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Across the Zodiac by Percy Greg

Part 8 out of 9

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A soldier's instinct or habit, the mesmeric command of Esmo's glance,
and the awe, due less to my own feeling than to the infectious
reverence of others, which the symbols and the oaths of the Order
extorted, left me no further will to resist. At the foot of the Throne
I received the investiture of my new rank; and as I rose and faced my
brethren, every hand was lifted to the lips, every head bent in
salutation of their new leader. Then, as I passed to the extreme place
on the right, they came forward to grasp my hand and utter a few words
of sympathy and kindness, in which a frank spirit of affectionate
comradeship, that reminded me forcibly of the mess-tent and the
bivouac fire, was mingled with the sense of a deeper and more sacred
tie.

Scarcely had we resumed our places than a startling incident gave a
new turn to the scene. Approaching the barrier, a woman, veiled, but
wearing the sash and star, knelt for a moment to the presence of the
Arch-Teacher, and then, as the barrier was thrown open by the
sentries, came up to the dais.

"She," said the new-comer, "has a message for you, Clavelta, for your
Council, and particularly for the last of its members."

"It is well," he answered.

The messenger took her seat among the Initiates, and Esmo dismissed
the assembly in the solemn form employed on the former occasion. Then,
followed by the twelve, and guided by the messenger (the gloved
fingers of whose left hand, as I observed, he very slightly touched
with his own right), he passed by another door out of the Hall, and
along one of the many passages of the subterrene Temple, into a
chamber resembling in every respect an apartment in an ordinary
residence. Here, with her veil, as is permitted only to maidenhood,
drawn back from her face, but covering almost entirely her neck and
bosom, and clad in the vestal white, reclined with eyes nearly closed
a young girl, in whose countenance a beauty almost spiritual was
enhanced rather than marred by signs of physical ill-health painfully
unmistakable. Warning us back with a slight movement of his hand, Esmo
approached her. Our presence had at first seemed to cast her into
almost convulsive agitation; but under his steady gaze and the
movement of his hands, she lapsed almost instantly into what appeared
to be profound slumber.

* * * * *

The practical information that concerned the present peril menacing
the Order delivered, and when it was plain that no further revelation
or counsel was to be expected on this all-important topic, Esmo
beckoned to me, taking my hand in his own and placing it very gently
and carefully in that of the unconscious sybil. The effect, however,
was startling. Without unclosing her eyes, she sprang into a sitting
posture and clasped my hand almost convulsively with her own long,
thin all but transparent fingers. Turning her face to mine, and
seeming, though her eyes were closed, as if she looked intently into
it, she murmured words at first unintelligible, but which seemed by
degrees to bear clearer and clearer reference to some of the stormy
scenes of my youth in another world. Then--as one looking upon
pictures but partially intelligible to her, and commenting on them as
a girl who had never seen or known the passions and the mutual enmity
of men--she startled me by breaking into the kind of chant in which
the peculiar verse of her language is commonly delivered. My own
thought of the moment was not her guide. The Moslem battle-cry had
rung too often in my ears ever to be forgotten; but up to that moment
I had never recalled to memory the words in which on my last field I
retorted upon my Arab comrades, when flinching from a third charge
against those terrible "sons of Eblis," whose stubborn courage had
already twice hurled us back in confusion and disgrace with a hundred
empty saddles. At first her tone was one of simple amaze and horror.
It softened afterwards into wonder and perplexity, and the
oft-repeated rebuke or curse was on its last recurrence spoken with
more of pitying tenderness and regret than of severity:--

"What! those are human bosoms whereon the brute hath trod!
What! through the storm of slaughter rings the appeal to God!
Through the smoke and flash of battle a single form is shown;
O'er clang and crash and rattle peals out one trumpet-tone--
'Strike, for Allah and the Prophet! let Eblis take his own!'

"Strange! the soul that, fresh from carnage, quailed not alone to face
The unfathomed depths of Darkness, the solitudes of Space!
Strange! the smile of scorn, while nerveless dropped the sword-arm from
the sting,
On the death that scowled at distance, on the closing murder-ring.
Strange! no crimson stain on conscience from the hand in gore imbrued!
But Death haunts the death-dealer; blood taints the life of blood!

"Strange! the arm that smote and spared not in the tempest of the strife,
Quivers with pitying terror--clings, for a maiden's life!
Strange! the heart steel-hard to death-shrieks by girlish tears subdued;
The falcon's sheathless talons among the esve's brood!
But Death haunts the death-dealer; blood taints the life of blood.

"The breast for woman's peril that dared the despot's ire,
Shall dauntless front, and scathless, the closing curve of fire.
The heart, by household treason stung home, that can forgive,
Shall brave a woman's hatred, a woman's wiles, and live.

"A woman's well-won fealty shall give the life he gave,
Love shall redeem the loving, and Sacrifice shall save.
But--God heal the tortured spirit, God calm the maddened mood;
For Death haunts the death-dealer; blood taints the life of blood!"

Relaxing but not releasing her grasp of my own hand, she felt about
with her left till Esmo gently placed his own therein. Then, in a tone
at first of deep and passionate anxiety and eagerness, passing into
one of regretful admiration, and varying with the purport of each
utterance, she broke into another chant, in which were repeated over
and again phrases familiar in the traditions and prophetic or symbolic
formularies of the Zinta:--

"Ever on deadliest peril shines the Star with steadiest ray;
Ever quail the fiercest hunters when Kargynda turns at bay.
Close, Children of the Starlight! close, for the Emerald Throne!
Close round the life that closeth your life within the zone!
Rests the Golden Circle's glory, rests the silver gleam on her
Who shall rein Kargynda's fury with a thread of gossamer.
He metes not mortal measure, He pays not human price,
Who crowns that life's devotion with the death of sacrifice!
Woe worth the moment's panic; woe worth the victory won!
But the Night is near the breaking when the Stranger claims his own.

"Ever on deadliest peril shines the Star with steadiest ray;
Ever quail the fiercest hunters when Kargynda turns at bay.
No life is worth the living that counts each fleeting breath;
No eyes from God averted can meet the eyes of Death.
Vague fear and spectral terrors haunt the soul that dwells in shade,
Nor e'er can crimson conscience confront the crimson blade.
From a cloud of shame and sorrow breaks the Light that shines afar,
And cold and dark the household spark that lit the Silver Star.
The triumph is a death-march; the victor's voice a moan:--But
the Powers of Night are broken when the Stranger wins his own!

"Ever in blackest midnight shines the Star with brightest ray;
Woe to them that hunt the theme if Kargynda cross the way!
In the Home of Peace, Clavelta, can our fears thy spirit move?
Look down! whence comes the rescue to the household of thy love?
As the All-Commander's lightning falls the Vengeance from above!
A shriek from thousand voices; a thunder crash; a groan;
A thousand homes in mourning--a thousand deaths in one!
Woe to the Sons of Darkness, for the Stranger wields his own!
Oh, hide that scene of horror in the deepest shades of night!
Look upward to the welkin, where the Vessel fades from sight ...
But the Veil is rent for ever by the Hand that veiled the Shrine;
And, on a peace of ages, the Star of Peace shall shine!"

Esmo listened with the anxious attention of one who believed that her
every word had a real and literal meaning; and his face was
overclouded with a calm but deep sadness, which testified to the
nature of the impression made on his mind by language that hardly
conveyed to my own more than a dim and general prediction of victory,
won through scenes of trial and trouble. But when she had closed, a
quiet satisfaction in what seemed to be the final promise of triumph
to the Star, at whatever cost to the noblest of its adherents, was all
that I could trace in his countenance.

The sibyl fell back as the last word passed her lips, with a sigh of
relief, into what was evidently a profound and insensible sleep. Those
around me must have witnessed such scenes at least as often as I; but
it was plain that the impression made, even on the experienced Chiefs
of the Order, was far deeper than had affected myself. I should hardly
have been able to remember the words of the prophecy, but for
subsequent conversation thereon with Eveena, when one part had been
fulfilled and the rest was on the eve of a too terribly truthful
fulfilment; but for the events that fixed their prediction in my
mind--it may be in terms a little more precise than those actually
employed, though I have endeavoured to record these with conscientious
accuracy.

Led by Esmo, we passed along another gallery into the small chamber
where met the secret Council of the Order, and long and anxious were
the debates wherein the revelations of the dreamer were treated as
conveying the most certain and unquestionable warning. The first rays
of morning were stealing through the mists into the peristyle of our
host's dwelling before I re-entered Eveena's chamber. She was
slumbering, but restlessly, and so lightly that she sprang up at once
on my entrance. For a few moments all other thought was lost in the
delight of my return after an absence whose very length had alarmed
her, despite her father's previous assurance. But as at last she drew
back sufficiently to look into my face, its expression seemed to
startle and sadden her. The questions that sprang to her lips died
there, as she probably saw in my eyes a look not only of weariness and
perplexity, but of profound reluctance to speak of what had passed.
Expressing her sympathy only by look and touch, she began to unclasp
my robe at the throat, aware that my only wish was for rest, and
content to postpone her own anxiety and natural curiosity. Then, as
the golden sash which I had not removed met her sight, she looked up
for a moment with a glance of natural pride and fondness, intensely
gratified by the highly-prized honour paid to her husband; then bent
low and kissed my hand with the gesture wherewith the presence of a
superior is acknowledged by the members of the Order. "Used as my
earlier life was, Eveena, to the Eastern prostrations of my own world,
I hate all that recals them; and if I must accept, as I fulfil, these
forms in the Halls of the Zinta, let me never be reminded of them by
you."

CHAPTER XXVII - THE VALLEY OF THE SHADOW.

If I could have endured to describe to Eveena the terrible trial
scene, that which occurred before she had the chance to question me
would have certainly sealed my lips. The past night had told upon me
as no fatigue, no anxiety, no disaster of my life on Earth had ever
done. I awoke faint and exhausted as a nervous valetudinarian, and I
suppose my feeling must have been plainly visible in my face, for
Eveena would not allow me to rise from the cushions till she had
summoned an _amba_ and procured the material of a morning meal, though
the hour was noon. Far too considerate to question me then, she was
perhaps a little disappointed that, almost before I had dressed, a
message from her father summoned me to his presence.

"It is right," he said quietly, and with no show of feeling, though
his face was somewhat pale, "that you should be acquainted with the
fulfilment of the sentence you assisted to pass. The outcast was found
this morning dead in his own chamber. Nay, you need not start! We need
no deathsman; alike by sudden disease, by suicide, by accident, our
doom executes itself. But enough of this. I accepted the vote which
invested you with the second rank in our Order, less because I think
you will render service to it here than that I desired you to possess
that entire knowledge of its powers and secrets which might enable you
to plant a branch or offshoot where none but you could carry it ...
That you will soon leave this world seemed to me probable, before the
anticipations of practical prudence were confirmed by the voice of
prophecy. Your Astronaut shall be stored with all of which I know you
have need, and with any materials whose use I do not know that you may
point out. To remove it from Asnyea would now be too dangerous. If you
receive tidings that shall bring you again into its neighbourhood, do
not lose the opportunity of re-entering it.... And now let me take
leave of you, as of a dear friend I may not meet again."

"Do you know," I said, more touched by the tone than by the words,
"that Eveena asked and I gave a promise that when I do re-enter it she
shall be my companion?"

"I did not know it, but I took for granted that she would desire it,
and I should have been grieved to doubt that you would assent. I
cannot disturb her peace by saying to her what I have just said to
you, and must part from her as on any ordinary occasion."

That parting, happily, I did not witness. Before evening we re-entered
our vessel, and returned home without any incident worthy of mention.

To my surprise, my return plunged me at once into the kind of vexation
which Eveena had so anxiously endeavoured to spare me, and which I had
hoped Eunane's greater decision and less exaggerated tenderness would
have avoided. She seemed excited and almost fretful, and before we had
been half an hour at home had greeted me with a string of complaints
which, on her own showing, seemed frivolous, and argued as much temper
on her part as customary petulance on that of others. On one point,
however, her report confirmed the suggestions of Eveena's previous
experience. She had wrested at once from Eive's hand the pencil that
had hitherto been used in absolute secrecy, and the consequent quarrel
had been sharp enough to suggest, if not to prove, that the privilege
was of practical as well as sentimental moment. Though aggravated by
no rebuke, my tacit depreciation of her grievances irritated Eunane to
an extreme of petulance unusual with her of late; which I bore so long
as it was directed against myself, but which, turned at last on
Eveena, wholly exhausted my patience. But no sooner had I dismissed
the offender than Eveena herself interposed, with even more than her
usual tenderness for Eunane.

"Do not blame my presumption," she said; "do not think that I am
merely soft or weak, if I entreat you to take no further notice of
Eunane's mood. I cannot but think that, if you do, you will very soon
repent it."

She could not or would not give a reason for her intercession; but
some little symptoms I might have seen without observing, some
perception of the exceptional character of Eunane's outbreak, or some
unacknowledged misgiving accordant with her own, made me more than
willing to accept Eveena's wish as a sufficient cause for forbearance.
When we assembled at the morning meal Eunane appeared to be conscious
of error; at all events, her manner and temper were changed. Watching
her closely, I thought that neither shame for an outbreak of unwonted
extravagance nor fear of my displeasure would account for her languor
and depression. But illness is so rare among a race educated for
countless generations on principles scientifically sound and sanitary,
inheriting no seeds of disease from their ancestry, and safe from the
infection of epidemics long extirpated, that no apprehension of
serious physical cause for her changes of temper and complexion
entered into my mind. To spare her when she deserved no indulgence was
the surest way to call forth Eunane's best impulses; and I was not
surprised to find her, soon after the party had dispersed, in Eveena's
chamber. That all the amends I could desire had been made and accepted
was sufficiently evident. But Eunane's agitation was so violent and
persistent, despite all Eveena's soothing, that I was at last
seriously apprehensive of its effect upon the latter. The moment we
were alone Eveena said--

"I have never seen illness, but if Eunane is not ill, and very ill,
all I have gathered in my father's household from such books as he has
allowed me, and from his own conversation, deceives me wholly; and yet
no illness of which I have ever heard in the slightest degree
resembles this."

"I take it to be," I said, "what on Earth women call hysteria and men
temper."

To this opinion, however, I could not adhere when, watching her
closely, I noticed the evident lack of spirit and strength with which
the most active and energetic member of the household went about her
usual pursuits. A terrible suspicion at first entered my mind, but was
wholly discountenanced by Eveena, who insisted that there was no
conceivable motive for an attempt to injure Eunane; while the idea
that mischief designed for others had unintentionally fallen on her
was excluded by the certainty that, whatever the nature of her
illness, if it were such, it had commenced before our return. Long
before evening I had communicated with Esmo, and received from him a
reply which, though exceedingly unsatisfactory, rather confirmed
Eveena's impression. The latter had taken upon herself the care of the
evening meal; but, before we could meet there, my own observation had
suggested an alarm I dared not communicate to her--one which a wider
experience than hers could neither verify nor dispel. Among symptoms
wholly alien, there were one or two which sent a thrill of terror to
my heart;--which reminded me of the most awful and destructive of the
scourges wherewith my Eastern life had rendered me but too familiar.
It was not unnatural that, if carried to a new world, that fearful
disease should assume a new form; but how could it have been conveyed?
how, if conveyed, could its incubation in some unknown vehicle have
been so long? and how had it reached one, and one only, of my
household--one, moreover, who had no access to such few relics of my
own world as I had retained, of which Eveena had the exclusive charge?
All Esmo's knowledge, even were he within reach, could hardly help me
here. I dared, of course, suggest my apprehension to no one, least of
all to the patient herself. As, towards evening, her languor was again
exchanged for the feverish excitement of the previous night, I seized
on some petulant word as an excuse to confine her to her room, and,
selfishly enough, resolved to invoke the help of the only member of
the family who should, and perhaps would, be willing to run personal
risk for the sake of aiding Eunane in need and protecting Eveena. I
had seen as yet very little of Velna, Eunane's school companion; but
now, calling her apart, I told her frankly that I feared some illness
of my own Earth had by some means been communicated to her friend.

"You have here," I said, "for ages had no such diseases as those which
we on Earth most dread; those which, communicated through water, air,
or solid particles, spread from one person to another, endangering
especially those who come nearest to the sufferers. Whoever approaches
Eunane risks all that I fear for her, and that 'all' means very
probably speedy death. To leave her alone is impossible; and if I
cannot report that she is fully cared for in other hands, no command,
nothing short of actual compulsion, will keep Eveena away from her."

The girl looked up with a steady frank courage and unaffected
readiness I had not expected.

"I owe you much, Clasfempta, and still more perhaps to Eveena. My life
is not so precious that I should not be ready to give it at need for
either of you; and if I should lose Eunane, I would prefer not to live
to remember my loss."

The last words reminded me that to her who spoke death meant
annihilation; a fact which has deprived the men of her race of nearly
every vestige of the calm courage now displayed by this young girl,
indebted as little as any human being could be to the insensible
influences of home affection, or the direct moral teaching which is
sometimes supposed to be a sufficient substitute. I led her at once
into her friend's chamber, and a single glance satisfied me that my
apprehensions were but too well-founded. Remaining long enough to
assure the sufferer that the displeasure I had affected had wholly
passed away, and to suggest the only measures of relief rather than of
remedy that occurred to me, I endeavoured for a few moments to collect
my thoughts and recover the control of my nerves in solitude. In my
own chamber Eveena would assuredly have sought me, and I chose
therefore one of those as yet unoccupied. It did not take long to
convince me that no ordinary resources at my command, no medical
experience of my own, no professional science existing among a race
who probably never knew the disease in question, and had not for ages
known anything like it, could avail me. My later studies in the occult
science of Eastern schools had not furnished me with any antidote in
which I believed on Earth, and if they had, it was not here available.
Despair rather than hope suggested an appeal to those which the
analogous secrets of the Starlight might afford. Anxiety, agitation,
personal interest so powerful as now disturbed me, are generally fatal
to the exercise of the powers recently placed at my command; so
recently that, but for Terrestrial experience, I should hardly have
known how to use them. But the arts which assist in and facilitate
that tremendous all-absorbing concentration of will on which the
exertion of those powers depends, are far more fully developed in the
Zveltic science than in its Earthly analogues. A desperate effort,
aided by those arts, at last controlled my thoughts, and turned them
from the sick-room to that distant chamber in which I had so lately
stood.

* * * * *

I seemed to stand beside her, and at once to be aware that my thought
was visible to the closed eyes. From lips paler than ever, words--so
generally resembling those I had previously heard that some readers
may think them the mere recollection thereof--appeared to reach my
sense or my mind as from a great distance, spoken in a tone of mingled
pity, promise, and reproof:--

"What is youth or sex or beauty in the All-Commander's sight?
For the arm that smote and spared not, shall His wisdom spare to smite?
Yet, love redeems the loving; yet in thy need avail
The Soul whose light surrounds thee, the faith that will not fail.
Thy lips shall soothe the terror, call to yon couch afar
The solace of the Serpent, the shadow of the Star!
Strength shall sustain the strengthless, nor the soft hand loose its
grasp
Of the hand it trusts and clings to--till another meet its clasp....
--Steel-hard to man's last anguish, wax-soft to woman's mood!--
Death quits not the death-dealer; blood haunts the life of blood!"

* * * * *

Returning to the peristyle, I encountered Eveena, who had been seeking
me anxiously. Much alarmed for her, I bade her return at once to her
room. She obeyed as of course, equally of course surprised and a
little mortified; while I, marvelling by what conceivable means the
plague of Cairo or Constantinople could have been conveyed across
forty million miles of space and some two years of Earthly time, paced
the peristyle for a few minutes. As I did so, my eye fell on the roses
which grew just where chance arrested my steps. If they do not afford
an explanation which scientific medicine will admit, I can suggest no
other. But, if it were so, how fearfully true the warning!--by what a
mysterious fate did death dog my footsteps, and "blood haunt the life
of blood!"

The reader may not remember that the central chamber of the women's
apartments, next to which was Eunane's, had been left vacant. This I
determined to occupy myself, and bade the girls remove at once to
those on its right, as yet unallotted. I closed the room, threw off my
dress, and endeavoured by means of the perfumed shower-bath to drive
from my person what traces of the infection might cling to it; for
Eveena had the keys of all my cases and of the medicine-chest, and I
could not make up my mind to reclaim them by a simple unexplained
message sent by an amba, or, still worse, by the hands of Enva or
Eive. I laid the clothes I had worn on one of the shelves of the wall,
closing over them the crystal doors of the sunken cupboard; and,
having obtained through the amban a dress which I had not worn since
my return, and which therefore could hardly have about it any trace of
infection, I sought Eveena in her own room.

That something had gone wrong, and gravely wrong, she could not but
know; and I found her silent and calm, indeed, but weeping bitterly,
whether for the apprehension of danger to me, or for what seemed want
of trust in her. I asked her for the keys, and she gave them; but with
a mute appeal that made the concealment I desired, however necessary,
no longer possible. Gently, cautiously as I could, but softening, not
hiding, any part of the truth, I gave her the full confidence to which
she was entitled, and which, once forced out of the silence preserved
for her sake, it was an infinite relief to give. If I could not
observe equal gentleness of word and manner in absolutely forbidding
her to approach, either Eunane's chamber or my own, it was because,
the moment she conceived what I was about to say, her almost indignant
revolt from the command was apparent. For the first and last time she
distinctly and firmly refused compliance, not merely with the kindly
though very decided request at first spoken, but with the formal and
peremptory command by which I endeavoured to enforce it.

"You command me to neglect a sister in peril and suffering," she said.
"It is not kind; it is hardly worthy of you; but my first duty is to
you, and you have the right, if you will, to insist that I shall
reserve my life for your sake. But you command me also to forsake you
in danger and in sorrow; and nothing but the absolute force you may of
course employ shall compel me to obey you in that."

"I understand you, Eveena; and you, in your turn, must think and feel
that I intend to express neither displeasure nor pain; that I mean no
harshness to you, no less respect as well as love than I have always
shown you, when I say that obey you shall; that the same sense of duty
which impels you to refuse obliges me to enforce my command. At no
time would I have allowed you to risk your life where others might be
available. But if you were the only one who could help, I should,
under other circumstances, have felt that the same paramount duty that
attaches to me attached in a lighter degree to yourself. Now, as you
well know, the case is different; and even were Eunane not quite safe
in my hands and in Velna's, you must not run a risk that can be
avoided. You will promise me to remain on this side the peristyle or
in the further half of it, or I must confine you perforce; and it is
not kind or right in this hour of trouble to impose upon me so painful
a task."

With every tone, look, and caress that could express affection and
sympathy, Eveena answered--

"Do what seems your duty, and do not think that I misunderstand your
motive or feel the shadow of humiliation or unkindness. Make me obey
if you can, punish me if I disobey; but obey you, when you tell me,
for my own life's sake or for any other, to desert you in the hour of
need, of danger, and of sorrow, I neither will nor can." I cut short
the scene, bidding her a passionate farewell in view of the
probability that we should not meet again. I closed the door behind
me, having called her whom at this moment and in this case I could
best trust, because her worse as well as her better qualities were
alike guarantees for her obedience.

"Enva," I said, "you will keep this room till I release you; and you
will answer it to me, as the worst fault you can commit, if Eveena
passes this threshold, under whatever circumstances, until I give her
permission, or until, if it be beyond my power to give it, her father
takes the responsibilities of my home upon himself."

I procured the sedatives which might relieve the suffering I could not
hope to cure. I wrote to Esmo, stating briefly but fully the position
as I conceived it; and, on a suggestion from Eive, I despatched
another message to a female physician of some repute--one of those few
women in Mars who lead the life and do the work of men, and for whose
attendance, as I remembered, Eunane had expressed a strong theoretical
preference.

From that time I scarcely left her chamber save for a few minutes, and
Velna remained constantly at her friend's side, save when, to give her
at least a chance of escape, I sent her to her room to bathe, change
her dress, and seek the fresh air for the half hour during which alone
I could persuade her to leave the sufferer. The _daftare_ (man-woman)
physician came, but on learning the nature of the disease, expressed
intense indignation that she had been summoned to a position of so
much danger to herself.

I answered by a contemptuous inquiry regarding the price for which she
would run so much risk as to remain in the peristyle so long as I
might have need of her presence; and, for a fee which would ensure her
a life-income as large as that secured to Eveena herself, she
consented to remain within speaking distance for the few hours in
which the question must be decided. Eunane was seldom insensible or
even delirious, and her quick intelligence caught very speedily the
meaning of my close attendance, and of the distress which neither
Velna nor I could wholly conceal. She asked and extracted from me what
I knew of the origin of her illness, and answered, with a far stronger
feeling than I should have expected even from her--

"If I am to die, I am glad it should be through trying to serve and
please Eveena.... It may seem strange, Clasfempta," she went on
presently, "scarcely possible perhaps; but my love for her is not only
greater than the love I bear you, but is so bound up with it that I
always think of you together, and love you the better that I love her,
and that you love her so much better than me.... But," she resumed
later, "it is hard to die, and die so young. I had never known what
happiness meant till I came here.... I have been so happy here, and I
was happier each day in feeling that I no longer made Eveena or you
less happy. Ah! let me thank you and Eveena while I can for
everything, and above all for Velna.... But," after another long
pause, "it is terrible and horrible--never to wake, to move, to hear
your voices, to see you, to look upon the sunlight, to think, or even
to dream again! Once, to remove a tooth and straighten the rest, they
made me senseless; and that sinking into senselessness, though I knew
I should waken in a minute, was horrible; and--to sink into
senselessness from which I shall never waken!"

She was sinking fast indeed, and this terror of death, so seldom seen
in the dying, grew apparently deeper and more intense as death drew
near. I could not bear it, and at last took my resolve and dismissed
Velna, forbidding her to return till summoned.

"Ah!" said Eunane, "you send her away that she may not see the last.
Is it so near?"

"No, darling!" I replied (she, like Eveena, had learnt the meaning of
one or two expressions of human affection in my own tongue), "but I
have that to say which I would not willingly say in her presence. You
dread death not as a short terrible pain, and for you it will not be
so, not as a short sleep, but as eternal senselessness and
nothingness. Has it never seemed to you strange that, loving Eveena as
I do, _I_ do not fear to die? Though you did not know it, I have lived
almost since first you knew me under the threat of death; and death
sudden, secret, without warning, menacing me every day and every hour.
And yet, though death meant leaving her and leaving her to a fate I
could not foresee, I have been able to look on it steadily. Kneeling
here, I know that I am very probably giving my life to the same end as
yours. I do not fear. That may not seem strange to you; but Eveena
knows all I know, and I could scarcely keep Eveena away. So loving
each other, _we_ do not fear to die, because we believe, we know, that
that in us which thinks, and feels, and loves will live; that in death
we lay aside the body as we lay aside our worn-out clothing. If I
thought otherwise, Eunane, I could not bear _this_ parting."

She clasped my hands, almost as much surprised and touched, I thought,
for the moment by the expression of an affection of which till that
hour neither of us were fully aware, as by the marvellous and
incredible assurance she had heard.

"Ah!" she said, "I have heard her people are strange, and they dream
such things. No, Clasfempta, it is a fancy, or you say it to comfort
me, not because it is true."

The expression of terror that again came over her face was too painful
for endurance. To calm that terror I would have broken every oath,
have risked every penalty. But in truth I could never have paused to
ask what in such a case oath or law permitted, "Listen, Eunane," I
said, "and be calm. Not only Eveena, not only I, but hundreds,
thousands, of the best and kindliest men and women of your world hold
this faith as fast as we do. You feel what Eveena is. What she is and
what others are not, she owes to this trust:--to the assurance of a
Power unseen, that rules our lives and fortunes and watches our
conduct, that will exact an account thereof, that holds us as His
children, and will never part with us. Do you think it is a lie that
has made Eveena what she is?"

"But you _think_, you do not know."

"Yes, I know; I have seen." Here a touch, breaking suddenly upon that
intense concentration of mind and soul on a single thought, violently
startled me, gentle as it was; and to my horror I saw that Eveena was
kneeling with me by the couch.

"Remember," she said, in the lowest, saddest whisper, "'the Veil that
guards the Shrine.'"

"No matter, Eveena," I answered in the same tone, the pain at my heart
suppressing even the impulse of indignation, not with her, but with
the law that could put such a thought into her heart. "Neither penalty
nor oath should silence me now. Whether I break our law I know not;
but I would forfeit life here--I would forfeit life hereafter, rather
than fail a soul that rests on mine at such a moment."

The clasp of her hand showed how thoroughly, despite the momentary
doubt, she felt with me; and I could not now recur to that secondary
selfishness which had so imperiously repelled her from the
sick-chamber.

"I have seen," I repeated, as Eunane still looked earnestly into my
face, "and Eveena has seen at the same moment, one long ages since
departed this world--the Teacher of this belief, the Founder of that
Society which holds it, the ancestor of her own house--in bodily form
before us."

"It is true," said Eveena, in answer to Eunane's appealing look.

"And I," I added, "have seen more than once in my own world the forms
of those I have known in life recalled, according to promise, to human
eyes."

The testimony, or the contagion of the strong undoubting confidence we
felt therein, if they did not convince the intellect, changed the tone
of thought and feeling of the dying girl. Too weak now to reason, or
to resist the impression enforced upon her mind by minds always far
more powerful than her own in its brightest hours, she turned
instinctively from the thought of blackness, senselessness eternal, to
that of a Father whose hand could uphold, of the wings that can leap
the grave. Her left hand clasped in mine, her right in Eveena's,--
looking most in my face, because weakness leant on strength even more
than love appealed to love--Eunane spent the remaining hours of that
night in calm contentment and peace. Perhaps they were among the most
perfectly peaceful and happy she had known. To strong, warm,
sheltering affection she had never been used save in her new home; and
in the love she received and returned there was much too strange and
self-contradicting to be satisfactory. But no shadow of jealousy,
doubt, or contradictory emotion troubled her now: assured of Eveena's
sisterly love as of my own hardly and lately won trust and tenderness.

The light had been long subdued, and the chamber was dim as dimmest
twilight, when suddenly, with a smile, Eunane cried--

"It is morning already! and there,--why, there is Erme."

She stretched out her arms as if to greet the one creature she had
loved--perhaps more dearly than she loved those now beside her. The
hands dropped; and Eveena's closed for ever on the sights of this
world the eyes whose last vision had been of another.

CHAPTER XXVIII - DARKER YET.

Leading Eveena from the room, I hastily dictated every precaution that
could diminish the danger to her and others. Velna had run risks that
could not well be increased, and on her and on myself must devolve
what remained to be done. I sent an amba to summon Davilo, gathered
the garments that Eveena had thrown off, and removed them to the
death-chamber. When the first arrangements were made, and I had paid
the fee of Astona, the woman-physician, I passed out into the garden,
and Davilo met me at the door of the peristyle. A few words explained
all that was necessary. It was still almost dark; and as we stood
close by the door, speaking in the low tone partly of sadness, partly
of precaution, two figures were dimly discernible just inside, and we
caught a few broken words.

"You have heard," said a harsh voice, which seemed to be Astona's,
"there is no doubt now. You have your part to play, and can do it
quickly and safely."

I paid little attention to words whose dangerous significance would at
another moment have been plain to me. But Davilo, greatly alarmed,
laid his hand upon my arm. As he did so, another voice thrilled me
with intensest pain and amazement.

"Be quick to bear your message," Eive said, in rapid guarded tones.
"They have means of vengeance certain and prompt, and they never
spare."

Astona departed without seeing us. Eive closed the door, and Davilo
and I, hastily and unperceived, followed the spy to the gate of the
enclosure. Some one waited for her there. What passed we could not
hear; but, as we saw Astona and another depart, Davilo spoke
imprudently aloud--

"She has the secret, and she must die. 'Nay' (as I would have
expostulated), she is spy, traitress, and assassin, and merits her
doom most richly."

"Hist!" said I, "your words may have fallen into other ears;" for I
thought that beyond the wall I discerned a crouching figure. If that
of a man, however, it was too far off, and dressed in colours too
dark, to be clearly seen; and in another instant it had certainly
vanished.

"Remember," he urged, "you have heard that one quite as dangerous is
under your own roof; and, once more, it is not only your life that is
at stake. What you call courage, what seems to us sheer folly, may
cost you and others what you value far more than your life. An error
of softness now may make your future existence one long and useless
remorse."

Half-an-hour later, having warned the women to their rooms--ordering a
variety of disinfecting measures in which Martial science excelled
while they were needed there--I opened the door of the death chamber
to those who carried in a coffer hollowed out of a dark, exceedingly
dense natural stone, and half-filled with a liquid of enormous
destructive power. Then I lifted tenderly the lifeless form, laid it
on cushions arranged therein, kissed the lips, and closed the coffer.
Two of Davilo's attendants had meantime adjusted the electric
machinery. We carried the coffer into the apartment where this worked
to heat the stove, to keep the lights burning, to raise, warm, and
diffuse the water through the house, and perform many other important
household services. Two strong bars of conducting metal were attached
to the apparatus, and fitted into two hollows of the coffer. A flash,
a certain hissing sound, followed. After a few moments the coffer was
opened, and Davilo, carefully gathering a few handfuls of solid white
material, something resembling pumice stone in appearance, placed them
in a golden chest about twelve inches cube, which was then soldered
down by the heat derived from the electric power. Then all infected
clothes and the contents of the death chamber were carried out for
destruction; while, with a tool adjusted to the machinery, one of the
attendants engraved a few characters upon the chest. Whatever the
risk, I could not part with every relic of her we had lost; and, after
passing them through such chemical purification as Martial science
suggested, I took the three long chestnut locks I had preserved.
Velna's quick fingers wove them into plaits, one of which I left with
her, one bound around my own neck, and one reserved for Eveena. As
soon as the sun had risen, I had despatched a message to the Prince,
explaining the danger of infection to which I had been subjected, and
asking permission notwithstanding to wait upon him. The emergency was
so pressing that neither sorrow nor peril would allow me to neglect an
embassy on which the lives of hundreds, and perhaps the safety of his
kingdom, might depend. Passing Eive as I turned towards Eveena's room,
and fevered with intense thirst, I bade her bring me thither a cup of
the carcara. I need not dwell on the terribly painful moments in which
I bound round Eveena's arm a bracelet prized above all the choicest
ornaments she possessed. To calm her agitation and my own by means of
the charny, I sought the keys. They were not at my belt, and I asked,
"Have I returned them to you?"

"Certainly not," said Eveena, startled. "Can you not find them?"

At this moment Eive entered the room and presented me with the cup for
which I had asked. It struck me with surprise, even at that moment,
that Eveena took it from my hand and carried it first to her own lips.
Eive had turned to leave the room; but before she had reached the
threshold Eveena had sprung up, placed her foot upon the spring that
closed the door, and snatching the test-stone from my watch chain
dipped it into the cup. Her face turned white as death, while she held
up to my eyes the discoloured disc which proved the presence of the
deadliest Martial poison.

"Be calm," she said, as a cry of horror burst from my lips. "The
keys!"

"_You_ have them," Eive said with a gasp, her face still averted.

"I took them from Eveena myself," I answered sternly. "Stand back into
that corner, Eive," as I opened the door and called sharply the other
members of the household. When they entered, unable to stand, I had
fallen back upon a chair, and called Eive to my side. As I laid my
hand on her arm she threw herself on the floor, screaming and writhing
like a terrified child rather than a woman detected in a crime, the
conception and execution of which must have required an evil courage
and determination happily seldom possessed by women.

"Stand up!" I said. "Lift her, then, Enva and Eirale. Unfasten the
shoulder-clasps and zone."

As her outer robe dropped, Eive snatched at an object in its folds,
but too late; and the electric keys, which gave access to all my
cases, papers, and to the medicine-chest above all, lay glittering on
the ground.

"That cup Eive brought to me. Which of you saw her?"

"I did," said Enva quietly, all feelings of malice and curiosity alike
awed into silence by the evidence of some terrible, though as yet to
them unknown, secret. "She mixed it and brought it hither herself."

"And," I said, "it contains a poison against which, had I drunk
one-half the draught, no antidote could have availed--a poison to
which these keys only could have given access."

Again the test-stone was applied, and again the discoloration
testified to the truth of the charge.

"You have seen?" I said.

"We have seen," answered Enva, in the same tone of horror, too deep to
be other than quiet.

We all left the room, closing the door upon the prisoner. Dismissing
the girls to their own chambers, with strict injunctions not to quit
them unpermitted, I was left alone with Eveena. We were silent for
some minutes, my own heart oppressed with mingled emotions, all
intensely painful, but so confused that, while conscious of acute
suffering, I scarcely realised anything that had occurred. Eveena, who
knelt beside me, though deeply horror-struck, was less surprised and
was far less agitated than I. At last, leaning forward with her arms
on my knee and looking up in my face, she was about to speak. But the
touch and look seemed to break a spell, and, shuddering from head to
foot, I burst into tears like those of an hysterical girl. When, with
the strongest effort that shame and necessity could prompt, aided by
her silent soothing, I had somewhat regained my self-command, Eveena
spoke, in the same attitude and with the same look:--

"You said once that you could pardon such an attempt. That you should
ever forgive at heart cannot be. That punishment should not follow so
terrible a crime, even I cannot desire. But for _my_ sake, do not give
her up to the doom she has deserved. Do you know" (as I was silent)
"what that doom is?"

"Death, I suppose."

"Yes!" she said, shuddering, "but death with torture--death on the
vivisection-table. Will you, whatever the danger--_can_ you, give up
to such a fate, to such hands, one whom your hand has caressed, whose
head has rested on your heart?"

"It needs not that, Eveena," I answered; "enough that she is woman. I
would face that death myself rather than, for whatever crime, send a
woman, above all a young girl, to such an end. I would rather by far
slay my worst enemy with my own hand than consign him to a death of
torture. But, more than that, my conscience would not permit me to
call on the law to punish a household treason, where household
authority is so strong and so arbitrary as here. Assassination is the
weapon of the oppressed and helpless; and it is not for me so to be
judge in my own cause as to pronounce that Eive has had no
provocation."

"Shame upon her!" said Eveena indignantly. "No one under your roof
ever had or could have reason to raise a hand, I do not say against
your life, but to give you a moment's pain. I do not ask, I do not
wish you to spare her; only I am glad to think you will deal with her
yourself--remember she has herself removed all limit to your
power--and not by the shameless and merciless hands to which the law
would give her."

We returned to Eveena's chamber. The scene that followed I cannot bear
to recall. Enough that Eive knew as well as Eveena the law she had
broken and the penalty she had incurred; and, petted darling as she
had been, she utterly lacked all faith in the tenderness she had known
so well, or even in the mercy to which Eveena had confidently
appealed. Understanding at last that she was safe from the law, the
expression of her gratitude was as vehement as her terror had been
intense. But the new phase of passion was not the less repugnant. Not
that there was anything strange in the violent revulsion of feeling.
Born and trained among a race who fear to forgive, Eive was familiar
by report at least with the merciless vengeance of cowards. Whatever
they might have done later, few would have promised mercy in the very
moment of escape to an ordinary assassin; and if Eive understood any
aspect of my character, that she could best appreciate was the
outraged tenderness which forbade me to look on hers as ordinary
guilt. Acutely sensitive to pain and fear, she had both known the
better to what terror might prompt the injured, and was the more
appalled by the prospect. Her eagerness to accept by anticipation
whatever degradation and pain domestic power could inflict, when
released by the terrible alternative of legal prosecution from its
usual limits, breathed more of doubt and terror than of shame or
penitence. But at first it keenly affected me. It was with something
akin to a bodily pang that I heard this fragile girl, so easily
subdued by such rebuke or menace as her companions would scarcely have
affected to fear, now pleading for punishment such as would have
quelled the pride and courage of the most high-spirited of her sex. I
felt the deepest pity, not so much for the fear with which she still
trembled as for the agony of terror she must have previously endured.
Eveena averted from her abject supplications a face in which I read
much pain, but more of what would have been disgust in a less
intensely sympathetic nature. And ere long I saw or felt in Eive's
manner that which caused me suddenly to dismiss Eveena from the room,
as from a presence unfit for her spotless purity and exquisite
delicacy. Finding in me no sign of passionate anger, no readiness, but
reluctance to visit treason with physical pain, Eive's own expression
changed. Unable to conceive the feeling that rendered the course she
had at first expected simply impossible to me, a nature I had utterly
misconceived caught at an idea few women, not experienced in the worst
of life's lessons, would have entertained. The tiny fragile form, the
slight limbs whose delicate proportions seemed to me almost those of
infancy, their irrepressible quivering plainly revealed by the absence
of robe and veil, no man worthy of the name could have beheld without
intense compassion. But such a feeling she could not realise. As her
features lost the sincerity of overwhelming fear, as the drooping lids
failed for one moment to conceal a look of almost assured exultation
in the dark eyes, my soul was suddenly and thoroughly revolted. I had
forgiven the hand aimed at a heart that never throbbed with a pulse
unkind to her. I might have forgotten the treason that requited
tenderness and trust by seeking my life; but I could never forget,
never recover, that moment's insight into thoughts that so outraged an
affection which, if my conscience belied me not, was absolutely
stainless and unselfish.

It cost a strong persistent effort of self-control to address her
again. But a confession full and complete my duty to others compelled
me to enforce. The story of the next hour I never told or can tell. To
one only did I give a confidence that would have rendered explanation
natural; and that one was the last to whom I could have spoken on this
subject. Enough that the charming infantine simplicity had disguised
an elaborate treachery of which I reluctantly learned that human
nature is capable. The caressed and caressing child had sold my life,
if not her own soul, for the promise of wealth that could purchase
nothing I denied her, and of the first place among the women of her
world. That promise I soon found had not been warranted, directly or
indirectly, by him who alone could at present fulfil it. Needless to
relate the details either of the confession or its extortion. Enough
that Eive learnt at last perforce that though I had, as it seemed to
her, been fool enough to spare her the vengeance of the law, and to
spare her still as far as possible, her power to fool me further was
gone for ever. Needless to speak of the lies repeated and sustained,
till truth was wrung from quivering lips and sobbing voice; of the
looks that appealed long and incredulously to a love as utterly
forfeited as misunderstood. To the last Eive could not comprehend the
nature that, having spared her so much, would not spare wholly; the
mercy felt for the weakness, not for the charms of youth and sex.
Shamed, grieved, wounded to the quick, I quitted the presence of one
who, I fear, was as little worth the anguish I then endured for her,
as the tenderness she had so long betrayed; and left the late darling
of my house a prisoner under strict guard, necessary for the safety of
others than ourselves.

Finding a message awaiting me, I sought at once the interview which
the Sovereign fearlessly granted.

"I see," said the Prince with much feeling, as he received my salute,
"that you have gone through deeper pain than such domestic losses can
well cause to us. I am sorry that you are grieved. I can say no more,
and perhaps the less I say the less pain I shall give. Only permit me
this remark. Since I have known you, it has seemed to me that the
utter distinction between our character and yours, showing as it does
at so many points, springs from some single root-difference. We, so
careful of our own life and comfort, care little for those of others.
We, so afraid of pain, are indifferent to its infliction, unless we
have to witness it, and only some of us flinch from the sight. The
softness of heart you show in this trouble seems in some strange way
associated with the strength of heart which you have proved in
dangers, the least of which none of us would have encountered
willingly, and which, forced on us, would have unnerved us all. I am
glad to prove to you that to some extent I depart from my national
character and approach, however, distantly, to yours. I can feel for a
friend's sorrow, and I can face what you seem to consider a real
danger. But you had a purpose in asking this audience. My ears are
open--your lips are unsealed."

"Prince," I replied, "what you have said opens the way to that I
wished to ask. You say truly that courage and tenderness have a common
root, as have the unmanly softness and equally unmanly hardness common
among your subjects. Those for whom death ends all utterly and for
ever will of necessity, at least as soon as the training of years and
of generations has rendered their thought consistent, dread death with
intensest fear, and love to brighten and sweeten life with every
possible enjoyment. Animal enjoyment becomes the most precious, since
it is the keenest. Higher pleasures lose half their value, when the
distinction between the two is reduced to the distinction between the
sensations of higher and lower nerve centres. Thus men care too much
for themselves to care for others; and after all, strong deep
affection, entwined with the heartstrings, can only torture and tear
the hearts for which death is a final parting. Such love as I have
felt for woman--even such love as I felt for her, your gift, whom I
have lost--would be pain intolerable if the thought were ever present
that one day we must, and any day we might, part for ever. I put the
knife against my breast, my life in your hand, when I say this, and I
ask of you no secrecy, no favour for myself; but that, as I trust you,
you will guard the life that is dearest to me if you take from me the
power to guard it.... There are those among your subjects who are not
the cowards you find around your throne, who are not brutal in their
households, not incapable of tenderness and sacrifice for others."

As I spoke I carefully watched the Prince's face, on which no shade of
displeasure was visible; rather the sentiment of one who is somewhat
gratified to hear a perplexing problem solved in a manner agreeable to
his wishes.

"And the reason is," I continued, "that these men and women believe or
know that they are answerable to an eternal Sovereign mightier than
yourself, and that they will reap, not perhaps here, but after death
as they shall have sown; that if they do not forfeit the promise by
their own deed, they shall rejoin hereafter those dearest to them
here."

"There are such?" he said. "I would they were known to me. I had not
dreamed that there were in my realm men who would screen the heart of
another with their own palm."

"Prince," I replied earnestly, "I as their ambassador as one of their
leaders, appeal to you to know and to protect them. They can defend
themselves at need, and, it may be, might prevail though matched one
against a thousand. For their weapons are those against which no
distance, no defences, no numbers afford protection. But in such a
strife many of their lives must be lost, and infinite suffering and
havoc wrought on foes they would willingly spare. They are threatened
with extermination by secret spite or open force; but open force will
be the last resort of enemies well aware that those who strike at the
Star have ever been smitten by the lightning."

A slight change in his countenance satisfied me that the Emblem was
not unknown to him.

"You say," he replied, "that there is an organised scheme to destroy
these people by force or fraud?"

"The scheme, Prince, was confessed in my own hearing by one of its
instruments; and in proof thereof, my own life, as a Chief of the
Order, was attempted this morning."

The Prince sprang to his feet in all the passion of a man who for the
first time receives a personal insult; of an Autocrat stung to the
quick by an unprecedented outrage to his authority and dignity.

"Who has dared?" he said. "Who has taken on himself to make law, or
form plans for carrying out old law, without my leave? Who has dared
to strike at the life over which I have cast the shadow of my throne?
Give me their names, my guest, and, before the evening mist closes in
to-morrow, pronounce their doom."

"I cannot obey your royal command. I have no proof against the only
man who, to my knowledge, can desire my death. Those who actually and
immediately aimed at my life are shielded by the inviolable weakness
of sex from the revenge and even the justice of manhood."

"Each man," returned the Prince, but partially conceiving my meaning,
"is master at home. I wish I were satisfied that your heart will let
you deal justly and wisely with the most hateful offspring of the most
hateful of living races--a woman who betrays the life of her lord. But
those who planned a general scheme of destruction--a purpose of public
policy--without my knowledge, must aim also at my life and throne; for
even were their purpose such as I approved, attempted without my
permission, they know I would never pardon the presumption. I do not
sit in Council with dull ears, or silent lips, or empty hands; and it
is not for the highest more than for the lowest under me to snatch my
sceptre for a moment."

"Guard then your own," I said. "Without your leave and in your
lifetime, open force will scarcely he used against us; and if against
secret murder or outrage we appeal to the law, you will see that the
law does justice?"

"I will," he replied; "and I pardon your advice to guard my own,
because you judge me by my people. But a Prince's life is the charge
of his guards; the lives of his people are his care."

He was silent for a few minutes, evidently in deep reflection.

"I thank you," he said at last, "and I give you one warning in partial
return for yours. There is a law which can be used against the members
of a secret society with terrible effect. Not only are they exposed to
death if detected, but those who strike them are legally exempt from
punishment. I will care that that law shall not menace you long.
Whilst it remains guard yourselves; I am powerless to break it."

As I quitted the Palace, Ergimo joined me and mounted my carriage.
Seizing a moment when none were within sight or hearing, he said--

"Astona was found two hours ago dead, as an enemy or a traitor dies.
She was seen to fall from the roof of her house, and none was near her
when she fell. But Davilo has already been arrested as her murderer,
on the ground that he was heard before sunrise this morning to say
that she must die."

"Who heard that must have heard more. Let this news be quickly known
to whom it concerns."

I checked the carriage instantly, and turned into a road that
conducted us in ten minutes to a public telegraph office.

"Come with me," I said, "quickly. As an officer of the Campta your
presence may ensure the delivery of letters which might otherwise be
stopped."

He seized the hint at once, and as we approached a vacant desk he said
to the nearest officer, "In the Campta's name;" a form which ensured
that the most audacious and curious spy, backed by the highest
authority save that invoked, dared neither stop nor search into a
message so warranted. Before I left the desk every Chief of the Zinta
at his several post had received, through that strange symbolic
language of which I have already given samples, from me advice of what
had occurred and from Esmo warning to meet at an appointed place and
time.

The day at whose close we should meet was that of Davilo's trial. I
mingled with the crowd around the Court doors, a crowd manifesting
bitter hostility to the prisoner and to the Order, of whose secrets a
revelation was eagerly expected. Easily forcing my way through the
mass, I felt on a sudden a touch, a sign; and turning my eyes saw a
face I had surely never looked on before. Yet the sign could only have
been given by a colleague. That which followed implied the presence of
the Signet itself.

"I told you," whispered a voice I knew well, "how completely we can
change even countenance at will."

It was so; but though acquainted with the process, I had never
believed that the change could be so absolute. By help of my strength
and height, still more perhaps by the subtle influence of his own
powerful will acting none the less imperiously on minds unconscious of
its influence, Esmo made his way with me into the Court.

Around five sides of the hexagon were seats, tier above tier,
appropriated to the public who wish to see as well as hear. The
phonograph reported every word uttered to hundreds of distant offices.
Against the sixth side were placed the seats of the seven judges; in
front, at an equal elevation, the chair of the prisoner, the seats of
the advocates on right and left, and the place from which each witness
must deliver his testimony in full view and within easy hearing both
of the bench, the bar, and the audience. Davilo sat in his chair
unguarded, but in an attitude strangely constrained and motionless.
Only his bright eyes moved freely, and his head turned a little from
side to side. He recognised us instantly, and his look expressed no
trace of fear.

"The _quarry_" whispered Esmo, observing my perplexity.

"It paralyses the nerves of motion, leaving those of sensation active;
and is administered to a prisoner on the instant of his arrest, so as
to keep him absolutely helpless till his sentence is executed, or till
on his acquittal an antidote is administered."

The counsel for the prosecution stated in the briefest possible words
the story of Astona, from the moment when she left my house to that at
which she was found dead, and the method of her death; related
Davilo's words, and then proceeded to call his witnesses. Of course
the one vital question was whether by possibility Davilo, who had
never left my premises since the words were uttered, could have
brought about a death, evidently accidental in its immediate cause, at
a distance of many miles. His words were attested by one whom I
recognised as an officer of Endo Zampta, and I was called to confirm
or contradict them. The presiding judge, as I took my place, read a
brief telling terrible menace, expounding the legal penalties of
perjury.

"You will speak the truth," he said, "or you know the consequences."

As he spoke, he encountered Esmo's eyes, and quailed under the gaze,
sinking back into his seat motionless as the bird under the alleged
fascination of the serpent. I admitted that the words in question had
been addressed to me; and I proved that Davilo had been busily engaged
with me from that moment until an hour later than that of the fatal
accident. There being thus no dispute as to the facts, a keen contest
of argument proceeded between the advocates on either side. The
defenders of the prisoner ridiculed with an affectation of scientific
contempt--none the less effective because the chief pleader was
himself an experienced member of our Order--the idea that the actions
or fate of a person at a distance could be affected by the mere will
of another; and related, as absurd and incredible traditions of old to
this purport, some anecdotes which had been communicated to me as
among the best attested and most striking examples of the historical
exercise of the mystic powers. The able and bigoted sceptics, who
prosecuted this day in the interests of science, insisted, with equal
inconsistency and equal skill, on the innumerable recorded and
attested instances of some diabolical power possessed by certain
supposed members of a detested and malignant sect. A year ago the
judges would probably have sided unanimously with the former. But the
feeling that animated the conspiracy, if it should be so called,
against the Zinta, had penetrated all Martial society; and in order to
destroy the votaries of religion, Science, in the persons of her most
distinguished students, was this day ready to abjure her character,
and forswear her most cherished tenets. As has often happened in Mars,
and may one day happen on Earth as the new ideas come into greater
force, proven fact was deliberately set against logical impossibility;
and for once--what probably had not happened in Mars for ten thousand
years--proven fact and common sense carried the day against science
and "universal experience;" but, unhappily, against the prisoner.
After retiring separately for about an hour, the Judges returned.
Their brief and very confused decisions were read by the Secretary.
The reasons were seldom intelligible, each contradicting himself and
all his colleagues, and not one among the judgments having even the
appearance of cohesion and consistency. But, by six to one, they
doomed the prisoner to the vivisection-table. As he was carried forth
his eyes met ours, and the perfect calm and steadiness of their glance
astounded me not a little.

My natural thought prompted, of course, an appeal to the mercy of the
Throne. In every State a power of giving effect in the law's despite
to public policy, or of commanding that, in certain strange and
unforeseen circumstances, common sense and practical justice shall
override a sentence which no court bound by the letter of the law can
withhold, must rest with the Sovereign. But in Mars the prerogative of
mercy, in the proper sense of the word--judicial rather than political
mercy--is exercised less by the Prince himself than by a small council
of judges advising him and pronouncing their decision in his name.
Even if we could have relied on the Campta with absolute confidence,
there were many reasons against an appeal which would, in fact, have
asked him to declare himself on our side. While such a declaration
might, in the existing state of public feeling, have caused revolt or
riot, it would have put on their guard, perhaps driven to a premature
attempt which he was not prepared to meet, the traitors whose scheme
against his life the Prince felt confident that he should speedily
detect and punish.

All these considerations were brought before our Council, whose debate
was brief but not hurried or excited. The supreme calm of Esmo's
demeanour communicated itself to all the eleven, in not one of whom
could I recognise till they spoke my colleagues of our last Council.
The order went forth that a party should attend Esmo's orders at a
point about half a mile distant from the studio in which, for the
benefit of a great medical school, my unhappy friend was to be put to
torture indescribable.

"Happily," said Esmo, "the first portion of the experiment will be
made by the Vivisector-General alone, and will commence at midnight.
Half an hour before that time our party will be assembled."

I had insisted on being one of the band, and Esmo had very reluctantly
yielded to the unanimous approval of colleagues who thought that on
this occasion physical strength might render essential service at some
unforeseen crisis. Moreover, the place lying within my geographical
province, several of those engaged looked up to me as their immediate
chief, and it was thought well to place me on such an occasion at
their head.

The night was, as had been predicted, absolutely dark, but the roads
were brilliantly lighted. Suddenly, however, as we drew towards the
point of meeting, the lights went out, an accident unprecedented in
Martial administration.

"But they will be relighted!" said one of my companions.

"Can human skill relight the lamps that the power of the Star has
extinguished?" was the reply of another.

We fell in military order, with perfect discipline and steadiness,
under the influence of Esmo's silent will and scarcely discernible
gestures. The wing of the college in which the dissection was to take
place was guarded by some forty sentinels, armed with the spear and
lightning gun. But as we came close to them, I observed that each
stood motionless as a statue, with eyes open, but utterly devoid of
sight.

"I have been here before you," murmured Esmo. "To the left."

The door gave way at once before the touch of some electric instrument
or immaterial power wielded by his hand. We passed in, guided by him,
through one or two chambers, and along a passage, at the end of which
a light shone through a crystal door. Here proof of Esmo's superior
judgment was afforded. He would fain have had the party much smaller
than it was, and composed exclusively of the very few old and
experienced members of the Zinta within reach at the moment. We were
nearly a score in number, some even more inexperienced than myself,
half the party my own immediate followers; and I remembered far better
the feelings of a friend and a soldier than the lessons of the college
or the Shrine. As the door opened, and we caught sight of our friend
stretched on the vivisection table, the younger of the company,
hurried on by my own example, lost their heads and got, so to speak,
out of hand. We rushed tumultuously forward and fell on the Vivisector
and two assistants, who stood motionless and perhaps unconscious, but
with glittering knives just ready for their fiendish work. Before Esmo
could interpose, these executioners were cut down with the "crimson
blade" (cold steel); and we bore off our friend with more of eagerness
and triumph than at all befitted our own consciousness of power, or
suited the temper of our Chief.

Never did Esmo speak so sharply or severely as in the brief reprimand
he gave us when we reassembled; the justice of which. I instinctively
acknowledged, as he ceased, by the salute I had given so often at the
close of less impressive and less richly deserved reprimands on the
parade ground or the march. Uninjured, and speedily relieved from the
effects of the _quarry_, Davilo was carried off to a place of
temporary concealment, and we dispersed.

Eveena heard my story with more annoyance than interest, mortified not
a little by the reproof I had drawn upon myself and my followers; and,
despite her reluctance to seem to acknowledge a fault in me,
apparently afraid that a similar ebullition of feeling might on some
future occasion lead to serious disaster.

CHAPTER XXIX - AZRAEL.

To detain as a captive and a culprit, thus converting my own house
into a prison, my would-be murderess and former plaything, was
intolerably painful. To leave her at large was to incur danger such as
I had no right to bring on others. To dismiss her was less perilous
than the one course, less painful than the other, but combined peril
and pain in a degree which rendered both Eveena and myself most
reluctant to adopt it. From words of Esmo's, and from other sources, I
gathered that the usual course under such circumstances would have
been to keep the culprit under no other restraint than that
confinement to the house which is too common to be remarkable,
trusting to the terror which punishment inflicted and menaced by
domestic authority would inspire. But Eive now understood the limits
which conscience or feeling imposed on the use of an otherwise
unlimited power. She knew very nearly how much she could have to fear;
and, timid as she was, would not be cowed or controlled by
apprehensions so defined and bounded. Eveena herself naturally
resented the peril, and was revolted by the treason even more
intensely than myself; and was for once hardly content that so heinous
a crime should be so lightly visited. In interposing "between the
culprit and the horrors of the law, she had taken for granted the
strenuous exertion of a domestic jurisdiction almost as absolute under
the circumstances as that of ancient Rome.

"What suggested to you," I asked one day of Eveena, "the suspicion
that so narrowly saved my life?"

"The carefully steadied hand--you have teased her so often for
spilling everything it carried--and the unsteady eyes. But," she added
reluctantly, "I never liked to watch her--no, not lest you should
notice it--but because she did not seem true in her ways with you; and
I should have missed those signs but for a strange warning." ... She
paused.

"_I_ would not be warned," I answered with a bitter sigh. "Tell me,
Madonna."

"It was when you left me in this room alone," she said, her exquisite
delicacy rendering her averse to recal, not the coercion she had
suffered, but the pain she knew I felt in so coercing her. "Dearest,"
she added with a sudden effort, "let me speak frankly, and dispel the
pain you feel while you think over it in silence."

I kissed the hand that clasped my own, and she went on, speaking with
intentional levity.

"Had a Chief forgotten?" tracing the outline of a star upon her bosom.
"Or did you think Clavelta's daughter had no share in the hereditary
gifts of her family?"

"But how did you unlock the springs?"

"Ah! those might have baffled me if you had trusted to them. You made
a double mistake when you left Enva on guard.... You don't think I
tempted her to disobey? Eager as I was for release, I could not have
been so doubly false. She did it unconsciously. It is time to put her
out of pain."

"Does she know me so little as to think I could mean to torture her by
suspense? Besides, even she must have seen that you had secured her
pardon."

"Or my own punishment," Eveena answered.

"Spare me such words, Eveena, unless you mean to make me yet more
ashamed of the compulsion I did employ. I never spoke, I never
thought"----

"Forgive me, dearest. Will it vex you to find how clearly your
flower-bird has learned to read your will through your eyes? When I
refused to obey, and you felt yourself obliged to compel, your first
momentary thought was to threaten, your next that I should not believe
you. When you laid your hand upon my shoulder, thus, it was no gesture
of anger or menace. You thought of the only promise I must believe,
and you dropped the thought as quickly as your hand. You would not
speak the word you might have to keep. Nay, dearest, what pains you
so? You gave me no pain, even when you called another to enforce your
command. Yet surely you know that _that_ must have tried my spirit far
more than anything else you could do. You did well. Do you think that
I did not appreciate your imperious anxiety for me; that I did not
respect your resolution to do what you thought right, or feel how much
it cost you? If anything in the ways of love like yours could pain me,
it would be the sort of reserved tenderness that never treats me as
frankly and simply as" ... "There was no need to name either of those
so dearly loved, so lately--and, alas! so differently--lost. Trusting
the loyalty of my love so absolutely in all else, can you not trust it
to accept willingly the enforcement of your will ... as you have
enforced it on all others you have ruled, from the soldiers of your
own world to the rest of your household? Ah! the light breaks through
the mist. Before you gave Enva her charge you said to me in her
presence, 'Forgive me what you force upon me;' as if I, above all,
were not your own to deal with as you will. Dearest, do you so wrong
her who loves you, and is honoured by your love, as to fancy that any
exertion of your authority could make her feel humbled in your eyes or
her own?"

It was impossible to answer. Nothing would have more deeply wounded
her simple humility, so free from self-consciousness, as the plain
truth; that as her character unfolded, the infinite superiority of her
nature almost awed me as something--save for the intense and
occasionally passionate tenderness of her love--less like a woman than
an angel.

"I was absorbed," she continued, "in the effort that had thrown Enva
into the slumber of obedience. I did not know or feel where I was or
what I had next to do. My thought, still concentrated, had forgotten
its accomplished purpose, and was bent on your danger. Somehow on the
cushioned pile I seemed to see a figure, strange to me, but which I
shall never forget. It was a young girl, very slight, pale, sickly,
with dark circles round the closed eyes, slumbering like Enva, but in
everything else Enva's very opposite. I suppose I was myself entranced
or dreaming, conscious only of my anxiety for you, so that it seemed
natural that everything should concern you. I remember nothing of my
dream but the words which, when I came to myself in the peristyle,
alone, were as clear in my memory as they are now:--

"'Watch the hand and read the eyes;
On his breast the danger lies--
Strength is weak and childhood wise.

"'Fail the bowl, and--'ware the knife!
Rests on him the Sovereign's life,
Rests the husband's on the wife.

"'They that would his power command
Know who holds his heart in hand:
Silken tress is surest band.

"'Well they judge Kargynda's mood,
Steel to peril, pain, and blood,
Surely through his mate subdued.

"'Love can make the strong a slave,
Fool the wise and quell the brave ...
Love by sacrifice can save.'"

"She again!" I exclaimed involuntarily.

"You hear," murmured Eveena. "In kindness to me heed my warning, if
you have neglected all others. Do not break my heart in your mercy to
another. Eive"----

"_Eive_!--The prophetess knows me better than you do! The warning
means that they now desire my secret before my life, and scheme to
make your safety the price of my dishonour. It is the Devil's
thought--or the Regent's!"

As I could not decide to send Eive forth without home, protection, or
control, and Eveena could suggest no other course, the days wore on
under a domestic thunder-cloud which rendered the least sensitive
among us uncomfortable and unhappy, and deprived three at least of the
party of appetite, of ease, and almost of sleep, till two alarming
incidents broke the painful stagnation.

I had just left Eive's prison one morning when Eveena, who was
habitually entrusted with the charge of these communications, put into
my hands two slips of tafroo. The one had been given her by an amba,
and came from Davilo's substitute on the estate. It said simply: "You
and you alone were recognised among the rescuers of your friend.
Before two days have passed an attempt will be made to arrest you."
The other came from Esmo, and Eveena had brought it to me unread, as
was indeed her practice. I could not bear to look at her, though I
held her closely, as I read aloud the brief message which announced
the death, by the sting of two dragons (evidently launched by some
assassin's hand, but under circumstances that rendered detection by
ordinary means hopeless for the moment), of her brother and Esmo's
son, Kevima; and invited us to a funeral ceremony peculiar to the
Zinta. I need not speak of the painful minutes that followed, during
which Eveena strove to suppress for my sake at once her tears for her
loss and her renewed and intensified terror on my own account. It was
suddenly announced by the usual signs of the mute messenger that a
visitor awaited me in the hall. Ergimo brought a message from the
Campta, which ran as follows:--

"Aware that their treachery is suspected, the enemy now seek your
secret first, and then your life. Guard both for a very short time.
Your fate, your friends', and my own are staked on the issue. The same
Council that sends the traitors to the rack will see the law
repealed."

I questioned Ergimo as to his knowledge of the situation.

"The enemy," he said, "must have changed their plan. One among them,
at least, is probably aware that his treason is suspected both by his
Sovereign and by the Order. This will drive him desperate; and if he
can capture you and extort your secret, he will think he can use it to
effect his purpose, or at least to ensure his escape. He may think
open rebellion, desperate as it is, safer than waiting for the first
blow to come from the Zinta or from the Palace."

My resolve was speedily taken. At the same moment came the necessity
for escape, and the opportunity and excuse. I sought out the writer of
the first message, who entirely concurred with me in the propriety of
the step I was about to take; only recommending me to apply personally
for a passport from the Campta, such as would override any attempt to
detain me even by legal warrant. He undertook to care for those I left
behind; to release and provide for Eive, and to see, in case I should
not return, that full justice was done to the interests of the others,
as well as to their claim to release from contracts which my departure
from their world ought, like death itself, to cancel. The royal
passport came ere I was ready to depart, expressed in the fullest,
clearest language, and such as none, but an officer prepared instantly
to rebel against the authority which gave it, dared defy. During the
last preparations, Velna and Eveena were closeted together in the
chamber of the former; nor did I care to interrupt a parting the most
painful, save one, of those that had this day to be undergone. I went
myself to Eive.

"I leave you," I said, "a prisoner, not, I hope, for long. If I return
in safety, I will then consider in what manner the termination of your
confinement can be reconciled with what is due to myself and others.
If not, you will be yet more certainly and more speedily released. And
now, child whom I once loved, to whom I thought I had been especially
gentle and indulgent, was the miserable reward offered you the sole
motive that raised your hand against my life? Poison, I have always
said, is the protection of the household slave against the domestic
tyrant. If I had ever been harsh or unjust to you, if I had made your
life unhappy by caprice or by severity, I could understand. But you of
all have had least reason to complain. Not Enva's jealous temper, not
Leenoo's spite, ever suggested to them the idea which came so easily
and was so long and deliberately cherished in your breast."

She rose and faced me, and there was something of contempt in the eyes
that answered mine for this once with the old fearless frankness.

"I had no reason to hate you? Not certainly for the kind of injury
which commonly provokes women to risk the lives their masters have
made intolerable. That your discipline was the lightest ever known in
a household, I need not tell you. That it fell more lightly, if
somewhat oftener, on me than on others, you know as well as I. Put all
the correction or reproof I ever received from you into one, and
repeat it daily, and never should I have complained, much less dreamed
of revenge. You think Enva or Leenoo might less unnaturally, less
unreasonably, have turned upon you, because your measure to their
faults was somewhat harder and your heart colder to them! You did not
scruple to make a favourite of me after a fashion, as you would never
have done even of Eunane. You could pet and play with me, check and
punish me, as a child who would not 'sicken at the sweets, or be
humbled by the sandal.' You forbore longer, you dealt more sternly
with them, because, forsooth, they were women and I a baby. I, who was
not less clever than Eunane, not less capable of love, perhaps of
devotion to you, than Eveena, _I_ might rest my head on your knee when
she was by, I might listen to your talk when others were sent away; I
was too much the child, too little the woman, to excite your distrust
or her jealousy. Do you suppose I think better of you, or feel the
more kindly towards you, that you have not taken vengeance? No! still
you have dealt with me as a child; so untaught yet by that last
lesson, that even a woman's revenge cannot make you treat me as a
woman! Clasfempta! you bear, I believe, outside, the fame of a wise
and a firm man; but in these little hands you have been as weak a fool
as the veriest dotard might have been;--and may be yet."

"As you will," I answered, stung into an anger which at any rate
quelled the worst pain I had felt when I entered the room. "Fool or
sage, Eive, I was your fellow-creature, your protector, and your
friend. When bitter trouble befals you in life, or when, alone, you
find yourself face to face with death, you may think of what has
passed to-day. Then remember, for your comfort, my last words--I
forgive you, and I wish you happy."

To Velna I could not speak. Sure that Eveena had told her all she
could wish to know or all it was safe to tell, a long embrace spoke my
farewell to her who had shared with me the first part of the long
watch of the death-chamber. Enva and her companions had gathered, not
from words, that this journey was more than an ordinary absence. Some
instinct or presentiment suggested to them that it might, possibly at
least, be a final parting; and I was touched as much as surprised by
the tears and broken words with which they assured me that, greatly as
they had vexed my home life, conscious as they were that they had
contributed to it no element but bitterness and trouble, they felt
that they had been treated with unfailing justice and almost unfailing
kindness. Then, turning to Eveena, Enva spoke for the rest--

"We should have treated you less ill if we could at all have
understood you. We understand you just as little now. Clasfempta is
man after all, bridling his own temper as a strong man rules a large
household of women or a herd of _ambau_. But you are not woman like
other women; and yet, in so far as women are or think they are softer
or gentler than men, so far, twelvefold twelve times told, are you
softer, tenderer, gentler than woman."

Eveena struggled hard so far to suppress her sobs as to give an
answer. But, abandoning the effort, she only kissed warmly the lips,
and clasped long and tenderly the hands, that had never spoken a kind
word or done a kind act for her. At the very last moment she faltered
out a few words which were not for them.

"Tell Eive," she said, "I wish her well; and wishing her well, I
cannot wish her happy--_yet_."

We embarked in the balloon, attended as on our last journey by two of
the brethren in my employment, both, I noticed, armed with the
lightning gun. I myself trusted as usual to the sword, strong,
straight, heavy, with two edges sharp as razors, that had enabled my
hand so often to guard my head; and the air-gun that reminded me of so
many days of sport, the more enjoyed for the peril that attended it.
Screened from observation, both reclining in our own compartment of
the car, Eveena and I spent the long undisturbed hours of the first
three days and nights of our journey in silent interchange of thought
and feeling that seldom needed or was interrupted by words. Her family
affections were very strong. Her brother had deserved and won her
love; but conscious so long of a peril surrounding myself, fearfully
impressed by the incident which showed how close that peril had come,
her thought and feeling were absorbed in me. So, could they have known
the present and foreseen the future, even those who loved her best and
most prized her love for them would have wished it to be. As we
crossed, at the height of a thousand feet, the river dividing that
continent between east and west which marks the frontier of Elcavoo, a
slight marked movement of agitation, a few eager whispers of
consultation, in the other compartment called my attention.
As I parted the screen, the elder of the attendant brethren addressed
me--

"There is danger," he said in a low tone, not low enough to escape
Eveena's quick ear when my safety was in question. "Another balloon is
steering right across our path, and one in it bears, as we see through
the _pavlo_ (the spectacle-like double field-glass of Mars), the sash
of a Regent, while his attendants wear the uniform of scarlet and
grey" (that of Endo Zampta). "Take, I beg you, this lightning-piece.
Will you take command, or shall we act for you?"

Parting slightly the fold of the mantle I wore, for at that height,
save immediately under the rays of the sun, the atmosphere is cold, I
answered by showing the golden sash of my rank. We went on steadily,
taking no note whatever of the hostile vessel till it came within
hailing distance.

"Keep your guns steadily pointed," I said, "happen what may. If you
have to fire, fire one at any who is ready to fire at us, the other at
the balloon itself."

A little below but beside us Endo Zampta hailed. "I arrest you," he
said, addressing me by name, "on behalf of the Arch-Court and by their
warrant. Drop your weapons or we fire."

"And I," I said, "by virtue of the Campta's sign and signet attached
to this," and Eveena held forth the paper, while my weapon covered the
Regent, "forbid you to interrupt or delay my voyage for a moment."

I allowed the hostile vessel to close so nearly that Endo could read
through his glass the characters--purposely, I thought, made unusually
large--of his Sovereign's peremptory passport. To do so he had dropped
his weapon, and his men, naturally expecting a peaceable termination
to the interview, had laid down theirs. Mine had obeyed my order, and
we were masters of the situation, when, with a sudden turn of the
screw, throwing his vessel into an almost horizontal position, Endo
brought his car into collision with ours and endeavoured to seize
Eveena's person, as she leaned over with the paper in her hand. She
was too quick for him, and I called out at once, "Down, or we fire."
His men, about to grasp their pieces, saw that one of ours was
levelled at the balloon, and that before they could fire, a single
shot from us must send them earthwards, to be crushed into one
shapeless mass by the fall. Endo saw that he had no choice but to obey
or affect obedience, and, turning the tap that let out the gas by a
pipe passing through the car, sent his vessel rapidly downward, as
with a formal salute he affected to accept the command of his Prince.
Instantly grasping, not the lightning gun, which, if it struck their
balloon, must destroy their whole party in an instant, but my air-gun,
which, by making a small hole in the vast surface, would allow them to
descend alive though with unpleasant and perilous rapidity, I fired,
and by so doing prevented the use of an asphyxiator concealed in the
car, which the treacherous Regent was rapidly arranging for use.

The success of these manoeuvres delighted my attendants, and gave them
a confidence they had not yet felt in my appreciation of Martial
perils and resources. We reached Ecasfe and Esmo's house without
further molestation, and a party of the Zinta watched the balloon
while Eveena and I passed into the dwelling.

Preserved from corruption by the cold which Martial chemistry applies
at pleasure, the corpse of Kevima looked as the living man looked in
sleep, but calmer and with features more perfectly composed. Quietly,
gravely, with streaming tears, but with self-command which dispelled
my fear of evil consequences to her, Eveena kissed the lips that were
so soon to exist no longer. From the actual process by which the body
is destroyed, the taste and feeling of the Zinta exclude the immediate
relatives of the dead; and not till the golden chest with its
inscription was placed in Esmo's hands did we take further part in the
proceeding. Then the symbolic confession of faith, by which the
brethren attest and proclaim their confidence in the universal
all-pervading rule of the Giver of life and in the permanence of His
gift, was chanted. A Chief of the Order pronounced a brief but
touching eulogy on the deceased. Another expressed on behalf of all
their sympathy with the bereaved father and family. Consigned to their
care, the case that contained all that now remained to us of the last
male heir of the Founder's house was removed for conveyance to the
mortuary chamber of the subterrene Temple. But ere those so charged
had turned to leave the chamber in which the ceremony had passed, a
flash so bright as at noonday to light up the entire peristyle and the
chambers opening on it, startled us all; and a sentinel, entering in
haste and consternation, announced the destruction of our balloon by a
lightning flash from the weapon of some concealed enemy. Esmo, at this
alarming incident, displayed his usual calm resolve. He ordered that
carriages sufficient to convey some twenty-four of the brethren should
be instantly collected, and announced his resolve to escort us at once
to the Astronaut. Before five minutes had elapsed from the destruction
of the balloon, Zulve and the rest of the family had taken leave of
Eveena and myself. Attended by the party mustered, occupying a
carriage in the centre of the procession, we left the gate of the
enclosure. I observed, what seemed to escape even Esmo's attention,
that angry looks were bent upon us from many a roof, and that here and
there groups were gathered in the enclosures and on the road, among
whom I saw not a few weapons. I was glad to remember that a party of
the Zveltau still awaited Esmo's return at his own residence. We drove
as fast as the electric speed would carry us along the road I had
traversed once before in the company of her who was now my wife--to
be, I hoped, for the future my sole wife--and of him who had been ever
since our mortal enemy. Where the carriages could proceed no further
we dismounted, and Esmo mustered the party in order. All were armed
with the spear and lightning gun. Placing Eveena in the centre of a
solid square, Esmo directed me to take my place beside her. I
expostulated--

"Clavelta, it is impossible for me to take the place of safety, when
others who owe me nothing may be about to risk life on my behalf.
Eveena, as woman and as descendant of the Founder, may well claim
their protection. It is for me to share in her defence, not in her
safety."

He raised the arm that bore the Signet, and looked at me with the calm
commanding glance that never failed to enforce his will. "Take your
place," he said; and recalled to the instincts of the camp, I raised
my hand in the military salute so long disused, and obeyed in silence.

"Strike promptly, strike hard, and strike home," said Esmo to his
little party. "The danger that may threaten us is not from the law or
from the State, but from an attempt at murder through a perversion of
the law and in the name of the Sovereign. Those who threaten us aim
also at the Campta's life, and those we may meet are his foes as well
as ours. Conquered here, they can hardly assail us again. Victorious,
they will destroy us, not leave us an appeal to the law or to the
throne."

Placing himself a little in front of the troop, our Chief gave the
signal to advance, and we moved forward. It seemed to me a fatal error
that no scout preceded us, no flanking party was thrown out. This
neglect reminded me that, my comrades and commander were devoid of
military experience, and I was about to remonstrate when, suddenly
wheeling on the rocky platform on which I had first paused in my
descent from the summit, and facing towards the latter, we encountered
a force outnumbering our own as two to one and wearing the colours of
the Regent. The front ranks quailed, as men always quailed under
Esmo's steady gaze, and lost nerve and order as they fell back to
right and left; a movement intended to give play to the asphyxiator
they had brought with them. Their strategy was no less ridiculous than
our own. Devoid for ages of all experience in conflict, both leaders
might have learned better from the conduct of the theme at bay. The
enemy were drawn up so near the turn that there was no room for the
use of their most destructive engine; and, had we been better
prepared, neither this nor their lightning guns would have been quick
enough to anticipate a charge that would have brought us hand to hand.
Even had they been steady and prompt, the suffocating shell would
probably have annihilated both parties, and the discharge would
certainly have been as dangerous to them as to us. In another instant
a flash from several of our weapons, simultaneously levelled,
shattered the instrument to fragments. We advanced at a run, and the
enemy would have given way at once but that their retreat lay up so
steep an incline, and neither to right nor left could they well
disperse, being hemmed in by a rocky wall on one side and a
precipitous descent on the other. From our right rear, however, where
the ground would have concealed a numerous ambush, I apprehended an
attack which must have been fatal; but even so simple and decisive a
measure had never occurred to the Regent's military ignorance.

At this critical moment a flash from a thicket revealed the weapon of
some hidden enemy, who thus escaped facing the gaze that none could
encounter; and Esmo fell, struck dead at once by the lightning-shot.
The assassin sprang up, and I recognised the features of Endo Zampta.
Confounded and amazed, the Zveltau broke and fell backward, hurrying
Eveena away with them. Enabled by size and strength to extricate
myself at once, I stood at bay with my back against the rocks on our
left, a projection rising as high as my knee assisting to hinder the
enemy from entirely and closely surrounding me. I had thrown aside at
the moment of the attack the mantle that concealed my sash and star;
and I observed that another Chief had done the same. It was he who,
occupying at the trial the seat on Esmo's left, had shown the
strongest disposition to mercy, and now displayed the coolest courage
amid confusion and danger.

"Rally them," I cried to him, "and trust the crimson blade [cold
steel]. These hounds will never face that."

The enemy had rushed forward as our men fell back, and I was almost in
their midst, thus protected to a considerable extent from the
lightning projectile, against which alone I had no defence. Hand to
hand I was a match for more than one or two of my assailants, though
on this occasion I wore no defensive armour, and they were clad in
shirts of woven wire almost absolutely proof against the spear in
hands like theirs.

To die thus, to die for her under her eyes, leaving to her widowed
life a living token of our love--what more could Allah grant, what
better could a lover and a soldier desire? There was no honour, and
little to satisfy even the passion of vengeance, in the sword-strokes
that clove one enemy from the shoulder to the waist, smote half
through the neck of a second, and laid two or three more dead or dying
at my feet. If the weight of the sword were lighter here than on
Earth, the arm that wielded it had been trained in very different
warfare, and possessed a strength which made the combat so unequal
that, had no other life hung on my blows, I should have been ashamed
to strike. As I paused for a moment under this feeling, I noted that,
outside the space half cleared by slaughter and by terror, the bearers
of the lightning gun were forming a sort of semicircle, embarrassed by
the comrades driven back upon them, but drawing momentarily nearer,
and seeking to enclose before firing the object of their aim. They
would have shattered my heart and head in another instant but
that--springing on the projecting stone of which I have spoken, which
raised her to my level--Eveena had flung her arms around me, and
sheltered my person with her own. This, and the confusion,
disconcerted the aim of most of the assailants. The roar and flash
half stunned me for a moment;--then, as I caught her in my left arm, I
became aware that it was but her lifeless form that I clasped to my
breast. Giving her life for mine, she had made mine worse than
worthless. My sword fell for a moment from my hand, retained only by
the wrist-knot, as I placed her gently and tenderly on the ground,
resting against the stone which had enabled her to effect the
sacrifice I as little desired as deserved. Then, grasping my weapon
again, and shouting instinctively the war-cry of another world, I
sprang into the midst of the enemy. At the same moment, "_Ent an
Clazinta_" (To me the Zinta), cried the Chief behind; and having
rallied the broken ranks, even before the sight of Eveena's fall had
inspired reckless fury in the place of panic confusion, he led on the
Zveltau, the spear in hand elevated over their heads, and pointed at
the unprotected faces of the enemy. Exposed to the cold steel or its
Martial equivalent, the latter, as I had predicted, broke at once. My
sword did its part in the fray. They scarcely fought, neither did they
fling down their weapons. But in that moment neither force nor
surrender would have availed them. We gave no quarter to wounded or
unwounded foe. When, for lack of objects, I dropped the point of my
streaming sword, I saw Endo Zampta alive and unwounded in the hands of
the victors.

"Coward, scoundrel, murderer!" I cried. "You shall die a more terrible
death than that which your own savage law prescribes for crimes like
yours. Bind him; he shall hang from my vessel in the air till I see
fit to let him fall! For the rest, see that none are left alive to
boast what they have done this day."

Struggling and screaming, the Regent was dragged to the summit, and
hung by the waist, as I had threatened, from the entrance window of
the Astronaut. Esmo's body and those of the other slain among the
Zveltau had been raised, and our comrades were about to carry them to
the carriages and remove them homeward. From the wardrobe of the
Astronaut, furnished anew for our voyage, I brought a long soft
therne-cloak, intended for Eveena's comfort; and wrapped in it all
that was left to us of the loveliest form and the noblest heart that
in two worlds ever belonged to woman. I shred one long soft tress of
mingled gold and brown from those with which my hand had played; I
kissed for the last time the lips that had so often counselled,
pleaded, soothed, and never spoken a word that had better been left
unsaid. Then, veiling face and form in the soft down, I called around
me again the brethren who had fallen back out of sight of my last
farewell, and gave the corpse into their charge. Turning with restless
eagerness from the agony, which even the sudden shock that rendered me
half insensible could not deaden into endurable pain, to the passion
of revenge, I led two or three of our party to the foot of the ladder
beneath the entrance window of my vessel, and was about in their
presence to explain his fate more fully to the struggling, howling
victim, half mad with protracted terror. But at that moment my purpose
was arrested. I had often repeated to Eveena passages from those
Terrestrial works whose purport most resembled that of the mystic
lessons she so deeply prized; and words, on which in life she had
especially dwelt, seemed now to be whispered in my ear or my heart by
the voice which with bodily sense I could never hear again:--
"Vengeance is Mine; I will repay." The absolute control of my will and
conscience, won by her perfect purity and unfailing rectitude,
outlasted Eveena's life. Turning to her murderer--

"You shall die," I said, "but you shall die not by revenge but by the
law; and not by your own law, but by that which, forbidding that
torture shall add to the sting of death, commands that 'Whoso sheddeth
man's blood, by man shall his blood be shed.' Yet I cannot give you a
soldier's death," as my men levelled their weapons. Cutting the cord
that bound him, and grasping him from behind, I flung the wretch forth
from the summit far into the air; well assured that he would never
feel the blow that would dismiss his soul to its last account, before
that Tribunal to whose judgment his victim had appealed. Then I
entered the vessel, waved my hand in farewell to my comrades, and,
putting the machinery in action, rose from the surface and prepared to
quit a world which now held nothing that could detain or recal me.

CHAPTER XXX - FAREWELL!

My task was not quite done. It was well for me in the first moments of
this new solitude, of this maddening agony, that there was instant
work imperatively demanding the attention of the mind as well as the
exercise of the body. I had first, by means of the air pump, to fill
the vessel with an atmosphere as dense as that in which I had been
born and lived so long; then to close the entrance window and seal it
hermetically, and then to arrange the steering gear. To complete the
first task more easily, I arrested the motion of the vessel till she
rose only a few feet per minute. Whilst employed on the air pump, I
became suddenly aware, by that instinct by which most men have been at
one time or another warned of the unexpected proximity of friend or
foe, that I was not alone. Turning and looking in the direction of the
entrance, I saw, or thought I saw, once more the Presence beheld in
the Hall of the Zinta. But commanding, enthralling as were those eyes,
they could not now retain my attention; for beside that figure
appeared one whose presence in life or death left me no thought for
aught beside. I sprang forward, seemed to touch her hand, to clasp her
form, to reach the lips I bent my head to meet:--and then, in the
midst of the bright sunlight, a momentary darkness veiled all from my
eyes. Lifting my head, however, my glance fell, through the window to
which the Vision had drawn me, directly upon Ecasfe and upon the home
from which I had taken her whose remains were now being carried back
thither. Snatching up my field-glass, I scanned the scene of which I
had thus caught a momentary and confused glimpse. The roof was
occupied by a score of men armed with the lightning weapon, and among
them glanced the familiar badge--the band and silver star. Clambering
over the walls of the wide enclosure, and threatening to storm the
house, were a mob perhaps a thousand in number, many of them similarly
armed, the rest with staves, spears, or such rude weapons as chance
might afford. Two minutes brought me immediately over them. In
another, I was descending more rapidly than prudence would have
suggested. The strife seemed for a moment to cease, as one of the
crowd pointed, not to the impending destruction overhead, but to some
object apparently at an equal elevation to westward. A shout of
welcome from the remaining defenders of the house called right upward
the eyes of their assailants. For an instant they felt the bitterness
of death; a cry of agony and terror that pierced even the thick walls
and windows of the Astronaut reached my ears. Then a violent shock
threw me from my feet. Springing up, I knew what wholesale slaughter
had avenged Eveena and her father, preserved her family, and given a
last victory to the Symbol she so revered. In another instant I was on
the roof, and my hands clasped in Zulve's.

"We know," she said. "Our darling's _esve_ brought us a line that told
all; and what is left of those who were all to me, of her who was so
much to you, will now be returned to us almost at once."

We were interrupted. A cry drew my eyes to the right, where, springing
from a balloon to the car of which was attached a huge flag emblazoned
with the crimson and silver colours of the Suzerain, Ergimo stood
before us.

"I am too late," he said, "to save life; in time only to put an end to
rebellion and avert murder. The Prince has fulfilled his promise to
you; has repealed the law that was to be a weapon in the hands that
aimed at his life and throne, as at the Star and its children. The
traitors, save one, the worst, have met by this time their just doom.
That one I am here to arrest. But where is our Chief? And," noticing
for the first time the group of women, who in the violence of alarm
and agony of sorrow had burst for once unconsciously the restraints of
a lifetime--"where ... Are you alone?"

"Alone for ever," I said; and as I spoke the procession that with bare
and bent heads carried two veiled forms into the peristyle below told
all he sought to know. I need not dwell on the scene that followed. I
scarcely remember anything, till a chest of gold, bearing the cipher
which though seldom seen I knew so well, was placed in my hands. I
turned to Zulve, and to Ergimo, who stood beside her.

"Have you need of me?" I said. "If I can serve her house I will remain
willingly, and as long as I can help or comfort."

"No," replied Ergimo; for Zulve could not speak. "The household of
Clavelta are safe and honoured henceforth as no other in the land.
Something we must ask of him who is, at any rate for the present, the
head of this household, and the representative of the Founder's
lineage. It may be," he whispered, "that another" (and his eyes fell
on the veiled forms whose pink robes covered with dark crimson gauze
indicated the younger matrons of the family) "may yet give to the
Children of the Star that natural heir to the Signet we had hoped from
your own household. But the Order cannot remain headless."

Here Zulve, approaching, gave into my hand the Signet unclasped from
her husband's arm ere the coffer was closed upon his form. I understood
her meaning; and, as for the time the sole male representative of the
house, I clasped it on the arm of the Chief who succeeded to Esmo's
rank, and to whom I felt the care of Esmo's house might be safely
left. The due honour paid to his new office, I turned to depart. Then
for the first time my eyes fell on the unveiled countenance and
drooping form of one unlike, yet so like Eveena--her favourite and
nearest sister, Zevle. I held out my hand; but, emotion overcoming the
habits of reserve, she threw herself into my arms, and her tears fell
on my bosom, hardly faster than my own as I stooped and kissed her
brow. I had no voice to speak my farewell. But as the Astronaut rose
for the last time from the ground, the voices of my brethren chanted
in adieu the last few lines of the familiar formula--

"Peace be yours no force can break,
Peace not Death hath power to shake;"

* * * * *

"Peace from peril, fear, and pain;
Peace--until we meet again!
Not before the sculptured stone,
But the All-Commander's Throne."

[Footnote 1: Qy. [GREEK: apo], from, [GREEK: ergos], work--as
en-ergy?]

[Footnote 2: The chemical notation of the MS. is unfortunately
different from any known to any chemist of my acquaintance, and
utterly undecipherable.]

[Footnote 3: Last figures illegible: the year is probably 183.]

[Footnote 4: These distances are given in Roman measures and round
numbers not easy of exact rendering.]

[Footnote 5: In 1830 or thereabouts.--ED.]

[Footnote 6: The Martial year is 687 of our days, and eight Martial
years are nearly equivalent to fifteen Terrestrial. Roughly, and in
round numbers, the time figures given may be multiplied by two to
reduce them to Terrestrial periods.--ED.]

[Footnote 7: Say fifty-sixth; in effect, fiftieth.--Narrator.]

[Footnote 8: Equivalent in time to ninety-three and forty-seven with
us; in effect corresponding to eighty and forty.]

[Footnote 9: About ninety; in time, one hundred and six.]

[Footnote 10: Seventy; in time, eighty-three.--_Narrator_.]

[Footnote 11: The centuries, hundreds, thousands, etc., appear to
represent multiples of twelve, not ten.--ED.]

[Footnote 12: Aluminium?--ED.]

[Footnote 13: Here, and here only, the name is written in full; but
the first part is blurred. It may be Alius (Ali), Julius (Jules),

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