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Allan Quatermain by H. Rider Haggard

Part 4 out of 6

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heart of Milosis to the Temple of the Sun a mile away, and thence
down the slope on the farther side of the temple to the outer
wall of the city.

These gates are very large and massive, and an extraordinarily
beautiful work in metal. Between them -- for one set is placed
at the entrance to an interior, and one at that of the exterior
wall -- is a fosse, forty-five feet in width. This fosse is
filled with water and spanned by a drawbridge, which when lifted
makes the palace nearly impregnable to anything except siege
guns. As we came, one half of the wide gates were flung open,
and we passed over the drawbridge and presently stood gazing
up one of the most imposing, if not the most imposing, roadways
in the world. It is a hundred feet from curb to curb, and on
either side, not cramped and crowded together, as is our European
fashion, but each standing in its own grounds, and built equidistant
from and in similar style to the rest, are a series of splendid,
single-storied mansions, all of red granite. These are the town
houses of the nobles of the Court, and stretch away in unbroken
lines for a mile or more till the eye is arrested by the glorious
vision of the Temple of the Sun that crowns the hill and heads
the roadway.

As we stood gazing at this splendid sight, of which more anon,
there suddenly dashed up to the gateway four chariots, each drawn
by two white horses. These chariots are two-wheeled, and made
of wood. They are fitted with a stout pole, the weight of which
is supported by leathern girths that form a portion of the harness.
The wheels are made with four spokes only, are tired with iron,
and quite innocent of springs. In the front of the chariot,
and immediately over the pole, is a small seat for the driver,
railed round to prevent him from being jolted off. Inside the
machine itself are three low seats, one at each side, and one
with the back to the horses, opposite to which is the door.
The whole vehicle is lightly and yet strongly made, and, owing
to the grace of the curves, though primitive, not half so ugly
as might be expected.

But if the chariots left something to be desired, the horses
did not. They were simply splendid, not very large but strongly
built, and well ribbed up, with small heads, remarkably large
and round hoofs, and a great look of speed and blood. I have
often and often wondered whence this breed, which presents many
distinct characteristics, came, but like that of its owners,
it history is obscure. Like the people the horses have always
been there. The first and last of these chariots were occupied
by guards, but the centre two were empty, except for the driver,
and to these we were conducted. Alphonse and I got into the
first, and Sir Henry, Good, and Umslopogaas into the one behind,
and then suddenly off we went. And we did go! Among the Zu-Vendi
it is not usual to trot horses either riding or driving, especially
when the journey to be made is a short one -- they go at full
gallop. As soon as we were seated the driver called out, the
horses sprang forward, and we were whirled away at a speed sufficient
to take one's breath, and which, till I got accustomed to it,
kept me in momentary fear of an upset. As for the wretched Alphonse,
he clung with a despairing face to the side of what he called
this 'devil of a fiacre', thinking that every moment was his
last. Presently it occurred to him to ask where we were going,
and I told him that, as far as I could ascertain, we were going
to be sacrificed by burning. You should have seen his face as
he grasped the side of the vehicle and cried out in his terror.

But the wild-looking charioteer only leant forward over his flying
steeds and shouted; and the air, as it went singing past, bore
away the sound of Alphonse's lamentations.

And now before us, in all its marvellous splendour and dazzling
loveliness, shone out the Temple of the Sun -- the peculiar pride
of the Zu-Vendi, to whom it was what Solomon's, or rather Herod's,
Temple was to the Jews. The wealth, and skill, and labour of
generations had been given to the building of this wonderful
place, which had been only finally completed within the last
fifty years. Nothing was spared that the country could produce,
and the result was indeed worthy of the effort, not so much on
account of its size -- for there are larger fanes in the world
-- as because of its perfect proportions, the richness and beauty
of its materials, and the wonderful workmanship. The building
(that stands by itself on a space of some eight acres of garden
ground on the hilltop, around which are the dwelling-places of
the priests) is built in the shape of a sunflower, with a dome-covered
central hall, from which radiate twelve petal-shaped courts,
each dedicated to one of the twelve months, and serving as the
repositories of statues reared in memory of the illustrious dead.
The width of the circle beneath the dome is three hundred feet,
the height of the dome is four hundred feet, and the length of
the rays is one hundred and fifty feet, and the height of their
roofs three hundred feet, so that they run into the central dome
exactly as the petals of the sunflower run into the great raised
heart. Thus the exact measurement from the centre of the central
altar to the extreme point of any one of the rounded rays would
be three hundred feet (the width of the circle itself), or a
total of six hundred feet from the rounded extremity of one ray
or petal to the extremity of the opposite one. {Endnote 14}

The building itself is of pure and polished white marble, which
shows out in marvellous contrast to the red granite of the frowning
city, on whose brow it glistens indeed like an imperial diadem
upon the forehead of a dusky queen. The outer surface of the
dome and of the twelve petal courts is covered entirely with
thin sheets of beaten gold; and from the extreme point of the
roof of each of these petals a glorious golden form with a trumpet
in its hand and widespread wings is figured in the very act of
soaring into space. I really must leave whoever reads this to
imagine the surpassing beauty of these golden roofs flashing
when the sun strikes -- flashing like a thousand fires aflame
on a mountain of polished marble -- so fiercely that the reflection
can be clearly seen from the great peaks of the range a hundred
miles away.

It is a marvellous sight -- this golden flower upborne upon the
cool white marble walls, and I doubt if the world can show such
another. What makes the whole effect even more gorgeous is that
a belt of a hundred and fifty feet around the marble wall of
the temple is planted with an indigenous species of sunflower,
which were at the time when we first saw them a sheet of golden
bloom.

The main entrance to this wonderful place is between the two
northernmost of the rays or petal courts, and is protected first
by the usual bronze gates, and then by doors made of solid marble,
beautifully carved with allegorical subjects and overlaid with
gold. When these are passed there is only the thickness of the
wall, which is, however, twenty-five feet (for the Zu-Vendi build
for all time), and another slight wall also of white marble,
introduced in order to avoid causing a visible gap in the inner
skin of the wall, and you stand in the circular hall under the
great dome. Advancing to the central altar you look upon as
beautiful a sight as the imagination of man can conceive. You
are in the middle of the holy place, and above you the great
white marble dome (for the inner skin, like the outer, is of
polished marble throughout) arches away in graceful curves something
like that of St Paul's in London, only at a slighter angle, and
from the funnel-like opening at the exact apex a bright beam
of light pours down upon the golden altar. At the east and the
west are other altars, and other beams of light stab the sacred
twilight to the heart. In ever direction, 'white, mystic, wonderful',
open out the ray-like courts, each pierced through by a single
arrow of light that serves to illumine its lofty silence and
dimly to reveal the monuments of the dead. {Endnote 15}

Overcome at so awe-inspiring a sight, the vast loveliness of
which thrills the nerves like a glance from beauty's eyes, you
turn to the central golden altar, in the midst of which, though
you cannot see it now, there burns a pale but steady flame crowned
with curls of faint blue smoke. It is of marble overlaid with
pure gold, in shape round like the sun, four feet in height,
and thirty-six in circumference. Here also, hinged to the foundations
of the altar, are twelve petals of beaten gold. All night and,
except at one hour, all day also, these petals are closed over
the altar itself exactly as the petals of a water-lily close
over the yellow crown in stormy weather; but when the sun at
midday pierces through the funnel in the dome and lights upon
the golden flower, the petals open and reveal the hidden mystery,
only to close again when the ray has passed.

Nor is this all. Standing in semicircles at equal distances
from each other on the north and south of the sacred place are
ten golden angels, or female winged forms, exquisitely shaped
and draped. These figures, which are slightly larger than life-size,
stand with bent heads in an attitude of adoration, their faces
shadowed by their wings, and are most imposing and of exceeding
beauty.

There is but one thing further which calls for description
in this altar, which is, that to the east the flooring in front
of it is not of pure white marble, as elsewhere throughout the
building, but of solid brass, and this is also the case in front
of the other two altars.

The eastern and western altars, which are semicircular in shape,
and placed against the wall of the building, are much less imposing,
and are not enfolded in golden petals. They are, however, also
of gold, the sacred fire burns on each, and a golden-winged figure
stands on either side of them. Two great golden rays run up
the wall behind them, but where the third or middle one should
be is an opening in the wall, wide on the outside, but narrow
within, like a loophole turned inwards. Through the eastern
loophole stream the first beams of the rising sun, and strike
right across the circle, touching the folded petals of the great
gold flower as they pass till they impinge upon the western altar.
In the same way at night the last rays of the sinking sun rest
for a while on the eastern altar before they die away into darkness.
It is the promise of the dawn to the evening and the evening
to the dawn.

With the exception of those three altars and the winged figures
about them, the whole space beneath the vast white dome is utterly
empty and devoid of ornamentation -- a circumstance that to my
fancy adds greatly to its splendour.

Such is a brief description of this wonderful and lovely building,
to the glories of which, to my mind so much enhanced by their
complete simplicity, I only wish I had the power to do justice.
But I cannot, so it is useless talking more about it. But when
I compare this great work of genius to some of the tawdry buildings
and tinsel ornamentation produced in these latter days by European
ecclesiastical architects, I feel that even highly civilized
art might learn something from the Zu-Vendi masterpieces. I
can only say that the exclamation which sprang to my lips as
soon as my eyes first became accustomed to the dim light of that
glorious building, and its white and curving beauties, perfect
and thrilling as those of a naked goddess, grew upon me one by
one, was, 'Well! a dog would feel religious here.' It is vulgarly
put, but perhaps it conveys my meaning more clearly than any
polished utterance.

At the temple gates our party was received by a guard of soldiers,
who appeared to be under the orders of a priest; and by them
we were conducted into one of the ray or 'petal' courts, as the
priests call them, and there left for at least half-an-hour.
Here we conferred together, and realizing that we stood in great
danger of our lives, determined, if any attempt should be made
upon us, to sell them as dearly as we could -- Umslopogaas announcing
his fixed intention of committing sacrilege on the person of
Agon, the High Priest, by splitting his head with Inkosi-kaas.
From where we stood we could perceive that an immense multitude
were pouring into the temple, evidently in expectation of some
unusual event, and I could not help fearing that we had to do
with it. And here I may explain that every day, when the sunlight
falls upon the central altar, and the trumpets sound, a burnt
sacrifice is offered to the Sun, consisting generally of the
carcase of a sheep or ox, or sometimes of fruit or corn. This
even comes off about midday; of course, not always exactly at
that hour, but as Zu-Vendis is situated not far from the Line,
although -- being so high above the sea it is very temperate
-- midday and the falling of the sunlight on the altar were generally
simultaneous. Today the sacrifice was to take place at about
eight minutes past twelve.

Just at twelve o'clock a priest appeared, and made a sign, and
the officer of the guard signified to us that we were expected
to advance, which we did with the best grace that we could muster,
all except Alphonse, whose irrepressible teeth instantly began
to chatter. In a few seconds we were out of the court and looking
at a vast sea of human faces stretching away to the farthest
limits of the great circle, all straining to catch a glimpse
of the mysterious strangers who had committed sacrilege; the
first strangers, mind you, who, to the knowledge of the multitude,
had ever set foot in Zu-Vendis since such time that the memory
of man runneth not to the contrary.

As we appeared there was a murmur through the vast crowd that
went echoing away up the great dome, and we saw a visible blush
of excitement grow on the thousands of faces, like a pink light
on a stretch of pale cloud, and a very curious effect it was.
On we passed down a lane cut through the heart of the human
mass, till presently we stood upon the brazen patch of flooring
to the east of the central altar, and immediately facing it.
For some thirty feet around the golden-winged figures the space
was roped off, and the multitudes stood outside the ropes. Within
were a circle of white-robed gold-cinctured priests holding long
golden trumpets in their hands, and immediately in front of us
was our friend Agon, the High Priest, with his curious cap upon
his head. His was the only covered head in that vast assemblage.
We took our stand upon the brazen space, little knowing what
was prepared for us beneath, but I noticed a curious hissing
sound proceeding apparently from the floor for which I could
not account. Then came a pause, and I looked around to see if
there was any sign of the two Queens, Nyleptha and Sorais, but
they were not there. To the right of us, however, was a bare
space that I guessed was reserved for them.

We waited, and presently a far-off trumpet blew, apparently high
up in the dome. Then came another murmur from the multitude,
and up a long lane, leading to the open space to our right, we
saw the two Queens walking side by side. Behind them were some
nobles of the Court, among whom I recognized the great lord Nasta,
and behind them again a body of about fifty guards. These last
I was very glad to see. Presently they had all arrived and taken
their stand, the two Queens in the front, the nobles to the right
and left, and the guards in a double semicircle behind them.

Then came another silence, and Nyleptha looked up and caught
my eye; it seemed to me that there was meaning in her glance,
and I watched it narrowly. From my eye it travelled down to
the brazen flooring, on the outer edge of which we stood. Then
followed a slight and almost imperceptible sidelong movement
of the head. I did not understand it, and it was repeated.
Then I guessed that she meant us to move back off the brazen
floor. One more glance and I was sure of it -- there was danger
in standing on the floor. Sir Henry was placed on one side of
me, Umslopogaas on the other. Keeping my eyes fixed straight
before me, I whispered to them, first in Zulu and then in English,
to draw slowly back inch by inch till half their feet were resting
on the marble flooring where the brass ceased. Sir Henry whispered
on to Good and Alphonse, and slowly, very very slowly, we shifted
backwards; so slowly that nobody, except Nyleptha and Sorais,
who saw everything seemed to notice the movement. Then I glanced
again at Nyleptha, and saw that, by an almost imperceptible nod,
she indicated approval. All the while Agon's eyes were fixed
upon the altar before him apparently in an ecstasy of contemplation,
and mine were fixed upon the small of his back in another sort
of ecstasy. Suddenly he flung up his long arm, and in a solemn
and resounding voice commenced a chant, of which for convenience'
sake I append a rough, a _very_ rough, translation here, though,
of course, I did not then comprehend its meaning. It was
an invocation to the Sun, and ran somewhat as follows: --

There is silence upon the face of the Earth and the waters thereof!
Yea, the silence doth brood on the waters like a nesting bird;
The silence sleepeth also upon the bosom of the profound darkness,
Only high up in the great spaces star doth speak unto star,
The Earth is faint with longing and wet with the tears of her desire;
The star-girdled night doth embrace her, but she is not comforted.
She lies enshrouded in mists like a corpse in the grave-clothes,
And stretches her pale hands to the East.

Lo! away in the farthest East there is the shadow of a light;
The Earth seeth and lifts herself. She looks out from beneath
the hollow of her hand.
Then thy great angels fly forth from the Holy Place, oh Sun,
They shoot their fiery swords into the darkness and shrivel it up.
They climb the heavens and cast down the pale stars from their thrones;
Yea, they hurl the changeful stars back into the womb of the night;
They cause the moon to become wan as the face of a dying man,
And behold! Thy glory comes, oh Sun!

Oh, Thou beautiful one, Thou drapest thyself in fire.
The wide heavens are thy pathway: thou rollest o'er them as a chariot.
The Earth is thy bride. Thou dost embrace her and
she brings forth children;
Yea, Thou favourest her, and she yields her increase.
Thou art the All Father and the giver of life, oh Sun.
The young children stretch out their hands and grow in thy brightness;
The old men creep forth and seeing remember their strength.
Only the dead forget Thee, oh Sun!

When Thou art wroth then Thou dost hide Thy face;
Thou drawest around Thee a thick curtain of shadows.
Then the Earth grows cold and the Heavens are dismayed;
They tremble, and the sound thereof is the sound of thunder:
They weep, and their tears are outpoured in the rain;
They sigh, and the wild winds are the voice of their sighing.
The flowers die, the fruitful fields languish and turn pale;
The old men and the little children go unto their appointed place
When Thou withdrawest thy light, oh Sun!

Say, what art Thou, oh Thou matchless Splendour --
Who set Thee on high, oh Thou flaming Terror?
When didst Thou begin, and when is the day of Thy ending?
Thou art the raiment of the living Spirit. {Endnote 16}
None did place Thee on high, for Thou was the Beginning.
Thou shalt not be ended when thy children are forgotten;
Nay, Thou shalt never end, for thy hours are eternal.
Thou sittest on high within thy golden house and
measurest out the centuries.
Oh Father of Life! oh dark-dispelling Sun!

He ceased this solemn chant, which, though it seems a poor enough
thing after going through my mill, is really beautiful and impressive
in the original; and then, after a moment's pause, he glanced up
towards the funnel-sloped opening in the dome and added --

Oh Sun, descend upon thine Altar!

As he spoke a wonderful and a beautiful thing happened. Down
from on high flashed a splendid living ray of light, cleaving
the twilight like a sword of fire. Full upon the closed petals
it fell and ran shimmering down their golden sides, and then
the glorious flower opened as though beneath the bright influence.
Slowly it opened, and as the great petals fell wide and revealed
the golden altar on which the fire ever burns, the priests blew
a blast upon the trumpets, and from all the people there rose
a shout of praise that beat against the domed roof and came echoing
down the marble walls. And now the flower altar was open, and
the sunlight fell full upon the tongue of sacred flame and beat
it down, so that it wavered, sank, and vanished into the hollow
recesses whence it rose. As it vanished, the mellow notes of
the trumpets rolled out once more. Again the old priest flung
up his hands and called aloud --

We sacrifice to thee, oh Sun!

Once more I caught Nyleptha's eye; it was fixed upon the brazen flooring.

'Look out,' I said, aloud; and as I said it, I saw Agon bend
forward and touch something on the altar. As he did so, the
great white sea of faces around us turned red and then white
again, and a deep breath went up like a universal sigh.
Nyleptha leant forward, and with an involuntary movement covered
her eyes with her hand. Sorais turned and whispered to the officer
of the royal bodyguard, and then with a rending sound the whole
of the brazen flooring slid from before our feet, and there in
its place was suddenly revealed a smooth marble shaft terminating
in a most awful raging furnace beneath the altar, big enough
and hot enough to heat the iron stern-post of a man-of-war.

With a cry of terror we sprang backwards, all except the wretched
Alphonse, who was paralysed with fear, and would have fallen
into the fiery furnace which had been prepared for us, had not
Sir Henry caught him in his strong hand as he was vanishing and
dragged him back.

Instantly there arose the most fearful hubbub, and we four got
back to back, Alphonse dodging frantically round our little circle
in his attempts to take shelter under our legs. We all had our
revolvers on -- for though we had been politely disarmed of our
guns on leaving the palace, of course these people did not know
what a revolver was. Umslopogaas, too, had his axe, of which
no effort had been made to deprive him, and now he whirled it
round his head and sent his piercing Zulu war-shout echoing up
the marble walls in fine defiant fashion. Next second, the priests,
baffled of their prey, had drawn swords from beneath their white
robes and were leaping on us like hounds upon a stag at bay.
I saw that, dangerous as action might be, we must act or be
lost, so as the first man came bounding along -- and a great
tall fellow he was -- I sent a heavy revolver ball through him,
and down he fell at the mouth of the shaft, and slid, shrieking
frantically, into the fiery gulf that had been prepared for us.

Whether it was his cries, or the, to them, awful sound and effect
of the pistol shot, or what, I know not, but the other priests
halted, paralysed and dismayed, and before they could come on
again Sorais had called out something, and we, together with
the two Queens and most of the courtiers, were being surrounded
with a wall of armed men. In a moment it was done, and still
the priests hesitated, and the people hung in the balance like
a herd of startled buck as it were, making no sign one way or
the other.

The last yell of the burning priest had died away, the fire had
finished him, and a great silence fell upon the place.

Then the High Priest Agon turned, and his face was as the face
of a devil. 'Let the sacrifice be sacrificed,' he cried to the
Queens. 'Has not sacrilege enough been done by these strangers,
and would ye, as Queens, throw the cloak of your majesty over
evildoers? Are not the creatures sacred to the Sun dead? And
is not a priest of the Sun also dead, but now slain by the magic
of these strangers, who come as the winds out of heaven, whence
we know not, and who are what we know not? Beware, oh Queens,
how ye tamper with the great majesty of the God, even before
His high altar! There is a Power that is more than your power;
there is a Justice that is higher than your justice. Beware
how ye lift an impious hand against it! Let the sacrifice be
sacrificed, oh Queens.'

Then Sorais made answer in her deep quiet tones, that always
seemed to me to have a suspicion of mockery about them, however
serious the theme: 'Oh, Agon, thou hast spoken according to thy
desire, and thou hast spoken truth. But it is thou who wouldst
lift an impious hand against the justice of thy God. Bethink
thee the midday sacrifice is accomplished; the Sun hath claimed
his priest as a sacrifice.'

This was a novel idea, and the people applauded it.

'Bethink thee what are these men? They are strangers found floating
on the bosom of a lake. Who brought them here? How came they
here? How know you that they also are not servants of the Sun?
Is this the hospitality that ye would have our nation show to
those whom chance brings to them, to throw them to the flames?
Shame on you! Shame on you! What is hospitality? To receive
the stranger and show him favour. To bind up his wounds, and
find a pillow for his head, and food for him to eat. But thy
pillow is the fiery furnace, and thy food the hot savour of the
flame. Shame on thee, I say!'

She paused a little to watch the effect of her speech upon the
multitude, and seeing that it was favourable, changed her tone
from one of remonstrance to one of command.

'Ho! place there,' she cried; 'place, I say; make way for the
Queens, and those whom the Queens cover with their "kaf" (mantle).'

'And if I refuse, oh Queen?' said Agon between his teeth.

'Then will I cut a path with my guards,' was the proud answer;
'ay, even in the presence of thy sanctuary, and through the bodies
of thy priests.'

Agon turned livid with baffled fury. He glanced at the people
as though meditating an appeal to them, but saw clearly that
their sympathies were all the other way. The Zu-Vendi are a
very curious and sociable people, and great as was their sense
of the enormity that we had committed in shooting the sacred
hippopotami, they did not like the idea of the only real live
strangers they had seen or heard of being consigned to a fiery
furnace, thereby putting an end for ever to their chance of extracting
knowledge and information from, and gossiping about us. Agon
saw this and hesitated, and then for the first time Nyleptha
spoke in her soft sweet voice.

'Bethink thee, Agon,' she said, 'as my sister Queen has said,
these men may also be servants of the Sun. For themselves they
cannot speak, for their tongues are tied. Let the matter be
adjourned till such time as they have learnt our language. Who
can be condemned without a hearing? When these men can plead
for themselves, then it will be time to put them to the proof.'

Here was a clever loophole of escape, and the vindictive old
priest took it, little as he liked it.

'So be it, oh Queens,' he said. 'Let the men go in peace, and
when they have learnt our tongue then let them speak. And I,
even I, will make humble supplication at the altar lest pestilence
fall on the land by cause of the sacrilege.'

These words were received with a murmur of applause, and in another
minute we were marching out of the temple surrounded by the royal
guards.

But it was not till long afterwards that we learnt the exact
substance of what had passed, and how hardly our lives had been
wrung out of the cruel grip of the Zu-Vendi priesthood, in the
face of which even the Queens were practically powerless. Had
it not been for their strenuous efforts to protect us we should
have been slain even before we set foot in the Temple of the
Sun. The attempt to drop us bodily into the fiery pit as an
offering was a last artifice to attain this end when several
others quite unsuspected by us had already failed.

CHAPTER XV
SORAIS' SONG

After our escape from Agon and his pious crew we returned to
our quarters in the palace and had a very good time. The two
Queens, the nobles and the people vied with each other in doing
us honour and showering gifts upon us. As for that painful little
incident of the hippopotami it sank into oblivion, where we were
quite content to leave it. Every day deputations and individuals
waited on us to examine our guns and clothing, our chain shirts,
and our instruments, especially our watches, with which they
were much delighted. In short, we became quite the rage, so
much so that some of the fashionable young swells among the Zu-Vendi
began to copy the cut of some of our clothes, notably Sir Henry's
shooting jacket. One day, indeed, a deputation waited on us
and, as usual, Good donned his full-dress uniform for the occasion.
This deputation seemed somehow to be a different class to those
who generally came to visit us. They were little insignificant
men of an excessively polite, not to say servile, demeanour;
and their attention appeared to be chiefly taken up with observing
the details of Good's full-dress uniform, of which they took
copious notes and measurements. Good was much flattered at the
time, not suspecting that he had to deal with the six leading
tailors of Milosis. A fortnight afterwards, however, when on
attending court as usual he had the pleasure of seeing some seven
or eight Zu-Vendi 'mashers' arrayed in all the glory of a very
fair imitation of his full-dress uniform, he changed his mind.
I shall never forget his face of astonishment and disgust.
It was after this, chiefly to avoid remark, and also because
our clothes were wearing out and had to be saved up, that we
resolved to adopt the native dress; and a very comfortable one
we found it, though I am bound to say that I looked sufficiently
ridiculous in it, and as for Alphonse! Only Umslopogaas would
have none of these things; when his moocha was worn out the fierce
old Zulu made him a new one, and went about unconcerned, as grim
and naked as his own battleaxe.

Meanwhile we pursued our study of the language steadily and made
very good progress. On the morning following our adventure in
the temple, three grave and reverend signiors presented themselves
armed with manuscript books, ink-horns and feather pens, and
indicated that they had been sent to teach us. So, with the
exception of Umslopogaas, we all buckled to with a will, doing
four hours a day. As for Umslopogaas, he would have none of
that either. He did not wish to learn that 'woman's talk', not
he; and when one of the teachers advanced on him with a book
and an ink-horn and waved them before him in a mild persuasive
way, much as a churchwarden invitingly shakes the offertory bag
under the nose of a rich but niggardly parishioner, he sprang
up with a fierce oath and flashed Inkosi-kaas before the eyes
of our learned friend, and there was an end of the attempt to
teach _him_ Zu-Vendi.

Thus we spent our mornings in useful occupation which grew more
and more interesting as we proceeded, and the afternoons were
given up to recreation. Sometimes we made trips, notably one
to the gold mines and another to the marble quarries both of
which I wish I had space and time to describe; and sometimes
we went out hunting buck with dogs trained for that purpose,
and a very exciting sport it is, as the country is full of agricultural
enclosures and our horses were magnificent. This is not to be
wondered at, seeing that the royal stables were at our command,
in addition to which we had four splendid saddle horses given
to us by Nyleptha.

Sometimes, again, we went hawking, a pastime that is in great
favour among the Zu-Vendi, who generally fly their birds at a
species of partridge which is remarkable for the swiftness and
strength of its flight. When attacked by the hawk this bird
appears to lose its head, and, instead of seeking cover, flies
high into the sky, thus offering wonderful sport. I have seen
one of these partridges soar up almost out of sight when followed
by the hawk. Still better sport is offered by a variety of solitary
snipe as big as a small woodcock, which is plentiful in this
country, and which is flown at with a very small, agile, and
highly-trained hawk with an almost red tail. The zigzagging
of the great snipe and the lightning rapidity of the flight and
movements of the red-tailed hawk make the pastime a delightful
one. Another variety of the same amusement is the hunting of
a very small species of antelope with trained eagles; and it
certainly is a marvellous sight to see the great bird soar and
soar till he is nothing but a black speck in the sunlight, and
then suddenly come dashing down like a cannon-ball upon some
cowering buck that is hidden in a patch of grass from everything
but that piercing eye. Still finer is the spectacle when the
eagle takes the buck running.

On other days we would pay visits to the country seats at some
of the great lords' beautiful fortified places, and the villages
clustering beneath their walls. Here we saw vineyards and corn-fields
and well-kept park-like grounds, with such timber in them as
filled me with delight, for I do love a good tree. There it
stands so strong and sturdy, and yet so beautiful, a very type
of the best sort of man. How proudly it lifts its bare head
to the winter storms, and with what a full heart it rejoices
when the spring has come again! How grand its voice is, too,
when it talks with the wind: a thousand aeolian harps cannot
equal the beauty of the sighing of a great tree in leaf. All
day it points to the sunshine and all night to the stars, and
thus passionless, and yet full of life, it endures through the
centuries, come storm, come shine, drawing its sustenance from
the cool bosom of its mother earth, and as the slow years roll
by, learning the great mysteries of growth and of decay. And
so on and on through generations, outliving individuals, customs,
dynasties -- all save the landscape it adorns and human nature
-- till the appointed day when the wind wins the long battle
and rejoices over a reclaimed space, or decay puts the last stroke
to his fungus-fingered work.

Ah, one should always think twice before one cuts down a tree!

In the evenings it was customary for Sir Henry, Good, and myself
to dine, or rather sup, with their Majesties -- not every night,
indeed, but about three or four times a week, whenever they had
not much company, or the affairs of state would allow of it.
And I am bound to say that those little suppers were quite the
most charming things of their sort that I ever had to do with.
How true is the saying that the very highest in rank are always
the most simple and kindly. It is from your half-and-half sort
of people that you get pomposity and vulgarity, the difference
between the two being very much what you one sees every day in
England between the old, out-at-elbows, broken-down county family,
and the overbearing, purse-proud people who come and 'take the
place'. I really think that Nyleptha's greatest charm is her
sweet simplicity, and her kindly genuine interest even in little
things. She is the simplest woman I ever knew, and where her
passions are not involved, one of the sweetest; but she can look
queenly enough when she likes, and be as fierce as any savage too.

For instance, never shall I forget that scene when I for the
first time was sure that she was really in love with Curtis.
It came about in this way -- all through Good's weakness for
ladies' society. When we had been employed for some three months
in learning Zu-Vendi, it struck Master Good that he was getting
rather tired of the old gentlemen who did us the honour to lead
us in the way that we should go, so he proceeded, without saying
a word to anybody else, to inform them that it was a peculiar
fact, but that we could not make any real progress in the deeper
intricacies of a foreign language unless we were taught by ladies
-- young ladies, he was careful to explain. In his own country,
he pointed out, it was habitual to choose the very best-looking
and most charming girls who could be found to instruct any strangers
who happened to come that way, etc.

All of this the old gentlemen swallowed open-mouthed. There
was, they admitted, reason in what he said, since the contemplation
of the beautiful, as their philosophy taught, induced a certain
porosity of mind similar to that produced upon the physical body
by the healthful influences of sun and air. Consequently it
was probable that we might absorb the Zu-Vendi tongue a little
faster if suitable teachers could be found. Another thing was
that, as the female sex was naturally loquacious, good practice
would be gained in the viva voce department of our studies.

To all of this Good gravely assented, and the learned gentlemen
departed, assuring him that their orders were to fall in with
our wishes in every way, and that, if possible, our views should
be met.

Imagine, therefore the surprise and disgust of myself, and I
trust and believe Sir Henry, when, on entering the room where
we were accustomed to carry on our studies the following morning,
we found, instead of our usual venerable tutors, three of the
best-looking young women whom Milosis could produce -- and that
is saying a good deal -- who blushed and smiled and curtseyed,
and gave us to understand that they were there to carry on our
instruction. Then Good, as we gazed at one another in bewilderment,
thought fit to explain, saying that it had slipped his memory
before -- but the old gentlemen had told him, on the previous
evening, that it was absolutely necessary that our further education
should be carried on by the other sex. I was overwhelmed, and
appealed to Sir Henry for advice in such a crisis.

'Well,' he said, 'you see the ladies are here, ain't they? If
we sent them away, don't you think it might hurt their feelings,
eh? One doesn't like to be rough, you see; and they look regular
_blues_, don't they, eh?'

By this time Good had already begun his lessons with the handsomest
of the three, and so with a sigh I yielded. That day everything
went very well: the young ladies were certainly very clever,
and they only smiled when we blundered. I never saw Good so
attentive to his books before, and even Sir Henry appeared to
tackle Zu-Vendi with a renewed zest. 'Ah,' thought I, 'will
it always be thus?'

Next day we were much more lively, our work was pleasingly interspersed
with questions about our native country, what the ladies were
like there, etc., all of which we answered as best as we could
in Zu-Vendi, and I heard Good assuring his teacher that her loveliness
was to the beauties of Europe as the sun to the moon, to which
she replied with a little toss of the head, that she was a plain
teaching woman and nothing else, and that it was not kind 'to
deceive a poor girl so'. Then we had a little singing that was
really charming, so natural and unaffected. The Zu-Vendi love-songs
are most touching. On the third day we were all quite intimate.
Good narrated some of his previous love affairs to his fair
teacher, and so moved was she that her sighs mingled with his
own. I discoursed with mine, a merry blue-eyed girl, upon Zu-Vendian
art, and never saw that she was waiting for an opportunity to
drop a specimen of the cockroach tribe down my back, whilst in
the corner Sir Henry and his governess appeared, so far as I
could judge, to be going through a lesson framed on the great
educational principles laid down by Wackford Squeers Esq., though
in a very modified or rather spiritualized form. The lady softly
repeated the Zu-Vendi word for 'hand', and he took hers; 'eyes',
and he gazed deep into her brown orbs; 'lips', and -- but just
at that moment _my_ young lady dropped the cockroach down my back
and ran away laughing. Now if there is one thing I loathe more
than another it is cockroaches, and moved quite beyond myself,
and yet laughing at her impudence, I took up the cushion she
had been sitting on and threw it after her. Imagine then my
shame -- my horror, and my distress -- when the door opened,
and, attended by two guards only, in walked _Nyleptha_. The cushion
could not be recalled (it missed the girl and hit one of the
guards on the head), but I instantly and ineffectually tried
to look as though I had not thrown it. Good ceased his sighing,
and began to murder Zu-Vendi at the top of his voice, and Sir
Henry whistled and looked silly. As for the poor girls, they
were utterly dumbfounded.

And Nyleptha! she drew herself up till her frame seemed to tower
even above that of the tall guards, and her face went first red,
and then pale as death.

'Guards,' she said in a quiet choked voice, and pointing at the fair
but unconscious disciple of Wackford Squeers, 'slay me that woman.'

The men hesitated, as well they might.

'Will ye do my bidding,' she said again in the same voice,
'or will ye not?'

Then they advanced upon the girl with uplifted spears.
By this time Sir Henry had recovered himself, and saw that
the comedy was likely to turn into a tragedy.

'Stand back,' he said in a voice of thunder, at the same time
getting in front of the terrified girl. 'Shame on thee,
Nyleptha -- shame! Thou shalt not kill her.'

'Doubtless thou hast good reason to try to protect her.
Thou couldst hardly do less in honour,' answered the
infuriated Queen; 'but she shall die -- she shall die,'
and she stamped her little foot.

'It is well,' he answered; 'then will I die with her. I am thy
servant, oh Queen; do with me even as thou wilt.' And he bowed
towards her, and fixed his clear eyes contemptuously on her face.

'I could wish to slay thee too,' she answered; 'for thou dost
make a mock of me;' and then feeling that she was mastered, and
I suppose not knowing what else to do, she burst into such a
storm of tears and looked so royally lovely in her passionate
distress, that, old as I am, I must say I envied Curtis his task
of supporting her. It was rather odd to see him holding her
in his arms considering what had just passed -- a thought that
seemed to occur to herself, for presently she wrenched herself
free and went, leaving us all much disturbed.

Presently, however, one of the guards returned with a message
to the girls that they were, on pain of death, to leave the city
and return to their homes in the country, and that no further
harm would come to them; and accordingly they went, one of them
remarking philosophically that it could not be helped, and that
it was a satisfaction to know that they had taught us a little
serviceable Zu-Vendi. Mine was an exceedingly nice girl, and,
overlooking the cockroach, I made her a present of my favourite
lucky sixpence with a hole in it when she went away. After that
our former masters resumed their course of instruction, needless
to say to my great relief.

That night, when in fear and trembling we attended the royal
supper table, we found that Nyleptha was laid up with a bad headache.
That headache lasted for three whole days; but on the fourth
she was present at supper as usual, and with the most gracious
and sweet smile gave Sir Henry her hand to lead her to the table.
No allusion was made to the little affair described above beyond
her saying, with a charming air of innocence, that when she came
to see us at our studies the other day she had been seized with
a giddiness from which she had only now recovered. She supposed,
she added with a touch of the humour that was common to her,
that it was the sight of people working so hard which had affected her.

In reply Sir Henry said, dryly, that he had thought she did not
look quite herself on that day, whereat she flashed one of those
quick glances of hers at him, which if he had the feelings of
a man must have gone through him like a knife, and the subject
dropped entirely. Indeed, after supper was over Nyleptha condescended
to put us through an examination to see what we had learnt, and
to express herself well satisfied with the results. Indeed,
she proceeded to give us, especially Sir Henry, a lesson on her
own account, and very interesting we found it.

And all the while that we talked, or rather tried to talk, and
laughed, Sorais would sit there in her carven ivory chair, and
look at us and read us all like a book, only from time to time
saying a few words, and smiling that quick ominous smile of hers
which was more like a flash of summer lightning on a dark cloud
than anything else. And as near to her as he dared would sit
Good, worshipping through his eyeglass, for he really was getting
seriously devoted to this sombre beauty, of whom, speaking personally,
I felt terribly afraid. I watched her keenly, and soon I found
out that for all her apparent impassibility she was at heart
bitterly jealous of Nyleptha. Another thing I found out, and
the discovery filled me with dismay, and that was, that she _also_
was growing devoted to Sir Henry Curtis. Of course I could not
be sure; it is not easy to read so cold and haughty a woman;
but I noticed one or two little things, and, as elephant hunters
know, dried grass shows which way the wind has set.

And so another three months passed over us, by which time we
had all attained to a very considerable mastery of the Zu-Vendi
language, which is an easy one to learn. And as the time went
on we became great favourites with the people, and even with
the courtiers, gaining an enormous reputation for cleverness,
because, as I think I have said, Sir Henry was able to show them
how to make glass, which was a national want, and also, by the
help of a twenty-year almanac that we had with us, to predict
various heavenly combinations which were quite unsuspected by
the native astronomers. We even succeeded in demonstrating the
principle of the steam-engine to a gathering of the learned men,
who were filled with amazement; and several other things of the
same sort we did. And so it came about that the people made
up their minds that we must on no account be allowed to go out
of the country (which indeed was an apparent impossibility even
if we had wished it), and we were advanced to great honour and
made officers to the bodyguards of the sister Queens while permanent
quarters were assigned to us in the palace, and our opinion was
asked upon questions of national policy.

But blue as the sky seemed, there was a cloud, and a big one,
on the horizon. We had indeed heard no more of those confounded
hippopotami, but it is not on that account to be supposed that
our sacrilege was forgotten, or the enmity of the great and powerful
priesthood headed by Agon appeased. On the contrary, it was
burning the more fiercely because it was necessarily suppressed,
and what had perhaps begun in bigotry was ending in downright
direct hatred born of jealousy. Hitherto, the priests had been
the wise men of the land, and were on this account, as well as
from superstitious causes, looked on with peculiar veneration.
But our arrival, with our outlandish wisdom and our strange
inventions and hints of unimagined things, dealt a serious blow
to this state of affairs, and, among the educated Zu-Vendi, went
far towards destroying the priestly prestige. A still worse
affront to them, however, was the favour with which we were regarded,
and the trust that was reposed in us. All these things tended
to make us excessively obnoxious to the great sacerdotal clan,
the most powerful because the most united faction in the kingdom.

Another source of imminent danger to us was the rising envy of
some of the great lords headed by Nasta, whose antagonism to
us had at best been but thinly veiled, and which now threatened
to break out into open flame. Nasta had for some years been
a candidate for Nyleptha's hand in marriage, and when we appeared
on the scene I fancy, from all I could gather, that though there
were still many obstacles in his path, success was by no means
out of his reach. But now all this had changed; the coy Nyleptha
smiled no more in his direction, and he was not slow to guess
the cause. Infuriated and alarmed, he turned his attention to
Sorais, only to find that he might as well try to woo a mountain
side. With a bitter jest or two about his fickleness, that door
was closed on him for ever. So Nasta bethought himself of the
thirty thousand wild swordsmen who would pour down at his bidding
through the northern mountain passes, and no doubt vowed to adorn
the gates of Milosis with our heads.

But first he determined, as I learned, to make one more attempt
and to demand the hand of Nyleptha in the open Court after the
formal annual ceremony of the signing of the laws that had been
proclaimed by the Queens during the year.

Of this astounding fact Nyleptha heard with simulated nonchalance,
and with a little trembling of the voice herself informed us
of it as we sat at supper on the night preceding the great ceremony
of the law-giving.

Sir Henry bit his lip, and do what he could to prevent it plainly
showed his agitation.

'And what answer will the Queen be pleased to give to the
great Lord?' asked I, in a jesting manner.

'Answer, Macumazahn' (for we had elected to pass by our Zulu
names in Zu-Vendis), she said, with a pretty shrug of her ivory
shoulder. 'Nay, I know not; what is a poor woman to do, when
the wooer has thirty thousand swords wherewith to urge his love?'
And from under her long lashes she glanced at Curtis.

Just then we rose from the table to adjourn into another room.
'Quatermain, a word, quick,' said Sir Henry to me. 'Listen.
I have never spoken about it, but surely you have guessed: I
love Nyleptha. What am I to do?'

Fortunately, I had more or less already taken the question into
consideration, and was therefore able to give such answer as
seemed the wisest to me.

'You must speak to Nyleptha tonight,' I said. 'Now is your time,
now or never. Listen. In the sitting-chamber get near to her,
and whisper to her to meet you at midnight by the Rademas statue
at the end of the great hall. I will keep watch for you there.
Now or never, Curtis.'

We passed on into the other room. Nyleptha was sitting, her
hands before her, and a sad anxious look upon her lovely face.
A little way off was Sorais talking to Good in her slow measured
tones.

The time went on; in another quarter of an hour I knew that,
according to their habit, the Queens would retire. As yet, Sir
Henry had had no chance of saying a word in private: indeed,
though we saw much of the royal sisters, it was by no means easy
to see them alone. I racked my brains, and at last an idea came
to me.

'Will the Queen be pleased,' I said, bowing low before Sorais,
'to sing to her servants? Our hearts are heavy this night; sing
to us, oh Lady of the Night' (Sorais' favourite name among the
people).

'My songs, Macumazahn, are not such as to lighten the heavy heart,
yet will I sing if it pleases thee,' she answered; and she rose
and went a few paces to a table whereon lay an instrument not
unlike a zither, and struck a few wandering chords.

Then suddenly, like the notes of some deep-throated bird, her
rounded voice rang out in song so wildly sweet, and yet with
so eerie and sad a refrain, that it made the very blood stand
still. Up, up soared the golden notes, that seemed to melt far
away, and then to grow again and travel on, laden with all the
sorrow of the world and all the despair of the lost. It was
a marvellous song, but I had not time to listen to it properly.
However, I got the words of it afterwards, and here is a translation
of its burden, so far as it admits of being translated at all.

SORAIS' SONG

As a desolate bird that through darkness its lost way is winging,
As a hand that is helplessly raised when Death's sickle is swinging,
So is life! ay, the life that lends passion and breath to my singing.

As the nightingale's song that is full of a sweetness unspoken,
As a spirit unbarring the gates of the skies for a token,
So is love! ay, the love that shall fall when his pinion is broken.

As the tramp of the legions when trumpets their challenge are sending,
As the shout of the Storm-god when lightnings the black sky are rending,
So is power! ay, the power that shall lie in the dust at its ending.

So short is our life; yet with space for all things to forsake us,
A bitter delusion, a dream from which nought can awake us,
Till Death's dogging footsteps at morn or at eve shall o'ertake us.

Refrain

Oh, the world is fair at the dawning -- dawning -- dawning,
But the red sun sinks in blood -- the red sun sinks in blood.

I only wish that I could write down the music too.

'Now, Curtis, now,' I whispered, when she began the second verse,
and turned my back.

'Nyleptha,' he said -- for my nerves were so much on the stretch
that I could hear every word, low as it was spoken, even through
Sorais' divine notes -- 'Nyleptha, I must speak with thee this
night, upon my life I must. Say me not nay; oh, say me not nay!'

'How can I speak with thee?' she answered, looking fixedly before
her; 'Queens are not like other people. I am surrounded and watched.'

'Listen, Nyleptha, thus. I will be before the statue of Rademas
in the great hall at midnight. I have the countersign and can
pass in. Macumazahn will be there to keep guard, and with him
the Zulu. Oh come, my Queen, deny me not.'

'It is not seemly,' she murmured, 'and tomorrow --'

Just then the music began to die in the last wail of the refrain,
and Sorais slowly turned her round.

'I will be there,' said Nyleptha, hurriedly; 'on thy life see
that thou fail me not.'

CHAPTER XVI
BEFORE THE STATUE

It was night -- dead night -- and the silence lay on the
Frowning City like a cloud.

Secretly, as evildoers, Sir Henry Curtis, Umslopogaas, and myself
threaded our way through the passages towards a by-entrance to
the great Throne Chamber. Once we were met by the fierce rattling
challenge of the sentry. I gave the countersign, and the man
grounded his spear and let us pass. Also we were officers of
the Queens' bodyguard, and in that capacity had a right to come
and go unquestioned.

We gained the hall in safety. So empty and so still was it,
that even when we had passed the sound of our footsteps yet echoed
up the lofty walls, vibrating faintly and still more faintly
against the carven roof, like ghosts of the footsteps of dead
men haunting the place that once they trod.

It was an eerie spot, and it oppressed me. The moon was full,
and threw great pencils and patches of light through the high
windowless openings in the walls, that lay pure and beautiful
upon the blackness of the marble floor, like white flowers on
a coffin. One of these silver arrows fell upon the statue of
the sleeping Rademas, and of the angel form bent over him, illumining
it, and a small circle round it, with a soft clear light, reminding
me of that with which Catholics illumine the altars of their
cathedrals.

Here by the statue we took our stand, and waited. Sir Henry
and I close together, Umslopogaas some paces off in the darkness,
so that I could only just make out his towering outline leaning
on the outline of an axe.

So long did we wait that I almost fell asleep resting against
the cold marble, but was suddenly aroused by hearing Curtis give
a quick catching breath. Then from far away there came a little
sound as though the statues that lined the walls were whispering
to each other some message of the ages.

It was the faint sweep of a lady's dress. Nearer it grew, and
nearer yet. We could see a figure steal from patch to patch
of moonlight, and even hear the soft fall of sandalled feet.
Another second and I saw the black silhouette of the old Zulu
raise its arm in mute salute, and Nyleptha was before us.

Oh, how beautiful she looked as she paused a moment just within
the circle of the moonlight! Her hand was pressed upon her heart,
and her white bosom heaved beneath it. Round her head a broidered
scarf was loosely thrown, partially shadowing the perfect face,
and thus rendering it even more lovely; for beauty, dependent
as it is to a certain extent upon the imagination, is never so
beautiful as when it is half hid. There she stood radiant but
half doubting, stately and yet so sweet. It was but a moment,
but I then and there fell in love with her myself, and have remained
so to this hour; for, indeed, she looked more like an angel out
of heaven than a loving, passionate, mortal woman. Low we bowed
before her, and then she spoke.

'I have come,' she whispered, 'but it was at great risk. Ye
know not how I am watched. The priests watch me. Sorais watches
me with those great eyes of hers. My very guards are spies upon
me. Nasta watches me too. Oh, let him be careful!' and she
stamped her foot. 'Let him be careful; I am a woman, and therefore
hard to drive. Ay, and I am a Queen, too, and can still avenge.
Let him be careful, I say, lest in place of giving him my hand
I take his head,' and she ended the outburst with a little sob,
and then smiled up at us bewitchingly and laughed.

'Thou didst bid me come hither, my Lord Incubu' (Curtis had taught
her to call him so). 'Doubtless it is about business of the
State, for I know that thou art ever full of great ideas and
plans for my welfare and my people's. So even as a Queen should
I have come, though I greatly fear the dark alone,' and again
she laughed and gave him a glance from her grey eyes.

At this point I thought it wise to move a little, since secrets
'of the State' should not be made public property; but she would
not let me go far, peremptorily stopping me within five yards
or so, saying that she feared surprise. So it came to pass that,
however unwillingly, I heard all that passed.

'Thou knowest, Nyleptha,' said Sir Henry, 'that it was for none
of these things that I asked thee to meet me at this lonely place.
Nyleptha, waste not the time in pleasantry, but listen to me,
for -- I love thee.'

As he said the words I saw her face break up, as it were, and
change. The coquetry went out of it, and in its place there
shone a great light of love which seemed to glorify it, and make
it like that of the marble angel overhead. I could not help
thinking that it must have been a touch of prophetic instinct
which made the long dead Rademas limn, in the features of the
angel of his inspiring vision, so strange a likeness of his own
descendant. Sir Henry, also, must have observed and been struck
by the likeness, for, catching the look upon Nyleptha's face,
he glanced quickly from it to the moonlit statue, and then back
again at his beloved.

'Thou sayest thou dost love me,' she said in a low voice, 'and
thy voice rings true, but how am I to know that thou dost speak
the truth?'

'Though,' she went on with proud humility, and in the stately
third person which is so largely used by the Zu-Vendi, 'I be
as nothing in the eyes of my lord,' and she curtseyed towards
him, 'who comes from among a wonderful people, to whom my people
are but children, yet here am I a queen and a leader of men,
and if I would go to battle a hundred thousand spears shall sparkle
in my train like stars glimmering down the path of the bent moon.
And although my beauty be a little thing in the eyes of my lord,'
and she lifted her broidered skirt and curtseyed again, 'yet
here among my own people am I held right fair, and ever since
I was a woman the great lords of my kingdom have made quarrel
concerning me, as though forsooth,' she added with a flash of
passion, 'I were a deer to be pulled down by the hungriest wolf,
or a horse to be sold to the highest bidder. Let my lord pardon
me if I weary my lord, but it hath pleased my lord to say that
he loves me, Nyleptha, a Queen of the Zu-Vendi, and therefore
would I say that though my love and my hand be not much to my
lord, yet to me are they all.'

'Oh!' she cried, with a sudden and thrilling change of voice,
and modifying her dignified mode of address. 'Oh, how can I
know that thou lovest but me? How can I know that thou wilt
not weary of me and seek thine own place again, leaving me desolate?
Who is there to tell me but that thou lovest some other woman,
some fair woman unknown to me, but who yet draws breath beneath
this same moon that shines on me tonight? Tell me _how_ am I to
know?' And she clasped her hands and stretched them out towards
him and looked appealingly into his face.

'Nyleptha,' answered Sir Henry, adopting the Zu-Vendi way of
speech; 'I have told thee that I love thee; how am I to tell
thee how much I love thee? Is there then a measure for love?
Yet will I try. I say not that I have never looked upon another
woman with favour, but this I say that I love thee with all my
life and with all my strength; that I love thee now and shall
love thee till I grow cold in death, ay, and as I believe beyond
my death, and on and on for ever: I say that thy voice is music
to my ear, and thy touch as water to a thirsty land, that when
thou art there the world is beautiful, and when I see thee not
it is as though the light was dead. Oh, Nyleptha, I will never
leave thee; here and now for thy dear sake I will forget my people
and my father's house, yea, I renounce them all. By thy side
will I live, Nyleptha, and at thy side will I die.'

He paused and gazed at her earnestly, but she hung her head like
a lily, and said never a word.

'Look!' he went on, pointing to the statue on which the moonlight
played so brightly. 'Thou seest that angel woman who rests her
hand upon the forehead of the sleeping man, and thou seest how
at her touch his soul flames up and shines out through his flesh,
even as a lamp at the touch of the fire, so is it with me and
thee, Nyleptha. Thou hast awakened my soul and called it forth,
and now, Nyleptha, it is not mine, not mine, but _thine_ and thine
only. There is no more for me to say; in thy hands is my life.'
And he leaned back against the pedestal of the statue, looking
very pale, and his eyes shining, but proud and handsome as a god.

Slowly, slowly she raised her head, and fixed her wonderful eyes,
all alight with the greatness of her passion, full upon his face,
as though to read his very soul. Then at last she spoke, low
indeed, but clearly as a silver bell.

'Of a truth, weak woman that I am, I do believe thee. Ill will
be the day for thee and for me also if it be my fate to learn
that I have believed a lie. And now hearken to me, oh man, who
hath wandered here from far to steal my heart and make me all
thine own. I put my hand upon thy hand thus, and thus I, whose
lips have never kissed before, do kiss thee on the brow; and
now by my hand and by that first and holy kiss, ay, by my people's
weal and by my throne that like enough I shall lose for thee
-- by the name of my high House, by the sacred Stone and by the
eternal majesty of the Sun, I swear that for thee will I live
and die. And I swear that I will love thee and thee only till
death, ay, and beyond, if as thou sayest there be a beyond, and
that thy will shall be my will, and thy ways my ways.

'Oh see, see, my lord! thou knowest not how humble is she who
loves; I, who am a Queen, I kneel before thee, even at thy feet
I do my homage;' and the lovely impassioned creature flung herself
down on her knees on the cold marble before him. And after that
I really do not know, for I could stand it no longer, and cleared
off to refresh myself with a little of old Umslopogaas' society,
leaving them to settle it their own way, and a very long time
they were about it.

I found the old warrior leaning on Inkosi-kaas as usual, and
surveying the scene in the patch of moonlight with a grim smile
of amusement.

'Ah, Macumazahn,' he said, 'I suppose it is because I am getting
old, but I don't think that I shall ever learn to understand
the ways of you white people. Look there now, I pray thee, they
are a pretty pair of doves, but what is all the fuss about, Macumazahn?
He wants a wife, and she wants a husband, then why does he not
pay his cows down {Endnote 17} like a man and have done with
it? It would save a deal of trouble, and we should have had
our night's sleep. But there they go, talk, talk, talk, and
kiss, kiss, kiss, like mad things. Eugh!'

Some three-quarters of an hour afterwards the 'pair of doves'
came strolling towards us, Curtis looking slightly silly, and
Nyleptha remarking calmly that the moonlight made very pretty
effects on the marble. Then, for she was in a most gracious
mood, she took my hand and said that I was 'her Lord's' dear
friend, and therefore most dear to her -- not a word for my own
sake, you see. Next she lifted Umslopogaas' axe, and examined
it curiously, saying significantly as she did so that he might
soon have cause to use it in defence of her.

After that she nodded prettily to us all, and casting a
tender glance at her lover, glided off into the darkness
like a beautiful vision.

When we got back to our quarters, which we did without accident,
Curtis asked me jocularly what I was thinking about.

'I am wondering,' I answered, 'on what principle it is arranged
that some people should find beautiful queens to fall in love
with them, while others find nobody at all, or worse than nobody;
and I am also wondering how many brave men's lives this night's
work will cost.' It was rather nasty of me, perhaps, but somehow
all the feelings do not evaporate with age, and I could not help
being a little jealous of my old friend's luck. Vanity, my sons;
vanity of vanities!

On the following morning, Good was informed of the happy occurrence,
and positively rippled with smiles that, originating somewhere
about the mouth, slowly travelled up his face like the rings
in a duckpond, till they flowed over the brim of his eyeglass
and went where sweet smiles go. The fact of the matter, however,
was that not only was Good rejoiced about the thing on its own
merits but also for personal reasons. He adored Sorais quite
as earnestly as Sir Henry adored Nyleptha, and his adoration
had not altogether prospered. Indeed, it had seemed to him and
to me also that the dark Cleopatra-like queen favoured Curtis
in her own curious inscrutable way much more than Good. Therefore
it was a relief to him to learn that his unconscious rival was
permanently and satisfactorily attached in another direction.
His face fell a little, however, when he was told that the whole
thing was to be kept as secret as the dead, above all from Sorais
for the present, inasmuch as the political convulsion which would
follow such an announcement at the moment would be altogether
too great to face and would very possibly, if prematurely made,
shake Nyleptha from her throne.

That morning we again attended in the Throne Hall, and I could
not help smiling to myself when I compared the visit to our last,
and reflecting that, if walls could speak, they would have strange
tales to tell.

What actresses women are! There, high upon her golden throne,
draped in her blazoned 'kaf' or robe of state, sat the fair Nyleptha,
and when Sir Henry came in a little late, dressed in the full
uniform of an officer of her guard and humbly bent himself before
her, she merely acknowledged his salute with a careless nod and
turned her head coldly aside. It was a very large Court, for
not only did the signing of the laws attract many outside of
those whose duty it was to attend, but also the rumour that Nasta
was going to publicly ask the hand of Nyleptha in marriage had
gone abroad, with the result that the great hall was crowded
to its utmost capacity. There were our friends the priests in
force, headed by Agon, who regarded us with a vindictive eye;
and a most imposing band they were, with their long white embroidered
robes girt with a golden chain from which hung the fish-like
scales. There, too, were a number of the lords, each with a
band of brilliantly attired attendants, and prominent among them
was Nasta, stroking his black beard meditatively and looking
unusually pleasant. It was a splendid and impressive sight,
especially when the officer after having read out each law handed
them to the Queens to sign, whereon the trumpets blared out and
the Queens' guard grounded their spears with a crash in salute.
This reading and signing of the laws took a long time, but at
length it came to an end, the last one reciting that 'whereas
distinguished strangers, etc.', and proceeding to confer on the
three of us the rank of 'lords', together with certain military
commands and large estates bestowed by the Queen. When it was
read the trumpets blared and the spears clashed down as usual,
but I saw some of the lords turn and whisper to each other, while
Nasta ground his teeth. They did not like the favour that was
shown to us, which under all the circumstances was not perhaps
unnatural.

Then there came a pause, and Nasta stepped forward and bowing
humbly, though with no humility in his eye, craved a boon at
the hands of the Queen Nyleptha.

Nyleptha turned a little pale, but bowed graciously, and prayed
the 'well-beloved lord' to speak on, whereon in a few
straightforward soldier-like words he asked her hand in marriage.

Then, before she could find words to answer, the High Priest
Agon took up the tale, and in a speech of real eloquence and
power pointed out the many advantages of the proposed alliance;
how it would consolidate the kingdom, for Nasta's dominions,
of which he was virtually king, were to Zu-Vendis much what Scotland
used to be to England; how it would gratify the wild mountaineers
and be popular among the soldiery, for Nasta was a famous general;
how it would set her dynasty firmly on the throne, and would
gain the blessing and approval of the 'Sun', i.e. of the office
of the High Priest, and so on. Many of his arguments were undoubtedly
valid, and there was, looking at it from a political point of
view, everything to be said for the marriage. But unfortunately
it is difficult to play the game of politics with the persons
of young and lovely queens as though they were ivory effigies
of themselves on a chessboard. Nyleptha's face, while Agon spouted
away, was a perfect study; she smiled indeed, but beneath the
smile it set like a stone, and her eyes began to flash ominously.

At last he stopped, and she prepared herself to answer. Before
she did so, however, Sorais leant towards her and said in a voice
sufficiently loud for me to catch what she said, 'Bethink thee
well, my sister, ere thou dost speak, for methinks that our thrones
may hang upon thy words.'

Nyleptha made no answer, and with a shrug and a smile Sorais
leant back again and listened.

'Of a truth a great honour has been done to me,' she said, 'that
my poor hand should not only have been asked in marriage, but
that Agon here should be so swift to pronounce the blessing of
the Sun upon my union. Methinks that in another minute he would
have wed us fast ere the bride had said her say. Nasta, I thank
thee, and I will bethink me of thy words, but now as yet I have
no mind for marriage, that as a cup of which none know the taste
until they begin to drink it. Again I thank thee, Nasta,' and
she made as though she would rise.

The great lord's face turned almost as black as his beard with
fury, for he knew that the words amounted to a final refusal
of his suit.

'Thanks be to the Queen for her gracious words,' he said, restraining
himself with difficulty and looking anything but grateful, 'my
heart shall surely treasure them. And now I crave another boon,
namely, the royal leave to withdraw myself to my own poor cities
in the north till such time as the Queen shall say my suit nay
or yea. Mayhap,' he added, with a sneer, 'the Queen will be
pleased to visit me there, and to bring with her these stranger
lords,' and he scowled darkly towards us. 'It is but a poor
country and a rough, but we are a hardy race of mountaineers,
and there shall be gathered thirty thousand swordsmen to shout
a welcome to her.'

This speech, which was almost a declaration of rebellion, was
received in complete silence, but Nyleptha flushed up and answered
it with spirit.

'Oh, surely, Nasta, I will come, and the strange lords in my
train, and for every man of thy mountaineers who calls thee Prince,
will I bring two from the lowlands who call me Queen, and we
will see which is the staunchest breed. Till then farewell.'

The trumpets blared out, the Queens rose, and the great assembly
broke up in murmuring confusion, and for myself I went home with
a heavy heart foreseeing civil war.

After this there was quiet for a few weeks. Curtis and the Queen
did not often meet, and exercised the utmost caution not to allow
the true relation in which they stood to each other to leak out;
but do what they would, rumours as hard to trace as a buzzing
fly in a dark room, and yet quite as audible, began to hum
round and round, and at last to settle on her throne.

CHAPTER XVII
THE STORM BREAKS

And now it was that the trouble which at first had been but a
cloud as large as a man's hand began to loom very black and big
upon our horizon, namely, Sorais' preference for Sir Henry.
I saw the storm drawing nearer and nearer; and so, poor fellow,
did he. The affection of so lovely and highly-placed a woman
was not a thing that could in a general way be considered a calamity
by any man, but, situated as Curtis was, it was a grievous burden
to bear.

To begin with, Nyleptha, though altogether charming, was, it must
be admitted, of a rather jealous disposition, and was sometimes
apt to visit on her lover's head her indignation at the marks
of what Alphonse would have called the 'distinguished consideration'
with which her royal sister favoured him. Then the enforced
secrecy of his relation to Nyleptha prevented Curtis from taking
some opportunity of putting a stop, or trying to put a stop,
to this false condition of affairs, by telling Sorais, in a casual
but confidential way, that he was going to marry her sister.
A third sting in Sir Henry's honey was that he knew that Good
was honestly and sincerely attached to the ominous-looking but
most attractive Lady of the Night. Indeed, poor Bougwan was
wasting himself to a shadow of his fat and jolly self about her,
his face getting so thin that his eyeglass would scarcely stick
in it; while she, with a sort of careless coquetry, just gave
him encouragement enough to keep him going, thinking, no doubt,
that he might be useful as a stalking-horse. I tried to give
him a hint, in as delicate a way as I could, but he flew into
a huff and would not listen to me, so I was determined to let
ill along, for fear of making it worse. Poor Good, he really
was very ludicrous in his distress, and went in for all sorts
of absurdities, under the belief that he was advancing his suit.
One of them was the writing -- with the assistance of one of
the grave and revered signiors who instructed us, and who, whatever
may have been the measure of his erudition, did not understand
how to scan a line -- of a most interminable Zu-Vendi love-song,
of which the continually recurring refrain was something about
'I will kiss thee; oh yes, I will kiss thee!' Now among the
Zu-Vendi it is a common and most harmless thing for young men
to serenade ladies at night, as I believe they do in the southern
countries of Europe, and sing all sorts of nonsensical songs
to them. The young men may or may not be serious; but no offence
is meant and none is taken, even by ladies of the highest rank,
who accept the whole thing as an English girl would a
gracefully-turned compliment.

Availing himself of this custom, Good bethought him that would
serenade Sorais, whose private apartments, together with those
of her maidens, were exactly opposite our own, on the further
side of a narrow courtyard which divided one section of the great
palace from another. Accordingly, having armed himself with
a native zither, on which, being an adept with the light guitar,
he had easily learned to strum, he proceeded at midnight -- the
fashionable hour for this sort of caterwauling -- to make night
hideous with his amorous yells. I was fast asleep when they
began, but they soon woke me up -- for Good possesses a tremendous
voice and has no notion of time -- and I ran to my window-place
to see what was the matter. And there, standing in the full
moonlight in the courtyard, I perceived Good, adorned with an
enormous ostrich feather head-dress and a flowing silken cloak,
which it is the right thing to wear upon these occasions, and
shouting out the abominable song which he and the old gentleman
had evolved, to a jerky, jingling accompaniment. From the direction
of the quarters of the maids of honour came a succession of faint
sniggerings; but the apartments of Sorais herself -- whom I devoutly
pitied if she happened to be there -- were silent as the grave.
There was absolutely no end to that awful song, with its eternal
'I will kiss thee!' and at last neither I nor Sir Henry, whom
I had summoned to enjoy the sight, could stand it any longer;
so, remembering the dear old story, I put my head to the window
opening, and shouted, 'For Heaven's sake, Good, don't go on talking
about it, but _kiss_ her and let's all go to sleep!' That choked
him off, and we had no more serenading.

Then whole thing formed a laughable incident in a tragic business.
How deeply thankful we ought to be that even the most serious
matters have generally a silver lining about them in the shape
of a joke, if only people could see it. The sense of humour
is a very valuable possession in life, and ought to be cultivated
in the Board schools -- especially in Scotland.

Well, the more Sir Henry held off the more Sorais came on, as
is not uncommon in such cases, till at last things got very queer
indeed. Evidently she was, by some strange perversity of mind,
quite blinded to the true state of the case; and I, for one,
greatly dreaded the moment of her awakening. Sorais was a dangerous
woman to be mixed up with, either with or without one's consent.
At last the evil moment came, as I saw it must come. One fine
day, Good having gone out hawking, Sir Henry and I were sitting
quietly talking over the situation, especially with reference
to Sorais, when a Court messenger arrived with a written note,
which we with some difficulty deciphered, and which was to the
effect that 'the Queen Sorais commanded the attendance of the
Lord Incubu in her private apartments, whither he would be conducted
by the bearer'.

'Oh my word!' groaned Sir Henry. 'Can't you go instead, old fellow?'

'Not if I know it,' I said with vigour. 'I had rather face a
wounded elephant with a shot-gun. Take care of your own business,
my boy. If you will be so fascinating you must take the consequences.
I would not be in your place for an empire.'

'You remind me of when I was going to be flogged at school and
the other boys came to console me,' he said gloomily. 'What
right has this Queen to command my attendance, I should like
to know? I won't go.'

'But you must; you are one of her officers and bound to obey
her, and she knows it. And after all it will soon be over.'

'That's just what they used to say,' he said again. 'I only
hope she won't put a knife into me. I believe that she is quite
capable of it.' And off he started very faintheartedly,
and no wonder.

I sat and waited, and at the end of about forty-five minutes
he returned, looking a good deal worse than when he went.

'Give me something to drink,' he said hoarsely.

I got him a cup of wine, and asked what was the matter.

'What is the matter? Why if ever there was trouble there's trouble
now. You know when I left you? Well, I was shown straight into
Sorais' private chamber, and a wonderful place it is; and there
she sat, quite alone, upon a silken couch at the end of the room,
playing gently upon that zither of hers. I stood before her,
and for a while she took no notice of me, but kept on playing
and singing a little, and very sweet music it was. At last she
looked up and smiled.

'"So thou art come," she said. "I thought perchance thou hadst
gone about the Queen Nyleptha's business. Thou art ever on her
business, and I doubt not a good servant and a true."

'To this I merely bowed, and said I was there to receive the
Queen's word.

'"Ah yes, I would talk with thee, but be thou seated. It wearies
me to look so high," and she made room for me beside her on the
couch, placing herself with her back against the end, so as to
have a view of my face.

'"It is not meet," I said, "that I should make myself equal with
the Queen."

'"I said be seated," was her answer, so I sat down, and she began
to look at me with those dark eyes of hers. There she sat like
an incarnate spirit of beauty, hardly talking at all, and when
she did, very low, but all the while looking at me. There was
a white flower in her black hair, and I tried to keep my eyes
on it and count the petals, but it was of no use. At last, whether
it was her gaze, or the perfume in her hair, or what I do not
know, but I almost felt as though I was being mesmerized. At
last she roused herself.

'"Incubu," she said, "lovest thou power?"

'I replied that I supposed all men loved power of one sort or another.

'"Thou shalt have it," she said. "Lovest thou wealth?"

'I said I liked wealth for what it brought.

'"Thou shalt have it," she said. "And lovest thou beauty?"

'To this I replied that I was very fond of statuary and architecture,
or something silly of that sort, at which she frowned, and there
was a pause. By this time my nerves were on such a stretch that
I was shaking like a leaf. I knew that something awful was going
to happen, but she held me under a kind of spell, and I could
not help myself.

'"Incubu," she said at length, "wouldst thou be a king? Listen,
wouldst thou be a king? Behold, stranger, I am minded to make
thee king of all Zu-Vendis, ay and husband of Sorais of the Night.
Nay, peace and hear me. To no man among my people had I thus
opened out my secret heart, but thou art an outlander and therefore
I speak without shame, knowing all I have to offer and how hard
it had been thee to ask. See, a crown lies at thy feet, my lord
Incubu, and with that fortune a woman whom some have wished to
woo. Now mayst thou answer, oh my chosen, and soft shall thy
words fall upon mine ears."

'"Oh Sorais," I said, "I pray thee speak not thus" -- you see
I had not time to pick and choose my words -- "for this thing
cannot be. I am bethrothed to thy sister Nyleptha, oh Sorais,
and I love her and her alone."

'Next moment it struck me that I had said an awful thing, and
I looked up to see the results. When I spoke, Sorais' face was
hidden in her hands, and as my words reached her she slowly raised
it, and I shrank back dismayed. It was ashy white, and her eyes
were flaming. She rose to her feet and seemed to be choking,
but the awful thing was that she was so quiet about it all.
Once she looked at a side table, on which lay a dagger, and from
it to me, as though she thought of killing me; but she did not
take it up. At last she spoke one word, and one only --

'"_Go!_"

'And I went, and glad enough I was to get out of it, and here
I am. Give me another cup of wine, there's a good fellow,
and tell me, what is to be done?'

I shook my head, for the affair was indeed serious. As one of the
poets says,

'Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned',

more especially if the woman is a queen and a Sorais, and indeed
I feared the very worst, including imminent danger to ourselves.

'Nyleptha had better be told of this at once,' I said, 'and perhaps
I had better tell her; she might receive your account with suspicion.'

'Who is captain of her guard tonight?' I went on.

'Good.'

'Very well then, there will be no chance of her being got at.
Don't look surprised. I don't think that her sister would stick
at that. I suppose one must tell Good of what has happened.'

'Oh, I don't know,' said Sir Henry. 'It would hurt his feelings,
poor fellow! You see, he takes a lively personal interest in Sorais.'

'That's true; and after all, perhaps there is no need to tell him.
He will find out the truth soon enough. Now, you mark my words,
Sorais will throw in her lot with Nasta, who is sulking up in
the North there, and there will be such a war as has not been
known in Zu-Vendis for centuries. Look there!' and I pointed
to two Court messengers, who were speeding away from the door
of Sorais' private apartments. 'Now follow me,' and I ran up
a stairway into an outlook tower that rose from the roof of our
quarters, taking the spyglass with me, and looked out over the
palace wall. The first thing we saw was one of the messengers
speeding towards the Temple, bearing, without any doubt, the
Queen's word to the High Priest Agon, but for the other I searched
in vain. Presently, however, I spied a horseman riding furiously
through the northern gate of the city, and in him I recognized
the other messenger.

'Ah!' I said, 'Sorais is a woman of spirit. She is acting at
once, and will strike quick and hard. You have insulted her,
my boy, and the blood will flow in rivers before the stain is
washed away, and yours with it, if she can get hold of you.
Well, I'm off to Nyleptha. Just you stop where you are, old
fellow, and try to get your nerves straight again. You'll need
them all, I can tell you, unless I have observed human nature
in the rough for fifty years for nothing.' And off I went accordingly.

I gained audience of the Queen without trouble. She was expecting
Curtis, and was not best pleased to see my mahogany-coloured
face instead.

'Is there aught wrong with my Lord, Macumazahn, that he waits
not upon me? Say, is he sick?'

I said that he was well enough, and then, without further ado,
I plunged into my story and told it from beginning to end. Oh,
what a rage she flew into! It was a sight to see her, she looked
so lovely.

'How darest thou come to me with such a tale?' she cried. 'It
is a lie to say that my Lord was making love to Sorais, my sister.'

'Pardon me, oh Queen,' I answered, 'I said that Sorais was making
love to thy lord.'

'Spin me no spiders' webs of words. Is not the thing the same
thing? The one giveth, the other taketh; but the gift passes,
and what matters it which is the most guilty? Sorais! oh, I
hate her -- Sorais is a queen and my sister. She had not stooped
so low had he not shown the way. Oh, truly hath the poet said
that man is like a snake, whom to touch is poison, and whom none
can hold.'

'The remark, oh Queen, is excellent, but methinks thou hast misread
the poet. Nyleptha,' I went on, 'thou knowest well that thy
words are empty foolishness, and that this is no time for folly.'

'How darest thou?' she broke in, stamping her foot. 'Hast my
false lord sent thee to me to insult me also? Who art thou,
stranger, that thou shouldst speak to me, the Queen, after this
sort? How darest thou?'

'Yea, I dare. Listen. The moments which thou dost waste in
idle anger may well cost thee thy crown and all of us our lives.
Already Sorais' horsemen go forth and call to arms. In thee
days' time Nasta will rouse himself in his fastnesses like a
lion in the evening, and his growling will be heard throughout
the North. The "Lady of the Night" (Sorais) hath a sweet voice,
and she will not sing in vain. Her banner will be borne from
range to range and valley to valley, and warriors will spring
up in its track like dust beneath a whirlwind; half the army
will echo her war-cry; and in every town and hamlet of this wide
land the priests will call out against the foreigner and will
preach her cause as holy. I have spoken, oh Queen!'

Nyleptha was quite calm now; her jealous anger had passed; and
putting off the character of a lovely headstrong lady, with a
rapidity and completeness that distinguished her, she put on
that of a queen and a woman of business. The transformation
was sudden but entire.

'Thy words are very wise, Macumazahn. Forgive me my folly.
Ah, what a Queen I should be if only I had no heart! To be heartless
-- that is to conquer all. Passion is like the lightning, it
is beautiful, and it links the earth to heaven, but alas it blinds!

'And thou thinkest that my sister Sorais would levy war upon
me. So be it. She shall not prevail against me. I, too, have
my friends and my retainers. There are many, I say, who will
shout "Nyleptha!" when my pennon runs up on peak and pinnacle,
and the light of my beacon fires leaps tonight from crag to crag,
bearing the message of my war. I will break her strength and
scatter her armies. Eternal night shall be the portion of Sorais
of the Night. Give me that parchment and the ink. So.
Now summon the officer in the ante-room. He is a trusty man.'

I did as I was bid! and the man, a veteran and quiet-looking
gentleman of the guard, named Kara, entered, bowing low.

'Take this parchment,' said Nyleptha; 'it is thy warrant; and
guard every place of in and outgoing in the apartments of my
sister Sorais, the "Lady of the Night", and a Queen of the Zu-Vendi.
Let none come in and none go out, or thy life shall pay the
cost.'

The man looked startled, but he merely said, 'The Queen's word
be done,' and departed. Then Nyleptha sent a messenger to Sir
Henry, and presently he arrived looking uncommonly uncomfortable.
I thought that another outburst was about to follow, but wonderful
are the ways of woman; she said not a word about Sorais and his
supposed inconstancy, greeting him with a friendly nod, and stating
simply that she required his advice upon high matters. All the
same there was a look in her eye, and a sort of suppressed energy
in her manner towards him, that makes me think that she had not
forgotten the affair, but was keeping it for a private occasion.

Just after Curtis arrived the officer returned, and reported
that Sorais was _gone_. The bird had flown to the Temple, stating
that she was going, as was sometimes the custom among Zu-Vendi
ladies of rank, to spend the night in meditation before the altar.
We looked at each other significantly. The blow had fallen
very soon.

Then we set to work.

Generals who could be trusted were summoned from their quarters,
and as much of the State affairs as was thought desirable was
told to each, strict injunctions being given to them to get all
their available force together. The same was done with such
of the more powerful lords as Nyleptha knew she could rely on,
several of whom left that very day for distant parts of the country
to gather up their tribesmen and retainers. Sealed orders were
dispatched to the rulers of far-off cities, and some twenty messengers
were sent off before nightfall with instructions to ride early
and late till they reached the distant chiefs to whom their letters
were addressed: also many spies were set to work. All the afternoon
and evening we laboured, assisted by some confidential scribes,
Nyleptha showing an energy and resource of mind that astonished
me, and it was eight o'clock before we got back to our quarters.
Here we heard from Alphonse, who was deeply aggrieved because
our non-return had spoilt his dinner (for he had turned cook
again now), that Good had come back from his hawking and gone
on duty. As instructions had already been given to the officer
of the outer guard to double the sentries at the gate, and as
we had no reason to fear any immediate danger, we did not think
it worth while to hunt him up and tell him anything of what had
passed, which at best was, under the peculiar circumstances of
the case, one of those tasks that one prefers to postpone, so
after swallowing our food we turned in to get some much-needed
rest. Before we did so, however, it occurred to Curtis to tell
old Umslopogaas to keep a look-out in the neighbourhood of Nyleptha's
private apartments. Umslopogaas was now well known about the
place, and by the Queen's order allowed to pass whither he would
by the guards, a permission of which he often availed himself
by roaming about the palace during the still hours in a nocturnal
fashion that he favoured, and which is by no means uncommon amongst
black men generally. His presence in the corridors would not,
therefore, be likely to excite remark. Without any comment the
Zulu took up his axe and departed, and we also departed to bed.

I seemed to have been asleep but a few minutes when I was awakened
by a peculiar sensation of uneasiness. I felt that somebody
was in the room and looking at me, and instantly sat up, to see
to my surprise that it was already dawn, and that there, standing
at the foot of my couch and looking peculiarly grim and gaunt
in the grey light, was Umslopogaas himself.

'How long hast thou been there?' I asked testily, for it is not
pleasant to be aroused in such a fashion.

'Mayhap the half of an hour, Macumazahn. I have a word for thee.'

'Speak on,' I said, now wide enough awake.

'As I was bid I went last night to the place of the White Queen
and hid myself behind a pillar in the second anteroom, beyond
which is the sleeping-place of the Queen. Bougwan (Good) was
in the first anteroom alone, and outside the curtain of that
room was a sentry, but I had a mind to see if I could pass in
unseen, and I did, gliding behind them both. There I waited
for many hours, when suddenly I perceived a dark figure coming
secretly towards me. It was the figure of a woman, and in her
hand she held a dagger. Behind that figure crept another unseen
by the woman. It was Bougwan following in her tracks. His shoes
were off, and for so fat a man he followed very well. The woman
passed me, and the starlight shone upon her face.'

'Who was it?' I asked impatiently.

'The face was the face of the "Lady of the Night", and of a truth
she is well named.

'I waited, and Bougwan passed me also. Then I followed.
So we went slowly and without a sound up the long chamber.
First the woman, then Bougwan, and then I; and the woman saw
not Bougwan, and Bougwan saw not me. At last the "Lady of the
Night" came to the curtains that shut off the sleeping place
of the White Queen, and put out her left hand to part them.
She passed through, and so did Bougwan, and so did I. At the
far end of the room is the bed of the Queen, and on it she lay
very fast asleep. I could hear her breathe, and see one white
arm lying on the coverlid like a streak of snow on the dry grass.
The "Lady of the Night" doubled herself thus, and with the long
knife lifted crept towards the bed. So straight did she gaze
thereat that she never thought to look behind her. When she
was quite close Bougwan touched her on the arm, and she caught
her breath and turned, and I saw the knife flash, and heard it
strike. Well was it for Bougwan that he had the skin of iron
on him, or he had been pierced. Then for the first time he saw
who the woman was, and without a word he fell back astonished,
and unable to speak. She, too, was astonished, and spoke not,
but suddenly she laid her finger on her lip, thus, and walked
towards and through the curtain, and with her went Bougwan.
So close did she pass to me that her dress touched me, and I
was nigh to slaying her as she went. In the first outer room
she spoke to Bougwan in a whisper and, clasping her hands thus,
she pleaded with him, but what she said I know not. And so they
passed on to the second outer room, she pleading and he shaking
his head, and saying, "Nay, nay, nay". And it seemed to me that
he was about to call the guard, when she stopped talking and
looked at him with great eyes, and I saw that he was bewitched
by her beauty. Then she stretched out her hand and he kissed
it, whereon I gathered myself together to advance and take her,
seeing that now had Bougwan become a woman, and no longer knew
the good from the evil, when behold! she was gone.'

'Gone!' I ejaculated.

'Ay, gone, and there stood Bougwan staring at the wall like one
asleep, and presently he went too, and I waited a while and came
away also.'

'Art thou sure, Umslopogaas,' said I, 'that thou hast not been
a dreamer this night?'

In reply he opened his left hand, and produced about three inches
of a blade of a dagger of the finest steel. 'If I be, Macumazahn,
behold what the dream left with me. The knife broke upon Bougwan's
bosom and as I passed I picked this up in the sleeping-place
of the White Queen.'

CHAPTER XVIII
WAR! RED WAR!

Telling Umslopogaas to wait, I tumbled into my clothes and went
off with him to Sir Henry's room, where the Zulu repeated his
story word for word. It was a sight to watch Curtis' face as
he heard it.

'Great Heavens!' he said: 'here have I been sleeping away while
Nyleptha was nearly murdered -- and all through me, too. What
a fiend that Sorais must be! It would have served her well if
Umslopogaas had cut her down in the act.'

'Ay,' said the Zulu. 'Fear not; I should have slain her ere
she struck. I was but waiting the moment.

I said nothing, but I could not help thinking that many a thousand
doomed lives would have been saved if he had meted out to Sorais
the fate she meant for her sister. And, as the issue proved,
I was right.

After he had told his tale Umslopogaas went off unconcernedly
to get his morning meal, and Sir Henry and I fell to talking.

At first he was very bitter against Good, who, he said, was no
longer to be trusted, having designedly allowed Sorais to escape
by some secret stair when it was his duty to have handed her
over to justice. Indeed, he spoke in the most unmeasured terms
on the matter. I let him run on awhile, reflecting to myself
how easy we find it to be hard on the weaknesses of others, and
how tender we are to our own.

'Really, my dear fellow,' I said at length, 'one would never
think, to hear you talk, that you were the man who had an interview
with this same lady yesterday, and found it rather difficult
to resist her fascinations, notwithstanding your ties to one
of the loveliest and most loving women in the world. Now suppose
it was Nyleptha who had tried to murder Sorais, and _you_ had
caught her, and she had pleaded with you, would you have been
so very eager to hand her over to an open shame, and to death
by fire? Just look at the matter through Good's eyeglass for
a minute before you denounce an old friend as a scoundrel.'

He listened to this jobation submissively, and then frankly
acknowledged that he had spoken hardly. It is one of the
best points in Sir Henry's character that he is always ready
to admit it when he is in the wrong.

But, though I spoke up thus for Good, I was not blind to the
fact that, however natural his behaviour might be, it was obvious
that he was being involved in a very awkward and disgraceful
complication. A foul and wicked murder had been attempted, and
he had let the murderess escape, and thereby, among other things,
allowed her to gain a complete ascendency over himself. In fact,
he was in a fair way to become her tool -- and no more dreadful
fate can befall a man than to become the tool of an unscrupulous
woman, or indeed of any woman. There is but one end to it: when
he is broken, or has served her purpose, he is thrown away --
turned out on the world to hunt for his lost self-respect. Whilst
I was pondering thus, and wondering what was to be done -- for
the whole subject was a thorny one -- I suddenly heard a great
clamour in the courtyard outside, and distinguished the voice
of Umslopogaas and Alphonse, the former cursing furiously, and
the latter yelling in terror.

Hurrying out to see what was the matter, I was met by a ludicrous
sight. The little Frenchman was running up the courtyard at
an extraordinary speed, and after him sped Umslopogaas like a
great greyhound. Just as I came out he caught him, and, lifting
him right off his legs, carried him some paces to a beautiful
but very dense flowering shrub which bore a flower not unlike
the gardenia, but was covered with short thorns. Next, despite
his howls and struggles, he with one mighty thrust plunged poor
Alphonse head first into the bush, so that nothing but the calves
of his legs and heels remained in evidence. Then, satisfied
with what he had done, the Zulu folded his arms and stood grimly
contemplating the Frenchman's kicks, and listening to his yells,
which were awful.

'What art thou doing?' I said, running up. 'Wouldst thou kill
the man? Pull him out of the bush!'

With a savage grunt he obeyed, seizing the wretched Alphonse
by the ankle, and with a jerk that must have nearly dislocated
it, tearing him out of the heart of the shrub. Never did I see
such a sight as he presented, his clothes half torn off his back,
and bleeding as he was in every direction from the sharp thorns.
There he lay and yelled and rolled, and there was no getting
anything out of him.

At last, however, he got up and, ensconcing himself behind me,
cursed old Umslopogaas by every saint in the calendar, vowing
by the blood of his heroic grandfather that he would poison him,
and 'have his revenge'.

At last I got to the truth of the matter. It appeared that Alphonse
habitually cooked Umslopogaas's porridge, which the latter ate
for breakfast in the corner of the courtyard, just as he would
have done at home in Zululand, from a gourd, and with a wooden
spoon. Now Umslopogaas had, like many Zulus, a great horror
of fish, which he considered a species of water-snake; so Alphonse,
who was as fond of playing tricks as a monkey, and who was also
a consummate cook, determined to make him eat some. Accordingly
he grated up a quantity of white fish very finely, and mixed
it with the Zulu's porridge, who swallowed it nearly all down
in ignorance of what he was eating. But, unfortunately for Alphonse,
he could not restrain his joy at this sight, and came capering
and peering round, till at last Umslopogaas, who was very clever
in his way, suspected something, and, after a careful examination
of the remains of his porridge, discovered 'the buffalo heifer's
trick', and, in revenge, served him as I have said. Indeed,
the little man was fortunate not to get a broken neck for his
pains; for, as one would have thought, he might have learnt from
the episode of his display of axemanship that 'le Monsieur noir'
was an ill person to play practical jokes upon.

This incident was unimportant enough in itself, but I narrate
it because it led to serious consequences. As soon as he had
stanched the bleeding from his scratches and washed himself,
Alphonse went off still cursing, to recover his temper, a process
which I knew from experience would take a very long time. When
he had gone I gave Umslopogaas a jobation and told him that I
was ashamed of his behaviour.

'Ah, well, Macumazahn,' he said, 'you must be gentle with me,
for here is not my place. I am weary of it, weary to death of
eating and drinking, of sleeping and giving in marriage. I love
not this soft life in stone houses that takes the heart out of
a man, and turns his strength to water and his flesh to fat.
I love not the white robes and the delicate women, the blowing
of trumpets and the flying of hawks. When we fought the Masai
at the kraal yonder, ah, then life was worth the living, but
here is never a blow struck in anger, and I begin to think I
shall go the way of my fathers and lift Inkosi-kaas no more,'

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