Of the events which took place at the Norton
Mine on October eighteenth and nineteenth, 1894, I have no desire to speak.
A sense of duty to science is all that impels me to recall, in the last
years of my life, scenes and happenings fraught with a terror doubly acute
because I cannot wholly define it. But I believe that before I die I should
tell what I know of the - shall I say transition - of Juan Romero.
My name and origin need not be related to posterity; in fact, I fancy
it is better that they should not be, for when a man suddenly migrates
to the States or the Colonies, he leaves his past behind him. Besides,
what I once was is not in the least relevant to my narrative; save perhaps
the fact that during my service in India I was more at home amongst white-bearded
native teachers than amongst my brother-officers. I had delved not a little
into odd Eastern lore when overtaken by the calamities which brought about
my new life in America's vast West - a life wherein I found it well to
accept a name - my present one - which is very common and carries no meaning.
In the summer and autumn of 1894 I dwelt in the drear expanses of
the Cactus Mountains, employed as a common labourer at the celebrated Norton
Mine, whose discovery by an aged prospector some years before had turned
the surrounding region from a nearly unpeopled waste to a seething cauldron
of sordid life. A cavern of gold, lying deep beneath a mountain lake, had
enriched its venerable finder beyond his wildest dreams, and now formed
the seat of extensive tunneling operations on the part of the corporation
to which it had finally been sold. Additional grottoes had been found,
and the yield of yellow metal was exceedingly great; so that a mighty and
heterogeneous army of miners toiled day and night in the numerous passages
and rock hollows. The Superintendent, a Mr. Arthur, often discussed the
singularity of the local geological formations; speculating on the probable
extent of the chain of caves, and estimating the future of the titanic
mining enterprises. He considered the auriferous cavities the result of
the action of water, and believed the last of them would soon be opened.
It was not long after my arrival and employment that Juan Romero
came to the Norton Mine. One of the large herd of unkempt Mexicans attracted
thither from the neighbouring country, he at first attracted attention
only because of his features; which though plainly of the Red Indian type,
were yet remarkable for their light colour and refined conformation, being
vastly unlike those of the average "greaser" or Piute of the locality.
It is curious that although he differed so widely from the mass of Hispanicised
and tribal Indians, Romero gave not the least impression of Caucasian blood.
It was not the Castilian conquistador or the American pioneer, but the
ancient and noble Aztec, whom imagination called to view when the silent
peon would rise in the early morning and gaze in fascination at the sun
as it crept above the eastern hills, meanwhile stretching out his arms
to the orb as if in the performance of some rite whose nature he did not
himself comprehend. But save for his face, Romero was not in any way suggestive
of nobility. Ignorant and dirty, he was at home amongst the other brown-skinned
Mexicans; having come (so I was afterward told) from the very lowest sort
of surroundings. He had been found as a child in a crude mountain hut,
the only survivor of an epidemic which had stalked lethally by. Near the
hut, close to a rather unusual rock fissure, had lain two skeletons, newly
picked by vultures, and presumably forming the sole remains of his parents.
No one recalled their identity, and they were soon forgotten by the many.
Indeed, the crumbling of the adobe hut and the closing of the rock-fissure
by a subsequent avalanche had helped to efface even the scene from recollection.
Reared by a Mexican cattle-thief who had given him his name, Juan differed
little from his fellows.
The attachment which Romero manifested toward me was undoubtedly
commenced through the quaint and ancient Hindoo ring which I wore when
not engaged in active labour. Of its nature, and manner of coming into
my possession, I cannot speak. It was my last link with a chapter of my
life forever closed, and I valued it highly. Soon I observed that the odd-looking
Mexican was likewise interested; eyeing it with an expression that banished
all suspicion of mere covetousness. Its hoary hieroglyphs seemed to stir
some faint recollection in his untutored but active mind, though he could
not possibly have beheld their like before. Within a few weeks after his
advent, Romero was like a faithful servant to me; this notwithstanding
the fact that I was myself but an ordinary miner. Our conversation was
necessarily limited. He knew but a few words of English, while I found
my Oxonian Spanish was something quite different from the patois of the
peon of New Spain.
The event which I am about to relate was unheralded by long premonitions.
Though the man Romero had interested me, and though my ring had affected
him peculiarly, I think that neither of us had any expectation of what
was to follow when the great blast was set off. Geological considerations
had dictated an extension of the mine directly downward from the deepest
part of the subterranean area; and the belief of the Superintendent that
only solid rock would be encountered, had led to the placing of a prodigious
charge of dynamite. With this work Romero and I were not connected, wherefore
our first knowledge of extraordinary conditions came from others. The charge,
heavier perhaps than had been estimated, had seemed to shake the entire
mountain. Windows in shanties on the slope outside were shattered by the
shock, whilst miners throughout the nearer passages were knocked from their
feet. Jewel Lake, which lay above the scene of action, heaved as in a tempest.
Upon investigation it was seen that a new abyss yawned indefinitely below
the seat of the blast; an abyss so monstrous that no handy line might fathom
it, nor any lamp illuminate it. Baffled, the excavators sought a conference
with the Superintendent, who ordered great lengths of rope to be taken
to the pit, and spliced and lowered without cessation till a bottom might
Shortly afterward the pale-faced workmen apprised the Superintendent
of their failure. Firmly though respectfully, they signified their refusal
to revisit the chasm or indeed to work further in the mine until it might
be sealed. Something beyond their experience was evidently confronting
them, for so far as they could ascertain, the void below was infinite.
The Superintendent did not reproach them. Instead, he pondered deeply,
and made plans for the following day. The night shift did not go on that
At two in the morning a lone coyote on the mountain began to howl
dismally. From somewhere within the works a dog barked an answer; either
to the coyote - or to something else. A storm was gathering around the
peaks of the range, and weirdly shaped clouds scudded horribly across the
blurred patch of celestial light which marked a gibbous moon's attempts
to shine through many layers of cirro-stratus vapours. It was Romero's
voice, coming from the bunk above, that awakened me, a voice excited and
tense with some vague expectation I could not understand:
"Madre de Dios! - el sonido - ese sonido - oiga Vd! - lo oye Vd?
- señor, THAT SOUND!"
I listened, wondering what sound he meant. The coyote, the dog, the
storm, all were audible; the last named now gaining ascendancy as the wind
shrieked more and more frantically. Flashes of lightning were visible through
the bunk-house window. I questioned the nervous Mexican, repeating the
sounds I had heard:
"El coyote - el perro - el viento?"
But Romero did not reply. Then he commenced whispering as in awe:
"El ritmo, señor - el ritmo de la tierra - THAT THROB
DOWN IN THE GROUND!"
And now I also heard; heard and shivered and without knowing why.
Deep, deep, below me was a sound - a rhythm, just as the peon had said
- which, though exceedingly faint, yet dominated even the dog, the coyote,
and the increasing tempest. To seek to describe it was useless - for it
was such that no description is possible. Perhaps it was like the pulsing
of the engines far down in a great liner, as sensed from the deck, yet
it was not so mechanical; not so devoid of the element of the life and
consciousness. Of all its qualities, remoteness in the earth most
impressed me. To my mind rushed fragments of a passage in Joseph Glanvil
which Poe has quoted with tremendous effect1:
"..... the vastness, profundity, and unsearchableness of His works,
have a depth in them greater than the well of Democritus."
Suddenly Romero leaped from his bunk, pausing before me to gaze at
the strange ring on my hand, which glistened queerly in every flash of
lightning, and then staring intently in the direction of the mine shaft.
I also rose, and both of us stood motionless for a time, straining our
ears as the uncanny rhythm seemed more and more to take on a vital quality.
Then without apparent volition we began to move toward the door, whose
rattling in the gale held a comforting suggestion of earthly reality. The
chanting in the depths - for such the sound now seemed to be - grew in
volume and distinctness; and we felt irresistibly urged out into the storm
and thence to the gaping blackness of the shaft.
We encountered no living creature, for the men of the night shift
had been released from duty, and were doubtless at the Dry Gulch settlement
pouring sinister rumours into the ear of some drowsy bartender. From the
watchman's cabin, however, gleamed a small square of yellow light like
a guardian eye. I dimly wondered how the rhythmic sound had affected the
watchman; but Romero was moving more swiftly now, and I followed without
As we descended the shaft, the sound beneath grew definitely composite.
It struck me as horribly like a sort of Oriental ceremony, with beating
of drums and chanting of many voices. I have, as you are aware, been much
in India. Romero and I moved without material hesitancy through drifts
and down ladders; ever toward the thing that allured us, yet ever with
a pitifully helpless fear and reluctance. At one time I fancied I had gone
mad - this was when, on wondering how our way was lighted in the absence
of lamp or candle, I realized that the ancient ring on my finger was glowing
with eerie radiance, diffusing a pallid lustre through the damp, heavy
It was without warning that Romero, after clambering down one of
the many wide ladders, broke into a run and left me alone. Some new and
wild note in the drumming and chanting, perceptible but slightly to me,
had acted on him in a startling fashion; and with a wild outcry he forged
ahead unguided in the cavern's gloom. I heard his repeated shrieks before
me, as he stumbled awkwardly along the level places and scrambled madly
down the rickety ladders. And frightened as I was, I yet retained enough
of my perception to note that his speech, when articulate, was not of any
sort known to me. Harsh but impressive polysyllables had replaced the customary
mixture of bad Spanish and worse English, and of these, only the oft repeated
cry "Huitzilopotchli" seemed in the least familiar. Later I definitely
placed that word in the works of a great historian2
- and shuddered when the association came to me.
The climax of that awful night was composite but fairly brief, beginning
just as I reached the final cavern of the journey. Out of the darkness
immediately ahead burst a final shriek from the Mexican, which was joined
by such a chorus of uncouth sound as I could never hear again and survive.
In that moment it seemed as if all the hidden terrors and monstrosities
of earth had become articulate in an effort to overwhelm the human race.
Simultaneously the light from my ring was extinguished, and I saw a new
light glimmering from lower space but a few yards ahead of me. I had arrived
at the abyss, which was now redly aglow, and which had evidently swallowed
up the unfortunate Romero. Advancing, I peered over the edge of that chasm
which no line could fathom, and which was now a pandemonium of flickering
flame and hideous uproar. At first I beheld nothing but a seething blur
of luminosity; but then shapes, all infinitely distant, began to detach
themselves from the confusion, and I saw - was it Juan Romero? - but
God! I dare not tell you what I saw! ...Some power from heaven, coming
to my aid, obliterated both sights and sounds in such a crash as may be
heard when two universes collide in space. Chaos supervened, and I knew
the peace of oblivion.
I hardly know how to continue, since conditions so singular are involved;
but I will do my best, not even trying to differentiate betwixt the real
and the apparent. When I awakened, I was safe in my bunk and the red glow
of dawn was visible at the window. Some distance away the lifeless body
of Juan Romero lay upon a table, surrounded by a group of men, including
the camp doctor. The men were discussing the strange death of the Mexican
as he lay asleep; a death seemingly connected in some way with the terrible
bolt of lightning which had struck and shaken the mountain. No direct cause
was evident, and an autopsy failed to show any reason why Romero should
not be living. Snatches of conversation indicated beyond a doubt that neither
Romero nor I had left the bunk-house during the night; that neither of
us had been awake during the frightful storm which had passed over the
Cactus range. That storm, said men who had ventured down the mine shaft,
had caused extensive caving-in, and had completely closed the deep abyss
which had created so much apprehension the day before. When I asked the
watchman what sounds he had heard prior to the mighty thunder-bolt; he
mentioned a coyote, a dog, and the snarling mountain wind - nothing more.
Nor do I doubt his word.
Upon the resumption of work, Superintendent Arthur called upon some
especially dependable men to make a few investigations around the spot
where the gulf had appeared. Though hardly eager, they obeyed, and a deep
boring was made. Results were very curious. The roof of the void, as seen
when it was open, was not by any means thick; yet now the drills of the
investigators met what appeared to be a limitless extent of solid rock.
Finding nothing else, not even gold, the Superintendent abandoned his attempts;
but a perplexed look occasionally steals over his countenance as he sits
thinking at his desk.
One other thing is curious. Shortly after waking on that morning
after the storm, I noticed the unaccountable absence of my Hindoo ring
from my finger. I had prized it greatly, yet nevertheless felt a sensation
of relief at its disappearance. If one of my fellow-miners appropriated
it, he must have been quite clever in disposing of his booty, for despite
advertisements and a police search, the ring was never seen again. Somehow
I doubt if it was stolen by mortal hands, for many strange things were
taught me in India.
My opinion of my whole experience varies from time to time. In broad
daylight, and at most seasons I am apt to think the greater part of it
a mere dream; but sometimes in the autumn, about two in the morning when
the winds and animals howl dismally, there comes from inconceivable depths
below a damnable suggestion of rhythmical throbbing ...and I feel that
the transition of Juan Romero was a terrible one indeed.
1Motto of A Descent into the Maelstrom
2Prescott, Conquest of Mexico