But this is not Jason’s story—he is only an incident—an important incident in my life that made this story possible, and so, with a few more words of explanation, we shall leave Jason to his tubes and waves and amplifiers, concerning which he knows everything and I nothing.
Jason is an orphan with an income, and after he graduated from Stanford, he came down and bought a couple of acres at Tarzana, and that is how and when I met him.
While he was building he made my office his headquarters and was often in my study and afterward I returned the compliment by visiting him in his new “lab,” as he calls it—a quite large room at the rear of his home, a quiet, restful room in a quiet, restful house of the Spanish-American farm type—or we rode together in the Santa Monica Mountains in the cool air of early morning.
Jason is experimenting with some new principle of radio concerning which the less I say the better it will be for my reputation, since I know nothing whatsoever about it and am likely never to.
Perhaps I am too old, perhaps I am too dumb, perhaps I am just not interested—I prefer to ascribe my abysmal and persistent ignorance of all things pertaining to radio to the last state; that of disinterestedness; it salves my pride.
I do know this, however, because Jason has told me, that the idea he is playing with suggests an entirely new and unsuspected—well, let us call it wave.
He says the idea was suggested to him by the vagaries of static and in groping around in search of some device to eliminate this he discovered in the ether an undercurrent that operated according to no previously known scientific laws.
At his Tarzana home he has erected a station and a few miles away, at the back of my ranch, another. Between these stations we talk to one another through some strange, ethereal medium that seems to pass through all other waves and all other stations, unsuspected and entirely harmless—so harmless is it that it has not the slightest effect upon Jason’s regular set, standing in the same room and receiving over the same aerial.
But this, which is not very interesting to anyone except Jason, is all by the way of getting to the beginning of the amazing narrative of the adventures of Tanar of Pellucidar.
Jason and I were sitting in his “lab” one evening discussing, as we often did, innumerable subjects, from “cabbages to kings,” and coming back, as Jason usually did, to the Gridley wave, which is what we have named it.
Much of the time Jason kept on his ear phones, than which there is no greater discourager of conversation. But this does not irk me as much as most of the conversations one has to listen to through life. I like long silences and my own thoughts.
Presently, Jason removed the headpiece. “It is enough to drive a fellow to drink!” he exclaimed.
“What?” I asked.
“I am getting that same stuff again,” he said. “I can hear voices, very faintly, but, unmistakably, human voices. They are speaking a language unknown to man. It is maddening.”
“Mars, perhaps,” I suggested, “or Venus.” He knitted his brows and then suddenly smiled one of his quick smiles. “Or Pellucidar.” I shrugged.
“Do you know, Admiral,” he said (he calls me Admiral because of a yachting cap I wear at the beach), “that when I was a kid I used to believe every word of those crazy stories of yours about Mars and Pellucidar. The inner world at the earth’s core was as real to me as the High Sierras, the San Joaquin Valley, or the Golden Gate, and I felt that I knew the twin cities of Helium better than I did Los Angeles.
“I saw nothing improbable at all in that trip of David Innes and old man Perry through the earth’s crust to Pellucidar. Yes, sir, that was all gospel to me when I was a kid.”
“And now you are twenty-three and know that it can’t be true,” I said, with a smile.
“You are trying to tell me it is true, are you?” he demanded, laughing.
“I never have told anyone that it is true,” I replied; “I let people think what they think, but I reserve the right to do likewise.”
“Why, you know perfectly well that it would be impossible for that iron mole of Perry’s to have penetrated five hundred miles of the earth’s crust, you know there is no inner world peopled by strange reptiles and men of the stone age, you know there is no Emperor of Pellucidar.” Jason was becoming excited, but his sense of humor came to our rescue and he laughed.
“I like to believe that there is a Dian the Beautiful,” I said.
“Yes,” he agreed, “but I am sorry you killed off Hooja the Sly One. He was a corking villain.”
“There are always plenty of villains,” I reminded him.
“They help the girls to keep their ‘figgers’ and their school girl complexions,” he said.
“How?” I asked.
“The exercise they get from being pursued.”
“You are making fun of me,” I reproached him, “but remember, please, that I am but a simple historian. If damsels flee and villains pursue I must truthfully record the fact.”
“Baloney!” he exclaimed in the pure university English of America.
Jason replaced his headpiece and I returned to the perusal of the narrative of an ancient liar, who should have made a fortune out of the credulity of book readers, but seems not to have. Thus we sat for some time.
Presently Jason removed his ear phones and turned toward me. “I was getting music,” he said; “strange, weird music, and then suddenly there came loud shouts and it seemed that I could hear blows struck and there were screams and the sound of shots.”
“Perry, you know, was experimenting with gunpowder down there below, in Pellucidar,” I reminded Jason, with a grin; but he was inclined to be serious and did not respond in kind.
“You know, of course,” he said, “that there really has been a theory of an inner world for many years.”
“Yes,” I replied, “I have read works expounding and defending such a theory.’”
“It supposes polar openings leading into the interior of the earth,” said Jason.
“And it is substantiated by many seemingly irrefutable scientific facts,” I reminded him—“open polar sea, warmer water farthest north, tropical vegetation floating southward from the polar regions, the northern lights, the magnetic pole, the persistent stories of the Eskimos that they are descended from a race that came from a warm country far to the north.”
“I’d like to make a try for one of the polar openings,” mused Jason as he replaced the ear phones.
Again there was a long silence, broken at last by a sharp exclamation from Jason. He pushed an extra headpiece toward me.
“Listen!” he exclaimed.
As I adjusted the ear phones I heard that which we had never before received on the Gridley wave—code! No wonder that Jason Gridley was excited, since there was no station on earth, other than his own, attuned to the Gridley wave.
Code! What could it mean? I was torn by conflicting emotions—to tear off the ear phones and discuss this amazing thing with Jason, and to keep them on and listen.
I am not what one might call an expert in the intricacies of code, but I had no difficulty in understanding the simple signal of two letters, repeated in groups of three, with a pause after each group: “D.I., D.I., D.I.,” pause; “D.I., D.I., D.I.,” pause.
I glanced up at Jason. His eyes, filled with puzzled questioning, met mine, as though to ask, what does it mean?
The signals ceased and Jason touched his own key, sending his initials, “J.G., J.G., J.G.” in the same grouping that we had received the D.I. signal. Almost instantly he was interrupted—you could feel the excitement of the sender.
“D.I., D.I., D.I., Pellucidar,” rattled against our eardrums like machine gun fire. Jason and I sat in dumb amazement, staring at one another.
“It is a hoax!” I exclaimed, and Jason, reading my lips, shook his head.
“How can it be a hoax?” he asked. “There is no other station on earth equipped to send or to receive over the Gridley wave, so there can be no means of perpetrating such a hoax.”
Our mysterious station was on the air again: “If you get this, repeat my signal,” and he signed off with “D.I., D.I., D.I.”
“That would be David Innes,” mused Jason.
“Emperor of Pellucidar,” I added.
Jason sent the message, “D.I., D.I., D.I.,” followed by, “what station is this,” and “who is sending?”
“This is the Imperial Observatory at Greenwich, Pellucidar; Abner Perry sending. Who are you?”
“This is the private experimental laboratory of Jason Gridley, Tarzana, California; Gridley sending,” replied Jason.
“I want to get into communication with Edgar Rice Burroughs; do you know him?”
“He is sitting here, listening in with me,” replied Jason.
“Thank God, if that is true, but how am I to know that it is true?” demanded Perry.
I hastily scribbed a note to Jason: “Ask him if he recalls the fire in his first gunpowder factory and that the building would have been destroyed had they not extinguished the fire by shoveling his gunpowder onto it?”
Jason grinned as he read the note, and sent it.
“It was unkind of David to tell of that,” came back the reply, “but now I know that Burroughs is indeed there, as only he could have known of that incident. I have a long message for him. Are you ready?”
“Yes,” replied Jason.
“Then stand by.”
And this is the message that Abner Perry sent from the bowels of the earth; from The Empire of Pellucidar.