A HISTORY OF ADVENTURE
by H. Rider Haggard SHE -
In earth and skie and sea
strange thynges ther be -
Doggerel couplet from the Sherd of Amenartas
IN GIVING to the world the record of whatlooked at as an adventure onlyisI suppose one of the most wonderful and mysterious experiences ever undergone bymortal menI feel it incumbent on me to explain what my exact connection withit is. And so I may as well say at once that I am not the narrator but only theeditor of this extraordinary historyand then go on to tell how it found itsway into my hands.
Some years ago Ithe editorwas stopping with a friend"virdoctissimus et amicus meus" at a certain universitywhich for thepurposes of this history we will call Cambridgeand was one day much struckwith the appearance of two people whom I saw going arm-in-arm down the street.One of these gentlemen was I thinkwithout exceptionthe handsomest youngfellow I have ever seen. He was very tallvery broadand had a look of powerand a grace of bearing that seemed as native to him as it is to a wild stag. Inaddition his face was almost without flaw- a good face as well as a beautifuloneand when he lifted his hatwhich he did just then to a passing ladyI sawthat his head was covered with little golden curls growing close to the scalp.
"Good gracious!" I said to my friendwith whom I was walking"whythat fellow looks like a statue of Apollo come to life. What asplendid man he is!"
"Yes" he answered"he is the handsomest man in theuniversityand one of the nicest too. They call him 'the Greek god'; but lookat the other onehe's Vincey's (that's the god's name) guardianand supposedto be full of every kind of information. They call him 'Charon.'" I lookedand found the older man quite as interesting in his way as the glorifiedspecimen of humanity at his side. He appeared to be about forty years of ageand was I think as ugly as his companion was handsome. To begin withhe wasshortishrather bow-leggedvery deep chestedand with unusually long arms. Hehad dark hair and small eyesand the hair grew right down on his foreheadandhis whiskers grew right up to his hairso that there was uncommonly little ofhis countenance to be seen. Altogether he reminded me forcibly of a gorillaandyet there was something very pleasing and genial about the man's eye. I remembersaying that I should like to know him.
"All right" answered my friend"nothing easier. I knowVincey; I'll introduce you" and he didand for some minutes we stoodchatting- about the Zulu peopleI thinkfor I had just returned from the Capeat the time. Presentlyhowevera stoutish ladywhose name I do not remembercame along the pavementaccompanied by a pretty fair-haired girland these twoMr. Vinceywho clearly knew them wellat once joinedwalking off in theircompany. I remember being rather amused because of the change in the expressionof the elder manwhose name I discovered was Hollywhen he saw the ladiesadvancing. He suddenly stopped short in his talkcast a reproachful look at hiscompanionandwith an abrupt nod to myselfturned and marched off aloneacross the street. I heard afterwards that he was popularly supposed to be asmuch afraid of a woman as most people are of a mad dogwhich accounted for hisprecipitate retreat. I cannot sayhoweverthat young Vincey showed muchaversion to feminine society on this occasion. IndeedI remember laughingandremarking to my friend at the time that he was not the sort of man whom it wouldbe desirable to introduce to the lady one was going to marrysince it isexceedingly probable that the acquaintance would end in a transfer of heraffections. He was altogether too good-lookingandwhat is morehe had noneof that consciousness and conceit about him which usually afflicts handsome menand makes them deservedly disliked by their fellows.
That same evening my visit came to an endand this was the last I saw orheard of "Charon" and "the Greek god" for many a long day.IndeedI have never seen either of them from that hour to thisand do notthink it probable that I shall. But a month ago I received a letter and twopacketsone of manuscriptand on opening the first found that it was signed"Horace Holly" a name that at the moment was not familiar to me. Itran as follows: -
__ CollegeCambridgeMay 118__ -
My Dear Sir
You will be surprisedconsidering the very slight nature of our acquaintanceto get a letter from me. IndeedI think I had better begin by reminding youthat we once metnow some five years agowhen I and my ward Leo Vincey wereintroduced to you in the street at Cambridge. To be brief and come to mybusiness. I have recently read with much interest a book of yours describing aCentral African adventure. I take it that this book is partly trueand partlyan effort of the imagination. However this isit has given me an idea. Ithappenshow you will see in the accompanying manuscript (which together withthe Scarabthe "Royal Son of the Sun" and the original sherdI amsending to you by hand)that my wardor rather my adopted sonLeo Vincey andmyself have recently passed through a real African adventureof a nature somuch more marvelous than the one which you describethat to tell you the truthI am almost ashamed to submit it to you for fear lest you should disbelieve mytale. You will see it stated in this manuscript that Ior rather wehad madeup our minds not to make this history public during our joint lives. Nor shouldwe alter our determination were it not for a circumstance which has recentlyarisen. We are for reasons thatafter perusing this manuscriptyou may be ableto guessgoing away againthis time to Central Asiawhereif anywhere uponthis earthwisdom is to be foundand we anticipate that our sojourn there willbe a long one.
Possibly we shall not return. Under these altered conditions it has become aquestion whether we are justified in withholding from the world an account of aphenomenon which we believe to be of unparalleled interestmerely because ourprivate life is involvedor because we are afraid of ridicule and doubt beingcast upon our statements. I hold one view about this matterand Leo holdsanotherand finallyafter much discussionwe have come to a compromisenamelyto send the history to yougiving you full leave to publish it if youthink fitthe only stipulation being that you shall disguise our real namesand as much concerning our personal identity as is consistent with themaintenance of the bona fides of the narrative.
And now what am I to say further? I really do not know beyond once morerepeating that everything is described in the accompanying manuscript exactly asit happened. As regards She herself I have nothing to add. Day by day we havegreater occasion to regret that we did not better avail ourselves of ouropportunities to obtain more information from that marvelous woman. Who was she?How did she first come to the Caves of Korand what was her real religion? Wenever ascertainedand nowalaswe never shallat least not yet. These andmany other questions arise in my mindbut what is the good of asking them now?
Will you undertake the task? We give you complete freedomand as a rewardyou willwe believehave the credit of presenting to the world the mostwonderful historyas distinguished from romancethat its records can show.Read the manuscript (which I have copied out fairly for your benefit)and letme know.
Believe mevery truly yours
L. Horace Holly -
P.S.- Of courseif any profit results from the sale of the writing shouldyou care to undertake its publicationyou can do what you like with itbut ifthere is a loss I will leave instructions with my lawyersMessrs. Geoffrey andJordanto meet it. We entrust the sherdthe scaraband the parchments to yourkeeping till such time as we demand them back again.- L. H. H. -
This letteras may be imaginedastonished me considerablybut when I cameto look at the MS.which the pressure of other work prevented me from doing fora fortnightI was still more astonishedas I think the reader will be alsoand at once made up my mind to press on with the matter. I wrote to this effectto Mr. Hollybut a week afterwards received a letter from that gentleman'slawyersreturning my ownwith the information that their client and Mr. LeoVincey had already left this country for Tibetand they did not at present knowtheir address.
Wellthat is all I have to say. Of the history itself the reader must judge.I give it himwith the exception of a very few alterationsmade with theobject of concealing the identity of the actors from the general publicexactlyas it has come to me. Personally I have made up my mind to refrain from comments.At first I was inclined to believe that this history of a woman on whomclothedin the majesty of her almost endless yearsthe shadow of Eternity itself laylike the dark wing of Nightwas some gigantic allegory of which I could notcatch the meaning. Then I thought that it might be a bold attempt to portray thepossible results of practical immortalityinforming the substance of a mortalwho yet drew her strength from Earthand in whose human bosom passions yet roseand fell and beat as in the undying world around her the winds and the tidesrise and fall and beat unceasingly. But as I went on I abandoned that idea also.To me the story seems to bear the stamp of truth upon its face. Its explanationI must leave to othersand with this slight prefacewhich circumstances makenecessaryI introduce the world to Ayesha and the Caves of Kor.
THE EDITOR -
P.S.- There is on consideration one circumstance thatafter a reperusal ofthis historystruck me with so much force that I cannot resist calling theattention of the reader to it. He will observe that so far as we are madeacquainted with him there appears to be nothing in the character of Leo Vinceywhich in the opinion of most people would have been likely to attract anintellect so powerful as that of Ayesha. He is not evenat any rate to my viewparticularly interesting. Indeedone might imagine that Mr. Holly would underordinary circumstances have easily outstripped him in the favor of She. Can itbe that extremes meetand that the very excess and splendor of her mind led herby means of some strange physical reaction to worship at the shrine of matter?Was that ancient Kallikrates nothing but a splendid animal beloved for hishereditary Greek beauty? Or is the true explanation what I believe it to be-namelythat Ayeshaseeing further than we can seeperceived the germ andsmoldering spark of greatness which lay hid within her lover's souland wellknew that under the influence of her gift of lifewatered by her wisdomandshone upon with the sunshine of her presenceit would bloom like a flower andflash out like a starfilling the world with light and fragrance?
Here also I am not able to answerbut must leave the reader to form his ownjudgment on the facts before himas detailed by Mr. Holly in the followingpages.
1. My Visitor -
THERE ARE some events of which each circumstance and surrounding detail seemsto be graven on the memory in such fashion that we cannot forget itand so itis with the scene that I am about to describe. It rises as clearly before mymind at this moment as though it had happened yesterday.
It was in this very month something over twenty years ago that ILudwigHorace Hollywas sitting one night in my rooms at Cambridgegrinding away atsome mathematical workI forget what. I was to go up for my fellowship within aweekand was expected by my tutor and my college generally to distinguishmyself. At lastwearied outI flung my book downandgoing to themantelpiecetook down a pipe and filled it. There was a candle burning on themantelpieceand a longnarrow glass at the back of it; and as I was in the actof lighting the pipe I caught sight of my own countenance in the glassandpaused to reflect. The lighted match burned away till it scorched my fingersforcing me to drop it; but still I stood and stared at myself in the glassandreflected.
"Well" I said aloudat last"it is to be hoped that I shallbe able to do something with the inside of my headfor I shall certainly neverdo anything by the help of the outside."
This remark will doubtless strike anybody who reads it as being slightlyobscurebut I was in reality alluding to my physical deficiencies. Most men oftwenty-two are endowed at any rate with some share of the comeliness of youthbut to me even this was denied. Shortthick-setand deep-chested almost todeformitywith long sinewy armsheavy featuresdeep-set gray eyesa low browhalf overgrown with a mop of thick black hairlike a deserted clearing on whichthe forest had once more begun to encroach; such was my appearance nearly aquarter of a century agoand suchwith some
modificationis it to this day. Like CainI was branded- branded by Naturewith the stamp of abnormal uglinessas I was gifted by Nature with iron andabnormal strength and considerable intellectual powers. So ugly was I that thespruce young men of my collegethough they were proud enough of my feats ofendurance and physical prowessdid not even care to be seen walking with me.Was it wonderful that I was misanthropic and sullen? Was it wonderful that Ibrooded and worked aloneand had no friends- at leastonly one? I was setapart by Nature to live aloneand draw comfort from her breastand hers only.Women hated the sight of me. Only a week before I had heard one call me a "monster"when she thought I was out of hearingand say that I had converted her to themonkey theory. Onceindeeda woman pretended to care for meand I lavishedall the pent-up affection of my nature upon her. Then money that was to havecome to me went elsewhereand she discarded me. I pleaded with her as I havenever pleaded with any living creature before or sincefor I was caught by hersweet faceand loved her; and in the end by way of answer she took me to theglassand stood side by side with meand looked into it.
"Now" she said"if I am Beautywho are you?" That waswhen I was only twenty.
And so I stood and staredand felt a sort of grim satisfaction in the senseof my own loneliness; for I had neither fathernor mothernor brother; and asI did so there came a knock at my door.
I listened before I went to open itfor it was nearly twelve o'clock atnightand I was in no mood to admit any stranger. I had but one friend in thecollegeorindeedin the world- perhaps it was he.
Just then the person outside the door coughedand I hastened to open itforI knew the cough.
A tall man of about thirtywith the remains of great personal beautycamehurrying instaggering beneath the weight of a massive iron box which hecarried by a handle with his right hand. He placed the box upon the tableandthen fell into an awful fit of coughing. He coughed and coughed till his facebecame quite purpleand at last he sank into a chair and began to spit up blood.I poured out some whisky into a tumblerand gave it to him. He drank itandseemed better; though his better was very bad indeed.
"Why did you keep me standing there in the cold?" he askedpettishly. "You know the drafts are death to me."
"I did not know who it was" I answered. "You are a latevisitor."
"Yes; and I verily believe it is my last visit" he answeredwitha ghastly attempt at a smile. "I am done forHolly. I am done for. I donot believe that I shall see tomorrow!"
"Nonsense!" I said. "Let me go for a doctor."
He waved me back imperiously. "It is sober sense; but I want no doctors.I have studied medicineand I know all about it. No doctors can help me. Mylast hour has come! For a year past I have only lived by a miracle. Now listento me as you never listened to anybody before; for you will not have theopportunity of getting me to repeat my words. We have been friends for two years;now tell me how much do you know about me?"
"I know that you are richand have had a fancy to come to college longafter the age that most men leave it. I know that you have been marriedandthat your wife died; and that you have been the bestindeed almost the onlyfriend I ever had."
"Did you know that I have a son?"
"I have. He is five years old. He cost me his mother's lifeand I havenever been able to bear to look upon his face in consequence. Hollyif you willaccept the trustI am going to leave you that boy's sole guardian."
I sprang almost out of my chair. "Me!" I said.
"Yesyou. I have not studied you for two years for nothing. I haveknown for some time that I could not lastand since I realized the fact I havebeen searching for someone to whom I could confide the boy and this" andhe tapped the iron box. "You are the manHolly; forlike a rugged treeyou are hard and sound at core. Listen; the boy will be the only representativeof one of the most ancient families in the worldthat isso far as familiescan be traced. You will laugh at me when I say itbut one day it will be provedto you beyond a doubtthat my sixty-fifth or sixty-sixth lineal ancestor was anEgyptian priest of Isisthough he was himself of Grecian extractionand wascalled Kallikrates. * His father was one of the Greek mercenaries raised byHak-Hora Mendesian pharaoh of the twenty-ninth dynastyand his grandfatherIbelievewas that very Kallikrates mentioned by Herodotus. *(2) In or about theyear 339 before Christjust at the time of the final fall of the PharaohsthisKallikrates (the priest) broke his vows of celibacy and fled from Egypt with aprincess of royal blood who had fallen in love with himand was finally wreckedupon the coast of Africasomewhereas I believein the neighborhood of whereDelagoa Bay now isor rather to the north of ithe and his wife being savedand all the remainder of their company destroyed in one way or another. Herethey endured great hardshipsbut were at last entertained by the mighty queenof a savage peoplea white woman of peculiar lovelinesswhoundercircumstances which I cannot enter intobut which you will one day learnifyou livefrom the contents of the boxfinally murdered my ancestorKallikrates. His wifehoweverescapedhow I know notto Athensbearing achild with herwhom she named Tisisthenesor the Mighty Avenger. Five hundredyears or more afterwards the family migrated to Rome under circumstances ofwhich no trace remainsand hereprobably with the idea of preserving the ideaof vengeance which we find set out in the name of Tisisthenesthey appear tohave pretty regularly assumed the cognomen of Vindexor Avenger. Heretoothey remained for another five centuries or moretill about 770 A.D.whenCharlemagne invaded Lombardywhere they were then settledwhereon the head ofthe family seems to have attached himself to the great Emperorand to havereturned with him across the Alpsand finally to have settled in Brittany.Eight generations later his lineal representative crossed to England in thereign of Edward the Confessorand in the time of William the Conqueror wasadvanced to great honor and power. From that time till the present day I cantrace my descent without a break. Not that the Vinceys- for that was the finalcorruption of the name after its bearers took root in English soil- have beenparticularly distinguished- they never came much to the fore. Sometimes theywere soldierssometimes merchantsbut on the whole they have preserved a deadlevel of respectabilityand a still deader level of mediocrity. From the timeof Charles II till the beginning of the present century they were merchants.About 1790 my grandfather made a considerable fortune out of brewingandretired. In 1821 he diedand my father succeeded himand dissipated most ofthe money. Ten years ago he died alsoleaving me a net income of about twothousand a year. Then it was that I undertook an expedition in connection withthat"- and he pointed to the iron chest- "which ended disastrouslyenough. On my way back I traveled in the South of Europeand finally reachedAthens. There I met my beloved wifewho might well also have been called the'Beautiful' like my old Greek ancestor. There I married herand therea yearafterwardswhen my boy was bornshe died." * The Strong and Beautifulormore accuratelythe Beautiful in Strength.
*(2) The Kallikrates here referred to by my friend was a Spartanspoken ofby Herodotus (Herod. ix.) as being remarkable for his beauty. He fell at theglorious battle of Plataea (September 22B.C. 479)when the Lacedaemonians andAthenians under Pausanias routed the Persiansputting nearly 300000 of them tothe sword. The following is a translation of the passage: "For Kallikratesdied out of the battlehe came to the army the most beautiful man of the Greeksof that day- not only of the Lacedaemonians themselvesbut of the other Greeksalso. He when Pausanias was sacrificing was wounded in the side by an arrow; andthen they foughtbut on being carried off he regretted his deathand said toArimnestusa Plataeanthat he did not grieve at dying for Greecebut at nothaving struck a bloworalthough he desired so to doperformed any deedworthy of himself." This Kallikrateswho appears to have been as brave ashe was beautifulis subsequently mentioned by Herodotus as having been buriedamong the irenes (young commanders)apart from the other Spartans and theHelots.- L. H. H. -
He paused awhilehis head sunk upon his handand then continued"Mymarriage had diverted me from a project which I cannot enter into now. I have notimeHolly- I have no time! One dayif you accept my trustyou will learn allabout it. After my wife's death I turned my mind to it again. But first it wasnecessaryorat leastI conceived that it was necessarythat I should attainto a perfect knowledge of Eastern dialectsespecially Arabic. It was tofacilitate my studies that I came here. Very soonhowevermy disease developeditselfand now there is an end of me." And as though to emphasize hiswords he burst into another terrible fit of coughing.
I gave him some more whiskyand after resting he went on: "I have neverseen my boyLeosince he was a tiny baby. I never could bear to see himbutthey tell me that he is a quick and handsome child. In this envelope"- andhe produced a letter from his pocket addressed to myself- "I have jotteddown the course I wish followed in the boy's education. It is a somewhatpeculiar one. At any rateI could not entrust it to a stranger. Once morewillyou undertake it?"
"I must first know what I am to undertake" I answered.
"You are to undertake to have the boyLeoto live with you till he istwenty-five years of age- not to send him to schoolremember. On histwenty-fifth birthday your guardianship will endand you will thenwith thekeys that I give you now"- and he placed them on the table- "open theiron boxand let him see and read the contentsand say whether or no he iswilling to undertake the quest. There is no obligation on him to do so. Nowasregards terms. My present income is two thousand two hundred a year. Half ofthat income I have secured to you by will for life contingent on yourundertaking the guardianship- that isone thousand a year remuneration toyourselffor you will have to give up your life to itand one hundred a yearto pay for the board of the boy. The rest is to accumulate till Leo istwenty-fiveso that there may be a sum in hand should he wish to undertake thequest of which I spoke."
"And suppose I were to die?" I asked.
"Then the boy must become a ward of Chancery and take his chance. Onlybe careful that the iron chest is passed on to him by your will. ListenHollydon't refuse me. Believe methis is to your advantage. You are not fit to mixwith the world- it would only embitter you. In a few weeks you will become afellow of your collegeand the income that you will derive from that combinedwith what I have left you will enable you to live a life of learned leisurealternated with the sport of which you are so fondsuch as will exactly suityou."
He paused and looked at me anxiouslybut I still hesitated. The chargeseemed so very strange.
"For my sakeHolly. We have been good friendsand I have no time tomake other arrangements."
"Very well" I said"I will do itprovided there is nothingin this paper to make me change my mind" and I touched the envelope he hadput upon the table by the keys.
"Thank youHollythank you. There is nothing at all. Swear to me byGod that you will be a father to the boyand follow my directions to theletter."
"I swear it" I answered solemnly.
"Very wellremember that perhaps one day I shall ask for the account ofyour oathfor though I am dead and forgottenyet shall I live. There is nosuch thing as deathHollyonly a changeandas you may perhaps learn in timeto comeI believe that even here that change could under certain circumstancesbe indefinitely postponed" and again he broke into one of his dreadfulfits of coughing.
"There" he said"I must go. You have the chestand my willwill be found among my papersunder the authority of which the child will behanded over to you. You will be well paidHollyand I know that you arehonestbut if you betray my trustby heaven I will haunt you."
I said nothingbeingindeedtoo bewildered to speak.
He held up the candleand looked at his own face in the glass. It had been abeautiful facebut disease had wrecked it. "Food for the worms" hesaid. "Curious to think that in a few hours I shall be stiff and cold- thejourney donethe little game played out. Ah meHollylife is not worth thetrouble of lifeexcept when one is in love- at leastmine has not been; butthe boy Leo's may be if he has the courage and the faith. Good-bymyfriend!" and with a sudden access of tenderness he flung his arm about meand kissed me on the foreheadand then turned to go.
"Look hereVincey" I said"if you are as ill as you thinkyou had better let me fetch a doctor."
"Nono" he said earnestly. "Promise me that you won't. I amgoing to dieandlike a poisoned ratI wish to die alone."
"I don't believe that you are going to do anything of the sort" Ianswered. He smiledandwith the word "Remember" on his lipswasgone. As for myselfI sat down and rubbed my eyeswondering if I had beenasleep. As this supposition would not bear investigation I gave it upand beganto think that Vincey must have been drinking. I knew that he wasand had beenvery illbut still it seemed impossible that he could be in such a condition asto be able to know for certain that he would not outlive the night. Had he beenso near dissolution surely he would scarcely have been able to walkand carry aheavy iron box with him. The whole storyon reflectionseemed to me utterlyincrediblefor I was not then old enough to be aware how many things happen inthis world that the common sense of the average man would set down as soimprobable as to be absolutely impossible. This is a fact that I have onlyrecently mastered. Was it likely that a man would have a son five years of agewhom he had never seen since he was a tiny infant? No. Was it likely that hecould foretell his own death so accurately? No. Was it likely that he couldtrace his pedigree for more than three centuries before Christor that he wouldsuddenly confide the absolute guardianship of his childand leave half hisfortuneto a college friend? Most certainly not. Clearly Vincey was eitherdrunk or mad. That being sowhat did it mean? And what was in the sealed ironchest? The whole thing baffled and puzzled me to such an extent that at last Icould stand it no longerand determined to sleep over it. So I jumped upandhaving put the keys and the letter that Vincey had left away into my dispatchboxand stowed the iron chest in a large portmanteauI turned inand was soonfast asleep.
As it seemed to meI had only been asleep for a few minutes when I wasawakened by somebody calling me. I sat up and rubbed my eyes; it was broaddaylight- eight o'clockin fact.
"Whywhat is the matter with youJohn?" I asked of the gyp whowaited on Vincey and myself. "You look as though you had seen aghost!"
"Yessirand so I have" he answered"leastways I've seen acorpsewhich is worse. I've been in to call Mr. Vinceyas usualand there helies stark and dead!"
2. The Years Roll By -
OF COURSEpoor Vincey's sudden death created a great stir in the college;butas he was known to be very illand a satisfactory doctor's certificate wasforthcomingthere was no inquest. They were not so particular about inquests inthose days as they are now; indeedthey were generally dislikedas causing ascandal. Under all these circumstancesas I was asked no questionsI did notfeel called upon to volunteer any information about our interview of the nightof Vincey's deceasebeyond saying that he had come into my rooms to see meashe often did. On the day of the funeral a lawyer came down from London andfollowed my poor friend's remains to the graveand then went back with hispapers and effectsexceptof coursethe iron chest which had been left in mykeeping. For a week after this I heard no more of the matterandindeedmyattention was amply occupied in other waysfor I was up for my fellowshipafact that had prevented me from attending the funeral or seeing the lawyer. Atlasthoweverthe examination was overand I came back to my rooms and sankinto an easy chair with a happy consciousness that I had got through it veryfairly.
Soonhowevermy thoughtsrelieved of the pressure that had crushed theminto a single groove during the last few daysturned to the events of the nightof poor Vincey's deathand again I asked myself what it all meantand wonderedif I should hear anything more of the matterand if I did notwhat it would bemy duty to do with the curious iron chest. I sat there and thought and thoughttill I began to grow quite disturbed over the whole occurrence: the mysteriousmidnight visitthe prophecy of death so shortly to be fulfilledthe solemnoath that I had takenand which Vincey had called on me to answer to in anotherworld than this. Had the man committed suicide? It looked like it. And what wasthe quest of which he spoke? The circumstances were almost uncannyso much sothatthough I am by no means nervousor apt to be alarmed at anything that mayseem to cross the bounds of the naturalI grew afraidand began to wish I hadhad nothing to do with it. How much more do I wish it nowover twenty yearsafterwards!
As I sat and thoughtthere was a knock at the doorand a letterin a bigblue envelopewas brought in to me. I saw at a glance that it was a lawyer'sletterand an instinct told me that it was connected with my trust. The letterwhich I still haveruns thus: -
SirOur clientthe late M. L. VinceyEsq.who died on the 9th instant in___ CollegeCambridgehas left behind him a Willof which you will pleasefind copy enclosedand of which we are the executors. By this Will you willperceive that you take a life interest in about half of the late Mr. Vincey'spropertynow invested in Consolssubject to your acceptance of theguardianship of his only sonLeo Vinceyat present an infantaged five. Hadwe not ourselves drawn up the document in question in obedience to Mr. Vincey'sclear and precise instructionsboth personal and writtenand had he not thenassured us that he had very good reasons for what he was doingwe are bound totell you that its provisions seem to us of so unusual a naturethat we shouldhave felt bound to call the attention of the Court of Chancery to themin orderthat such steps might be taken as seemed desirable to iteither by contestingthe capacity of the testator or otherwiseto safeguard the interest of theinfant. As it isknowing that the testator was a gentleman of the highestintelligence and acumenand that he has absolutely no relations living to whomhe could have confided the guardianship of the childwe do not feel justifiedin taking this course.
Awaiting such instructions as you please to send us as regards the deliveryof the infant and the payment of the proportion of the dividends due to you
We remainSirfaithfully yours.
Geoffrey and Jordan -
I put down the letterand ran my eye through the willwhich appearedfromits utter unintelligibilityto have been drawn on the strictest legalprinciples. So far as I could discoverhoweverit exactly bore out what myfriend had told me on the night of his death. So it was true after all. I musttake the boy. Suddenly I remembered the letter which he had left with the chest.I fetched it and opened it. It only contained such directions as he had alreadygiven to me as to opening the chest on Leo's twenty-fifth birthdayand laiddown the outlines of the boy's educationwhich was to include Greekthe higherMathematicsand Arabic. At the bottom there was a postscript to the effect thatif the boy died under the age of twenty-fivewhichhoweverhe did not believewould be the caseI was to open the chestand act on the information Iobtained if I saw fit. If I did not see fitI was to destroy all the contents.On no account was I to pass them on to a stranger.
As this letter added nothing material to my knowledgeand certainly raisedno further objection in my mind to undertaking the task I had promised my deadfriend to undertakethere was only one course open to me- namelyto write toMessrs. Geoffrey and Jordanand express my readiness to enter on the truststating that I should be willing to commence my guardianship of Leo in ten days'time. This done I proceeded to the authorities of my collegeandhaving toldthem as much of the story as I considered desirablewhich was not very muchafter considerable difficulty succeeded in persuading them to stretch a pointandin the event of my having obtained a fellowshipwhich I was pretty certainI had doneallow me to have the child to live with me. Their consenthoweverwas only granted on the condition that I vacated my rooms in college and tooklodgings. This I didand with some difficulty succeeded in obtaining very goodapartments quite close to the college gates. The next thing was to find a nurse.And on this point I came to a determination. I would have no woman to lord itover me about the childand steal his affections from me. The boy was oldenough to do without female assistanceso I set to work to hunt up a suitablemale attendant. With some difficulty I succeeded in hiring a most respectableround-faced young manwho had been a helper in a hunting stablebut who saidthat he was one of a family of seventeen and well accustomed to the ways ofchildrenand professed himself quite willing to undertake the charge of MasterLeo when he arrived. Thenhaving taken the iron box to townand with my ownhands deposited it at my banker'sI bought some books upon the health andmanagement of childrenand read themfirst to myselfand then aloud to Job-that was the young man's name- and waited.
At length the child arrived in the charge of an elderly personwho weptbitterly at parting with himand a beautiful boy he was. IndeedI do not thinkthat I ever saw such a perfect child before or since. His eyes were grayhisforehead broadand his faceeven at that early ageclean cut as a cameowithout being pinched or thin. But perhaps his most attractive point was hishairwhich was pure gold in color and tightly curled over his shapely head. Hecried a little when his nurse finally tore herself away and left him with us.Never shall I forget the scene. There he stoodwith the sunlight from thewindow playing upon his golden curlshis fist screwed in one eyewhile he tookus in with the other. I was seated in a chairand stretched out my hand to himto induce him to come to mewhile Jobin the cornerwas making a sort ofclucking noisewhicharguing from his previous experienceor from the analogyof the henhe judged would have a soothing effectand inspire confidence inthe youthful mindand running a wooden horse of peculiar hideousness backwardsand forwards in a way that was little short of inane. This went on for someminutesand then all of a sudden the lad stretched out both his little arms andran to me.
"I like you" he said. "You is uglybut you is good."
Ten minutes afterwards he was eating large slices of bread and butterwithevery sign of satisfaction; Job wanted to put jam on thembut I sternlyreminded him of the excellent works we had readand forbade it.
In a very little while (foras I expectedI got my fellowship) the boybecame the favorite of the whole college- whereall orders and regulations tothe contrary notwithstandinghe was continually in and out- a sort of charteredlibertinein whose favor all rules were relaxed. The offerings made at hisshrine were simply without numberand I had a serious difference of opinionwith one old resident Fellownow long deadwho was usually supposed to be thecrustiest man in the universityand to abhor the sight of a child. And yet Idiscoveredwhen a frequently recurring fit of sickness had forced Job to keep astrict lookoutthat this unprincipled old man was in the habit of enticing theboy to his rooms and there feeding him upon unlimited quantities of brandyballsand making him promise to say nothing about it. Job told him that heought to be ashamed of himself"at his agetoowhen he might have been agrandfather if he had done what was right" by which Job understood had gotmarriedand thence arose the row.
But I have no space to dwell upon those delightful yearsround which memorystill fondly hovers. One by one they went byand as they passed we two grewdearer and yet more dear to each other. Few sons have been loved as I love Leoand few fathers know the deep and continuous affection that Leo bears to me.
The child grew into the boyand the boy into the young manas one by onethe remorseless years flew byand as he grew and increased so did his beautyand the beauty of his mind grow with him. When he was about fifteen they used tocall him Beauty about the collegeand me they nicknamed the Beast. Beauty andthe Beast was what they called us when we went out walking togetheras we usedto do every day. Once Leo attacked a great strapping butcher's mantwice hissizebecause he sang it out after usand thrashed himtoo- thrashed himfairly. I walked on and pretended not to seetill the combat got too excitingwhen I turned round and cheered him on to victory. It was the chaff of thecollege at the timebut I could not help it. Then when he was a little olderthe undergraduates got fresh names for us. They called me Charon and Leo theGreek god! I will pass over my own appellation with the humble remark that I wasnever handsomeand did not grow more so as I grew older. As for histhere wasno doubt about its fitness. Leo at twenty-one might have stood for a statue ofthe youthful Apollo. I never saw anybody to touch him in looksor anybody soabsolutely unconscious of them. As for his mindhe was brilliant andkeen-wittedbut not a scholar. He had not the dullness necessary for thatresult. We followed out his father's instructions as regards his educationstrictly enoughand on the whole the resultsespecially so far as the Greekand Arabic wentwere satisfactory. I learned the latter language in order tohelp to teach it to himbut after five years of it he knew it as well as I did-almost as well as the professor who instructed us both. I always was a greatsportsman- it is my one passion- and every autumn we went away somewhereshooting or fishingsometimes to Scotlandsometimes to Norwayonce even toRussia. I am a good shotbut even in this he learned to excel me.
When Leo was eighteen I moved back into my roomsand entered him at my owncollegeand at twenty-one he took his degree- a respectable degreebut not avery high one. Then it was that Ifor the first timetold him something of hisown storyand of the mystery that loomed ahead. Of course he was very curiousabout itand of course I explained to him that his curiosity could not begratified at present. After thatto pass the time awayI suggested that heshould get himself called to the bar; and this he didreading at Cambridgeandonly going up to London to eat his dinners.
I had only one trouble about himand that was that every young woman whocame across himorif not every onenearly sowould insist on falling inlove with him. Hence arose difficulties which I need not enter into herethoughthey were troublesome enough at the time. On the wholehe behaved fairly well;I cannot say more than that.
And so the time went by till at last he reached his twenty-fifth birthdayatwhich date this strange andin some waysawful history really begins.
3. The Sherd of Amenartas -
ON THE day preceding Leo's twenty-fifth birthday we both proceeded to Londonand extracted the mysterious chest from the bank where I had deposited it twentyyears before. It wasI rememberbrought up by the same clerk who had taken itdown. He perfectly remembered having hidden it away. Had he not done sohesaidhe should have had difficulty in finding itit was so covered up withcobwebs.
In the evening we returned with our precious burden to Cambridgeand I thinkthat we might both of us have given away all the sleep we got that night and nothave been much the poorer. At daybreak Leo arrived in my room in a dressinggownand suggested that we should at once proceed to business. I scouted theidea as showing an unworthy curiosity. The chest had waited twenty yearsIsaidso it could very well continue to wait until after breakfast. Accordinglyat nine- an unusually sharp nine- we breakfasted; and so occupied was I with myown thoughts that I regret to state that I put a piece of bacon into Leo's teain mistake for a lump of sugar. Jobtooto whom the contagion of excitementhadof coursespreadmanaged to break the handle off my Sevres china teacupthe identical one I believe that Marat had been drinking from just before he wasstabbed in his bath.
At lasthoweverbreakfast was cleared awayand Jobat my requestfetchedthe chestand placed it upon the table in a somewhat gingerly fashionasthough he mistrusted it. Then he prepared to leave the room. "Stop amomentJob" I said. "If Mr. Leo has no objectionI should prefer tohave an independent witness to this businesswho can be relied upon to hold histongue unless he is asked to speak."
"CertainlyUncle Horace" answered Leo; for I had brought him upto call me uncle- though he varied the appellation somewhat disrespectfully bycalling me "old fellow" or even "my avuncular relative."
Job touched his headnot having a hat on.
"Lock the doorJob" I said"and bring me my dispatchbox."
He obeyedand from the box I took the keys that poor VinceyLeo's fatherhad given me on the night of his death. There were three of them: the largest acomparatively modern keythe second an exceedingly ancient oneand the thirdentirely unlike anything of the sort that we had ever seen beforebeingfashioned apparently from a strip of solid silverwith a bar placed across toserve as a handleand some nicks cut in the edge of the bar. It was more like amodel of some antediluvian railway key than anything else.
"Now are you both ready?" I saidas people do when they are goingto fire a mine. There was no answerso I took the big keyrubbed some saladoil onto the wardsand after one or two bad shotsfor my hands were shakingmanaged to fit itand shoot the lock. Leo bent over and caught the massive lidin both his handsand with an effortfor the hinges had rustedleaned itback. Its removal revealed another case covered with dust. This we extractedfrom the iron chest without any difficultyand removed the accumulated filth ofyears from it with a clothes brush.
It wasor appeared to beof ebonyor some such close-grained black woodand was bound in every direction with flat bands of iron. Its antiquity musthave been extremefor the dense heavy wood was actually in parts commencing tocrumble away from age.
"Now for it" I saidinserting the second key.
Job and Leo bent forward in breathless silence. The key turnedand I flungback the lidand uttered an exclamationas did the others; and no wonderforinside the ebony case was a magnificent silver casketabout twelve inchessquare by eight high. It appeared to be of Egyptian workmanshipfor the fourlegs were formed of Sphinxesand the dome-shaped cover was also surmounted by aSphinx. The casket was of course much tarnished and dinted with agebutotherwise in fairly sound condition.
I drew it out and set it on the tableand thenin the midst of the mostperfect silenceI inserted the strange-looking silver keyand pressed this wayand that until at last the lock yieldedand the casket stood open before us. Itwas filled to the brim with some brown shredded materialmore like vegetablefiber than paperthe nature of which I have never been able to discover. This Icarefully removed to the depth of some three incheswhen I came to a letterenclosed in an ordinary modern-looking envelopeand addressed in thehandwriting of my dead friend Vincey: "To my son Leoshould he live toopen this casket." I handed the letter to Leowho glanced at the envelopeand then put it down upon the tablemaking a motion to me to go on emptying thecasket.
The next thing that I found was a parchment carefully rolled up. I unrolleditand seeing that it was also in Vincey's handwritingand headed"Translation of the Uncial Greek Writing on the Potsherd" put it downby the letter. Then followed another ancient roll of parchmentthat had becomeyellow and crinkled with the passage of years. This I also unrolled. It waslikewise a translation of the same Greek originalbut into black-letter Latinthis timewhich at the first glance appeared to me from the style and characterto date from somewhere about the beginning of the sixteenth century. Immediatelybeneath this roll was something hard and heavywrapped up in yellow linenandreposing upon another layer of the fibrous material. Slowly and carefully weunrolled the linenexposing to view a very large but undoubtedly ancientpotsherd of a dirty yellow color! This potsherd had in my judgment once been apart of an ordinary amphora of medium size. For the restit measured ten and ahalf inches in length by seven in widthwas about a quarter of an inch thickand densely covered on the convex side that lay towards the bottom of the boxwith writing in the later uncial Greek characterfaded here and therebut forthe most part perfectly legiblethe inscription having evidently been executedwith the greatest careand by means of a reed pensuch as the ancients oftenused. I must not forget to mention that in some remote age this wonderfulfragment had been broken in twoand rejoined by means of cement and eight longrivets. Also there were numerous inscriptions on the inner sidebut these wereof the most erratic characterand had clearly been made by different hands andin many different agesand of themtogether with the writings on theparchmentsI shall have to speak presently.
"Is there anything more?" asked Leoin a kind of excited whisper.
I groped aboutand produced something harddone up in a little linen bag.Out of the bag we took first a very beautiful miniature done upon ivoryandsecondlya small chocolate-colored composition scarabaeusmarked thus: -
(See illustration.) -
symbols whichwe have since ascertainedmean "Suten se Ra" whichis being translated the "Royal Son of Ra or the Sun." The miniaturewas a picture of Leo's Greek mother- a lovelydark-eyed creature. On the backof it was writtenin poor Vincey's handwriting"My beloved wife."
"That is all" I said.
"Very well" answered Leoputting down the miniatureat which hehad been gazing affectionately; "and now let us read the letter" andwithout further ado he broke the sealand read aloud as follows: -
"My Son LeoWhen you open thisif you ever live to do soyou willhave attained to manhoodand I shall have been long enough dead to beabsolutely forgotten by nearly all who knew me. Yet in reading it remember thatI have beenand for anything you know may still beand that in itthroughthis link of pen and paperI stretch out my hand to you across the gulf ofdeathand my voice speaks to you from the unutterable silence of the grave.Though I am deadand no memory of me remains in your mindyet am I with you inthis hour that you read. Since your birth to this day I have scarcely seen yourface. Forgive me this. Your life supplanted the life of one whom I loved betterthan women are often lovedand the bitterness of it endureth yet. Had I lived Ishould in time have conquered this foolish feelingbut I am not destined tolive. My sufferingsphysical and mentalare more than I can bearand whensuch small arrangements as I have to make for your future well-being arecompleted it is my intention to put a period to them. May God forgive me if I dowrong. At the best I could not live more than another year." -
"So he killed himself" I exclaimed. "I thought so." -
"And now" Leo went onwithout replying"enough of myself.What has to be said belongs to you who livenot to mewho am deadand almostas much forgotten as though I had never been. Hollymy friend (to whomif hewill accept the trustit is my intention to confide you)will have told yousomething of the extraordinary antiquity of your race. In the contents of thiscasket you will find sufficient to prove it. The strange legend that you willfind inscribed by your remote ancestress upon the potsherd was communicated tome by my father on his deathbedand took a strong hold upon my imagination.When I was only nineteen years of age I determinedasto his misfortunedidone of our ancestors about the time of Elizabethto investigate its truth. Intoall that befell me I cannot enter now. But this I saw with my own eyes. On thecoast of Africain a hitherto unexplored regionsome distance to the north ofwhere the Zambesi falls into the seathere is a headlandat the extremity ofwhich a peak towers upshaped like the head of a Negrosimilar to that ofwhich the writing speaks. I landed thereand learned from a wandering nativewho had been cast out by his people because of some crime which he hadcommittedthat far inland are great mountainsshaped like cupsand cavessurrounded by measureless swamps. I learned also that the people there speak adialect of Arabicand are ruled over by a beautiful white woman who is seldomseen by thembut who is reported to have power over all things living and dead.Two days after I had ascertained this the man died of fever contracted incrossing the swampsand I was forced by want of provisions and by symptoms ofan illness which afterwards prostrated me to take to my dhow again.
"Of the adventures that befell me after this I need not now speak. I waswrecked upon the coast of Madagascarand rescued some months afterwards by anEnglish ship that brought me to Adenwhence I started for Englandintending toprosecute my search as soon as I had made sufficient preparations. On my way Istopped in Greeceand therefor Omnia vincit amorI met your beloved motherand married herand there you were born and she died. Then it was that my lastillness seized meand I returned hither to die. But still I hoped against hopeand set myself to work to learn Arabicwith the intentionshould I ever getbetterof returning to the coast of Africaand solving the mystery of whichthe tradition has lived so many centuries in our family. But I have not gotbetterandso far as I am concernedthe story is at an end.
"For youhowevermy sonit is not at an endand to you I hand onthese the results of my labortogether with the hereditary proofs of itsorigin. It is my intention to provide that they shall not be put into your handsuntil you have reached an age when you will be able to judge for yourselfwhether or no you will choose to investigate whatif it is truemust be thegreatest mystery in the world or to put it by as an idle fableoriginating inthe first place in a woman's disordered brain.
"I do not believe that it is a fable; I believe that if it can only berediscovered there is a spot where the vital forces of the world visibly exist.Life exists; why therefore should not the means of preserving it indefinitelyexist also? But I have no wish to prejudice your mind about the matter. Read andjudge for yourself. If you are inclined to undertake the searchI have soprovided that you will not lack for means. Ifon the other handyou aresatisfied that the whole thing is a chimerathenI adjure youdestroy thepotsherd and the writingsand let a cause of troubling be removed from our raceforever. Perhaps that will be wisest. The unknown is generally taken to beterriblenot as the proverb would inferfrom the inherent superstition of manbut because it so often is terrible. He who would tamper with the vast andsecret forces that animate the world may well fall a victim to them. And if theend were attainedif at last you emerged from the trial ever beautiful and everyoungdefying time and eviland lifted above the natural decay of flesh andintellectwho shall say that the awesome change would prove a happy one?Choosemy sonand may the Power who rules all thingsand who says 'thus farshalt thou goand thus much shalt thou learn' direct the choice to your ownhappiness and the happiness of the worldwhichin the event of your successyou would one day certainly rule by the pure force of accumulated experience.-Farewell!" -
Thus the letterwhich was unsigned and undatedabruptly ended.
"What do you make of thatUncle Holly?" said Leowith a sort ofgaspas he replaced it on the table. "We have been looking for a mysteryand we certainly seem to have found one."
"What do I make of it? Whythat your poor dear father was off his headof course" I answered testily. "I guessed as much that nighttwentyyears agowhen he came into my room. You see he evidently hurried his own endpoor man. It is absolute balderdash."
"That's itsir!" said Job solemnly. Job was a most matter-of-factspecimen of a matter-of-fact class.
"Welllet's see what the potsherd has to sayat any rate" saidLeotaking up the translation in his father's writingand commencing to read:-
"IAmenartasof the Royal House of the Pharaohs of Egyptwife ofKallikrates (the Beautiful in Strength)a Priest of Isis whom the gods cherishand the demons obeybeing about to dieto my little son Tisisthenes (theMighty Avenger). I fled with thy father from Egypt in the days of Nectanebes*causing him through love to break the vow that he had vowed. We fled southwardacross the watersand we wandered for twice twelve moons on the coast of Libya(Africa) that looks towards the rising sunwhere by a river is a great rockcarven like the head of an Ethiopian. Four days on the water from the mouth of amighty river were we cast awayand some were drowned and some died of sickness.But us wild men took through wastes and marsheswhere the sea fowl hid the skybearing us ten days' journey till we came to a hollow mountainwhere a greatcity had been and fallenand where there are caves of which no man hath seenthe end; and they brought us to the Queen of the people who place pots upon theheads of strangerswho is a magician having a knowledge of all thingsand lifeand loveliness that does not die. And she cast eyes of love upon thy fatherKallikratesand would have slain meand taken him to husbandbut he loved meand feared herand would not. Then did she take usand lead us by terriblewaysby means of dark magicto where the great pit isin the mouth of whichthe old philosopher lay deadand showed to us the rolling Pillar of Life thatdies notwhereof the voice is as the voice of thunder; and she did stand in theflamesand come forth unharmedand yet more beautiful. Then did she swear tomake thy father undying even as she isif he would but slay meand givehimself to herfor me she could not slay because of the magic of my own peoplethat I haveand that prevailed thus far against her. And he held his handbefore his eyes to hide her beautyand would not. Then in her rage did shesmite him by her magicand he died; but she wept over himand bore him thencewith lamentations: and being afraidme she sent to the mouth of the great riverwhere the ships comeand I was carried far away on the ships where I gave theebirthand hither to Athens I came at last after many wanderings. Now I say totheemy sonTisisthenesseek out the womanand learn the secret of Lifeandif thou mayest find a way slay herbecause of thy father Kallikrates; and ifthou dost fear or failthis I say to all of thy seed who come after theetillat last a brave man be found among them who shall bathe in the fire and sit inthe Place of the Pharaohs. I speak of those thingsthat though they be pastbeliefyet I have knownand I lie not." -
* Nekht-nebfor Nectanebo II.the last native Pharaoh of Egypt fled fromOchus to EthiopiaB.C. 339.- EDITOR. -
"May the Lord forgive her for that" groaned Jobwho had beenlistening to this marvelous composition with his mouth open.
As for myselfI said nothingmy first idea being that my poor friendbeingdementedhad composed the whole thingthough it scarcely seemed likely thatsuch a story could have been invented by anybody. It was too original. To solvemy doubts I took up the potsherd and began to read the close uncial Greekwriting on it; and very good Greek of the period it isconsidering that it camefrom the pen of an Egyptian born. Here is an exact transcript of it: -
(See illustration.) -
For general convenience in readingI have here accurately transcribed thisinscription into the cursive character: -
Amenartas tou Basilikou genous tou Aiguptioue tou Kallikratous Isidosiereosen oi men theoi trephousi ta de daimonia upotassetaiede teleutosaTisisthenei to paidi epistellei tathe sunephugon gar pote ek tes Aiguptias epiNektanebou meta tou sou patrosdia ton erota ton emon epiorkesantos. phugontesde pros noton diapontioi kai k' d' menas kata ta parathalassia tes Libues tapros eliou anatolas planethentesentha petra tis megaleglupton omoiomaAithiopos kephaleseita emeras d' apo stomatos potamou megalou ekpesontesoimen katepontisthemenoi de noso apethanomen telos de up agrion anthroponepherometha dia eleon te kai tenageon enthaper ptenon plethos apokruptei tonouranonemeras ieos elthomen eis koilon ti orosentha pote megale men polisenantra de apeirona egagon de os basileian ten ton xenous chutraisstephanountonetis mageia men echreto episteme de panton kai de kai kallos kairhomen ageros en e de Kallikratous tou sou patros erastheisa to men protonsunoikein ebouleto eme de anelein epeitaos ouk anepeitheneme gar uperephileikai ten xenen ephobeitoapegagen emas upo mageias kath' odous sphaleras enthato barathron to megaou kata stoma ekeito o geron o philosophos tethneosaphikomenois d' edeixe phos tou biou euthuoion kiona elissomenon phonen ientakathaper bronteseita dia puros bebekuia ablabes kai eti kallion aute eautesexephaneek de touton omose kai ton son patera athanaton apodeixeineisunoikein oi bouloito eme de aneleinou gar oun aute anelein ischuen upo tonemedapon en kai aute echo mageias. o d' ouden ti mallon etheleto cheire tonommaton proischon ina de to tes gunaikos kallos me oroe epeita orgistheisakategoeteuse men autonapolomenon mentoi klaousa kai oduromene ekeithenapenegkeneme de phobo apheken eis stoma tou megalou potamou tou nausiporouporro de nausineph' onper pleousa etekon seapopleusasa molis pote deuroAthenaze kategagomen. su deo Tisistheneson epistello me oligorei dei gar tengunaika anazetein en pos to tou biou musterion aneureskai anaireinen pouparaschedia ton son patera Kallikraten. ei de phoboumenos e dia allo ti autosleipei tou ergoupasi tois usteron auto touto epistelloeos pote agathos tisgenomenos to puri lousasthai tolmesei kai ta aristeia echon basileusai tonanthropon apista men de ta toiauta legoomos de a aute egnoka ouk epseusamen. -
The English translation wasas I discovered on further investigationand asthe reader may easily see by comparisonboth accurate and elegant.
Besides the uncial writing on the convex side of the sherd at the toppainted in dull redon what had once been the lip of the amphorawas thecartouche already mentioned as being on the scarabaeuswhich we had also foundin the casket. The hieroglyphics or symbolshoweverwere reversedjust asthough they had been pressed on wax. Whether this was the cartouche of theoriginal Kallikrates* or of some Prince or Pharaoh from whom his wifeAmenartas was descendedI am not surenor can I tell if it was drawn upon thesherd at the same time that the uncial Greek was inscribedor copied on morerecently from the Scarab by some other member of the family. Nor was this all.At the foot of the writingpainted in the same dull redwas the faint outlineof a somewhat rude drawing of the head and shoulders of a Sphinx wearing twofeatherssymbols of majestywhichthough common enough upon the effigies ofsacred bulls and godsI have never before met with on a Sphinx. -
* The cartoucheif it be a true cartouchecannot have been that ofKallikratesas Mr. Holly suggests. Kallikrates was a priest and not entitled toa cartouchewhich was the prerogative of Egyptian royaltythough he might haveinscribed his name or title upon an oval.- EDITOR. -
Also on the right-hand side of this surface of the sherdpainted obliquelyin red on the space not covered by the uncialand signed in blue paintwas thefollowing quaint inscription: -
IN EARTH AND SKIE AND SEA
STRANGE THYNGES THER BE.
DOROTHEA VINCEY -
Perfectly bewilderedI turned the relic over. It was covered from top tobottom with notes and signatures in GreekLatinand English. The firstinuncial Greekwas by Tisisthenesthe son to whom the writing was addressed. Itwas"I could not go. Tisisthenes to his sonKallikrates." Here it isin facsimile with its cursive equivalent: -
(See illustration.) -
This Kallikrates (probablyin the Greek fashionso named after hisgrandfather) evidently made some attempt to start on the questfor his entrywritten in very faint and almost illegible uncialis"I ceased from mygoingthe gods being against me. Kallikrates to his son." Here it is also:-
(See illustration.) -
Between these two ancient writings- the second of which was inscribed upsidedown and was so faint and worn thathad it not been for the transcript of itexecuted by VinceyI should scarcely have been able to read itsinceowing toits having been written on that portion of the tile which hadin the course ofagesundergone the most handlingit was nearly rubbed out- was the boldmodern-looking signature of one Lionel Vincey"Aetate sua 17" whichwas written thereonI thinkby Leo's grandfather. To the right of this werethe initials "J. B. V." and below came a variety of Greek signaturesin uncial and cursive characterand what appeared to be some carelesslyexecuted repetitions of the sentence "to paidi" (to my son)showingthat the relic was religiously passed on from generation to generation.
The next legible thing after the Greek signatures was the word "ROMAEA.U.C." showing that the family had now migrated to Rome. Unfortunatelyhoweverwith the exception of its termination (cvi)the date of theirsettlement there is forever lostfor just where it had been placed a piece ofthe potsherd is broken away.
Then followed twelve Latin signaturesjotted about here and therewhereverthere was a space upon the tile suitable to their inscription. These signatureswith three exceptions onlyended with the name "Vindex" or "theAvenger" which seems to have been adopted by the family after itsmigration to Rome as a kind of equivalent to the Grecian"Tisisthenes" which also means an avenger. Ultimatelyas might beexpectedthis Latin cognomen of Vindex was transformed first into De Vinceyand then into the plainmodern Vincey. It is very curious to observe how theidea of revengeinspired by an Egyptian before the time of Christis thusasit wereembalmed in an English family name.
A few of the Roman names inscribed upon the sherd I have actually since foundmentioned in history and other records. They wereif I remember right-
SEX. VARIVS. MARVLLVS
C. FVFIDIVS. C. F. VINDEX -
LABERIA POMPEIANA. CONIVX. MACRINI. VINDICIS -
the last beingof coursethe name of a Roman lady.
The following listhowevercomprises all the Latin names upon the sherd: -
C. CAECILIVS VINDEX
M. AIMILIVS VINDEX
SEX. VARIVS. MARVLLVS
Q. SOSIVS PRISCVS SENECIO VINDEX
L. VALERIVS COMINIVS VINDEX
SEX. OTACILIVS. M. F.
L. ATTIVS. VINDEX
C. FVFIDIVS. C. F. VINDEX
LABERIA POMPEIANA CONIVX MACRINI VINDICIS
MANILIA LVCILLA CONIVX MARVLLI VINDICIS -
After the Roman names there is evidently a gap of very many centuries. Nobodywill ever know now what was the history of the relic during those dark agesorhow it came to have been preserved in the family. My poor friend Vincey haditwill be rememberedtold me that his Roman ancestors finally settled inLombardyand when Charlemagne invaded itreturned with him across the Alpsand made their home in Brittanywhence they crossed to England in the reign ofEdward the Confessor. How he knew this I am not awarefor there is no referenceto Lombardy or Charlemagne upon the tilethoughas will presently be seenthere is a reference to Brittany. To continue: the next entries on the sherdifI may except a long splash of either blood or red coloring matter of some sortconsist of two crosses drawn in red pigmentand probably representingCrusaders' swordsand a rather neat monogram ("D. V.") in scarlet andblueperhaps executed by that same Dorothea Vincey who wroteor ratherpaintedthe doggerel couplet. To the left of thisinscribed in faint bluewere the initials A. V.and after them a date1800.
Then came what was perhaps as curious an entry as anything upon thisextraordinary relic of the past. It is executed in black letterwritten overthe crosses or Crusaders' swordsand dated fourteen hundred and forty-five. Ihere give the original Latin without the contractionsfrom which it will beseen that the writer was a fair medieval Latinist. Also we discovered what isstill more curiousan English version of the black-letter Latin. Thisalsowritten in black letterwe found inscribed on a second parchment that was inthe cofferapparently somewhat older in date than that on which was inscribedthe medieval Latin translation of the uncial Greek of which I shall speakpresently. This I also give in full. -
Facsimile of Black-Letter Inscription on the Sherd of Amenartas -
(See illustration.) -
Expanded Version of the above Black-Letter Inscription -
ISTA reliquia est valde misticum et myrificum opusquod majores mei exArmoricascilicet Britannia Minoresecum convehebant; et quidam sanctusclericus semper patri meo in manu ferebat quod penitus illud destrueretaffirmans quod esset ab ipso Sathan conflatum prestigiosa et dyabolica artequare pater meus confregit illud in duas partesquas quidem ego Johannes deVinceto salvas servavi et adaptavi sicut apparet die lune proximo post festumbeate Marie Virginis anni gratie MCCCCXLV. -
Facsimile of the Old English Black-Letter Translation of the above LatinInscription from the Sherd of Amenartas found inscribed upon a parchment -
(See illustration.) -
Modernized Version of the above Black-Letter Translation -
THYS rellike ys a ryghte mistycall worke and a marvaylousye whyche myneaunceteres aforetyme dyd conveigh hider with them from Armoryke which ys toseien Britaine ye Lesse and a certayne holye clerke should allweyes beare myfadir on honde that he owghte uttirly for to frusshe ye sameaffyrmynge that ytwas fourmed and conflatyd of Sathanas hym selfe by arte magike and dyvellysshewherefore my fadir dyd take ye same and tobrast yt yn tweynebut IJohn deVinceydyd save whool ye tweye partes therof and topeecyd them togydder agaynesoe as yee seon this daye mondaye next followynge after ye feeste of SeynteMarye ye Blessed Vyrgyne yn ye yeere of Salvacioun fowertene hundreth and fyveand fowerti. -
The next andsave onelast entry was Elizabethanand dated 1564"Amost strange historieand one that did cost my father his life; for in seekyngefor the place upon the east coast of Africahis pinnace was sunk by aPortuguese galleon off Lorenzo Marquezand he himself perished.- JOHNVINCEY."
Then came the last entryapparentlyto judge by the style of writingmadeby some representative of the family in the middle of the eighteenth century. Itwas a misquotation of the well-known lines in Hamletand ran thus: "Thereare more things in Heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophyHoratio." * -
* Another thing that makes me fix the date of this entry at the middle of theeighteenth century is thatcuriously enoughI have an acting copy of Hamletwritten about 1740in which these two lines are misquoted almost exactly in thesame wayand I have little doubt but that the Vincey who wrote them on thepotsherd heard them so misquoted at that date. Of coursethe lines really run:-
There are more things in heaven and earthHoratio
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.- L. H. H. -
And now there remained but one more document to be examined- namelytheancient black-letter translation into medieval Latin of the uncial inscriptionon the sherd. As will be seenthis translation was executed and subscribed inthe year 1495by a certain "learned man" Edmundus de Prato (EdmundPratt) by namelicentiate in Canon Lawof Exeter CollegeOxfordwho hadactually been a pupil of Grocynthe first scholar who taught Greek in England.* No doubt on the fame of this new learning reaching his earsthe Vincey of thedayperhaps that same John de Vincey who years before had saved the relic fromdestruction and made the black-letter entry on the sherd in 1445hurried off toOxford to see if perchance it might avail to solve the secret of the mysteriousinscription. Nor was he disappointedfor the learned Edmundus was equal to thetask. Indeedhis rendering is so excellent an example of medieval learning andLatinity thateven at the risk of sating the learned reader with too manyantiquitiesI have made up my mind to give it in facsimiletogether with anexpanded version for the benefit of those who find the contractions troublesome.The translation has several peculiarities on which this is not the place todwellbut I would in passing call the attention of scholars to the passage"duxerunt autem nos ad reginam advenaslasaniscoronantium" whichstrikes me as a delightful rendering of the original"egagon de osbasileian ten ton xenous chutrais stephanounton." -
* Grocynthe instructor of Erasmusstudied Greek under Chalcondylas theByzantine at Florenceand first lectured in the Hall of Exeter CollegeOxfordin 1491.- EDITOR. -
Medieval Black-Letter Latin Translation of the Uncial Inscription on theSherd of Amenartas -
(See illustration.) -
Expanded Version of the above Medieval Latin Translation -
AMENARTASe genere regio Egyptiiuxor Callicratissacerdotis Isidisquamdei fovent demonia attenduntfiliolo suo Tisistheni jam moribunda ita mandat:Effugi quondam ex Egyptoregnante Nectanebocum patre tuopropter mei amorempejerato. Fugientes autem versus Notum trans mareet viginti quatuor menses perlitora Libye versus Orientem errantesubi est petra quedam magna sculpta instarEthiopis capitisdeinde dies quatuor ab ostio fluminis magni ejecti partimsubmersi sumus partim morbo mortui sumus: in fine autem a feris hominibusportabamur per paludes et vadaubi avium multitudo celum obumbratdies decemdonec advenimus ad cavum quendam montemubi olim magna urbs eratcavernequoque immense; duxerunt autem nos ad reginam Advenaslasaniscoronantiumquemagica utebatur et peritia omnium rerumet saltem pulcritudine et vigoreinsenescibilis erat. Hec magno patris tui amore perculsaprimum quidem eiconnubium michi mortem parabat; postea verorecusante Callicrateamore mei ettimore regine affecto nos per magicam abduxit per vias horribiles ubi est puteusille profunduscujus juxta aditum jacebat senioris philosophi cadaveretadvenientibus monstravit flammam Vite erectaminstar columne volutantisvocesemittentem quasi tonitrus: tunc per ignem impetu nocivo expers transiit et jamipsa sese formosior visa est.
Quibus factis juravit se patrem tuum quoque immortalem ostensuram essesi meprius occisa regine contubernium mallet; neque enim ipsa me occidere valuitpropter nostratum magicam cuius egomet partem habeo. Ille vero nichil hujusgeneris malebatmanibus ante oculos passisne mulieris formositatemadspiceret: postea illum magica percussit arteat mortuum efferebat inde cumfletibus et vagitibusat me per timorem expulit ad ostium magni fluminisvelivoliporro in navein qua te peperivix post dies huc Athenas vecta sum.At tuO Tisisthenesne quid quorum mando nauci fac: necesse enim est mulieremexquirere si qua Vite mysterium impetres et vindicarequantum in te estpatremtuum Callicratem in regine morte. Sin timore seu aliqua causa rem relinquisinfectamhoc ipsum omnibus posteris mandodum bonus quis inveniatur qui ignislavacrum non perhorrescetet potentia dignus dominabitur hominum.
Talia dico incredibilia quidem at minime ficta de rebus michi cognitis.
Hec Grece scripta Latine reddidit vir doctus Edmundus de Pratoin DecretisLicenciatuse Collegio Exoniensi Oxoniensi doctissimi Grocyni quondam epupillisIdibus Aprilis Anno Domini MCCCCLXXXXV. -
"Well" I saidwhen at length I had read out and carefullyexamined these writings and paragraphsat least those of them that were stilleasily legible"that is the conclusion of the whole matterLeoand nowyou can form your own opinion on it. I have already formed mine."
"And what is it?" he askedin his quick way.
"It is this. I believe that potsherd to be perfectly genuineand thatwonderful as it may seemit has come down in your family from since the fourthcentury before Christ. The entries absolutely prove itand thereforehoweverimprobable it may seemit must be accepted. But there I stop. That your remoteancestressthe Egyptian princessor some scribe under her directionwrotethat which we see on the sherd I have no doubtnor have I the slightest doubtbut that her sufferings and the loss of her husband had turned her headandthat she was not right in her mind when she did write it."
"How do you account for what my father saw and heard there?" askedLeo.
"Coincidence. No doubt there are bluffs on the coast of Africa that looksomething like a man's headand plenty of people who speak bastard Arabic.AlsoI believe that there are lots of swamps. Another thing isLeoand I amsorry to say itbut I do not believe that your poor father was quite right whenhe wrote that letter. He had met with a great troubleand also he had allowedthis story to prey on his imaginationand he was a very imaginative man.AnywayI believe that the whole thing is the most unmitigated rubbish. I knowthat there are curious things and forces in nature which we rarely meet withandwhen we do meet themcannot understand. But until I see it with my owneyeswhich I am not likely toI never will believe that there is any means ofavoiding deatheven for a timeor that there is or was a white sorceressliving in the heart of an African swamp. It is boshmy boyall bosh! What doyou sayJob?"
"I saysirthat it is a lieandif it is trueI hope Mr. Leo won'tmeddle with no such thingsfor no good can't come of it."
"Perhaps you are both right" said Leo very quietly. "Iexpress no opinion. But I say this. I am going to set the matter at rest onceand for alland if you won't come with me I will go by myself."
I looked at the young manand saw that he meant what he said. When Leo meanswhat he says he always puts on a curious look about the mouth. It has been atrick of his from a child. Nowas a matter of factI had no intention ofallowing Leo to go anywhere by himselffor my own sakeif not for his. I wasfar too much attached to him for that. I am not a man of many ties oraffections. Circumstances have been against me in this respectand men andwomen shrink from me- or at least I fancy they dowhich comes to the samething- thinkingperhapsthat my somewhat forbidding exterior is a key to mycharacter. Rather than endure thisI haveto a great extentsecluded myselffrom the worldand cut myself off from those opportunities which with most menresult in the formation of relations more or less intimate. Therefore Leo wasall the world to me- brotherchildand friend- and until he wearied of mewhere he went there I should go too. Butof courseit would not do to let himsee how great a hold he had over me; so I cast about for some means whereby Imight let myself down easy.
"YesI shall goUncle; and if I don't find the 'rolling Pillar ofLife' at any rate I shall get some first-class shooting."
Here was my opportunityand I took it.
"Shooting?" I said. "Ahyes; I never thought of that. It mustbe a very wild stretch of countryand full of big game. I have always wanted tokill a buffalo before I die. Do you knowmy boyI don't believe in the questbut I do believe in big gameand reallyon the wholeifafter thinking itoveryou make up your mind to goI will take a holidayand come withyou."
"Ah" said Leo"I thought that you would not lose such achance. But how about money? We shall want a good lot."
"You need not trouble about that" I answered. "There is allyour income that has been accumulating for yearsand besides that I have savedtwo-thirds of what your father left to meas I considerin trust for you.There is plenty of cash."
"Very wellthenwe may as well stow these things away and go up totown to see about our guns. By the wayJobare you coming too? It's time youbegan to see the world."
"Wellsir" answered Job stolidly"I don't hold much withforeign partsbut if both you gentlemen are going you will want somebody tolook after youand I am not the man to stop behind after serving you for twentyyears."
"That's rightJob" said I. "You won't find out anythingwonderfulbut you will get some good shooting. And now look hereboth of you.I won't have a word said to a living soul about this nonsense" and Ipointed to the potsherd. "If it got outand anything happened to memynext of kin would dispute my will on the ground of insanityand I should becomethe laughingstock of Cambridge."
That day three months we were on the oceanbound for Zanzibar.
4. The Squall -
HOW DIFFERENT is the scene that I have now to tell from that which has justbeen told! Gone are the quiet college roomsgone the wind-swayed English elmsand cawing rooksand the familiar volumes on the shelvesand in their placethere rises a vision of the great calm ocean gleaming in shaded silver lightsbeneath the beams of the full African moon. A gentle breeze fills the huge sailof our dhowand draws us through the water that ripples musically against oursides. Most of the men are sleeping forwardfor it is near midnightbut astout swarthy ArabMahomed by namestands at the tillerlazily steering bythe stars. Three miles or more to our starboard is a low dim line. It is theeastern shore of Central Africa. We are running to the southwardbefore theNortheast Monsoonbetween the mainland and the reef that for hundreds of milesfringes that perilous coast. The night is quietso quiet that a whisper can beheard fore and aft the dhow; so quiet that a faint booming sound rolls acrossthe water to us from the distant land.
The Arab at the tiller holds up his handand says one word: "Simba[lion]!"
We all sit up and listen. Then it comes againa slowmajestic sound thatthrills us to the marrow.
"Tomorrow by ten o'clock" I say"we oughtif the Captain isnot out in his reckoningwhich I think very probableto make this mysteriousrock with a man's headand begin our shooting."
"And begin our search for the ruined city and the Fire of Life"corrected Leotaking his pipe from his mouthand laughing a little.
"Nonsense!" I answered. "You were airing your Arabic with thatman at the tiller this afternoon. What did he tell you? He has been trading(slave-trading probably) up and down these latitudes for half of his iniquitouslifeand once landed on this very "man" rock. Did he ever hearanything of the ruined city or the caves?"
"No" answered Leo. "He says that the country is all swampbehindand full of snakesespecially pythonsand gameand that no man livesthere. But then there is a belt of swamp all along the East African coastsothat does not go for much."
"Yes" I said"it does- it goes for malaria. You see whatsort of an opinion these gentry have of the country. Not one of them will gowith us. They think that we are madand upon my word I believe that they areright. If ever we see old England again I shall be astonished. Howeverit doesnot greatly matter to me at my agebut I am anxious for youLeoand for Job.It's a Tom Fool's businessmy boy."
"All rightUncle Horace. So far as I am concernedI am willing to takemy chance. Look! What is that cloud?" and he pointed to a dark blotch uponthe starry skysome miles astern of us.
"Go and ask the man at the tiller" I said.
He rosestretched his armsand went. Presently he returned.
"He says it is a squallbut it will pass far on one side of us."
Just then Job came uplooking very stout and English in his shooting suit ofbrown flanneland with a sort of perplexed appearance upon his honest roundface that had been very common with him since he got into these strange waters.
"Pleasesir" he saidtouching his sun hatwhich was stuck on tothe back of his head in a somewhat ludicrous fashion"as we have got allthose guns and things in the whaleboat asternto say nothing of the provisionsin the lockersI think it would be best if I got down and slept in her. I don'tlike the looks"- here he dropped his voice to a portentous whisper-"of these black gentry; they have such a wonderful thievish way about them.Supposing now that some of them were to slip into the boat at night and cut thecableand make off with her? That would be a pretty gothat would."
The whaleboatI may explainwas one specially built for us at DundeeinScotland. We had brought it with usas we knew that this coast was a network ofcreeksand that we might require something to navigate them with. She was abeautiful boatthirty feet in lengthwith a centerboard for sailingcopper-bottom to keep the worm out of herand full of water-tight compartments.The captain of the dhow had told us that when we reached the rockwhich heknewand which appeared to be identical with the one described upon the sherdand by Leo's fatherhe would probably not be able to run up to it on account ofthe shallows and breakers. Therefore we had employed three hours that verymorningwhile we were totally becalmedthe wind having dropped at sunriseintransferring most of our goods and chattels to the whaleboatand placing thegunsammunitionand preserved provisions in the watertight lockers speciallyprepared for themso that when we did sight the fabled rock we should havenothing to do but step into the boatand run her ashore. Another reason thatinduced us to take this precautionary step was that Arab captains are apt to runpast the point that they are makingeither from carelessness or owing to amistake in its identity. Nowas sailors knowit is quite impossible for a dhowwhich is only rigged to run before the monsoon to beat back against it.Therefore we got our boat ready to row for the rock at any moment.
"WellJob" I said"perhaps it would be as well. There arelots of blankets thereonly be careful to keep out of the moonor it may turnyour head or blind you."
"Lordsir! I don't think it would much matter if it did; it is thatturned already with the sight of these blackamoors and their filthythievingways. They are only fit for muckthey are; and they smell bad enough for italready."
Jobit will be perceivedwas no admirer of the manners and customs of ourdark-skinned brothers.
Accordingly we hauled up the boat by the tow rope till it was right under thestern of the dhowand Job bundled into her with all the grace of a falling sackof potatoes. Then we returned and sat down on the deck againand smoked andtalked in little gusts and jerks. The night was so lovelyand our brains wereso full of suppressed excitement of one sort and anotherthat we did not feelinclined to turn in. For nearly an hour we sat thusand thenI thinkwe bothdozed off. At least I have a faint recollection of Leo sleepily explaining thatthe head was not a bad place to hit a buffaloif you could catch him exactlybetween the hornsor send your bullet down his throator some nonsense of thesort.
Then I remember no more; till suddenly- a frightful roar of winda shriek ofterror from the awakening crewand a whiplike sting of water in our faces. Someof the men ran to let go the halyards and lower the sailbut the parrel jammedand the yard would not come down. I sprang to my feet and hung on to a rope. Thesky aft was dark as pitchbut the moon still shone brightly ahead of us and litup the blackness. Beneath its sheen a huge white-topped breakertwenty feethigh or morewas rushing onto us. It was on the break- the moon shone on itscrest and tipped its foam with light. On it rushed beneath the inky skydrivenby the awful squall behind it. Suddenlyin the twinkling of an eyeI saw theblack shape of the whaleboat cast high into the air on the crest of the breakingwave. Then- a shock of watera wild rush of boiling foamand I was clingingfor my life to the shroudayswept straight out from it like a flag in a gale.
We were pooped.
The wave passed. It seemed to me that I was under water for minutes- reallyit was seconds. I looked forward. The blast had torn out the great sailandhigh in the air it was fluttering away to leeward like a huge wounded bird. Thenfor a moment there was comparative calmand in it I heard Job's voice yellingwildly"Come here to the boat."
Bewildered and half drowned as I wasI had the sense to rush aft. I felt thedhow sinking under me- she was full of water. Under her counter the whaleboatwas tossing furiouslyand I saw the Arab Mahomedwho had been steeringleapinto her. I gave one desperate pull at the tow rope to bring the boat alongside.Wildly I sprang alsoand Job caught me by one arm and I rolled into the bottomof the boat. Down went the dhow bodilyand as she did so Mahomed drew hiscurved knife and severed the fiber rope by which we were fast to herand inanother second we were driving before the storm over the place where the dhowhad been.
"Great God!" I shrieked"where is Leo? Leo! Leo!"
"He's gonesirGod help him!" roared Job into my ear; and suchwas the fury of the squall that his voice sounded like a whisper.
I wrung my hands in agony. Leo was drownedand I was left alive to mournhim.
"Look out!" yelled Job. "Here comes another."
I turned; a second huge wave was overtaking us. I half hoped that it woulddrown me. With a curious fascination I watched its awful advent. The moon wasnearly hidden now by the wreaths of the rushing stormbut a little light stillcaught the crest of the devouring breaker. There was something dark on it- apiece of wreckage. It was on us nowand the boat was nearly full of water. Butshe was built in air-tight compartments- heaven bless the man who inventedthem!- and lifted up through it like a swan. Through the foam and turmoil I sawthe black thing on the wave hurrying right at me. I put out my right arm to wardit from meand my hand closed on another armthe wrist of which my fingersgripped like a vice. I am a very strong manand had something to hold tobutmy arm was nearly torn from its socket by the strain and weight of the floatingbody. Had the rush lasted another two seconds I must either have let go or gonewith it. But it passedleaving us up to our knees in water.
"Bail out! Bail out!" shouted Jobsuiting the action to the word.
But I could not bail just thenfor as the moon went out and left us in totaldarknessone faintflying ray of light lit upon the face of the man I hadgrippedwho was now half lyinghalf floating in the bottom of the boat.
It was Leo. Leo brought back by the wave- backdead or alivefrom the veryjaws of death.
"Bail out! Bail out!" yelled Job. "Or we shall founder."
I seized a large tin bowl with a handle to itwhich was fixed under one ofthe seatsand the three of us bailed away for dear life. The furious tempestdrove over and round usflinging the boat this way and that; the wind and thestorm wreaths and the sheets of stinging spray blinded and bewildered us; butthrough it all we worked like demons with the wild exhilaration of despairforeven despair can exhilarate. One minute! Three minutes! Six minutes! The boatbegan to lightenand no fresh wave swamped us. Five minutes moreand she wasfairly clear. Thensuddenlyabove the awful shriekings of the hurricane came adullerdeeper roar. Great heavens! It was the voice of breakers!
At that moment the moon began to shine forth again- this time behind the pathof the squall. Far out across the torn bosom of the ocean shot the ragged arrowsof her lightand therehalf a mile ahead of uswas a white line of foamthena little space of open-mouthed blacknessand then another line of white. It wasthe breakersand their roar grew clearer and yet more clear as we sped downupon them like a swallow. There they wereboiling up in snowy spouts of spraysmiting and gnashing together like the gleaming teeth of hell.
"Take the tillerMahomed!" I roared in Arabic. "We must tryand shoot them." At the same moment I seized an oarand got it outmotioning to Job to do likewise.
Mahomed clambered aft and got hold of the tillerand with some difficultyJobwho had sometimes pulled a tub upon the homely Camgot out his oar. Inanother minute the boat's head was straight on to the ever nearing foamtowardswhich she plunged and tore with the speed of a racehorse. Just in front of usthe first line of breakers seemed a little thinner than to the right or left-there was a gap of rather deeper water. I turned and pointed to it.
"Steer for your lifeMahomed!" I yelled. He was a skillfulsteersmanand well acquainted with the dangers of this most perilous coastandI saw him grip the tiller and bend his heavy frame forwardand stare at thefoaming terror till his big round eyes looked as though they would start out ofhis head. The send of the sea was driving the boat's head round to starboard. Ifwe struck the line of breakers fifty yards to starboard of the gap we must sink.It was a great field of twistingspouting waves. Mahomed planted his footagainst the seat before himandglancing at himI saw his brown toes spreadout like a hand with the weight he put upon them as he took the strain of thetiller. She came round a bitbut not enough. I roared to Job to back waterwhilst I dragged and labored at my oar. She answered nowand none too soon.
Heavenswe were in them! And then followed a couple of minutes ofheartbreaking excitement such as I cannot hope to describe. All I remember is ashrieking sea of foamout of which the billows rose herethereand everywherelike avenging ghosts from their ocean grave. Once we were turned right roundbut either by chanceor through Mahomed's skillful steeringthe boat's headcame straight again before a breaker filled us. One more- a monster. We werethrough it or over it- more through than over- and thenwith a wild yell ofexultation from the Arabwe shot out into the comparatively smooth water of themouth of sea between the teeth-like lines of gnashing waves.
But we were half full of water againand not more than half a mile ahead wasthe second line of breakers. Again we set to and bailed furiously. Fortunatelythe storm had now quite gone byand the moon shone brightlyrevealing a rockyheadland running half a mile or more out into the seaof which this second lineof breakers appeared to be a continuation. At any ratethey boiled around itsfoot. Probably the ridge that formed the headland ran out into the oceanonlyat a lower leveland made the reef also. This headland was terminated by acurious peak that seemed not to be more than a mile away from us. Just as we gotthe boat pretty clear for the second timeLeoto my immense reliefopened hiseyes and remarked that the clothes had tumbled off the bedand that he supposedit was time to get up for chapel. I told him to shut his eyes and keep quietwhich he did without in the slightest degree realizing our position. As formyselfhis reference to chapel made me reflectwith a sort of sick longingonmy comfortable rooms at Cambridge. Why had I been such a fool as to leave them?This is a reflection that has several times recurred to me sinceand with everincreasing force.
But now again we were drifting down on the breakersthough with lessenedspeedfor the wind had fallenand only the current or the tide (it afterwardsturned out to be the tide) was driving us.
Another minuteand with a sort of howl to Allah from the Araba piousejaculation from myselfand something that was not pious from Jobwe were inthem. And then the whole scenedown to our final escaperepeated itselfonlynot quite so violently. Mahomed's skillful steering and the air-tightcompartments saved our lives. In five minutes we were throughand drifting- forwe were too exhausted to do anything to help ourselves except keep the boat'shead straight- with the most startling rapidity round the headland which I havedescribed.
Round we went with the tideuntil we got well under the lee of the pointand then suddenly the speed slackenedwe ceased to make wayand finallyappeared to be in dead water. The storm had entirely passedleaving aclean-washed sky behind it; the headland intercepted the heavy sea that had beenoccasioned by the squalland the tidewhich had been running so fiercely upthe river (for we were now in the mouth of a river)was sluggish before itturnedso we floated quietlyand before the moon went down managed to bail outthe boat thoroughly and get her a little shipshape. Leo was sleeping profoundlyand on the whole I thought it wise not to wake him. It was true he was sleepingin wet clothesbut the night was now so warm that I thought (and so did Job)that they were not likely to injure a man of his unusually vigorousconstitution. Besideswe had no dry ones at hand.
Presently the moon went down and left us floating on the watersnow onlyheaving like some troubled woman's breastgiving us leisure to reflect upon allthat we had gone through and all that we had escaped. Job stationed himself atthe bowMahomed kept his post at the tillerand I sat on a seat in the middleof the boat close to where Leo was lying.
The moon went slowly down in chastened lovelinessshe departed like somesweet bride into her chamberand long veil-like shadows crept up the skythrough which the stars peeped shyly out. Soonhoweverthey too began to palebefore a splendor in the eastand then the quivering footsteps of the dawn camerushing across the newborn blueand shook the planets from their places.Quieter and yet more quiet grew the seaquiet as the soft mist that brooded onher bosomand covered up her troublingas the illusive wreaths of sleep broodupon a pain-racked mindcausing it to forget its sorrow. From the east to thewest sped the angels of the dawnfrom sea to seafrom mountain top to mountaintopscattering light with both their hands. On they sped out of the darknessperfectgloriouslike spirits of the just breaking from the tomb; onover thequiet seaover the low coastlineand the swamps beyondand the mountainsbeyond them; over those who slept in peaceand those who woke in sorrow; overthe evil and the good; over the living and dead; over the wide world and allthat breathes or has breathed thereon.
It was a wonderfully beautiful sightand yet sadperhaps from the veryexcess of its beauty. The arising sun; the setting sun! There we have the symboland the type of humanityand all things with which humanity has to do. Thesymbol and the typeyesand the earthly beginningand the end also. And onthat morning this came home to me with a peculiar force. The sun that rose todayfor us had set last night for eighteen of our fellow-voyagers!- had set foreverfor eighteen whom we knew!
The dhow had gone down with themthey were tossing about now among the rocksand seaweedso much human drift on the great ocean of death! And we four weresaved. But one day a sunrise will come when we shall be among those who arelostand then others will watch those glorious raysand grow sad in the midstof beautyand dream of death in the full glow of arising life!
For this is the lot of man.
5. The Head of the Ethiopian -
AT LENGTH the heralds and forerunners of the royal sun had done their workandsearching out the shadowshad caused them to flee away. Then up he came inglory from his ocean bedand flooded the earth with warmth and light. I satthere in the boat listening to the gentle lapping of the water and watched himrisetill presently the slight drift of the boat brought the odd-shaped rockor peakat the end of the promontory which we had weathered with so much perilbetween me and the majestic sightand blotted it from my view. I stillcontinued to stare at the rockhoweverabsently enoughtill presently itbecame edged with the fire of the growing light behind itand then I startedas well I mightfor I perceived that the top of the peakwhich was abouteighty feet high by one hundred and fifty thick at its basewas shaped like aNegro's head and facewhereon was stamped a most fiendish and terrifyingexpression. There was no doubt about it; there were the thick lipsthe fatcheeksand the squat nose standing out with startling clearness against theflaming background. Theretoowas the round skullwashed into shape perhapsby thousands of years of wind and weatherandto complete the resemblancethere was a scrubby growth of weeds or lichen upon itwhich against the sunlooked for all the world like the wool on a colossal Negro's head. It certainlywas very odd; so odd that now I believe that it is not a mere freak of naturebut a gigantic monument fashionedlike the well-known Egyptian Sphinxby aforgotten people out of a pile of rock that lent itself to their designperhapsas an emblem of warning and defiance to any enemies who approached the harbor.Unfortunately we were never able to ascertain whether or not this was the caseinasmuch as the rock was difficult of access from both the land and the watersideand we had other things to attend to. Myselfconsidering the matter bythe light of what we afterwards sawI believe that it was fashioned by manbutwhether or not this is sothere it standsand sullenly stares from age to ageout across the changing sea- there it stood two thousand years and more agowhen Amenartasthe Egyptian princessand the wife of Leo's remote ancestorKallikratesgazed upon its devilish face- and there I have no doubt it willstill stand when as many centuries as are numbered between her day and our ownare added to the year that bore us to oblivion.
"What do you think of thatJob?" I asked of our retainerwho wassitting on the edge of the boattrying to get as much sunshine as possibleandgenerally looking uncommonly wretchedand I pointed to the fiery and demoniacalhead.
"Oh Lordsir" answered Jobwho now perceived the object for thefirst time"I think that the Old Gentleman must have been sitting for hisportrait on them rocks."
I laughedand the laugh woke up Leo.
"Hullo" he said"what's the matter with me? I am all stiff-where is the dhow? Give me some brandyplease."
"You may be thankful that you are not stiffermy boy" I answered."The dhow is sunkand everybody on board her is drownedwith theexception of us fourand your own life was only saved by a miracle"; andwhile Jobnow that it was light enoughsearched about in a locker for thebrandy for which Leo askedI told him the history of our night's adventure.
"Great heavens!" he saidfaintly. "And to think that weshould have been chosen to live through it!"
By this time the brandy was forthcomingand we all had a good pull at itand thankful enough we were for it. Also the sun was beginning to get strengthand warm our chilled bonesfor we had been wet through for five hours or more.
"Why" said Leo with a gaspas he put down the brandy bottle"there is the head the writing talks ofthe 'rock carven like the head ofan Ethiopian.'"
"Yes" I said"there it is."
"Wellthen" he answered"the whole thing is true."
"I don't at all see that that follows" I answered. "We knewthis head was hereyour father saw it. Very likely it is not the same head thatthe writing talks of; or if it isit proves nothing."
Leo smiled at me in a superior way. "You are an unbelieverUncleHorace" he said. "Those who live will see."
"Exactly so" I answered"and now perhaps you will observethat we are drifting across a sandbank into the mouth of the river. Get hold ofyour oarJoband we will row in and see if we can find a place to land."
The river mouth which we were entering did not appear to be a very wide onethough as yet the long banks of steaming mist that clung about its shores hadnot lifted sufficiently to enable us to see its exact width. There wasas isthe case with nearly every East African rivera considerable bar at the mouthwhichno doubtwhen the wind was on shore and the tide running outwasabsolutely impassable even for a boat drawing only a few inches. But as thingswere it was manageable enoughand we did not ship a cupful of water. In twentyminutes we were well across itwith but slight assistance from ourselvesandbeing carried by a strong though somewhat variable breezewell up the harbor.By this time the mist was being sucked up by the sunwhich was gettinguncomfortably hotand we saw that the mouth of the little estuary was hereabout half a mile acrossand that the banks were very marshyand crowded withcrocodiles lying about on the mud like logs. About a mile ahead of ushoweverwas what appeared to be a strip of firm landand for this we steered. Inanother quarter of an hour we were thereand making the boat fast to abeautiful tree with broad shining leavesand flowers of the magnolia speciesonly they were rose-colored and not white* which hung over the waterwedisembarked. This done we undressedwashed ourselvesand spread our clothesand the contents of the boat in the sun to drywhich they very quickly did.Thentaking shelter from the sun under some treeswe made a hearty breakfastoff a "Paysandu" potted tongueof which we had brought a goodquantity with us from the Army and Navy Storescongratulating ourselves loudlyon our good fortune in having loaded and provisioned the boat on the previousdaybefore the hurricane destroyed the dhow. By the time that we had finishedour meal our clothes were quite dryand we hastened to get into themfeelingnot a little refreshed. Indeedwith the exception of weariness and a fewbruisesnone of us were the worse for the terrifying adventure which had beenfatal to all our companions. Leoit is truehad been half-drownedbut that isno great matter to a vigorous young athlete of five-and-twenty. -
* There is a known species of magnolia with pink flowers. It is indigenous inSikkimand known as Magnolia Campbellii.- EDITOR. -
After breakfast we started to look about us. We were on a strip of dry landabout two hundred yards broad by five hundred longbordered on one side by theriverand on the other three by endless desolate swamps that stretched as faras the eye could reach. This strip of land was raised about twenty-five feetabove the plain of the surrounding swamps and the river level: indeedit hadevery appearance of having been made by the hand of man.
"This place has been a wharf" said Leo dogmatically.
"Nonsense" I answered. "Who would be stupid enough to build awharf in the middle of these dreadful marshes in a country inhabited by savagesthat is if it is inhabited at all?"
"Perhaps it was not always marshand perhaps the people were not alwayssavage" he said drilylooking down the steep bankfor we were standingby the river. "Look there" he went onpointing to a spot where thehurricane of the previous night had torn up one of the magnolia treeswhich hadgrown on the extreme edge of the bank just where it sloped down to the waterbythe rootsand lifted a large cake of earth with them. "Is not thatstonework? If notit is very like it."
"Nonsense" I said againand we clambered down to the spotandgot between the upturned roots and the bank.
"Well?" he said.
But I did not answer this time. I only whistled. For therelaid bare by theremoval of the earthwas an undoubted facing of solid stone laid in largeblocks and bound together with brown cementso hard that I could make noimpression on it with the file in my shooting knife. Nor was this all; seeingsomething projecting through the soil at the bottom of the bared patch ofwallingI removed the loose earth with my handsand revealed a huge stoneringa foot or more in diameterand about three inches thick. This fairlystaggered me.
"Looks rather like a wharf where good-sized vessels have been mooreddoes it notUncle Horace?" said Leo with an excited grin.
I tried to say "Nonsense" againbut the word stuck in my throat-the ring spoke for itself. In some past age vessels had been moored thereandthis stone wall was undoubtedly the remnant of a solidly constructed wharf.Probably the city to which it had belonged lay buried beneath the swamp behindit.
"Begins to look as though there were something in the story after allUncle Horace" said the exultant Leo; and reflecting on the mysteriousNegro's head and the equally mysterious stoneworkI made no direct reply.
"A country like Africa" I said"is sure to be full of therelics of long dead and forgotten civilizations. Nobody knows the age of theEgyptian civilizationand very likely it had offshoots. Then there were theBabylonians and the Phoeniciansand the Persians and all manner of peopleallmore or less civilizedto say nothing of the Jewswhom everybody 'wants'nowadays. It is possible that theyor any one of themmay have had colonies ortrading stations about here. Remember those buried Persian cities that theconsul showed us at Kilwa." * -
* Near Kilwaon the east coast of Africaabout four hundred miles south ofZanzibaris a cliff which has been recently washed by the waves. On the top ofthis cliff are Persian tombs known to be at least seven centuries old by thedates still legible upon them. Beneath these tombs is a layer of debrisrepresenting a city. Further down the cliff is a second layer representing anolder cityand further down still a third layerthe remains of yet anothercity of vast and unknown antiquity. Beneath the bottom city were recently foundsome specimens of glazed earthenwaresuch as are occasionally to be met with onthat coast to this day. I believe that they are now in the possession of SirJohn Kirk.- EDITOR. -
"Quite so" said Leo"but that is not what you saidbefore."
"Wellwhat is to be done now?" I askedturning the conversation.
As no answer was forthcoming we proceeded to the edge of the swampandlooked over it. It was apparently boundlessand vast flocks of every sort ofwaterfowl came flying from its recessestill it was sometimes difficult to seethe sky. Now that the sun was getting high it drew thin sickly-looking clouds ofpoisonous vapor from the surface of the marsh and from the scummy pools ofstagnant water.
"Two things are clear to me" I saidaddressing my threecompanionswho stared at this spectacle in dismay: "firstthat we can'tgo across there"- I pointed to the swamp- "andsecondlythat if westop here we shall certainly die of fever."
"That's as clear as a haystacksir" said Job.
"Very wellthen; there are two alternatives before us. One is to 'boutshipand try and run for some port in the whaleboatwhich would be asufficiently risky proceedingand the other to sail or row on up the riverandsee where we come to."
"I don't know what you are going to do" said Leosetting hismouth"but I am going up that river."
Job turned up the whites of his eyes and groanedand the Arab murmured"Allah" and groaned also. As for meI remarked sweetly that as weseemed to be between the devil and the deep seait did not much matter where wewent. But in reality I was as anxious to proceed as Leo. The colossal Negro'shead and the stone wharf had excited my curiosity to an extent of which I wassecretly ashamedand I was prepared to gratify it at any cost. Accordinglyhaving carefully fitted the mastrestowed the boatand got out our riflesweembarked. Fortunately the wind was blowing on shore from the oceanso we wereable to hoist the sail. Indeedwe afterwards found out that as a general rulethe wind set on shore from daybreak for some hoursand off shore again atsunsetand the explanation that I offer of this is that when the earth iscooled by the dew and the night the hot air risesand the draft rushes in fromthe sea till the sun has once more heated it through. At least that appeared tobe the rule here.
Taking advantage of this favoring windwe sailed merrily up the river forthree or four hours. Once we came across a school of hippopotamiwhich roseand bellowed dreadfully at us within ten or a dozen fathoms of the boatmuch toJob's alarmandI will confessto my own. These were the first hippopotamithat we had ever seenandto judge by their insatiable curiosityI shouldjudge that we were the first white men that they had ever seen. Upon my wordIonce or twice thought that they were coming into the boat to gratify it. Leowanted to fire at thembut I dissuaded himfearing the consequences. Also wesaw hundreds of crocodiles basking on the muddy banksand thousands uponthousands of waterfowl. Some of these we shotand among them was a wild goosewhichin addition to the sharp curved spurs on its wingshad a spur aboutthree-quarters of an inch long growing from the skull just between the eyes. Wenever shot another like itso I do not know if it was a "sport" or adistinct species. In the latter case this incident may interest naturalists. Jobnamed it the Unicorn Goose.
About midday the sun grew intensely hotand the stench drawn up by it fromthe marshes which the river drains was something too awfuland caused usinstantly to swallow precautionary doses of quinine. Shortly afterwards thebreeze died away altogetherand as rowing our heavy boat against the stream inthe heat was out of the questionwe were thankful enough to get under the shadeof a group of trees- a species of willow- that grew by the edge of the riverand lie there and gasp till at length the approach of sunset put a period to ourmiseries. Seeing what appeared to be an open space of water straight ahead ofuswe determined to row there before settling what to do for the night. Just aswe were about to loosen the boathowevera beautiful waterbuckwith greathorns curving forwardand a white stripe across the rumpcame down to theriver to drinkwithout perceiving us hidden away within fifty yards under thewillows. Leo was the first to catch sight of itand being an ardent sportsmanthirsting for the blood of big gameabout which he had been dreaming formonthshe instantly stiffened all overand pointed like a setter dog. Seeingwhat was the matterI handed him his express rifleat the same time taking myown.
"Now then" I whispered"mind you don't miss."
"Miss!" he whispered back contemptuously. "I could not miss itif I tried."
He lifted the rifleand the roan-colored buckhaving drunk his fillraisedhis head and looked out across the river. He was standing right against thesunset sky on a little eminenceor ridge of ground
which ran across the swampevidently a favorite path for gameand there wassomething very beautiful about him. IndeedI do not think that if I live to ahundred I shall ever forget that desolate and yet most fascinating scene: it isstamped upon my memory. To the right and left were wide stretches of lonelydeath-breeding swampunbroken and unrelieved so far as the eye could reachexcept here and there by ponds of black and peaty water thatmirror-likeflashed up the red rays of the setting sun. Behind us and before stretched thevista of the sluggish riverending in glimpses of a reed-fringed lagoonon thesurface of which the long lights of the evening played as the faint breezestirred the shadows. To the west loomed the huge red ball of the sinking sunnow vanishing down the vapory horizonand filling the great heavenhigh acrosswhose arch the cranes and wild fowl streamed in linesquareand trianglewithflashes of flying gold and the lurid stain of blood. And then ourselves- threemodern Englishmen in a modern English boat- seeming to jar upon and looking outof tone with that measureless desolation; and in front of us the noble bucklimned out upon a background of ruddy sky.
Bang! Away he goes with a mighty bound. Leo has missed him. Bang! right underhim again. Now for a shot. I must have onethough he is going like an arrowand a hundred yards away and more. By Jove! Over and over and over! "WellI think I've wiped your eye thereMaster Leo" I saystruggling againstthe ungenerous exultation that in such a supreme moment of one's existence willrise in the best-mannered sportsman's breast.
"Confound youyes" growled Leo; and thenwith that quick smilethat is one of his charms lighting up his handsome face like a ray of light"I beg your pardonold fellowI congratulate you; it was a lovely shotand mine were vile."
We got out of the boat and ran to the buckwhich was shot through the spineand stone dead. It took us a quarter of an hour or more to clean it and cut offas much of the best meat as we could carryandhaving packed this awaywe hadbarely light enough to row up into the lagoon-like spaceinto whichtherebeing a hollow in the swampthe river here expanded. Just as the light vanishedwe cast anchor about thirty fathoms from the edge of the lake. We did not dareto go ashorenot knowing if we should find dry ground to camp onand greatlyfearing the poisonous exhalations from the marshfrom which we thought weshould be freer on the water. So we lighted a lanternand made our evening mealoff another potted tongue in the best fashion that we couldand then preparedto go to sleeponlyhoweverto find that sleep was impossible. Forwhetherthey were attracted by the lanternor by the unaccustomed smell of a white manfor which they had been waiting for the last thousand years or soI know not;but certainly we were presently attacked by tens of thousands of the mostbloodthirstypertinaciousand huge mosquitoes that I ever saw or read of. Inclouds they cameand pinged and buzzed and bit till we were nearly mad. Tobaccosmoke only seemed to stir them into a merrier and more active lifetill atlength we were driven to covering ourselves with blanketshead and allandsitting to slowly stew and continually scratch and swear beneath them. And as wesatsuddenly rolling out like thunder through the silence came the deep roar ofa lionand then of a second lionmoving among the reeds within sixty yards ofus.
"I say" said Leosticking his head out from under his blanket"lucky we ain't on the bankehAvuncular?" (Leo sometimes addressedme in this disrespectful way.) "Curse it! A mosquito has bitten me on thenose" and the head vanished again.
Shortly after this the moon came upand notwithstanding every variety ofroar that echoed over the water to us from the lions on the bankswe beganthinking ourselves perfectly secureto gradually doze off.
I do not quite know what it was that made me poke my head out of the friendlyshelter of the blanket; perhaps I did so because I found that the mosquitoeswere biting right through it. Anyhowas I did so I heard Job whisperin afrightened voice"Ohmy starslook there!"
Instantly we all of us lookedand this was what we saw in the moonlight.Near the shore were two wide and ever widening circles of concentric ringsrippling away across the surface of the waterand in the heart and center ofthe circles were two dark moving objects.
"What is it?" asked I.
"It is those damned lionssir" answered Jobin a tone which wasan odd mixture of a sense of personal injuryhabitual respectand acknowledgedfear"and they are swimming here to heat us" he addednervouslypicking up an "h" in his agitation.
I looked againthere was no doubt about it; I could catch the glare of theirferocious eyes. Attracted either by the smell of the newly killed waterbuck orof ourselvesthe hungry beasts were actually storming our position.
Leo already had his rifle in his hand. I called to him to wait till they werenearerand meanwhile grabbed my own. Some fifteen feet from us the watershallowed on a bank to the depth of about fifteen inchesand presently thefirst of them- it was the lioness- got onto it and shook herself and roared. Atthat moment Leo firedand the bullet went right down her open mouth and out atthe back of her neckand down she droppedwith a splashdead. The other lion-a full-grown male- was some two paces behind her. At this second he got hisforepaws onto the bankwhen a strange thing happened. There was a rush anddisturbance of the watersuch as one sees in a pond in England when a piketakes a little fishonly a thousand times fiercer and largerand suddenly thelion gave a most terrific snarling roar and sprang forward onto the bankdragging something black with him.
"Allah!" shouted Mahomed. "A crocodile has got him by theleg!" And sure enough he had. We could see the long snout with its gleaminglines of teeth and the reptile body behind it.
And then followed an extraordinary scene indeed. The lion managed to get wellonto the bankthe crocodile half standing and half swimmingstill nipping hishind leg. He roared till the air quivered with the soundand thenwith asavageshrieking snarlturned round and clawed hold of the crocodile's head.The crocodile shifted his griphavingas we afterwards discoveredhad one ofhis eyes torn outand slightly turned overand instantly the lion got him bythe throat and held onand then over and over they rolled upon the bankstruggling hideously. It was impossible to follow their movementsbut when nextwe got a clear view the tables had turnedfor the crocodilewhose head seemedto be a mass of gorehad got the lion's body in his iron jaws just above thehipsand was squeezing him and shaking him to and fro. For his part thetortured bruteroaring in agonywas clawing and biting madly at his enemy'sscaly headand fixing his great hind claws in the crocodile'scomparativelyspeakingsoft throatripping it open as one would rip a glove.
Thenall of a suddenthe end came. The lion's head fell forward on thecrocodile's backand with an awful groan he diedand the crocodileafterstanding for a minute motionlessslowly rolled over onto his sidehis jawsstill fixed across the carcass of the lionwhich we afterwards found he hadbitten almost in halves.
This duel to the death was a wonderful and a shocking sightand one that Isuppose few men have seen- and thus it ended.
When it was all overleaving Mahomed to keep a lookoutwe managed to spendthe rest of the night as quietly as the mosquitoes would allow.
6. An Early Christian Ceremony -
NEXT MORNINGat the earliest blush of dawnwe roseperformed suchablutions as circumstances would allowand generally made ready to start. I ambound to say that when there was sufficient light to enable us to see eachother's faces Ifor oneburst out into a roar of laughter. Job's fat andcomfortable countenance was swollen out to nearly twice its natural size frommosquito bitesand Leo's condition was not much better. Indeedof the three Ihad come off much the bestprobably owing to the toughness of my dark skinandto the fact that a good deal of it was covered by hairfor since we startedfrom England I had allowed my naturally luxuriant beard to grow at its own sweetwill. But the other two werecomparatively speakingclean shavedwhich ofcourse gave the enemy a larger extent of open country to operate onthough asfor Mahomed the mosquitoesrecognizing the taste of a true believerwould nottouch him at any price. How oftenI wonderduring the next week or so did wewish that we were flavored like an Arab!
By the time that we had done laughing as heartily as our swollen lips wouldallowit was daylightand the morning breeze was coming up from the seacutting lanes through the dense marsh mistsand here and there rolling thembefore it in great balls of fleecy vapor. So we set our sailand having firsttaken a look at the two dead lions and the dead crocodilewhich we were ofcourse unable to skinbeing destitute of means of curing the peltswe startedandsailing through the lagoonfollowed the course of the river on the fartherside. At middaywhen the breeze droppedwe were fortunate enough to find aconvenient piece of dry land on which to camp and light a fireand here wecooked two wild duck and some of the waterbuck's flesh- not in a very appetizingwayit is truebut stillsufficiently. The rest of the buck's flesh we cutinto strips and hung in the sun to dry into "biltong" as I believethe South African Dutch call flesh thus prepared. On this welcome patch of dryland we stopped till the following dawnandas beforespent the night inwarfare with the mosquitoesbut without other troubles. The next day or twopassed in similar fashionand without noticeable adventuresexcept that weshot a specimen of a peculiarly graceful hornless buckand saw many varietiesof water lilies in full bloomsome of them blue and of exquisite beautythoughfew of the flowers were perfectowing to the prevalence of a white water maggotwith a green head that fed upon them.
It was on the fifth day of our journeywhen we had traveledso far as wecould reckonabout one hundred and thirty-five to a hundred and forty mileswestwards from the coastthat the first event of any real importance occurred.On that morning the usual wind failed us about eleven o'clockand after pullinga little way we were forced to halt more or less exhausted at what appeared tobe the junction of our stream with another of a uniform width of about fiftyfeet. Some trees grew near at hand- the only trees in all this country werealong the banks of the riverand under these we restedand thenthe landbeing fairly dry just herewalked a little way along the edge of the river toprospectand shoot a few waterfowl for food. Before we had gone fifty yards weperceived that all hopes of getting further up the stream in the whaleboat wereat an endfor not two hundred yards above where we had stopped were asuccession of shallows and mudbankswith not six inches of water over them. Itwas a watery cul-de-sac.
Turning backwe walked some way along the banks of the other riverand sooncame to the conclusionfrom various indicationsthat it was not a river atallbut an ancient canallike the one which is to be seen above Mombasaonthe Zanzibar coastconnecting the Tana River with the Ozyin such a way as toenable the shipping coming down the Tana to cross to the Ozyand reach the seaby itand thus avoid the very dangerous bar that blocks the mouth of the Tana.The canal before us had evidently been dug out by man at some remote period ofthe world's historyand the results of his digging still remained in the shapeof the raised banks that had no doubt once formed towing-paths. Except here andtherewhere they had been hollowed out or fallen inthese banks of stiffbinding clay were at a uniform distance from each otherand the depth of thewater also appeared to be uniform. Current there was little or noneandas aconsequencethe surface of the canal was choked with vegetable growthintersected by little paths of clear watermadeI supposeby the constantpassage of waterfowliguanasand other vermin. Nowas it was evident that wecould not proceed up the riverit became equally evident that we must eithertry the canal or else return to the sea. We could not stop where we wereto bebaked by the sun and eaten up by the mosquitoestill we died of fever in thatdreary marsh.
"WellI suppose that we must try it" I said; and the othersassented in their various ways- Leo as though it were the best joke in theworld; Job in respectful disgust; and Mahomed with an invocation to the Prophetand a comprehensive curse upon all unbelievers and their ways of thought andtravel.
Accordinglyas soon as the sun got lowhaving little or nothing more tohope for from our friendly windwe started. For the first hour or so we managedto row the boatthough with great labor; but after that the weeds got too thickto allow itand we were obliged to resort to the primitive and most exhaustingresource of towing her. For two hours we laboredMahomedJoband Iwho wassupposed to be strong enough to pull against the two of themon the bankwhileLeo sat in the bow of the boatand brushed away the weeds which collected roundthe cutwater with Mahomed's sword. At dark we halted for some hours to rest andenjoy the mosquitoesbut about midnight we went on againtaking advantage ofthe comparative cool of the night. At dawn we rested for three hoursand thenstarted once moreand labored on till about ten o'clockwhen a thunderstormaccompanied by a deluge of rainovertook usand we spent the next six hourspractically under water.
I do not know that there is any necessity for me to describe the next fourdays of our voyage in detailfurther than to say that they wereon the wholethe most miserable that I ever spent in my lifeforming one monotonous recordof heavy laborheatmiseryand mosquitoes. All the way we passed through aregion of almost endless swampand I can only attribute our escape from feverand death to the constant doses of quinine and purgatives which we tookand theunceasing toil which we were forced to undergo. On the third day of our journeyup the canal we had sighted a round hill that loomed dimly through the vapors ofthe marshand on the evening of the fourth nightwhen we campedthis hillseemed to be within five-and-twenty or thirty miles of us. We were by nowutterly exhaustedand felt as though our blistered hands could not pull theboat a yard furtherand that the best thing that we could do would be to liedown and die in that dreadful wilderness of swamp. It was an awful positionandone in which I trust no other white man will ever be placed; and as I threwmyself down in the boat to sleep the sleep of utter exhaustionI bitterlycursed my folly in ever having been a party to such a mad undertakingwhichcouldI sawonly end in our death in this ghastly land. I thoughtI rememberas I slowly sank into a dozeof what the appearance of the boat and her
unhappy crew would be in two or three months' time from that night. There shewould liewith gaping seams and half filled with fetid waterwhichwhen themist-laden wind stirred herwould wash backwards and forwards through ourmoldering bonesand that would be the end of herand of those in her who wouldfollow after myths and seek out the secrets of nature.
Already I seemed to hear the water rippling against the desiccated bones andrattling them togetherrolling my skull against Mahomed'sand his againstminetill at last Mahomed's stood straight up upon its vertebraeand glared atme through its empty eyeholesand cursed me with its grinning jawsbecause Ia dog of a Christiandisturbed the last sleep of a true believer. I opened myeyesand shuddered at the horrid dreamand then shuddered again at somethingthat was not a dreamfor two great eyes were gleaming down at me through themisty darkness. I struggled upand in my terror and confusion shriekedandshrieked againso that the others sprang up tooreelingand drunken withsleep and fear. And then all of a sudden there was a flash of cold steeland agreat spear was held against my throatand behind it other spears gleamedcruelly.
"Peace" said a voicespeaking in Arabicor rather in somedialect into which Arabic entered very largely. "Who are ye who come hitherswimming on the water? Speak or ye die" and the steel pressed sharplyagainst my throatsending a cold chill through me.
"We are travelersand have come hither by chance" I answered inmy best Arabicwhich appeared to be understoodfor the man turned his headandaddressing a tall form that towered up in the backgroundsaid"Fathershall we slay?"
"What is the color of the men?" said a deep voice in answer.
"White is their color."
"Slay not" was the reply. "Four suns since was the wordbrought to me from 'She-who-must-be-obeyed' 'White men come; if white men come;slay them not.' Let them be brought to the land of 'She-who-must-be-obeyed.'Bring forth the menand let that which they have with them be brought forthalso."
"Come" said the manhalf leading and half dragging me from theboatand as he did so I perceived other men doing the same kind office to mycompanions.
On the bank were gathered a company of some fifty men. In that light all Icould make out was that they were armed with huge spearswere very tallandstrongly builtcomparatively light in colorand nudesave for a leopard skintied round the middle.
Presently Leo and Job were bundled out and placed beside me.
"What on earth is up?" said Leorubbing his eyes.
"OhLordsirhere's a rum go" ejaculated Job; and just at thatmoment a disturbance ensuedand Mahomed came tumbling between usfollowed by ashadowy form with an uplifted spear.
"Allah! Allah!" howled Mahomedfeeling that he had little to hopefrom man. "Protect me! Protect me!"
"Fatherit is a black one" said a voice. "What said'She-who-must-be-obeyed' about the black one?"
"She said naught; but slay him not. Come hithermy son."
The man advancedand the tall shadowy form bent forward and whisperedsomething.
"Yesyes" said the otherand chuckled in a rather blood-curdlingtone.
"Are the three white men there?" asked the form.
"Yesthey are there."
"Then bring up that which is made ready for themand let the men takeall that can be brought from the thing which floats."
Hardly had he spoken when men came running upcarrying on their shouldersneither more nor less than palanquins- four bearers and two spare men to apalanquin- and in these it was promptly indicated we were expected to stowourselves.
"Well!" said Leo. "It is a blessing to find anybody to carryus after having to carry ourselves so long."
Leo always takes a cheerful view of things.
There being no help for itafter seeing the others into theirs I tumbledinto my own litterand very comfortable I found it. It appeared to bemanufactured of cloth woven from grass fiberwhich stretched and yielded toevery motion after the bodyandbeing bound top and bottom to the bearingpolegave a grateful support to the head and neck.
Scarcely had I settled myself whenaccompanying their steps with amonotonous songthe bearers started at a swinging trot. For half an hour or soI lay stillreflecting on the very remarkable experiences that we were goingthroughand wondering if any of my eminently respectable fossil friends down atCambridge would believe me if I were to be miraculously set at the familiardinner table for the purpose of relating them. I don't want to convey anydisrespectful notion or slight when I call those good and learned men fossilsbut my experience is that people are apt to fossilize even at a university ifthey follow the same paths too persistently. I was getting fossilized myselfbut of late my stock of ideas bas been very much enlarged. WellI lay andreflectedand wondered what on earth would be the end of it alltill at last Iceased to wonderand went to sleep.
I suppose I must have slept for seven or eight hoursgetting the first realrest that I had had since the night before the loss of the dhowfor when I wokethe sun was high in the heavens. We were still journeying on at a pace of aboutfour miles an hour. Peeping out through the mistlike curtains of the litterwhich were ingeniously fixed to the bearing poleI perceived to my infiniterelief that we had passed out of the region of eternal swampand were nowtraveling over swelling grassy plains towards a cup-shaped hill. Whether or notit was the same hill that we had seen from the canal I do not knowand havenever since been able to discoverforas we afterwards found outthese peoplewill give little information upon such points. Next I glanced at the men whowere bearing me. They were of a magnificent buildfew of them being under sixfeet in heightand yellowish in color. Generally their appearance had a gooddeal in common with that of the East African Somalionly their hair was notfrizzed upand hung in thick black locks upon their shoulders. Their featureswere aquilineand in many cases exceedingly handsomethe teeth beingespecially regular and beautiful. But notwithstanding their beautyit struck methaton the wholeI had never seen a more evil-looking set of faces. There wasan aspect of cold and sullen cruelty stamped upon them that revolted meandwhich in some cases was almost uncanny in its intensity.
Another thing which struck me about them was that they never seemed to smile.Sometimes they sang the monotonous song of which I have spokenbut when theywere not singing they remained almost perfectly silentand the light of a laughnever came to brighten their somber and evil countenances. Of what race couldthese people be? Their language was a bastard Arabicand yet they were notArabs; I was quite sure of that. For one thing they were too darkor ratheryellow. I could not say whybut I know that their appearance filled me with asick fear of which I felt ashamed. While I was still wondering another littercame up alongside of mine. In it- for the curtains were drawn- sat an old manclothed in a whitish robemade apparently from coarse linenthat hung looselyabout himwhoI at once jumped to the conclusionwas the shadowy figure whohad stood on the bank and been addressed as "Father." He was awonderful-looking old manwith a snowy beardso long that the ends of it hungover the sides of the litterand he had a hooked noseabove which flashed outa pair of eyes as keen as a snake'swhile his whole countenance was instinctwith a look of wise and sardonic humor impossible to describe on paper.
"Art thou awakestranger?" he said in a deep and low voice.
"Surelymy father" I answered courteouslyfeeling certain that Ishould do well to conciliate this ancient Mammon of Unrighteousness.
He stroked his beautiful white beardand smiled faintly.
"From whatever country thou camest" he said"and by the wayit must be from one where somewhat of our language is knownthey teach theirchildren courtesy theremy stranger son. And now wherefore comest thou untothis landwhich scarce an alien foot has pressed from the time that manknoweth? Art thou and those with thee weary of life?"
"We came to find new things" I answered boldly. "We are tiredof the old things; we have come up out of the sea to know that which is unknown.We are of a brave race who fear not deathmy very much respected father- thatisif we can get a little fresh information before we die."
"Humph!" said the old gentleman. "That may be true; it is rashto contradictotherwise I should say that thou wast lyingmy son. HoweverIdare say that 'She-who-must-be-obeyed' will meet thy wishes in the matter."
"Who is 'She-who-must-be-obeyed'?" I asked curiously.
The old man glanced at the bearersand then answeredwith a little smilethat somehow sent my blood to my heart"Surelymy stranger sonthou wiltlearn soon enoughif it be her pleasure to see thee at all in the flesh."
"In the flesh?" I answered. "What may my father wish toconvey?"
But the old man only laughed a dreadful laughand made no reply.
"What is the name of my father's people?" I asked.
"The name of my people is Amahagger" (the People of the Rocks).
"And if a son might askwhat is the name of my father?"
"My name is Billali."
"And whither go wemy father?"
"That shalt thou see" and at a sign from him his bearers startedforward at a run till they reached the litter in which Job was reposing (withone leg hanging over the side). Apparentlyhoweverhe could not make much outof Jobfor presently I saw his bearers trot forward to Leo's litter.
And after thatas nothing fresh occurredI yielded to the pleasant swayingmotion of the litterand went to sleep again. I was dreadfully tired. When Iwoke I found that we were passing through a rocky defile of a lava formationwith precipitous sidesin which grew many beautiful trees and flowering shrubs.
Presently this defile took a turnand a lovely sight unfolded itself to myeyes. Before us was a vast cup of green from four to six miles in extentof theshape of a Roman amphitheater. The sides of this great cup were rockyandclothed with bushbut the center was of the richest meadow landstudded withsingle trees of magnificent growthand watered by meandering brooks. On thisrich plain grazed herds of goats and cattlebut I saw no sheep. At first Icould not imagine what this strange spot could bebut presently it flashed uponme that it must represent the crater of some long-extinct volcanowhich hadafterwards been a lakeand was ultimately drained in some unexplained way. Andhere I may state that from my subsequent experience of this and a much largerbut otherwise similar spotwhich I shall have occasion to describe by and byIhave every reason to believe that this conclusion was correct. What puzzled mehoweverwas thatalthough there were people moving about herding the goats andcattleI saw no signs of any human habitation. Where did they all live? Iwondered. My curiosity was soon destined to be gratified. Turning to the leftthe string of litters followed the cliffy sides of the crater for a distance ofabout half a mileor perhaps a little lessand then halted. Seeing the oldgentlemanmy adopted "father" Billaliemerge from his litterI didthe sameand so did Leo and Job. The first thing I saw was our wretched ArabcompanionMahomedlying exhausted on the ground. It appeared that he had notbeen provided with a litterbut had been forced to run the entire distanceandas he was already quite worn out when we startedhis condition now was oneof great prostration.
On looking round we discovered that the place where we had halted was aplatform in front of the mouth of a great caveand piled upon this platformwere the entire contents of the whaleboateven down to the oars and sail. Roundthe cave stood groups of the men who had escorted usand other men of a similarstamp. They were all tall and all handsomethough they varied in their degreeof darkness of skinsome being as dark as Mahomedand some as yellow as aChinese. They were nakedexcept for the leopard skin round the waistand eachof them carried a huge spear.
There were also some women among themwhoinstead of the leopard skinworea tanned hide of a small red bucksomething like that of the oribeonly ratherdarker in color. These women wereas a classexceedingly good-lookingwithlargedark eyeswell-cut featuresand a thick bush of curling hair- notcrisped like a Negro's- ranging from black to chestnut in huewith all shadesof intermediate color. Somebut very few of themwore a yellowish linengarmentsuch as I have described as worn by Billalibut thisas we afterwardsdiscoveredwas a mark of rankrather than an attempt at clothing. For theresttheir appearance was not quite so terrifying as that of the menand theysometimesthough rarelysmiled. As soon as we had alighted they gathered roundus and examined us with curiositybut without excitement. Leo's tallathleticform and clear-cut Grecian facehoweverevidently excited their attentionandwhen he politely lifted his hat to themand showed his curling yellow hairthere was a slight murmur of admiration. Nor did it stop there; forafterregarding him critically from head to footthe handsomest of the young women-one wearing a robeand with hair of a shade between brown and chestnut-deliberately advanced to himandin a way that would have been winning had itnot been so determinedquietly put her arm round his neckbent forwardandkissed him on the lips.
I gave a gaspexpecting to see Leo instantly speared; and Job ejaculated"The hussy- wellI never!" As for Leohe looked slightly astonished;and thenremarking that we had got into a country where they clearly followedthe customs of the early Christiansdeliberately returned the embrace.
Again I gaspedthinking that something would happen; but to my surprisethough some of the young women showed traces of vexationthe older ones and themen only smiled slightly. When we came to understand the customs of thisextraordinary people the mystery was explained. It then appeared thatin directopposition to the habits of almost every other savage race in the worldwomenamong the Amahagger are not only upon terms of perfect equality with the menbut are not held to them by any binding ties. Descent is traced only through theline of the motherand while individuals are as proud of a long and superiorfemale ancestry as we are of our families in Europethey never pay attentiontoor even acknowledgeany man as their fathereven when their male parentageis perfectly well
known. There is but one titular male parent of each tribeoras they callit"household" and he is its elected and immediate rulerwith thetitle of "father." For instancethe man Billali was the father ofthis "household" which consisted of about seven thousand individualsall toldand no other man was ever called by that name. When a woman took afancy to a man she signified her preference by advancing and embracing himpubliclyin the same way that this handsome and exceedingly prompt young ladywho was called Ustanehad embraced Leo. If he kissed her back it was a tokenthat he accepted herand the arrangement continued till one of them wearied ofit. I am boundhoweverto say that the change of husbands was not nearly sofrequent as might have been expected. Nor did quarrels arise out of itat leastamong the menwhowhen their wives deserted them in favor of a rivalacceptedthe whole thing much as we accept the income tax or our marriage lawsassomething not to be disputedand as tending to the good of the communityhowever disagreeable they may in particular instances prove to the individual.
It is very curious to observe how the customs of mankind on this matter varyin different countriesmaking morality an affair of latitudeand what is rightand proper in one place wrong and improper in another. It musthoweverbeunderstood thatas all civilized nations appear to accept it as an axiom thatceremony is the touchstone of moralitythere iseven according to our canonsnothing immoral about this Amahagger customseeing that the interchange of theembrace answers to our ceremony of marriagewhichas we knowjustifies mostthings.
7. Ustane Sings -
WHEN THE kissing operation was finished- by the waynone of the young ladiesoffered to pet me in this fashionthough I saw one hovering round Jobto thatrespectable individual's evident alarm- the old man Billali advancedandgraciously waved us into the cavewhither we wentfollowed by Ustanewho didnot seem inclined to take the hints I gave her that we liked privacy.
Before we had gone five paces it struck me that the cave that we wereentering was none of Nature's handiworkbuton the contraryhad been hollowedby the hand of man. So far as we could judge it appeared to be about one hundredfeet in length by fifty wideand very loftyresembling a cathedral aisle morethan anything else. From this main aisle opened passages at a distance of everytwelve or fifteen feetleadingI supposedto smaller chambers. About fiftyfeet from the entrance of the cavejust where the light began to get dimafire was burningwhich threw huge shadows upon the gloomy walls around. HereBillali haltedand asked us to be seatedsaying that the people would bring usfoodand accordingly we squatted ourselves down upon the rugs of skins whichwere spread for usand waited. Presently the foodconsisting of goat's fleshboiledfresh milk in an earthenware potand boiled cobs of Indian cornwasbrought by young girls. We were almost starvingand I do not think that I everin my life before ate with such satisfaction. Indeedbefore we had finished weliterally ate up everything that was set before us.
When we had doneour somewhat saturnine hostBillaliwho had been watchingus in perfect silencerose and addressed us. He said that it was a wonderfulthing that had happened. No man had ever known or heard of white strangersarriving in the country of the People of the Rocks. Sometimesthough rarelyblack men had come hereand from them they had heard of the existence of menmuch whiter than themselveswho sailed on the sea in shipsbut for the arrivalof such there was no precedent. We hadhoweverbeen seen dragging the boat upthe canaland he told us frankly that he had at once given orders for ourdestructionseeing that it was unlawful for any stranger to enter herewhen amessage had come from "She-who-must-be-obeyed" saying that our liveswere to be sparedand that we were to be brought hither.
"Pardon memy father" I interrupted at this point; "but ifas I understand'She-who-must-be-obeyed' lives yet farther offhow could shehave known of our approach?"
Billali turnedand seeing that we were alone- for the young ladyUstanehad withdrawn when he had begun to speak- saidwith a curious little laugh"Are there none in your land who can see without eyes and hear withoutears? Ask no questions; She knew."
I shrugged my shoulders at thisand he proceeded to say that no furtherinstructions had been received on the subject of our disposaland this being sohe was about to start to interview "She-who-must-be-obeyed" generallyspoken offor the sake of brevitysimply as "Hiya" or Shewho hegave us to understand was the Queen of the Amahaggerand learn her wishes.
I asked him how long he proposed to be awayand he said that by travelinghard he might be back on the fifth daybut there were many miles of marsh tocross before he came to where She was. He then said that every arrangement wouldbe made for our comfort during his absenceand thatas he personally had takena fancy to ushe sincerely trusted that the answer he should bring from Shewould be one favorable to the continuation of our existencebut at the sametime he did not wish to conceal from us that he thought this doubtfulas everystranger who had ever come into the country during his grandmother's lifehismother's lifeand his own lifehad been put to death without mercyand in away that he would not harrow our feelings by describing; and this had been doneby the order of She herselfat least he supposed it was by her order. At anyrateshe never interfered to save them.
"Why" I said"but how can that be? You are an old manandthe time you talk of must reach back three men's lives. How therefore could Shehave ordered the death of anybody at the beginning of the life of yourgrandmotherseeing that she herself would not have been born?"
Again he smiled- that same faintpeculiar smile- and with a deep bowdepartedwithout making any answer; nor did we see him again for five days.
When he had gone we discussed the situationwhich filled me with alarm. Idid not at all like the accounts of this mysterious Queen"She-who-must-be-obeyed" or more shortly Shewho apparently orderedthe execution of any unfortunate stranger in a fashion so unmerciful. Leotoowas depressed about itbut proceeded to console himself by triumphantlypointing out that this She was undoubtedly the person referred to in the writingon the potsherd and in his father's letterin proof of which he advancedBillali's allusions to her age and power. I was by this time so overwhelmed withthe whole course of events that I had not even got the heart left to dispute aproposition so absurdso I suggested that we should try and go out and get abathof which we all stood sadly in need.
Accordinglyhaving indicated our wish to a middle-aged individual of anunusually saturnine cast of countenanceeven among this saturnine peoplewhoappeared to be deputed to look after us now that the father of the hamlet haddepartedwe started in a body- having first lit our pipes. Outside the cave wefound quite a crowd of people evidently watching for our appearancebut whenthey saw us come out smoking they vanished this way and thatcalling out thatwe were great magicians. Indeednothing about us created so great a sensationas our tobacco smoke- not even our firearms. * After this we succeeded inreaching a stream that had its source in a strong ground springand taking ourbath in peacethough some of the womennot excepting Ustaneshowed a decidedinclination to follow us even there. -
* We found tobacco growing in this country as it does in every other part ofAfricaandalthough they are so absolutely ignorant of its other blessedqualitiesthe Amahagger use it habitually in the form of snuffand also formedicinal purposes.- L. H. H. -
By the time that we had finished this most refreshing bath the sun wassetting; indeedwhen we got back to the big cave it had already set. The caveitself was full of people gathered round fires- for several more had now beenlighted- and eating their evening meal by their lurid lightand by that ofvarious lamps which were set about or hung upon the walls. These lamps were of arude manufacture of baked earthenwareand of all shapessome of them gracefulenough. The larger ones were formed of big red earthenware potsfilled withclarified melted fatand having a reed wick stuck through a wooden disk whichfilled the top of the potand this sort of lamp required the most constantattention to prevent its going out whenever the wick burned downas there wereno means of turning it up. The smaller hand lampshoweverwhich were also madeof baked claywere fitted with wicks manufactured from the pith of a palm treeor sometimes from the stem of a very handsome variety of fern. This kind of wickwas passed through a round hole at the end of the lampto which a sharp pieceof hard wood was attached wherewith to pierce and draw it up whenever it showedsigns of burning low.
For a while we sat down and watched this grim people eating their eveningmeal in silence as grim as themselvestill at lengthgetting tired ofcontemplating them and the huge moving shadows on the rocky wallsI suggestedto our new keeper that we should like to go to bed.
Without a word he roseandtaking me politely by the handadvanced with alamp to one of the small passages that I had noticed opening out of the centralcave. This we followed for about five paceswhen it suddenly widened out into asmall chamberabout eight feet squareand hewn out of the living rock. On oneside of this chamber was a stone slababout three feet from the groundandrunning its entire length like a bunk in a cabinand on this slab he intimatedthat I was to sleep. There was no window or air hole to the chamberand nofurniture; andon looking at it more closelyI came to the disturbingconclusion (in whichas I afterwards discoveredI was quite right) that it hadoriginally served for a sepulcher for the dead rather than a sleeping place forthe livingthe slab being designed to receive the corpse of the departed. Thethought made me shudder in spite of myself; butseeing that I must sleepsomewhereI got over the feeling as best I mightand returned to the cavern toget my blanketwhich had been brought up from the boat with the other things.There I met Jobwhohaving been inducted to a similar apartmenthad flatlydeclined to stop in itsaying that the look of the place gave him the horrorsand that he might as well be dead and buried in his grandfather's brick grave atonceand expressed his determination of sleeping with me if I would allow him.Thisof courseI was only too glad to do.
The night passed very comfortably on the whole. I say on the wholeforpersonally I went through a most horrible nightmare of being buried aliveinducedno doubtby the sepulchral nature of my surroundings. At dawn we werearoused by a loud trumpeting soundproducedas we afterwards discoveredby ayoung Amahagger blowing through a hole bored in its side into a hollowedelephant tuskwhich was kept for the purpose.
Taking the hintwe got up and went down to the stream to washafter whichthe morning meal was served. At breakfast one of the womenno longer quiteyoungadvancedand publicly kissed Job. I think it was in its way the mostdelightful thing (putting its impropriety aside for a moment) that I ever saw.Never shall I forget the respectable Job's abject terror and disgust. Joblikemyselfis a bit of a misogynist- I fancy chiefly owing to the fact of hishaving been one of a family of seventeen- and the feelings expressed upon hiscountenance when he realized that he was not only being embraced publiclyandwithout authorization on his own partbut also in the presence of his masterswere too mixed and painful to admit of accurate description. He sprang to hisfeetand pushed the womana buxom person of about thirtyfrom him.
"WellI never!" he gaspedwhereuponprobably thinking that hewas only coyshe embraced him again.
"Be off with you! Get awayyou minx!" he shoutedwaving thewooden spoonwith which he was eating his breakfastup and down before thelady's face. "Beg your pardongentlemenI am sure I haven't encouragedher. OhLord! She's coming for me again. Hold herMr. Holly! Please hold her!I can't stand it; I can'tindeed. This has never happened to me beforegentlemennever. There's nothing against my character" and here he brokeoffand ran as hard as he could go down the caveand for once I saw theAmahagger laugh. As for the womanhowevershe did not laugh. On the contraryshe seemed to bristle with furywhich the mockery of the other women about onlyserved to intensify. She stood there literally snarling and shaking withindignationandseeing herI wished Job's scruples had been at Jerichoforming a shrewd guess that his admirable behavior had endangered our throats.Noras the sequel showswas I wrong.
The lady having retreatedJob returned in a great state of nervousnessandkeeping his weather eye fixed upon every woman who came near him. I took anopportunity to explain to our hosts that Job was a married manand had had veryunhappy experiences in his domestic relationswhich accounted for his presencehere and his terror at the sight of womenbut my remarks were received in grimsilenceit being evident that our retainer's behavior was considered as aslight to the "household" at largealthough the womenafter themanner of some of their more civilized sistersmade merry at the rebuff oftheir companion.
After breakfast we took a walk and inspected the Amahagger herdsand alsotheir cultivated lands. They have two breeds of cattleone large and angularwith no hornsbut yielding beautiful milk; and the othera red breedverysmall and fatexcellent for meatbut of no value for milking purposes. Thislast breed closely resembles the Norfolk red-pole strainonly it has hornswhich generally curve forward over the headsometimes to such an extent thatthey have to be cut to prevent them from growing into the bones of the skull.The goats are long-hairedand are used for eating onlyat least I never sawthem milked. As for the Amahagger cultivationit is primitive in the extremebeing all done by means of a spade made of ironfor these people smelt and workiron. This spade is shaped more like a big spear head than anything elseandhas no shoulder to it on which the foot can be set. As a consequencethe laborof digging is very great. It ishoweverall done by the menthe womencontrary to the habits of most savage racesbeing entirely exempt from manualtoil. But thenas I think I have said elsewhereamong the Amahagger the weakersex has established its rights.
At first we were much puzzled as to the origin and constitution of thisextraordinary racepoints upon which they were singularly
uncommunicative. As the time went on- for the next four days passed withoutany striking event- we learned something from Leo's lady friend Ustanewhobythe waystuck to that young gentleman like his own shadow. As to origintheyhad noneat leastso far as she was aware. There werehowevershe informedusmounds of masonry and many pillars near the place where She livedwhich wascalled Korand which the wise said had once been houses wherein men livedandit was suggested that they were descended from these men. No onehoweverdaredgo near these great ruinsbecause they were haunted: they only looked on themfrom a distance. Other similar ruins were to be seenshe had heardin variousparts of the countrythat iswherever one of the mountains rose above thelevel of the swamp. Alsothe caves in which they lived had been hollowed out ofthe rocks by menperhaps the same who built the cities. They themselves had nowritten lawsonly customwhich washoweverquite as binding as law. If anyman offended against the customhe was put to death by order of the father ofthe "household." I asked how he was put to deathand she only smiledand said that I might see one day soon.
They had a queenhowever. She was their queenbut she was very rarely seenperhaps once in two or three yearswhen she came forth to pass sentence on someoffendersand when seen was muffled up in a big cloakso that nobody couldlook upon her face. Those who waited upon her were deaf and dumband thereforecould tell no talesbut it was reported that she was lovely as no other womanwas lovelyor ever had been. It was rumored also that she was immortaland hadpower over all thingsbut sheUstanecould say nothing of all that. What shebelieved was that the Queen chose a husband from time to timeand as soon as afemale child was born this husbandwho was never again seenwas put to death.Then the female child grew up and took the place of the Queen when its motherdiedand had been buried in the great caves. But of these matters none couldspeak for certain. Only She was obeyed throughout the length and breadth of thelandand to question her command was certain death. She kept a guardbut hadno regular armyand to disobey her was to die.
I asked what size the land wasand how many people lived in it. She answeredthat there were ten "households" like this that she knew ofincluding the big "household" where the Queen wasthat all the"households" lived in cavesin places resembling this stretch ofraised countrydotted about in a vast extent of swampwhich was only to bethreaded by secret paths. Often the "households" made war on eachother until She sent word that it was to stopand then they instantly ceased.That and the fever which they caught in crossing the swamps prevented theirnumbers from increasing too much. They had no connection with any other raceindeednone lived near themor were able to thread the vast swamps. Once anarmy from the direction of the great river (presumably the Zambesi) hadattempted to attack thembut they got lost in the marshesand at nightseeingthe great balls of fire that move about theretried to come to themthinkingthat they marked the enemy's campand half of them were drowned. As for therestthey soon died of fever and starvationnot a blow being struck at them.The marshesshe told uswere absolutely impassable except to those who knewthe pathsaddingwhat I could well believethat we should never have reachedthis place where we then were had we not been brought thither.
These and many other things we learned from Ustane during the four days'pause before our real adventures beganandas may be imaginedthey gave usconsiderable cause for thought. The whole thing was exceedingly remarkablealmost incredibly soindeedand the oddest part of it was that so far it didmore or less correspond to the ancient writing on the sherd. And now it appearedthat there was a mysterious queen clothed by rumor with dread and wonderfulattributesand commonly known by the impersonal butto my mindrather awesometitle of She. AltogetherI could not make it outnor could Leothough ofcourse he was exceedingly triumphant over me because I had persistently mockedat the whole thing. As for Jobhe had long since abandoned any attempt to callhis reason his ownand left it to drift upon the sea of circumstance. Mahomedthe Arabwho wasby the waytreated civilly indeedbut with chillingcontemptby the AmahaggerwasI discoveredin a great frightthough I couldnot quite make out what he was frightened about. He would sit crouched up in acorner of the cave all day longcalling upon Allah and the Prophet to protecthim. When I pressed him about ithe said that he was afraid because thesepeople were not men and women at allbut devilsand that this was an enchantedland; andupon my wordonce or twice since then I have been inclined to agreewith him. And so the time went ontill the night of the fourth day afterBillali had leftwhen something happened.
We three and Ustane were sitting round a fire in the cave just beforebedtimewhen suddenly the womanwho had been brooding in silenceroseandlaid her hand upon Leo's golden curlsand addressed him. Even nowwhen I shutmy eyesI can see her proudimperial formclothed alternately in dense shadowand the red flickering of the fireas she stoodthe wild center of as weird ascene as I ever witnessedand delivered herself of the burden of her thoughtsand forebodings in a kind of rhythmical speech that ran something as follows: -
Thou art my chosen- I have waited for thee from the beginning!
Thou art very beautiful. Who hath hair like unto theeor skin so
Who hath so strong an armwho is so much a man?
Thine eyes are the skyand the light in them is the stars.
Thou art perfect and of a happy faceand my heart turned itself
Aywhen mine eyes fell on thee I did desire thee-
Then did I take thee to me- thoumy Beloved
And hold thee fastlest harm should come unto thee.
AyI did cover thine head with mine hairlest the sun should
And altogether was I thineand thou wast altogether mine.
And so it went for a little spacetill Time was in labor with an
And then what befell on that day? Alas! my BelovedI know not!
But II saw thee no more- II was lost in the blackness.
And she who is stronger did take thee; ayshe who is fairer than
Yet didst thou turn and call upon meand let thine eyes wander in
Butneverthelessshe prevailed by Beautyand led thee down
And thenah! then my Beloved- -
Here this extraordinary woman broke off her speechor chantwhich was somuch musical gibberish to usfor all that we understood of what she was talkingaboutand seemed to fix her flashing eyes upon the deep shadow before her. Thenin a moment they acquired a vacantterrified stareas though they werestriving to realize some half-seen horror. She lifted her hand from Leo's headand pointed into the darkness. We all lookedand could see nothing; but she sawsomethingor thought she didand something evidently that affected even heriron nervesforwithout another sounddown she fell senseless between us.
Leowho was growing really attached to this remarkable young personwas ina great state of alarm and distressand Ito be perfectly candidwas in acondition not far removed from superstitious fear. The whole scene was anuncanny one.
Presentlyhowevershe recoveredand sat up with an extraordinaryconvulsive shudder.
"What didst thou meanUstane?" asked Leowhothanks to years oftuitionspoke Arabic very prettily.
"Naymy chosen" she answered with a little forced laugh. "Idid but sing unto thee after the fashion of my people. SurelyI meant nothing.How could I speak of that which is not yet?"
"And what didst thou seeUstane?" I askedlooking her sharply inthe face.
"Nay" she answered again; "I saw naught. Ask me not what Isaw. Why should I fright ye?" And thenturning to Leo with a look of themost utter tenderness that I ever saw upon the face of a womancivilized orsavageshe took his head between her handsand kissed him on the forehead as amother might. "When I am gone from theemy chosen; when at night thoustretchest out thine hand and canst not find methen shouldst thou think attimes of mefor of a truth I love thee wellthough I be not fit to wash thyfeet. And now let us love and take that which is given usand be happy; for inthe grave there is no love and no warmthnor any touching of the lips. Nothingperchanceor perchance but bitter memories of what might have been. Tonight thehours are our ownhow know we to whom they shall belong tomorrow?"
8. The Feastand After! -
ON THE DAY following this remarkable scene- a scene calculated to make a deepimpression upon anybody who beheld itmore because of what it suggested andseemed to foreshadow than of what it revealed- it was announced to us that afeast would be held that evening in our honor. I did my best to get out of itsaying that we were modest peopleand cared little for feastsbut my remarksbeing received with the silence of displeasureI thought it wisest to hold mytongue.
Accordinglyjust before sundownI was informed that everything was readyandaccompanied by Jobwent into the cavewhere I met Leowho wasas usualfollowed by Ustane. These two had been out walking somewhereand knew nothingof the projected festivity till that moment. When Ustane heard of it I saw anexpression of horror spring up upon her handsome features. Turningshe caught aman who was passing up the cave by the armand asked him something in animperious tone. His answer seemed to reassure her a littlefor she lookedrelievedthough far from satisfied. Next she appeared to attempt someremonstrance with the manwho was a person in authoritybut he spoke angrilyto herand shook her offand then changing his mindled her by the armandsat her down between himself and another man in the circle round the fireand Iperceived that for some reason of her own she thought it best to submit.
The fire in the cave was an unusually big one that nightand in a largecircle round it were gathered about thirty-five men and two womenUstane andthe woman to avoid whom Job had played the role of another Scriptural character.The men were sitting in perfect silenceas was their customeach with hisgreat spear stuck upright behind himin a socket cut in the rock for thatpurpose. Only one or two wore the yellowish linen garment of which I havespokenthe rest had nothing on except the leopard's skin about the middle.
"What's up nowsir?" said Job doubtfully. "Bless us and saveusthere's that woman again. Nowsurelyshe can't be after meseeing that Ihave given her no encouragement. They give me the creepsthe whole lot of themand that's a fact. Whylookthey have asked Mahomed to dinetoo. Therethatlady of mine is talking to him in as nice and civil a way as possible. WellI'mglad it isn't methat's all."
We looked upand sure enough the woman in question had risenand wasescorting the wretched Mahomed from the cornerwhereovercome by some acuteprescience of horrorhe had been seatedshiveringand calling on Allah. Heappeared unwilling enough to comeif for no other reason perhaps because it wasan unaccustomed honorfor hitherto his food had been given to him apart. AnywayI could see that he was in a state of great terrorfor his tottering legs wouldscarcely support his stoutbulky formand I think it was rather owing to theresources of barbarism behind himin the shape of a huge Amahagger with aproportionately huge spearthan to the seduction of the lady who led him by thehandthat he consented to come at all.
"Well" I said to the others"I don't at all like the look ofthingsbut I suppose that we must face it out. Have you fellows got yourrevolvers on? Becauseif soyou had better see that they are loaded."
"I havesir" said Jobtapping his Colt"but Mr. Leo hasonly got his hunting knifethough that is big enoughsurely."
Feeling that it would not do to wait while the missing weapon was fetchedweadvanced boldlyand seated ourselves in a linewith our backs against the sideof the cave.
As soon as we were seatedan earthenware jar was passed round containing afermented fluidof by no means unpleasant tastethough apt to turn upon thestomachmade of crushed grain- not Indian cornbut a small brown grain thatgrows upon the stem in clustersnot unlike that which in the southern part ofAfrica is known by the name of Kafir corn. The vase in which this liquid washanded round was very curiousand as it more or less resembled many hundreds ofothers in use among the Amahagger I may as well describe it. These vases are ofa very ancient manufactureand of all sizes. None such can have been made inthe country for hundredsor rather thousandsof years. They are found in therock tombsof which I shall give a description in their proper placeand myown belief is thatafter the fashion of the Egyptianswith whom the formerinhabitants of this country may have had some connectionthey were used toreceive the viscera of the dead. Leohoweveris of opinion thatas in thecase of Etruscan amphoraethey were placed there for the spiritual use of thedeceased. They are mostly two-handledand of all sizessome being nearly threefeet in heightand running from that down to as many inches. In shape theyvarybut are all exceedingly beautiful and gracefulbeing made of a very fineblack warenot lustrousbut slightly rough. On this groundwork were inlaidfigures much more graceful and lifelike than any others I have seen on antiquevases. Some of these inlaid pictures represented love scenes with a childlikesimplicity and freedom of manner which would not commend itself to the taste ofthe present day. Others again were pictures of maidens dancingand yet othersof hunting scenes. For instancethe very vase from which we were then drinkinghad on one side a most spirited drawing of menapparently white in colorattacking a bull elephant with spearswhile on the reverse was a picturenotquite so well doneof a hunter shooting an arrow at a running antelopeIshould say from the look of it either an eland or a koodoo.
This is a digression at a critical momentbut it is not too long for theoccasionfor the occasion itself was very long. With the exception of theperiodical passing of the vaseand the movement necessary to throw fuel ontothe firenothing happened for the best part of a whole hour. Nobody spoke aword. There we all sat in perfect silencestaring at the glare and glow of thelarge fireand at the shadows thrown by the flickering earthenware lamps(whichby the waywere not ancient). On the open space between us and the firelay a large wooden traywith four short handles to itexactly like a butcher'strayonly not hollowed out. By the side of the tray was a great pair oflong-handled iron pincersand on the other side of the fire was a similar pair.Somehow I did not at all like the appearance of this tray and the accompanyingpincers. There I sat and stared at them and at the silent circle of the fiercemoody faces of the menand reflected that it was all very awfuland that wewere absolutely in the power of this alarming peoplewhoto me at any ratewere all the more formidable because their true character was still very much ofa mystery to us. They might be better than I thought themor they might beworse. I feared that they were worseand I was not wrong. It was a curious sortof a feastI reflectedin appearanceindeedan entertainment of theBarmecide stampfor there was absolutely nothing to eat.
At lastjust as I was beginning to feel as though I were being mesmerizedamove was made. Without the slightest warninga man from the other side of thecircle called out in a loud voice"Where is the flesh that we shalleat?"
Thereon everybody in the circle answered in a deep measured toneandstretching out the right arm towards the fire as he spoke: "The flesh willcome."
"Is it a goat?" said the same man.
"It is a goat without hornsand more than a goatand we shall slayit" they answered with one voiceand turning half round they one and allgrasped the handles of their spears with the right handand then simultaneouslylet them go.
"Is it an ox?" said the man again.
"It is an ox without hornsand more than an oxand we shall slayit" was the answerand again the spears were graspedand again let go.
Then came a pauseand I noticedwith horror and a rising of the hairthatthe woman next to Mahomed began to fondle himpatting his cheeksand callinghim by names of endearmentwhile her fierce eyes played up and down histrembling form. I do not know why the sight frightened me sobut it didfrighten us all dreadfullyespecially Leo. The caressing was so snakelikeandso evidently a part of some ghastly formula that had to be gone through. * I sawMahomed turn white under his brown skinsickly white with fear. -
* We afterwards learned that its object was to pretend to the victim that hewas the object of love and admirationand so to soothe his injured feelingsand cause him to expire in a happy and contented frame of mind.- L. H. H. -
"Is the meat ready to be cooked?" asked the voice more rapidly.
"It is ready; it is ready."
"Is the pot hot to cook it?" it continuedin a sort of scream thatechoed painfully down the great recesses of the cave.
"It is hot; it is hot."
"Great heavens!" roared Leo. "Remember the writing'Thepeople who place pots upon the heads of strangers.'"
As he said the wordsbefore we could stiror even take the matter intwogreat ruffians jumped upandseizing the long pincersplunged them into theheart of the fireand the woman who had been caressing Mahomed suddenlyproduced a fiber noose from under her girdle or moochaandslipping it overhis shouldersran it tightwhile the men next him seized him by the legs. Thetwo men with the pincers gave a heaveandscattering the fire this way andthat upon the rocky floorlifted from it a large earthenware potheated to awhite heat. In an instantalmost with a single movementthey had reached thespot where Mahomed was struggling. He fought like a fiendshrieking in theabandonment of his despairand notwithstanding the noose round himand theefforts of the men who held his legsthe advancing wretches were for the momentunable to accomplish their purposewhichhorrible and incredible as it seemswas to put the red-hot pot upon his head.
I sprang to my feet with a yell of horrorand drawing my revolver fired itby a sort of instinct straight at the diabolical woman who had been caressingMahomedand was now gripping him in her arms. The bullet struck her in the backand killed herand to this day I am glad that it didforas it afterwardstranspiredshe had availed herself of the anthropophagous customs of theAmahagger to organize the whole thing in revenge of the slight put upon her byJob. She sank down deadand as she did soto my terror and dismayMahomedbya superhuman effortburst from his tormentorsandspringing high into theairfell dying upon her corpse. The heavy bullet from my pistol had driventhrough the bodies of bothat once striking down the murderessand saving hervictim from a death a hundred times more horrible. It was an awful and yet amost merciful accident.
For a moment there was a silence of astonishment. The Amahagger had neverheard the report of a firearm beforeand its effects dismayed them. But thenext a man close to us recovered himselfand seized his spear preparatory tomaking a lunge with it at Leowho was the nearest to him.
"Run for it!" I shoutedsetting the example by starting up thecave as hard as my legs would carry me. I would have made for the open air if ithad been possiblebut there were men in the wayandbesidesI had caughtsight of the forms of a crowd of people standing out clear against the skylinebeyond the entrance to the cave. Up the cave I wentand after me came theothersand after them thundered the whole crowd of cannibalsmad with fury atthe death of the woman. With a bound I cleared the prostrate form of Mahomed. AsI flew over him I felt the heat from the red-hot pot which was lying close bystrike upon my legsand by its glow saw his hands- for he was not quite dead-still feebly moving. At the top of the cave was a little platform of rock threefeet or so high by about eight deepon which two large lamps were placed atnight. Whether this platform had been left as a seator as a raised pointafterwards to be cut away when it had served its purpose as a standing-placefrom which to carry on the excavationsI do not know- at leastI did not then.At any ratewe all three reached itandjumping on itprepared to sell ourlives as dearly as we could. For a few seconds the crowd that was pressing onour heels hung back when they saw us face round upon them. Job was on one sideof the rock to the leftLeo in the centerand I to the right. Behind us werethe lamps. Leo bent forwardand looked down the long lane of shadowsterminated in the fire and lighted lampsthrough which the quiet forms of ourwould-be murderers flitted to and fro with the faint light glinting on theirspearsfor even their fury was silent as a bulldog's. The only other thingvisible was the red-hot pot still glowing angrily in the gloom. There was acurious light in Leo's eyesand his handsome face was set like a stone. In hisright hand was his heavy hunting knife. He shifted its thong a little up hiswristand then put his arm round me and gave me a good hug.
"Good-byold fellow" he said"my dear friend- my more thanfather. We have no chance against those scoundrels; they will finish us in a fewminutesand eat us afterwardsI suppose. Good-by. I led you into this. I hopeyou will forgive me. Good-byJob."
"God's will be done" I saidsetting my teethas I prepared forthe end. At that momentwith an exclamationJob lifted his revolver and firedand hit a man- not the man he had aimed atby the way: anything that Job shotat was perfectly safe.
On they came with a rushand I fired too as fast as I couldand checkedthem- between usJob and Ibesides the womankilled or mortally wounded fivemen with our pistols before they were emptied. But we had no time to reloadandthey still came on in a way that was almost splendid in its recklessnessseeingthat they did not know but that we could go on firing forever.
A great fellow bounded up upon the platformand Leo struck him dead with oneblow of his powerful armsending the knife right through him. I did the same byanotherbut Job missed his strokeand I saw a brawny Amahagger grip him by themiddle and whirl him off the rock. The knifenot being secured by a thongfellfrom Job's hand as he did soandby a most happy accident for himlit uponits handle on the rockjust as the body of the Amahaggerbeing undermosthitupon its point and was transfixed upon it. What happened to Job after that I amsure I do not knowbut my own impression is that he lay still upon the corpseof his deceased assailant"playing possum" as the Americans say. Asfor myselfI was soon involved in a desperate encounter with two ruffians wholuckily for mehad left their spears behind them; and for the first time in mylife the great physical power with which Nature has endowed me stood me in goodstead. I had hacked at the head of one man with my hunting knifewhich wasalmost as big and heavy as a short swordwith such vigor that the sharp steelhad split his skull down to the eyesand was held so fast by it that as hesuddenly fell sideways the knife was twisted right out of my hand.
Then it was that the two others sprang upon me. I saw them comingand got anarm round the waist of eachand down we all fell upon the floor of the cavetogetherrolling over and over. They were strong menbut I was mad with rageand that awful lust for slaughter which will creep into the hearts of the mostcivilized of us when blows are flyingand life and death tremble on the turn.My arms were round the two swarthy demonsand I hugged them till I heard theirribs crack and crunch up beneath my grip. They twisted and writhed like snakesand clawed and battered at me with their fistsbut I held on. Lying on my backthereso that their bodies might protect me from spear thrusts from aboveIslowly crushed the life out of themand as I did sostrange as it may seemIthought of what the amiable head of my college at Cambridge (who is a member ofthe Peace Society) and my brother fellows would say if by clairvoyance theycould see meof all menplaying such a bloody game. Soon my assailants grewfaintand almost ceased to struggletheir breath had failed themand theywere dyingbut still I dared not leave themfor they died very slowly. I knewthat if I relaxed my grip they would revive. The other ruffians probablythought- for we were all three lying in the shadow of the ledge- that we wereall dead together; at any rate they did not interfere with our little tragedy.
I turned my headand as I lay gasping in the throes of that awful struggle Icould see that Leo was off the rock nowfor the lamplight fell full upon him.He was still on his feetbut in the center of a surging mass of struggling menwho were striving to pull him down as wolves pull down a stag. Up above themtowered his beautiful pale face crowned with its bright curls (for Leo is sixfeet two high)and I saw that he was fighting with a desperate abandonment andenergy that was at once splendid and hideous to behold. He drove his knifethrough one man- they were so close to him and mixed up with him that they couldnot get at him to kill him with their big spearsand they had no knives orsticks. The man felland then somehow the knife was wrenched from his handleaving him defenselessand I thought the end had come. But no; with adesperate effort he broke loose from themseized the body of the man he hadjust slainand lifting it high in the air hurled it right at the mob of hisassailantsso that the shock and weight of it swept some five or six of them tothe earth. But in a minute they were all up againexcept onewhose skull wassmashedand had once more fastened upon him. And then slowlyand with infinitelabor and strugglingthe wolves bore the lion down. Once even then he recoveredhimselfand felled an Amahagger with his fistbut it was more than man coulddo to hold his own for long against so manyand at last he came crashing downupon the rock floorfalling as an oak fallsand bearing with him to the earthall those who clung about him. They gripped him by his arms and legsand thencleared off his body.
"A spear" cried a voice"a spear to cut his throatand avessel to catch his blood."
I shut my eyesfor I saw the man coming with a spearand myselfI couldnot stir to Leo's helpfor I was growing weakand the two men on me were notyet deadand a deadly sickness overcame me.
Then suddenly there was a disturbanceand involuntarily I opened my eyesagainand looked towards the scene of murder. The girl Ustane had thrownherself on Leo's prostrate formcovering his body with her bodyand fasteningher arms about his neck. They tried to drag her from himbut she twisted herlegs round hisand hung on like a bulldogor rather like a creeper to a treeand they could not. Then they tried to stab him in the side without hurting herbut somehow she shielded himand he was only wounded.
At last they lost patience.
"Drive the spear through the man and the woman together" said avoicethe same voice that had asked the questions at that ghastly feast"so of a verity shall they be wed."
Then I saw the man with the weapon straighten himself for the effort. I sawthe cold steel gleam on highand once more I shut my eyes.
As I did so I heard the voice of a man thunder out in tones that rang andechoed down the rocky ways: "Cease!"
Then I faintedand as I did so it flashed through my darkening mind that Iwas passing down into the last oblivion of death.
9. A Little Foot -
WHEN I OPENED my eyes again I found myself lying on a skin mat not far fromthe fire round which we had been gathered for that dreadful feast. Near me layLeostill apparently in a swoonand over him was bending the tall form of thegirl Ustanewho was washing a deep spear wound in his side with cold waterpreparatory to binding it up with linen. Leaning against the wall of the cavebehind her was Jobapparently uninjuredbut bruised and trembling. On theother side of the firetossed about this way and thatas though they hadthrown themselves down to sleep in some moment of absolute exhaustionwere thebodies of those whom we had killed in our frightful struggle for life. I countedthem: there were twelve besides the womanand the corpse of poor Mahomedwhohad died by my handwhichthe fire-stained pot at its sidewas placed at theend of the irregular line. To the left a body of men were engaged in binding thearms of the surviving cannibals behind themand then fastening them two andtwo. The villains were submitting with a look of sulky indifference upon theirfaces which accorded ill with the baffled fury that gleamed in their sombereyes. In front of these mendirecting the operationsstood no other than ourfriend Billalilooking rather tiredbut particularly patriarchal with hisflowing beardand as cool and unconcerned as though he were superintending thecutting up of an ox.
Presently he turnedand perceiving that I was sitting up advanced to meandwith the utmost courtesy said that he trusted that I felt better. I answeredthat at present I scarcely knew how I feltexcept that I ached all over.
Then he bent down and examined Leo's wound.
"It is a nasty cut" he said"but the spear has not piercedthe entrails. He will recover."
"Thanks to thy arrivalmy father" I answered. "In anotherminute we should all have been beyond the reach of recoveryfor those devils ofthine would have slain us as they would have slain our servant" and Ipointed towards Mahomed.
The old man ground his teethand I saw an extraordinary expression ofmalignity light up his eyes.
"Fear notmy son" he answered. "Vengeance shall be taken onthem such as would make the flesh twist upon the bones merely to hear of it. ToShe shall they goand her vengeance shall be worthy of her greatness. Thatman"- pointing to Mahomed- "I tell thee that man would have died amerciful death to the death these hyena men shall die. Tell meI pray of theehow it came about."
In a few words I sketched what had happened.
"Ahso" he answered. "Thou seestmy sonhere there is acustom that if a stranger comes into this country he may be slain by 'the pot'and eaten."
"It is hospitality turned upside down" I answered feebly. "Inour country we entertain a strangerand give him food to eat. Here ye eat himand are entertained."
"It is a custom" he answered with a shrug. "Myself I think itan evil one; but then" he added as an afterthought"I do not likethe taste of strangersespecially after they have wandered through the swampsand lived on wildfowl. When 'She-who-must-be-obeyed' sent orders that ye were tobe saved alive she said naught of the black manthereforebeing hyenasthesemen lusted after his fleshand the woman it waswhom thou didst rightly slaywho put it into their evil hearts to hot-pot him. Wellthey will have theirreward. Better for them would it be if they had never seen the light than thatthey should stand before She in her terrible anger. Happy are those of them whodied by your hands.
"Ah" he went on"it was a gallant fight that ye fought.Knowest thouthat thoulong-armed old baboon that thou arthast crushed inthe ribs of those two who are laid out there as though they were but as theshell on an egg? And the young onethe lionit was a beautiful stand that hemade- one against so many- three did he slay outrightand that one there"-and he pointed to a body that was still moving a little- "will die anonfor his head is cracked acrossand others of those who are bound are hurt. Itwas a gallant fightand thou and he have made a friend of me by itfor I loveto see a well-fought fray. But tell memy sonthe baboon- and now I think ofit thy facetoois hairyand altogether like a baboon's- how was it that yeslew those with a hole in them? Ye made a noisethey sayand slew them- theyfell down on their faces at the noise?"
I explained to him as well as I couldbut very shortly- I was terriblyweariedand only persuaded to talk at all through fear of offending one sopowerful if I refused to do so- what were the properties of gunpowderand heinstantly suggested that I should illustrate what I said by operating on theperson of one of the prisoners. Onehe saidnever would be countedand itwould not only be very interesting to himbut would give me an opportunity ofan installment of revenge. He was greatly astounded when I told him that it wasnot our custom to avenge ourselves in cold bloodand that we left vengeance tothe law and a higher powerof which he knew nothing. I addedhoweverthatwhen I recovered I would take him out shooting with usand he should kill ananimal for himselfand at this he was as pleased as a child at the promise of anew toy.
Just then Leo opened his eyes beneath the stimulus of some brandy (of whichwe still had a little) that Job had poured down his throatand our conversationcame to an end.
After this we managed to get Leowho was in a very poor way indeedand onlyhalf-conscioussafely off to bedsupported by Job and that brave girl Ustaneto whomhad I not been afraid she might resent itI would certainly have givena kiss for her splendid behavior in saving my dear boy's life at the risk of herown. But Ustane was not the sort of young person with whom one would care totake liberties unless one were perfectly certain that they would not bemisunderstoodso I repressed my inclinations. Thenbruised and batteredbutwith a sense of safety in my breast to which I had for some days been astrangerI crept off to my own little sepulchernot forgetting before I laydown in it to thank Providence from the bottom of my heart that it was not asepulcher indeedas were it not for a merciful combination of events that I canonly attribute to its protectionit would certainly have been for me thatnight. Few men have been nearer their end and yet escaped it than we were onthat dreadful day.
I am a bad sleeper at the best of timesand my dreams that night when atlast I got to rest were not of the pleasantest. The awful vision of poor Mahomedstruggling to escape the red-hot pot would haunt themand then in thebackgroundas it werea veiled form was always hoveringwhichfrom time totimeseemed to draw the coverings from its bodyrevealing now the perfectshape of a lovely blooming womanand now again the white bones of a grinningskeletonand whichas it veiled and unveileduttered the mysterious andapparently meaningless sentence: "That which is alive hath known deathandthat which is dead yet can never diefor in the Circle of the Spirit life isnaught and death is naught. Yeaall things live foreverthough at times theysleep and are forgotten."
The morning came at lastbut when it came I found that I was too stiff andsore to rise. About seven Job arrivedlimping terriblyand with his face thecolor of a rotten appleand told me that Leo had slept fairlybut was veryweak. Two hours afterwards Billali (Job called him "Billy-goat" towhichindeedhis white beard gave him some resemblanceor more familiarly"Billy") came toobearing a lamp in his handhis towering formreaching nearly to the roof of the little chamber. I pretended to be asleepandthrough the cracks of my eyelids watched his sardonic but handsome old face. Hefixed his hawklike eyes upon meand stroked his glorious white beardwhichbythe waywould have been worth a hundred a year to any London barber as anadvertisement.
"Ah!" I heard him mutter (Billali had a habit of muttering tohimself)"he is ugly- ugly as the other is beautiful- a very Baboonitwas a good name. But I like the man. Strange nowat my agethat I should likea man. What says the proverb- 'Mistrust all menand slay him whom thoumistrustest overmuch; and as for womenflee from themfor they are evilandin the end will destroy thee.' It is a good proverbespecially the last part ofit: I think it must have come down from the ancients. Nevertheless I like thisBaboonand I wonder where they taught him his tricksand I trust that She willnot bewitch him. Poor Baboon! He must be wearied after that fight. I will golest I should awake him."
I waited till he had turned and was nearly through the entrancewalkingsoftly on tiptoeand then I called after him.
"My father" I said"is it thou?"
"Yesmy sonit is I; but let me not disturb thee. I did but come tosee how thou didst fareand to tell thee that those who would have slain theemy Baboonare by now well on their road to She. She said that ye also were tocome at oncebut I fear ye cannot yet."
"Nay" I said"not till we have recovered a little; but haveme borne out into the daylightI pray theemy father. I love not thisplace."
"Ahno" he answered"it hath a sad air. I remember when Iwas a boy I found the body of a fair woman lying where thou liest nowyesonthat very bench. She was so beautiful that I was wont to creep in hither with alamp and gaze upon her. Had it not been for her cold handsalmost could I thinkthat she slept and would one day awakeso fair and peaceful was she in herrobes of white. White was shetooand her hair was yellow and lay down heralmost to the feet. There are many such still in the tombs at the place whereShe isfor those who set them there had a way I know naught ofwhereby to keeptheir beloved out of the crumbling hand of Decayeven when Death had slainthem. Ayday by day I came hitherand gazed on her till at last- laugh not atmestrangerfor I was but a silly lad- I learned to love that dead formthatshell which once had held a life that no more is. I would creep up to her andkiss her cold faceand wonder how many men had lived and died since she wasand who had loved her and embraced her in the days that long had passed away.Andmy BaboonI think I learned wisdom from that dead onefor of a truth ittaught me of the littleness of lifeand the length of Deathand how all thingsthat are under the sun go down one pathand are forever forgotten. And so Imusedand it seemed to me that wisdom flowed into me from the deadtill oneday my mothera watchful womanbut hasty-mindedseeing I was changedfollowed meand saw the beautiful white oneand feared that I was bewitchedasindeedI was. So half in dreadand half in angershe took the lampandstanding the dead woman up against the wall thereset fire to her hairand sheburned fiercelyeven down to the feetfor those who are thus kept burnexcellently well.
"Seemy sonthere on the roof is yet the smoke of her burning."
I looked up doubtfullyand theresure enoughon the roof of the sepulcherwas a peculiarly unctuous and sooty markthree feet or more across. Doubtlessit had in the course of years been rubbed off the sides of the little cavebuton the roof it remainedand there was no mistaking its appearance.
"She burned" he went on in a meditative way"even to thefeetbut the feet I came back and savedcutting the burned bone from themandhid them under the stone bench therewrapped up in a piece of linen. SurelyIremember it as though it were but yesterday. Perchance they are there if nonehave found themeven to this hour. Of a truth I have not entered this chamberfrom that time to this very day. StayI will look" andkneeling downhegroped about with his long arm in the recess under the stone bench. Presentlyhis face brightenedand with an exclamation he pulled something forth that wascaked in dust; which he shook onto the floor. It was covered with the remains ofa rotting ragwhich he undidand revealed to my astonished gaze a beautifullyshaped and almost white woman's footlooking as fresh and as firm as though ithad but now been placed there.
"Thou seestmy sonthe Baboon" he saidin a sad voice"Ispake the truth to theefor here is yet one foot remaining. Take itmy sonand gaze upon it."
I took this cold fragment of mortality in my hand and looked at it in thelight of the lamp with feelings which I cannot describeso mixed up were theybetween astonishmentfearand fascination. It was lightmuch lighter I shouldsay than it had been in the living stateand the flesh to all appearance wasstill fleshthough about it there clung a faintly aromatic odor. For the restit was not shrunk or shriveledor even black and unsightlylike the flesh ofEgyptian mummiesbut plump and fairandexcept where it had been slightlyburnedperfect as on the day of death- a very triumph of embalming.
Poor little foot! I set it down upon the stone bench where it had lain for somany thousand yearsand wondered whose was the beauty that it had upbornethrough the pomp and pageantry of a forgotten civilization- first as a merrychild'sthen as a blushing maid'sand lastly as a perfect woman's. Throughwhat halls of Life had its soft step echoedand in the endwith what couragehad it trodden down the dusty ways of Death! To whose side had it stolen in thehush of night when the black slave slept upon the marble floorand who hadlistened for its stealing? Shapely little foot! Well might it have been set uponthe proud neck of a conqueror bent at last to woman's beautyand well might thelips of nobles and of kings have been pressed upon its jeweled whiteness.
I wrapped up this relic of the past in the remnants of the old linen ragwhich had evidently formed a portion of its owner's graveclothesfor it waspartially burnedand put it away in my Gladstone bagwhich I had bought at theArmy and Navy Stores- a strange combinationI thought. Then with Billali's helpI staggered off to see Leo. I found him dreadfully bruisedworse even thanmyselfperhaps owing to the excessive whiteness of his skinand faint and weakwith the loss of blood from the flesh wound in his sidebut for all thatcheerful as a cricketand asking for some breakfast. Job and Ustane got himonto the bottomor rather the sacking of a litterwhich was removed from itspole for that purposeand with the aid of old Billali carried him out into theshade at the mouth of the cavefrom whichby the wayevery trace of theslaughter of the previous night had now been removedand there we allbreakfastedand indeed spent that dayand most of the two following ones.
On the third morning Job and myself were practically recovered. Leo also wasso much better that I yielded to Billali's often expressed entreatyand agreedto start at once upon our journey to Korwhich we were told was the name of theplace where the mysterious She livedthough I still feared for its effects uponLeoand especially lest the motion should cause his woundwhich was scarcelyskinned overto break open again. Indeedhad it not been for Billali's evidentanxiety to get offwhich led us to suspect that some difficulty or danger mightthreaten us if we did not comply with itI would not have consented to go.
10. Speculations -
WITHIN AN HOUR of our finally deciding to startfive litters were brought upto the door of the caveeach accompanied by four regular bearers and two sparehandsalso a band of about fifty armed Amahaggerwho were to form the escortand carry the baggage. Three of these littersof coursewere for usand onefor BillaliwhoI was immensely relieved to hearwas to be our companionwhile the fifth I presumed was for the use of Ustane.
"Does the lady go with usmy father?" I asked of Billalias hestood superintending things generally.
He shrugged his shoulders as he answered"If she wills. In thiscountrythe women do what they please. We worship themand give them their waybecausewithout them the world could not go on; they are the source of life."
"Ah" I saidthe matter never having struck me quite in that lightbefore.
"We worship them" he went on"up to a certain pointtill atlast they get unbearablewhich" he added"they do about everysecond generation."
"And then what do you do?" I asked with curiosity.
"Then" he answered with a faint smile"we riseand kill theold ones as an example to the young onesand to show them that we are thestrongest. My poor wife was killed in that way three years ago. It was very sadbut to tell thee the truthmy sonlife has been happier sincefor my ageprotects me from the young ones."
"In short" I repliedquoting the saying of a great man whosewisdom has not yet lightened the darkness of the Amahagger"thou hastfound thy position one of greater freedom and less responsibility."
This phrase puzzled him a little at first from its vaguenessthough I thinkmy translation hit off its sense very wellbut at last he saw itandappreciated it.
"Yesyesmy Baboon" he said"I see it nowbut all the'responsibilities' are killedat least some of them areand that is why thereare so few old women about just now. Wellthey brought it on themselves. As forthis girl" he went onin a graver tone"I know not what to say. Sheis a brave girland she loves the Lion [Leo]; thou sawest how she clung to himand saved his life. Alsoshe isaccording to our customwed to himand has aright to go where he goesunless" he added significantly"She wouldsay her nofor her word overrides all rights."
"And if She bade her leave himand the girl refused? What then?"
"If" he said with a shrug"the hurricane bids the tree tobendand it will notwhat happens?"
And thenwithout waiting for an answerhe turned and walked to his litterand in ten minutes from that time we were all well under way.
It took us an hour and more to cross the cup of the volcanic plainandanother half hour or so to climb the edge on the farther side. Once therehoweverthe view was a very fine one. Before us was a long steep slope ofgrassy plainbroken here and there by clumps of trees mostly of the thorntribe. At the bottom of this gentle slopesome nine or ten miles awaywe couldmake out a dim sea of marshover which the foul vapors hung like smoke about acity. It was easy going for the bearers down the slopesand by midday we hadreached the borders of the dismal swamp. Here we halted to eat our midday mealand thenfollowing a winding and devious pathplunged into the morass.Presently the pathat any rate to our unaccustomed eyesgrew so faint as to bealmost indistinguishable from those made by the aquatic beasts and birdsand itis to this day a mystery to me how our bearers found their way across themarshes. Ahead of the cavalcade marched two men with long poleswhich they nowand again plunged into the ground before themthe reason of this being that thenature of the soil frequently changed from causes with which I am notacquaintedso that places which might be safe enough to cross one month wouldcertainly swallow the wayfarer the next. Never did I see a more dreary anddepressing scene. Miles on miles of quagmirevaried only by bright green stripsof comparatively solid groundand by deep and sullen pools fringed with tallrushesin which the bitterns boomed and the frogs croaked incessantly: miles onmiles of it without a breakunless the fever fog can be called a break. Theonly life in this great morass was that of the aquatic birdsand the animalsthat fed on themof both of which there were vast numbers. Geesecranesduckstealcootsnipeand plover swarmed all around usmany being ofvarieties that were quite new to meand all so tame that one could almost haveknocked them over with a stick. Among these birds I especially noticed a verybeautiful variety of painted snipealmost the size of woodcockand with aflight more resembling that bird's than an English snipe's. In the poolstoowas a species of small alligator or enormous iguanaI do not know whichthatfedBillali told meupon the waterfowlalso large quantities of a hideousblack water snakeof which the bite is very dangerousthough notI gatheredso deadly as a cobra's or a puff adder's. The bullfrogs were also very largeand with voices proportionate to their size; and as for the mosquitoes- the"musqueteers" as Job called them- they wereif possibleeven worsethan they had been on the riverand tormented us greatly. Undoubtedlyhoweverthe worst feature of the swamp was the awful smell of rotting vegetation thathung about itwhich was at times positively overpoweringand the malariousexhalations that accompanied itwhich we were of course obliged to breathe.
On we went through it alltill at last the sun sank in sullen splendor justas we reached a spot of rising ground about two acres in extent- a little oasisof dry in the midst of the miry wilderness- where Billali announced that we wereto camp. The campinghoweverturned out to be a very simple processandconsistedin factin sitting down on the ground round a scanty fire made ofdry reeds and some wood that had been brought with us. Howeverwe made the bestwe could of itand smoked and ate with such appetite as the smell of dampstifling heat would allowfor it was very hot on this low landand yetoddlyenoughchilly at times. Buthowever hot it waswe were glad enough to keepnear the firebecause we found that the mosquitoes did not like the smoke.Presently we rolled ourselves up in our blankets and tried to go to sleepbutso far as I was concerned the bullfrogsand the extraordinary roaring andalarming sound produced by hundreds of snipe hovering high in the airmadesleep an impossibilityto say nothing of our other discomforts. I turned andlooked at Leowho was next me; he was dozingbut his face had a flushedappearance that I did not likeand by the flickering firelight I saw Ustanewho was lying on the other side of himraise herself from time to time upon herelbowand look at him anxiously enough.
HoweverI could do nothing for himfor we had all already taken a good doseof quininewhich was the only preventive we had; so I lay and watched the starscome out by thousandstill all the immense arch of heaven was sewn withglittering pointsand every point a world! Here was a glorious sight by whichman might well measure his own insignificance! Soon I gave up thinking about itfor the mind wearies easily when it strives to grapple with the Infiniteand totrace the footsteps of the Almighty as he strides from sphere to sphereordeduce His purpose from His works. Such things are not for us to know. Knowledgeis to the strongand we are weak. Too much wisdom would perchance blind ourimperfect sightand too much strength would make us drunkand overweight ourfeeble reason till it felland we were drowned in the depths of our own vanity.For what is the first result of man's increased knowledge interpreted fromNature's book by the persistent effort of his purblind observation? Is it notbut too often to make him question the existence of his Makeror indeed of anyintelligent purpose beyond his own? The truth is veiledbecause we could nomore look upon her glory than we can upon the sun. It would destroy us. Fullknowledge is not for man as man is herefor his capacitieswhich he is apt tothink so greatare indeed but small. The vessel is soon filledandwereone-thousandth part of the unutterable and silent wisdom that directs therolling of those
shining spheresand the force which makes them rollpressed into ititwould be shattered into fragments. Perhaps in some other place and time it maybe otherwisewho can tell? Here the lot of man born of the flesh is but toendure midst toil and tribulationto catch at the bubbles blown by fatewhichhe calls pleasuresthankful if before they burst they rest a moment in hishandand when the tragedy is played outand his hour comes to perishto passhumbly whither he knows not.
Above meas I layshone the eternal starsand there at my feet the impishmarsh-born balls of fire rolled this way and thatvapor-tossed andearth-desiringand methought that in the two I saw a type and image of what manisand what perchance man may one day beif the living Force who ordained himand them should so ordain this also. Ohthat it might be ours to rest year byyear upon that high level of the heart to which at times we momentarily attain!Ohthat we could shake loose the prisoned pinions of the soul and soar to thatsuperior pointwhencelike to some traveler looking out through space fromDarien's giddiest peakwe might gaze with the spiritual eyes of noble thoughtsdeep into Infinity!
What would it be to cast off this earthy robeto have done forever withthese earthy thoughts and miserable desires; no longerlike those corpsecandlesto be tossed this way and thatby forces beyond our control; or whichif we can theoretically control themwe are at times driven by the exigenciesof our nature to obey! Yesto cast them offto have done with the foul andthorny places of the world; andlike to those glittering points above metorest on high wrapped forever in the brightness of our better selvesthat evennow shines in us as fire faintly shines within those lurid ballsand lay downour littleness in that wide glory of our dreamsthat invisible but surroundinggoodfrom which all truth and beauty comes!
These and many such thoughts passed through my mind that night. They come totorment us all at times. I say to tormentforalasthinking can only serve tomeasure out the helplessness of thought. What is the use of our feeble crying inthe awful silences of space? Can our dim intelligence read the secrets of thatstar-strewn sky? Does any answer come out of it? Never any at allnothing butechoes and fantastic visions. And yet we believe that there is an answerandthat upon a time a new Dawn will come blushing down the ways of our enduringnight. We believe itfor its reflected beauty even now shines up continually inour hearts from beneath the horizon of the graveand we call it Hope. WithoutHope we should suffer moral deathand by the help of Hope we yet may climb toHeavenor at the worstif she also prove but a kindly mockery given to hold usfrom despairbe gently lowered into the abysses of eternal sleep.
Then I fell to reflecting upon the undertaking on which we were bentandwhat a wild one it wasand yet how strangely the story seemed to fit in withwhat had been written centuries ago upon the sherd. Who was this extraordinarywomanqueen over a people apparently as extraordinary as herselfand reigningamidst the vestiges of a lost civilization? And what was the meaning of thisstory of the Fire that gave unending life? Could it be possible that any fluidor essence should exist which might so fortify these fleshy walls that theyshould from age to age resist the mines and batterings of decay? It waspossiblethough not probable. The indefinite continuation of life would notaspoor Vincey saidbe so marvelous a thing as the production of life and itstemporary endurance. And if it were truewhat then? The person who found itcould no doubt rule the world. He could accumulate all the wealth in the worldand all the powerand all the wisdom that is power. He might give a lifetime tothe study of each art or science. Wellif that were soand this She werepractically immortalwhich I did not for one moment believehow was it thatwith all these things at her feetshe preferred to remain in a cave among asociety of cannibals? This surely settled the question. The whole story wasmonstrousand only worthy of the superstitious days in which it was written. Atany rate I was very sure that I would not attempt to attain unending life. I hadhad far too many worries and disappointments and secret bitternesses during myforty-odd years of existence to wish that this state of affairs should becontinued indefinitely. And yet I suppose that my life has beencomparativelyspeakinga happy one.
And thenreflecting that at the present moment there was far more likelihoodof our earthly careers being cut exceedingly short than of their being undulyprolongedI at last managed to get to sleepa fact for which anybody who readsthis narrativeif anybody ever doesmay very probably be thankful.
When I woke again it was just dawningand the guard and bearers were movingabout like ghosts through the dense morning mistsgetting ready for our start.The fire had died quite downand I rose and stretched myselfshivering inevery limb from the damp cold of the dawn. Then I looked at Leo. He was sittingupholding his hands to his headand I saw that his face was flushed and hiseye brightand yet yellow round the pupil.
"WellLeo" I said"how do you feel?"
"I feel as though I were going to die" he answered hoarsely."My head is splittingmy body is tremblingand I am as sick as acat."
I whistledor if I did not whistle I felt inclined to- Leo had got a sharpattack of fever. I went to Job and asked him for the quinineof whichfortunately we had still a good supplyonly to find that Job himself was notmuch better. He complained of pains across the backand dizzinessand wasalmost incapable of helping himself. Then I did the only thing it was possibleto do under the circumstances- gave them both about ten grains of quinineandtook a slightly smaller dose myself as a matter of precaution. After that Ifound Billaliand explained to him how matters stoodasking at the same timewhat he thought had best be done. He came with meand looked at Leo and Job(whomby the wayhe had named the Pig on account of his fatnessround faceand small eyes).
"Ah" he saidwhen we were out of earshot"the fever! Ithought so. The Lion has it badlybut he is youngand he may live. As for thePighis attack is not so bad; it is the 'little fever' which he has; thatalways begins with pains across the backit will spend itself upon hisfat."
"Can they go onmy father?" I asked.
"Naymy sonthey must go on. If they stop here they will certainlydie; alsothey will be better in the litters than on the ground. By tonightifall goes wellwe shall be across the marsh and in good air. Comelet us liftthem into the litters and startfor it is very bad to stand still in thismorning fog. We can eat our meal as we go."
This we accordingly didand with a heavy heart I once more set out upon ourstrange journey. For the first three hours all went as well as could beexpectedand then an accident happened that nearly lost us the pleasure of thecompany of our venerable friend Billaliwhose litter was leading the cavalcade.We were going through a particularly dangerous stretch of quagmirein which thebearers sometimes sank up to their knees. Indeedit was a mystery to me howthey contrived to carry the heavy litters at all over such ground as that whichwe were traversingthough the two spare handsas well as the four regularoneshad of course to put their shoulders to the pole.
Presentlyas we blundered and floundered alongthere was a sharp crythena storm of exclamationsandlast of alla most tremendous splashand thewhole caravan halted.
I jumped out of my litter and ran forward. About twenty yards ahead was theedge of one of those sullen peaty pools of which I have spokenthe path we werefollowing running along the top of its bankwhichas it happenedwas a steepone. Looking towards this poolto my horror I saw that Billali's litter wasfloating on itand as for Billali himselfhe was nowhere to be seen. To makematters clear I may as well explain at once what had happened. One of Billali'sbearers had unfortunately trodden on a basking snakewhich had bitten him inthe legwhereon he hadnot unnaturallylet go of the poleand thenfindingthat he was tumbling down the bankgrasped at the litter to save himself. Theresult of this was what might have been expected. The litter was pulled over theedge of the bankthe bearers let goand the whole thingincluding Billali andthe man who had been bittenrolled into the slimy pool. When I got to the edgeof the water neither of them was to be seenandindeedthe unfortunate bearernever was seen again. Either he struck his head against somethingor got wedgedin the mudor possibly the snake bite paralyzed him. At any ratehe vanished.But though Billali was not to be seenhis whereabouts was clear enough from theagitation of the floating litterin the bearing cloth and curtains of which hewas entangled.
"He is there! Our father is there!" said one of the menbut he didnot stir a finger to help himnor did any of the others. They simply stood andstared at the water.
"Out of the wayyou brutes" I shouted in Englishand throwingoff my hat I took a run and sprang well out into the horrid slimy-looking pool.A couple of strokes took me to where Billali was struggling beneath the cloth.
SomehowI do not quite know howI managed to push this free of himand hisvenerable headall covered with green slimelike that of a yellowish Bacchuswith ivy leavesemerged upon the surface of the water. The rest was easyforBillali was an eminently practical individualand had the common sense not tograsp hold of me as drowning people often doso I got him by the arm and towedhim to the bankthrough the mud of which we were with difficulty dragged. Sucha filthy spectacle as we presented I have never seen before or sinceand itwill perhaps give some idea of the almost superhuman dignity of Billali'sappearance when I say thatcoughinghalf-drownedand covered with mud andgreen slime as he waswith his beautiful beard coming to a dripping pointlikea Chinaman's freshly oiled pigtailhe still looked venerable and imposing.
"Ye dogs" he saidaddressing the bearersas soon as he hadsufficiently recovered to speak"ye left meyour fatherto drown. Had itnot been for this strangermy son the Baboonassuredly I should have drowned.WellI will remember it" and he fixed them with his gleaming thoughslightly watery eyein a way I saw they did not likethough they tried toappear sulkily indifferent.
"As for theemy son" the old man went onturning towards me andgrasping my hand"rest assured that I am thy friend through good and evil.Thou hast saved my life: perchance a day may come when I shall save thine."
After that we cleaned ourselves as best we couldfished out the litterandwent onminus the man who had been drowned. I do not know if it was owing tohis being an unpopular characteror from native indifference and selfishness oftemperamentbut I am bound to say that nobody seemed to grieve much over hissudden and final disappearanceunlessperhapsit was the men who had to dohis share of the work.
11. The Plain of Kor -
ABOUT AN HOUR before sundown we at lastto my unbounded gratitudeemergedfrom the great belt of marsh onto land that swelled upwards in a succession ofrolling waves. Just on the hither side of the crest of the first wave we haltedfor the night. My first act was to examine Leo's condition. It wasif anythingworse than in the morningand a new and very distressing featurevomitingsetinand continued till dawn. Not one wink of sleep did I get that nightfor Ipassed it in assisting Ustanewho was one of the most gentle and indefatigablenurses I ever sawto wait upon Leo and Job. Howeverthe air here was warm andgenial without being too hotand there were no mosquitoes to speak of. Alsowewere above the level of the marsh mistwhich lay stretched beneath us like thedim smoke pall over a citylit up here and there by the wandering globes of fenfire. Thus it will be seen that we werespeaking comparativelyin clover.
By dawn on the following morning Leo was quite lightheadedand fancied thathe was divided into halves. I was dreadfully distressedand began to wonderwith a sort of sick fear what the termination of the attack would be. Alas! Ihad heard but too much of how these attacks generally terminate. As I was doingso Billali came up and said that we must be getting onmore especially asinhis opinionif Leo did not reach some spot where he could be quietand haveproper nursingwithin the next twelve hourshis life would only be a matter ofa day or two. I could not but agree with himso we got him into the litterandstarted onUstane walking by Leo's side to keep the flies off himand see thathe did not throw himself out onto the ground.
Within half an hour of sunrise we had reached the top of the rise of which Ihave spokenand a most beautiful view broke upon our gaze. Beneath us was arich stretch of countryverdant with grass and lovely with foliage and flowers.In the backgroundat a distanceso far as I could judgeof some eighteenmiles from where we then stooda huge and extraordinary mountain rose abruptlyfrom the plain. The base of this great mountain appeared to consist of a grassyslopebut rising from thisI should sayfrom subsequent observationat aheight of about five hundred feet above the level of the plainwas a mosttremendous and absolutely precipitous wall of bare rockquite twelve or fifteenhundred feet in height. The shape of the mountainwhich was undoubtedly ofvolcanic originwas roundand of courseas only a segment of its circle wasvisibleit was difficult to estimate its exact sizewhich was enormous. Iafterwards discovered that it could not cover less than fifty square miles ofground. Anything more grand and imposing than the sight presented by this greatnatural castlestarting in solitary grandeur from the level of the plainInever sawand I suppose I never shall. Its very solitude added to its majestyand its towering cliffs seemed to kiss the sky. Indeedgenerally speakingtheywere clothed in clouds that lay in fleecy masses upon their broad and levelbattlements.
I sat up in my hammock and gazed out across the plain at this thrilling andmajestic sightand I suppose that Billali noticed itfor he brought his litteralongside.
"Behold the House of 'She-who-must-be-obeyed'!" he said. "Hadever a queen such a throne before?"
"It is wonderfulmy father" I answered. "But how do weenter? Those cliffs look hard to climb."
"Thou shalt seemy Baboon. Look now at the plain below us. Whatthinkest thou that is? Thou art a wise man. Cometell me."
I lookedand saw what appeared to be the line of roadway running straighttowards the base of the mountainthough it was covered with turf. There werehigh banks on each side of itbroken here and therebut fairly continuous onthe wholethe meaning of which I did not understand. It seemed so very odd thatanybody should embank a roadway.
"Wellmy father" I answered"I suppose that it is a roadotherwise I should have been inclined to say that it was the bed of a riverorrather" I addedobserving the extraordinary directness of the cutting"of a canal."
Billali- whoby the waywas none the worse for his immersion of the daybefore- nodded his head sagely as he replied"Thou art rightmy son. Itis a channel cut out by those who were before us in this place to carry awaywater. Of this am I sure: within the rocky circle of the great mountain whitherwe journey was once a great lake. But those who were before usby wonderfularts of which I know naughthewed a path for the water through the solid rockof the mountainpiercing even to the bed of the lake. But first they cut thechannel that thou seest across the plain. Thenwhen at last the water burstoutit rushed down the channel that had been made to receive itand crossedthis plain till it reached the low land behind the riseand thereperchanceit made the swamp through which we had come. Then when the lake was drained drythe people whereof I speak built a mighty citywhereof naught but ruins and thename of Kor yet remainethon its bedand from age to age hewed the caves andpassages that thou wilt see."
"It may be" I answered; "but if sohow is it that the lakedoes not fill up again with the rains and the water of the springs?"
"Naymy sonthe people were a wise peopleand they left a drain tokeep it clear. Seest thou the river to the right?" and he pointed to afair-sized stream that wound away across the plainsome four miles from us."That is the drainand it comes out through the mountain wall where thiscutting goes in. At firstperhapsthe water ran down this canalbutafterwards the people turned itand used the cutting for a road."
"And is there then no other place where one may enter into the greatmountain" I asked"except through the drain?"
"There is a place" he answered"where cattle and men on footmay cross with much laborbut it is secret. A year mightest thou search andshouldst never find it. It is only used once a yearwhen the herds of cattlethat have been fatting on the slopes of the mountainand on this plainaredriven into the space within."
"And does She live there always?" I asked"or does she comeat times without the mountain?"
"Naymy sonwhere she isthere she is."
By now we were well onto the great plainand I was examining with delightthe varied beauty of its semitropical flowers and treesthe latter of whichgrew singlyor at most in clumps of three or fourmuch of the timber being oflarge sizeand belonging apparently to a variety of evergreen oak. There werealso many palmssome of them more than one hundred feet highand the largestand most beautiful tree ferns that I ever sawabout which hung clouds ofjeweled honeysuckers and great-winged butterflies. Wandering about among thetrees or crouching in the long and feathered grass were all varieties of gamefrom rhinoceros down. I saw rhinocerosbuffalo (a large herd)elandquaggaand sable antelopethe most beautiful of all the bucksnot to mention manysmaller varieties of gameand three ostriches which scudded away at ourapproach like white drift before a gale. So plentiful was the game that at lastI could stand it no longer. I had a single-barrel sporting Martini with me inthe litterthe express being too cumbersomeand espying a beautiful fat elandrubbing himself under one of the oaklike treesI jumped out of the litterandproceeded to creep as near to him as I could. He let me come within eightyyardsand then turned his headand stared at mepreparatory to running away.I lifted the rifleand taking him about midway down the shoulderfor he wasside on to mefired. I never made a cleaner shot or a better kill in all mysmall experiencefor the great buck sprang right up into the air and fell dead.The bearerswho had all halted to see the performancegave a murmur ofsurprisean unwonted compliment from these sullen peoplewho never appear tobe surprised at anythingand a party of the guard at once ran off to cut theanimal up. As for myselfthough I was longing to have a look at himIsauntered back to my litter as though I had been in the habit of killing elandall my lifefeeling that I had gone up several degrees in the estimation of theAmahaggerwho looked on the whole thing as a very high-class manifestation ofwitchcraft. As a matter of facthoweverI had never seen an eland in a wildstate before. Billali received me with enthusiasm.
"It is wonderfulmy son the Baboon" he cried; "wonderful!Thou art a very great manthough so ugly. Had I not seensurely I would neverhave believed. And thou sayest that thou wilt teach me to slay in thisfashion?"
"Certainlymy father" I said airily; "it is nothing."
But all the same I firmly made up my mind that when "my father"Billali began to fire I would without fail lie down or take refuge behind atree.
After this little incident nothing happened of any note till about an hourand a half before sundownwhen we arrived beneath the shadow of the toweringvolcanic mass that I have already described. It is quite impossible for me todescribe its grim grandeur as it appeared to me while my patient bearers toiledalong the bed of the ancient watercourse towards the spot where the richbrown-clad cliff shot up from precipice to precipice till its crown lost itselfin cloud. All I can say is that it almost awed me by the intensity of itslonesome and most solemn greatness. On we went up the bright and sunny slopetill at last the creeping shadows from above swallowed up its brightnessandpresently we began to pass through a cutting hewn in the living rock. Deeper anddeeper grew this marvelous workwhich mustI should sayhave employedthousands of men for many years. Indeedhow it was ever executed at all withoutthe aid of blasting powder or dynamite I cannot to this day imagine. It is andmust remain one of the mysteries of that wild land. I can only suppose thatthese cuttings and the vast caves that had been hollowed out of the rocks theypierced were the state undertakings of the people of Korwho lived here in thedim lost ages of the worldandas in the case of the Egyptian monumentswereexecuted by the forced labor of tens of thousands of captivescarried onthrough an indefinite number of centuries. But who were the people?
At last we reached the face of the precipice itselfand found ourselveslooking into the mouth of a dark tunnel that forcibly reminded me of thoseundertaken by our nineteenth-century engineers in the construction of railwaylines. Out of this tunnel flowed a considerable stream of water. IndeedthoughI do not think that I have mentioned itwe had followed this streamwhichultimately developed into the river I have already described as winding away tothe rightfrom the spot where the cutting in the solid rock commenced. Half ofthis cutting formed a channel for the streamand halfwhich was placed on aslightly higher level- eight feetperhaps- was devoted to the purposes of aroadway. At the termination of the cuttinghoweverthe stream turned offacross the plain and followed a channel of its own. At the mouth of the cave thecavalcade was haltedandwhile the men employed themselves in lighting someearthenware lamps they had brought with themBillalidescending from hislitterinformed me politely but firmly that the orders of She were that we werenow to be blindfoldedso that we should not learn the secret of the pathsthrough the bowels of the mountains. To this Iof courseassented cheerfullyenoughbut Jobwho was now very much betternotwithstanding the journeydidnot like it at allfancyingI believethat it was but a preliminary step tobeing hot-potted. He washowevera little consoled when I pointed out to himthat there were no hot pots at handandso far as I knewno fire to heat themin. As for poor Leoafter turning restlessly for hourshe hadto my deepthankfulnessat last dropped off into a sleep or stuporI do not know whichso there was no need to blindfold him. The blindfolding was performed by bindinga piece of the yellowish linen- whereof those of the Amahagger who condescendedto wear anything in particular made their dresses- tightly round the eyes. Thislinen I afterwards discovered was taken from the tombsand was notas I had atfirst supposedof native manufacture. The bandage was then knotted at the backof the headand finally brought down again and the ends bound under the chin toprevent its slipping. Ustane wasby the wayalso blindfoldedI do not knowwhyunless it was from fear that she should impart the secrets of the route tous.
This operation performedwe started on once moreand soonby the echoingsound of the footsteps of the bearers and the increased noise of the watercaused by reverberation in a confined spaceI knew that we were entering intothe bowels of the great mountain. It was an eerie sensationbeing borne alonginto the dead heart of the rock we knew not whitherbut I was getting used toeerie sensations by this timeand by now was pretty well prepared for anything.So I lay stilland listened to the tramptramp of the bearers and the rushingof the waterand tried to believe that I was enjoying myself. Presently the menset up the melancholy little chant that I had heard on the first night when wewere captured in the whaleboatand the effect produced by their voices was verycuriousand quite indescribable on paper. After a while the air began to getexceedingly thick and heavyso much soindeedthat I felt as though I weregoing to choketill at length the litter took a sharp turnthen another andanotherand the sound of the running water ceased. After this the air gotfresher againbut the turns were continuousand to meblindfolded as I wasmost bewildering. I tried to keep a map of them in my mind in case it might everbe necessary for us to try and escape by this routebutneedless to sayfailed utterly. Another half hour or so passedand then suddenly I became awarethat we were once more in the open air. I could see the light through my bandageand feel its freshness on my face. A few more minutes and the caravan haltedand I heard Billali order Ustane to remove her bandage and undo ours. Withoutwaiting for her attentions I got the knot of mine looseand looked out.
As I anticipatedwe had passed right through the precipiceand were now onthe farther sideand immediately beneath its beetling face. The first thing Inoticed was that the cliff was not nearly so high herenot so high I should sayby five hundred feetwhich proved that the bed of the lakeor rather of thevast ancient crater in which we stoodwas much above the level of thesurrounding plain. For the restwe found ourselves in a huge rock-surroundedcupnot unlike that of the first place where we had sojournedonly ten timesthe size. IndeedI could only just make out the frowning line of the oppositecliffs. A great portion of the plain thus enclosed by nature was cultivatedandfenced in with walls of stone placed there to keep the cattle and goatsofwhich there were large herds aboutfrom breaking into the gardens. Here andthere rose great grass moundsand some miles away towards the center I thoughtthat I could see the outline of colossal ruins. I had no time to observeanything more at the momentfor we were instantly surrounded by crowds ofAmahaggersimilar in every particular to those with whom we were alreadyfamiliarwhothough they spoke littlepressed round us so closely as toobscure the view to a person lying in a hammock. Then all of a sudden a numberof armed men arranged in companiesand marshaled by officers who held ivorywands in their handscame running swiftly towards ushavingso far as I couldmake outemerged from the face of the precipice like ants from their burrows.These men as well as their officers were all robed in addition to the usualleopard skinandas I gatheredformed the bodyguard of She herself.
Their leader advanced to Billalisaluted him by placing his ivory wandtransversely across his foreheadand then asked some question which I could notcatchand Billali having answered him the whole regiment turned and marchedalong the side of the cliffour cavalcade of litters following in their track.After going thus for about half a mile we halted once more in front of the mouthof a tremendous cavemeasuring about sixty feet in height by eighty wideandhere Billali descended finallyand requested Job and myself to do the same.Leoof coursewas far too ill to do anything of the sort. I did soand weentered the great caveinto which the light of the setting sun penetrated forsome distancewhile beyond the reach of the light it was faintly illuminatedwith lamps which seemed to me to stretch away for an almost immeasurabledistancelike the gas lights of an empty London street. The first thing that Inoticed was that the walls were covered with sculptures in bas-reliefof asortpictorially speakingsimilar to those that I have described upon thevases: love scenes principallythen hunting picturespictures of executionsand the torture of criminals by the placing of a presumably red-hot pot upon theheadshowing whence our hosts bad derived this pleasant practice. There werevery few battle piecesthough many of duelsand men running and wrestlingandfrom this fact I am led to believe that this people was not much subject toattack by exterior foeseither on account of the isolation of its position orbecause of its great strength. Between the pictures were columns of stonecharacters of a formation absolutely new to me; at any rate they were neitherGreeknor Egyptiannor Hebrewnor Assyrian- that I am sure of. They lookedmore like Chinese writings than any other that I am acquainted with. Near theentrance of the cave both pictures and writings were worn awaybut further inthey were in many cases absolutely fresh and perfect as the day on which thesculptor had ceased work upon them.
The regiment of guards did not come further than the entrance to the cavewhere they formed up to let us pass through. On entering the place itself wewerehowevermet by a man robed in whitewho bowed humblybut said nothingwhichas it afterwards appeared that he was a deaf mutewas not verywonderful.
Running at right angles to the great caveat a distance of some twenty feetfrom the entrancewas a smaller cave or wide gallery that was pierced into therock both to the right and to the left of the main cavern. In front of thegallery to our left stood two guardsfrom which circumstance I argued that itwas the entrance to the apartments of She herself. The mouth of the right-handgallery was unguardedand along it the mute indicated that we were to proceed.Walking a few yards down this passagewhich was lighted with lampswe came tothe entrance to a chamber having a curtain made of some grass materialnotunlike a Zanzibar mat in appearancehung over the doorway. This the mute drewback with another profound obeisanceand led the way into a good-sizedapartmenthewnof courseout of the solid rockbut to my great delightlighted by means of a shaft pierced in the face of the precipice. In this roomwas a stone bedsteadpots full of water for washingand beautifully tannedleopard skins to serve as blankets.
Here we left Leowho was still sleeping heavilyand with him stoppedUstane. I noticed that the mute gave her a very sharp lookas much as to say"Who are youand by whose orders do you come here?" Then he conductedus to another similar roomwhich Job tookand then to two more that wererespectively occupied by Billali and myself.
12. "She" -
THE FIRST care of Job and myselfafter seeing to Leowas to wash ourselvesand put on clean clothingfor what we were wearing had not been changed sincethe loss of the dhow. Fortunatelyas I think that I have saidby far thegreater part of our personal baggage had been packed into the whaleboatand wastherefore saved- and brought hither by the bearers- although all the stores laidin by us for barter and presents to the natives were lost. Nearly all ourclothing was made of a well-shrunk and very strong gray flanneland excellent Ifound it for traveling in these placesbecause though a Norfolk jacketshirtand pair of trousers of it only weighed about four poundsa great considerationin a tropical countrywhere every extra ounce tells on the wearerit was warmand offered a good resistance to the rays of the sunand best of all to chillswhich are so apt to result from sudden changes of temperature.
Never shall I forget the comfort of the "wash and brush-up" and ofthose clean flannels. The only thing that was wanting to complete my joy was acake of soapof which we had none.
Afterwards I discovered that the Amahaggerwho do not include dirt amongtheir many disagreeable qualitiesuse a kind of burned earth for washingpurposeswhichthough unpleasant to the touch till one gets accustomed to itforms a very fair substitute for soap.
By the time that I was dressedand had combed and trimmed my black beardthe previous condition of which was certainly sufficiently unkempt to giveweight to Billali's appellation for methe "Baboon" I began to feelmost uncommonly hungry. Therefore I was by no means sorry whenwithout theslightest preparatory sound or warningthe curtain over the entrance to my cavewas flung asideand another mutea young girl this timeannounced to me bysigns that I could not misunderstand- that isby opening her mouth and pointingdown it- that there was something ready to eat. Accordingly I followed her intothe next chamberwhich we had not yet enteredwhere I found Jobwho had alsoto his great embarrassmentbeen conducted thither by a fair mute. Job had nevergot over the advances the former lady had made towards himand suspected everygirl who came near to him of similar designs.
"These young parties have a way of looking at onesir" he wouldsay apologetically"which I don't call respectable."
This chamber was twice the size of the sleeping cavesand I saw at once thatit had originally served as a refectoryand also probably as an embalming roomfor the Priests of the Dead; for I may as well say at once that thesehollowed-out caves were nothing more or less than vast catacombsin which fortens of ages the mortal remains of the great extinct race whose monumentssurrounded us had been first preservedwith an art and a completeness that hasnever since been equaledand then hidden away for all time. On each side ofthis particular rock chamber was a long and solid stone tableabout three feetwide by three feet six in heighthewn out of the living rockof which it hadformed partand was still attached to at the base. These tables were slightlyhollowed out or curved inwardto give room for the knees of anyone sitting onthe stone ledge that had been cut for a bench along the side of the cave at adistance of about two feet from them. Each of themalsowas so arranged thatit ended right under a shaft pierced in the rock for the admission of light andair. On examining them carefullyhoweverI saw that there was a differencebetween them that had at first escaped my attentionviz.that one of thetablesthat to the left as we entered the cavehad evidently been usednot toeat uponbut for the purposes of embalming. That this was beyond all questionthe case was clear from five shallow depressions in the stone of the tableallshaped like a human formwith a separate place for the head to lie inand alittle bridge to support the neckeach depression being of a different sizesoas to fit bodies varying in stature from a full-grown man's to a small child'sand with little holes bored at intervals to carry off fluid. Andindeedif anyfurther confirmation was requiredwe had but to look at the wall of the caveabove to find it. For theresculptured all round the apartmentand lookingnearly as fresh as the day it was donewas the pictorial representation of thedeathembalmingand burial of an old man with a long beardprobably anancient king or grandee of this country.
The first picture represented his death. He was lying upon a couch which hadfour short curved posts at the corners coming to a knob at the endinappearance something like a written note of musicand was evidently in the veryact of expiring. Gathered round the couch were women and children weepingtheformer with their hair hanging down their back. The next scene represented theembalmment of the bodywhich lay nude upon a table with depressions in itsimilar to the one before us; probablyindeedit was a picture of the sametable. Three men were employed at the work- one superintendingone holding afunnel shaped exactly like a port wine strainerof which the narrow end wasfixed in an incision in the breastno doubt in the great pectoral artery; whilethe thirdwho was depicted as standing straddle-legged over the corpseheld akind of large jug high in his handand poured from it some steaming fluid whichfell accurately into the funnel. The most curious part of this sculpture is thatboth the man with the funnel and the man who poured the fluid are drawn holdingtheir noseseither I suppose because of the stench arising from the bodyormore probably to keep out the aromatic fumes of the hot fluid which was beingforced into the dead man's veins. Another curious thing which I am unable toexplain is that all three men were represented as having a band of linen tiedround the face with holes in it for the eyes.
The third sculpture was a picture of the burial of the deceased. There hewasstiff and coldclothed in a linen robeand laid out on a stone slab suchas I had slept upon at our first sojourning place. At his head and feet burnedlampsand by his side were placed several of the beautiful painted vases that Ihave describedwhich were perhaps supposed to be full of provisions. The littlechamber was crowded with mournersand with musicians playing on an instrumentresembling a lyrewhile near the foot of the corpse stood a man with a sheetwith which he was preparing to cover it from view.
These sculptureslooked at merely as works of artwere so remarkable that Imake no apology for describing them rather fully. They struck me also as beingof surpassing interest as representingprobably with studious accuracythelast rites of the dead as practiced among an utterly lost peopleand even thenI thought how envious some antiquarian friends of my own at Cambridge would beif ever I got an opportunity of describing these wonderful remains to them.Probably they would say that I was exaggeratingnotwithstanding that every pageof this history must bear so much internal evidence of its truth that it wouldobviously have been quite impossible for me to have invented it.
To return. As soon as I had hastily examined these sculptureswhich I thinkI omitted to mention were executed in reliefwe sat down to a very excellentmeal of boiled goat's fleshfresh milkand cakes made of mealthe whole beingserved upon clean wooden platters.
When we had eatenJob and I returned to see how poor Leo was getting onBillali going to wait upon She and hear her commands. On reaching Leo's room wefound the poor boy in a very bad way. He had woke up from his torporand wasaltogether off his headbabbling about some boat race on the Camand wasinclined to be violent. Indeedwhen we entered the room Ustane was holding himdown. I spoke to himand my voice seemed to soothe him; at any rate he grewmuch quieterand was persuaded to swallow a dose of quinine.
I had been sitting with him for an hourperhaps- at any rate I know that itwas getting so dark that I could only just make out his head lying like a gleamof gold upon the pillow we had extemporized out of a bag covered with a blanket-when suddenly Billali arrived with an air of great importanceand informed methat She herself had deigned to express a wish to see me- an honorhe addedaccorded to but very few. I think that he was a little horrified at my cool wayof taking the honorbut the fact was that I did not feel overwhelmed withgratitude at the prospect of seeing some savagedusky queenhowever absoluteand mysterious she might bemore especially as my mind was full of dear Leofor whose life I began to have great fears. HoweverI rose to follow himandas I did so I caught sight of something bright lying on the floorwhich Ipicked up. Perhaps the reader will remember that with the potsherd in the casketwas a composition scarabaeus marked with a round Oa gooseand another curioushieroglyphicthe meaning of which signs is "Suten se Ra" or"Royal Son of the Sun." This scarabwhich is a very small oneLeohad insisted upon having set in a massive gold ringsuch as is generally usedfor signetsand it was this very ring that I now picked up. He had pulled itoff in the paroxysm of his feverat least I suppose soand flung it down uponthe rock floor. Thinking that if I left it about it might get lostI slipped itonto my own little fingerand then followed Billalileaving Job and Ustanewith Leo.
We passed down the passagecrossed the great aisle-like caveand came tothe corresponding passage on the other sideat the mouth of which the guardsstood like two statues. As we came they bowed their heads in salutationandthen lifting their long spears placed them transversely across their foreheadsas the leaders of the troop that had met us had done with their ivory wands. Westepped between themand found ourselves in an exactly similar gallery to thatwhich led to our own apartmentsonly this passage wascomparatively speakingbrilliantly lighted. A few paces down it we were met by four mutes- two men andtwo women- who bowed low and then arranged themselvesthe women in front andthe men behind of usand in this order we continued our procession past severaldoorways hung with curtains resembling those leading to our own quartersandwhich I afterwards found opened out into chambers occupied by the mutes whoattended on She. A few paces more and we came to another doorway facing usandnot to our left like the otherswhich seemed to mark the termination of thepassage. Here two more white-or rather yellow-robed guards were standingandthey too bowedsalutedand let us pass through heavy curtains into a greatantechamberquite forty feet long by as many widein which some eight or tenwomenmost of them young and handsomewith yellowish hairsat on cushionsworking with ivory needles at what had the appearance of being embroideryframes. These women were also deaf and dumb. At the farther end of this greatlamp-lit apartment was another doorway closed in with heavy Oriental-lookingcurtainsquite unlike those that hung before the doors of our own roomsandhere stood two particularly handsome girl mutestheir heads bowed upon theirbosoms and their hands crossed in an attitude of the humblest submission. As weadvanced they each stretched out an arm and drew back the curtains. ThereuponBillali did a curious thing. Down he wentthat venerable-looking old gentleman-for Billali is a gentleman at the bottom- down onto his hands and kneesand inthis undignified positionwith his long white beard trailing on the groundhebegan to creep into the apartment beyond. I followed himstanding on my feet inthe usual fashion. Looking over his shoulder he perceived it.
"Downmy son; downmy Baboon; down onto thy hands and knees. We enterthe presence of Sheandif thou art not humbleof a surety she will blastthee where thou standest."
I haltedand felt scared. Indeedmy knees began to give way of their ownmere motion; but reflection came to my aid. I was an Englishmanand whyIasked myselfshould I creep into the presence of some savage woman as though Iwere a monkey in fact as well as in name? I would not and could not do itthatisunless I was absolutely sure that my life or comfort depended upon it. Ifonce I began to creep upon my knees I should always have to do soand it wouldbe a patent acknowledgment of inferiority. Sofortified by an insular prejudiceagainst kowtowingwhich haslike most of our so-called prejudicesa good dealof common sense to recommend itI marched in boldly after Billali. I foundmyself in another apartmentconsiderably smaller than the anteroomof whichthe walls were entirely hung with rich-looking curtains of the same make asthose over the doorthe workas I subsequently discoveredof the mutes whosat in the antechamber and wove them in stripswhich were afterwards sewntogether. Alsohere and there about the roomwere settees of a beautiful blackwood of the ebony tribeinlaid with ivoryand all over the floor were othertapestriesor rather rugs. At the top end of this apartment was what appearedto be a recessalso draped with curtainsthrough which shone rays of light.There was nobody in the place except ourselves.
Painfully and slowly old Billali crept up the length of the caveand withthe most dignified stride that I could command I followed after him. But I feltthat it was more or less of a failure. To begin withit is not possible to lookdignified when you are following in the wake of an old man writhing along on hisstomach like a snakeand thenin order to go sufficiently slowlyeither I hadto keep my leg some seconds in the air at every stepor else to advance with afull stop between each stridelike Mary Queen of Scots going to execution in aplay. Billali was not good at crawlingI suppose his years stood in the wayand our progress up that apartment was a very long affair. I was immediatelybehind himand several times I was sorely tempted to help him on with a goodkick. It is so absurd to advance into the presence of savage royalty after thefashion of an Irishman driving a pig to marketfor that is what we looked likeand the idea nearly made me burst out laughing then and there. I had to work offmy dangerous tendency to unseemly merriment by blowing my nosea proceedingwhich filled old Billali with horrorfor he looked over his shoulder and made aghastly face at meand I heard him murmur"Ohmy poor Baboon!"
At last we reached the curtainsand here Billali collapsed flat onto hisstomachwith his hands stretched out before him as though he were deadand Inot knowing what to dobegan to stare about the place. But presently I clearlyfelt that somebody was looking at me from behind the curtains. I could not seethe personbut I could distinctly feel his or her gazeandwhat is moreitproduced a very odd effect upon my nerves. I was frightenedI do not know why.The place was a strange oneit is trueand looked lonelynotwithstanding itsrich hangings and the soft glow of the lamps- indeedthese accessories addedtorather than detracted from its lonelinessjust as a lighted street at nighthas always a more solitary appearance than a dark one. It was so silent in theplaceand there lay Billali like one dead before the heavy curtainsthroughwhich the odor of perfume seemed to float up towards the gloom of the archedroof above. Minute grew into minuteand still there was no sign of lifenordid the curtain move; but I felt the gaze of the unknown being sinking throughand through meand filling me with a nameless terrortill the perspirationstood in beads upon my brow.
At length the curtain began to move. Who could be behind it? Some nakedsavage queena languishing Oriental beautyor a nineteenth-century young ladydrinking afternoon tea? I had not the slightest ideaand should not have beenastonished at seeing any of the three. I was getting beyond astonishment. Thecurtain agitated itself a littlethen suddenly between its folds there appeareda most beautiful white hand (white as snow)and with long tapering fingersending in the pinkest nails. The hand grasped the curtainand drew it asideand as it did so I heard a voiceI think the softest and yet most silvery voiceI ever heard. It reminded me of the murmur of a brook.
"Stranger" said the voice in Arabicbut much purer and moreclassical Arabic than the Amahagger talk"strangerwherefore art thou somuch afraid?"
Now I flattered myself that in spite of my inward terrors I had kept a veryfair command of my countenanceand wasthereforea little astonished at thisquestion. Before I had made up my mind how to answer ithoweverthe curtainwas drawnand a tall figure stood before us. I say a figurefor not only thebodybut also the face was wrapped up in soft whitegauzy material in such away as at first sight to remind me most forcibly of a corpse in itsgrave-clothes. And yet I do not know why it should have given me that ideaseeing that the wrappings were so thin that one could distinctly see the gleamof the pink flesh beneath them. I suppose it was owing to the way in which theywere arrangedeither accidentallyor more probably by design. AnyhowI feltmore frightened than ever at this ghostlike apparitionand my hair began torise upon my head as the feeling crept over me that I was in the presence ofsomething that was not canny. I couldhoweverclearly distinguish that theswathed mummy-like form before me was that of a tall and lovely womaninstinctwith beauty in every partand also with a certain snake-like grace which I hadnever seen anything to equal before. When she moved a hand or foot her entireframe seemed to undulateand the neck did not bendit curved.
"Why art thou so frightenedstranger?" asked the sweet voiceagain- a voice which seemed to draw the heart out of melike the strains ofsoftest music. "Is there that about me that should affright a man? Thensurely are men changed from what they used to be!" And with a littlecoquettish movement she turned herselfand held up one armso as to show allher loveliness and the rich hair of raven blackness that streamed in softripples down her snowy robesalmost to her sandaled feet.
"It is thy beauty that makes me fearO Queen" I answered humblyscarcely knowing what to sayand I thought that as I did so I heard oldBillaliwho was still lying prostrate on the floormutter"GoodmyBaboongood."
"I see that men still know how to beguile us women with false words. Ahstranger" she answeredwith a laugh that sounded like distant silverbells"thou wast afraid because mine eyes were searching out thine hearttherefore wast thou afraid. But being but a womanI forgive thee for the liefor it was courteously said. And now tell me how came ye hither to this land ofthe dwellers among caves- a land of swamps and evil things and dead old shadowsof the dead? What came ye for to see? How is it that ye hold your lives so cheapas to place them in the hollow of the hand of Hiyainto the hand of'She-who-must-be-obeyed'? Tell me also how come ye to know the tongue I talk. Itis an ancient tonguethat sweet child of the old Syriac. Liveth it yet in theworld? Thou seest I dwell among the caves and the deadand naught know I of theaffairs of mennor have I cared to know. I have livedO strangerwith mymemoriesand my memories are in a grave that mine own hands hollowedfor trulyhath it been said that the child of man maketh his own path evil" and herbeautiful voice quiveredand broke in a note as soft as any wood bird's.Suddenly her eye fell upon the sprawling frame of Billaliand she seemed torecollect herself.
"Ah! Thou art thereold man. Tell me how it is that things have gonewrong in thine household. Forsoothit seems that these my guests were set upon.Ayand one was nigh to being slain by the hot pot to be eaten of those brutesthy childrenand bad not the others fought gallantly they too had been slainand not even I could have called back the life which had been loosed from thebody. What means itold man? What hast thou to say that I should not give theeover to those who execute my vengeance?"
Her voice had risen in her angerand it rang clear and cold against therocky walls. AlsoI thought I could see her eyes flash through the gauze thathid them. I saw poor Billaliwhom I had believed to be a very fearless personpositively quiver with terror at her words.
"O Hiya! O She!" he saidwithout lifting his white head from thefloor. "O Sheas thou art great be mercifulfor I am now as ever thyservant to obey. It was no plan or fault of mineO Sheit was those wickedones who are called my children. Led on by a woman whom thy guest the Pig hadscornedthey would have followed the ancient custom of the landand eaten thefat black stranger who came hither with these thy guests the Baboon and the Lionwho is sickthinking that no word had come from thee about the black one. Butwhen the Baboon and the Lion saw what they would dothey slew the womanandslew also their servant to save him from the horror of the pot. Then those evilonesaythose children of the Wicked One who lives in the Pitthey went madwith the lust of bloodand flew at the throats of the Lion and the Baboon andthe Pig. But gallantly they fought. O Hiya! They fought like very menand slewmanyand held their ownand then I came and saved themand the evildoers haveI sent on hither to Kor to be judged of thy greatnessO Sheand here theyare."
"Ayold manI know itand tomorrow will I sit in the great hall anddo justice upon themfear not. And for theeI forgive theethough hardly. Seethat thou dost keep thine household better. Go."
Billali rose upon his knees with astonishing alacritybowed his head thriceandhis white beard sweeping the groundcrawled down the apartment as he hadcrawled up ittill he finally vanished through the curtainsleaving menot alittle to my alarmalone with this terrible but most fascinating person.
13. Ayesha Unveils "THERE" said She"he has gonethewhite-bearded old fool! Ahhow little knowledge does a man acquire in his life.He gathereth it up like waterbut like water it runneth through his fingersand yetif his hands be but wet as though with dewbehold a generation offools call out'Seehe is a wise man!' Is it not so? But how call they thee?'Baboon' he says" and she laughed; "but that is the fashion of thesesavages who lack imaginationand fly to the beasts they resemble for a name.How do they call thee in thine own countrystranger?"
"They call me HollyO Queen" I answered.
"Holly" she answeredspeaking the word with difficultyand yetwith a most charming accent; "and what is 'Holly'?"
"'Holly' is a prickly tree" I said.
"So. Wellthou hast a prickly and yet a treelike look. Strong art thouand uglybutif my wisdom be not at faulthonest at the coreand a staff tolean on. Also one who thinks. But stayO Hollystand not thereenter with meand be seated by me. I would not see thee crawl before me like those slaves. Iam aweary of their worship and their terror; sometimes when they vex me I couldblast them for very sportand to see the rest turn whiteeven to theheart." And she held the curtain aside with her ivory hand to let me passin.
I enteredshuddering. This woman was very terrible. Within the curtains wasa recessabout twelve feet by tenand in the recess was a couch and a tablewhereon stood fruit and sparkling water. By itat its endwas a vessel like afont cut in carved stonealso full of pure water. The place was softly lit withlamps formed out of the beautiful vessels of which I have spokenand the airand curtains were laden with a subtle perfume. Perfume too seemed to emanatefrom the glorious hair and whiteclinging vestments of She herself. I enteredthe little roomand there stood uncertain.
"Sit" said Shepointing to the couch. "As yet thou hast nocause to fear me. If thou hast causethou shalt not fear for longfor I shallslay thee. Therefore let thy heart be light."
I sat down on the end of the couch near to the fontlike basin of waterandShe sank down softly onto the other end.
"NowHolly" she said"how comest thou to speak Arabic? Itis my own dear tonguefor Arabian am I by my birtheven 'al Arab al Ariba' [anArab of the Arabs]and of the race of our father Yarabthe son of Kahtanforin that fair and ancient city Ozal was I bornin the province of Yaman theHappy. Yet dost thou not speak it as we used to speak. Thy talk doth lack themusic of the sweet tongue of the tribes of Hamyar which I was wont to hear. Someof the words too seemed changedeven as among these Amahaggerwho have debasedand defiled its purityso that I must speak with them in what is to me anothertongue." * -
* Yarab the son of Kahtanwho lived some centuries before the time ofAbrahamwas the father of the ancient Arabsand gave its name Araba to thecountry. In speaking of herself as "al Arab al Ariba" She no doubtmeant to convey that she was of the true Arab blood as distinguished from thenaturalized Arabsthe descendants of Ismaelthe son of Abraham and Hagarwhowere known as "al Arab al mostareba." The dialect of the Koreish wasusually called the clear or "perspicuous" Arabicbut the Hamariticdialect approached nearer to the purity of the mother Syriac.- L. H. H. -
"I have studied it" I answered"for many years. Alsothelanguage is spoken in Egypt and elsewhere."
"So it is still spokenand there is yet an Egypt? And what pharaoh sitsupon the throne? Still one of the spawn of the Persian Ochusor are theAchaemenians gonefor far is it to the days of Ochus?"
"The Persians have been gone from Egypt for nigh two thousand yearsandsince then the Ptolemiesthe Romansand many others have flourished and heldsway upon the Nileand fallen when their time was ripe" I saidaghast."What canst thou know of the Persian Artaxerxes?"
She laughedand made no answerand again a cold chill went through me."And Greece" she said; "is there still a Greece? AhI loved theGreeks. Beautiful were they as the dayand cleverbut fierce at heart andficklenotwithstanding."
"Yes" I said"there is a Greece; andjust nowis it oncemore a people. Yet the Greeks of today are not what the Greeks of the old timewereand Greece herself is but a mockery of the Greece that was."
"So! The Hebrewsare they yet at Jerusalem? And does the Temple thatthe wise king built standand if sowhat God do they worship therein? Is theirMessiah comeof whom they preached so much and prophesied so loudlyand dothHe rule the earth?"
"The Jews are broken and goneand the fragments of their people strewthe worldand Jerusalem is no more. As for the temple that Herod built-"
"Herod!" she said. "I know not Herod. But go on."
"The Romans burned itand the Roman eagles flew across its ruinsandnow Judea is a desert."
"Soso! They were a great peoplethose Romansand went straight totheir end- aythey speed to it like Fateor like their own eagles on theirprey!- and left peace behind them."
"Solitudinem faciuntpacem appellant" I suggested.
"Ahthou canst speak the Latin tonguetoo!" she saidinsurprise. "It hath a strange ring in my ears after all these daysand itseems to me that thy accent does not fall as the Romans put it. Who was it wrotethat? I know not the sayingbut it is a true one of that great people. It seemsthat I have found a learned man- one whose hands have held the water of theworld's knowledge. Knowest thou Greek also?"
"YesO Queenand something of Hebrewbut not to speak them well. Theyare all dead languages now."
She clapped her hands in childish glee. "Of a truthugly tree that thouartthou growest the fruits of wisdomO Holly" she said"but ofthose Jews whom I hatedfor they called me 'heathen' when I would have taughtthem my philosophy. Did their Messiah comeand doth He rule the world?"
"Their Messiah came" I answered with reverence; "but He camepoor and lowlyand they would have none of Him. They scourged Himandcrucified Him upon a treebut yet His words and His works live onfor He wasthe Son of Godand now of a truth He doth rule half the worldbut not with anEmpire of the World."
"Ahthe fierce-hearted wolves" she said"the followers ofSense and of many gods- greedy of gain and faction-torn. I can see their darkfaces yet. So they crucified their Messiah? Well can I believe it. That he was aSon of the Living Spirit would be naught to themif indeed He was soand ofthat we will talk afterwards. They would care naught for any God if he came notwith pomp and power. Theya chosen peoplea vessel of Him they call Jehovahayand a vessel of Baaland a vessel of Astorethand a vessel of the gods ofthe Egyptians- a high-stomached peoplegreedy of aught that brought them wealthand power. So they crucified their Messiah because He came in lowly guise- andnow are they scattered about the earth. Whyif I rememberso said one of theirprophets that it should be. Welllet
them go- they broke my heartthose Jewsand made me look with evil eyesacross the worldayand drove me to this wildernessthis place of a peoplethat was before them. When I would have taught them wisdom in Jerusalem theystoned meayat the Gate of the Temple whose white-bearded hypocrites andrabbis hounded the people on to stone me! Seehere is the mark of it to thisday!" and with a sudden move she pulled up the gauzy wrapping on herrounded armand pointed to a little scar that showed red against its milkybeauty.
I shrank back horrified.
"Pardon meO Queen" I said"but I am bewildered. Nigh upontwo thousand years have rolled across the earth since the Jewish Messiah hungupon His cross at Golgotha. How then canst thou have taught thy philosophy tothe Jews before He was? Thou art a womanand no spirit. How can a woman livetwo thousand years? Why dost thou befool meO Queen?"
She leaned back on the couchand once more I felt the hidden eyes playingupon me and searching out my heart.
"O man!" she said at lastspeaking very slowly and deliberately"it seems that there are still things upon the earth of which thou knowestnaught. Dost thou still believe that all things dieeven as those very Jewsbelieved? I tell thee that naught really dies. There is no such thing as Deaththough there be a thing called Change. See" and she pointed to somesculptures on the rocky wall. "Three times two thousand years have passedsince the last of the great race that hewed those pictures fell before thebreath of the pestilence which destroyed themyet are they not dead. E'en nowthey live; perchance their spirits are drawn towards us at this very hour"and she glanced round. "Of a surety it sometimes seems to me that my eyescan see them."
"Yesbut to the world they are dead."
"Ayfor a time; but even to the world are they born again and again. Iyes IAyesha- * for that is my namestranger- I say to thee that I wait nowfor one I loved to be born againand here I tarry till he finds meknowing ofa surety that hither he will comeand that hereand here onlyshall he greetme. Whydost thou suppose that Iwho am all powerfulIwhose loveliness ismore than the loveliness of the Grecian Helenof whom they used to singandwhose wisdom is widerayfar more wide and deep than the wisdom of Solomon theWise- Iwho know the secrets of the earth and its richesand can turn allthings to my uses- Iwho have even for a while overcome Changethat ye callDeath- whyI sayO strangerdost thou think that I herd here with barbarianslower than the beasts?" -
* Pronounced Assha.- L. H. H. -
"I know not" I said humbly.
"Because I wait for him I love. My life has perchance been evilI knownot- for who can say what is evil and what good?- so I fear to die even if Icould diewhich I cannot until mine hour comesto go and seek him where he is;for between us there might rise a wall I could not climbat leastI dread it.Surely easy would it be also to lose the way in seeking in those great spaceswherein the planets wander on forever. But the day will comeit may be whenfive thousand more years have passedand are lost and melted into the vault ofTimeeven as the little clouds melt into the gloom of nightor it may betomorrowwhen hemy loveshall be born againand thenfollowing a law thatis stronger than any human planhe shall find me herewhere once he knew meand of a surety his heart will soften towards me though I sinned against him;ayeven though he know me not againyet will he love meif only for mybeauty's sake."
For a moment I was dumfoundedand could not answer. The matter was toooverpowering for my intellect to grasp.
"But even soO Queen" I said at last"even if we men beborn again and againthat is not so with theeif thou speakest truly"-here she looked up sharplyand once more I caught the flash of those hiddeneyes- "thou" I went on hurriedly"who hast never died?"
"That is so" she said; "and it is so because I havehalf bychance and half by learningsolved one of the great secrets of the world. Tellmestranger: life is- why therefore should not life be lengthened for a while?What are ten or twenty or fifty thousand years in the history of life? Why inten thousand years scarce will the rain and storms lessen a mountain top by aspan in thickness? In two thousand years these caves have not changednothinghas changedbut the beasts and manwho is as the beasts. There is naught thatis wonderful about the mattercouldst thou but understand. Life is wonderfulaybut that it should be a little lengthened is not wonderful. Nature hath heranimating spirit as well as manwho is Nature's childand he who can find thatspiritand let it breathe upon himshall live with her life. He shall not liveeternallyfor Nature is not eternaland she herself must dieeven as thenature of the moon hath died. She herself must dieI sayor rather change andsleep till it be time for her to live again. But when shall she die? Not yetIweenand while she livesso shall he who hath all her secret live with her.All I have notyet have I somemore perchance than any who were before me.Nowto thee I doubt not that this thing is a great mysterytherefore I willnot overcome thee with it now. Another time will I tell thee more if the mood beon methough perchance I shall never speak thereof again. Dost thou wonder howI knew that ye were coming to this landand so saved your heads from the hotpot?"
"AyO Queen" I answered feebly.
"Then gaze upon that water" and she pointed to the fontlikevesseland thenbending forwardheld her hand over it.
I rose and gazedand instantly the water darkened. Then it clearedand Isaw as distinctly as I ever saw anything in my life- I sawI sayour boat uponthat horrible canal. There was Leo lying at the bottom asleep in itwith a coatthrown over him to keep off the mosquitoesin such a fashion as to hide hisfaceand myselfJoband Mahomed towing on the bank.
I started back aghastand cried out that it was magicfor I recognized thewhole scene- it was one which had actually occurred.
"NaynayO Holly" she answered"it is no magic; that is afiction of ignorance. There is no such thing as magicthough there is such athing as a knowledge of the secrets of Nature. That water is my glass; in it Isee what passes if I care to summon up the pictureswhich is not often. ThereinI can show thee what thou wilt of the pastif it be anything to do with thiscountry and with what I have knownor anything that thouthe gazerhastknown. Think of a face if thou wiltand it shall be reflected from thy mindupon the water. I know not all the secret yet- I can read nothing in the future.But it is an old secret; I did not find it. In Arabia and in Egypt the sorcerersknew it centuries ago. So one day I chanced to bethink me of that old canal-some twenty centuries ago I sailed upon itand I was minded to look thereonagain. And so I lookedand there I saw the boat and three men walkingand onewhose face I could not seebut a youth of a noble formsleeping in the boatand so I sent and saved ye. And now farewell. But staytell me of this youth-the Lionas the old man calls him. I would look upon himbut he is sickthousayest- sick with the feverand also wounded in the fray." "He isvery sick" I answered sadly; "canst thou do nothing for himO Queenwho knowest so much?"
"Of a surety I can. I can cure him; but why speakest thou so sadly? Doththou love the youth? Is he perchance thy son?"
"He is my adopted sonO Queen. Shall he be brought in beforethee?"
"Nay. How long hath the fever taken him?"
"This is the third day."
"Good; then let him lie another day. Then will he perchance throw it offby his own strengthand that is better than that I should cure himfor mymedicine is of a sort to shake the life in its very citadel. Ifhoweverbytomorrow nightat that hour when the fever first took himhe doth not begin tomendthen will I come to him and cure him. Staywho nurses him?"
"Our white servanthim whom Billali names the Pig; also"- and hereI spoke with some little hesitation- "a woman named Ustanea very handsomewoman of this countrywho came and embraced him when first she saw himandhath stayed by him ever sinceas I understand is the fashion of thy peopleOQueen."
"My people! Speak not to me of my people" she answered hastily;"these slaves are no people of minethey are but dogs to do my biddingtill the day of my deliverance comes; and as for their customsnaught have I todo with them. Alsocall me not Queen- I am sick of flattery and titles- call meAyesha; the name hath a sweet sound in mine earsit is an echo from the past.As for this UstaneI know not. I wonder if it be she against whom I was warnedand whom I in turn did warn? Hath she- stayI will see" andbendingforwardshe passed her hand over the font of water and gazed intently into it."See" she said quietly"is that the woman?"
I looked into the waterand theremirrored upon its placid surfacewas thesilhouette of Ustane's stately face. She was bending forwardwith a look ofinfinite tenderness upon her featureswatching something beneath herand withher chestnut locks falling onto her right shoulder.
"It is she" I saidin a low voicefor once more I felt muchdisturbed at this most uncommon sight. "She watches Leo asleep."
"Leo!" said Ayesha in an absent voice. "Whythat is 'lion' inthe Latin tongue. The old man hath named happily for once. It is verystrange" she went on speaking to herself"very. So like- but it isnot possible!" With an impatient gesture she passed her hand over the wateronce more. It darkenedand the image vanished as silently and mysteriously asit had risenand once more the lamplightand the lamplight onlyshone on theplacid surface of that limpidliving mirror.
"Hast thou aught to ask me before thou goestO Holly?" she saidafter a few moments' reflection. "It is but a rude life that thou must liveherefor these people are savagesand know not the ways of cultivated man. Notthat I am troubled therebyforbehold my food" and she pointed to thefruit upon the little table. "Naught but fruit doth ever pass my lips-fruit and cakes of flourand a little water. I have bidden my girls to waitupon thee. They are mutesthou knowestdeaf are they and dumband thereforethe safest of servantssave to those who can read their faces and their signs.I bred them so- it hath taken many centuries and much trouble; but at last Ihave triumphed. Once I succeeded beforebut the race was too uglyso I let itdie away; but nowas thou seestthey are otherwise. OncetooI reared a raceof giantsbut after a while Nature would no more of itand it died away. Hastthou aught to ask of me?"
"Ayone thingO Ayesha" I said boldly; but feeling by no meansas bold as I trust I looked. "I would gaze upon thy face."
She laughed out in her bell-like notes. "Bethink theeHolly" sheanswered; "bethink thee. It seems that thou knowest the old myths of thegods of Greece. Was there not one Actaeon who perished miserably because helooked on too much beauty? If I showed thee my faceperchance thou wouldstperish miserably also; perchance thou wouldst eat out thy heart in impotentdesire; for know I am not for thee- I am for no mansave onewho hath beenbut is not yet."
"As thou wiltAyesha" I said. "I fear not thy beauty. I haveput my heart away from such vanity as woman's lovelinessthat passes like aflower."
"Naythou errest" she said; "that does not pass. My beautyendures even as I endure; stillif thou wiltoh rash manhave thy will; butblame not me if passion mount thy reasonas the Egyptian breakers used to mounta coltand guide it whither thou wilt not. Never may the man to whom my beautyhath been unveiled put it from his mindand therefore even with these savagesdo I go veiledlest they vex meand I should slay them. Saywilt thousee?"
"I will" I answeredmy curiosity overpowering me.
She lifted her white and rounded arms- never had I seen such arms before- andslowlyvery slowlywithdrew some fastening beneath her hair. Then all of asudden the longcorpselike wrappings fell from her to the groundand my eyestraveled up her formnow robed only in a garb of clinging white that did butserve to show its perfect and imperial shapeinstinct with a life that was morethan lifeand with a certain serpentlike grace that was more than human. On herlittle feet were sandalsfastened with studs of gold. Then came ankles moreperfect than ever sculptor dreamed of. About the waist her white kirtle wasfastened by a double-beaded snake of solid goldabove which her gracious formswelled up in lines as pure as they were lovelytill the kirtle ended on thesnowy argent of her breastwhereon her arms were folded. I gazed above them ather faceand- I do not exaggerate- shrank back blinded and amazed. I have heardof the beauty of celestial beingsnow I saw it; only this beautywith all itsawful loveliness and puritywas evil- at leastat the timeit struck me asevil. How am I to describe it? I cannot- simplyI cannot! The man does not livewhose pen could convey a sense of what I saw. I might talk of the great changingeyes of deepestsoftest blackof the tinted faceof the broad and noble browon which the hair grew lowand delicatestraight features. Butbeautifulsurpassingly beautiful as they all wereher loveliness did not lie in them. Itlay ratherif it can be said to have had any fixed abiding placein a visiblemajestyin an imperial gracein a godlike stamp of softened powerwhich shoneupon that radiant countenance like a living halo. Never before had I guessedwhat beauty made sublime could be- and yetthe sublimity was a dark one- theglory was not all of heaven- though none the less was it glorious. Though theface before me was that of a young woman of certainly not more than thirtyyearsin perfect healthand the first flush of ripened beautyyet it hadstamped upon it a look of unutterable experienceand of deep acquaintance withgrief and passion. Not even the lovely smile that crept about the dimples of hermouth could hide this shadow of sin and sorrow. It shone even in the light ofthe glorious eyesit was present in the air of majestyand it seemed to say:"Behold melovely as no woman was or isundying and half-divine; memoryhaunts me from age to ageand passion leads me by the hand- evil have I doneand with sorrow have I made acquaintance from age to ageand from age to ageevil I shall doand sorrow shall I know till my redemption comes."
Drawn by some magnetic force which I could not resistI let my eyes restupon her shining orbsand felt a current pass from them to me that bewilderedand half-blinded me. She laughed- ahhow musically!- and nodded her little headat me with an air of sublimated coquetry that would have done credit to a VenusVictrix.
"Rash man!" she said. "Like Actaeonthou hast had thy will;be careful lestlike Actaeonthou too dost perish miserablytorn to pieces bythe ban-hounds of thine own passions. I tooO Hollyam a virgin goddessnotto be moved of any mansave oneand it is not thou. Sayhast thou seenenough?"
"I have looked on beautyand I am blinded" I said hoarselylifting my hand to cover up my eyes.
"So! What did I tell thee? Beauty is like the lightning; it is lovelybut it destroys- especially treesO Holly!" And again she nodded andlaughed.
Suddenly she pausedand through my fingers I saw an awful change come overher countenance. Her great eyes suddenly fixed themselves into an expression inwhich horror seemed to struggle with some tremendous hope arising through thedepths of her dark soul. The lovely face grew rigidand the graciouswillowyform seemed to erect itself.
"Man" she half whisperedhalf hissedthrowing back her head likea snake about to strike"manwhere didst thou get that scarab on thyhand? Speakor by the Spirit of Life I will blast thee where thoustandest!" And she took one light step towards meand from her eyes thereshone such an awful light- to me it seemed almost like a flame- that I fellthen and thereon the ground before herbabbling confusedly in my terror.
"Peace" she saidwith a sudden change of mannerand speaking inher former soft voice"I did affright thee! Forgive me! But at timesOHollythe almost infinite mind grows impatient of the slowness of the veryfiniteand I am tempted to use my power out of pure vexation- very nearly wastthou deadbut I remembered- But the scarab- about the scarabaeus!"
"I picked it up" I gurgled feebly as I got onto my feet againandit is a solemn fact that my mind was so disturbed that at the moment I couldremember nothing else about the ring except that I had picked it up in Leo'scave.
"It is very strange" she saidwith a sudden access of womanliketrembling and agitation which seemed out of place in this awful woman"butonce I knew a scarab like that. It- hung round the neck- of one I loved"and she gave a little soband I saw that after all she was only a womanalthough she might be a very old one.
"There" she went on"it must be one like itand yet neverdid I see one like itfor thereto hung a historyand he who wrote it prized itmuch. * But the scarab that I knew was not set thus in the bezel of a ring. GonowHollygoandif thou cansttry to forget that thou hast looked uponAyesha's beauty" andturning from meshe flung herself on her couchandburied her face in the cushions. -
* I am informed by a renowned and most learned Egyptologistto whom I havesubmitted this very interesting and beautifully finished scarab"Suten seRa" that he has never seen one resembling it. Although it bears a titlefrequently given to Egyptian royaltyhe is of opinion that it is notnecessarily the cartouche of a pharaohon which either the throne or personalname of the monarch is generally inscribed. What the history of this particularscarab may have been we can nowunfortunatelynever knowbut I have littledoubt but that it played some part in the tragic story of the Princess Amenartasand her lover Kallikratesthe forsworn priest of Isis.- EDITOR. -
As for meI stumbled from her presenceand I do not remember how I reachedmy own cave.
14. A Soul in Hell -
IT WAS nearly ten o'clock at night when I cast myself down upon my bedandbegan to gather my scattered witsand reflect upon what I had seen and heard.But the more I reflected the less I could make of it. Was I mador drunkordreamingor was I merely the victim of a gigantic and most elaborate hoax? Howwas it possible that Ia rational mannot unacquainted with the leadingscientific facts of our historyand hitherto an absolute and utter disbelieverin all the hocus-pocus that in Europe goes by the name of the supernaturalcould believe that I had within the last few minutes been engaged inconversation with a woman two thousand and odd years old? The thing was contraryto the experience of human natureand absolutely and utterly impossible. Itmust be a hoaxand yetif it were a hoaxwhat was I to make of it? Whattoowas to be said of the figures on the waterof the woman's extraordinaryacquaintance with the remote pastand her ignoranceor apparent ignoranceofany subsequent history? Whattooof her wonderful and awful loveliness? Thisat any ratewas a patent factand beyond the experience of the world. Nomerely mortal woman could shine with such a supernatural radiance. About thatshe hadat any ratebeen in the right- it was not safe for any man to lookupon such beauty. I was a hardened vessel in such mattershavingwith theexception of one painful experience of my green and tender youthput the softersex (I sometimes think that this is a misnomer) almost entirely out of mythoughts. But nowto my intense horrorI knew that I could never put away thevision of those glorious eyes; andalasthe very diablerie of the womanwhilst it horrified and repelledattracted in even a greater degree. A personwith the experience of two thousand years at her backwith the command of suchtremendous powers and the knowledge of a mystery that could hold off deathwascertainly worth falling in love withif ever woman was. But alasit was not aquestion of whether or no she was worth itfor so far as I could judgenotbeing versed in such mattersIa fellow of my collegenoted for what myacquaintances are pleased to call my misogynyand a respectable man now well onin middle lifehad fallen absolutely and hopelessly in love with this whitesorceress. Nonsense; it must be nonsense! She had warned me fairlyand I hadrefused to take the warning. Curses on the fatal curiosity that is everprompting man to draw the veil from womanand curses on the natural impulsethat begets it! It is the cause of half- ayand more than half- of ourmisfortunes. Why cannot man be content to live alone and be happyand let thewomen live alone and be happy too? But perhaps they would not be happyand I amnot sure that we should either. Here was a nice state of affairs. Iat my ageto fall a victim to this modern Circe! But then she was not modernat least shesaid not. She was almost as ancient as the original Circe.
I tore my hairand jumped up from my couchfeeling that if I did not dosomething I should go off my head. What did she mean about the scarabaeus too?It was Leo's scarabaeusand had come out of the old coffer that Vincey had leftin my rooms nearly one-and-twenty years before. Could it beafter allthat thewhole story was trueand the writing on the sherd was not a forgeryor theinvention of some crack-brainedlong-forgotten individual? And if socould itbe that Leo was the man that She was waiting for- the dead man who was to beborn again? Impossible again! The whole thing was gibberish! Who ever heard of aman being born again?
But if it were possible that a woman could exist for two thousand yearsthismight be possible also- anything might be possible. I myself mightfor aught Iknewbe a reincarnation of some other forgotten selfor perhaps the last of along line of ancestral selves. Wellvive la guerre! why not? OnlyunfortunatelyI had no recollection of these previous conditions. The idea wasso absurd to me that I burst out laughingandaddressing the sculpturedpicture of a grim-looking warrior on the cave wallcalled out to him aloud"Who knowsold fellow? Perhaps I was your contemporary. By Jove! perhaps Iwas you and you are I" and then I laughed again at my own follyand thesound of my laughter rang dismally along the vaulted roofas though the ghostof the warrior had uttered the ghost of a laugh.
Next I bethought me that I had not been to see how Leo wassotaking up oneof the lamps which was burning at my bedsideI slipped off my shoes and creptdown the passage to the entrance of his sleeping cave. The draft of the nightair was lifting his curtain to and fro gentlyas though spirit hands weredrawing and redrawing it. I slid into the vaultlike apartment and looked round.There was a light by which I could see that Leo was lying on the couchtossingrestlessly in his feverbut asleep. At his sidehalf-lying on the floorhalf-leaning against the stone couchwas Ustane. She held his hand in one ofhersbut she too was dozingand the two made a prettyor rather a patheticpicture. Poor Leo! His cheek was burning redthere were dark shadows beneathhis eyesand his breath came heavily. He was veryvery ill; and again thehorrible fear seized me that be might dieand I be left alone in the world. Andyet if he lived he would perhaps be my rival with Ayesha; even if he were notthe manwhat chance should Imiddle-aged and hideoushave against his brightyouth and beauty? Wellthank Heavenmy sense of right was not dead. She hadnot killed that yet; andas I stood thereI prayed to the Almighty in my heartthat my boymy more than sonmight live- ayeven if he proved to be the man.
Then I went back as softly as I had comebut still I could not sleep; thesight and thought of dear Leo lying there so ill had but added fuel to the fireof my unrest. My wearied body and overstrained mind awakened all my imaginationinto preternatural activity. Ideasvisionsalmost inspirationsfloated beforeit with startling vividness. Most of them were grotesque enoughsome wereghastlysome recalled thoughts and sensations that had for years been buried inthe debris of my past life. But behind and above them all hovered the shape ofthat awful womanand through them gleamed the memory of her entrancingloveliness. Up and down the cave I strode- up and down.
Suddenly I observed what I had not noticed beforethat there was a narrowaperture in the rocky wall. I took up the lamp and examined it; the aperture ledto a passage. Now I was still sufficiently sensible to remember that it is notpleasantin such a situation as ours wasto have passages running into one'sbedchamber from no one knows where. If there are passagespeople can come upthem; they can come up when one is asleep. Partly to see where it went toandpartly from a restless desire to be doing somethingI followed the passage. Itled to a stone stairwhich I descended; the stair ended in another passageorrather tunnelalso hewn out of the bedrockand runningso far as I couldjudgeexactly beneath the gallery that led to the entrance of our roomsandacross the great central cave. I went on down it: it was as silent as the gravebut stilldrawn by some sensation or attraction that I cannot describeIfollowed onmy stockinged feet falling without noise on the smooth and rockyfloor. When I had traversed some fifty yards of spaceI came to another passagerunning at right anglesand here an awful thing happened to me: the sharp draftcaught my lamp and extinguished itleaving me in utter darkness in the bowelsof that mysterious place. I took a couple of strides forward so as to clear thebisecting tunnelbeing terribly afraid lest I should turn up it in the dark ifonce I got confused as to the directionand then paused to think. What was I todo? I had no match; it seemed awful to attempt that long journey back throughthe utter gloomand yet I could not stand there all nightandif I didprobably it would not help me muchfor in the bowels of the rock it would be asdark at midday as at midnight. I looked back over my shoulder- not a sight or asound. I peered forward down the darkness: surelyfar awayI saw somethinglike the faint glow of fire. Perhaps it was a cave where I could get a light- atany rateit was worth investigating. Slowly and painfully I crept along thetunnelkeeping my hand against its walland feeling at every step with my footbefore I put it downfearing lest I should fall into some pit. Thirty paces-there was a lighta broad light that came and wentshining through curtains!Fifty paces- it was close at hand! Sixty- ohgreat heaven!
I was at the curtainsand they did not hang closeso I could see clearlyinto the little cavern beyond them. It had all the appearance of being a tomband was lit up by a fire that burned in its center with a whitish flame andwithout smoke. Indeedthereto the leftwas a stone shelf with a little ledgeto it three inches or so highand on the shelf lay what I took to be a corpse;at any rateit looked like onewith something white thrown over it. To theright was a similar shelfon which lay some broidered coverings. Over the firebent the figure of a woman; she was sideways to me and facing the corpsewrapped in a dark mantle that hid her like a nun's cloak. She seemed to bestaring at the flickering flame. Suddenlyas I was trying to make up my mindwhat to dowith a convulsive movement that somehow gave an impression ofdespairing energythe woman rose to her feet and cast the dark cloak from her.
It was She herself!
She was clothedas I had seen her when she unveiledin the kirtle ofclinging whitecut low upon her bosomand bound in at the waist with thebarbaric double-headed snakeandas beforeher rippling black hair fell inheavy masses down her back. But her face was what caught my eyeand held me asin a vicenot this time by the force of its beautybut by the power offascinated terror. The beauty was still thereindeedbut the agonythe blindpassionand the awful vindictiveness displayed upon those quivering featuresand in the tortured look of the upturned eyeswere such as surpass my powers ofdescription.
For a moment she stood stillher hands raised high above her headand asshe did so the white robe slipped from her down to her golden girdlebaring theblinding loveliness of her form. She stood thereher fingers clenchedand theawful look of malevolence gathered and deepened on her face.
SuddenlyI thought of what would happen if she discovered meand thereflection made me turn sick and faint. But even if I had known that I must dieif I stoppedI do not believe that I could have movedfor I was absolutelyfascinated. But still I knew my danger. Supposing she should hear meor see methrough the curtainsupposing I even sneezedor that her magic told her thatshe was being watched- swift indeed would be my doom.
Down came the clenched hands to her sidesthen up again above her headandas I am a living and honorable manthe white flame of the fire leaped up afterthemalmost to the roofthrowing a fierce and ghastly glare upon She herselfupon the white figure beneath the coveringand every scroll and detail of therockwork.
Down came the ivory arms againand as they did so she spokeor ratherhissedin Arabicin a note that curdled my bloodand for a second stopped myheart.
"Curse hermay she be everlastingly accursed."
The arms fell and the flame sank. Up they went againand the broad tongue offire shot up after them; then again they fell.
"Curse her memory- accursed be the memory of the Egyptian."
Up againand again down.
"Curse herthe fair daughter of the Nilebecause of her beauty.
"Curse herbecause her magic hath prevailed against me.
"Curse herbecause she kept my beloved from me."
And again the flame dwindled and shrank.
She put her hands before her eyesandabandoning the hissing tonecriedaloud: "What is the use of cursing? She prevailedand she is gone."
Then she recommenced with an even more frightful energy:
"Curse her where she is. Let my curses reach her where she is anddisturb her rest.
"Curse her through the starry spaces. Let her shadow be accursed.
"Let my power find her even there.
"Let her hear me even there. Let her hide herself in the blackness.
"Let her go down into the pit of despairbecause I shall one day findher."
Again the flame felland again she covered her eyes with her hands.
"It is no use- no use" she wailed; "who can reach those whosleep? Not even I can reach them."
Then once more she began her unholy rites.
"Curse her when she shall be born again. Let her be born accursed.
"Let her be utterly accursed from the hour of her birth until sleepfinds her.
"Yeathenlet her be accursed: for then shall I overtake her with myvengeanceand utterly destroy her."
And so on. The flame rose and fellreflecting itself in her agonized eyes;the hissing sound of her terrible maledictions- and no words of mineespeciallyon papercan convey how terrible they were- ran round the walls and died awayin little echoesand the fierce light and deep gloom alternated themselves onthe white and dreadful form stretched upon that bier of stone.
But at length she seemed to wear herself outand ceased. She sat herselfdown upon the rocky floorand shook the dense cloud of her beautiful hair overher face and breastand began to sob terribly in the torture of a heart-rendingdespair.
"Two thousand years" she moaned"two thousand years have Iwaited and endured; but though century doth still creep on to centuryand timegive place to timethe sting of memory hath not lessenedthe light of hopedoth not shine more bright. Ohto have lived two thousand yearswith mypassion eating at my heartand with my sin ever before me! Ohthat for me lifecannot bring forgetfulness! Ohfor the weary years that have been and are yetto comeand evermore to comeendless and without end!
"My love! My love! My love! Why did that stranger bring thee back to meafter this sort? For five hundred years I have not suffered thus. Ohif Isinned against theehave I not wiped away the sin? When wilt thou come back tome who have alland yet without thee have naught? What is there that I can do?What? What? What? And perchance she- perchance that Egyptian doth abide withthee where thou artand mock my memory. Ohwhy could I not die with theeIwho slew thee? Alasthat I cannot die! Alas! Alas!" And she flung herselfprone upon the groundand sobbed and wept till I thought her heart must burst.
Suddenly she ceasedraised herself to her feetrearranged her robeandtossing back her long locks impatientlyswept across to where the figure layupon the stone.
"Oh Kallikrates" she criedand I trembled at the name"Imust look upon thy face againthough it be agony. It is a generation since Ilooked upon thee whom I slew- slew with mine own hand" and with tremblingfingers she seized the corner of the sheetlike wrapping that covered the formupon the stone bierand then paused. When she spoke againit was in a kind ofawed whisperas though her idea were terrible even to herself.
"Shall I raise thee" she saidapparently addressing the corpse"so that thou standest there before meas of old? I can do it" andshe held out her hands over the sheeted deadwhile her whole frame became rigidand terrible to seeand her eyes grew fixed and dull. I shrank in horror behindthe curtainmy hair stood up upon my headand whether it was my imagination ora fact I am unable to saybut I thought that the quiet form beneath thecovering began to quiverand the winding sheet to lift as though it lay on thebreast of one who slept. Suddenly she withdrew her handsand the motion of thecorpse seemed to me to cease.
"What is the use?" she said gloomily. "Of what use is it torecall the semblance of life when I cannot recall the spirit? Even if thoustoodest before me thou wouldst not know meand couldst but do what I bid thee.The life in thee would be my lifeand not thy lifeKallikrates."
For a moment she stood there broodingand then cast herself down on herknees beside the formand began to press her lips against the sheetand weep.There was something so horrible about the sight of this awe-inspiring womanletting loose her passion on the dead- so much more horrible even than anythingthat had gone beforethat I could no longer bear to look at itandturningbegan to creepshaking as I was in every limbslowly along the pitch-darkpassagefeeling in my trembling heart that I had had a vision of a soul inHell.
On I stumbledI scarcely know how. Twice I fellonce I turned up thebisecting passagebut fortunately found out my mistake in time. For twentyminutes or more I crept alongtill at last it occurred to me that I must havepassed the little stair by which I descended. Soutterly exhaustedand nearlyfrightened to deathI sank down at length there on the stone flooringand sankinto oblivion.
When I came to I noticed a faint ray of light in the passage just behind me.I crept to itand found it was the little stair down which the weak dawn wasstealing. Passing up it I gained my chamber in safetyandflinging myself onthe couchwas soon lost in slumber or rather stupor.
15. Ayesha Gives Judgement -
THE NEXT THING that I remember is opening my eyes and perceiving the form ofJobwho had now practically recovered from his attack of fever. He was standingin the ray of light that pierced into the cave from the outer airshaking outmy clothes as a makeshift for brushing themwhich he could not do because therewas no brushand then folding them up neatly and laying them on the foot of thestone couch. This donehe got my traveling dressing case out of the Gladstonebagand opened it ready for my use. Firsthe stood it on the foot of the couchalsothenbeing afraidI supposethat I should kick it offhe placed it ona leopard skin on the floorand stood back a step or two to observe the effect.It was not satisfactoryso he shut up the bagturned it on endandhavingrested it against the foot of the couchplaced the dressing case on it. Nexthe looked at the pots full of waterwhich constituted our
washing apparatus. "Ah" I heard him murmur"no hot water inthis beastly place. I suppose these poor creatures only use it to boil eachother in" and he sighed deeply.
"What is the matterJob?" I said.
"Beg pardonsir" he saidtouching his hair. "I thought youwere asleepsir; and I am sure you look as though you want it. One might thinkfrom the look of you that you had been having a night of it."
I only groaned by way of answer. I hadindeedbeen having a night of itsuch as I hoped never to have again.
"How is Mr. LeoJob?"
"Much the samesir. If he don't soon mendhe'll endsir; and that'sall about it; though I must say that that there savageUstanedo do her bestfor himalmost like a baptized Christian. She is always hanging round andlooking after himand if I ventures to interfereit's awful to see her; herhair seems to stand on endand she curses and swears away in her heathen talk-at least I fancy she must be cursing from the look of her."
"And what do you do then?"
"I make her a perlite bowand I say'Young womanyour position is onethat I don't quite understandand can't recognize. Let me tell you that I has aduty to perform to my master as is incapacitated by illnessand that I am goingto perform it until I am incapacitated too' but she don't take no heednotshe- only curses and swears away worse than ever. Last night she put her handunder that sort of nightshirt she wears and whips out a knife with a kind of acurl in the bladeso I whips out my revolverand we walks round and round eachother till at last she bursts out laughing. It isn't nice treatment for aChristian man to have to put up with from a savagehowever handsome she may bebut it is what people must expect as is fools enough"- Job laid greatemphasis on the "fools"- "to come to such a place to look forthings no man is meant to find. It's a judgment on ussir- that's my opinion;and Ifor oneis of opinion that the judgment isn't half done yetand when itis donewe shall be done tooand just stop in these beastly caves with theghosts and the corpseses for once and all. And nowsirI must be seeing aboutMr. Leo's brothif that wildcat will let me; andperhapsyou would like toget upsirbecause it's past nine o'clock."
Job's remarks were not of an exactly cheering order to a man who had passedsuch a night as I had; andwhat is morethey had the weight of truth. Takingone thing with anotherit appeared to me to be an utter impossibility that weshould escape from the place where we were. Supposing that Leo recoveredandsupposing that She would let us gowhich was exceedingly doubtfuland that shedid not "blast" us in some moment of vexationand that we were nothot-potted by the Amahaggerit would be quite impossible for us to find our wayacross the network of marshes whichstretching for scores and scores of milesformed a stronger and more impassable fortification round the various Amahaggerhouseholds than any that could be built or designed by men. Nothere was butone thing to do- face it out; andspeaking for my own partI was so intenselyinterested in the whole weird story thatso far as I was concernednotwithstanding the shattered state of my nervesI asked nothing betterevenif my life paid forfeit to my curiosity. What man for whom physiology has charmscould forbear to study such a character as that of this Ayesha when theopportunity of doing so presented itself? The very terror of the pursuit addedto its fascinationand besidesas I was forced to own to myself even now inthe sober light of dayshe herself had attractions that I could not forget. Noteven the dreadful sight which I had witnessed during the night could drive thatfolly from my mind; and alasthat I should have to admit itit has not beendriven thence to this hour.
After I had dressed myself I passed into the eatingor rather embalmingchamberand had some foodwhich was as before brought to me by the girl mutes.When I had finished I went and saw poor Leowho was quite off his headand didnot even know me. I asked Ustane how she thought he was; but she only shook herhead and began to cry a little. Evidently her hopes were small; and I then andthere made up my mind thatif it were in any way possibleI would get She tocome and see him. Surely she would cure him if she chose- at any rate she saidshe could. While I was in the roomBillali enteredand also shook his head.
"He will die at night" he said.
"God forbidmy father" I answeredand turned away with a heavyheart.
"'She-who-must-be-obeyed' commands thy presencemy Baboon" saidthe old man as soon as we got to the curtain; "but ohmy dear sonbe morecareful. Yesterday I made sure in my heart that She would blast thee when thoudidst not crawl upon thy stomach before her. She is sitting in the great halleven now to do justice upon those who would have smitten thee and the Lion. Comeonmy son; come swiftly."
I turned and followed him down the passageand when we reached the greatcentral cave saw that many Amahaggersome robedand some merely clad in thesweet simplicity of a leopard skinwere hurrying up it. We mingled with thethrongand walked up the enormous andindeedalmost interminable cave. Allthe way its walls were elaborately sculpturedand every twenty paces or sopassages opened out of it at right anglesleadingBillali told meto tombshollowed in the rock by "the people who were before." Nobody visitedthose tombs nowhe said; and I must say that my heart rejoiced when I thoughtof the opportunities of antiquarian research which opened out before me.
At last we came to the head of the cavewhere there was a rock dais almostexactly similar to the one on which we had been so furiously attackeda factthat proved to me that these daises must have been used as altarsprobably forthe celebration of religious ceremoniesand more especially of rites connectedwith the interment of the dead. On either side of this dais were passagesleadingBillali informed meto other caves full of dead bodies."Indeed" he added"the whole mountain is full of deadandnearly all of them are perfect."
In front of the dais were gathered a great number of people of both sexeswho stood staring about in their peculiar gloomy fashionwhich would havereduced Mark Tapley himself to misery in about five minutes. On the dais was arude chair of black wood inlaid with ivoryhaving a seat made of grass fiberand a footstool formed of a wooden slab attached to the framework of the chair.
Suddenly there was a cry of "Hiya! Hiya!" ("She! She!")and thereupon the entire crowd of spectators instantly precipitated itself uponthe groundand lay still as though it were individually and collectivelystricken deadleaving me standing there like some solitary survivor of amassacre. As it did so a long string of guards began to defile from a passage tothe leftand ranged themselves on either side of the dais. Then followed abouta score of male mutesthen as many women mutes bearing lampsand then a tallwhite figureswathed from head to footin whom I recognized She herself. Shemounted the dais and sat down upon the chairand spoke to me in GreekIsuppose because she did not wish those present to understand what she said.
"Come hitherO Holly" she said"and sit thou at my feetand see me do justice on those who would have slain thee. Forgive me if my Greekdoth halt a lame man; it is so long since I have heard the sound of it that mytongue is stiffand will not bend rightly to the words."
I bowedandmounting the daissat down at her feet.
"How didst thou sleepmy Holly?" she asked.
"I slept not wellO Ayesha!" I answered with perfect truthandwith an inward fear that perhaps she knew how I had passed the heart of thenight.
"So" she said with a little laugh. "Itoohave not sleptwell. Last night I had dreamsand methinks that thou didst call them to meOHolly."
"Of what didst thou dreamAyesha?" I asked indifferently.
"I dreamed" she answered quickly"of one I hate and one Ilove" and thenas though to turn the conversationshe addressed thecaptain of her guard in Arabic: "Let the men be brought before me."
The captain bowed lowfor the guard and her attendants did not prostratethemselves but had remained standingand departed with his underlings down apassage to the right.
Then came a silence. She leaned her swathed head upon her hand and appearedto be lost in thoughtwhile the multitude before her continued to grovel upontheir stomachsonly screwing their heads round a little so as to get a view ofus with one eye. It seemed that their queen so rarely appeared in public thatthey were willing to undergo this inconvenienceand even graver risksto havethe opportunity of looking on heror rather on her garmentsfor no living manthere except myself had ever seen her face. At last we caught sight of thewaving of lightsand heard the tramp of men coming along the passageand infiled the guardand with them the survivors of our would-be murderers to thenumber of twenty or moreon whose countenances the natural expression ofsullenness struggled with the terror that evidently filled their savage hearts.They were ranged in front of the daisand would have cast themselves down onthe floor of the cave like the spectatorsbut She stopped them.
"Nay" she said in her softest voice"stand; I pray youstand. Perchance the time will soon be when ye shall grow weary of beingstretched out" and she laughed melodiously.
I saw a cringe of terror run along the rank of the poor doomed wretchesandwicked villains as they wereI felt sorry for them. Some minutesperhaps twoor threepassed before anything fresh occurredduring which She appeared fromthe movement of her head- forof coursewe could not see her eyes- to beslowly and carefully examining each delinquent. At last she spokeaddressingherself to me in a quiet and deliberate tone.
"Dost thouO my guestwho art known in thine own country by the nameof the Prickly Treerecognize these men?"
"AyO Queennearly all of them" I saidand I saw them glower atme as I said it.
"Then tell to meand this great companythe tale whereof I haveheard."
Thus adjuredIin as few words as I couldrelated the history of thecannibal feastand of the attempted torture of our poor servant. The narrativewas received in perfect silenceboth by the accused and by the audienceandalso by She herself. When I had doneAyesha called upon Billali by nameandlifting his head from the groundbut without risingthe old man confirmed mystory. No further evidence was taken.
"Ye have heard" said She at lengthin a coldclear voiceverydifferent from her usual tones- indeedit was one of the most remarkable thingsabout this extraordinary creature that her voice had the power of suiting itselfin a wonderful manner to the mood of the moment. "What have ye to sayyerebellious childrenwhy vengeance should not be done upon you?"
For some time there was no answerbut at last one of the mena finebroad-chested fellowwell on in middle-lifewith deep-graven features and aneye like a hawk'sspokeand said that the orders that they had received werenot to harm the white men; nothing was said of their black servantsoegged onthereto by a woman who was now deadthey proceeded to try to hot-pot him afterthe ancient and honorable custom of their countrywith a view of eating him indue course. As for their attack upon ourselvesit was made in an access ofsudden furyand they deeply regretted it. He ended by humbly praying that mercymight be extended to them; orat leastthat they might be banished into theswampsto live or die as it might chance; but I saw it written on his face thathe had but little hope of mercy.
Then came a pauseand the most intense silence reigned over the whole scenewhichilluminated as it was by the flicker of the lamps striking out broadpatterns of light and shadow upon the rocky wallswas as strange as any I eversaweven in that unholy land. Upon the ground before the dais were stretchedscores of the corpselike forms of the spectatorstill at last the long lines ofthem were lost in the gloomy background. Before this outstretched audience werethe knots of evildoerstrying to cover up their natural terrors with a braveappearance of unconcern. On the right and left stood the silent guardsrobed inwhite and armed with great spears and daggersand men and women mutes watchingwith hard curious eyes. Thenseated in her barbaric chair above them allwithmyself at her feetwas the veiled white womanwhose loveliness and awesomepower seemed to visibly shine about her like a haloor rather like the glowfrom some unseen light. Never have I seen her veiled shape look more terriblethan it did in that spacewhile she gathered herself up for vengeance.
At last it came.
"Dogs and serpents" She began in a low voice that graduallygathered power as she went ontill the place rang with it. "Eaters ofhuman fleshtwo things have ye done. Firstye have attacked these strangersbeing white menand would have slain their servantand for that alone death isyour reward. But that is not all. Ye have dared to disobey me. Did I not send myword unto you by Billalimy servantand the father of your household? Did Inot bid you to hospitably entertain these strangerswhom now ye have striven toslayand whomhad not they been brave and strong beyond the strength of menye would cruelly have murdered? Hath it not been taught to you from childhoodthat the law of She is an ever fixed lawand that he who breaketh it by so muchas one jot or tittle shall perish? And is not my lightest word a law? Have notyour fathers taught you thisI saywhile as yet ye were but children? Do yenot know that as well might ye bid these great caves to fall upon youor thesun to cease its journeyingas to hope to turn me from my coursesor make myword light or heavyaccording to your minds? Well do ye know itye wickedones. But ye are all evil- evil to the core- the wickedness bubbles up in youlike a fountain in the springtime. Were it not for megenerations since had yeceased to befor of your own evil way had ye destroyed each other. And nowbecause ye have done this thingbecause ye have striven to put these menmygueststo deathand yet more because ye have dared to disobey my wordthis isthe doom that I doom you to. That ye be taken to the cave of torture* andgiven over to the tormentorsand that on the going down of tomorrow's sun thoseof you who yet remain alive be slaineven as ye would have slain the servant ofthis my guest." * I afterwards saw this dreadful placealso a legacy fromthe prehistoric people who lived in Kor. The only objects in the cave itselfwere slabs of rock arranged in various positions to facilitate the operations ofthe torturers. Many of these slabswhich were of a porous stonewere stainedquite dark with the blood of ancient victims that had soaked into them. Also inthe center of the room was a place for a furnacewith a cavity wherein to heatthe historic pot. But the most dreadful thing about the cave was that over eachslab was a sculptured illustration of the appropriate torture being applied.These sculptures were so awful that I will not harrow the reader by attempting adescription of them.- L. H. H. -
She ceasedand a faint murmur of horror ran round the cave. As for thevictimsas soon as they realized the full hideousness of their doomtheirstoicism forsook themand they flung themselves down upon the groundand weptand implored for mercy in a way that was dreadful to behold. Itooturned toAyeshaand begged her to spare themor at least to mete out their fate in someless awful way. But she was as hard as adamant about it.
"My Holly" she saidagain speaking in Greekwhichto tell thetruthalthough I have always been considered a better scholar of that languagethan most menI found it rather difficult to followchiefly because of thechange in the fall of the accent. Ayeshaof coursetalked with the accent ofher contemporarieswhereas we have only tradition and the modern accent toguide us as to the exact pronunciation. "My Hollyit cannot be. Were I toshow mercy to those wolvesyour lives would not be safe among this people for aday. Thou knowest them not. They are tigers to lap bloodand even now theyhunger for your lives. How thinkest thou that I rule this people? I have but aregiment of guards to do my biddingtherefore it is not by force. It is byterror. My empire is of the imagination. Once in a generation mayhap I do as Ihave done but nowand slay a score by torture. Believe not that I would becruelor take vengeance on anything so low. What can it profit me to be avengedon such as these? Those who live longmy Hollyhave no passionssave wherethey have interests. Though I may seem to slay in wrathor because my mood iscrossedit is not so. Thou hast seen how in the heavens the little clouds blowthis way and that without a causeyet behind them is the great wind sweeping onits path whither it listeth. So is it with meO Holly. My moods and changes arethe little cloudsand fitfully these seem to turn; but behind them ever blowsthe great wind of my purpose. Naythe men must die; and die as I havesaid."
Thensuddenly turning to the captain of the guard: "As my word issobe it!"
16. The Tombs of Kor -
AFTER THE PRISONERS had been removed Ayesha waved her handand thespectators turned round and began to crawl off down the cave like a scatteredflock of sheep. When they were a fair distance from the daishoweverthey roseand walked awayleaving the Queen and myself alonewith the exception of themutes and the few remaining guardsmost of whom had departed with the doomedmen. Thinking this a good opportunityI asked She to come and see Leotellingher of his serious condition; but she would notsaying that he certainly wouldnot die before the nightas people never died of that sort of fever except atnightfall or dawn. Also she said that it would be better to let the sicknessspend its course as much as possible before she cured it. AccordinglyI wasrising to leavewhen she bade me follow heras she would talk with meandshow me the wonders of the caves.
I was too much involved in the web of her fatal fascinations to say her noeven if I had wishedwhich I did not. She rose from her chairandmaking somesigns to the mutesdescended from the dais. Thereupon four of the girls tooklamps and ranged themselves two in front and two behind usbut the others wentawayas also did the guards.
"Now" she said"wouldst thou see some of the wonders of thisplaceO Holly? Look upon this great cave. Sawest thou ever the like? Yet wasitand many more like ithollowed by the hands of the dead race that oncelived here in the city on the plain. A great and a wonderful people must theyhave beenthose men of Korbutlike the Egyptiansthey thought more of thedead than of the living. How many menthinkest thouworking for how manyyearsdid it need to the hollowing out this cave and all the galleriesthereof?"
"Tens of thousands" I answered.
"SoO Holly. This people was an old people before the Egyptians were. Alittle can I read of their inscriptionshaving found the key thereto- andseethou herethis was one of the last of the caves that they hollowed" andturning to the rock behind hershe motioned the mutes to hold up the lamps.Carven over the dais was the figure of an old man seated in a chairwith anivory rod in his hand. It struck me at once that his features were exceedinglylike those of the man who was represented as being embalmed in the chamber wherewe took our meals. Beneath the chairwhichby the waywas shaped exactly likethe one in which Ayesha had sat to give judgmentwas a short inscription in theextraordinary characters of which I have already spokenbut which I do notremember sufficient of to illustrate. It looked more like Chinese writing thanany other that I am acquainted with. This inscription Ayesha proceededwithsome difficulty and hesitationto read aloud and translate. It ran as follows:-
In the year four thousand two hundred and fifty-nine from the founding of theCity of imperial Kor was this cave [or burial place] completed by TisnoKing ofKorthe people thereof and their slaves having labored thereat for threegenerationsto be a tomb for their citizens of rank who shall come after. Maythe blessing of the heaven above the heaven rest upon their workand make thesleep of Tisnothe mighty monarchthe likeness of whose features is gravenabovea sound and happy sleep till the day of awakening* and also the sleepof his servantsand of those of his race whorising up after himshall yetlay their heads as low. -
* This phrase is remarkableas seeming to indicate a belief in a futurestate.- EDITOR. -
"Thou seestO Holly" she said"this people founded thecityof which the ruins yet cumber the plain yonderfour thousand years beforethis cave was finished. Yetwhen first mine eyes beheld it two thousand yearsagowas it even as it is now. Judgethereforehow old must that city havebeen! And nowfollow thou meand I will show thee after what fashion thisgreat people fell when the time was come for it to fall" and she led theway down to the center of the cavestopping at a spot where a round rock hadbeen let into a kind of large manhole in the flooringaccurately filling itjust as the iron plates fill the spaces in the London pavements down which thecoals are thrown. "Thou seest" she said. "Tell mewhat isit?"
"NayI know not" I answered; whereon she crossed to the left-handside of the cave (looking towards the entrance) and signed to the mutes to holdup the lamps. On the wall was something painted with a red pigment in similarcharacters to those hewn beneath the sculpture of TisnoKing of Kor. Thisinscription she proceeded to translate to methe pigment still being quitefresh enough to show the form of the letters. It ran as follows: -
IJunisa Priest of the Great Temple of Korwrite this upon the rock ofthe burying place in the year four thousand eight hundred and three from thefounding of Kor. Kor is fallen! No more shall the mighty feast in her hallsnomore shall she rule the worldand her navies go out to commerce with the world.Kor is fallen! And her mighty works and all the cities of Korand all theharbors that she built and the canals that she madeare for the wolf and theowl and the wild swanand the barbarian who comes after. Twenty and five moonsago did a cloud settle upon Korand the hundred cities of Korand out of thecloud came a pestilence that slew her peopleold and youngone with anotherand spared not. One with another they turned black and died- the young and theoldthe rich and the poorthe man and the womanthe prince and the slave. Thepestilence slew and slewand ceased not by day or by nightand those whoescaped from the pestilence were slain of the famine. No longer could the bodiesof the children of Kor be preserved according to the ancient ritesbecause ofthe number of the deadtherefore were they hurled into the great pit beneaththe cave through the hole in the floor of the cave. Then at lasta remnant ofthis the great peoplethe light of the whole worldwent down to the coast andtook ship and sailed northwards; and now am Ithe Priest Juniswho write thisthe last man left alive of this great city of menbut whether there be any yetleft in the other cities I know not. This do I write in misery of heart before Idiebecause Kor the Imperial is no moreand because there are none to worshipin her templeand all her palaces are emptyand her princes and her captainsand her traders and her fair women have passed off the face of the earth. -
I gave a sigh of astonishment- the utter desolation depicted in this rudescrawl was so overpowering. It was terrible to think of this solitary survivorof a mighty people recording its fate before he too went down into darkness.What must the old man have felt asin ghastly terrifying solitudeby the lightof one lamp feebly illumining a little space of gloomhe in a few brief linesdaubed the history of his nation's death upon the cavern wall? What a subjectfor the moralistor the painteror indeed for anyone who can think!
"Doth it not occur to theeO Holly" said Ayeshalaying her handupon my shoulder"that those men who sailed north may have been thefathers of the first Egyptians?"
"NayI know not" I said; "it seems that the world is veryold."
"Old? Yesit is old indeed. Time after time have nationsayand richand strong nationslearned in the artsbeen and passed away and beenforgottenso that no memory of them remains. This is but one of several; forTime eats up the works of manunlessindeedhe digs in caves like the peopleof Korand then mayhap the sea swallows themor the earthquake shakes them in.Who knows what hath been on the earthor what shall be? There is no new thingunder the sunas the wise Hebrew wrote long ago. Yet were not these peopleutterly destroyedas I think. Some few remained in the other citiesfor theircities were many. But the barbarians from the southor perchance my peopletheArabscame down upon themand took their women to wifeand the race of theAmahagger that is now is a bastard brood of the mighty sons of Korand beholdit dwelleth in the tombs with its fathers' bones. * But I know not: who canknow? My arts cannot pierce so far into the blackness of Time's night. A greatpeople were they. They conquered till none were left to conquerand then theydwelt at ease within their rocky mountain wallswith their man servants andtheir maid servantstheir minstrelstheir sculptorsand their concubinesandtraded and quarreledand ate and hunted and slept and made merry till theirtime came. But comeI will show thee the great pit beneath the cave whereof thewriting speaks. Never shall thine eyes witness such another sight." -
* The name of the race Amahagger would seem to indicate a curious mingling ofraces such as might easily have occurred in the neighborhood of the Zambesi. Theprefix "ama" is common to the Zulu and kindred racesand signifies"people" while "hagger" is an Arabic word meaning a stone.-EDITOR. -
Accordingly I followed her to a side passage opening out of the main cavethen down a great number of stepsand along an underground shaft which cannothave been less than sixty feet beneath the surface of the rockand wasventilated by curious borings that ran upwardI do not know where. Suddenly thepassage endedand she halted and bade the mutes hold up the lampsandas shehad prophesiedI saw a scene such as I was not likely to see again. We werestanding in an enormous pitor rather on the edge of itfor it went downdeeper- I do not know how much- than the level on which we stoodand was edgedin with a low wall of rock. So far as I could judgethis pit was about the sizeof the space beneath the dome of St. Paul's in Londonand when the lamps wereheld up I saw that it was nothing but one vast charnel housebeing literallyfull of thousands of human skeletonswhich lay piled up in an enormous gleamingpyramidformed by the slipping down of the bodies at the apex as fresh oneswere dropped in from above. Anything more appalling than this jumbled mass ofthe remains of a departed race I cannot imagineand what made it even moredreadful was that in this dry air a considerable number of the bodies had simplybecome desiccated with the skin still on themand nowfixed in everyconceivable positionstared at us out of the mountain of white bonesgrotesquely horrible caricatures of humanity. In my astonishment I uttered anejaculationand the echoes of my voice ringing in the vaulted space disturbed askull that had been accurately balanced for many thousands of years near theapex of the pile. Down it came with a runbounding along merrily towards usand of course bringing an avalanche of other bones after ittill at last thewhole pit rattled with their movementeven as though the skeletons were gettingup to greet us.
"Come" I said"I have seen enough. These are the bodies ofthose who died of the great sicknessis it not so?" I addedas we turnedaway.
"Yes. The people of Kor ever embalmed their deadas did the Egyptiansbut their art was greater than the art of the Egyptiansfor whereas theEgyptians disemboweled and drew the brainthe people of Kor injected fluid intothe veinsand thus reached every part. But staythou shalt see" and shehalted at haphazard at one of the little doorways opening out of the passagealong which we were walkingand motioned to the mutes to light us in. Weentered into a small chamber similar to the one in which I had slept at ourfirst stopping placeonly instead of one there were two stone benches or bedsin it. On the benches lay figures covered with yellow linen* on which a fineand impalpable dust had gathered in the course of ages but nothing like to theextent that one would have anticipatedfor in these deep-hewn caves there is nomaterial to turn to dust. About the bodies on the stone shelves and floor of thetomb were many painted vasesbut I saw very few ornaments or weapons in any ofthe vaults.
* All the linen that the Amahagger wore was taken from the tombswhichaccounted for its yellow hue. If it was well washedhoweverand properlyrebleachedit acquired its former snowy whitenessand was the softest and bestlinen I ever saw.- L. H. H. -
"Uplift the clothsO Holly" said Ayeshabut when I put out myhand to do so I drew it back again. It seemed like sacrilegeand to speak thetruth I was awed by the dread solemnity of the placeand of the presencesbefore us. Thenwith a little laugh at my fearsshe drew them herselfonly todiscover other and yet finer cloths lying over the forms upon the stone bench.These also she withdrewand then for the first time for thousands uponthousands of years did living eyes look upon the face of that chilly dead. Itwas a woman; she might have been thirty-five years of ageor perhaps a littlelessand had certainly been beautiful. Even now her calm clear-cut featuresmarked out with delicate eyebrows and long eyelashes which threw little lines ofthe shadow of the lamplight upon the ivory facewere wonderfully beautiful.Thererobed in whitedown which her blue-black hair was streamingshe slepther last long sleepand on her armits face pressed against her breasttherelay a little babe. So sweet was the sightalthough so awfulthat- I confess itwithout shame- I could scarcely withhold my tears. It took me back across thedim gulf of the ages to some happy home in dead Imperial Korwhere this winsomelady girt about with beauty had lived and diedand dying taken her last-bornwith her to the tomb. There they were before usmother and babethe whitememories of a forgotten human history speaking more eloquently to the heart thancould any written record of their lives. Reverently I replaced thegrave-clothesandwith a sigh that flowers so fair shouldin the purpose ofthe Everlastinghave bloomed only to be gathered to the graveI turned to thebody on the opposite shelfand gently unveiled it. It was that of a man inadvanced lifewith a long grizzled beardand also robed in whiteprobably thehusband of the ladywhoafter surviving her many yearscame at last to sleeponce more for good and all beside her.
We left the place and entered others. It would be too long to describe themany things I saw in them. Each one had its occupantsfor the five-hundred-oddyears that had elapsed between the completion of the cave and the destruction ofthe race had evidently sufficed to fill these catacombsnumberless as theywereand all appeared to have been undisturbed since the day when they wereplaced there. I could fill a book with the description of thembut to do sowould only be to repeat what I have saidwith variations.
Nearly all the bodiesso masterly was the art with which they had beentreatedwere as perfect as on the day of death thousands of years before.Nothing came to injure them in the deep silence of the living rock: they werebeyond the reach of heat and cold and dampand the aromatic drugs with whichthey had been saturated were evidently practically everlasting in their effect.Here and therehoweverwe saw an exceptionand in these casesalthough theflesh looked sound enough externallyif one touched it it fell inand revealedthe fact that the figure was but a pile of dust. This aroseAyesha told mefrom these particular bodies havingeither owing to haste in the burial or toother causesbeen soaked in the preservative* instead of its being injectedinto the substance of the flesh. -
* Ayesha afterwards showed me the tree from the leaves of which this ancientpreservative was manufactured. It is a low bushlike tree that to this day growsin wonderful plenty upon the sides of the mountainsor rather upon the slopesleading up to the rocky walls. The leaves are long and narrowa vivid green incolorbut turning a bright red in the autumnand not unlike those of a laurelin general appearance. They have little smell when greenbut if boiled thearomatic odor from them is so strong that one can hardly bear it. The bestmixturehoweverwas made from the rootsand among the people of Kor there wasa lawwhich Ayesha showed me alluded to on some of the inscriptionsto theeffect that under heavy penalties no one under a certain rank was to be embalmedwith the drugs prepared from the roots. The object and effect of this wasofcourseto preserve the trees from extermination. The sale of the leaves androots was a government monopolyand from it the kings of Kor derived a largeproportion of their private revenue.- L. H. H. -
About the last tomb we visited I musthoweversay one wordfor itscontents spoke even more eloquently to the human sympathies than those of thefirst. It had but two occupantsand they lay together on a single shelf. Iwithdrew the grave-clothesand thereclasped heart to heartwere a young manand a blooming girl. Her head rested on his armand his lips were pressedagainst her brow. I opened the man's linen robeand there over his heart was adagger woundand beneath the girl's fair breast was a like cruel stabthroughwhich her life had ebbed away. On the rock above was an inscription in threewords. Ayesha translated it. It was "Wedded in Death."
What was the life history of these twowhoof a truthwere beautiful intheir livesand in their death were not divided?
I closed my eyelidsand imaginationtaking up the thread of thoughtshotits swift shuttle back across the agesweaving a picture on their blackness soreal and vivid in its detail that I could almost for a moment think that I hadtriumphed o'er the Pastand that my spirit's eyes had pierced the mystery ofTime.
I seemed to see this fair girl form- the yellow hair streaming down herglittering against her garments snowy whiteand the bosom that was whiter thanthe robeseven dimming with its luster her ornaments of burnished gold. Iseemed to see the great cave filled with warriorsbearded and clad in mailandon the lighted dais where Ayesha had given judgmenta man standingrobedand surrounded by the symbols of his priestly office. And up the cave there cameone clad in purpleand before him and behind him came minstrels and fairmaidenschanting a wedding song. White stood the maid against the altarfairerthan the fairest there- purer than a lilyand more cold than the dew thatglistens in its heart. But as the man drew near she shuddered. Then out of thepress and throng there sprang a dark-haired youthand put his arm about thislong-forgotten maidand kissed her pale face in which the blood shot up likelights of the red dawn across the silent sky. And next there was turmoil anduproarand a flashing of swordsand they tore the youth from her armsandstabbed himbut with a cry she snatched the dagger from his beltand drove itinto her snowy breasthome to the heartand down she felland thenwithcries and wailingand every sound of lamentationthe pageant rolled away fromthe arena of my visionand once more the past shut its book.
Let him who reads forgive the intrusion of a dream into a history of fact.But it came so home to me- I saw it all so clear in a momentas it were; andbesideswho shall say what proportion of factpastpresentor to comemaylie in the imagination? What is imagination? Perhaps it is the shadow of theintangible truthperhaps it is the soul's thought.
In an instant the whole thing had passed through my brainand She wasaddressing me.
"Behold the lot of man" said the veiled Ayeshaas she drew thewinding sheets back over the dead loversspeaking in a solemnthrilling voicewhich accorded well with the dream that I had dreamed. "To the tomband tothe forgetfulness that hides the tombmust we all come at last! Ayeven I wholive so long. Even for meO Hollythousands upon thousands of years hence;thousands of years after thou hast gone through the gate and been lost in themistsa day will dawn whereon I shall dieand be even as thou art and theseare. And then what will it avail that I have lived a little longerholding offdeath by the knowledge I have wrung from Naturesince at last I too must die?What is a span of ten thousand yearsor ten times ten thousand yearsin thehistory of time? It is as naught- it is as the mists that roll up in thesunlight; it fleeth away like an hour of sleep or a breath of the EternalSpirit. Behold the lot of man! Certainly it shall overtake usand we shallsleep. Certainlytoowe shall awakeand live again and again shall sleepandso on and onthrough periodsspacesand timesfrom eon unto eontill theworld is deadand the worlds beyond the world are deadand naught liveth savethe Spirit that is Life. But for us twain and for these dead ones shall the endof ends be Lifeor shall it be Death? As yet Death is but Life's Nightbut outof the night is the Morrow born againand doth again beget the Night. Only whenDay and Nightand Life and Deathare ended and swallowed up in that from whichthey camewhat shall be our fateO Holly? Who can see so far? Not evenI!"
And thenwith a sudden change of tone and manner: "Hast thou seenenoughmy stranger guestor shall I show thee more of the wonders of thesetombs that are my palace halls? If thou wiltI can lead thee to where Tisnothe mightiest and most valorous king of Korin whose day these caves wereendedlies in a pomp that seems to mock at nothingnessand bid the emptyshadows of the past do homage to his sculptured vanity!"
"I have seen enoughO Queen" I answered. "My heart isoverwhelmed by the power of the present Death. Mortality is weakand easilybroken down by a sense of the companionship that waits upon its end. Take mehenceO Ayesha!"
17. The Balance Turns -
IN A few minutesfollowing the lamps of the muteswhichheld out from thebody as a bearer holds water in a vesselhad the appearance of floating downthe darkness by themselveswe came to a stair which led us to She's anteroomthe same that Billali had crept up upon all fours on the previous day. Here Iwould have bid the Queen adieubut she would not.
"Nay" she said"enter with meO Hollyfor of a truth thyconversation pleaseth me. ThinkO Holly: for two thousand years have I had noneto converse with save slaves and my own thoughtsand though of all thisthinking hath much wisdom comeand many secrets been made plainyet am I wearyof my thoughtsand have come to loathe mine own societyfor surely the foodthat memory gives to eat is bitter to the tasteand it is only with the teethof hope that we can bear to bite it. Now though thy thoughts are green andtenderas becometh one so youngyet are they those of a thinking brainand intruth thou dost bring back to my mind certain of those old philosophers withwhom in days bygone I have disputed at Athensand at Becca in Arabiafor thouhast the same crabbed air and dusty lookas though thou hadst passed thy daysin reading ill-writ Greekand been stained dark with the grime of manuscripts.So draw the curtainand sit here by my sideand we will eat fruitand talk ofpleasant things. SeeI will again unveil to thee. Thou hast brought it onthyselfO Holly; fairly have I warned thee- and thou shalt call me beautiful aseven those old philosophers were wont to do. Fie upon themforgetting theirphilosophy!"
And without more ado she stood up and shook the white wrappings from herandcame forth shining and splendid like some glittering snake when she has cast herslough; ayand fixed her wonderful eyes upon me- more deadly than anyBasilisk's- and pierced me through and through with their beautyand sent herlight laugh ringing through the air like chimes of silver bells.
A new mood was on herand the very color of her mind seemed to changebeneath it. It was no longer torture-torn and hatefulas I had seen it when shewas cursing her dead rival by the leaping flamesno longer icily terrible as inthe judgment hallno longer richand somberand splendidlike a Tyrianclothas in the dwellings of the dead. Noher mood now was that of Aphroditetriumphing. Life- radiantecstaticwonderful- seemed to flow from her andround her. Softly she laughed and sighedand swift her glances flew. She shookher heavy tressesand their perfume filled the place; she struck her littlesandaled foot upon the floorand hummed a snatch of some old Greekepithalamium. All the majesty was goneor did but lurk and faintly flickerthrough her laughing eyeslike lightning seen through sunlight. She had castoff the terror of the leaping flamethe cold power of judgment that was evennow being doneand the wise sadness of the tombs- cast them off and put thembehind herlike the white shroud she woreand now stood out the incarnation oflovely tempting womanhoodmade more perfect- and in a way more spiritual- thanever woman was before.
"Theremy Hollysit there where thou canst see me. It is by thine ownwishremember- again I sayblame me not if thou dost spend the rest of thylittle span with such a sick pain at the heart that thou wouldst fain have diedbefore ever thy curious eyes were set upon me. Theresit soand tell meforin truth I am inclined for praises- tell meam I not beautiful? Nayspeak notso hastily; consider well the point; take me feature by featureforgetting notmy formand my hands and feetand my hairand the whiteness of my skinandthen tell me truly hast thou ever known a woman who in aughtayin one littleportion of her beautyin the curve of an eyelash evenor the modeling of ashell-like earis justified to hold a light before my loveliness? Nowmywaist! Perchance thou thinkest it too largebut of a truth it is not so; it isthis golden snake that is too largeand doth not bind it as it should. It is awise snakeand knoweth that it is ill to tie in the waist. But seegive me thyhands- so- now press them round metherewith but a little forcethy fingerstouchO Holly."
I could bear it no longer. I am but a manand she was more than a woman.Heaven knows what she was- I do not! But then and there I fell upon my kneesbefore herand told her in a sad mixture of languages- for such moments confusethe thoughts- that I worshiped her as never woman was worshipedand that Iwould give my immortal soul to marry herwhich at that time I certainly wouldhave doneand soindeedwould any other manor all the race of men rolledinto one. For a moment she looked a little surprisedand then she began tolaughand clap her hands in glee.
"Ohso soonO Holly!" she said. "I wondered how many minutesit would need to bring thee to thy knees. I have not seen a man kneel before mefor so many daysandbelieve meto a woman's heart the sight is sweetaywisdom and length of days take not from that dear pleasure which is our sex'sonly right.
"What wouldst thou? What wouldst thou? Thou dost not know what thoudoest. Have I not told thee that I am not for thee? I love but oneand thou artnot the man. AhHollyfor all thy wisdom- and in a way thou art wise- thou artbut a fool running after folly. Thou wouldst look into mine eyes- thou wouldstkiss me! Wellif it pleaseth theelook" and she bent herself towards meand fixed her dark and thrilling orbs upon my own; "ayand kiss tooifthou wiltforthanks be given to the scheme of thingskisses leave no marksexcept upon the heart. But if thou dost kissI tell thee of a surety wilt thoueat out thy breast with love of meand die!" and she bent yet furthertowards me till her soft hair brushed my browand her fragrant breath playedupon my faceand made me faint and weak. Then of a suddeneven as I stretchedout my arms to claspshe straightened herselfand a quick change passed overher. Reaching out her handshe held it over my headand it seemed to me thatsomething flowed from it that chilled me back to common senseand a knowledgeof propriety and the domestic virtues.
"Enough of this wanton play" she said with a touch of sternness."ListenHolly. Thou art a good and honest manand I fain would sparethee; butohit is so hard for a woman to be merciful. I have said I am notfor theetherefore let thy thoughts pass by me like an idle windand the dustof thy imagination sink again into the depths- wellof despairif thou wilt.Thou dost not know meHolly. Hadst thou seen me but ten hours past when mypassion seized methou hadst shrunk from me in fear and trembling. I am a womanof many moodsandlike the water in that vesselI reflect many things; butthey passmy Holly; they passand are forgotten. Only the water is the waterstilland I still am Iand that which maketh the water maketh itand thatwhich maketh me maketh menor can my quality be altered. Thereforepay no heedto what I seemseeing that thou canst not know what I am. If thou troublest meagain I will veil myselfand thou shalt behold my face no more."
I roseand sank on the cushioned couch beside heryet quivering withemotionthough for a moment my mad passion had left meas the leaves of a treequiver stillalthough the gust be gone that stirred them. I did not dare totell her that I had seen her in that deep and hellish moodmutteringincantations to the fire in the tomb.
"So" she went on"now eat some fruit; believe meit is theonly true food for man. Ohtell me of the philosophy of that Hebrew Messiahwho came after meand whom thou sayest doth now rule Romeand GreeceandEgyptand the barbarians beyond. It must have been a strange philosophy that Hetaughtfor in my day the peoples would have naught of our philosophies. Reveland lust and drinkblood and cold steeland the shock of men gathered in thebattle- these were the canons of their creeds."
I had recovered myself a little by nowandfeeling bitterly ashamed of theweakness into which I had been betrayedI did my best to expound to her thedoctrines of Christianityto whichhoweverwith the single exception of ourconception of Heaven and HellI found that she paid but faint attentionherinterest being all directed towards the Man who taught them. AlsoI told herthat among her own peoplethe Arabsanother prophetone Mohammedhad arisenand preached a new faith to which many millions of mankind now adhered.
"Ah!" she said. "I see- two new religions! I have known somanyand doubtless there have been many more since I knew aught beyond thesecaves of Kor. Mankind asks ever of the skies to vision out what lies behindthem. It is terror for the endand but a subtler form of selfishness- this itis that breeds religions. Markmy Hollyeach religion claims the future forits followers; orat the leastthe good thereof. The evil is for thosebenighted ones who will have none of itseeing the light the true believersworship as the fishes see the starsbut dimly. The religions come and thereligions passand the civilizations come and passand naught endures but theworld and human nature. Ahif man would but see that hope is from within andnot from without- that he himself must work out his own salvation! He is thereand within him is the breath of life and a knowledge of good and evil as goodand evil is to him. Thereon let him build and stand erectand not cast himselfbefore the image of some unknown Godmodeled like his poor selfbut with abigger brain to think the evil thing; and a longer arm to do it."
I thought to myselfwhich shows how old such reasoning isbeingindeedone of the recurring quantities of theological discussionthat her argumentsounded very like some that I have heard in the nineteenth centuryand in otherplaces than the caves of Korand with whichby the wayI totally disagreebut I did not care to try and discuss the question with her. To begin withmymind was too weary with all the emotions through which I had passedandin thesecond placeI knew that I should get the worst of it. It is weary work enoughto argue with an ordinary materialistwho hurls statistics and whole strata ofgeological facts at your headwhile you can only buffet him with deductions andinstincts and the snowflakes of faiththat arealasso apt to melt in the hotembers of our troubles. How little chancethenshould I have against one whosebrain was supernaturally sharpenedand who had two thousand years ofexperiencebesides all manner of knowledge of the secrets of Nature at hercommand! Feeling that she would be more likely to convert me than I should toconvert herI thought it best to leave the matter aloneand so sat silent.Many a time since then have I bitterly regretted that I did sofor thereby Ilost the only opportunity I can remember having had of ascertaining what Ayeshareally believedand what her "philosophy" was.
"Wellmy Holly" she continued"and so those people of minehave also found a propheta false prophet thou sayestfor he is not thine ownandindeedI doubt it not. Yet in my day was it otherwisefor then we Arabshad many gods. Allat there wasand Sabathe Host of HeavenAl Uzzaand Manahthe stony onefor whom the blood of victims flowedand Wadd and SawaandYaghuth the Lion of the dwellers in Yamanand Yauk the Horse of Moradand Nasrthe Eagle of Hamyar; ayand many more. Ohthe folly of it allthe shame andthe pitiful folly! Yet when I rose in wisdom and spoke thereofsurely theywould have slain me in the name of their outraged gods. Wellso hath it everbeen- butmy Hollyart thou weary of me alreadythat thou dost sit so silent?Or dost thou fear lest I should teach thee my philosophy? For know I have aphilosophy. What would a teacher be without her own philosophy? And if thou dostvex me overmuchbewarefor I will have thee learn itand thou shalt be mydiscipleand we twain will found a faith that shall swallow up all others.Faithless man! And but half an hour since thou wast upon thy knees- the posturedoes not suit theeHolly- swearing that thou didst love me. What shall we do?NayI have it. I will come and see this youththe Lionas the old man Billalicalls himwho came with theeand who is so sick. The fever must have run itscourse by nowand if he is about to die I will recover him. Fear notmy HollyI shall use no magic. Have I not told thee that there is no such thing as magicthough there is such a thing as understanding and applying the forces which arein Nature? Go nowand presently when I have made the drug ready I will followthee." * -
* Ayesha was a great chemistindeedchemistry appears to have been her onlyamusement and occupation. She had one of the caves fitted up as a laboratoryandalthough her appliances were necessarily rudethe results that sheattained wereas will become clear in the course of this narrativesufficiently surprising.- L. H. H. -
Accordingly I wentonly to find Job and Ustane in a great state of griefdeclaring that Leo was in the throes of deathand that they had been searchingfor me everywhere. I rushed to the couch and glanced at him: clearly he wasdying. He was senselessand breathing heavilybut his lips were quiveringandevery now and again a little shudder ran down his frame. I knew enough ofdoctoring to see that in another hour he would be beyond the reach of earthlyhelp- perhaps in another five minutes. How I cursed my selfishness and the follythat had kept me lingering by Ayesha's side while my dear boy lay dying! Alasand alas! How easily the best of us are lighted down to evil by the gleam of awoman's eyes! What a wicked wretch was I! Actuallyfor the last half hour I hadscarcely thought of Leoand thisbe it rememberedof the man who for twentyyears had been my dearest companionand the chief interest of my existence. Andnowperhaps it was too late!
I wrung my handsand glanced round. Ustane was sitting by the couchand inher eyes burned the dull light of despair. Job was blubbering- I am sorry Icannot name his distress by any more delicate word- audibly in the corner.Seeing my eye fixed upon him he went outside to give way to his grief in thepassage. Obviously the only hope lay in Ayesha. Sheand she alone- unlessindeedshe was an impostorwhich I could not believe- could save him. I wouldgo and implore her to come. As I started to do sohoweverJob came flying intothe roomhis hair literally standing on end with terror.
"OhGod help ussir!" he ejaculated in a frightened whisper."Here's a corpse acoming sliding down the passage!"
For a moment I was puzzledbut presentlyof courseit struck me that hemust have seen Ayeshawrapped in her gravelike garmentand been deceived bythe extraordinary undulating smoothness of her walk into a belief that she was awhite ghost gliding towards him. Indeedat that very moment the question wassettledfor Ayesha herself was in the apartmentor rather cave. Job turned andsaw her sheeted formand thenwith a convulsive howl of "Here itcomes!" sprang into a corner and jammed his face against the wallandUstaneguessing whose the dread presence must beprostrated herself upon herface.
"Thou comest in a good timeAyesha" I said"for my boy liesat the point of death."
"So" she said softly; "provided he be not deadit is nomatterfor I can bring him back to lifemy Holly. Is that man there thyservantand is that the method wherewith thy servants greet strangers in thycountry?"
"He is frightened of thy garb- it hath a deathlike air" Ianswered.
She laughed. "And the girl? AhI see now. It is her of whom thou didstspeak to me. Wellbid them both to leave usand we will see to this sick Lionof thine. I love not that underlings should perceive my wisdom."
Thereon I told Ustane in Arabic and Job in English both to leave the room; anorder which the latter obeyed readily enoughand was glad to obeyfor he couldnot in any way subdue his fear. But it was otherwise with Ustane.
"What does She want?" she whispereddivided between her fear ofthe terrible queen and her anxiety to remain near Leo. "It is surely theright of a wife to be near her husband when he dieth. NayI will not gomylordthe Baboon."
"Why doth not that woman leave usmy Holly?" asked Ayesha from theother end of the cavewhere she was engaged in carelessly examining some of thesculptures on the wall.
"She is not willing to leave Leo" I answerednot knowing what tosay. Ayesha wheeled roundandpointing to the girl Ustanesaid one wordandone onlybut it was quite enoughfor the tone in which it was said meantvolumes.
And then Ustane crept past her on her hands and kneesand went.
"Thou seestmy Holly" said Ayesha with a little laugh"itwas needful that I should give these people a lesson in obedience. That girlwent nigh to disobeying mebut then she did not learn this morn how I treat thedisobedient. Wellshe has gone; and now let me see the youth" and sheglided towards the couch on which Leo laywith his face in the shadow andturned toward the wall.
"He hath a noble shape" she saidas she bent over him to lookupon his face.
Next second her tall and willowy form was staggering back across the roomasthough she had been shot or stabbedstaggering back till at last she struck thecavern walland then there burst from her lips the most awful and unearthlyscream that I ever heard in all my life.
"What is itAyesha?" I cried. "Is he dead?"
She turned and sprang towards me like a tigress.
"Thou dog!" she said in her terrible whisperwhich sounded likethe hiss of a snake"why didst thou hide this from me?" And shestretched out her armand I thought that she was about to slay me.
"What?" I ejaculated in the most lively terror. "What?"
"Ah" she said"perchance thou didst not know. LearnmyHollylearn: there lies- there lies my lost Kallikrates. Kallikrateswho hascome back to me at lastas I knew he wouldas I knew he would." And shebegan to sob and to laughand generally to conduct herself like any other ladywho is a little upsetmurmuring "KallikratesKallikrates!"
"Nonsense" thought I to myselfbut I did not like to say it; andindeedat that moment I was thinking of Leo's lifehaving forgotten everythingelse in that terrible anxiety. What I feared now was that he should die whileshe was "carrying on."
"Unless thou art able to help himAyesha" I put in by way of areminder"thy Kallikrates will soon be far beyond thy calling. Surely hedieth even now."
"True" she said with a start. "Ohwhy did I not come before!I am unnerved- my hand trembleseven mine- and yet it is very easy. HerethouHollytake this phial" and she produced a tiny jar of pottery from thefolds of her garment"and pour the liquid in it down his throat. It willcure him if he be not dead. Swiftnow! Swift! The man dies!"
I glanced towards him; it was true enoughLeo was in his death struggle. Isaw his poor face turning ashenand heard the breath begin to rattle in histhroat. The phial was stoppered with a little piece of wood. I drew it with myteethand a drop of the fluid within flew out upon my tongue. It had a sweetflavorand for a second made my head swimand a mist gather before my eyesbut happily the effect passed away as swiftly as it had arisen.
When I reached Leo's side he was plainly expiring- his golden head was slowlyturning from side to sideand his mouth was slightly open. I called to Ayeshato hold his headand this she managed to dothough the woman was quiveringfrom head to footlike an aspen leaf or a startled horse. Thenforcing the jawa little more openI poured the contents of the phial into his mouth. Instantlya little vapor arose from itas happens when one disturbs nitric acidand thissight did not increase my hopesalready faint enoughof the efficacy of thetreatment.
One thinghoweverwas certainthe death throes ceased- at first I thoughtbecause he had got beyond themand crossed the awful river. His face turned toa livid pallorand his heartbeatswhich had been feeble enough beforeseemedto die away altogether- only the eyelid still twitched a little. In my doubt Ilooked up at Ayeshawhose head wrapping had slipped back in her excitement whenshe went reeling across the room. She was still holding Leo's headandwith aface as pale as his ownwatching his countenance with such an expression ofagonized anxiety as I have never seen before. Clearly she did not know if hewould live or die. Five minutes slowly passedand I saw that she was abandoninghope; her lovely oval face seemed to fall in and grow visibly thinner beneaththe pressure of a mental agony whose pencil drew black lines about the hollowsof her eyes. The coral faded even from her lipstill they were as white asLeo's faceand quivered pitifully. It was shocking to see her: even in my owngrief I felt for hers.
"Is it too late?" I gasped.
She hid her face in her handsand made no answerand I too turned away. Butas I did so I heard a deep-drawn breathand looking down perceived a line ofcolor creeping up Leo's facethen another and anotherand thenwonder ofwondersthe man we had thought dead turned over on his side.
"Thou seest" I said in a whisper.
"I see" she answered hoarsely. "He is saved. I thought wewere too late- another moment- one little moment more- and he had beengone!" And she burst into an awful flood of tearssobbing as though herheart would breakand yet looking lovelier than ever as she did it. At last sheceased.
"Forgive memy Holly- forgive me for my weakness" she said."Thou seest after all I am a very woman. Think- now think of it! Thismorning didst thou speak of the place of torment appointed by this new religionof thine. Hell or Hades thou didst call it- a place where the vital essencelives and retains an individual memoryand where all the errors and faults ofjudgmentand unsatisfied passions and the unsubstantial terrors of the mindwherewith it hath at any time had to docome to mock and haunt and gibe andwring the heart forever and forever with the vision of its own hopelessness.Thuseven thushave I lived for full two thousand years- for some six andsixty generationsas ye reckon time- in a hellas thou callest it- tormentedby the memory of a crimetortured day and night with an unfulfilled desire-without companionshipwithout comfortwithout deathand led on down my drearyroad only by the marsh lights of hopewhich though they flickered here andthereand now glowed strongand now were notyetas my skill told mewouldone day lead unto my deliverer.
"And then- think of it stillO Hollyfor never shalt thou hear suchanother taleor see such another scenenaynot even if I give thee tenthousand years of life- and thou shalt have it in payment if thou wilt- think:at last my deliverer came- he for whom I had watched and waited through thegenerations- at the appointed time he came to seek meas I knew that he mustcomefor my wisdom could not errthough I knew not when or how. Yet see howignorant I was! See how small my knowledgeand how faint my strength! For hourshe lay here sick unto deathand I felt it not- I who had waited for him for twothousand years- I knew it not. And then at last I see himand beholdmy chanceis gone but by a hair's breadth even before I have itfor he is in the veryjaws of death; whence no power of mine can draw him. And if he diesurely mustthe hell be lived through once more- once more must I face the weary centuriesand waitand wait till the time in its fullness shall bring my beloved back tome. And then thou gavest him the medicineand that five minutes dragged alongbefore I knew if he would live or dieand I tell thee that all the sixtygenerations that are gone were not so long as that five minutes. But they passedat lengthand still he showed no signand I knew that if the drug works notthenso far as I have had knowledgeit works not at all. Then thought I thathe was once more deadand all the tortures of all the years gathered themselvesinto a single venomed spearand pierced me through and throughbecause onceagain I had lost Kallikrates! And thenwhen all was donebehold! he sighedbehold! he livedand I knew that he would livefor none die on whom the drugtakes hold. Think of it nowmy Holly- think of the wonder of it! He will sleepfor twelve hoursand then the fever will have left him!"
She stoppedand laid her hand upon the golden headand then bent down andkissed the brow with a chastened abandonment of tenderness that would have beenbeautiful to behold had not the sight cut me to the heart- for I was jealous!
18. GoWoman! -
THEN FOLLOWED a silence of a minute or soduring which She appearedif onemight judge from the almost angelic rapture of her face- for she looked angelicsometimes- to be plunged in a happy ecstasy. Suddenlyhowevera new thoughtstruck herand her expression became the very reverse of angelic.
"Almost had I forgotten" she said"that womanUstane. Whatis she to Kallikrates- his servantor-" and she pausedand her voicetrembled.
I shrugged my shoulders. "I understand that she is wed to him accordingto the custom of the Amahagger" I answered; "but I know not."
Her face grew dark as a thunder cloud. Old as she wasAyesha had notoutlived jealousy.
"Then there is an end" she said; "she must dieevennow!"
"For what crime?" I askedhorrified. "She is guilty of naughtthat thou art not guilty of thyselfO Ayesha. She loves the manand he hasbeen pleased to accept her love: wherethenis her sin?"
"TrulyO Hollythou art foolish" she answeredalmostpetulantly. "Where is her sin? Her sin is that she stands between me and mydesire. WellI know that I can take him from her- for dwells there a man uponthis earthO Hollywho could resist me if I put out my strength? Men arefaithful for so long only as temptations pass them by. If the temptation be butstrong enoughthen will the man yieldfor every manlike every ropehath hisbreaking strainand passion is to men what gold and power are to women- theweight upon their weakness. Believe meill will it go with mortal women in thatheaven of which thou speakestif only the spirits be more fairfor their lordswill never turn to look upon themand their heaven will become their hell. Forman can be bought with woman's beautyif it be but beautiful enough; andwoman's beauty can be ever bought with goldif only there be gold enough. Sowas it in my dayand so it will be to the end of time. The world is a greatmartmy Hollywhere all things are for sale to him who bids the highest in thecurrency of our desires."
These remarkswhich were as cynical as might have been expected from a womanof Ayesha's age and experiencejarred upon meand I answered testily that inour heaven there was no marriage or giving in marriage.
"Else would it not be heavendost thou mean?" she put in."Fie upon theeHollyto think so ill of us poor women! Is itthenmarriage that marks the line between thy heaven and thy hell? But enough ofthis. This is no time for disputing and the challenge of our wits. Why dost thoualways dispute? Art thou also a philosopher of these latter days? As for thiswomanshe must die; for though I can take her lover from heryetwhile shelivedmight he think tenderly of herand that I could not away with. No otherwoman shall dwell in my lord's thoughts; my empire shall be all my own. She hathhad her daylet her be content; for better is an hour with love than a centuryof loneliness- now the night shall swallow her."
"Naynay" I cried"it would be a wicked crime; and from acrime naught comes but what is evil. For thine own sake do not this deed."
"Is itthena crimeO foolish manto put away that which standsbetween us and our ends? Then is our life one long crimemy Holly; for day byday we destroy that we may livesince in this world none save the strongest canendure. Those who are weak must perish; the earth is to the strongand thefruits thereof. For every tree that grows a score shall witherthat the strongones may take their share. We run to place and power over the dead bodies ofthose who fail and fall; aywe win the food we eat from out the mouths ofstarving babes. It is the scheme of things. Thou sayesttoothat a crimebreeds evilbut therein thou dost lack experience; for out of crimes come manygood thingsand out of good grows much evil. The cruel rage of the tyrant mayprove a blessing to thousands who come after himand the sweet-heartedness of aholy man may make a nation slaves. Man doeth this and doeth that from the goodor evil of his heart; but he knoweth not to what end his moral sense doth prompthim; for when he striketh he is blind to where the blow shall fallnor can hecount the airy threads that weave the web of circumstance. Good and evilloveand hatenight and daysweet and bitterman and womanheaven above and theearth beneath- all these things are necessary one to the otherand who knowsthe end of each? I tell thee that there is a hand of Fate that twines them up tobear the burden of its purposeand all things are gathered in that great ropeto which all things are needful. Therefore doth it not become us to say thisthing is evil and this goodor the dark is hateful and the light lovely; for toother eyes than ours the evil may be the good and the darkness more beautifulthan the dayor all alike be fair. Hearest thoumy Holly?"
I felt it was hopeless to argue against casuistry of this naturewhichifit were carried to its logical conclusionwould absolutely destroy allmoralityas we understand it. But her talk gave me a fresh thrill of fear; forwhat may not be possible to a being whounconstrained by human lawis alsoabsolutely unshackled by a moral sense of right and wrongwhichhoweverpartial and conventional it may beis yet basedas our conscience tells usupon the great wall of individual responsibility that marks off mankind from thebeasts?
But I was deeply anxious to save Ustanewhom I liked and respectedfrom thedire fate that overshadowed her at the hands of her mighty rival. So I made onemore appeal.
"Ayesha" I said"thou art too subtle for me; but thouthyself hast told me that each man should be a law unto himselfand follow theteaching of his heart. Hath thy heart no mercy towards her whose place thouwouldst take? Bethink theeas thou sayest- though to me the thing isincredible- him whom thou desirest has returned to thee after many agesand butnow thou hastas thou sayest alsowrung him from the jaws of death. Wilt thoucelebrate his coming by the murder of one who loved himand whom perchance heloved- oneat the leastwho saved his life for thee when the spears of thyslaves would have made an end thereof? Thou sayest also that in past days thoudidst grievously wrong this manthat with thine own hand thou didst slay himbecause of the Egyptian Amenartas whom he loved."
"How knowest thou thatO stranger? How knowest thou that name? I spokeit not to thee" she broke in with a crycatching at my arm.
"Perchance I dreamed it" I answered; "strange dreams do hoverabout these caves of Kor. It seems that the dream wasindeeda shadow of thetruth. What came to thee of thy mad crime? Two thousand years of waitingwas itnot? And now wouldst thou repeat the history? Say what thou wiltI tell theethat evil will come of it; for to him who doethat the leastgood breeds goodand evil evileven though in after days out of evil cometh good. Offenses mustneeds come; but woe to him by whom the offense cometh. So said that Messiah ofwhom I spoke to theeand it was truly said. If thou slayest this innocentwomanI say unto thee that thou shalt be accursedand pluck no fruit fromthine ancient tree of love. Alsowhat thinkest thou? How will this man takethee red-handed from the slaughter of her who loved and tended him?"
"As to that" she answered"I have already answered thee. HadI slain thee as well as heryet should he love meHollybecause he could notsave himself therefrom any more than thou couldst save thyself from dyingif bychance I slew theeO Holly. And yet maybe there is truth in what thou dost say;for in some way it presseth on my mind. If it may beI will spare this woman;for have I not told thee that I am not cruel for the sake of cruelty? I love notto see sufferingor to cause it. Let her come before me- quick nowbefore mymood changes" and she hastily covered her face with its gauzy wrapping.
Well pleased to have succeeded even to this extentI passed out into thepassage and called to Ustanewhose white garment I caught sight of some yardsawayhuddled up against one of the earthenware lamps that were placed atintervals along the tunnel. She rose and ran towards me.
"Is my lord dead? Ohsay not he is dead" she criedlifting hernoble-looking faceall stained as it was with tearsup to me with an air ofinfinite beseeching that went straight to my heart.
"Nayhe lives" I answered. "She hath saved him. Enter."
She sighed deeplyenteredand fell upon her hands and kneesafter thecustom of the Amahagger peoplein the presence of the dread She.
"Stand" said Ayesha in her coldest voice"and comehither."
Ustane obeyedstanding before her with bowed head.
Then came a pausewhich Ayesha broke.
"Who is this man?" she saidpointing to the sleeping form of Leo.
"The man is my husband" she answered in a low voice.
"Who gave him to thee for a husband?"
"I took him according to the custom of our countryO She."
"Thou hast done evilwomanin taking this manwho is a stranger. Heis not a man of thine own raceand the custom fails. Listen: perchance thoudidst this thing through ignorancethereforewomando I spare theeotherwisehadst thou died. Listen again. Go from hence back to thine own placeand neverdare to speak to or set thine eyes upon this man again. He is not for thee.Listen a third time. If thou breakest this my lawthat moment thou diest.Go."
But Ustane did not move.
Then she looked upand I saw that her face was torn with passion.
"NayO SheI will not go" she answered in a choked voice."The man is my husbandand I love him- I love himand I will not leavehim. What right hast thou to command me to leave my husband?"
I saw a little quiver pass down Ayesha's frameand shuddered myselffearingthe worst.
"Be pitiful" I said in Latin; "it is but Natureworking."
"I am pitiful" she answered coldly in the same language; "hadI not been pitiful she had been dead even now." Then addressing Ustane:"WomanI say to theego before I destroy thee where thou art!"
"I will not go! He is mine- mine!" she cried in anguish. "Ihimand I saved his life! Destroy methenif thou hast the power! I will notgive thee my husband- never- never!"
Ayesha made a movement so swift that I could scarcely follow itbut itseemed to me that she lightly struck the poor girl upon the head with her hand.I looked at Ustaneand then staggered back in horrorfor there upon her hairright across her bronzelike tresseswere three fingermarks white as snow. Asfor the girl herselfshe had put her hands to her headand was looking dazed.
"Great heavens!" I saidperfectly aghast at this dreadfulmanifestation of inhuman power; but She did but laugh a little.
"Thou thinkestpoor ignorant fool" she said to the bewilderedwoman"that I have not power to slay. Staythere lies a mirror" andshe pointed to Leo's round shaving glass that had been arranged by Job withother things upon his portmanteau. "Give it to this womanmy Hollyandlet her see that which lies across her hairand whether or no I have power toslay."
I picked up the glass and held it before Ustane's eyes. She gazedthen feltat her hairthen gazed againand then sank upon the ground with a sort of sob.
"Nowwilt thou goor must I strike a second time?" asked Ayeshain mockery. "LookI have set my seal upon thee so that I may know theetill thy hair is all as white as it. If I see thy face here againbe suretoothat thy bones shall soon be whiter than my mark upon thy hair."
Utterly awed and broken downthe poor creature roseandmarked with thatawful markcrept from the room sobbing bitterly.
"Look not so frightenedmy Holly" said Ayesha when she had gone."I tell thee I deal not in magic- there is no such thing. 'Tis only a forcethat thou dost not understand. I marked her to strike terror to her heartelsemust I have slain her. And now I will bid my servants bear my lord Kallikratesto a chamber near mine ownthat I may watch over himand be ready to greet himwhen he wakes; and thithertooshalt thou comemy Hollyand the white manthy servant. But one thing remember at thy peril. Naught shalt thou say toKallikrates as to how this woman wentand as little as may be of me. NowIhave warned thee!" and she slid away to give her ordersleaving me moreabsolutely confounded than ever. Indeedso bewildered was Iand racked andtorn with such a succession of various emotionsthat I began to think that Imust be going mad. Howeverperhaps fortunatelyI had but little time toreflectfor presently the mutes arrived to carry the sleeping Leo and ourpossessions across the central caveso for a while all was bustle. Our newrooms were situated immediately behind what we used to call Ayesha's boudoir-the curtained space where I had first seen her. Where she herself slept I didnot then knowbut it was somewhere quite close.
That night I passed in Leo's roombut he slept through it like the deadnever once stirring. I also slept fairly wellasindeedI needed to dobutmy sleep was full of dreams of all the horrors and wonders I had undergone.ChieflyhoweverI was haunted by that frightful piece of diablerie by whichAyesha left her fingermarks upon her rival's hair. There was something soterrible about the swiftsnakelike movementand the instantaneous blanching ofthat threefold linethatif the results to Ustane had been much moretremendousI doubt if they would have impressed me so deeply. To this day Ioften dream of that awful sceneand see the weeping womanbereavedand markedlike Caincast a last look at her loverand creep from the presence of herdread Queen.
Another dream that troubled me originated in the huge pyramid of bones. Idreamed that they all stood up and marched past me in thousands and tens ofthousands- in squadronscompaniesand armies- with the sunlight shiningthrough their hollow ribs. On they rushed across the plain to Kortheirimperial home; I saw the drawbridges fall before themand heard their bonesclank through the brazen gates. On they wentup the splendid streetson pastfountainspalacesand temples such as the eye of man never saw. But there wasno man to greet them in the market placeand no woman's face appeared at thewindows- only a bodiless voice went before themcalling: "Fallen isImperial Kor! Fallen! Fallen! Fallen!" Onright through the citymarchedthose gleaming phalanxesand the rattle of their bony tread echoed through thesilent air as they pressed grimly on. They passed through the city and climbedthe walland marched along the great roadway that was made upon the walltillat length they once more reached the drawbridge. Thenas the sun was sinkingthey returned again towards their sepulcherand luridly his light shone in thesockets of their empty eyesthrowing gigantic shadows of their bones thatstretched awayand crept and crept like huge spider's legs as their armieswound across the plain. Then they came to the caveand once more one by oneflung themselves in unending files through the hole into the pit of bonesand Iawokeshudderingto see Shewho had evidently been standing between my couchand Leo'sglide like a shadow from the room.
After this I slept againsoundly this timetill morningwhen I awoke muchrefreshedand got up. At last the hour drew near at whichaccording to AyeshaLeo was to awakeand with it came She herselfas usualveiled.
"Thou shalt seeO Holly" she said; "presently shall he awakein his right mindthe fever having left him."
Hardly were the words out of her mouth when Leo turned round and stretchedout his armsyawnedopened his eyesandperceiving a female form bendingover himthrew his arms round her and kissed hermistaking her for Ustane. Hesaid in Arabic"HulloUstanewhy have you tied your head up like that?Have you got the toothache?" and thenin English"I sayI'm awfullyhungry. WhyJobyou old son of a gunwhere the deuce have we got to now-eh?"
"I am sure I wish I knewMr. Leo" said Jobedging suspiciouslypast Ayeshawhom he still regarded with the utmost disgust and horrorbeing byno means sure that she was not an animated corpse; "but you mustn't talkMr. Leoyou've been very illand given us a great deal of hanxietyandifthis lady"- looking at Ayesha- "would be so kind as to moveI'llbring you your soup."
This turned Leo's attention to the "lady" who was standing by inperfect silence. "Hullo!" he said; "that is not Ustane- where isUstane?"
Thenfor the first timeAyesha spoke to himand her first words were alie. "She has gone from hence upon a visit" she said; "andbeholdin her place am I here as thine handmaiden."
Ayesha's silver notes seemed to puzzle Leo's half-awakened intellectas alsodid her corpselike wrappings. Howeverhe said nothing at the timebut drankoff his soup greedily enoughand then turned over and slept again till theevening. When he woke for the second time he saw meand began to question me asto what had happenedbut I had to put him off as best I could till the morrowwhen he awoke almost miraculously better. Then I told him something of hisillness and of my doingsbut as Ayesha was present I could not tell him muchexcept that she was the queen of the countryand well disposed towards usandthat it was her pleasure to go veiled; forthough of course I spoke in EnglishI was afraid that she might understand what we were saying from the expressionof our facesand besidesI remembered her warning. On the following day Leogot up almost entirely recovered. The flesh wound in his side was healedandhis constitutionnaturally a vigorous onehad shaken off the exhaustionconsequent on his terrible fever with a rapidity that I can only attribute tothe effects of the wonderful drug which Ayesha had given to himand also to thefact that his illness had been too short to reduce him very much. With hisreturning health came back full recollection of all his adventures up to thetime when he had lost consciousness in the marshand of course of Ustane alsoto whom I had discovered he had grown considerably attached. Indeedheoverwhelmed me with questions about the poor girlwhich I did not dare toanswerfor after Leo's first wakening She had sent for meand again warned mesolemnly that I was to reveal nothing of the story to himdelicately hintingthat if I did it would be the worse for me. She alsofor the second timecautioned me not to tell Leo anything more than I was obliged about herselfsaying that she would reveal herself to him in her own time.
Indeedher whole manner changed. After all that I had seen I had expectedthat she would take the earliest opportunity of claiming the man she believed tobe her old-world loverbut thisfor some reason of her ownwhich was at thetime quite inscrutable to meshe did not do. All that she did was to attend tohis wants quietlyand with a humility which was in striking contrast with herformer imperious bearingaddressing him always in a tone of something very likerespectand keeping him with her as much as possible. Of course his curiositywas as much excited about this mysterious woman as my own had beenand he wasparticularly anxious to see her facewhich I hadwithout entering intoparticularstold him was as lovely as her form and voice. This in itself wasenough to raise the expectations of any young man to a dangerous pitchand hadit not been that he had not as yet completely shaken off the effects of illnessand was much troubled in his mind about Ustaneof whose affection and bravedevotion he spoke in touching termsI have no doubt that he would have enteredinto her plansand fallen in love with her by anticipation. As it washoweverhe was simply wildly curiousand alsolike myselfconsiderably awedforthough no hint had been given to him by Ayesha of her extraordinary agehe notunnaturally came to identify her with the woman spoken of on the potsherd. Atlastquite driven into a corner by his continual questionswhich he showeredon me while he was dressing on this third morningI referred him to Ayeshasayingwith perfect truththat I did not know where Ustane was. Accordinglyafter Leo had eaten a hearty breakfastwe adjourned into She's presenceforher mutes had orders to admit us at all hours.
She wasas usualseated in whatfor want of a better termwe called herboudoirand on the curtains being drawn she rose from her couch andstretchingout both handscame forward to greet usor rather Leo; for Ias may beimaginedwas now quite left in the cold. It was a pretty sight to see herveiled form gliding towards the sturdy young Englishmandressed in his grayflannel suit; for though he is half a Greek in bloodLeo iswith the exceptionof his hairone of the most English-looking men I ever saw. He has nothing ofthe supple form or slippery manner of the modern Greek about himthough Ipresume that he got his remarkable personal beauty from his foreign motherwhose portrait he resembles not a little. He is very tall and big-chestedandyet not awkwardas so many big men areand his head is set upon him in such afashion as to give him a proud and vigorous airwhich was well translated inhis Amahagger name of the "Lion."
"Greeting to theemy young stranger lord" she said in her softestvoice. "Right glad am I to see thee upon thy feet. Believe mehad I notsaved thee at the lastnever wouldst thou have stood upon those feet again. Butthe danger is doneand it shall be my care"- and she flung a world ofmeaning into the words- "that it doth return no more."
Leo bowed to herand thenin his best Arabicthanked her for all herkindness and courtesy in caring for one unknown to her.
"Nay" she answered softly"ill could the world spare such aman. Beauty is too rare upon it. Give me no thankswho am made happy by thycoming."
"Humph! Old fellow" said Leo aside to me in English"thelady is very civil. We seem to have tumbled into clover. I hope that you havemade the most of your opportunities. By Jovewhat a pair of arms she hasgot!"
I nudged him in the ribs to make him keep quietfor I caught sight of agleam from Ayesha's veiled eyeswhich were regarding me curiously.
"I trust" went on Ayesha"that my servants have attendedwell upon thee; if there can be comfort in this poor placebe sure it waits onthee. Is there aught that I can do for thee more?"
"YesO She" answered Leo hastily. "I would fain know whitherthe young lady who was looking after me has gone to."
"Ah" said Ayesha. "The girl- yesI saw her. NayI know not;she said that she would goI know not wither. Perchance she will returnperchance not. It is wearisome waiting on the sickand these savage women arefickle."
Leo looked both sulky and distressed at this intelligence.
"It's very odd" he said to me in English; and then addressing She"I cannot understand" he said; "the young lady and I- well- inshortwe had a regard for each other."
Ayesha laughed a littlevery musicallyand then turned the subject.
19. "Give Me a Black Goat!" -
THE CONVERSATION after this was of such a desultory order that I do not quiterecollect it. For some reasonperhaps from a desire to keep her identity andcharacter in reserveAyesha did not talk freelyas she usually did. Presentlyhowevershe informed Leo that she had arranged a dance that night for ouramusement. I was astonished to hear thisas I fancied that the Amahagger weremuch too gloomy a folk to indulge in any such frivolity; butas will presentlymore clearly appearit turned out that an Amahagger dance has little in commonwith such fantastic festivities in other countriessavage or civilized. Thenas we were about to withdrawshe suggested that Leo might like to see some ofthe wonders of the cavesand as he gladly assented thither we departedaccompanied by Job and Billali. To describe our visit would only be to repeat agreat deal of what I have already said. The tombs we entered were indeeddifferentfor the whole rock was a honeycomb of sepulchers* but the contentswere nearly always similar. Afterwards we visited the pyramid of bones that hadhaunted my dreams on the previous nightand from thence went down a longpassage to one of the great vaults occupied by the bodies of the poorer citizensof Imperial Kor. These bodies were not nearly so well preserved as were those ofthe wealthier classes. Many of them had no linen covering on themalso theywere buried from five hundred to one thousand in a single large vaultthecorpses in some instances being thickly piled one upon anotherlike a heap ofslain. -
* For a long while it puzzled me to know what could have been done with theenormous quantities of rock that must have been dug out of these vast caves; butI afterwards discovered that it was for the most part built into the walls andpalaces of Korand also used to line the reservoirs and sewers.- L. H. H. -
Leo was of course intensely interested in this stupendous and unequaledsightwhich wasindeedenough to awake all the imagination a man had in himinto the most active life. But to poor Job it did not prove attractive. Hisnerves- already seriously shaken by what he had undergone since we had arrivedin this terrible country- wereas may be imaginedstill further disturbed bythe spectacle of these masses of departed humanitywhereof the forms stillremained perfect before his eyesthough their voices were forever lost in theeternal silence of the tomb. Nor was he comforted when old Billaliby way ofsoothing his evident agitationinformed him that he should not be frightened ofthese dead thingsas he would soon be like them himself.
"There's a nice thing to say of a mansir" he ejaculatedwhen Itranslated this little remark; "but therewhat can one expect of an oldman-eating savage? Not but what I dare say he's right" and Job sighed.
When we had finished inspecting the caveswe returned and had our mealforit was now past four in the afternoonand we all- especially Leo- needed somefood and rest. At six o'clock wetogether with Jobwaited on Ayeshawho setto work to terrify our poor servant still further by showing him pictures on thepool of water in the fontlike vessel. She learned from me that he was one ofseventeen childrenand then bade him think of all his brothers and sistersoras many of them as he couldgathered together in his father's cottage. Then shetold him to look in the waterand therereflected from its stilly surfacewasthat dead scene of many years gone byas it was recalled to our retainer'sbrain. Some of the faces were clear enoughbut some were mere blurs andsplotchesor with one feature grossly exaggerated; the fact being thatinthese instancesJob had been unable to recall the exact appearances of theindividualsor remembered them only by a peculiarity of his tribeand thewater could only reflect what he saw with his mind's eye. For it must beremembered that She's power in this matter was strictly limited; she couldapparentlyexcept in very rare instancesonly photograph upon the water whatwas actually in the mind of someone presentand then only by his will. But ifshe was personally acquainted with a localityshe couldas in the case ofourselves and the whaleboatthrow its reflection upon the waterand also itseems the reflection of anything extraneous that was passing there at the time.This powerhoweverdid not extend to the minds of others. For instanceshecould show me the interior of my college chapelas I remembered itbut not asit was at the moment of reflection; forwhere other people were concernedherart was strictly limited to the facts or memories present to their consciousnessat the moment. So much was this sothat when we triedfor her amusementtoshow her pictures of noted buildingssuch as St. Paul's or the Houses ofParliamentthe result was most imperfect; forof coursethough we had a goodgeneral idea of their appearancewe could not recall all the architecturaldetailsand therefore the minutiae necessary to a perfect reflection werewanting. But Job could not be got to understand thisand far from accepting anatural explanation of the matterwhich was after allthough strange enough inall consciencenothing more than an instance of glorified and perfectedtelepathyhe set the whole thing down as a manifestation of the blackest magic.I shall never forget the howl of terror which he uttered when he saw the more orless perfect portraits of his long-scattered brethren staring at him from thequiet wateror the merry peal of laughter with which Ayesha greeted hisconsternation. As for Leohe did not altogether like it eitherbut ran hisfingers through his yellow curlsand remarked that it gave him the creeps.
After about an hour of this amusementin the latter part of which Job didnot participatethe mutes by signs indicated that Billali was waiting for anaudience. Accordingly he was told to "crawl up" which he did asawkwardly as usualand announced that the dance was ready to begin if She andthe white strangers would be pleased to attend. Shortly afterwards we all roseand Ayesha having thrown a dark cloak (the sameby the waythat she had wornwhen I saw her cursing by the fire) over her white wrappingswe started. Thedance was to be held in the open airon the smooth rocky plateau in front ofthe great caveand thither we made our way. About fifteen paces from the mouthof the cave we found three chairs placedand here we sat and waitedfor as yetno dancers were to be seen. The night was almostbut not quitedarkthe moonnot having risen as yetwhich made us wonder how we should be able to see thedancing.
"Thou wilt presently understand" said Ayeshawith a little laughwhen Leo asked her; and we certainly did. Scarcely were the words out of hermouth when from every point we saw dark forms rushing upeach bearing with himwhat we at first took to be an enormous flaming torch. Whatever they were theywere burning furiouslyfor the flames stood out a yard or more behind eachbearer. On they camefifty or more of themcarrying their flaming burdens andlooking like so many devils from hell. Leo was the first to discover what theseburdens were.
"Great heavens!" he said. "They are corpses on fire!"
I stared and stared again. He was perfectly right- the torches that were tolight our entertainment were human mummies from the caves!
On rushed the bearers of the flaming corpsesandmeeting at a spot abouttwenty paces in front of usbuilt their ghastly burdens crossways into a hugebonfire. Heavenshow they roared and flared! No tar barrel could have burned asthose mummies did. Nor was this all. Suddenly I saw one great fellow seize aflaming human arm that had fallen from its parent frameand rush off into thedarkness. Presently he stoppedand a tall streak of fire shot up into the airillumining the gloomand also the lamp from which it sprang. That lamp was themummy of a woman tied to a stout stake let into the rockand he had fired herhair. On he went a few paces and touched a secondthen a thirdand a fourthtill at last we were surrounded on all three sides by a great ring of bodiesflaring furiouslythe material with which they were preserved having renderedthem so inflammable that the flames would literally spout out of the ears andmouth in tongues of fire a foot or more in length.
Nero illuminated his gardens with live Christians soaked in tarand we werenow treated to a similar spectacleprobably for the first time since his dayonly happily our lamps were not living ones.
But although this element of horror was fortunately wantingto describe theawful and hideous grandeur of the spectacle thus presented to us isI feelsoabsolutely beyond my poor powersthat I scarcely dare attempt it. To beginwithit appealed to the moral as well as the physical susceptibilities. Therewas something very terribleand yet very fascinatingabout the employment ofthe remote dead to illumine the orgies of the living; in itself the thing was asatire on both the living and the dead. Caesar's dust- or is it Alexander's?-may stop a bungholebut the functions of these dead Caesars of the past was tolight up a savage fetish dance. To such base uses may we comeof so littleaccount may we be in the minds of the eager multitudes that we shall breedmanyof whomso far from revering our memorywill live to curse us for begettingthem into such a world of woe.
Then there was the physical side of the spectacleand a weird and splendidone it was. Those old citizens of Kor burned asto judge from their sculpturesand inscriptionsthey had livedvery fastand with the utmost liberality.What is morethere were plenty of them. As soon as ever a mummy had burned downto the ankleswhich it did in about twenty minutesthe feet were kicked awayand another one put in its place. The bonfire was kept going on the samegenerous scaleand its flames shot upwith a hiss and a crackletwenty orthirty feet into the airthrowing great flashes of light far out into thegloomthrough which the dark forms of the Amahagger flitted to and fro likedevils replenishing the infernal fires. We all stood and stared aghast- shockedand yet fascinated at so strange a spectacleand half-expecting to see thespirits those flaming forms had once enclosed come creeping from the shadows towork vengeance on their desecrators.
"I promised thee a strange sightmy Holly" laughed Ayeshawhosenerves alone did not seem to be affected; "andbeholdI have not failedthee. Alsoit hath its lesson. Trust not to the futurefor who knows what thefuture may bring! Thereforelive for the dayand endeavor not to escape thedust which seems to be man's end. What thinkest thou those long-forgotten noblesand ladies would have felt had they known that they should one day flare tolight the dance or boil the pot of savages? But seehere come the dancers; amerry creware they not? The stage is lit- now for the play."
As she spokewe perceived two lines of figuresone male and the otherfemaleto the number of about a hundredeach advancing round the humanbonfirearrayed only in the usual leopard and buck skins. They formed upinperfect silencein two linesfacing each other between us and the fireandthen the dance- a sort of infernal and fiendish cancan- began. To describe it isquite impossiblebutthough there was a good deal of tossing of legs anddouble-shufflingit seemed to our untutored minds to be more of a play than adanceandas usual with this dreadful peoplewhose minds seem to have takentheir color from the caves in which they liveand whose jokes and amusementsare drawn from the inexhaustible stores of preserved mortality with which theyshare their homesthe subject appeared to be a most ghastly one. I know that itrepresented an attempted murder first of alland then the burial alive of thevictim and his struggling from the grave; each act of the abominable dramawhich was carried on in perfect silencebeing rounded off and finished with afurious and most revolting dance round the supposed victimwho writhed upon theground in the red light of the bonfire.
Presentlyhoweverthis pleasing piece was interrupted. Suddenly there was aslight commotionand a large powerful womanwhom I had noted as one of themost vigorous of the dancerscamemade mad and drunken with unholy excitementbounding and staggering towards usshrieking out as she came: "I want ablack goatI must have a black goatbring me a black goat!" and down shefell upon the rocky floor foaming and writhingand shrieking for a black goatabout as hideous a spectacle as can well be conceived.
Instantly most of the dancers came up and got round herthough some stillcontinued their capers in the background.
"She has got a Devil" called out one of them. "Run and get ablack goat. ThereDevilkeep quiet! Keep quiet! You shall have the goatpresently. They have gone to fetch itDevil."
"I want a black goatI must have a black goat!" shrieked thefoaming rolling creature again.
"All rightDevilthe goat will be here presently; keep quietthere'sa good Devil!"
And so on till the goat taken from a neighboring kraal did at last arrivebeing dragged bleating onto the scene by its horns.
"Is it a black oneis it a black one?" shrieked the possessed.
"YesyesDevilas black as night." Thenaside"Keep itbehind theedon't let the Devil see that it has got a white spot on its rumpand another on its belly. In one minuteDevil. Therecut his throat quick.Where is the saucer?"
"The goat! The goat! The goat! Give me the blood of my black goat! Imust have itdon't you see I must have it? Oh! Oh! Oh! Give me the blood of thegoat."
At this moment a terrified bah! announced that the poor goat had beensacrificedand the next minute a woman ran up with a saucer full of the blood.This the possessed creaturewho was then raving and foaming her wildestseizedand drankand was instantly recoveredand without a trace of hysteriaorfitsor being possessedor whatever dreadful thing it was she was sufferingfrom. She stretched her armssmiled faintlyand walked quietly back to thedancerswho presently withdrew in a double line as they had comeleaving thespace between us and the bonfire deserted.
I thought that the entertainment was now overandfeeling rather queerwasabout to ask She if we could risewhen suddenly what at first I took to be ababoon came hopping round the fireand was instantly met upon the other side bya lionor rather a human being dressed in a lion's skin. Then came a goatthena man wrapped in an ox's hidewith the horns wobbling about in a ludicrous way.After him followed a blesbokthen an impalathen a koodoothen more goatsand many other animalsincluding a girl sewn up in the shining scaly hide of aboa constrictorseveral yards of which trailed along the ground behind her.When all the beasts had collected they began to dance about in a lumberingunnatural fashionand to imitate the sounds produced by the respective animalsthey representedtill the whole air was alive with roars and bleating and thehissing of snakes. This went on for a long timetillgetting tired of thepantomimeI asked Ayesha if there would be any objection to Leo and myselfwalking round to inspect the human torchesandas she had nothing to sayagainst itwe startedstriking round to the left. After looking at one or twoof the flaming bodieswe were about to returnthoroughly disgusted with thegrotesque weirdness of the spectaclewhen our attention was attracted by one ofthe dancersa particularly active leopardthat had separated itself from itsfellow-beastsand was whisking about in our immediate neighborhoodbutgradually drawing into a spot where the shadow was darkestequidistant betweentwo of the flaming mummies. Drawn by curiositywe followed itwhen suddenly itdarted past us into the shadows beyondand as it did so erected itself andwhispered"Come" in a voice that we both recognized as that ofUstane. Without waiting to consult me Leo turned and followed her into the outerdarknessand Ifeeling sick enough at heartwent after them. The leopardcrawled on for about fifty paces- a sufficient distance to be quite beyond thelight of the fire and torches- and then Leo came up with itorratherwithUstane.
"Ohmy lord" I heard her whisper"so I have found thee!Listen. I am in peril of my life from 'She-who-must-be-obeyed.' Surely theBaboon has told thee how she drove me from thee? I love theemy lordand thouart mine according to the custom of the country. I saved thy life! My lionwiltthou cast me off now?"
"Of course not" ejaculated Leo; "I have been wondering witherthou hadst gone. Let us go and explain matters to the Queen."
"Naynayshe would slay us. Thou knowest not her power- the Baboontherehe knowethfor he saw. Naythere is but one way: if thou wilt cleave tomethou must flee with me across the marshes even nowand then perchance wemay escape."
"For heaven's sakeLeo" I beganbut she broke in.
"Naylisten not to him. Swift- be swift- death is in the air webreathe. Even nowmayhapShe heareth us" and without more ado sheproceeded to back her arguments by throwing herself into his arms. As she did sothe leopard's head slipped from her hairand I saw the three white fingermarksupon itgleaming faintly in the starlight. Once morerealizing the desperatenature of our positionI was about to interposefor I knew that Leo was nottoo strong-minded where women were concernedwhen- ohhorror!- I heard alittle silvery laugh behind me. I turned roundand there was She herselfandwith her Billali and two male mutes. I gasped and nearly sank to the groundforI knew that such a situation must result in some dreadful tragedyof which itseemed exceedingly probable to me that I should be the first victim. As forUstaneshe untwined her arms and covered her eyes with her handswhile Leonot knowing the full terror of the positionmerely colored upand looked asfoolish as a man caught in such a trap would naturally do.
20. Triumph -
THEN FOLLOWED a moment of the most painful silence that I ever endured. Itwas broken by Ayeshawho addressed herself to Leo.
"Naynow my lord and guest" she said in her softest toneswhichyet had the ring of steel about them"look not so bashful. Surely thesight was a pretty one- the leopard and the lion!"
"Ohhang it all!" said Leo in English.
"And thouUstane" she went on"surely I should have passedthee by had not the light fallen on the white across thy hair" and shepointed to the bright edge of the rising moon which was now appearing above thehorizon. "Wellwell! The dance is done- seethe tapers have burned downand all things end in silence and in ashes. So thou thoughtest it a fit time forloveUstanemy servant- and Idreaming not that I could be disobeyedthoughtthee already far away."
"Play not with me" moaned the wretched woman; "slay meandlet there be an end."
"Naywhy? It is not well to go so swift from the hot lips of love downto the cold mouth of the grave" and she made a motion to the muteswhoinstantly stepped up and caught the girl by either arm. With an oath Leo sprangupon the nearestand hurled him to the groundand then stood over him with hisface setand his fist ready.
Again Ayesha laughed. "It was well thrownmy guest; thou hast a strongarm for one who so late was sick. But now out of thy courtesy I pray thee letthat man live and do my bidding. He shalt not harm the girl; the night air growschilland I would welcome her in mine own place. Surely she whom thou dostfavor shall be favored of me also."
I took Leo by the armand pulled him from the prostrate muteand hehalfbewilderedobeyed the pressure. Then we all set out for the cave across theplateauwhere a pile of white human ashes was all that remained of the firethat had lit the dancingfor the dancers had vanished.
In due course we gained Ayesha's boudoir- all too soon it seemed to mehaving a sad presage of what was to come lying heavy on my heart.
Ayesha seated herself upon her cushionsandhaving dismissed Job andBillaliby signs bade the mutes tend the lamps and retireall save one girlwho was her favorite personal attendant. We three remained standingtheunfortunate Ustane a little to the left of the rest of us.
"NowO Holly" Ayesha began"how came it that thou who didsthear my words bidding this evildoer"- and she pointed to Ustane- "togo from hence- thou at whose prayer I did weakly spare her life- how came itIsaythat thou wast a sharer in what I saw tonight? Answerand for thine ownsakeI sayspeak all the truthfor I am not minded to hear lies upon thismatter!"
"It was by accidentO Queen" I answered. "I knew naught ofit."
"I do believe theeO Holly" she answered coldly"and wellit is for thee that I do- then does the whole guilt rest upon her."
"I do not find any guilt therein" broke in Leo. "She is notanother man's wifeand it appears that she has married me according to thecustom of this awful placeso who is the worse? Anywaymadam" he wenton"whatever she has done I have done tooso if she is to be punished letme be punished also; and I tell thee" he went onworking himself up intoa fury"that if thou biddest one of those deaf and dumb villains to touchher again I will tear him to pieces!" And he looked as though he meant it.
Ayesha listened in icy silenceand made no remark. When he had finishedhowevershe addressed Ustane.
"Hast thou aught to saywoman? Thou silly strawthou featherwhodidst think to float towards thy passion's petty endseven against the greatwind of my will! Tell mefor I fain would understand. Why didst thou thisthing?"
And then I think I saw the most tremendous exhibition of moral courage andintrepidity that it is possible to conceive. For the poor doomed girlknowingwhat she had to expect at the hands of her terrible queenknowingtoofrombitter experience how great was her adversary's poweryet gathered herselftogetherand out of the very depths of her despair drew materials to defy her.
"I did itO She" she answereddrawing herself up to the full ofher stately heightand throwing back the panther skin from her head"because my love is stronger than the grave. I did it because my lifewithout this man whom my heart chose would be but a living death. Therefore didI risk my lifeand now that I know that it is forfeit to thine angeryet am Iglad that I did risk itand pay it away in the riskingaybecause he embracedme onceand told me that he loved me yet."
Here Ayesha half rose from her couchand then sank down again.
"I have no magic" went on Ustaneher rich voice ringing strongand full"and I am not a queennor do I live foreverbut a woman's heartis heavy to sink through watershowever deepO Queenand a woman's eyes arequick to seeeven through thy veilO Queen!
"Listen: I know itthou dost love this man thyselfand thereforewouldst thou destroy me who stand across thy path. AyI die- I dieand go intothe darknessnor know I whither I go. But this I know. There is a light shiningin my breastand by that lightas by a lampI see the truthand the futurethat I shall not share unroll itself before me like a scroll. When first I knewmy lord"- and she pointed to Leo- "I knew also that death would be thebridal gift he gave me- it rushed upon me of a suddenbut I turned not backbeing ready to pay the priceandbeholddeath is here! And noweven as Iknew thatso do Istanding on the steps of doomknow that thou shalt not reapthe profits of thy crime. Mine he isandthough thy beauty shine like a sunamong the starsmine shall he remain for thee. Never here in this life shall helook thee in the eyes and call thee spouse. Thou too art doomedI see"-and her voice rang like the cry of an inspired prophetess- "ahIsee-"
Then came an answering cry of mingled rage and terror. I turned my head.Ayesha had risenand was standing with her outstretched hand pointing atUstanewho had suddenly stopped speaking. I gazed at the poor womanand as Igazed there came upon her face that same woefulfixed expression of terror thatI had seen once before when she had broken out into her wild chant. Her eyesgrew largeher nostrils dilatedand her lips blanched.
Ayesha said nothingshe made no soundshe only drew herself upstretchedout her armandher tall veiled frame quivering like an aspen leafappearedto look fixedly at her victim. Even as she did so Ustane put her hands to herheaduttered one piercing screamturned round twiceand then fell backwardswith a thud- prone upon the floor. Both Leo and myself rushed to her- she wasstone dead- blasted into death by some mysterious electric agency oroverwhelming will-force whereof the dread She had command.
For a moment Leo did not quite realize what had happened. But when he didhis face was awful to see. With a savage oath he rose from beside the corpseandturningliterally sprang at Ayesha. But she was watchingandseeing himcomestretched out her hand againand he went staggering back towards meandwould have fallenhad I not caught him. Afterwards he told me that he felt asthough he had suddenly received a violent blow in the chestandwhat is morefelt utterly cowedas if all the manhood had been taken out of him.
Then Ayesha spoke. "Forgive memy guest" she said softlyaddressing him"if I have shocked thee with my justice."
"Forgive theethou fiend" roared poor Leowringing his hands inhis rage and grief. "Forgive theethou murderess! By heaven I will killthee if I can!"
"Naynay" she answered in the same soft voice"thou dostnot understand- the time has come for thee to learn. Thou art my lovemyKallikratesmy Beautifulmy Strong! For two thousand yearsKallikrateshaveI waited for theeand now at length thou hast come back to me; and as for thiswoman"- pointing to the corpse- "she stood between me and theeandtherefore have I removed herKallikrates."
"It is an accursed lie!" said Leo. "My name is notKallikrates! I am Leo Vincey; my ancestor was Kallikrates- at leastI believehe was."
"Ahthou sayest it- thine ancestor was Kallikratesand thoueventhouart Kallikrates reborncome back- and mine own dear lord!"
"I am not Kallikratesand as for being thy lordor having aught to dowith theeI had sooner be the lord of a fiend from hellfor she would bebetter than thou."
"Sayest thou so- sayest thou soKallikrates? Naybut thou hast notseen me for so long a time that no memory remains. Yet am I very fairKallikrates!"
"I hate theemurderessand I have no wish to see thee. What is it tome how fair thou art? I hate theeI say."
"Yet within a very little space shalt thou creep to my kneeand swearthat thou dost love me" answered Ayeshawith a sweetmocking laugh."Comethere is no time like the present timehere before this dead girlwho loved theelet us put it to the proof.
"Look now on meKallikrates!" and with a sudden motion she shookher gauzy covering from herand stood forth in her low kirtle and her snakyzonein her glorious radiant beauty and her imperial gracerising from herwrappingsas it werelike Venus from the waveor Galatea from her marbleora beatified spirit from the tomb. She stood forthand fixed her deep andglowing eyes upon Leo's eyesand I saw his clenched fists unclaspand his setand quivering features relax beneath her gaze. I saw his wonder and astonishmentgrow into admirationand then into fascinationand the more he struggled themore I saw the power of her dread beauty fasten on him and take possession ofhis sensesdrugging themand drawing the heart out of him. Did I not know theprocess? Had not Iwho was twice his agegone through it myself? Was I notgoing through it afresh even thenalthough her sweet and passionate gaze wasnot for me? YesalasI was! Alasthat I should have to confess that at thatvery moment I was rent by mad and furious jealousy. I could have flown at himshame upon me! The woman had confounded and almost destroyed my moral senseasshe was bound to confound all who looked upon her superhuman loveliness. But- Ido not quite know how- I got the better of myselfand once more turned to seethe climax of the tragedy.
"Ohgreat heaven!" gasped Leo"art thou a woman?"
"A woman in truth- in very truth- and thine own spouseKallikrates!" she answeredstretching out her rounded ivory arms towardshimand smilingahso sweetly!
He looked and lookedand slowly I perceived that he was drawing nearer toher. Suddenly his eye fell upon the corpse of poor Ustaneand he shuddered andstopped.
"How can I?" he said hoarsely. "Thou art a murderess; sheloved me."
Observehe was already forgetting that he had loved her.
"It is naught" she murmuredand her voice sounded as sweet as thenight wind passing through the trees. "It is naught at all. If I havesinnedlet my beauty answer for my sin. If I have sinnedit is for love ofthee: let my sinthereforebe put away and forgotten." And once more shestretched out her arms and whispered "Come" and then in another fewseconds it was over. I saw him struggle- I saw him even turn to fly; but hereyes drew him more strongly than iron bondsand the magic of her beauty andconcentrated will and passion entered into him and overpowered him- ayeventherein the presence of the body of the woman who had loved him well enough todie for him. It sounds horrible and wicked enoughbut he cannot be blamed toomuchand be sure his sin will find him out. The temptress who drew him intoevil was more than humanand her beauty was greater than the loveliness of thedaughters of men.
I looked up againand now her perfect form lay in his armsand her lipswere pressed against his own; and thuswith the corpse of his dead love for analtardid Leo Vincey plight his troth to her red-handed murderess- plight itforever and a day. For those who sell themselves into a like dominionpayingdown the price of their own honorand throwing their soul into the balance tosink the scale to the level of their lustscan hope for no deliverance here orhereafter. As they have sownso shall they reap and reapeven when the poppyflowers of passion have withered in their handsand their harvest is but bittertaresgarnered in satiety.
Suddenlywith a snakelike motionshe seemed to slip from his embraceandthen again broke out into her low laugh of triumphant mockery.
"Did I not tell thee that within a little space thou wouldst creep to mykneeO Kallikrates? And surely the space has not been a great one!"
Leo groaned in shame and misery; for though he was overcome and strickendownhe was not so lost as to be unaware of the depth of the degradation towhich he had sunk. On the contraryhis better nature rose up in arms againsthis fallen selfas I saw clearly enough later on.
Ayesha laughed againand then quickly veiled herselfand made a sign to thegirl mutewho had been watching the whole scene with curious startled eyes. Thegirl leftand presently returnedfollowed by two male mutesto whom the Queenmade another sign. Thereon they all three seized the body of poor Ustane by thearmsand dragged it heavily down the cavern and away through the curtains atthe end. Leo watched it for a little whileand then covered his eyes with hishandand it tooto my excited fancyseemed to watch us as it went.
"There passes the dead past" said Ayesha solemnlyas the curtainsshook and fell back into their placeswhen the ghastly procession had vanishedbehind them. And thenwith one of those extraordinary transitions of which Ihave already spokenshe again threw off her veiland broke outafter theancient and poetic fashion of the dwellers in Arabia* into a paean of triumphor epithalamiumwhichwild and beautiful as it wasis exceedingly difficultto render into Englishand ought by rights to be sung to the music of acantatarather than written and read. It was divided into two parts- onedescriptive or definitiveand the other personal; andas nearly as I canrememberran as follows: -
Love is like a flower in the desert.
It is like the aloe of Arabia that blooms but once and dies; it
blooms in the salt emptiness of Lifeand the brightness of its
beauty is set upon the waste as a star is set upon a storm.
It hath the sun above that is the spiritand above it blows the
air of its divinity.
At the echoing of a stepLove bloomsI say; I say Love blooms
and bends her beauty down to him who passeth by.
He plucketh ityeahe plucketh the red cup that is full of
honeyand beareth it away; away across the desertaway till
the flower be witheredaway till the desert be done.
There is only one perfect flower in the wilderness of Life.
That flower is Love!
There is only one fixed star in the mists of our wandering.
That star is Love!
There is only one hope in our despairing night.
That hope is Love!
All else is false. All else is shadow upon water. All else is wind
Who shall say what is the weight or the measure of Love?
It is born of the fleshit dwelleth in the spirit. From each doth
it draw its comfort.
For beauty it is as a star.
Many are its shapesbut all are beautifuland none know where
the star roseor the horizon where it shall set. -
* Among the ancient Arabians the power of poetic declamationeither in verseor prosewas held in the highest honor and esteemand he who excelled in itwas known as "Khateb" or Orator. Every year a general assembly washeld at which the rival poets repeated their compositionswhen those poemswhich were judged to be the best wereso soon as the knowledge of the art ofwriting became generalinscribed on silk in letters of goldand publiclyexhibitedbeing known as "Al Modhahabat" or golden verses. In thepoem given above by Mr. HollyAyesha evidently followed the traditional poeticmanner of her peoplewhich was to embody their thoughts in a series of somewhatdisconnected sentenceseach remarkable for its beauty and the grace of itsexpression.- EDITOR. -
Thenturning to Leoand laying her hand upon his shouldershe went on in afuller and more triumphant tonespeaking in balanced sentences that graduallygrew and swelled from idealized prose into pure and majestic verse: -
Long have I loved theeohmy love; yet has my love not lessened.
Long have I waited for theeand behold my reward is at hand- is
Far away I saw thee onceand thou wast taken from me.
Then in a grave sowed I the seed of patienceand shone upon it
with the sun of hopeand watered it with tears of repentance
and breathed on it with the breath of my knowledge. And nowlo!
it hath sprung upand borne fruit. Lo! out of the grave hath it
sprung. Yeafrom among the dry bones and ashes of the dead.
I have waited and my reward is with me.
I have overcome Deathand Death brought back to me him that was
Therefore do I rejoicefor fair is the future.
Green are the paths that we shall tread across the everlasting
The hour is at hand. Night hath fled away into the valleys.
The dawn kisseth the mountain tops.
Soft shall we liemy loveand easy shall we go.
Crowned shall we be with the diadem of kings.
Worshiping and wonder-struckall peoples of the world
Blinded shall fall before our beauty and our might.
From time unto times shall our greatness thunder on
Rolling like a chariot through the dust of endless days.
Laughing shall we speed in our victory and pomp
Laughing like the Daylight as he leaps along the hills.
Onwardstill triumphantto a triumph ever new!
Onwardin our powerto a power unattained!
Onwardnever wearyclad with splendor for a robe!
Till accomplished be our fateand the night is rushing down. -
She paused in her strange and most thrilling allegorical chantof which Iamunfortunatelyonly able to give the burdenand that feebly enoughandthen said"Perchance thou dost not believe my wordKallikrates- perchancethou thinkest that I do delude theeand that I have not lived these many yearsand that thou hast not been born again to me. Naylook not so- put away thatpale cast of doubtfor oh be sure herein can error find no foothold! Soonershall the suns forget their course and the swallow miss her nestthan my soulshall swear a lie and be led astray from theeKallikrates. Blind metake awaymine eyesand let the darkness utterly fence me inand still mine ears wouldcatch the tone of thine unforgotten voicestriking more loud against theportals of my sense than can the call of brazen-throated clarions: stop up minehearing alsoand let a thousand touch me on the browand I would name thee outof all: yearob me of every senseand see me stand deaf and blindand dumband with nerves that cannot weigh the value of a touchyet would my spirit leapwithin me like a quickening child and cry unto my heartbehold Kallikrates!Beholdthou watcherthe watches of thy night are ended! Beholdthou whoseekest in the night seasonthy morning Star ariseth."
She paused awhile and then continued"But stayif thy heart is yethardened against the mighty truth and thou dost require a further pledge of thatwhich thou dost find too deep to understandeven now shall it be given to theeand to thee alsoO my Holly. Bear each one of you a lampand follow after mewhither I shall lead you."
Without stopping to think- indeedspeaking for myselfI had almostabandoned the function in circumstances under which to think seemed to beabsolutely uselesssince thought fell hourly helpless against a black wall ofwonder- we took the lamps and followed her. Going to the end of her"boudoir" she raised a curtain and revealed a little stair of thesort that was so common in these dim caves of Kor. As we hurried down the stairI observed that the steps were worn in the center to such an extent that some ofthem had been reduced from seven and a half inchesat which I guessed theiroriginal heightto about three and a half. Nowall the other steps that I hadseen in the caves had been practically unwornas was to be expectedseeingthat the only traffic which ever passed upon them was that of those who bore afresh burden to the tomb. Therefore this fact struck my notice with that curiousforce with which little things do strike us when our minds are absolutelyoverwhelmed by a sudden rush of powerful sensations; beaten flatas it werelike a sea beneath the first burst of a hurricaneso that every little objecton the surface starts into an unnatural prominence.
At the bottom of the staircase I stood and stared at the worn stepsandAyeshaturningsaw me.
"Wonderest thou whose are the feet that have worn away the rockmyHolly?" she asked. "They are mine- even mine own light feet! I canremember when these stairs were fresh and levelbut for two thousand years andmore have I gone down hither day by dayand seemy sandals have worn out thesolid rock!"
I made no answerbut I do not think that anything that I had heard or seenbrought home to my limited understanding so clear a sense of this being'soverwhelming antiquity as that hard rock hollowed out by her soft white feet.How many millions of times must she have passed up and down that stair to bringabout such a result?
The stair led to a tunneland a few paces down the tunnel was one of theusual curtain-hung doorwaysa glance at which told me that it was the samewhere I had been a witness of that terrible scene by the leaping flame. Irecognized the pattern of the curtainand the sight of it brought the wholeevent vividly before my eyesand made me tremble even at its memory. Ayeshaentered the tomb (for it was a tomb)and we followed her- Ifor onerejoicingthat the mystery of the place was about to be cleared upand yet afraid to faceits solution.
21. The Dead and Living Meet -
"SEE NOW the place where I have slept for these two thousandyears" said Ayeshataking the lamp from Leo's hand and holding it aboveher head. Its rays fell upon a little hollow in the floorwhere I had seen theleaping flamebut the fire was out now. They fell upon the white form stretchedthere beneath its wrappings upon its bed of stoneupon the fretted carving ofthe tomband upon another shelf of stone opposite the one on which the bodylayand separated from it by the breadth of the cave.
"Here" went on Ayeshalaying her hand upon the rock"herehave I slept night by night for all these generationswith but a cloak to coverme. It did not become me that I should lie soft when my spouse yonder"- andshe pointed to the rigid form- "lay stiff in death. Here night by nighthave I slept in his cold company- tillthou seestthis thick slablike thestairs down which we passedhas worn thin with the tossing of my form- sofaithful have I been to thee even in thy space of sleepKallikrates. And nowmine ownthou shalt see a wonderful thing- livingthou shalt behold thyselfdead- for well have I tended thee during all these yearsKallikrates. Art thouprepared?"
We made no answerbut gazed at each other with frightened eyesthe wholescene was so dreadful and so solemn. Ayesha advancedand laid her hand upon thecorner of the shroudand once more spoke.
"Be not affrighted" she said; "though the thing seemwonderful to thee- all we who live have thus lived before; nor is the very shapethat holds us a stranger to the sun! Only we know it notbecause memory writesno recordand earth hath gathered in the earth she lent usfor none have savedour glory from the grave. But Iby my arts and by the arts of those dead men ofKor which I have learnedhave held thee backO Kallikratesfrom the dustthat the waxen stamp of beauty on thy face should ever rest before mine eye.'Twas a mask that memory might fillserving to fashion out thy presence fromthe pastand give it strength to wander in the habitations of my thoughtcladin a mummery of life that stayed my appetite with visions of dead days.
"Behold nowlet the Dead and Living meet! Across the gulf of Time theystill are one. Time hath no power against Identitythough sleep the mercifulhath blotted out the tablets of our mindand with oblivion sealed the sorrowsthat else would hound us from life to lifestuffing the brain with gatheredgriefs till it burst in the madness of uttermost despair. Still are they onefor the wrappings of our sleep shall roll away as thunderclouds before the wind;the frozen voices of the past shall melt in music like mountain snows beneaththe sun; and the weeping and the laughter of the lost hours shall be heard oncemore most sweetly echoing up the cliffs of immeasurable time.
"Aythe sleep shall roll awayand the voices shall be heardwhen downthe completed chainwhereof our each existence is a linkthe lightning of theSpirit hath passed to work out the purpose of our being; quickening and fusingthose separated days of lifeand shaping them to a staff whereon we may safelylean as we went to our appointed fate.
"Thereforehave no fearKallikrateswhen thou- livingand but latelyborn- shalt look upon thine own departed selfwho breathed and died so longago. I do but turn one page in thy Book of Beingand show thee what is writthereon.
With a sudden motion she drew the shroud from the cold formand let thelamplight play upon it. I lookedand then shrank back terrified; sincesaywhat she might in explanationthe sight was an uncanny one- for herexplanations were beyond the grasp of our finite mindsand when they werestripped from the mists of vague esoteric philosophyand brought into conflictwith the cold and horrifying factdid not do much to break its force. Fortherestretched upon the stone bier before usrobed in white and perfectlypreservedwas what appeared to be the body of Leo Vincey. I stared from Leostanding there aliveto Leo lying there deadand could see no difference;exceptperhapsthat the body on the bier looked older. Feature for featurethey were the sameeven down to the crop of little golden curlswhich wasLeo's most uncommon beauty. It even seemed to meas I lookedthat theexpression on the dead man's face resembled that which I had sometimes seen uponLeo's when he was plunged into profound sleep. I can only sum up the closenessof the resemblance by saying that I never saw twins so exactly similar as thatdead and living pair.
I turned to see what effect was produced upon Leo by this sight of his deadselfand found it to be one of partial stupefaction. He stood for two or threeminutes staring and said nothingand when at last he spoke it was only toejaculate"Cover it up and take me away."
"NaywaitKallikrates" said Ayeshawhostanding with the lampraised above her headflooding with its light her own rich beauty and the coldwonder of the death-clothed form upon the bierresembled an inspired sibylrather than a womanas she rolled out her majestic sentences with a grandeurand a freedom of utterance which I amalasquite unable to reproduce.
"Wait; I would show thee somethingthat no tittle of my crime may behidden from thee. Do thouO Hollyopen the garment on the breast of the deadKallikratesfor perchance my lord may fear to touch himself."
I obeyed with trembling hands. It seemed a desecration and an unhallowedthing to touch that sleeping image of the live man by my side. Presently hisbroad chest was bareand there upon itright over the heartwas a woundevidently inflicted with a spear.
"Thou seestKallikrates" she said. "Know then that it was Iwho slew thee: in the Place of Life I gave thee death. I slew thee because ofthe Egyptian Amenartaswhom thou didst lovefor by her wiles she held thyheartand her I could not smite as but now I smote the womanfor she was toostrong for me. In my haste and bitter anger I slew theeand now for all thesedays have I lamented theeand waited for thy coming. And thou hast comeandnone can stand between thee and meand of a truth now for death I will givethee life- not life eternalfor that none can givebut life and youth thatshall endure for thousands upon thousands of yearsand with it pompand powerand wealthand all things that are good and beautifulsuch as have been to noman before theenor shall be to any man who comes after. And now one thingmoreand thou shalt rest and make ready for the day of thy new birth. Thouseest this bodywhich was thine own. For all these centuries it hath been mycold comfort and my companionbut now I need it no morefor I have thy livingpresenceand it can but serve to stir up memories of that which I would fainforget. Let it therefore go back to the dust from which I held it.
"Behold! I have prepared against this happy hour!" and going to theother shelfor stone ledgewhichshe saidhad served her for a bedshe tookfrom it a large vitrified double-handed vasethe mouth of which was tied upwith a bladder. This she loosedand thenhaving bent down and gently kissedthe white forehead of the dead manshe undid the vaseand sprinkled itscontents carefully over the formtakingI observedthe greatest precautionsagainst any drop of them touching us or herselfand then poured out whatremained of the liquid upon the chest and head. Instantly a dense vapor aroseand the cave was filled with choking fumes that prevented us from seeinganything while the deadly acid (for I presume it was some tremendous preparationof that sort) did its work. From the spot where the body lay came a fiercefizzing and cracking soundwhich ceasedhoweverbefore the fumes had clearedaway. At last they were all goneexcept a little cloud that still hung over thecorpse. In a couple of minutes more this too had vanishedandwonderful as itmay seemit is a fact that on the stone bench that had supported the mortalremains of the ancient Kallikrates for so many centuries there was now nothingto be seen but a few handfuls of smoking white powder. The acid had utterlydestroyed the bodyand even in places eaten into the stone.
Ayesha stooped downandtaking a handful of this powder in her graspthrewit into the airsaying at the same timein a voice of calm solemnity"Dust to dust! The past to the past! The dead to the dead! Kallikrates isdeadand is born again!"
The ashes floated noiselessly to the rocky floorand we stood in awedsilence and watched them falltoo overcome for words.
"Now leave me" she said"and sleep if ye may. I must watchand thinkfor tomorrow night we go henceand the time is long since I trod thepath that we must follow."
Accordingly we bowed and left her.
As we passed to our own apartment I peeped into Job's sleeping placeto seehow he faredfor he had gone away just before our interview with the murderedUstanequite prostrated by the terrors of the Amahagger festivity. He wassleeping soundlygood honest fellow that he wasand I rejoiced to think thathis nerveswhichlike those of most uneducated peoplewere far from stronghad been spared the closing scenes of this dreadful day. Then we entered our ownchamberand here at last poor Leowhoever since he had looked upon thatfrozen image of his living selfhad been in a state not far removed fromstupefactionburst out into a torrent of grief. Now that he was no longer inthe presence of the dread Shehis sense of the awfulness of all that hadhappenedand more especially of the wicked murder of Ustanewho was bound tohim by ties so closebroke upon him like a stormand lashed him into an agonyof remorse and terror which was painful to witness. He cursed himself- he cursedthe hour when we had first seen the writing on the sherdwhich was being somysteriously verifiedand bitterly he cursed his own weakness. Ayesha he darednot curse- who dared speak evil of such a womanwhose consciousness for aughtwe knew was watching us at the very moment?
"What am I to doold fellow?" he groanedresting his head againstmy shoulder in the extremity of his grief. "I let her be killed- not that Icould help thatbut within five minutes I was kissing her murderess over herbody. I am a degraded brutebut I cannot resist that"- and here his voicesank- "that awful sorceress. I know I shall do it again tomorrow; I knowthat I am in her power for always; if I never saw her again I should never thinkof anybody else during all my life; I must follow her as a needle follows amagnet; I would not go away now if I could; I could not leave hermy legs wouldnot carry mebut my mind is still clear enoughand in my mind I hate her- atleastI think so. It is all so horrible; and that- that body! What can I makeof it? It was me! I am sold into bondageold fellowand she will take my soulas the price of herself!"
Thenfor the first timeI told him that I was in a but very little betterposition; and I am bound to say thatnotwithstanding his own infatuationhehad the decency to sympathize with me. Perhaps he did not think it worth whilebeing jealousrealizing that he had no cause so far as the lady was concerned.I went on to suggest that we should try to run awaybut we soon rejected theproject as futileandto be perfectly honestI do not believe that either ofus would really have left Ayesha even if some superior power had suddenlyoffered to convey us from these gloomy caves and set us down in Cambridge. Wecould no more have left her than a moth can leave the light that destroys it. Wewere like confirmed opium eaters: in our moments of reason we well knew thedeadly nature of our pursuitbut we certainly were not prepared to abandon itsterrible delights.
No man who once had seen She unveiledand heard the music of her voiceanddrunk in the bitter wisdom of her wordswould willingly give up the sight for awhole sea of placid joys. How much morethenwas this likely to be so whenasin Leo's caseto put myself out of the questionthis extraordinary creaturedeclared her utter and absolute devotionand gave what appeared to be proofs ofits having lasted for some two thousand years?
No doubt she was a wicked personand no doubt she had murdered Ustane whenshe stood in her pathbut then she was very faithfuland by a law of natureman is apt to think but lightly of a woman's crimesespecially if that woman bebeautifuland the crime be committed for the love of him.
And then for the restwhen had such a chance ever come to a man before asthat which now lay in Leo's hand? Truein uniting himself to this dread womanhe would place his life under the influence of a mysterious creature of eviltendencies* but then that would be likely enough to happen to him in anyordinary marriage. On the other handhoweverno ordinary marriage could bringhim such awful beauty- for awful is the only word that can describe it- suchdivine devotionsuch wisdomand command over the secrets of natureand theplace and power that they must winor lastly the royal crown of unending youthif indeed she could give that. Noon the wholeit is not wonderful that thoughLeo was plunged in bitter shame and griefsuch as any gentleman would have feltunder the circumstanceshe was not ready to entertain the idea of running awayfrom his extraordinary fortune. -
* After some months of consideration of this statement I am bound to confessthat I am not quite satisfied of its truth. It is perfectly true that Ayeshacommitted a murderbut I shrewdly suspect thatwere we endowed with the sameabsolute powerand if we had the same tremendous interest at stakewe shouldbe very apt to do likewise under parallel circumstances. Alsoit must beremembered that she looked on it as an execution for disobedience under a systemwhich made the slightest disobedience punishable by death. Putting aside thisquestion of the murderher evildoing resolves itself into the expression ofviews and the acknowledgment of motives which are contrary to our preaching ifnot to our practice. Now at first sight this might be fairly taken as a proof ofan evil naturebut when we come to consider the great antiquity of theindividual it becomes doubtful if it was anything more than the natural cynicismwhich arises from age and bitter experienceand the possession of extraordinarypowers of observation. It is a well-known fact that very oftenputting theperiod of boyhood out of the questionthe older we grow the more cynical andhardened we getindeedmany of us are only saved by timely death from uttermoral petrification if not moral corruption. No one will deny that a young manis on the average better than an old onefor he is without that experience ofthe order of things that in certain thoughtful dispositions can at hardly failto produce cynicismand that disregard of acknowledged methods and establishedcustom which we call evil. Now the oldest man upon the earth was but a babecompared to Ayeshaand the wisest man upon the earth was not one-third as wise.And the fruit of her wisdom was thisthat there was but one thing worth livingforand that was Love in its highest senseand to gain that good thing she wasnot prepared to stop at trifles. This is really the sum of her evil doingsandit must be remembered on the other hand that whatever may be thought of them shehad some virtues developed to a degree very uncommon in either sex- constancyfor instance.- L. H. H. -
My own opinion is that he would have been mad if he had done so. But then Iconfess that my statement on the matter must be accepted with qualifications. Iam in love with Ayesha myself to this dayand I would rather have been theobject of her affection for one short week than that of any other woman in theworld for a whole lifetime. And let me add that if anybody who doubts thisstatementand thinks me foolish for making itcould have seen Ayesha draw herveil and flash out in beauty on his gazehis view would exactly coincide withmy own. Of courseI am speaking of any man. We never had the advantage of alady's opinion of Ayeshabut I think it quite possible that she would haveregarded the Queen with dislikewould have expressed her disapproval in somemore or less pointed mannerand ultimately have got herself blasted.
For two hours or more Leo and I sat with shaken nerves and frightened eyesand talked over the miraculous events through which we were passing. It seemedlike a dream or a fairy taleinstead of the solemnsober fact. Who would havebelieved that the writing on the potsherd was not only truebut that we shouldlive to verify its truthand that we two seekers should find her who wassoughtpatiently awaiting our coming in the tombs of Kor? Who would havethought that in the person of Leo this mysterious woman shouldas she believeddiscover the being whom she awaited from century to centuryand whose formerearthly habitation she had till this very night preserved? But so it was. In theface of all we had seen it was difficult for us as ordinary reasoning men anylonger to doubt its truthand therefore at lastwith humble hearts and a deepsense of the impotence of human knowledgeand the insolence of its assumptionthat denies that which it has no experience of to be possiblewe laid ourselvesdown to sleepleaving our fates in the hands of that watching Providence whichhad thus chosen to allow us to draw the veil of human ignoranceand reveal tous for good or evil some glimpse of the possibilities of life.
22. Job Has a Presentiment -
IT WAS nine o'clock on the following morning when Jobwho still lookedscared and frightenedcame in to call meand at the same time breathe hisgratitude at finding us alive in our bedswhich it appeared was more than hehad expected. When I told him of the awful end of poor Ustane he was even moregrateful at our survivaland much shockedthough Ustane had been no favoriteof hisor he of hersfor the matter of that. She had called him"pig" in bastard Arabicand he had called her "hussy" ingood Englishbut these amenities were forgotten in the face of the catastrophethat had overwhelmed her at the hands of her queen.
"I don't want to say anything as mayn't be agreeablesir" saidJobwhen he had finished exclaiming at my tale"but it's my opinion thatthat there She is the Old Gentleman himselfor perhaps his wifeif he has onewhich I suppose he hasfor he couldn't be so wicked all by himself. The Witchof Endor was a fool to hersir: bless youshe would make no more of raisingevery gentleman in the Bible out of these here beastly tombs than I should ofgrowing cress on an old flannel. It's a country of devilsthis issirandshe's the master one of the lot; and if ever we get out of it it will be morethan I expect to do. I don't see no way out of it. That witch isn't likely tolet a fine young man like Mr. Leo go."
"Come" I said"at any rate she saved his life."
"Yesand she'll take his soul to pay for it. She'll make him a witchlike herself. I say it's wicked to have anything to do with those sort ofpeople. Last nightsirI lay awake and read in my little Bible that my poorold mother gave me about what is going to happen to sorceresses and them sorttill my hair stood on end. Lordhow the old lady would stare if she saw whereher Job had got to!"
"Yesit's a queer countryand a queer people tooJob" Ianswered with a sighforthough I am not superstitious like JobI admit to anatural shrinking (which will not bear investigation) from the things that areabove Nature.
"You are rightsir" he answered"and if you won't think mevery foolishI should like to say something to you now that Mr. Leo is out ofthe way"- Leo had got up early and gone for a stroll- "and that isthat I know it is the last country as ever I shall see in this world. I had adream last nightand I dreamed that I saw my old father with a kind ofnightshirt on himsomething like these folks wear when they want to be inparticular full-dressand a bit of that feathery grass in his handwhich hemay have gathered on the wayfor I saw lots of it yesterday about three hundredyards from the mouth of this beastly cave.
"'Job' he said to mesolemn likeand yet with a kind of satisfactionshining through himmore like a Methody parson when he has sold a neighbor amarked horse for a sound one and cleared twenty pounds by the job than anythingI can think on- 'Jobtime's upJob; but I never did expect to have to come andhunt you out in this 'ere placeJob. Such ado as I have had to nose you up; itwasn't friendly to give your poor old father such a runlet alone that awonderful lot of bad characters hail from this place Kor.'"
"Regular cautions" I suggested.
"Yessir- of coursesirthat's just what he said they was- 'cautionsdownright scorchers' sir- and I'm sure I don't doubt itseeing what I know ofthem and their hot-potting ways" went on Job sadly. "Anywayhe wassure that time was upand went away saying that we should see more than wecared for of each other soonand I suppose he was a-thinking of the fact thatFather and I never could hit it off together for longer nor three daysand Idare say that things will be similar when we meet again."
"Surely" I said"you don't think that you are going to diebecause you dreamed you saw your old father; if one dies because one dreams ofone's fatherwhat happens to a man who dreams of his mother-in-law?"
"Ahsiryou're laughing at me" said Job; "butyou seeyoudidn't know my old father. If it had been anybody else- my Aunt Maryforinstancewho never made much of a job- I should not have thought so much of it;but my father was that idlewhich he shouldn't have been with seventeenchildrenthat he would never have put himself out to come here just to see theplace. Nosir; I know that he meant business. WellsirI can't help it; Isuppose every man must go some time or otherthough it is a hard thing to diein a place like thiswhere Christian burial isn't to be had for its weight ingold. I've tried to be a good mansirand do my duty honestand if it wasn'tfor the supercilus kind of way in which Father carried on last night- a sort ofsniffing at me as it wereas though he hadn't no opinion of my references andtestimonials- I should feel easy enough in my mind. AnywaysirI've been agood servant to you and Mr. Leobless him! Whyit seems but the other day thatI used to lead him about the streets with a penny whip; and if ever you get outof this place- whichas Father didn't allude to youperhaps you may- I hopeyou will think kindly of my whitened bonesand never have anything more to dowith Greek writing on flower potssirif I may make so bold as to sayso."
"ComecomeJob" I said seriously"this is all nonsenseyou know. You mustn't be silly enough to go getting such ideas into your head.We've lived through some queer thingsand I hope that we may go on doingso."
"Nosir" answered Jobin a tone of conviction that jarred on meunpleasantly"it isn't nonsense. I'm a doomed manand I feel itand awonderful uncomfortable feeling it issirfor one can't help wondering howit's going to come about. If you are eating your dinner you think of poison andit goes against your stomachand if you are walking along these dark rabbitburrows you think of knivesand Lorddon't you just shiver about the back! Iain't particularsirprovided it's sharplike that poor girlwhonow thatshe's goneI am sorry to have spoke hard onthough I don't approve of hermorals in getting marriedwhich I considered too quick to be decent. Stillsir" and poor Job turned a shade paler as he said it"I do hope itwon't be that hot-pot game."
"Nonsense" I broke in angrily"nonsense!"
"Very wellsir" said Job"it isn't my place to differ fromyousirbut if you happen to be going anywheresirI should be obliged ifyou could manage to take me with youseeing that I shall be glad to have afriendly face to look at when the time comesjust to help one throughas itwere. And nowsirI'll be getting the breakfast" and he wentleaving mein a very uncomfortable state of mind. I was deeply attached to old Jobwho wasone of the best and most honest men I have ever had to do with in any class oflifeand really more of a friend than a servantand the mere idea of anythinghappening to him brought a lump into my throat. Beneath all his ludicrous talk Icould see that he himself was quite convinced that something was going tohappenand though in most cases these convictions turn out to be uttermoonshine- and this particular one especially was to be amply accounted for bythe gloomy and unaccustomed surroundings in which its victim was placed- stillit did more or less carry a chill to my heartas any dread that is obviously agenuine object of belief is apt to dohowever absurd the belief may be.Presently the breakfast arrivedand with it Leowho had been taking a walkoutside the cave- to clear his mindhe said- and very glad I was to see bothfor they gave me a respite from my gloomy thoughts. After breakfast we went foranother walkand watched some of the Amahagger sowing a plot of ground with thegrain from which they make their beer. This they did in Scriptural fashion- aman with a bag made of goat's hide fastened round his waist walking up and downthe plot and scattering the seed as he went. It was a positive relief to see oneof these dreadful people do anything so homely and pleasant as sow a fieldperhaps because it seemed to link themas it werewith the rest of humanity.
As we were returning Billali met usand informed us that it was She'spleasure that we should wait upon herand accordingly we entered her presencenot without trepidationfor Ayesha was certainly an exception to the rule.Familiarity with her might and did breed passion and wonder and horrorbut itcertainly did not breed contempt.
We were as usual shown in by the mutesand after these had retired Ayeshaunveiledand once more bade Leo embrace herwhichnotwithstanding hisheart-searchings of the previous nighthe did with more alacrity and fervorthan in strictness courtesy required.
She laid her white hand on his headand looked him fondly in the eyes."Dost thou wondermy Kallikrates" she said"when thou shaltcall me all thine ownand when we shall of a truth be for one another and toone another? I will tell thee. Firstmust thou be even as I amnot immortalindeedfor that I am notbut so cased and hardened against the attacks of Timethat his arrows shall glance from the armor of thy vigorous life as the sunbeamsglance from water. As yet I may not mate with theefor thou and I aredifferentand the very brightness of my being would burn thee upand perchancedestroy thee. Thou couldst not even endure to look upon me for too long a timelest thine eyes should acheand thy senses swimand therefore"- with alittle coquettish nod- "shall I presently veil myself again." (This bythe way she did not do.) "No: listenthou shalt not be tried beyondendurancefor this very eveningan hour before the sun goes downshall westart henceand by tomorrow's darkif all goes welland the road is not lostto mewhich I pray it may not beshall we stand in the place of Lifeand thoushalt bathe in the fireand come forth glorifiedas no man ever was beforetheeand thenKallikratesshalt thou call me wifeand I will call theehusband."
Leo muttered something in answer to this astonishing statementI do not knowwhatand she laughed a little at his confusionand went on.
"And thoutooO Holly; on thee also will I confer this boonand thenof a truth shalt thou be an evergreen treeand this will I do- wellbecausethou hast pleased meHollyfor thou art not altogether a foollike most ofthe sons of menand becausethough thou hast a school of philosophy as full ofnonsense as those of the old daysyet hast thou not forgotten how to turn apretty phrase about a lady's eyes."
"Hulloold fellow!" whispered Leowith a return of his oldcheerfulness. "Have you been paying compliments? I should never havethought it of you!"
"I thank theeO Ayesha" I repliedwith as much dignity as Icould command"but if there be such a place as thou dost describeand ifin this strange place there may be found a fiery virtue that can hold off Deathwhen he comes to pluck us by the handyet would I none of it. For meO Ayeshathe world has not proved so soft a nest that I would lie in it forever. Astony-hearted mother is our earthand stones are the bread she gives herchildren for their daily food. Stones to eat and bitter water for their thirstand stripes for tender nurture. Who would endure this for many lives? Who wouldso load up his back with memories of lost hours and lovesand of his neighbor'ssorrows that he cannot lessenand wisdom that brings not consolation? Hard isit to diebecause our delicate flesh doth shrink back from the worm it will notfeeland from that unknown which the winding sheet doth curtain from our view.But harder stillto my fancywould it be to live ongreen in the leaf andfairbut dead and rotten at the coreand feel that other secret worm ofrecollection gnawing ever at the heart."
"Bethink theeHolly" she said; "yet doth long life andstrength and beauty beyond measure mean power and all things that are dear toman."
"And whatO Queen" I answered"are those things that aredear to man? Are they not bubbles? Is not ambition but an endless ladder bywhich no height is ever climbed till the last unreachable rung is mounted? Forheight leads on to heightand there is no resting place upon themand rungdoth grow upon rungand there is no limit to the number. Doth not wealthsatiate and become nauseatingand no longer serve to satisfy or pleasureor tobuy an hour's ease of mind? And is there any end to wisdom that we may hope toreach it? Ratherthe more we learn shall we not thereby be able only to bettercompass out our ignorance? Did we live ten thousand years could we hope to solvethe secrets of the sunsand of the space beyond the sunsand of the Hand thathung them in the heavens? Would not our wisdom be but as a gnawing hungercalling our consciousness day by day to a knowledge of the empty craving of oursouls? Would it not be but as a light in one of these great cavernsthat thoughbright it burnand brighter yetdoth but the more serve to show the depths ofthe gloom around it? And what good thing is there beyond that we may gain bylength of days?"
"Naymy Hollythere is love- love which makes all things beautifuland doth breathe divinity into the very dust we tread. With love shall life rollgloriously on from year to yearlike the voice of some great music that hathpower to hold the hearer's heart poised on eagle's wings above the sordid shameand folly of the earth."
"It may be so" I answered; "but if the loved one prove abroken reed to pierce usor if the love be loved in vain- what then? Shall aman grave his sorrows upon a stone when he hath but need to write them on thewater? NayO SheI will live my day and grow old with my generationand diemy appointed deathand be forgotten. For I do hope for an immortality to whichthe little span that perchance thou canst confer will be but as a finger'slength laid against the measure of the great world; andmark this: theimmortality to which I lookand which my faith doth promise to meshall befree from the bonds that here must tie my spirit down. Forwhile the fleshenduressorrow and evil and the scorpion whips of sin must endure also; butwhen the flesh hath fallen from usthen shall the spirit shine forth clad inthe brightness of eternal goodand for its common air shall breathe so rare anether of most noble thoughtsthat the highest aspiration of our manhoodor thepurest incense of a maiden's prayerwould prove too earthly gross to floattherein."
"Thou lookest high" answered Ayeshawith a little laugh"and speakest clearly as a trumpet and with no uncertain sound. And yetmethinks that but now didst thou talk of 'that Unknown' from which the windingsheet doth curtain us. But perchancethou seest with the eye of Faithgazingon this brightness that is to bethrough the painted glass of thy imagination.Strange are the pictures of the future that mankind can thus draw with thisbrush of faith and this many-colored pigment of imagination! Strangetoothatno one of them doth agree with another! I could tell thee- but therewhat isthe use? Why rob a fool of his bauble? Let it passand I prayO Hollythatwhen thou dost feel old age creeping slowly towards thyselfand the confusionof senility making havoc in thy brainthou mayest not bitterly regret that thoudidst cast away the imperial boon I would have given to thee. But so it hathever been; man can never be content with that which his hand can pluck. If alamp be in his reach to light him through the darknesshe must needs cast itdown because it is no star. Happiness danceth ever a pace before himlike themarsh fires in the swampsand he must catch the fireand he must hold thestar! Beauty is naught to himbecause there are lips more honey-sweet; andwealth is naughtbecause others can weigh him down with heavier shekels; andfame is naughtbecause there have been greater men than he. Thyself thou saidstitand I turn thy words against thee. Wellthou dreamest that thou shalt pluckthe star. I believe it notand I think thee a foolmy Hollyto throw away thelamp."
I made no answerfor I could not- especially before Leo- tell her that sinceI had seen her face I knew that it would always be before my eyesand that Ihad no wish to prolong an existence which must always be haunted and tortured byher memoryand by the last bitterness of unsatisfied love. But so it wasandsoalasis it to this hour!
"And now" went on Shechanging her tone and the subject together"tell memy Kallikratesfor as yet I know it nothow came ye to seek mehere? Yesternight thou didst say that Kallikrates- him whom thou sawest- wasthine ancestor. How was it? Tell me- thou dost not speak overmuch!"
Thus adjuredLeo told her the wonderful story of the casket and of thepotsherd thatwritten on by his ancestressthe Egyptian Amenartashad beenthe means of guiding us to her. Ayesha listened intentlyandwhen he hadfinishedspoke to me.
"Did I not tell thee one daywhen we did talk of good and evilOHolly- it was when my beloved lay so ill- that out of good came eviland out ofevil good- that they who sowed knew not what the crop should benor he whostruck where the blow should fall? Seenow: this Egyptian Amenartasthis royalchild of the Nile who hated meand whom even now I hatefor in a way she didprevail against me- seenowshe herself hath been the very means to bring herlover to mine arms! For her sake I slew himand nowbeholdthrough her hehath come back to me! She would have done me eviland sowed her seeds that Imight reap taresand behold she hath given me more than all the world can giveand there is a strange square for thee to fit into thy circle of good and evilO Holly!
"And so" she went on after a pause"and so she bade her sondestroy me if he mightbecause I slew his father. And thoumy Kallikratesartthe fatherand in a sense thou art likewise the son; and wouldst thou avengethy wrongand the wrong of that far-off mother of thine upon meO Kallikrates?See"- and she slid to her kneesand drew the white corsage still fartherdown her ivory bosom- "seehere beats my heartand there by thy side is aknifeheavyand longand sharpthe very knife to slay an erring woman with.Take it nowand be avenged. Strikeand strike home! So shalt thou besatisfiedKallikratesand go through life a happy manbecause thou hast paidback the wrongand obeyed the mandate of the past."
He looked at herand then stretched out his hand and lifted her to her feet.
"RiseAyesha" he said sadly; "well thou knowest that Icannot strike theenonot even for the sake of her whom thou slewest but lastnight. I am in thy powerand a very slave to thee. How can I kill thee? Soonershould I slay myself."
"Almost dost thou begin to love meKallikrates" she answeredsmiling. "And now tell me of thy country- 'tis a great peopleis it not?With an empire like that of Rome! Surely thou wouldst return thitherand it iswellfor I mean not that thou shouldst dwell in these caves of Kor. Naywhenonce thou art even as I amwe will go hence- fear not but that I shall find apath- and then shall we cross to this England of thineand live as it becomethus to live. Two thousand years have I waited for the day when I should see thelast of these hateful caves and this gloomy-visaged folkand now it is at handand my heart bounds up to meet it like a child's towards its holiday. For thoushalt rule this England-"
"But we have a queen already" broke in Leo hastily.
"It is naughtit is naught" said Ayesha; "she can beoverthrown."
At this we both broke out into an exclamation of dismayand explained thatwe should as soon think of overthrowing ourselves.
"But here is a strange thing" said Ayesha in astonishment; "aqueen whom her people love! Surely the world must have changed since I havedwelt in Kor."
Again we explained that it was the character of monarchs that had changedand that the one under whom we lived was venerated and beloved by allright-thinking people in her vast realms. Alsowe told her that real power inour country rested in the hands of the peopleand that we were in fact ruled bythe votes of the lower and least educated classes of the community.
"Ah" she said"a democracy- then surely there is a tyrantfor I have long since seen that democracieshaving no clear will of their ownin the end set up a tyrantand worship him."
"Yes" I said"we have our tyrants."
"Well" she answered resignedly"we can at any rate destroythese tyrantsand Kallikrates shall rule the land."
I instantly informed Ayesha that in England "blasting" was not anamusement that could be indulged in with impunityand that any such attemptwould meet with the consideration of the law and probably end upon a scaffold.
"The law" she laughed with scorn"the law! Canst thou notunderstandO Hollythat I am above the lawand so shall my Kallikrates bealso? All human law will be to us as the north wind to a mountain. Does the windbend the mountainor the mountain the wind?
"And now leave meI pray theeand thou toomy own Kallikratesfor Iwould get me ready against our journeyand so must ye bothand your servantalso. But bring no great quantity of things with theefor I trust that we shallbe but three days gone. Then shall we return hitherand I will make a planwhereby we can bid farewell forever to these sepulchers of Kor. Yessurely thoumayst kiss my hand!"
So we wentIfor onemeditating deeply on the awful nature of the problemthat now opened out before us. The terrible She had evidently made up her mindto go to Englandand it made me absolutely shudder to think what would be theresult of her arrival there. What her powers were I knewand I could not doubtbut that she would exercise them to the full. It might be possible to controlher for a whilebut her proudambitious spirit would be certain to break looseand avenge itself for the long centuries of its solitude. She wouldifnecessaryand if the power of her beauty did not unaided prove equal to theoccasionblast her way to any end she set before herand as she could not dieand for aught I knew could not even be killed* what was there to stop her? Inthe end she wouldI had little doubtassume absolute rule over the Britishdominionsand probably over the whole earthandthough I was sure that shewould speedily make ours the most glorious and prosperous empire that the worldhas ever seenit would be at the cost of a terrible sacrifice of life. -
* I regret to say that I was never able to ascertain if She was invulnerableagainst the accidents of life. Presumably this was soelse some misadventurewould have been sure to put an end to her in the course of so many centuries.Trueshe offered to let Leo slay herbut very probably this was only anexperiment to try his temper and mental attitude towards her. Ayesha never gaveway to impulse without some valid object.- L. H. H. -
The whole thing sounded like a dream or some extraordinary invention of aspeculative brainand yet it was a fact- a wonderful fact- of which the wholeworld would soon be called on to take notice. What was the meaning of it all?After much thinking I could only conclude that this wonderful creaturewhosepassion had kept her for so many centuries chainedas it wereandcomparatively harmlesswas now about to be used by Providence as a means tochange the order of the worldand possiblyby the building up of a power thatcould no more be rebelled against or questioned than the decrees of Fatetochange it materially for the better.
23. The Temple of Truth -
OUR PREPARATIONS did not take us very long. We put a change of clothingapiece and some spare boots into my Gladstone bagalso we took our revolversand an express rifle eachtogether with a good supply of ammunitionaprecaution to whichunder Providencewe subsequently owed our lives over andover again. The rest of our geartogether with our heavy rifleswe left behindus.
A few minutes before the appointed time we once more attended in Ayesha'sboudoirand found her also readyher dark cloak thrown over her winding sheetlike wrappings.
"Are ye prepared for the great venture?" she said.
"We are" I answered"though for my partAyeshaI have nofaith in it."
"Ahmy Holly" she said"thou art of a truth like those oldJews- of whom the memory vexes me so sorely- unbelievingand hard to acceptthat which they have not known. But thou shalt see; for unless my mirror yonderlies"- and she pointed to the font of crystal water- "the path is yetopen as it was of old time. And now let us start upon the new life which shallend- who knoweth where?"
"Ah" I echoed"who knoweth where?" and we passed downinto the great central caveand out into the light of day. At the mouth of thecave we found a single litter with six bearersall of them muteswaitingandwith them I was relieved to see our old friend Billalifor whom I had conceiveda sort of affection. It appeared thatfor reasons not necessary to explain atlengthAyesha had thought it best thatwith the exception of herselfweshould proceed on footand this we were nothing loath to doafter our longconfinement in these caveswhichhowever suitable they might be forsarcophagi- a singularly inappropriate wordby the wayfor these particulartombswhich certainly did not consume the bodies given to their keeping- weredepressing habitations for breathing mortals like ourselves. Either by accidentor by the orders of Shethe space in front of the cave where we had beheld thatawful dance was perfectly clear of spectators. Not a soul was to be seenandconsequently I do not believe that our departure was known to anybodyexceptperhaps the mutes who waited on Sheand they wereof coursein the habit ofkeeping what they saw to themselves.
In a few minutes' time we were stepping out sharply across the greatcultivated plain or lake bedframed like a vast emerald in its setting offrowning cliffand had another opportunity of wondering at the extraordinarynature of the site chosen by these old people of Kor for their capitaland atthe marvelous amount of laboringenuityand engineering skill that must havebeen brought into requisition by the founders of the city to drain so huge asheet of waterand to keep it clear of subsequent accumulations. It isindeedso far as my experience goesan unequaled instance of what man can do in theface of naturefor in my opinion such achievements as the Suez Canal or eventhe Mont Cenis Tunnel do not approach this ancient undertaking in magnitude andgrandeur of conception.
When we had been walking for about half an hourenjoying ourselvesexceedingly in the delightful cool which about this time of the day alwaysappeared to descend upon the great plain of Korand which in some degree atonedfor the want of any land or sea breeze- for all wind was kept off by the rockymountain wall- we began to get a clear view of what Billali had informed us werethe ruins of the great city. And even from that distance we could see howwonderful those ruins werea fact which with every step we took became moreevident. The city was not very large if compared to Babylon or Thebesor othercities of remote antiquity; perhaps its outer wall contained some twelve squaremiles of groundor a little more. Nor had the wallsso far as we could judgewhen we reached thembeen very highprobably not more than forty feetwhichwas about their present height where they had not through the sinking of thegroundor some such causefallen into ruin. The reason of thisno doubtwasthat the people of Korbeing protected from any outside attack by far moretremendous ramparts than any that the hand of man could rearonly required themfor show and to guard against civil discord. But on the other hand they were asbroad as they were highbuilt entirely of dressed stonehewnno doubtfromthe vast cavesand surrounded by a great moat about sixty feet in widthsomereaches of which were still filled with water. About ten minutes before the sunfinally sank we reached this moatand passed down and through itclamberingacross what evidently were the piled-up fragments of a great bridge in order todo soand then with some little difficulty up the slope of the wall to itssummit. I wish that it lay within the power of my pen to give some idea of thegrandeur of the sight that then met our view. Thereall bathed in the red glowof the sinking sunwere miles upon miles of ruins- columnstemplesshrinesand the palaces of kingsvaried with patches of green bush. Of coursetheroofs of these buildings had long since fallen into decay and vanishedbutowing to the extreme massiveness of the style of buildingand to the hardnessand durability of the rock employedmost of the party walls and great columnsstill remained standing. * -
* In connection with the extraordinary state of preservation of these ruinsafter so vast a lapse of time- at least six thousand years- it must beremembered that Kor was not burned or destroyed by an enemy or an earthquakebut desertedowing to the action of a terrible plague. Consequently the houseswere left unharmed; alsothe climate of the plain is remarkably fine and dryand there is very little rain or wind; as a result of which these relics haveonly to contend against the unaided action of timewhich works but slowly uponsuch massive blocks of masonry.- L. H. H. -
Straight before us stretched away what had evidently been the mainthoroughfare of the cityfor it was very widewider than the ThamesEmbankmentand regular. Beingas we afterwards discoveredpavedor ratherbuiltthroughout of blocks of dressed stonesuch as were employed in thewallsit was but little overgrown even now with grass and shrubs that could getno depth of soil to live in. What had been the parks and gardenson thecontrarywere now dense jungle. Indeedit was easy even from a distance totrace the course of the various roads by the burnt-up appearance of the scantygrass that grew upon them. On either side of this great thoroughfare were vastblocks of ruinseach blockgenerally speakingbeing separated from itsneighbor by a space of what had onceI supposebeen garden groundbut was nowdense and tangled bush. They were all built of the same colored stoneand mostof them had pillarswhich was as much as we could make out in the fading lightas we passed swiftly up the main roadwhich I believe I am right in saying noliving foot had pressed for thousands of years. * -
* Billali told me that the Amahagger believe that the site of the city ishauntedand could not be persuaded to enter it upon any consideration. IndeedI could see that he himself did not at all like doing soand was only consoledby the reflection that he was under the direct protection of She. It struck Leoand myself as very curious that a people which has no objection to livingamongst the deadwith whom their familiarity has perhaps bred contemptandeven using their bodies for purposes of fuelshould be terrified at approachingthe habitations that these very departed had occupied when alive. After allhoweverit is only a savage inconsistency.- L. H. H. -
Presently we came to an enormous pilewhich we rightly took to be a templecovering at least four acres of groundand apparently arranged in a series ofcourtseach one enclosing another of smaller sizeon the principle of aChinese nest of boxeswhich were separated one from the other by rows of hugecolumns. Andwhile I think of itI may as well state a remarkable thing aboutthe shape of these columnswhich resembled none that I have ever seen or heardofbeing fashioned with a kind of waist in the centerand swelling out aboveand below. At first we thought that this shape was meant to roughly symbolize orsuggest the female formas was a common habit amongst the ancient religiousarchitects of many creeds. On the following dayhoweveras we went up theslopes of the mountainwe discovered a large quantity of the moststately-looking palmsof which the trunks grew exactly in this shapeand Ihave now no doubt but that the first designer of these columns drew hisinspiration from the graceful bends of those very palmsor rather of theirancestorswhich thensome eight or ten thousand years agoas nowbeautifiedthe slopes of the mountain that had once formed the shores of the volcanic lake.
At the facade of this huge templewhichI should imagineis almost aslarge as that of El-Karnacat Thebessome of the largest columnswhich Imeasuredbeing between eighteen to twenty feet in diameter at the basebyabout seventy feet in heightour little procession was haltedand Ayeshadescended from her litter.
"There used to be a spot hereKallikrates" she said to Leowhohad run up to help her down"where one might sleep. Two thousand years agodid thou and I and that Egyptian asp rest thereinbut since then have I not setfoot herenor any manand perchance it has fallen" andfollowed by therest of usshe passed up a vast flight of broken and ruined steps into theouter courtand looked round into the gloom. Presently she seemed to recollectandwalking a few paces along the wall to the lefthalted.
"It is here" she saidand at the same time beckoned to the twomuteswho were loaded with provisions and our little belongingsto advance.One of them came forwardandproducing a lamplit it from his brazier (forthe Amahagger when on a journey nearly always carried with them a little lightedbrazierfrom which to provide fire). The tinder of this brazier was made ofbroken fragments of mummy carefully dampedandif the admixture of moisturewas properly managedthis unholy compound would smolder away for hours. * Assoon as the lamp was lit we entered the place before which Ayesha had halted. Itturned out to be a chamber hollowed in the thickness of the wallandfrom thefact of there still being a massive stone table in itI should think that ithad probably served as a living roomperhaps for one of the doorkeepers of thegreat temple. -
* After allwe are not much in advance of the Amahagger in these matters."Mummy" that ispounded ancient EgyptianisI believea pigmentmuch used by artistsand especially by those of them who direct their talentsto the reproduction of the works of the old masters.- EDITOR. -
Here we stoppedand after cleaning the place out and making it ascomfortable as circumstances and the darkness would permitwe ate some coldmeatat least LeoJoband I didfor Ayeshaas I think I have saidelsewherenever touched anything except cakes of flourfruitand water. Whilewe were still eatingthe moonwhich was at her fullrose above the mountainwalland began to flood the place with silver.
"Wot ye why I have brought you here tonightmy Holly?" saidAyeshaleaning her head upon her hand and watching the great orb as she roselike some heavenly queenabove the solemn pillars of the temple. "Ibrought you- nayit is strangebut knowest thouKallikratesthat thou liestat this moment upon the very spot where thy dead body lay when I bore thee backto those caves of Kor so many years ago? It all returns to my mind now. I cansee itand horrible is it to my sight!" and she shuddered.
Here Leo jumped up and hastily changed his seat. However the reminiscencemight affect Ayeshait clearly had few charms for him.
"I brought you" went on Ayesha presently"that ye might lookupon the most wonderful sight that ever the eye of man beheld- the full moonshining over ruined Kor. When ye have done your eating- I would that I couldteach thee to eat naught but fruitKallikratesbut that will come after thouhast laved in the fireonce Itooate flesh like a brute beast- when ye havedone we will go outand I will show you this great temple and the God whom menonce worshiped therein."
Of course we got up at onceand started. And here again my pen fails me. Togive a string of measurements and details of the various courts of the templewould only be wearisomesupposing that I had themand yet I know not how I amto describe what we sawmagnificent as it was even in its ruinalmost beyondthe power of realization. Court upon dim courtrow upon row of mighty pillars-some of them (especially at the gateways) sculptured from pedestal to capital-space upon space of empty chambers that spoke more eloquently to the imaginationthan any crowded streets. And over allthe dead silence of the deadthe senseof utter lonelinessand the brooding spirit of the Past! How beautiful it wasand yet how drear! We did not dare to speak aloud. Ayesha herself was awed inthe presence of an antiquity compared to which even her length of days was but alittle thing; we only whisperedand our whispers seemed to run from column tocolumntill they were lost in the quiet air. Bright fell the moonlight onpillar and court and shattered wallhiding all their rents and imperfections inits silver garmentand clothing their hoar majesty with the peculiar glory ofthe night. It was a wonderful sight to see the full moon looking down on theruined fane of Kor. It was a wonderful thing to think for how many thousands ofyears the dead orb above and the dead city below had gazed thus upon each otherand in the utter solitude of space poured forth each to each the tale of theirlost life and long-departed glory. The white light felland minute by minutethe quiet shadows crept across the grass-grown courts like the spirits of oldpriests haunting the habitations of their worship- the white light felland thelong shadows grew till the beauty and grandeur of the scene and the untamedmajesty of its present Death seemed to sink into our very soulsand speak moreloudly than the shouts of armies concerning the pomp and splendor that the gravehad swallowedand even memory had forgotten.
"Come" said Ayeshaafter we had gazed and gazedI know not forhow long"and I will show you the stony flower of Loveliness and Wonder'svery crownif yet it stands to mock time with its beauty and fill the heart ofman with longing for that which is behind the veil" andwithout waitingfor an answershe led us through two more pillared courts into the inner shrineof the old fane.
And therein the center of the inmost courtwhich might have been somefifty yards squareor a little morewe stood face to face with what is perhapsthe grandest allegorical work of art that the genius of her children has evergiven to the world. For in the exact center of the courtplaced upon a thicksquare slab of rockwas a huge round ball of dark stonesome forty feet indiameterand standing on the ball was a colossal winged figure of a beauty soentrancing and divine that when I first gazed upon itilluminated and shadowedas it was by the soft light of the moonmy breath stood stilland for aninstant my heart ceased its beating.
The statue was hewn from marble so pure and white that even nowafter allthose agesit shone as the moonbeams danced upon itand its height wasIshould saya trifle under twenty feet. It was the winged figure of a woman ofsuch marvelous loveliness and delicacy of form that the size seemed rather toadd to than to detract from its so human and yet more spiritual beauty. She wasbending forward and poising herself upon her half-spread wings as though topreserve her balance as she leaned. Her arms were outstretched like those ofsome woman about to embrace one she dearly lovedwhile her whole attitude gavean impression of the tenderest beseeching. Her perfect and most gracious formwas nakedsave- and here came the extraordinary thing- the facewhich wasthinly veiledso that we could only trace the marking of her features. A gauzyveil was thrown round and about the headand of its two ends one fell downacross her left breastwhich was outlined beneath itand onenow brokenstreamed away upon the air behind her.
"Who is she?" I askedas soon as I could take my eyes off thestatue. "Canst thou not guessO Holly?" answered Ayesha. "Wherethen is thy imagination? It is Truth standing on the Worldand calling to itschildren to unveil her face. See what is writ upon the pedestal. Without doubtit is taken from the book of the scriptures of these men of Kor" and sheled the way to the foot of the statuewhere an inscription of the usualChinese-looking hieroglyphics was so deeply graven as to be still quite legibleat least to Ayesha. According to her translation it ran thus: -
"Is there no man that will draw my veil and look upon my facefor it isvery fair? Unto him who draws my veil shall I beand peace will I give himandsweet children of knowledge and good works."
And a voice cried"Though all those who seek after thee desire theebehold! Virgin art thouand Virgin shalt thou go till Time be done. No man isthere born of woman who may draw thy veil and livenor shall be. By Death onlycan thy veil be drawnoh Truth!"
And Truth stretched out her arms and weptbecause those who sought her mightnot find hernor look upon her face to face. -
"Thou seest" said Ayeshawhen she had finished translating"Truth was the goddess of the people of old Korand to her they builttheir shrinesand her they sought; knowing that they should never findstillsought they."
"And so" I added sadly"do men seek to this very hourbutthey find not; andas this scripture saithnor shall they; for in Death onlyis Truth found."
Then with one more look at this veiled and spiritualized loveliness- whichwas so perfect and so pure that one might almost fancy that the light of aliving spirit shone through the marble prison to lead man on to high andethereal thoughts- this poet's dream of beauty frozen into stonewhich I nevershall forget while I livethough I find myself so helpless when I attempt todescribe itwe turned and went back through the vast moonlit courts to the spotwhence we had started. I never saw the statue againwhich I the more regretbecause on the great ball of stone representing the world whereon the figurestoodlines were drawn that probablyhad there been light enoughwe shouldhave discovered to be a map of the universe as it was known to the people ofKor. It is at any rate suggestive of some scientific knowledge that theselong-dead worshipers of Truth had recognized the fact that the globe is round.
24. Walking the Plank -
NEXT DAY the mutes woke us before the dawn; and by the time that we had gotthe sleep out of our eyesand gone through a perfunctory wash at a spring whichstill welled up into the remains of a marble basin in the center of the northquadrangle of the vast outer courtwe found She standing by the litter ready tostartwhile old Billali and the two bearer mutes were busy collecting thebaggage. As usualAyesha was veiled like the marble Truth (by the wayI wonderif she originally got the idea of covering up her beauty from that statue?). Inoticedhoweverthat she seemed very depressedand had none of that proud andbuoyant bearing which would have betrayed her among a thousand women of the samestatureeven if they had been veiled like herself. She looked up as we came-for her head was bowed- and greeted us. Leo asked her how she had slept.
"Illmy Kallikrates" she answered"ill. This night havestrange and hideous dreams come creeping through my brainand I know not whatthey may portend. Almost do I feel as though some evil overshadowed me; and yethow can evil touch me? I wonder" she went on with a sudden outbreak ofwomanly tenderness"I wonder ifshould aught happen to meso that Islept awhile and left thee wakingthou wouldst think gently of me? I wondermyKallikratesif thou wouldst tarry till I came againas for so many centuries Ihave tarried for thy coming?"
Thenwithout waiting for an answershe went on: "Comelet us besetting forthfor we have far to goand before another day is born in yonderblue should we stand in the place of Life."
In another five minutes we were once more on our way through the vast ruinedcitywhich loomed at us on either side in the gray dawning in a way that was atonce grand and oppressive. Just as the first ray of the rising sun shot like agolden arrow athwart this storied desolation we gained the farther gateway ofthe outer walland having given one more glance at the hoar and pillaredmajesty through which we had passedand (with the exception of Jobfor whomruins had no charms) breathed a sigh of regret that we had not had more time toexplore itpassed through the great moatand on to the plain beyond.
As the sun rose so did Ayesha's spiritstill by breakfast-time they hadregained their normal leveland she laughingly set down her previous depressionto the associations of the spot where she had slept.
"These barbarians declare that Kor is haunted" she said"andof a truth I do believe their sayingfor never did I know so ill a night saveonce. I remember it now. It was on that very spot when thou didst lie dead at myfeetKallikrates. Never will I visit it again; it is a place of evilomen."
After a very brief halt for breakfast we pressed on with such good will thatby two o'clock in the afternoon we were at the foot of the vast wall of rockthat formed the lip of the volcanoand which at this point towered upprecipitously above us for fifteen hundred or two thousand feet. Here we haltedcertainly not to my astonishmentfor I did not see how it was possible that weshould go any farther.
"Now" said Ayeshaas she descended from her litter"dothour labor but commencefor here do we part with these menand henceforwardmust we bear ourselves." And thenaddressing Billali: "Do thou andthese slaves remain hereand abide our coming. By tomorrow at the midday shallwe be with thee- if notwait."
Billali bowed humblyand said that her august bidding should be obeyed ifthey stopped there till they grew old.
"And this manO Holly" said Shepointing to Job; "best isit that he should tarry alsofor if his heart be not high and his couragegreatperchance some evil might overtake him. Alsothe secrets of the placewhither we go are not fit for common eyes."
I translated this to Jobwho instantly and earnestly entreated mealmostwith tears in his eyesnot to leave him behind. He said he was sure that hecould see nothing worse than he had already seenand that he was terrified todeath at the idea of being left alone with those "dumb folk" whohethoughtwould probably take the opportunity to hot-pot him.
I translated what he said to Ayeshawho shrugged her shouldersandanswered"Welllet him comeit is naught to me; on his own head be itand he will serve to bear the lamp and this" and she pointed to a narrowplanksome sixteen feet in lengthwhich had been bound above the long bearingpole of her hammockas I had thought to make the curtains spread out betterbutas it now appearedfor some unknown purpose connected with ourextraordinary undertaking.
Accordinglythe plankwhichthough toughwas very lightwas given to Jobto carryand also one of the lamps. I slung the other onto my backtogetherwith a spare jar of oilwhile Leo loaded himself with the provisions and somewater in a kid's skin. When this was done She bade Billali and the six bearermutes to retreat behind a grove of flowering magnolias about a hundred yardsawayand remain there under pain of death till we had vanished. They bowedhumblyand wentandas he departedold Billali gave me a friendly shake ofthe handand whispered that he had rather that it was I than he who was goingon this wonderful expedition with "She-who-must-be-obeyed" and uponmy word I felt inclined to agree with him. In another minute they were goneandthenhaving briefly asked us if we were readyAyesha turnedand gazed up thetowering cliff.
"Goodness meLeo" I said"surely we are not going to climbthat precipice!"
Leo shrugged his shouldersbeing in a condition of half-fascinatedhalf-expectant mystificationand as he did soAyesha with a sudden move beganto climb the cliffand of course we had to follow her. It was perfectlymarvelous to see the ease and grace with which she sprang from rock to rockandswung herself along the ledges. The ascent was nothoweverso difficult as itseemedalthough there were one or two nasty places where it did not do to lookbehind youthe fact being that the rock still sloped hereand was notabsolutely precipitous as it was higher up. In this way wewith no great labormounted to the height of some fifty feet above our last standing placethe onlyreally troublesome thing to manage being Job's boardand in doing so drew somefifty or sixty paces to the left of our starting pointfor we went up like acrabsideways. Presently we reached a ledgenarrow enough at firstbut whichwidened as we followed itand moreover sloped inwards like the petal of aflowerso that as we followed it we gradually got into a kind of rut or fold ofrock that grew deeper and deepertill at last it resembled a Devonshire lane instoneand hid us perfectly from the gaze of anybody on the slope belowifthere had been anybody to gaze. This lane (which appeared to be a naturalformation) continued for some fifty or sixty pacesand then suddenly ended in acavealso naturalrunning at right angles to it. I am sure that it was anatural caveand not hollowed by the hand of manbecause of its irregular andcontorted shape and coursewhich gave it the appearance of having been blownbodily in the mountain by some frightful eruption of gas following the line ofthe least resistance. All the caves hollowed by the ancients of Koron thecontrarywere cut out with the most perfect regularity and symmetry. At themouth of this cave Ayesha haltedand bade us light the two lampswhich I didgiving one to her and keeping the other myself. Thentaking the leadsheadvanced down the cavernpicking her way with great careas indeed it wasnecessary to dofor the floor was most irregular- strewn with boulders like thebed of a streamand in some places pitted with deep holesin which it wouldhave been easy to break one's leg.
This cavern we pursued for twenty minutes or moreit beingso far as Icould form a judgment- owing to its numerous twists and turns no easy task-about a quarter of a mile long.
At lasthoweverwe halted at its farther endand while I was still tryingto pierce the gloom a great gust of air came tearing down itand extinguishedboth the lamps.
Ayesha called to usand we crept up to herfor she was a little in frontand were rewarded with a view that was positively appalling in its gloom andgrandeur. Before us was a mighty chasm in the black rockjagged and torn andsplintered through it in a far past age by some awful convulsion of Natureasthough it had been cleft by stroke upon stroke of the lightning. This chasmwhich was bounded by a precipice on the hitherand presumablythough we couldnot see iton the farther side alsomay have measured any width acrossbutfrom its darkness I do not think that it can have been very broad. It wasimpossible to make out much of its outlineor how far it ranfor the simplereason that the point where we were standing was so far from the upper surfaceof the cliffat least fifteen hundred or two thousand feetthat only a verydim light struggled down to us from above. The mouth of the cavern that we hadbeen following gave onto a most curious and tremendous spur of rockwhichjutted out in midair into the gulf before usfor a distance of some fiftyyardscoming to a sharp point at its terminationand resembling nothing that Ican think of so much as the spur upon the leg of a cock in shape. This huge spurwas attached only to the parent precipice at its basewhich wasof courseenormousjust as the cock's spur is attached to its leg. Otherwise it wasutterly unsupported.
"Here must we pass" said Ayesha. "Be careful lest giddinessovercome youor the wind sweep you into the gulf beneathfor of a truth ithath no bottom." Andwithout giving us any further time to get scaredshestarted walking along the spurleaving us to follow her as best we might. I wasnext to herthen came Jobpainfully dragging his plankwhile Leo brought upthe rear. It was a wonderful sight to see this intrepid woman gliding fearlesslyalong that dreadful place. For my partwhen I had gone but a very few yardswhat between the pressure of the air and the awful sense of the consequencesthat a slip would entailI found it necessary to go down on my hands and kneesand crawland so did the other two.
But Ayesha never condescended to this. On she wentleaning her body againstthe gusts of windand never seeming to lose her head or her balance.
In a few minutes we had crossed some twenty paces of this awful bridgewhichgot narrower at every stepand then all of a sudden a great gust came tearingalong the gorge. I saw Ayesha lean herself against itbut the strong draft gotunder her dark cloakand tore it from herand away it went down the windflapping like a wounded bird. It was dreadful to see it gotill it was lost inthe blackness. I clung to the saddle of rockand looked roundwhile the greatspur vibrated with a humming sound beneath uslike a living thing. The sightwas a truly awesome one. There we were poised in the gloom between earth andheaven. Beneath us were hundreds upon hundreds of feet of emptiness thatgradually grew darkertill at last it was absolutely blackand at what depthit ended is more than I can guess. Above were space upon space of giddy airandfarfar away a line of blue sky. And down this vast gulf upon which we werepinnacled the great draft dashed and roareddriving clouds and misty wreaths ofvapor before ittill we were nearly blindedand utterly confused.
The whole position was so tremendous and so absolutely unearthly that Ibelieve it actually lulled our sense of terrorbut to this hour I often see itin my dreamsand wake up covered with cold perspiration at its mere fantasy.
"On! On!" cried the white form before usfor now the cloak hadgone She was robed in whiteand looked more like a spirit riding down the galethan a woman. "Onor ye will fall and be dashed to pieces. Keep your eyesfixed upon the groundand closely hug the rock."
We obeyed herand crept painfully along the quivering pathagainst whichthe wind shrieked and wailed as it shook itcausing it to murmur like a vasttuning fork. On we wentI do not know for how longonly gazing round now andagainwhen it was absolutely necessaryuntil at last we saw that we were onthe very tip of the spura slab of rocklittle larger than an ordinary tablethat throbbed and jumped like any over-engined steamer. There we lay on ourstomachsclinging to the groundand looked about uswhile Ayesha stoodleaning out against the winddown which her long hair streamedandabsolutelyheedless of the hideous depth that yawned beneathpointed before her. Then wesaw why the narrow plankwhich Job and I had painfully dragged along betweenushad been provided. Before us was an empty spaceon the other side of whichwas somethingas yet we could not see whatfor here- either owing to theshadow of the opposite cliffor from some other cause- the gloom was that ofnight.
"We must wait awhile" called Ayesha; "soon there will belight."
At the moment I could not imagine what she meant. How could more light thanthere was ever come to this dreadful spot? While I was still debating in mymindsuddenlylike a great sword of flamea beam from the setting sun piercedthe Stygian gloomand smote upon the point of rock whereon we layilluminingAyesha's lovely form with an unearthly splendor. I only wish that I coulddescribe the wild and marvelous beauty of that sword of firelaid across thedarkness and rushing mist wreaths of the gulf. How it got there I do not to thismoment knowbut I presume that there was some cleft or hole in the opposingcliffthrough which it pierced when the setting orb was in a direct linetherewith. All I can say is that the effect was the most wonderful that I eversaw. Right through the heart of the darkness that flaming sword was stabbedandwhere it lay there was the most surpassingly vivid lightso vivid that even ata distance one could see the grain of the rockwhileoutside of it- yeswithin a few inches of its keen edge- was naught but clustering shadows.
And nowby this ray of lightfor which She had been waitingand timed ourarrival to meetknowing that at this season for thousands of years it hadalways struck thus at sunsetwe saw what was before us. Within eleven or twelvefeet of the very tip of the tonguelike rock whereon we stood there arosepresumably from the far bottom of the gulfa sugarloaf-shaped coneof whichthe summit was exactly opposite to us. But had there been a summit only it wouldnot have helped us muchfor the nearest point of its circumference was someforty feet from where we were. On the lip of this summithoweverwhich wascircular and hollowrested a tremendous flat stonesomething like a glacierstone- perhaps it was onefor all I know to the contrary- and the end of thisstone approached to within twelve feet or so of us. This huge boulder wasnothing more or less than a gigantic rocking stoneaccurately balanced upon theedge of the cone or miniature craterlike a half-crown on the rim of a wineglass; forin the fierce light that played upon it and uswe could see itoscillating in the gusts of wind.
"Quick!" said Ayesha. "The plank- we must cross while thelight endures; presently it will be gone."
"OhLordsir!" groaned Job. "Surely she don't mean us towalk across that there place on that there thing" as in obedience to mydirection he pushed the long board towards me.
"That's itJob" I halloed in ghastly merrimentthough the ideaof walking the plank was no pleasanter to me than to him.
I pushed the board on to Ayeshawho deftly ran it across the gulf so thatone end of it rested on the rocking stonethe other remaining on the extremityof the trembling spur. Thenplacing her foot upon it to prevent it from beingblown awayshe turned to me.
"Since last I was hereO Holly" she called"the support ofthe moving stone hath lessened somewhatso that I am not sure if it will bearour weight or no. Therefore will I cross the firstbecause no harm will comeunto me" andwithout further adoshe trod lightly but firmly across thefrail bridgeand in another second was standing safe upon the heaving stone.
"It is safe" she called. "Seehold thou the plank! I willstand on the farther side of the stone so that it may not overbalance with yourgreater weights. Now comeO Hollyfor presently the light will fail us."
I struggled to my kneesand if ever I felt sick in my life I felt sick thenand I am not ashamed to say that I hesitated and hung back.
"Surely thou art not afraid" called this strange creature in alull of the galefrom where she stoodpoised like a bird on the highest pointof the rocking stone. "Make then way for Kallikrates."
This settled me; it is better to fall down a precipice and die than belaughed at by such a woman; so I clenched my teethand in another instant I wason that horriblenarrowbending plankwith bottomless space beneath andaround me. I have always hated a great heightbut never before did I realizethe full horrors of which such a position is capable. Ohthe sickeningsensation of that yielding board resting on the two moving supports. I grewdizzyand thought that I must fall; my spine crept; it seemed to me that I wasfallingand my delight at finding myself sprawling upon that stonewhich roseand fell beneath me like a boat in a swellcannot be expressed in words. All Iknow is that brieflybut earnestly enoughI thanked Providence for preservingme so far.
Then came Leo's turnandthough he looked rather queerhe came across likea rope dancer. Ayesha stretched out her hand to clasp his ownand I heard hersay"Bravely donemy love- bravely done! The old Greek spirit lives inthee yet!"
And now only poor Job remained on the farther side of the gulf. He crept upto the plankand yelled out"I can't do itsir. I shall fall into thatbeastly place."
"You must" I remember saying with inappropriate facetiousness"you mustJobit's as easy as catching flies." I suppose that I saidit to satisfy my consciencebecause although the expression conveys a wonderfulidea of facilityas a matter of fact I know no more difficult operation in thewhole world than catching flies- that isin warm weatherunlessindeedit iscatching mosquitoes.
"I can'tsir- I can'tindeed."
"Let the man comeor let him stop and perish there. Seethe light isdying! In a moment it will be gone!" said Ayesha.
I looked. She was right. The sun was passing below the level of the hole orcleft in the precipice through which the ray reached us.
"If you stop thereJobyou will die alone" I called; "thelight is going."
"Comebe a manJob" roared Leo; "it's quite easy."
Thus adjuredthe miserable Jobwith a most awful yellprecipitated himselfface downwards on the plank- he did not daresmall blame to himto try to walkitand commenced to draw himself across in little jerkshis poor legs hangingdown on either side into the nothingness beneath.
His violent jerks at the frail board made the great stonewhich was onlybalanced on a few inches of rockoscillate in a most sickening mannerandtomake matters worsewhen he was halfway acrossthe flying ray of lurid lightsuddenly went outjust as though a lamp had been extinguished in a curtainedroomleaving the whole howling wilderness of air black with darkness.
"Come onJobfor God's sake!" I shouted in an agony of fearwhile the stonegathering motion with every swingrocked so violently that itwas difficult to hang on to it. It was a truly awful position.
"Lord have mercy on me!" cried poor Job from the darkness."Ohthe plank's slipping!" and I heard a violent struggleandthought that he was gone.
But at that moment his outstretched handclasping in agony at the airmetmy ownand I hauled- ahhow I did haulputting out all the strength that ithas pleased Providence to give me in such abundance- and to my joy in anotherminute Job was gasping on the rock beside me. But the plank! I felt it slipandheard it knock against a projecting knob of rockand it was gone.
"Great Heavens!" I exclaimed. "How are we going to getback?"
"I don't know" answered Leo out of the gloom. "Sufficient tothe day is the evil thereof. I am thankful enough to be here."
But Ayesha merely called to me to take her hand and creep after her.
25. The Spirit of Life -
I DID as I was bidand in fear and trembling felt myself guided over theedge of the stone. I sprawled my legs outbut could touch nothing.
"I am going to fall!" I gasped.
"Naylet thyself goand trust to me" answered Ayesha.
Nowif the position is consideredit will be easily understood that thiswas a greater demand upon my confidence than was justified by my knowledge ofAyesha's character. For all I knew she might be in the very act of consigning meto a horrible doom. But in life we sometimes have to lay our faith upon strangealtarsand so it was now.
"Let thyself go!" she criedandhaving no choiceI did.
I felt myself slide a pace or two down the sloping surface of the rockandthen pass into the airand the thought flashed through my brain that I waslost. But no! In another instant my feet struck against a rocky floorand Ifelt that I was standing on something solidand out of reach of the windwhichI could hear singing away overhead. As I stood there thanking Heaven for thesesmall merciesthere was a slip and a scuffleand down came Leo alongside ofme.
"Hulloold fellow!" he called out. "Are you there? This isgetting interestingis it not?"
Just thenwith a terrific yellJob arrived right on top of usknocking usboth down. By the time that we had struggled to our feet again Ayesha wasstanding among usand bidding us light the lampswhich fortunately remaineduninjuredas also did the spare jar of oil.
I got out my box of Bryant and May's wax matchesand they struck as merrilytherein that awful placeas they could have done in a London drawing room.
In a couple of minutes both the lamps were alight; and a curious scene theyrevealed. We were huddled together in a rock chambersome ten feet squareandscared enough we looked; that isexcept Ayeshawho was standing calmly withher arms foldedand waiting for the lamps to burn up. The chamber appeared tobe partly natural and partly hollowed out of the top of the cone. The roof ofthe natural part was formed of the swinging stoneand that of the back part ofthe chamberwhich sloped downwardswas hewn from the live rock. For the restthe place was warm and dry- a perfect haven of rest compared to the giddypinnacle aboveand the quivering spur that shot out to meet it in midair.
"So!" said She. "Safely have we comethough once I fearedthat the rocking stone would fall with youand precipitate you into thebottomless deeps beneathfor I do believe that the cleft goeth down to the verywomb of the world. The rock whereon the stone resteth hath crumbled beneath theswinging weight. And now that he"- nodding towards Jobwho was sitting onthe floorfeebly wiping his forehead with a red cotton pocket handkerchief -"whom they rightly call the 'Pig' for as a pig is he stupidhath let fallthe plankit will not be easy to return across the gulfand to that end must Imake a plan. But now rest awhileand look upon this place. What think ye thatit is?"
"We know not" I answered.
"Wouldst thou believeO Hollythat once a man did choose this airynest for a daily habitationand did here endure for many years; leaving it onlybut one day in every twelve to seek food and water and oil that the peoplebroughtmore than he could carryand laid as an offering in the mouth of thetunnel through which we passed hither?"
We looked up wonderinglyand she continued"Yet so it was. There was aman- Noothe named himself- whothough he lived in the latter dayshad all ofthe wisdom of the sons of Kor. A hermit was heand a philosopherand skilledin the secrets of Natureand he it was who discovered the Fire that I shallshow youwhich is Nature's blood and lifeand also that he who bathed thereinand breathed thereofshould live while Nature lives. But like unto theeOHollythis manNootwould not turn his knowledge to account. Illhe saidwas it for man to livefor man was born to die. Therefore did he tell hissecret to noneand therefore did he come and live herewhere the seeker afterLife must passand was revered of the Amahagger of the day as holyand ahermit. And when first I came to this country- knowest thou how I cameKallikrates? Another time will I tell theeit is a strange tale- I heard ofthis philosopherand waited for him when he came to fetch his foodandreturned with him hitherthough greatly did I fear to tread the gulf. Then didI beguile him with my beauty and my witand flatter him with my tongueso thathe led me down and showed me the Fireand told me the secrets of the Firebuthe would not suffer me to step thereinandfearing lest he should slay meIrefrainedknowing that the man was very oldand soon would die. And Ireturnedhaving learned from him all that he knew of the wonderful Spirit ofthe Worldand that was muchfor the man was wise and very ancientand bypurity and abstinenceand the contemplations of his innocent mindhad wornthin the veil between that which we see and the great invisible truthsthewhisper of whose wings at times we hear as they sweep through the gross air ofthe world. Then- it was but a very few days after- I met theemy Kallikrateswho hadst wandered hither with the beautiful Egyptian Amenartasand I learnedto love for the first and last timeonce and foreverso that it entered intomy mind to come hither with theeand receive the gift of Life for thee and me.Therefore came wewith that Egyptian who would not be left behindandbeholdwe found the old man Noot lying but newly dead. There he layand his whitebeard covered him like a garment"- and she pointed to a spot near where Iwas sitting- "but surely he hath long since crumbled into dustand thewind hath borne his ashes hence."
Here I put out my hand and felt in the dustand presently my fingers touchedsomething. It was a human toothvery yellowbut sound. I held it up and showedit to Ayeshawho laughed.
"Yes" she said"it is his without a doubt. Behold whatremaineth of Noot and the wisdom of Noot- one little tooth! And yet that man hadall life at his commandand for his conscience's sake would have none of it.Wellhe lay there newly deadand we descended whither I shall lead youandthengathering up all my courageand courting death that I might perchance winso glorious a crown of lifeI stepped into the flamesand beholdlife such asye can never know until ye feel it also flowed into meand I came forthundyingand lovely beyond imagining. Then did I stretch out mine arms to theeKallikratesand bid thee take thine immortal brideand beholdas I spokethoublinded by my beautydidst turn from meand throw thine arms about theneck of Amenartas. And then a great fury filled meand made me madand Iseized the javelin that thou didst bearand stabbed theeso that thereat myvery feetin the place of Lifethou didst groan and go down into death. I knewnot then that I had strength to slay with mine eyes and by the power of my willtherefore in my madness slew I with the javelin. * -
* It will be observed that Ayesha's account of the death of Kallikratesdiffers materially from that written on the potsherd by Amenartas. The writingon the sherd says"Then in her rage did she smite him by her magicand hedied." We never ascertained which was the correct versionbut it will beremembered that the body of Kallikrates had a spear wound in the breastwhichseems conclusiveunlessindeedit was inflicted after death. Another thingthat we never ascertained was how the two women- She and the Egyptian Amenartas-managed to bear the corpse of the man they both loved across the dread gulf andalong the shaking spur. What a spectacle the two distracted creatures must havepresented in their grief and loveliness as they toiled along that awful placewith the dead man between them! Probablyhoweverthe passage was easierthen.-L. H. H. -
"And when thou wast deadahI weptbecause I was undying and thouwast dead. I wept there in the place of Life so that had I been mortal any moremy heart had surely broken. And shethe swart Egyptian- she cursed me by hergods. By Osiris did she curse me and by Isisby Nephthys and by HektbySekhetthe lion-headedand by Setcalling down evil on meevil andeverlasting desolation. Ah! I can see her dark face now lowering o'er me like astormbut she could not hurt meand I- I know not if I could hurt her. I didnot try; it was naught to me then; so together we bore thee hence. Andafterwards I sent her- the Egyptian- away through the swampsand it seems thatshe lived to bear a son and to write the tale that should lead theeherhusbandback to meher rival and thy murderess.
"Such is the talemy loveand now is the hour at hand that shall set acrown upon it. Like all things on the earthit is compounded of evil and ofgood- more of evil than of goodperchance; and writ in letters of blood. It isthe truth; naught have I hidden from theeKallikrates. And now one thing beforethe final moment of thy trial. We go down into the presence of Deathfor Lifeand Death are very near togetherand- who knoweth?- that might happen whichshould separate us for another space of waiting. I am but a womanand noprophetessand I cannot read the future. But this I know- for I learned it fromthe lips of the wise man Noot- that my life is but prolonged and made morebright. It cannot live for aye. Thereforebefore we gotell meO Kallikratesthat of a truth thou dost forgive meand dost love me from thy heart. SeeKallikrates: much evil have I done- perchance it was evil but two nights gone tostrike that girl who loved thee cold in death- but she disobeyed me and angeredmeprophesying misfortune to meand I smote. Be careful when power comes tothee alsolest thou too shouldst smite in thine anger or thy jealousyforunconquerable strength is a sore weapon in the hands of erring man. YeaI havesinned- out of the bitterness born of a great love have I sinned- but yet do Iknow the good from the evilnor is my heart altogether hardened. Thy loveOKallikratesshall be the gate of my redemptioneven as aforetime my passionwas the path down which I ran to evil. For deep love unsatisfied is the hell ofnoble hearts and a portion for the accursedbut love that is mirrored back moreperfect from the soul of our desired doth fashion wings to lift us aboveourselvesand make us what we might be. ThereforeKallikratestake me by thehandand lift my veil with no more fear than though I were some peasant girland not the wisest and most beauteous woman in this wide worldand look me inthe eyesand tell me that thou dost forgive me with all thine heartand thatwith all thine heart thou dost worship me."
She pausedand the strange tenderness in her voice seemed to hover round uslike a memory. I know that the sound of it moved me more even than her wordsitwas so very human- so very womanly. Leotoowas strangely touched. Hitherto hehad been fascinated against his better judgmentsomething as a bird isfascinated by a snakebut now I think that all this passed awayand herealized that he really loved this strange and glorious creatureasalas! Iloved her also. At any rateI saw his eyes fill with tearsand he steppedswiftly to her and undid the gauzy veiland then took her by the handandgazing into her deep eyessaid aloud"AyeshaI love thee with all myheartand so far as forgiveness is possible I forgive thee the death of Ustane.For the restit is between thee and thy Maker; I know naught of it. I only knowthat I love thee as I never loved beforeand that I will cleave to thee to theend."
"Now" answered Ayeshawith proud humility"now when my lorddoth speak thus royally and give with so free a handit cannot become me to lagbehind in wordsand be beggared of my generosity. Behold!"- and she tookhis hand and placed it upon her shapely headand then bent herself slowly downtill one knee for an instant touched the ground- "Behold! In token ofsubmission do I bow me to my lord! Behold!"- and she kissed him on thelips- "In token of my wifely love do I kiss my lord. Behold!"- and shelaid her hand upon his heart- "By the sin I sinnedby my lonely centuriesof waiting wherewith it was wiped outby the great love wherewith I loveandby the Spirit- the Eternal Thing that doth beget all lifefrom whom it ebbstowhom it doth return again- I swear:
"I sweareven in this first most holy hour of completed womanhoodthatI will abandon Evil and cherish Good. I swear that I will be ever guided by thyvoice in the straightest path of Duty. I swear that I will eschew Ambitionandthrough all my length of endless days set Wisdom over me as a guiding star tolead me unto Truth and a knowledge of the Right. I swear also that I will honorand will cherish theeKallikrateswho hast been swept by the wave of time backinto my armsaytill the very endcome it soon or late. I swear- nayI willswear no morefor what are words? Yet shalt thou learn that Ayesha hath nofalse tongue.
"So I have swornand thoumy Hollyart witness to my oath. Heretooare we wedmy husbandwith the gloom for bridal canopy- wed till the end ofall things; here do we write our marriage vows upon the rushing winds whichshall bear them up to heavenand round and continually round this rollingworld.
"And for a bridal gift I crown thee with my beauty's starry crownandenduring lifeand wisdom without measureand wealth that none can count.Behold! The great ones of the earth shall creep about thy feetand their fairwomen shall cover up their eyes because of the shining glory of thy countenanceand their wise ones shall be abased before thee. Thou shalt read the hearts ofmen as an open writingand hither and thither shalt thou lead them as thypleasure listeth. Like that old Sphinx of Egypt shalt thou sit aloft from age toageand ever shall they cry to thee to solve the riddle of thy greatness thatdoth not pass awayand ever shalt thou mock them with thy silence!
"Behold! Once more I kiss theeand by that kiss I give to thee dominionover sea and earthover the peasant in his hovelover the monarch in hispalace hallsand cities crowned with towersand those who breathe therein.Where'er the sun shakes out his spearsand the lonesome waters mirror up themoonwhere'er storms rolland Heaven's painted bows arch in the sky- from thepure North clad in snowsacross the middle spaces of the worldto where theamorous Southlying like a bride upon her blue couch of seasbreathes in sighsmade sweet with the odor of myrtles- there shall thy power pass and thy dominionfind a home. Nor sicknessnor icy-fingered fearnor sorrowand pale waste ofform and mind hovering ever o'er humanityshall so much as shadow thee with theshadow of their wings. As a God shalt thou beholding good and evil in thehollow of thy handand Ieven II humble myself before thee. Such is thepower of Loveand such is the bridal gift I give unto theeKallikratesbeloved of Ramy Lord and Lord of All.
"And now it is doneand come stormcome shinecome goodcome evilcome lifecome deathit nevernever can be undone. Forof a truththatwhich isisandbeing doneis done for ayeand cannot be altered. I havesaid- Let us hencethat all things may be accomplished in their order."Andtaking one of the lampsshe advanced towards the end of the chamber thatwas roofed in by the swaying stonewhere she halted.
We followed herand perceived that in the wall of the cone there was astairorto be more accuratethat some projecting knobs of rock had been soshaped as to form a good imitation of a stair. Down this Ayesha began to climbspringing from step to steplike a chamoisand after her we followed with lessgrace. When we had descended some fifteen or sixteen steps we found that theyended in a tremendous rocky sloperunning first outwards and then inwards- likethe slope of an inverted coneor tunnel. The slope was very steepand oftenprecipitousbut it was nowhere impassableand by the light of the lamps wewent down it with no great difficultythough it was gloomy work enoughtraveling on thusno one of us knew whitherinto the dead heart of a volcano.As we wenthoweverI took the precaution of noting our route as well as Icould; and this was not difficultowing to the extraordinary and most fantasticshape of the rocks that were strewn aboutmany of which in that dim lightlooked more like the grim faces carven upon medieval gargoyles than ordinaryboulders.
For a long period we traveled on thushalf an hour I should saytillafterwe had descended for many hundreds of feetI perceived that we were reachingthe point of the inverted cone. In another minute we were thereand found thatat the very apex of the funnel was a passageso low and narrow that we had tostoop as we crept along it in Indian file. After some fifty yards of thiscreepingthe passage suddenly widened into a caveso huge that we could seeneither the roof nor the sides. We only knew that it was a cave by the echo ofour tread and the perfect quiet of the heavy air. On we went for many minutes inabsolute awed silencelike lost souls in the depths of HadesAyesha's whiteand ghostlike form flitting in front of ustill once more the cavern ended in apassage which opened into a second cavern much smaller than the first. Indeedwe could clearly make out the arch and stony banks of this second caveandfrom their rent and jagged appearancediscovered thatlike the first longpassage down which we had passed through the cliff before we reached thequivering spurit had to all appearance been torn in the bowels of the rock bythe terrific force of some explosive gas. At length this cave ended in a thirdpassagethrough which gleamed a faint glow of light.
I heard Ayesha give a sigh of relief as this light dawned upon us.
"It is well" she said; "prepare to enter the very womb of theEarthwherein she doth conceive the Life that ye see brought forth in man andbeast- ayand in every tree and flower."
Swiftly she sped alongand after her we stumbled as best we mightourhearts filled like a cup with mingled dread and curiosity. What were we about tosee? We passed down the tunnel; stronger and stronger the light beamedreachingus in great flashes like the rays from a lighthouseas one by one they arethrown wide upon the darkness of the waters. Nor was this allfor with theflashes came a soul-shaking sound like that of thunder and of crashing trees.Now we were through itand- oh heavens!
We stood in a third cavernsome fifty feet in length by perhaps as great aheightand thirty wide. It was carpeted with fine white sandand its walls hadbeen worn smooth by the action of I know not what. The cavern was not dark likethe othersit was filled with a soft glow of rose-colored lightmore beautifulto look on than anything that can be conceived. But at first we saw no flashesand heard no more of the thunderous sound. Presentlyhoweveras we stood inamazegazing at the wonderful sightand wondering whence the rosy radiancefloweda dread and beautiful thing happened. Across the far end of the cavernwith a grinding and crashing noise- a noise so dreadful and awe-inspiring thatwe all trembledand Job actually sank to his knees- there flamed out an awfulcloud or pillar of firelike a rainbow many-coloredand like the lightningbright. For a spaceperhaps forty secondsit flamed and roared thusturningslowly round and roundand then by degrees the terrible noise ceasedand withthe fire it passed away- I know not where- leaving behind it the same rosy glowthat we had first seen.
"Draw neardraw near!" cried Ayesha with a voice of thrillingexultation. "Behold the very Fountain and Heart of Life as it beats in thebosom of the great world. Behold the substance from which all things draw theirenergythe bright Spirit of the Globewithout which it cannot livebut mustgrow cold and dead as the dead moon. Draw nearand wash you in the livingflamesand take their virtue into your poor frames in all its virgin strength-not as it now feebly glows within your bosomsfiltered thereto through all thefine strainers of a thousand intermediate livesbut as it is here in the veryfount and seat of earthly Being."
We followed her through the rosy glow up to the head of the cavetill atlast we stood before the spot where the great pulse beat and the great flamepassed. And as we went we became sensible of a wild and splendid exhilarationof a glorious sense of such a fierce intensity of Life that the most buoyantmoments of our strength seemed flat and tame and feeble beside it. It was themere effluvium of the flamethe subtle ether that it cast off as it passedworking on usand making us feel strong as giants and swift as eagles.
We reached the head of the caveand gazed at each other in the gloriousglowand laughed aloud- even Job laughedand he had not laughed for a week- inthe lightness of our hearts and the divine intoxication of our brains. I knowthat I felt as though all the varied genius of which the human intellect iscapable had descended upon me. I could have spoken in blank verse ofShakespearean beautyall sorts of great ideas flashed through my mind; it wasas though the bonds of my flesh had been loosenedand left the spirit free tosoar to the empyrean of its native power. The sensations that poured in upon meare indescribable. I seemed to live more keenlyto reach to a higher joyandsip the goblet of a subtler thought than ever it had been my lot to do before. Iwas another and most glorified selfand all the avenues of the Possible werefor a space laid open to the footsteps of the Real.
Thensuddenlywhile I rejoiced in this splendid vigor of a new-found selffrom farfar away there came a dreadful muttering noise that grew and grew to acrash and a roarwhich combined in itself all that is terrible and yet splendidin the possibilities of sound. Nearer it cameand nearer yettill it was closeupon usrolling down like all the thunder wheels of heaven behind the horses ofthe lightning. On it cameand with it came the glorious blinding cloud ofmany-colored lightand stood before us for a spaceturningas it seemed tousslowly round and roundand thenaccompanied by its attendant pomp ofsoundpassed away I know not whither.
So astonishing was the wondrous sight that one and all of ussave Shewhostood up and stretched her hands towards the firesank down before itand hidour faces in the sand.
When it was goneAyesha spoke.
"NowKallikrates" she said"the mighty moment is at hand.When the great flame comes again thou must stand in it. First throw aside thygarmentsfor it will burn themthough thee it will not hurt. Thou must standin the flame while thy senses will endureand when it embraces thee suck thefire down into thy very heartand let it leap and play around thy every partso that thou lose no moiety of its virtue. Hearest thou meKallikrates?"
"I hear theeAyesha" answered Leo"butof a truth- I am nocoward- but I doubt me of that raging flame. How know I that it will not utterlydestroy meso that I lose myself and lose thee also? Nevertheless will I doit" he added.
Ayesha thought for a minuteand then said"It is not wonderful thatthou shouldst doubt. Tell meKallikrates: if thou seest me stand in the flameand come forth unharmedwilt thou enter also?"
"Yes" he answered"I will enter even if it slay me. I havesaid that I will enter now."
"And that will I also" I cried.
"Whatmy Holly!" She laughed aloud. "Methought that thouwouldst naught of length of days. Whyhow is this?"
"NayI know not" I answered"but there is that in my heartthat calleth to me to taste of the flameand live."
"It is well" she said. "Thou art not altogether lost infolly. See nowI will for the second time bathe me in this living bath. Fainwould I add to my beauty and my length of days if that be possible. If it be notpossibleat the least it cannot harm me.
"Also" she continuedafter a momentary pause"is thereanother and a deeper cause why I would once again dip me in the flame. Whenfirst I tasted of its virtue full was my heart of passion and of hatred of thatEgyptian Amenartasand thereforedespite my strivings to be rid thereofhavepassion and hatred been stamped upon my soul from that sad hour to this. But nowit is otherwise. Now is my mood a happy moodand filled am I with the purestpart of thoughtand so would I ever be. ThereforeKallikrateswill I oncemore wash and make me pure and cleanand yet more fit for thee. Therefore alsowhen thou dost in turn stand in the fireempty all thy heart of eviland letsweet contentment hold the balance of thy mind. Shake loose thy spirit's wingsand take thy stand upon the utter verge of holy contemplation; aydream uponthy mother's kissand turn thee towards the vision of the highest good thathath ever swept on silver wings across the silence of thy dreams. For from thegerm of what thou art in that dread moment shall grow the fruit of what thoushalt be for all unreckoned time.
"Now prepare theeprepare! Even as though thy last hour were at handand thou wast about to cross to the land of shadowsand not through the gatesof glory into the realms of Life made beautiful. PrepareI say!"
26. What We Saw -
THEN CAME a few moments' pauseduring which Ayesha seemed to be gathering upher strength for the fiery trialwhile we clung to each otherand waited inutter silence.
At lastfrom far far awaycame the first murmur of soundwhich grew andgrew till it began to crash and bellow in the distance. As she heard itAyeshaswiftly threw off her gauzy wrappingloosened the golden snake from her kirtleand thenshaking her lovely hair about her like a garmentbeneath its coverslipped the kirtle off and replaced the snaky belt around her and outside themasses of falling hair. There she stood before us as Eve might have stood beforeAdamclad in nothing but her abundant locksheld round her by the golden band;and no words of mine can tell how sweet she looked- and yet how divine. Nearerand nearer came the thunder wheels of fireand as they came she pushed oneivory arm through the dark masses of her hair and flung it round Leo's neck.
"Ohmy lovemy love!" she murmured. "Wilt thou ever know howI have loved thee?" And she kissed him on the foreheadand then went andstood in the pathway of the flame of Life.
There wasI rememberto my mind something very touching about her words andthat kiss upon the forehead. It was like a mother's kissand seemed to convey abenediction with it.
On came the crashingrolling noiseand the sound thereof was as the soundof a forest being swept flat by a mighty windand then tossed up by it like somuch grassand thundered down a mountainside. Nearer and nearer it came; nowflashes of lightforerunners of the revolving pillar of flamewere passinglike arrows through the rosy air; and now the edge of the pillar itselfappeared. Ayesha turned towards itand stretched out her arms to greet it. Onit came very slowlyand lapped her round with flame. I saw the fire run up herform. I saw her lift it with both hands as though it were waterand pour itover her head. I even saw her open her mouth and draw it down into her lungsand a dread and wonderful sight it was.
Then she pausedand stretched out her armsand stood there quite stillwith a heavenly smile upon her faceas though she were the very Spirit of theFlame.
The mysterious fire played up and down her dark and rolling lockstwiningand twisting itself through and around them like threads of golden lace; itgleamed upon her ivory breast and shoulderfrom which the hair had slippedaside; it slid along her pillared throat and delicate featuresand seemed tofind a home in the glorious eyes that shone and shonemore brightly even thanthe spiritual essence.
Ohhow beautiful she looked there in the flame! No angel out of heaven couldhave worn a greater loveliness. Even now my heart faints before the recollectionof itas she stood and smiled at our awed facesand I would give half myremaining time upon this earth to see her once like that again.
But suddenly- more suddenly than I can describe- a kind of change came overher facea change which I could not define or explain on paperbut none theless a change. The smile vanishedand in its place there came a dryhard look;the rounded face seemed to grow pinchedas though some great anxiety wereleaving its impress upon it. The glorious eyestoolost their lightandas Ithoughtthe form its perfect shape and erectness.
I rubbed my eyesthinking that I was the victim of some hallucinationorthat the refraction from the intense light produced an optical delusion; andasI did sothe flaming pillar slowly twisted and thundered off whithersoever itpasses to in the bowels of the great earthleaving Ayesha standing where it hadbeen.
As soon as it was goneshe stepped forward to Leo's side- it seemed to methat there was no spring in her step- and stretched out her hand to lay it onhis shoulder. I gazed at her arm. Where was its wonderful roundness and beauty?It was getting thin and angular. And her face- by heaven!- her face was growingold before my eyes! I suppose that Leo saw it also; certainly he recoiled a stepor two.
"What is itmy Kallikrates?" she saidand her voice- what was thematter with those deep and thrilling notes? They were quite high and cracked."Whywhat is it- what is it?" she said confusedly. "I feeldazed. Surely the quality of the fire hath not altered. Can the principle ofLife alter? Tell meKallikratesis there aught wrong with my eyes? I see notclear" and she put her hand to her head and touched her hair- and ohhorror of horrors!- it all fell upon the floor.
"Ohlook! Look! Look!" shrieked Jobin a shrill falsetto ofterrorhis eyes nearly dropping out of his headand foam upon his lips."Look! Look! Look! She's shriveling up! She's turning into a monkey!"And down he fell upon the groundfoaming and gnashing in a fit.
True enough- I faint even as I write it in the living presence of thatterrible recollection- she was shriveling up; the golden snake that hadencircled her gracious form slipped over her hips and to the ground; smaller andsmaller she grew; her skin changed colorand in place of the perfect whitenessof its luster it turned dirty brown and yellowlike an old piece of witheredparchment. She felt at her head: the delicate hand was nothing but a claw nowahuman talon like that of a badly preserved Egyptian mummyand then she seemedto realize what kind of change was passing over herand she shrieked- ahsheshrieked!- she rolled upon the floor and shrieked!
Smaller she grewand smaller yettill she was no larger than a baboon. Nowthe skin was puckered into a million wrinklesand on the shapeless face was thestamp of unutterable age. I never saw anything like it; nobody ever saw anythinglike the frightful age that was graven on that fearful countenanceno biggernow than that of a two-month-old childthough the skull remained the same sizeor nearly so; and let all men pray to God they never mayif they wish to keeptheir reason.
At last she lay stillor only feebly moving. Shewho but two minutes beforehad gazed upon us the loveliestnoblestmost splendid woman the world has everseenshe lay still before usnear the masses of her own dark hairno largerthan a big monkeyand hideous- ahtoo hideous for words. And yetthink ofthis- at that very moment I thought of it- it was the same woman!
She was dying: we saw itand thanked God- for while she lived she couldfeeland what must she have felt? She raised herself upon her bony handsandblindly gazed around herswaying her head slowly from side to side as atortoise does. She could not seefor her whitish eyes were covered with a hornyfilm. Ohthe horrible pathos of the sight! But she could still speak.
"Kallikrates" she said in huskytrembling notes. "Forget menotKallikrates. Have pity on my shame; I shall come againand shall once morebe beautifulI swear it- it is true! Oh- h- h-" And she fell upon herfaceand was still.
On the very spot where more than twenty centuries before she had slainKallikrates the priestshe herself fell down and died.
Overcome with the extremity of horrorwe too fell on the sandy floor of thatdread placeand swooned away. -
I know not how long we remained thus. Many hoursI suppose. When at last Iopened my eyesthe other two were still outstretched upon the floor. The rosylight yet beamed like a celestial dawnand the thunder wheels of the Spirit ofLife yet rolled upon their accustomed trackfor as I awoke the great pillar waspassing away. Theretoolay the hideous little monkey framecovered withcrinkled yellow parchmentthat once had been the glorious She. Alas! it was nohideous dream- it was an awful and unparalleled fact!
What had happened to bring this shocking change about? Had the nature of thelife-giving Fire changed? Did itperhapsfrom time to time send forth anessence of Death instead of an essence of Life? Or was it that the frame oncecharged with its marvelous virtue could bear no moreso that were the processrepeated- it mattered not at what lapse of time- the two impregnationsneutralized each otherand left the body on which they acted as it was beforeit ever came into contact with the very essence of life? Thisand this alonewould account for the sudden and terrible aging of Ayeshaas the whole lengthof her two thousand years took effect upon her. I have not the slightest doubtmyself but that the frame now lying before me was just what the frame of a womanwould be if by any extraordinary means life could be preserved in her till sheat length died at the age of two-and-twenty centuries.
But who can tell what had happened? There was the fact. Often since thatawful hour I have reflected that it requires no great stretch of imagination tosee the finger of Providence in the matter. Ayesha locked up in her living tombwaiting from age to age for the coming of her lover worked but a small change inthe order of the World. But Ayesha strong and happy in her loveclothed inimmortal youth and godlike beautyand the wisdom of the centurieswould haverevolutionized societyand even perchance have changed the destiny of Mankind.Thus she opposed herself against the eternal Lawandstrong though she wasbyit was swept back to nothingness- swept back with shame and hideous mockery!
For some minutes I lay faintly turning these terrors over in my mindwhilemy physical strength came back to mewhich it quickly did in that buoyantatmosphere. Then I bethought me of the othersand staggered to my feetto seeif I could arouse them. But first I took up Ayesha's kirtle and the gauzy scarfwith which she had been wont to hide her dazzling loveliness from the eyes ofmenandaverting my head so that I might not look upon itcovered up thatdreadful relic of the glorious deadthat shocking epitome of human beauty andhuman life. I did this hurriedlyfearing lest Leo should recoverand see itagain.
Thenstepping over the perfumed masses of dark hair that lay upon the sandI stooped down by Jobwho was lying upon his faceand turned him over. As Idid so his arm fell back in a way that I did not likeand which sent a chillthrough meand I glanced sharply at him. One look was enough. Our old andfaithful servant was dead. His nervesalready shattered by all he had seen andundergonehad utterly broken down beneath this last dire sightand he had diedof terroror in a fit brought on by terror. One had only to look at his face tosee it.
It was another blow; but perhaps it may help people to understand howoverwhelmingly awful was the experience through which we had passed- we did notfeel it much at the time. It seemed quite natural that the poor old fellowshould be dead. When Leo came to himselfwhich he did with a groan andtrembling of the limbs about ten minutes afterwardsand I told him that Job wasdeadhe merely said"Oh!" Andmind youthis was from noheartlessnessfor he and Job were much attached to each other; and he oftentalks of him now with the deepest regret and affection. It was only that hisnerves would bear no more. A harp can give out but a certain quantity of soundhowever heavily it is smitten.
WellI set myself to recovering Leowhoto my infinite reliefI found wasnot deadbut only faintingand in the end I succeededas I have saidand hesat up; and then I saw another dreadful thing. When we entered that awful placehis curling hair had been of the ruddiest gold; now it was turning grayand bythe time we gained the outer air it was snow-white. Besideshe looked twentyyears older.
"What is to be doneold fellow?" he said in a hollowdead sort ofvoicewhen his mind had cleared a littleand a recollection of
what had happened forced itself upon it.
"Try and get outI suppose" I answered; "that isunless youwould like to go in there" and I pointed to the column of fire that wasonce more rolling by.
"I would go in if I were sure that it would kill me" he said witha little laugh. "It was my cursed hesitation that did this. If I had notbeen doubtful she might never have tried to show me the road. But I am not sure.The fire might have the opposite effect upon me. It might make me immortal; andold fellowI have not the patience to wait a couple of thousand years for herto come back again as she did for me. I had rather die when my hour comes- and Ishould fancy that it isn't far off either- and go my ways to look for her. Doyou go in if you like."
But I merely shook my headmy excitement was as dead as ditchwaterand mydistaste for the prolongation of my mortal span had come back upon me morestrongly than ever. Besideswe neither of us knew what the effects of the firemight be. The result upon She had not been of an encouraging natureand of theexact causes that produced that result we wereof courseignorant.
"Wellmy boy" I said"we cannot stop here till we go theway of those two" and I pointed to the little heap under the white garmentand to the stiffening corpse of poor Job. "If we are going we had bettergo. Butby the wayI expect that the lamps have burned out" and I tookone up and looked at itand sure enough it had.
"There is some more oil in the vase" said Leo indifferently"if it is not brokenat least."
I examined the vessel in question- it was intact. With a trembling hand Ifilled the lamps- luckily there was still some of the linen wick unburned. ThenI lit them with one of our wax matches. While I did so we heard the pillar offire approaching once more as it went on its never ending journeyifindeedit was the same pillar that passed and repassed in a circle.
"Let's see it come once more" said Leo; "we shall never lookupon its like again in this world."
It seemed a bit of idle curiositybut somehow I shared itand so we waitedtillturning slowly round upon its own axisit had flamed and thundered by;and I remember wondering for how many thousands of years this same phenomenonhad been taking place in the bowels of the earthand for how many morethousands it would continue to take place. I wondered also if any mortal eyeswould ever again mark its passageor any mortal ears be thrilled and fascinatedby the swelling volume of its majestic sound. I do not think that they will. Ibelieve that we are the last human beings who will ever see that unearthlysight. Presently it had goneand we too turned to go.
But before we did so we each took Job's cold hand in ours and shook it. Itwas a rather ghastly ceremonybut it was the only means in our power of showingour respect to the faithful dead and of celebrating his obsequies. The heapbeneath the white garment we did not uncover. We had no wish to look upon thatterrible sight again. But we went to the pile of rippling hair that had fallenfrom her in the agony of that hideous change which was worse than a thousandnatural deathsand each of us drew from it a shining lockand these locks westill havethe sole memento that is left to us of Ayesha as we knew her in thefullness of her grace and glory. Leo pressed the perfumed hair to his lips.
"She called to me not to forget her" he said hoarsely"andswore that we should meet again. By heaven! I never will forget her. Here Iswear thatif we live to get out of thisI will not for all my days haveanything to say to another living womanand that wherever I go I will wait forher as faithfully as she waited for me."
"Yes" I thought to myself"if she comes back as beautiful aswe knew her. But supposing she came back like that!" * -
* What a terrifying reflection it isby the waythat nearly all our deeplove for women who are not our kindred depends- at any ratein the firstinstance- upon their personal appearance. If we lost themand found them againdreadful to look onthough otherwise they were the very sameshould we stilllove them?- L. H. H. -
Welland then we went. We wentand left those two in the presence of thevery well and spring of Lifebut gathered to the cold company of Death. Howlonely they looked as they lay thereand how ill assorted! That little heap hadbeen for two thousand years the wisestloveliestproudest creature- I canhardly call her woman- in the whole universe. She had been wickedtooin herway; butalassuch is the frailty of the human hearther wickedness had notdetracted from her charm. IndeedI am by no means certain that it did not addto it. It was after all of a grand orderthere was nothing mean or small aboutAyesha.
And poor Jobtoo! His presentiment had come trueand there was an end ofhim. Wellhe has a strange burial place- no Norfolk hind ever had a strangeror ever will; and it is something to lie in the same sepulcher with the poorremains of the imperial She.
We looked our last upon them and the indescribable rosy glow in which theylayand then with hearts far too heavy for words we left themand crept thencebroken-down men- so broken down that we even renounced the chance of practicallyimmortal lifebecause all that made life valuable had gone from usand we kneweven then that to prolong our days indefinitely would only be to prolong oursufferings. For we felt- yesboth of us- that having once looked Ayesha in theeyeswe could not forget her forever and ever while memory and identityremained. We both loved her now and for alwaysshe was stamped and carven onour heartsand no other woman or interest could ever raze that splendid die.And I- there lies the sting- I had and have no right to think thus of her. Asshe told meI was naught to herand never shall be through the unfathomeddepth of Timeunlessindeedconditions alterand a day comes at last whentwo men may love one womanand all three be happy in the fact. It is the onlyhope of my broken-heartednessand a rather faint one. Beyond it I have nothing.I have paid down this heavy priceall that I am worth here and hereafterandthat is my sole reward. With Leo it is differentand often and often I bitterlyenvy him his happy lotfor if She was rightand her wisdom and knowledge didnot fail her at the lastwhicharguing from the precedent of her own caseIthink most unlikelyhe has some future to look forward to. But I have noneandyet- mark the folly and the weakness of the human heartand let him who is wiselearn wisdom from it- yet I would not have it otherwise. I mean that I amcontent to give what I have given and must always giveand take in paymentthose crumbs that fall from my mistress's tablethe memory of a few kind wordsthe hope one day in the far undreamed future of a sweet smile or two ofrecognitiona little gentle friendshipand a little show of thanks for mydevotion to her- and Leo.
If that does not constitute true loveI do not know what doesand all Ihave to say is that it is a very bad state of mind for a man on the wrong sideof middle age to fall into.
27. We Leap -
WE PASSED through the caves without troublebut when we came to the slope ofthe inverted cone two difficulties stared us in the face. The first of these wasthe laborious nature of the ascentand the next the extreme difficulty offinding our way. Indeedhad it not been for the mental notes that I hadfortunately taken of the shape of various rocksetc.I am sure that we nevershould have managed it at allbut have wandered about in the dreadful womb ofthe volcano- for I suppose it must once have been something of the sort- untilwe died of exhaustion and despair. As it was we went wrong several timesandonce nearly fell into a huge crack or crevasse. It was terrible work creepingabout in the dense gloom and awful stillness from boulder to boulderandexamining it by the feeble light of the lamps to see if I could recognize itsshape. We rarely spoke- our hearts were too heavy for speech- we simply stumbledaboutfalling sometimes and cutting ourselvesin a rather dogged sort of way.The fact was that our spirits were utterly crushedand we did not greatly carewhat happened to us. Only we felt bound to try and save our lives while wecouldand indeed a natural instinct prompted us to it. So for some three orfour hoursI should think- I cannot tell exactly how longfor we had no watchleft that would go- we blundered on. During the last two hours we werecompletely lostand I began to fear that we had got into the funnel of somesubsidiary conewhen at last I suddenly recognized a very large rock which wehad passed in descending but a little way from the top. It is a marvel that Ishould have recognized itandindeedwe had already passed it going at rightangles to the proper pathwhen something about it struck meand I turned backand examined it in an idle sort of wayandas it happenedthis proved oursalvation.
After this we gained the rocky natural stair without much further troubleand in due course found ourselves back in the little chamber where the benightedNoot had lived and died.
But now a fresh terror stared us in the face. It will be remembered thatowing to Job's fear and awkwardnessthe plank upon which we had crossed fromthe huge spur to the rocking stone had been whirled off into the tremendous gulfbelow.
How were we to cross without the plank?
There was only one answer- we must try and jump itor else stop there tillwe starved. The distance in itself was not so very great between eleven andtwelve feet I should thinkand I have seen Leo jump over twenty when he was ayoung fellow at college; but thenthink of the conditions. Two wearyworn-outmenone of them on the wrong side of fortya rocking stone to take off fromatrembling point of rock some few feet across to land uponand a bottomless gulfto be cleared in a raging gale! It was bad enoughGod knowsbut when I pointedout these things to Leohe put the whole matter in a nutshell by replying thatmerciless as the choice waswe must choose between the certainty of a lingeringdeath in the chamber and the risk of a swift one in the air. Of coursetherewas no arguing against thisbut one thing was clearwe could not attempt thatleap in the dark; the only thing to do was to wait for the ray of light whichpierced through the gulf at sunset. How near to or how far from sunset we mightbeneither of us had the faintest notion; all we did know was that when at lastthe light came it would not endure more than a couple of minutes at the outsideso that we must be prepared to meet it. Accordinglywe made up our minds tocreep onto the top of the rocking stone and lie there in readiness. We were themore easily reconciled to this course by the fact that our lamps were once morenearly exhausted- indeedone had gone out bodilyand the other was jumping upand down as the flame of a lamp does when the oil is done. Soby the aid of itsdying lightwe hastened to crawl out of the little chamber and clamber up theside of the great stone.
As we did so the light went out.
The difference in our position was a sufficiently remarkable one. Belowinthe little chamberwe had only heard the roaring of the gale overhead- herelying on our faces on the swinging stonewe were exposed to its full force andfuryas the great draft drew first from this direction and then from thathowling against the mighty precipice and through the rocky cliffs like tenthousand despairing souls. We lay there hour after hour in terror and misery ofmind so deep that I will not attempt to describe itand listened to the wildstorm voices of that Tartarusasset to the deep undertone of the spuropposite against which the wind hummed like some awful harpthey called to eachother from precipice to precipice. No nightmare dreamed by manno wildinvention of the romancercan ever equal the living horror of that placeandthe weird crying of those voices of the nightas we clung like shipwreckedmariners to a raftand tossed on the blackunfathomed wilderness of air.Fortunately the temperature was not a low one- indeedthe wind was warm- or weshould have perished. So we clung and listenedand while we were stretched outupon the rock a thing happened which was so curious and suggestive in itselfthough doubtless a mere coincidencethatif anythingit added torather thandeducted fromthe burden on our nerves.
It will be remembered that when Ayesha was standing on the spurbefore wecrossed to the stonethe wind tore her cloak from herand whirled it away intothe darkness of the gulfwe could not see whither. Well- I hardly like to tellthe story; it is so strange. As we lay there upon the rocking stonethis verycloak came floating out of the black spacelike a memory from the deadandfell on Leo- so that it covered him nearly from head to foot. We could not atfirst make out what it wasbut soon discovered by its feeland then poor Leofor the first timegave wayand I heard him sobbing there upon the stone. Nodoubt the cloak had been caught upon some pinnacle of the cliffand was thenceblown hither by a chance gust; but stillit was a most curious and touchingincident.
Shortly after thissuddenlywithout the slightest previous warningthegreat red knife of light came stabbing the darkness through and through- struckthe swaying stone on which we wereand rested its sharp point upon the spuropposite.
"Now for it" said Leo"now or never."
We rose and stretched ourselvesand looked at the cloud wreaths stained thecolor of blood by that red ray as they tore through the sickening depthsbeneathand then at the empty space between the swaying stone and the quiveringrockandin our heartsdespairedand prepared for death. Surely we could notclear it- desperate though we were.
"Who is to go first?" said I.
"Do youold fellow" answered Leo. "I will sit upon the otherside of the stone to steady it. You must take as much run as you canand jumphigh; and God have mercy on ussay I."
I acquiesced with a nodand then I did a thing I had never done since Leowas a little boy. I turned and put my arm round himand kissed him on theforehead. It sounds rather Frenchbut as a fact I was taking my last farewellof a man whom I could not have loved more if he had been my own son twice over.
"Good-bymy boy" I said"I hope that we shall meet againwherever it is that we go to."
The fact was I did not expect to live another two minutes.
Next I retreated to the far side of the rockand waited till one of thechopping gusts of wind got behind meand thencommending my soul to GodI ranthe length of the huge stonesome three- or four-and-thirty feetand sprangwildly out into the dizzy air. Ohthe sickening terrors that I felt as Ilaunched myself at that little point of rockand the horrible sense of despairthat shot through my brain as I realized that I had jumped short! But so it wasmy feet never touched the pointthey went down into spaceonly my hands andbody came in contact with it. I gripped at it with a yellbut one hand slippedand I swung right roundholding by the otherso that I faced the stone fromwhich I had sprung. Wildly I stretched up with my left handand this timemanaged to grasp a knob of rockand there I hung in the fierce red lightwiththousands of feet of empty air beneath me. My hands were holding to either sideof the under part of the spurso that its point was touching my head.Thereforeeven if I could have found the strengthI could not pull myself up.The most that I could do would be to hang for about a minuteand then dropdowndown into the bottomless pit. If any man can imagine a more hideouspositionlet him speak! All I know is that the torture of that half minutenearly turned my brain.
I heard Leo give a cryand then suddenly saw him in midair springing up andout like a chamois. It was a splendid leap that he took under the influence ofhis terror and despairclearing the horrible gulf as though it were nothingandlanding well onto the rocky pointhe threw himself upon his facetoprevent his pitching off into the depths. I felt the spur above me shake beneaththe shock of his impactand as it did so I saw the huge rocking stonewhichhad been violently depressed by him as he sprangfly back when relieved of hisweight tillfor the first time during all these centuriesit got beyond itsbalanceand fell with a most awful crash right into the rocky chamber which hadonce served the philosopher Noot for a hermitageas I have no doubtforeverhermetically sealing the passage that leads to the place of Life with somehundreds of tons of rock.
All this happened in a secondand curiously enoughnotwithstanding myterrible positionI noted it involuntarilyas it were. I even rememberthinking that no human being would go down that dread path again.
Next instant I felt Leo seize me by the right wrist with both hands. By lyingflat on the point of rock he could just reach me.
"You must let go and swing yourself clear" he said in a calm andcollected voice"and then I will try and pull you upor we will both gotogether. Are you ready?"
By way of answer I let gofirst with my left hand and then with the rightand swayed out as a consequence clear of the overshadowing rockmy weighthanging upon Leo's arms. It was a dreadful moment. He was a very powerful manIknewbut would his strength be equal to lifting me up till I could get a holdon the top of the spurwhen owing to his position he had so little purchase?
For a few seconds I swung to and frowhile he gathered himself for theeffortand then I heard his sinews cracking above meand felt myself lifted upas though I were a little childtill I got my left arm round the rockand mychest was resting on it. The rest was easy; in two or three more seconds I wasupand we were lying panting side by sidetrembling like leavesand with thecold perspiration of terror pouring from our skins.
And thenas beforethe light went out like a lamp.
For perhaps a half hour we lay thus without speaking a wordand then atlength began to creep along the great spur as best we might in the dense gloom.As we drew towards the face of the cliffhoweverfrom which the spur sprangout like a spike from a wallthe light increasedthough only a very littlefor it was night overhead. After that the gusts of wind decreasedand we gotalong rather betterand at last reached the mouth of the first cave or tunnel.But now a fresh trouble stared us in the face: our oil was goneand the lampswereno doubtcrushed to powder beneath the fallen rocking stone. We were evenwithout a drop of water to stay our thirstfor we had drunk the last in thechamber of Noot. How were we to see to make our way through this lastboulder-strewn tunnel?
Clearly all that we could do was to trust to our sense of feelingandattempt the passage in the darkso in we creptfearing that if we delayed todo so our exhaustion would overcome usand we should probably lie down and diewhere we were.
Ohthe horrors of that last tunnel! The place was strewn with rocksand wefell over themand knocked ourselves up against them till we were bleeding froma score of wounds. Our only guide was the side of the cavernwhich we kepttouchingand so bewildered did we grow in the darkness that we were severaltimes seized with the terrifying thought that we had turnedand were travelingthe wrong way. On we wentfeeblyand still more feeblyfor hour after hourstopping every few minutes to restfor our strength was spent. Once we fellasleepandI thinkmust have slept for some hoursforwhen we wokeourlimbs were quite stiffand the blood from our blows and scratches had cakedand was hard and dry upon our skin. Then we dragged ourselves on againtill atlastwhen despair was entering into our heartswe once more saw the light ofdayand found ourselves outside the tunnel in the rocky fold on the outersurface of the cliff thatit will be rememberedled into it.
It was early morning- that we could tell by the feel of the sweet air and thelook of the blessed skywhich we had never hoped to see again. It wasso nearas we knewan hour after sunset when we entered the tunnelso it followed thatit had taken us the entire night to crawl through that dreadful place.
"One more effortLeo" I gasped"and we shall reach theslope where Billali isif he hasn't gone. Comedon't give way" for hehad cast himself upon his face. He got upandleaning on each otherwe gotdown that fifty feet or so of cliff- somehowI have not the least notion how. Ionly remember that we found ourselves lying in a heap at the bottomand thenonce more began to drag ourselves along on our hands and knees towards the grovewhere She had told Billali to wait her rearrivalfor we could not walk anotherfoot. We had not gone fifty yards in this fashion when suddenly one of the mutesemerged from some trees on our leftthrough whichI presumehe had beentaking a morning strolland came running up to see what sort of strange animalswe were. He staredand staredand then held up his hands in horrorand nearlyfell to the ground. Nexthe started off as hard as he could for the grove sometwo hundred yards away. No wonder that he was horrified at our appearanceforwe must have been a shocking sight. To beginLeowith his golden curls turneda snowy whitehis clothes nearly rent from his bodyhis worn face and hishands a mass of bruisescutsand blood-encrusted filthwas a sufficientlyalarming spectacleas he painfully dragged himself along the groundand I haveno doubt that I was little better to look on. I know that two days afterwardswhen I looked at my face in some water I scarcely recognized myself. I havenever been famous for beautybut there was something besides ugliness stampedupon my features that I have never got rid of until this daysomethingresembling that wild look with which a startled person wakes from deep sleepmore than anything else that I can think of. And really it is not to be wonderedat. What I do wonder at is that we escaped at all with our reason.
Presentlyto my intense reliefI saw old Billali hurrying towards usandeven then I could scarcely help smiling at the expression of consternation onhis dignified countenance.
"Ohmy Baboonmy Baboon!" he cried. "My dear sonis itindeed
thee and the Lion? Whyhis mane that was ripe as corn is white like thesnow. Whence come ye? And where is the Pigand where too'She-who-must-be-obeyed?'"
"Deadboth dead" I answered; "but ask no questions; help usand give us food and wateror we too shall die before thine eyes. Seest thounot that our tongues are black for want of water? How can we talkthen?"
"Dead!" he gasped. "Impossible. She who never dies- deadhowcan it be?" and thenperceivingI thinkthat his face was being watchedby the mutes who had come running uphe checked himselfand motioned to themto carry us to the campwhich they did.
Fortunately when we arrived some broth was boiling on the fireand with thisBillali fed usfor we were too weak to feed ourselvesthereby I firmly believesaving us from death by exhaustion. Then he bade the mutes wash the blood andgrime from us with wet clothsand after that we were laid down upon piles ofaromatic grassand instantly fell into the dead sleep of absolute exhaustion ofmind and body.
28. Over the Mountain -
THE NEXT THING I recollect is a feeling of the most dreadful stiffnessand asort of vague idea passing through my half-awakened brain that I was a carpetthat had just been beaten. I opened my eyesand the first thing they fell onwas the venerable countenance of our old friend Billaliwho was seated by theside of the improvised bed upon which I was sleepingand thoughtfully strokinghis long beard. The sight of him at once brought back to my mind a recollectionof all that we had recently passed throughwhich was accentuated by the visionof poor Leo lying opposite to mehis face knocked almost to a jellyand hisbeautiful crown of curls turned from yellow to white* and I shut my eyes againand groaned. -
* Curiously enoughLeo's hair has lately been to some extent regaining itscolor- that is to sayit is now a yellowish gray- and I am not without hopesthat it will in time come quite right.- L. H. H. -
"Thou hast slept longmy Baboon" said old Billali.
"How longmy father?" I asked.
"A round of the sun and a round of the moona day and a night hast thousleptand the Lion also. Seehe sleepeth yet."
"Blessed is sleep" I answered"for it swallows uprecollection."
"Tell me" he said"what hath befallen yeand what is thisstrange story of the death of She who dieth not. Bethink theemy son: if thisbe truethen is thy danger and the danger of the Lion very great- nayalmostis the pot red wherewith ye shall be pottedand the stomachs of those who shalleat ye are already hungry for the feast. Knowest thou not that these Amahaggermy childrenthese dwellers in the caveshate ye? They hate ye as strangersthey hate ye more because of their brethren whom She put to the torment for yoursake. Assuredlyif once they learn that there is naught to fear from Hiyafromthe terrible One-who-must-be-obeyedthey will slay ye by the pot. But let mehear thy talemy poor Baboon."
Thus adjuredI set to work and told him- not everythingindeedfor I didnot think it desirable to do sobut sufficient for my purposewhich was tomake him understand that She was really no morehaving fallen into some fireandas I put it- for the real thing would have been incomprehensible to him-been burned up. I also told him some of the horrors we had undergone ineffecting our escapeand these produced a great impression on him. But Iclearly saw that he did not believe in the report of Ayesha's death. He believedindeed that we thought that she was deadbut his explanation was that it hadsuited her to disappear for a while. Oncehe saidin his father's timeshehad done so for twelve yearsand there was a tradition in the country that manycenturies back no one had seen her for a whole generationwhen she suddenlyreappearedand destroyed a woman who had assumed the position of queen. I saidnothing to thisbut only shook my head sadly. Alas! I knew too well that Ayeshawould appear no moreor at any rate that Billali would never see her again.
"And now" concluded Billali"what wouldst thou domyBaboon?"
"Nay" I said"I know notmy father. Can we not escape fromthis country?"
He shook his head.
"It is very difficult. By Kor ye cannot passfor ye would be seenandas soon as those fierce ones found that ye were alonewell"- and he smiledsignificantlyand made a movement as though he were placing a hat on his head-"but there is a way over the cliff whereof I once spake to theewhere theydrive the cattle out to pasture. Then beyond the pastures are three days'journey through the marshesand after that I know notbut I have heard thatseven days' journey from thence is a mighty riverwhich floweth to the blackwater. If ye could come thitherperchance ye might escapebut how can ye comethither?"
"Billali" I said"oncethou knowestI did save thy life.Now pay back the debtmy fatherand save me mine and my friend'sthe Lion's.It shall be a pleasant thing for thee to think of when thine hour comesandsomething to set in the scale against the evildoing of thy daysif perchancethou hast done any evil. Alsoif thou be rightand if She doth but hideherselfsurely when she comes again she shall reward thee."
"My son the Baboon" answered the old man"think not that Ihave an ungrateful heart. Well do I remember how thou didst rescue me when thosedogs stood by to see me drown. Measure for measure will I give theeand if thoucanst be savedsurely I will save thee. Listen: by dawn tomorrow be preparedfor litters shall be here to bear ye away across the mountainsand through themarshes beyond. This will I dosaying that it is the word of She that it bedoneand he who obeyeth not the word of She food is he for the hyenas. Thenwhen ye have crossed the marshesye must strike with your own handsso thatperchanceif good fortune go with youye may live to come to that black waterwhereof ye told me. And nowseethe Lion wakesand ye must eat the food Ihave made ready for you."
Leo's condition when once he was fairly aroused proved not to be so bad asmight have been expected from his appearanceand we both of us managed to eat ahearty mealwhich indeed we needed sadly enough. After this we limped down tothe spring and bathedand then came back and slept again till eveningwhen weonce more ate enough for five. Billali was all that dayno doubt makingarrangements about litters and bearersfor we were awakened in the middle ofthe night by the arrival of a considerable number of men in the little camp.
At dawn the old man himself appearedand told us that he had by using She'sdreaded namethough with some difficultysucceeded in getting the necessarymen and two guides to conduct us across the swampsand that he urged us tostart at onceat the same time announcing his intention of accompanying us soas to protect us against treachery. I was much touched by this act of kindnesson the part of that wily old barbarian towards two utterly defenselessstrangers. A three- or in his casefor he would have to returnsix-days'journey through those deadly swamps was no light undertaking for a man of hisagebut he consented to do it cheerfully in order to promote our safety. Itshows that even among those dreadful Amahagger- who are certainly with theirgloom and their devilish and ferocious rites by far the most terrible savagesthat I ever heard of- there are people with kindly hearts. Of courseself-interest may have had something to do with it. He may have thought that Shewould suddenly reappear and demand an account of us at his handsbut stillallowing for all deductionsit was a great deal more than we could expect underthe circumstancesand I can only say that I shall for as long as I live cherisha most affectionate remembrance of my nominal parentold Billali.
Accordinglyafter swallowing some foodwe started in the littersfeelingso far as our bodies wentwonderfully like our old selves after our long restand sleep. I must leave the condition of our minds to the imagination.
Then came a terrible pull up the cliff. Sometimes the ascent was naturalmore often it was a zigzag roadway cutno doubtin the first instance by theold inhabitants of Kor. The Amahagger say they drive their spare cattle over itonce a year to pasture outside; all I know is that those cattle must beuncommonly active on their feet. Of course the litters were useless hereso wehad to walk.
By middayhoweverwe reached the great flat top of that mighty wall ofrockand grand enough the view was from itwith the plain of Korin thecenter of which we could clearly make out the pillared ruins of the Temple ofTruth to the one sideand the boundless and melancholy marsh on the other. Thiswall of rockwhich had no doubt once formed the lip of the craterwas about amile and a half thickand still covered with clinker. Nothing grew thereandthe only thing to relieve our eyes were occasional pools of rainwater (for rainhad lately fallen) wherever there was a little hollow. Over the flat crest ofthis mighty rampart we wentand then came the descentwhichif not sodifficult a matter as the getting upwas still sufficiently breakneckand tookus till sunset. That nighthoweverwe camped in safety upon the mighty slopesthat rolled away to the marsh beneath.
On the following morningabout eleven o'clockbegan our dreary journeyacross those awful seas of swamps which I have already described.
For three whole daysthrough stench and mireand the all-prevailing flavorof feverdid our bearers struggle alongtill at length we came to open rollingground quite uncultivatedand mostly treelessbut covered with game of allsortswhich lies beyond that most desolateand without guides utterlyimpracticabledistrict. And here on the following morning we bade farewellnotwithout some regretto old Billaliwho stroked his white beard and solemnlyblessed us.
"Farewellmy son the Baboon" he said"and farewell to theetooO Lion. I can do no more to help you. But if ever ye come to your countrybe advisedand venture no more into lands that ye know notlest ye come backno morebut leave your white bones to mark the limit of your journeyings.Farewell once more; often shall I think of younor wilt thou forget memyBaboonfor though thy face is ugly thy heart is true." And then he turnedand wentand with him went the tall and sullen-looking bearersand that wasthe last that we saw of the Amahagger. We watched them winding away with theempty litters like a procession bearing dead men from a battletill the mistsfrom the marsh gathered round them and hid themand thenleft utterly desolatein the vast wildernesswe turned and gazed around us and at each other.
Three weeks or so before four men had entered the marshes of Korand now twoof us were deadand the other two had gone through adventures and experiencesso strange and terrible that death himself hath not a more fearful countenance.Three weeks- and only three weeks! Truly time should be measured by eventsandnot by the lapse of hours. It seemed like thirty years since we saw the last ofour whaleboat.
"We must strike out for the ZambesiLeo" I said"but Godknows if we shall ever get there."
Leo nodded- he had become very silent of late- and we started with nothingbut the clothes we stood ina compassour revolvers and express riflesandabout two hundred rounds of ammunitionand so ended the history of our visit tothe ancient ruins of mighty and imperial Kor.
As for the adventures that subsequently befell usstrange and varied as theywereI haveafter deliberationdetermined not to record them here. In thesepages I have only tried to give a short and clear account of an occurrence whichI believe to be unprecedentedand this I have donenot with a view toimmediate publicationbut merely to put on paper while they are yet fresh inour memories the details of our journey and its resultwhich willI believeprove interesting to the world if ever we determine to make them public. Thisas at present advisedwe do not intend should be done during our joint lives.
For the restit is of no public interestresembling as it does theexperience of more than one Central African traveler. Suffice it to say that wedidafter incredible hardships and privationsreach the Zambesiwhich provedto be about a hundred and seventy miles south of where Billali left us. There wewere for six months imprisoned by a savage tribewho believed us to besupernatural beingschiefly on account of Leo's youthful face and snow-whitehair. From these people we ultimately escapedandcrossing the Zambesiwandered off southwardswherewhen on the point of starvationwe weresufficiently fortunate to fall in with a half-caste Portuguese elephant hunterwho had followed a troop of elephants farther inland than he had ever beenbefore. This man treated us most hospitablyand ultimately through hisassistance weafter innumerable sufferings and adventuresreached Delagoa Baymore than eighteen months from the time when we emerged from the marshes of Korand the very next day managed to catch one of the steamboats that run round theCape to England. Our journey home was a prosperous oneand we set our foot onthe quay at Southampton exactly two years from the date of our departure uponour wild and seemingly ridiculous questand I now write these last words withLeo leaning over my shoulder in my old room in my collegethe very same intowhich some two-and-twenty years ago my poor friend Vincey came stumbling on thememorable night of his deathbearing the iron chest with him. -
And that is the end of this history so far as it concerns science and theoutside world. What its end will be as regards Leo and myself is more than I canguess at. But we feel that is not reached yet. A story that began more than twothousand years ago may stretch a long way into the dim and distant future.
Is Leo really a reincarnation of the ancient Kallikrates of whom theinscription tells? Or was Ayesha deceived by some strange hereditaryresemblance? The reader must form his own opinion on this as on many othermatters. I have minewhich is that she made no such mistake.
Often I sit alone at nightstaring with the eyes of the mind into theblackness of unborn timeand wondering in what shape and form the great dramawill be finally developedand where the scene of its next act will be laid. Andwhen that final development ultimately occursas I have no doubt it must andwill occurin obedience to a fate that never swerves and a purpose that cannotbe alteredwhat will be the part played therein by that beautiful EgyptianAmenartasthe princess of the royal race of the Pharaohsfor the love of whomthe priest Kallikrates broke his vows to Isisandpursued by the inexorablevengeance of the outraged goddessfled down the coast of Libya to meet his doomat Kor? - -