The Immortal

by Robert W. Chambers


On Monday, the first day of March, 1915, about 10:30 A. M., we came in sight of something which, until I had met Mink, I never had dreamed existed in southern
Florida—a high range of hills. 
          It had been an eventless journey from New York to Miami, from Miami to Fort Coquina; but from there through an absolutely pathless wilderness as far as I could make
out, the journey had been exasperating. 
          Where we went I do not know even now: sawgrass and water, hammock and shell mound, palm forests, swamps, wildernesses of water-oak and live-oak, vast stretches
of pine, lagoons, sloughs, branches, muddy creeks, reedy reaches from which wild fowl rose in clouds where alligators lurked or lumbered about after stranded fish, horrible
mangrove thickets full of moccasins and water-turkeys, heronry more horrible still, out of which the heat from a vertical sun distilled the last atom of nauseating effluvia—all
these choice spots we visited under the guidance of the wretched Mink. I seemed to be missing nothing that might discourage or disgust me. 
          He appeared to know the way, somehow, although my compass became mysteriously lost the first day out from Fort Coquina. 
          Again and again I felt instinctively that we were travelling in a vast circle, but Mink always denied it, and I had no scientific instruments to verify my deepening suspicions. 
          Another thing bothered me: Mink did not seem to suffer from insects or heat; in fact, to my intense annoyance, he appeared to be having a comfortable time of it, eating
and drinking with gusto, sleeping snugly under a mosquito bar, permitting me to do all camp work, the paddling as long as we used a canoe, and all the cooking, too, claiming,
on his part, a complete ignorance of culinary art. 
          Sometimes he condescended to catch a few fish for the common pan; sometimes he bestirred himself to shoot a duck or two. But usually he played on his concertina during
his leisure moments which were plentiful. I began to detest Samuel Mink. 
          At first I was murderously suspicious of him, and I walked about with my automatic arsenal ostentatiously displayed. But he looked like such a miserable little shrimp that
I became ashamed of my precautions. Besides, as he cheerfully pointed out, a little koonti soaked in my drinking water, would have done my business for me if he had meant
me any physical harm. Also he had a horrid habit of noosing moccasins for sport; and it would have been easy for him to introduce one to me while I slept. 
          Really what most worried me was the feeling which I could not throw off that somehow or other we were making very little progress in any particular direction. 
          He even admitted that there was reason for my doubts, but he confided to me that to find these Coquina hills, was like traversing a maze. Doubling to and fro among forests
and swamps, he insisted, was the only possible path of access to the undiscovered Coquina hills of Florida. Otherwise; he argued, these Coquina hills would long ago have been
          And it seemed to me that he had been right when at last we came out on the edge of a palm forest and beheld that astounding blue outline of hills in a country which has
always been supposed to lie as flat as a flabby flap-jack. A desert of saw-palmetto stretched away before us to the base of the hills; game trails ran through it in every direction like sheep paths; a few moth-eaten Florida deer trotted away as we appeared. 
          Into one of these trails stepped Samuel Mink, burdened only with his concertina and a box of cigars. I, loaded with seventy pounds of impedimenta including a moving-
picture apparatus, reeled after him. 
          He walked on jauntily toward the hills, his pearl-coloured bowler hat at an angle. Occasionally he played upon his concertina as he advanced; now and then he cut a pigeon
wing. I hated him. At every toilsome step I hated him more deeply. He played “Tipperary” on his concertina. 
          “See ‘em, old top?” he inquired, nodding toward the hills. “I’m a man of my word, I am. Look at ‘em! Take ‘em in, old sport! An’ reemember, each an’ every hill is
guaranteed to contain one bony fidy cave-lady what is the last vanishin’ traces of a extinc’ an’ dissappeerin’ race!” 
          We toiled on—that is, I did, bowed under my sweating load of paraphernalia. He skipped in advance like some degenerate twentieth century faun, playing on his pipes
the unmitigated melodies of George Cohan. 
          “Watch your step!” he cried, nimbly avoiding the attentions of a groundrattler which tried to caress his ankle from under a saw-palmetto. 
          With a shudder I gave the deadly little reptile room and floundered forward a prey to exhaustion, melancholy, and red-bugs. A few buzzards kept pace with me, their broad,
black shadows gliding ominously over the sun-drenched earth; blue-tail lizards went rustling and leaping away on every side; floppy soft-winged butterflies escorted me; a strange bird which seemed to be dressed in a union suit of checked gingham, flew from tree to tree as I plodded on, and squealed at me persistently. 
          At last I felt the hard coquina under foot; the cool blue shadow of the hills enveloped me; I slipped off my pack, dumped it beside a little rill of crystal water which ran sparkling from the hills, and sat down on a soft and fragrant carpet of hound’s-tongue. 
          After a while I drank my fill at the rill, bathed head, neck, face and arms, and, feeling delightfully refreshed, leaned back against the fern-covered slab of coquina. 
          “What are you doing?” I demanded of Mink who was unpacking the kit and disengaging the moving-picture machine. 
          “Gettin’ ready,” he replied, fussing busily with the camera. 
          “You don’t expect to see any cave people here, do you?” I asked with a thrill of reviving excitement. 
          “Why not?” 
          “Cert’nly. Why the first one I seen was adrinkin’ into this brook.” 
          “Here! Where I’m sitting?” I asked incredulously. 
          “Yes, sir, right there. It was this way; I was lyin’ down, tryin’ to figure the shortes’ way to Fort Coquina, an’ wishin’ I was nearer Broadway than I was to the Equator,
when I heard a voice say, ‘Blub-blub, muck-a-muck!’ an’ then I seen two cave-ladies come sof’ly stealin’ along.” 
          “Right there where you are a-sittin’. Say, they was lookers! An’ they come along quiet like two big-eyed deer, kinder nosin’ the air and listenin’. 
          “‘Gee whiz,’ thinks I, ‘Longacre ain’t got so much on them dames!’ An’ at that one o’ them wore a wild-cat’s skin an’ that’s all—an’ a wild-cat ain’t big. And t’other she
sported pa’m-leaf pyjamas. 
          “So when they don’t see nothin’ around to hinder, they just lays down flat and takes a drink into that pool, lookin’ up every swallow like little birds listenin’ and kinder
thankin’ God for a good square drink. 
          “I knowed they was wild girls soon as I seen ‘em. Also they sez to one another, ‘Blub-blub!’ Kinder sof’ly. All the same I’ve seen wilder ladies on Broadway so I took
a chanst where I was squattin’ behind a rock. 
          “So sez I, ‘Ah there, sweetie Blub-blub! Have a taxi on me!’ An’ with that they is on their feet, quiverin’ all over an’ nosin’ the wind. So first I took some snapshots at
‘em with my Bijoo camera. 
          “I guess they scented me all right for I seen their eyes grow bigger, an’ then they give a bound an’ was off over the rocks; an’ me after ‘em. Say, that was some steeple-chase until a few more cave-ladies come out on them rocks above us an’ hove chunks of coquina at me. 
          “An’ with all that dodgin’ an’ duckin’ of them there rocks the cave-girls got away; an’ I seen ‘em an’ the other cave-ladies scurryin’ into little caves—one whisked into
this hole, another scuttled into that—bing! all over! 
          “All I could think of was to light a cigar an’ blow the smoke in after the best-lookin’ cave-girl. But I couldn’t smoke her out, an’ I hadn’t time to starve her out. So that’s
all I know about this here pree-historic an’ extinc’ race o’ vanishin’ cave-ladies.” 
          As his simple and illiterate narrative advanced I became proportionally excited; and, when he ended, I sprang to my feet in an uncontrollable access of scientific enthusiasm: 
          “Was she really pretty?” I asked. 
          “Listen, she was that peachy—” 
          “Enough!” I cried. “Science expects every man to do his duty! Are your films ready to record a scene without precedent in the scientific annals of creation?” 
          “They sure is!” 
          “Then place your camera and your person in a strategic position. This is a magnificent spot for an ambush! Come over beside me!” He came across to where I had taken cover among the ferns behind the parapet of coquina, and with a thrill of pardonable joy I watched him unlimber his photographic artillery and place it in battery where my every posture and action would be recorded for posterity if a cave-lady came down to the water-hole to drink. 
          “It were futile,” I explained to him in a guarded voice, “for me to attempt to cajole her as you attempted it. Neither playful nor moral suasion could avail, for it is certain that no cave-lady understands English.” 
          “I thought o’ that, too,” he remarked. “I said, ‘Blub-blub! muck-a-muck!’ to ‘em when they started to run, but it didn’t do no good.” 
          I smiled: “Doubtless,” said I, “the spoken language of the cave-dweller is made up of similarly primitive exclamations, and you were quite right in attempting to communicate with the cave-ladies and establish a cordial entente. Professor Garner has done so among the Simian population of Gaboon. Your attempt is most creditable and I shall make it part of my record. 
          “But the main idea is to capture a living specimen of cave-lady, and corroborate every detail of that pursuit and capture upon the films. 
          “And believe me, Mr. Mink,” I added, my voice trembling with emotion, “no Academician is likely to go to sleep when I illustrate my address with such pictures as you are now about to take!” 
          “The police might pull the show,” he suggested. 
          “No,” said I, “Science is already immune; art is becoming so. Only nature need fear the violence of prejudice; and doubtless she will continue to wear pantalettes and common-sense nighties as long as our great republic endures.” 
          I unslung my field-glasses, adjusted them and took a penetrating squint at the hillside above. 
          Nothing stirred up there except a buzzard or two wheeling on tip-curled pinions above the palms. 
          Presently Mink inquired whether I had “lamped” anything, and I replied that I had not. 
          “They may be snoozin’ in their caves,” he suggested. “But don’t you fret, old top; you’ll get what’s comin’ to you and I’ll get mine.” 
          “About that check—” I began and hesitated. 
          “Sure. What about it ?” 
          “I suppose I’m to give it to you when the first cave-woman appears.” 
          “That’s what!” 
          I pondered the matter for a while in silence. I could see no risk in paying him this draft on sight. 
          “All right,” I said. “Bring on your cave-dwellers.” 
          Hour succeeded hour, but no cave-dwellers came down to the pool to drink. We ate luncheon—a bit of cold duck, some koonti-bread, and a dish of palm-cabbage. I smoked
an inexpensive cigar; Mink lit a more pretentious one. Afterward he played on his  oncertina at my suggestion on the chance that the music might lure a cave-girl down the hill.  Nymphs were sometimes caught that way, and modern science seems to be reverting more and more closely to the simpler truths of the classics which, in our ignorance and
arrogance, we once dismissed as fables unworthy of scientific notice. However this Broadway faun piped in vain: no white-footed dryad came stealing through the ferns to gaze, perhaps to dance to the concertina’s plaintive melodies. 
          So after a while he put his concertina into his pocket, cocked his derby hat on one side, gathered his little bandy legs under his person, and squatted there in silence, chewing
the wet and bitter end of his extinct cigar. 
          Toward mid-afternoon I unslung my field-glasses again and surveyed the hill. At first I noticed nothing, not even a buzzard; then, of a sudden, my attention was attracted
to something moving among the fern-covered slabs of coquina just above where we lay concealed—a slim, graceful shape half shadowed under a veil of lustrous hair which
glittered like gold in the sun. 
          “Mink!” I whispered hoarsely. “One of them is coming! This—this indeed is the stupendous and crowning climax of my scientific career!” 
          His comment was incredibly coarse: “Gimme the dough,” he said without a tremor of surprise. Indeed there was a metallic ring of menace in his low and entirely cold tones
as he laid one hand on my arm. “No welchin’,” he said, “or I put the whole show on the bum!” 
          The overwhelming excitement of the approaching crisis neutralized my disgust; I fished out the certified check from my pocket and flung the miserable scrap of paper at
him. “Get your machine ready!” I hissed. “Do you understand what these moments mean to the civilized world!” 
          “I sure do,” he said. 
          Nearer and nearer came the lithe white figure under its glorious crown of hair, moving warily and gracefully amid the great coquina slabs—nearer, nearer, until I no longer
required my glasses. 
          She was a slender red-lipped thing, blue-eyed, dainty of hand and foot. The spotted pelt of a wild-cat covered her, or attempted to. 
          I unfolded a large canvas sack as she approached the pool. For a moment or two she stood gazing around her and her close-set ears seemed to be listening. Then, apparently satisfied, she threw back her beautiful young head and sent a sweet wild call floating back to the sunny hillside. 
          “Blub-blub!” rang her silvery voice; “blub-blub! Muck-a-muck!” And from the fern-covered hollows above other voices replied joyously to her reassuring call, “Blub-blub-blub!” 
          The whole bunch was coming down to drink-the entire remnant of a prehistoric and almost extinct race of human creatures was coming to quench its thirst at this water-hole.
How I wished for James Barnes at the camera’s crank! He alone could do justice to this golden girl before me. 
          One by one, clad in their simple yet modest gowns of pelts and garlands, five exquisitively superb specimens of cave-girl came gracefully down to the water-hole to drink. 
          Almost swooning with scientific excitement I whispered to the unspeakable Mink: “Begin to crank as soon as I move!” And, gathering up my big canvas sack I rose, and,
still crouching, stole through the ferns on tip-toe. They had already begun to drink when they heard me; I must have made some slight sound in the ferns, for their keen ears
detected it and they sprang to their feet. 
          It was a magnificent sight to see them there by the pool, tense, motionless, at gaze, their dainty noses to the wind, their beautiful eyes wide and alert. For a moment,
enchanted, I remained spellbound in the presence of this prehistoric spectacle, then, waving my sack, I sprang out from behind the rock and cantered toward them. 
          Instead of scattering and flying up the hillside they seemed paralyzed, huddling together as though to get into the picture. Delighted I turned and glanced at Mink; he was
cranking furiously. 
          With an uncontrollable shout of triumph and delight I pranced toward the huddling cave-girls, arms outspread as though heading a horse or concentrating chickens. And,
totally forgetting the uselessness of urbanity and civilized speech as I danced around that lovely but terrified group, “Ladies!” I cried, “do not be alarmed, because I mean only
kindness and proper respect. Civilization calls you from the wilds! Sentiment, pity, piety propel my legs, not the ruthless desire to injure or enslave you! Ladies! You are under
the wing of science. An anthropologist is speaking to you! Fear nothing! Rather rejoice! Your wonderful race shall be rescued from extinction—even if I have to do it myself!
Ladies, don’t run!” They had suddenly scattered and were now beginning to dodge me. “I come among you bearing the precious promises of education, of religion, of equal
franchise, of fashion!” 
          “Blub-blub!” they whimpered continuing to dodge me. 
          “Yes!” I cried in an excess of transcendental enthusiasm. “Blub-blub! And though I do not comprehend the exquisite simplicity of your primeval speech, I answer with
all my heart, ‘Blub-blub!’” 
          Meanwhile, they were dodging and eluding me as I chased first one, then another, one hand outstretched, the other invitingly clutching the sack.  A hasty glance at Mink
now and then revealed him industriously cranking away. 
          Once I fell into the pool. That section of the film should never be released, I determined, as I blew the water out of my mouth, gasped, and started after a lovely, ruddy-haired
cave-girl whose curiosity had led her to linger beside the pool in which I was floundering. 
          But run as fast as I could and skip hither and thither with all the agility I could muster I did not seem to be able to seize a single cave-girl. 
          Every few minutes, baffled and breathless, I rested; and they always clustered together uttering their plaintively musical “blub-blub,” not apparently very much afraid of
me, and even exhibiting curiosity. Now and then they cast glances toward Mink who was grinding away steadily, and I could scarcely retain a shout of joy as I realized what
wonderful pictures he was taking. Indeed luck seemed to be with me, so far, for never once did these beautiful prehistoric creatures retire out of photographic range. 
          But otherwise the problem was becoming serious. I could not catch one of them; they eluded me with maddening swiftness and grace, my pauses to recover my breath
became more frequent. 
          At last, dead beat, I sat down on a slab of coquina. And when I was able to articulate I turned around toward Mink. 
          “You’ll have to drop your camera and come over and help me,” I panted. 
          “I’m all in!” 
          “Not quite,” he said. 
          For a moment I did not understand him; then under my outraged eyes, and within the hearing of my horrified ear’s a terrible thing occurred. 
          “Now, ladies!” yelled Mink, “all on for the fine-ally! Up-stage there, you red-headed little spot-crabber! Mabel! Take the call! Now smile the whole bloomin’ bunch of
          What was he saying? I did not comprehend. I stared dully at the six cave-girls as they grouped themselves in a semi-circle behind me. 
          Then, as one of them came up and unfolded a white strip of cloth behind my head, the others drew from concealed pockets in their kilts of cat-fur, little silk flags of all
nations and began to wave them. 
          Paralyzed I turned my head. On the strip of white cloth, which the tallest cave-girl was holding directly behind my head, was printed in large black letters: 
          SUNSET SOAP 
          For one cataclysmic instant I gazed upon this hideous spectacle, then with an unearthly cry I collapsed into the arms of the nicest looking one. 
          There is little more to say. Contrary to my fears the release of this outrageous film did not injure my scientific standing. Modern science, accustomed to proprietary
testimonials, has become reconciled to such things. 
          My appearance upon the films in the movies in behalf of Sunset Soap, oddly enough, seemed to enhance my scientific reputation. Even such austere purists as Guilford,
the Cubist poet, congratulated me upon my fearless independence of ethical tradition. 
          And I had lived to learn a gentler truth than that, for, the pretty girl who had been cast for Cave-girl No. 3—But let that pass. Adhibenda est in jocando moderatio. 
          Sweet are the uses of advertisement. 


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