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the Nameless City


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Author Topic: the Nameless City  (Read 247 times)
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« on: February 27, 2007, 12:15:23 am »

To convey any idea of these monstrosities is impossible. They were
of the reptile kind, with body lines suggestion sometimes the
crocodile, sometimes the seal, but more often nothing of which either
the naturalist or the palaeontologist ever heard. In size they
approximated a small man, and their fore-legs bore delicate and evident
feet curiously like human hands and fingers. But strangest of all were
their heads, which presented a contour violating all known biological
principles. To nothing can such things be well compared--in one flash I
thought of comparisons as varied as the cat, the bullfrog, the mythic
Satyr, and the human being. Not Jove himself had had so colossal and
protuberant a forehead, yet the horns and the noselessness and the
alligator-like jaw placed things outside all established categories. I
debated for a time on the reality of the mummies, half suspecting they
were artificial idols; but soon decided they were indeed some
palaeogean species which had lived when the nameless city was alive. To
crown their grotesqueness, most of them were gorgeously enrobed in the
costliest of fabrics, and lavishly laden with ornaments of gold,
jewels, and unknown shining metals.

The importance of these crawling creatures must have been vast, for
they held first place among the wild designs on the frescoed walls and
ceiling. With matchless skill had the artist drawn them in a world of
their own, wherein they had cities and gardens fashioned to suit their
dimensions; and I could not help but think that their pictured history
was allegorical, perhaps showing the progress of the race that
worshipped them. These creatures, I said to myself, were to men of the
nameless city what the she-wolf was to Rome, or some totem-beast is to
a tribe of Indians.

Holding this view, I could trace roughly a wonderful epic of the
nameless city; the tale of a mighty seacoast metropolis that ruled the
world before Africa rose out of the waves, and of its struggles as the
sea shrank away, and the desert crept into the fertile valley that held
it. I saw its wars and triumphs, its troubles and defeats, and
afterwards its terrible fight against the desert when thousands of its
people--here represented in allegory by the grotesque reptiles--were
driven to chisel their way down though the rocks in some marvellous
manner to another world whereof their prophets had told them. It was
all vividly weird and realistic, and its connection with the awesome
descent I had made was unmistakable. I even recognized the passages.

As I crept along the corridor toward the brighter light I saw later
stages of the painted epic--the leave-taking of the race that had
dwelt in the nameless city and the valley around for ten million years;
the race whose souls shrank from quitting scenes their bodies had known
so long where they had settled as nomads in the earth's youth, hewing
in the virgin rock those primal shrines at which they had never ceased
to worship. Now that the light was better I studied the pictures more
closely and, remembering that the strange reptiles must represent the
unknown men, pondered upon the customs of the nameless city. Many
things were peculiar and inexplicable. The civilization, which included
a written alphabet, had seemingly risen to a higher order than those
immeasurably later civilizations of Egypt and Chaldaea, yet there were
curious omissions. I could, for example, find no pictures to represent
deaths or funeral customs, save such as were related to wars, violence,
and plagues; and I wondered at the reticence shown concerning natural
death. It was as though an ideal of immortality had been fostered as a
cheering illusion.

Still nearer the end of the passage was painted scenes of the utmost
picturesqueness and extravagance: contrasted views of the nameless city
in its desertion and growing ruin, and of the strange new realm of
paradise to which the race had hewed its way through the stone. In
these views the city and the desert valley were shewn always by
moonlight, golden nimbus hovering over the fallen walls, and
half-revealing the splendid perfection of former times, shown
spectrally and elusively by the artist. The paradisal scenes were
almost too extravagant to be believed, portraying a hidden world of
eternal day filled with glorious cities and ethereal hills and valleys.
At the very last I thought I saw signs of an artistic anticlimax. The
paintings were less skillful, and much more bizarre than even the
wildest of the earlier scenes. They seemed to record a slow decadence
of the ancient stock, coupled with a growing ferocity toward the
outside world from which it was driven by the desert. The forms of the
people--always represented by the sacred reptiles--appeared to be
gradually wasting away, through their spirit as shewn hovering above
the ruins by moonlight gained in proportion. Emaciated priests,
displayed as reptiles in ornate robes, cursed the upper air and all who
breathed it; and one terrible final scene shewed a primitive-looking
man, perhaps a pioneer of ancient Irem, the City of Pillars, torn to
pieces by members of the elder race. I remember how the Arabs fear the
nameless city, and was glad that beyond this place the grey walls and
ceiling were bare.

As I viewed the pageant of mural history I had approached very
closely to the end of the low-ceiled hall, and was aware of a gate
through which came all of the illuminating phosphorescence. Creeping up
to it, I cried aloud in transcendent amazement at what lay beyond; for
instead of other and brighter chambers there was only an illimitable
void of uniform radiance, such on might fancy when gazing down from the
peak of Mount Everest upon a sea of sunlit mist. Behind me was a
passage so cramped that I could not stand upright in it; before me was
an infinity of subterranean effulgence.

Reaching down from the passage into the abyss was the head of a
steep flight of steps--small numerous steps like those of black
passages I had traversed--but after a few feet the glowing vapours
concealed everything. Swung back open against the left-hand wall of the
passage was a massive door of brass, incredibly thick and decorated
with fantastic bas-reliefs, which could if closed shut the whole inner
world of light away from the vaults and passages of rock. I looked at
the step, and for the nonce dared not try them. I touched the open
brass door, and could not move it. Then I sank prone to the stone
floor, my mind aflame with prodigious reflections which not even a
death-like exhaustion could banish.

As I lay still with closed eyes, free to ponder, many things I had
lightly noted in the frescoes came back to me with new and terrible
significance--scenes representing the nameless city in its heyday--
the vegetations of the valley around it, and the distant lands with
which its merchants traded. The allegory of the crawling creatures
puzzled me by its universal prominence, and I wondered that it would be
so closely followed in a pictured history of such importance. In the
frescoes the nameless city had been shewn in proportions fitted to the
reptiles. I wondered what its real proportions and magnificence had
been, and reflected a moment on certain oddities I had noticed in the
ruins. I thought curiously of the lowness of the primal temples and of
the underground corridor, which were doubtless hewn thus out of
deference to the reptile deities there honoured; though it perforce
reduced the worshippers to crawling. Perhaps the very rites here
involved crawling in imitation of the creatures. No religious theory,
however, could easily explain why the level passages in that awesome
descent should be as low as the temples--or lower, since one cold not
even kneel in it. As I thought of the crawling creatures, whose hideous
mummified forms were so close to me, I felt a new throb of fear. Mental
associations are curious, and I shrank from the idea that except for
the poor primitive man torn to pieces in the last painting, mine was
the only human form amidst the many relics and symbols of the
primordial life.

But as always in my strange and roving existence, wonder soon drove
out fear; for the luminous abyss and what it might contain presented a
problem worthy of the greatest explorer that a weird world of mystery
lay far down that flight of peculiarly small steps I could not doubt,
and I hoped to find there those human memorials which the painted
corridor had failed to give. The frescoes had pictured unbelievable
cities, and valleys in this lower realm, and my fancy dwelt on the rich
and colossal ruins that awaited me.

My fears, indeed, concerned the past rather than the future. Not
even the physical horror of my position in that cramped corridor of
dead reptiles and antediluvian frescoes, miles below the world I knew
and faced by another world of eery light and mist, could match the
lethal dread I felt at the abysmal antiquity of the scene and its soul.
An ancientness so vast that measurement is feeble seemed to leer down
from the primal stones and rock-hewn temples of the nameless city,
while the very latest of the astounding maps in the frescoes shewed
oceans and continents that man has forgotten, with only here and there
some vaguely familiar outlines. Of what could have happened in the
geological ages since the paintings ceased and the death-hating race
resentfully succumbed to decay, no man might say. Life had once teemed
in these caverns and in the luminous realm beyond; now I was alone with
vivid relics, and I trembled to think of the countless ages through
which these relics had kept a silent deserted vigil.

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