“It contains some very remarkable statements,” said the doctor.

“There are certainly monsters enough in it,” said Melick —

“‘Gorgons, and hydras, and chimeras dire.’”

“Well, why not?” said the doctor.

“It seems to me,” said Melick, “that the writer of this has peopled his world with creatures that resemble the fossil animals more than anything else.”

“The so-called fossil animals,” said the doctor, “may not be extinct. There are fossil specimens of animals that still have living representatives. There is no reason why many of those supposed to be extinct may not be alive now. It is well known that many very remarkable animals have become extinct within a comparatively recent period. These great birds, of which More speaks, seem to me to belong to these classes. The dodo was in existence fifty years ago, the moa about a hundred years ago. These great birds, together with others, such as the epiornis and palapteryx, have disappeared, not through the ordinary course of nature, but by the hand of man. Even in our hemisphere they may yet be found. Who can tell but that the moa or the dodo may yet be lurking somewhere here in the interior of Madagascar, of Borneo, or of Papua?”

“Can you make out anything about those great birds?” asked Featherstone. “Do they resemble anything that exists now, or has ever existed?”

“Well, yes, I think so,” said the doctor. “Unfortunately, More is not at all close or accurate in his descriptions; he has a decidedly unscientific mind, and so one cannot feel sure; yet from his general statements I think I can decide pretty nearly upon the nature and the scientific name of each one of his birds and animals. It is quite evident to me that most of these animals belong to races that no longer exist among us, and that this world at the South Pole has many characteristics which are like those of what is known as the Coal Period. I allude in particular to the vast forests of fern, of gigantic grasses and reeds. At the same time the general climate and the atmosphere seem like what we may find in the tropics at present. It is evident that in More’s world various epochs are represented, and that animals of different ages are living side by side.”

“What do you think of the opkuk?” asked Featherstone, with a yawn.

“Well, I hardly know.”

“Why, it must be a dodo, of course,” said Melick, “only magnified.”

“That,” said the doctor, gravely, “is a thought that naturally suggests itself; but then the opkuk is certainly far larger than the dodo.”

“Oh, More put on his magnifying-glasses just then.”

“The dodo,” continued the doctor, taking no notice of this, “in other respects corresponds with More’s description of the opkuk. Clusius and Bontius give good descriptions and there is a well-known picture of one in the British Museum. It is a massive, clumsy bird, ungraceful in its form with heavy movements, wings too short for flight, little or no tail, and down rather than feathers. The body, according to Bontius, is as big as that of the African ostrich, but the legs are very short. It has a large head, great black eyes, long bluish-white bill, ending in a beak like that of a vulture, yellow legs, thick and short, four toes on each foot solid, long, and armed with sharp black claws. The flesh particularly on the breast, is fat and esculent. Now, all this corresponds with More’s account, except as to the size of the two, for the opkuks are as large as oxen.”

“Oh, that’s nothing,” said Melick; “I’m determined to stand up for the dodo.” With this he burst forth singing —

“Oh, the dodo once lived, but he doesn’t live now;

Yet why should a cloud overshadow our brow?

The loss of that bird ne’er should trouble our brains,

For though he is gone, still our claret remains.

     Sing do-do — jolly do-do!

Hurrah! in his name let our cups overflow.”

“As for your definition, doctor,” continued Melick, “I’ll give you one worth a dozen of yours:

“’Twas a mighty bird; those strong, short legs were never known to fail,

And he felt a glory of pride while thinking of that little tail,

And his beak was marked with vigor, curving like a wondrous hook;

Thick and ugly was his body — such a form as made one look!”

“Melick,” said Featherstone, “you’re a volatile youth. You mustn’t mind him, doctor. He’s a professional cynic, sceptic, and scoffer. Oxenden and I, however, are open to conviction, and want to know more about those birds and beasts. Can you make anything out of the opmahera?”

The doctor swallowed a glass of wine, and replied:

“Oh yes; there are many birds, each of which may be the opmahera. There’s the fossil bird of Massachusetts, of which nothing is left but the footprints; but some of these are eighteen inches in length, and show a stride of two yards. The bird belonged to the order of the Grallae, and may have been ten or twelve feet in height. Then there is the Gastornis parisiensis, which was as tall as an ostrich, as big as an ox, and belongs to the same order as the other. Then there is the Palapteryx, of which remains have been found in New Zealand, which was seven or eight feet in height. But the one which to my mind is the real counterpart of the opmahera is the Dinornis gigantea, whose remains are also found in New Zealand. It is the largest bird known, with long legs, a long neck, and short wings, useless for flight. One specimen that has been found is upward of thirteen feet in height. There is no reason why some should not have been much taller. More compares its height to that of a giraffe. The Maoris call this bird the Moa, and their legends and traditions are full of mention of it. When they first came to the island, six or seven hundred years ago, they found these vast birds everywhere, and hunted them for food. To my mind the dinornis is the opmahera of More. As to riding on them, that is likely enough; for ostriches are used for this purpose, and the dinornis must have been far stronger and fleeter than the ostrich. It is possible that some of these birds may still be living in the remoter parts of our hemisphere.”

“What about those monsters,” asked Featherstone, “that More speaks of in the sacred hunt?”

“I think,” said the doctor, “that I understand pretty well what they were, and can identify them all. As the galley passed the estuary of that great river, you remember that he mentions seeing them on the shore. One may have been the Ichthyosaurus. This, as the name implies, is a fish-lizard. It has the head of a lizard, the snout of a dolphin, the teeth of an alligator, enormous eyes, whose membrane is strengthened by a bony frame, the vertebrae of fishes, sternum and shoulder-bones like those of the lizard, and the fins of a whale. Bayle calls it the whale of the saurians. Another may have been the Cheirotherium. On account of the hand-shaped marks made by its paws, Owen thinks that it was akin to the frogs; but it was a formidable monster, with head and jaws of a crocodile. Another may have been the Teleosaurus, which resembled our alligators. It was thirty-five feet in length. Then there was the Hylaeosaurus, a monster twenty-five feet in length, with a cuirass of bony plates.”

“But none of these correspond with More’s description of the monster that fought with the galley.”

“No,” said the doctor, “I am coming to that now. That monster could have been no other than the Plesiosaurus, one of the most wonderful animals that has ever existed. Imagine a thing with the head of a lizard, the teeth of a crocodile, the neck of a swan, the trunk and tail of a quadruped, and the fins of a whale. Imagine a whale with its head and neck consisting of a serpent, with the strength of the former and the malignant fury of the latter, and then you will have the plesiosaurus. It was an aquatic animal, yet it had to remain near or on the surface of the water, while its long, serpent-like neck enabled it to reach its prey above or below with swift, far-reaching darts. Yet it had no armor, and could not have been at all a match for the ichthyosaurus. More’s account shows, however, that it was a fearful enemy for man to encounter.”

“He seems to have been less formidable than that beast which they encountered in the swamp. Have you any idea what that was?”

“I think it can have been no other than the Iguanodon,” said the doctor. “The remains of this animal show that it must have been the most gigantic of all primeval saurians. Judging from existing remains its length was not less than sixty feet, and larger ones may have existed. It stood high on its legs; the hind ones were larger than the fore. The feet were massive and armed with tremendous claws. It lived on the land and fed on herbage. It had a horny, spiky ridge all along its back. Its tail was nearly as long as its body. Its head was short, its jaws enormous, furnished with teeth of a very elaborate structure, and on its muzzle it carried a curved horn. Such a beast as this might well have caused all that destruction of life on the part of his desperate assailants of which More speaks.

“Then there was another animal,” continued the doctor, who was evidently discoursing upon a favorite topic. “It was the one that came suddenly upon More while he was resting with Almah after his flight with the run-away bird. That I take to be the Megalosaurus. This animal was a monster of tremendous size and strength. Cuvier thought that it might have been seventy feet in length. It was carnivorous, and therefore more ferocious than the iguanodon, and more ready to attack. Its head was like that of a crocodile, its body massive like that of an elephant, yet larger; its tail was small, and it stood high on its legs, so that it could run with great speed. It was not covered with bony armor, but had probably a hide thick enough to serve the purpose of shell or bone. Its teeth were constructed so as to cut with their edges, and the movement of the jaws produced the combined effect of knife and saw, while their inward curve rendered impossible the escape of prey that had once been caught. It probably frequented the river banks, where it fed upon reptiles of smaller size which inhabited the same places.

“More,” continued the doctor, “is too general in his descriptions. He has not a scientific mind, and he gives but few data; yet I can bring before myself very easily all the scenes which he describes, particularly that one in which the megalosaurus approaches, and he rushes to mount the dinoris so as to escape. I see that river, with its trees and shrubs, all unknown now except in museums — the vegetation of the Coal Period — the lepidodendron, the lepidostrobus, the pecopteris, the neuropteris, the lonchopteris, the odontopteris, the sphenopteris, the cyclopteris, the sigellaria veniformis, the sphenophyllium, the calamites — ”

Melick started to his feet.

“There, there!” he cried, “hold hard, doctor. Talking of calamities, what greater calamity can there be than such a torrent of unknown words? Talk English, doctor, and we shall be able to appreciate you; but to make your jokes, your conundrums, and your brilliant witticisms in a foreign language isn’t fair to us, and does no credit either to your head or your heart.”

The doctor elevated his eyebrows, and took no notice of Melick’s ill-timed levity.

“All these stories of strange animals,” said Oxenden, “may be very interesting, doctor, but I must say that I am far more struck by the account of the people themselves. I wonder whether they are an aboriginal race, or descendants of the same stock from which we came?”

“I should say,” remarked the doctor, confidently, “that they are, beyond a doubt, an aboriginal and autochthonous race.”

“I differ from you altogether,” said Oxenden, calmly.

“Oh,” said the doctor, “there can be no doubt about it. Their complexion, small stature, and peculiar eyes — their love of darkness, their singular characteristics, both physical and moral, all go to show that they can have no connection with the races in our part of the earth.”

“Their peculiar eyes,” said Oxenden, “are no doubt produced by dwelling in caves for many generations.”

“On the contrary,” said the doctor, “it is their peculiarity of eye that makes them dwell in caves.”

“You are mistaking the cause for the effect, doctor.”

“Not at all; it is you who are making that mistake.”

“It’s the old debate,” said Melick. “As the poet has it:

“‘Which was first, the egg or the hen?

Tell me, I pray, ye learned men!’”

“There are the eyeless fishes of the great cave of Kentucky,” said Oxenden, “whose eyes have become extinct from living in the dark.”

“No,” cried the doctor; “the fish that have arisen in that lake have never needed eyes, and have never had them.”

Oxenden laughed.

“Well,” said he, “I’ll discuss the question with you on different grounds altogether, and I will show clearly that these men, these bearded men, must belong to a stock that is nearly related to our own, or, at least, that they belong to a race of men with whom we are all very familiar.”

“I should like very much to have you try it,” said the doctor.

“Very well,” said Oxenden. “In the first place, I take their language.”

“Their language!”

“Yes. More has given us very many words in their language. Now he himself says that these words had an Arabic sound. He was slightly acquainted with that language. What will you say if I tell you that these words are still more like Hebrew?”

“Hebrew!” exclaimed the doctor, in amazement.

“Yes, Hebrew,” said Oxenden. “They are all very much like Hebrew words, and the difference is not greater than that which exists between the words of any two languages of the Aryan family.”

“Oh, if you come to philology I’ll throw up the sponge,” said the doctor. “Yet I should like to hear what you have to say on that point.”

“The languages of the Aryan family,” said Oxenden, “have the same general characteristics, and in all of them the differences that exist in their most common words are subject to the action of a regular law. The action of the law is best seen in the changes which take place in the mutes. These changes are indicated in a summary and comprehensive way by means of what is called ‘Grimm’s Law.’ Take Latin and English, for instance. ‘Grimm’s Law’ tells us, among other things, that in Latin and in that part of English which is of Teutonic origin, a large number of words are essentially the same, and differ merely in certain phonetic changes. Take the word ‘father.’ In Latin, as also in Greek, it is ‘pater.’ Now the Latin ‘p’ in English becomes ‘f;’ that is, the thin mute becomes the aspirated mute. The same change may be seen in the Latin ‘piscis,’ which in English is ‘fish,’ and the Greek ‘[pi upsilon rho]’ which in English is ‘fire.’ Again, if the Latin or Greek word begins with an aspirate, the English word begins with a medial; thus the Latin ‘f’ is found responsive to the English ‘b,’ as in Latin ‘fagus,’ English ‘beech,’ Latin ‘fero,’ English ‘bear.’ Again, if the Latin or Greek has the medial, the English has the thin, as in Latin ‘duo,’ English ‘two,’ Latin ‘genu,’ English ‘knee.’ Now, I find that in many of the words which More mentions this same ‘Grimm’s Law’ will apply; and I am inclined to think that if they were spelled with perfect accuracy they would show the same relation between the Kosekin language and the Hebrew that there is between the Saxon English and the Latin.”

The doctor gave a heavy sigh.

“You’re out of my depth, Oxenden,” said he. “I’m nothing of a philologist.”

“By Jove!” said Featherstone, “I like this. This is equal to your list of the plants of the Coal Period, doctor. But I say, Oxenden, while you are about it, why don’t you give us a little dose of Anglo–Saxon and Sanscrit? By Jove! the fellow has Bopp by heart, and yet he expects us to argue with him.”

“I have it!” cried Melick. “The Kosekin are the lost Ten Tribes. Oxenden is feeling his way to that. He is going to make them out to be all Hebrew; and then, of course, the only conclusion will be that they are the Ten Tribes, who after a life of strange vicissitudes have pulled up at the South Pole. It’s a wonder More didn’t think of that — or the writer of this yarn, whoever he may be. Well, for my part, I always took a deep interest in the lost Ten Tribes, and thought them a fine body of men.”

“Don’t think they’ve got much of the Jew about them,” said Featherstone, languidly. “They hate riches and all that, you know. Break a Jew’s heart to hear of all that property wasted, and money going a-begging. Not a bad idea, though, that of theirs about money. Too much money’s a howwid baw, by Jove!”

“Well,” continued Oxenden, calmly resuming, and taking no notice of these interruptions, “I can give you word after word that More has mentioned which corresponds to a kindred Hebrew word in accordance with ‘Grimm’s Law.’ For instance, Kosekin ‘Op,’ Hebrew ‘Oph;’ Kosekin ‘Athon,’ Hebrew ‘Adon;’ Kosekin ‘Salon,’ Hebrew ‘Shalom.’ They are more like Hebrew than Arabic, just as Anglo–Saxon words are more like Latin or Greek than Sanscrit.”

“Hurrah!” cried Melick, “we’ve got him to Sanscrit at last! Now, Oxenden, my boy, trot out the ‘Hitopadesa,’ the ‘Megha Dhuta,’ the ‘Rig Veda.’ Quote ‘Beowulf’ and Caedmon. Gives us a little Zeno, and wind up with ‘Lalla Rookh’ in modern Persian.”

“So I conclude,” said Oxenden, calmly, ignoring Melick, “that the Kosekin are a Semitic people. Their complexion and their beards show them to be akin to the Caucasian race, and their language proves beyond the shadow of a doubt that they belong to the Semitic branch of that race. It is impossible for an autochthonous people to have such a language.”

“But how,” cried the doctor — “how in the name of wonder did they get to the South Pole?”

“Easily enough,” interrupted Melick — “Shem landed there from Noah’s ark, and left some of his children to colonize the country. That’s as plain as a pikestaff. I think, on the whole, that this idea is better than the other one about the Ten Tribes. At any rate they are both mine, and I warn all present to keep their hands off them, for on my return I intend to take out a copyright.”

“There’s another thing,” continued Oxenden, “which is of immense importance, and that is their habit of cave-dwelling. I am inclined to think that they resorted to cave-dwelling at first from some hereditary instinct or other, and that their eyes and their whole morals have become affected by this mode of life. Now, as to ornamented caverns, we have many examples — caverns adorned with a splendor fully equal to anything among the Kosekin. There are in India the great Behar caves, the splendid Karli temple with its magnificent sculptures and imposing architecture, and the cavern-temples of Elephanta; there are the subterranean works in Egypt, the temple of Dendera in particular; in Petra we have the case of an entire city excavated from the rocky mountains; yet, after all, these do not bear upon the point in question, for they are isolated cases; and even Petra, though it contained a city, did not contain a nation. But there is a case, and one which is well known, that bears directly upon this question, and gives us the connecting link between the Kosekin and their Semitic brethren in the northern hemisphere.”

“What is that?” asked the doctor.

“The Troglodytes,” said Oxenden, with impressive solemnity.

“Well, and what do you make out of the Troglodytes?”

“I will explain,” said Oxenden. “The name Troglodytes is given to various tribes of men, but those best known and celebrated under this name once inhabited the shores of the Red Sea, both on the Arabian and the Egyptian side. They belonged to the Arabian race, and were consequently a Semitic people. Mark that, for it is a point of the utmost importance. Now, these Troglodytes all lived in caverns, which were formed partly by art and partly by nature, although art must have had most to do with the construction of such vast subterranean works. They lived in great communities in caverns, and they had long tunnels passing from one community to another. Here also they kept their cattle. Some of these people have survived even to our own age; for Bruce, the Abyssinian traveller, saw them in Nubia.

“The earliest writer who mentions the Troglodytes was Agatharcides, of Cnidos. According to him they were chiefly herdsmen. Their food was the flesh of cattle, and their drink a mixture of milk and blood. They dressed in the skins of cattle; they tattooed their bodies. They were very swift of foot, and were able to run down wild beasts in the hunt. They were also greatly given to robbery, and caravans passing to and fro had to guard against them.

“One feature in their character has to my mind a strange significance, and that is their feelings with regard to death. It was not the Kosekin love of death, yet it was something which must certainly be considered as approximating to it. For Agatharcides says that in their burials they were accustomed to fasten the corpse to a stake, and then gathering round, to pelt it with stones amid shouts of laughter and wild merriment. They also used to strangle the old and infirm, so as to deliver them from the evils of life. These Troglodytes, then, were a nation of cave-dwellers, loving the dark — not exactly loving death, yet at any rate regarding it with merriment and pleasure; and so I cannot help seeing a connection between them and the Kosekin.”

“Yes,” said the doctor, “but how did they get to the South Pole?”

“That,” said Oxenden, “is a question which I do not feel bound to answer.”

“Oh, it is easy enough to answer that,” said Melick. “They, of course, dug through the earth.”

Oxenden gave a groan.

“I think I’ll turn in for the night,” said he, rising. Upon this the others rose also and followed his example.

On the following morning the calm still continued. None of the party rose until very late, and then over the breakfast-table they discussed the manuscript once more, each from his own point of view, Melick still asserting a contemptuous scepticism — Oxenden and the doctor giving reasons for their faith, and Featherstone listening without saying much on either side.

At length it was proposed to resume the reading of the manuscript, which task would now devolve upon Oxenden. They adjourned to the deck, where all disposed themselves in easy attitudes to listen to the continuation of More’s narrative.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/d/de_mille/james/strange/chapter17.html

Last updated Saturday, March 1, 2014 at 20:37