The First Men in the Moon – Day 32 of 82

I was none too soon. Cavor’s back vanished amidst the bristling thicket, and as I scrambled up after him, the monstrous valve came into its position with a clang. For a long time we lay panting, not daring to approach the pit.

But at last very cautiously and bit by bit we crept into a position from which we could peer down. The bushes about us creaked and waved with the force of a breeze that was blowing down the shaft. We could see nothing at first except smooth vertical walls descending at last into an impenetrable black. And then very gradually we became aware of a number of very faint and little lights going to and fro.

For a time that stupendous gulf of mystery held us so that we forgot even our sphere. In time, as we grew more accustomed to the darkness, we could make out very small, dim, elusive shapes moving about among those needle-point illuminations. We peered amazed and incredulous, understanding so little that we could find no words to say. We could distinguish nothing that would give us a clue to the meaning of the faint shapes we saw.

“What can it be?” I asked; “what can it be?”

“The engineering!… They must live in these caverns during the night, and come out during the day.”

“Cavor!” I said. “Can they be–that–it was something like–men?”

That was not a man.”

“We dare risk nothing!”

“We dare do nothing until we find the sphere!”

“We can do nothing until we find the sphere.”

He assented with a groan and stirred himself to move. He stared about him for a space, sighed, and indicated a direction. We struck out through the jungle. For a time we crawled resolutely, then with diminishing vigour. Presently among great shapes of flabby purple there came a noise of trampling and cries about us. We lay close, and for a long time the sounds went to and fro and very near. But this time we saw nothing. I tried to whisper to Cavor that I could hardly go without food much longer, but my mouth had become too dry for whispering.

“Cavor,” I said, “I must have food.”

He turned a face full of dismay towards me. “It’s a case for holding out,” he said.

“But I must,” I said, “and look at my lips!”

“I’ve been thirsty some time.”

“If only some of that snow had remained!”

“It’s clean gone! We’re driving from arctic to tropical at the rate of a degree a minute….”

I gnawed my hand.

“The sphere!” he said. “There is nothing for it but the sphere.”

We roused ourselves to another spurt of crawling. My mind ran entirely on edible things, on the hissing profundity of summer drinks, more particularly I craved for beer. I was haunted by the memory of a sixteen gallon cask that had swaggered in my Lympne cellar. I thought of the adjacent larder, and especially of steak and kidney pie–tender steak and plenty of kidney, and rich, thick gravy between. Ever and again I was seized with fits of hungry yawning. We came to flat places overgrown with fleshy red things, monstrous coralline growths; as we pushed against them they snapped and broke. I noted the quality of the broken surfaces. The confounded stuff certainly looked of a biteable texture. Then it seemed to me that it smelt rather well.

I picked up a fragment and sniffed at it.

“Cavor,” I said in a hoarse undertone.

He glanced at me with his face screwed up. “Don’t,” he said. I put down the fragment, and we crawled on through this tempting fleshiness for a space.

“Cavor,” I asked, “why not?”

“Poison,” I heard him say, but he did not look round.

We crawled some way before I decided.

“I’ll chance it,” said I.

He made a belated gesture to prevent me. I stuffed my mouth full. He crouched watching my face, his own twisted into the oddest expression. “It’s good,” I said.

“O Lord!” he cried.

He watched me munch, his face wrinkled between desire and disapproval, then suddenly succumbed to appetite and began to tear off huge mouthfuls. For a time we did nothing but eat.

The stuff was not unlike a terrestrial mushroom, only it was much laxer in texture, and, as one swallowed it, it warmed the throat. At first we experienced a mere mechanical satisfaction in eating; then our blood began to run warmer, and we tingled at the lips and fingers, and then new and slightly irrelevant ideas came bubbling up in our minds.

“Its good,” said I. “Infernally good! What a home for our surplus population! Our poor surplus population,” and I broke off another large portion. It filled me with a curiously benevolent satisfaction that there was such good food in the moon. The depression of my hunger gave way to an irrational exhilaration. The dread and discomfort in which I had been living vanished entirely. I perceived the moon no longer as a planet from which I most earnestly desired the means of escape, but as a possible refuge from human destitution. I think I forgot the Selenites, the mooncalves, the lid, and the noises completely so soon as I had eaten that fungus.

Cavor replied to my third repetition of my “surplus population” remark with similar words of approval. I felt that my head swam, but I put this down to the stimulating effect of food after a long fast. “Ess’lent discov’ry yours, Cavor,” said I. “Se’nd on’y to the ’tato.”

“Whajer mean?” asked Cavor. “’Scovery of the moon–se’nd on’y to the ’tato?”

I looked at him, shocked at his suddenly hoarse voice, and by the badness of his articulation. It occurred to me in a flash that he was intoxicated, possibly by the fungus. It also occurred to me that he erred in imagining that he had discovered the moon; he had not discovered it, he had only reached it. I tried to lay my hand on his arm and explain this to him, but the issue was too subtle for his brain. It was also unexpectedly difficult to express. After a momentary attempt to understand me–I remember wondering if the fungus had made my eyes as fishy as his–he set off upon some observations on his own account.

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