10 July, 2018 by katelaity
Tansy laughed. ‘Why do you say that?’
I frowned. ‘It’s…glittering. Gold glitters. Isn’t that what the Bard says? All that glitters is gold and something something…?’ My hopes began to deflate in the face of this disparagement. But the rippling of the water over the yellow stones definitely made it appear to glimmer in the darkness.
‘It’s just the opposite, my friend,’ Tansy said, ‘Merchant of Venice: all that glisters is not gold.’
‘Glisters? Are you sure? Is that even a word?’ I hated to admit never knowing the quotations from great literature that Tansy seemed to always have at her fingertips but really this was too much.
‘It is not only a word, it is the correct one,’ Tansy said with a trace of snappishness. ‘I find it telling that you argue more with me when I am a woman.’
I could feel my cheeks colour despite the coolness of the subterranean passage. ‘Nothing of the sort. You are simply being unreasonable.’
‘Is this not phosphorous?’ Chambers interjected, clearly hoping to put an end to our pointless bickering about literature. As if anyone could spend that much time arguing about books.
‘Phosphorous?’ The abbess looked puzzled. ‘Is that not what matches are made of? But they are red.’
‘Safety matches are,’ Tansy agreed. ‘In the old days, white phosphorus was used with great danger. Do you not recall the tragedy of the Archduchess Mathilda?’ Our sad expressions made plain that we all remembered the sad fate of the lovely young woman.
‘One reason young ladies really ought not smoke,’ I said, conscious of nettling my friend.
‘If she had not hid the cigarette behind her back her dress would not have caught fire. Had she been able to smoke openly as men do—’
Chambers interceded before Tansy could work up too much of a head of steam on the argument. ‘Phosphorus is also damaging to the miners. Have you not heard the horrors of “phossy jaw” with its abscesses and abundance of pus.’
‘No, but it sounds revolting.’ I shuddered.
‘Are we in any danger?’ Tansy asked. A good question that!
‘I think it helps that most of the rock is submerged. Note how the colour changes above the water line? Yellow phosphorous is really white phosphorous with some admixture of minerals, so it is more stable than the pure element. But do you not smell a hint of garlic?’
We nodded to indicate this was so.
‘I fear that is the circumstance we ought to escape. Exposure to oxygen breaks down the chemical and leads toward volatility.’ Chambers looked grim.
‘And by volatility you mean we might all be blown sky-high?’ I was quite put out by the idea that we might have all landed in a dangerous situation again. It seemed I was never to have a moment’s peace while up on this quest. ‘You should measure this spot,’ I told Tansy with a snappish air.
She was just endeavouring to do so, when a curious sound echoed through the corridor. I would be hard put to describe it using any living thing in my experience for it was more mournful than the cuckoo’s cry and more forlorn than a cow lowing in the field and yet more piercing in its way than the bagpipe’s drone.
In short, it was off-putting in the extreme.
‘What is that infernal noise?’
The difficulty is that coming out into this wider chamber which glowed like gold we found the corridor opened in two directions from there, like a forking path.
‘Which way do we go?’ Chambers asked.
‘Do we head toward that sound, or away from it?’ I asked, already fearing what the answer would be.