Part 5 out of 6
Onward, never weary, clad with splendour for a robe!
Till accomplished be our fate, and the night is rushing down.
She paused in her strange and most thrilling allegorical chant, of
which I am, unfortunately, only able to give the burden, and that
feebly enough, and then said--
"Perchance thou dost not believe my word, Kallikrates--perchance thou
thinkest that I do delude thee, and that I have not lived these many
years, and that thou hast not been born again to me. Nay, look not so
--put away that pale cast of doubt, for oh be sure herein can error
find no foothold! Sooner shall the suns forget their course and the
swallow miss her nest, than my soul shall swear a lie and be led
astray from thee, Kallikrates. Blind me, take away mine eyes, and let
the darkness utterly fence me in, and still mine ears would catch the
tone of thy unforgotten voice, striking more loud against the portals
of my sense than can the call of brazen-throated clarions:--stop up
mine hearing also, and let a thousand touch me on the brow, and I
would name thee out of all:--yea, rob me of every sense, and see me
stand deaf and blind, and dumb, and with nerves that cannot weigh the
value of a touch, yet would my spirit leap within me like a quickening
child and cry unto my heart, behold Kallikrates! behold, thou watcher,
the watches of thy night are ended! behold thou who seekest in the
night season, thy morning Star ariseth."
She paused awhile and then continued, "But stay, if thy heart is yet
hardened against the mighty truth and thou dost require a further
pledge of that which thou dost find too deep to understand, even now
shall it be given to thee, and to thee also, oh my Holly. Bear each
one of you a lamp, and follow after me whither I shall lead you."
Without stopping to think--indeed, speaking for myself, I had almost
abandoned the function in circumstances under which to think seemed to
be absolutely useless, since thought fell hourly helpless against a
black wall of wonder--we took the lamps and followed her. Going to the
end of her "boudoir," she raised a curtain and revealed a little stair
of the sort that is so common in these dim caves of Kôr. As we hurried
down the stair I observed that the steps were worn in the centre to
such an extent that some of them had been reduced from seven and a
half inches, at which I guessed their original height, to about three
and a half. Now, all the other steps that I had seen in the caves were
practically unworn, as was to be expected, seeing that the only
traffic which ever passed upon them was that of those who bore a fresh
burden to the tomb. Therefore this fact struck my notice with that
curious force with which little things do strike us when our minds are
absolutely overwhelmed by a sudden rush of powerful sensations; beaten
flat, as it were, like a sea beneath the first burst of a hurricane,
so that every little object on the surface starts into an unnatural
At the bottom of the staircase I stood and stared at the worn steps,
and Ayesha, turning, saw me.
"Wonderest thou whose are the feet that have worn away the rock, my
Holly?" she asked. "They are mine--even mine own light feet! I can
remember when those stairs were fresh and level, but for two thousand
years and more have I gone down hither day by day, and see, my sandals
have worn out the solid rock!"
I made no answer, but I do not think that anything that I had heard or
seen brought home to my limited understanding so clear a sense of this
being's overwhelming antiquity as that hard rock hollowed out by her
soft white feet. How many hundreds of thousands of times must she have
passed up and down that stair to bring about such a result?
The stair led to a tunnel, and a few paces down the tunnel was one of
the usual curtain-hung doorways, a glance at which told me that it was
the same where I had been a witness of that terrible scene by the
leaping flame. I recognised the pattern of the curtain, and the sight
of it brought the whole event vividly before my eyes, and made me
tremble even at its memory. Ayesha entered the tomb (for it was a
tomb), and we followed her--I, for one, rejoicing that the mystery of
the place was about to be cleared up, and yet afraid to face its
THE DEAD AND LIVING MEET
"See now the place where I have slept for these two thousand years,"
said Ayesha, taking the lamp from Leo's hand and holding it above her
head. Its rays fell upon a little hollow in the floor, where I had
seen the leaping flame, but the fire was out now. They fell upon the
white form stretched there beneath its wrappings upon its bed of
stone, upon the fretted carving of the tomb, and upon another shelf of
stone opposite the one on which the body lay, and separated from it by
the breadth of the cave.
"Here," went on Ayesha, laying her hand upon the rock--"here have I
slept night by night for all these generations, with but a cloak to
cover me. It did not become me that I should lie soft when my spouse
yonder," and she pointed to the rigid form, "lay stiff in death. Here
night by night have I slept in his cold company--till, thou seest,
this thick slab, like the stairs down which we passed, has worn thin
with the tossing of my form--so faithful have I been to thee even in
thy space of sleep, Kallikrates. And now, mine own, thou shalt see a
wonderful thing--living, thou shalt behold thyself dead--for well have
I tended thee during all these years, Kallikrates. Art thou prepared?"
We made no answer, but gazed at each other with frightened eyes, the
whole scene was so dreadful and so solemn. Ayesha advanced, and laid
her hand upon the corner of the shroud, and once more spoke.
"Be not affrighted," she said; "though the thing seem wonderful to
thee--all we who live have thus lived before; nor is the very shape
that holds us a stranger to the sun! Only we know it not, because
memory writes no record, and earth hath gathered in the earth she lent
us, for none have saved our glory from the grave. But I, by my arts
and by the arts of those dead men of Kôr which I have learned, have
held thee back, oh Kallikrates, from the dust, that the waxen stamp of
beauty on thy face should ever rest before mine eye. 'Twas a mask that
memory might fill, serving to fashion out thy presence from the past,
and give it strength to wander in the habitations of my thought, clad
in a mummery of life that stayed my appetite with visions of dead
"Behold now, let the Dead and Living meet! Across the gulf of Time
they still are one. Time hath no power against Identity, though sleep
the merciful hath blotted out the tablets of our mind, and with
oblivion sealed the sorrows that else would hound us from life to
life, stuffing the brain with gathered griefs till it burst in the
madness of uttermost despair. Still are they one, for the wrappings of
our sleep shall roll away as thunder-clouds before the wind; the
frozen voice of the past shall melt in music like mountain snows
beneath the sun; and the weeping and the laughter of the lost hours
shall be heard once more most sweetly echoing up the cliffs of
"Ay, the sleep shall roll away, and the voices shall be heard, when
down the completed chain, whereof our each existence is a link, the
lightning of the Spirit hath passed to work out the purpose of our
being; quickening and fusing those separated days of life, and shaping
them to a staff whereon we may safely lean as we wend to our appointed
"Therefore, have no fear, Kallikrates, when thou--living, and but
lately born--shalt look upon thine own departed self, who breathed and
died so long ago. I do but turn one page in thy Book of Being, and
show thee what is writ thereon.
With a sudden motion she drew the shroud from the cold form, and let
the lamplight play upon it. I looked, and then shrank back terrified;
since, say what she might in explanation, the sight was an uncanny
one--for her explanations were beyond the grasp of our finite minds,
and when they were stripped from the mists of vague esoteric
philosophy, and brought into conflict with the cold and horrifying
fact, did not do much to break its force. For there, stretched upon
the stone bier before us, robed in white and perfectly preserved, was
what appeared to be the body of Leo Vincey. I stared from Leo,
standing /there/ alive, to Leo lying /there/ dead, and could see no
difference; except, perhaps, that the body on the bier looked older.
Feature for feature they were the same, even down to the crop of
little golden curls, which was Leo's most uncommon beauty. It even
seemed to me, as I looked, that the expression on the dead man's face
resembled that which I had sometimes seen upon Leo's when he was
plunged into profound sleep. I can only sum up the closeness of the
resemblance by saying that I never saw twins so exactly similar as
that dead and living pair.
I turned to see what effect was produced upon Leo by the sight of his
dead self, and found it to be one of partial stupefaction. He stood
for two or three minutes staring, and said nothing, and when at last
he spoke it was only to ejaculate--
"Cover it up, and take me away."
"Nay, wait, Kallikrates," said Ayesha, who, standing with the lamp
raised above her head, flooding with its light her own rich beauty and
the cold wonder of the death-clothed form upon the bier, resembled an
inspired Sibyl rather than a woman, as she rolled out her majestic
sentences with a grandeur and a freedom of utterance which I am, alas!
quite unable to reproduce.
"Wait, I would show thee something, that no tittle of my crime may be
hidden from thee. Do thou, oh Holly, open the garment on the breast of
the dead Kallikrates, for perchance my lord may fear to touch it
I obeyed with trembling hands. It seemed a desecration and an
unhallowed thing to touch that sleeping image of the live man by my
side. Presently his broad chest was bare, and there upon it, right
over the heart, was a wound, evidently inflicted with a spear.
"Thou seest, Kallikrates," she said. "Know then that it was /I/ who
slew thee: in the Place of Life /I/ gave thee death. I slew thee
because of the Egyptian Amenartas, whom thou didst love, for by her
wiles she held thy heart, and her I could not smite as but now I smote
that woman, for she was too strong for me. In my haste and bitter
anger I slew thee, and now for all these days have I lamented thee,
and waited for thy coming. And thou hast come, and none can stand
between thee and me, and of a truth now for death I will give thee
life--not life eternal, for that none can give, but life and youth
that shall endure for thousands upon thousands of years, and with it
pomp, and power, and wealth, and all things that are good and
beautiful, such as have been to no man before thee, nor shall be to
any man who comes after. And now one thing more, and thou shalt rest
and make ready for the day of thy new birth. Thou seest this body,
which was thine own. For all these centuries it hath been my cold
comfort and my companion, but now I need it no more, for I have thy
living presence, and it can but serve to stir up memories of that
which I would fain forget. Let it therefore go back to the dust from
which I held it.
"Behold! I have prepared against this happy hour!" And going to the
other shelf or stone ledge, which she said had served her for a bed,
she took from it a large vitrified double-handed vase, the mouth of
which was tied up with a bladder. This she loosed, and then, having
bent down and gently kissed the white forehead of the dead man, she
undid the vase, and sprinkled its contents carefully over the form,
taking, I observed, the greatest precautions against any drop of them
touching us or herself, and then poured out what remained of the
liquid upon the chest and head. Instantly a dense vapour arose, and
the cave was filled with choking fumes that prevented us from seeing
anything while the deadly acid (for I presume it was some tremendous
preparation of that sort) did its work. From the spot where the body
lay came a fierce fizzing and cracking sound, which ceased, however,
before the fumes had cleared away. At last they were all gone, except
a little cloud that still hung over the corpse. In a couple of minutes
more this too had vanished, and, wonderful as it may seem, it is a
fact that on the stone bench that had supported the mortal remains of
the ancient Kallikrates for so many centuries there was now nothing to
be seen but a few handfuls of smoking white powder. The acid had
utterly destroyed the body, and even in places eaten into the stone.
Ayesha stooped down, and, taking a handful of this powder in her
grasp, threw it into the air, saying at the same time, in a voice of
"Dust to dust!--the past to the past!--the dead to the dead!--
Kallikrates is dead, and is born again!"
The ashes floated noiselessly to the rocky floor, and we stood in awed
silence and watched them fall, too overcome for words.
"Now leave me," she said, "and sleep if ye may. I must watch and
think, for to-morrow night we go hence, and the time is long since I
trod the path that we must follow."
Accordingly we bowed, and left her.
As we passed to our own apartment I peeped into Job's sleeping place,
to see how he fared, for he had gone away just before our interview
with the murdered Ustane, quite prostrated by the terrors of the
Amahagger festivity. He was sleeping soundly, good honest fellow that
he was, and I rejoiced to think that his nerves, which, like those of
most uneducated people, were far from strong, had been spared the
closing scenes of this dreadful day. Then we entered our own chamber,
and here at last poor Leo, who, ever since he had looked upon that
frozen image of his living self, had been in a state not far removed
from stupefaction, burst out into a torrent of grief. Now that he was
no longer in the presence of the dread /She/, his sense of the
awfulness of all that had happened, and more especially of the wicked
murder of Ustane, who was bound to him by ties so close, broke upon
him like a storm, and lashed him into an agony of remorse and terror
which was painful to witness. He cursed himself--he cursed the hour
when we had first seen the writing on the sherd, which was being so
mysteriously verified, and bitterly he cursed his own weakness. Ayesha
he dared not curse--who dared speak evil of such a woman, whose
consciousness, for aught we knew, was watching us at the very moment?
"What am I to do, old fellow?" he groaned, resting his head against my
shoulder in the extremity of his grief. "I let her be killed--not that
I could help that, but within five minutes I was kissing her murderess
over her body. I am a degraded brute, but I cannot resist that" (and
here his voice sank)--"that awful sorceress. I know I shall do it
again to-morrow; I know that I am in her power for always; if I never
saw her again I should never think of anybody else during all my life;
I must follow her as a needle follows a magnet; I would not go away
now if I could; I could not leave her, my legs would not carry me, but
my mind is still clear enough, and in my mind I hate her--at least, I
think so. It is all so horrible; and that--that body! What can I make
of it? It was /I/! I am sold into bondage, old fellow, and she will
take my soul as the price of herself!"
Then, for the first time, I told him that I was in a but very little
better position; and I am bound to say that, notwithstanding his own
infatuation, he had the decency to sympathise with me. Perhaps he did
not think it worth while being jealous, realising that he had no cause
so far as the lady was concerned. I went on to suggest that we should
try to run away, but we soon rejected the project as futile, and, to
be perfectly honest, I do not believe that either of us would really
have left Ayesha even if some superior power had suddenly offered to
convey us from these gloomy caves and set us down in Cambridge. We
could no more have left her than a moth can leave the light that
destroys it. We were like confirmed opium-eaters: in our moments of
reason we well knew the deadly nature of our pursuit, but we certainly
were not prepared to abandon its terrible delights.
No man who once had seen /She/ unveiled, and heard the music of her
voice, and drunk in the bitter wisdom of her words, would willingly
give up the sight for a whole sea of placid joys. How much more, then,
was this likely to be so when, as in Leo's case, to put myself out of
the question, this extraordinary creature declared her utter and
absolute devotion, and gave what appeared to be proofs of its having
lasted for some two thousand years?
No doubt she was a wicked person, and no doubt she had murdered Ustane
when she stood in her path, but then she was very faithful, and by a
law of nature man is apt to think but lightly of a woman's crimes,
especially if that woman be beautiful, and the crime be committed for
the love of him.
And then, for the rest, when had such a chance ever come to a man
before as that which now lay in Leo's hand? True, in uniting himself
to this dread woman, he would place his life under the influence of a
mysterious creature of evil tendencies,[*] but then that would be
likely enough to happen to him in any ordinary marriage. On the other
hand, however, no ordinary marriage could bring him such awful beauty
--for awful is the only word that can describe it--such divine
devotion, such wisdom, and command over the secrets of nature, and the
place and power that they must win, or, lastly, the royal crown of
unending youth, if indeed she could give that. No, on the whole, it is
not wonderful that, though Leo was plunged in bitter shame and grief,
such as any gentleman would have felt under the circumstances, he was
not ready to entertain the idea of running away from his extraordinary
[*] After some months of consideration of this statement I am bound to
confess that I am not quite satisfied of its truth. It is
perfectly true that Ayesha committed a murder, but I shrewdly
suspect that, were we endowed with the same absolute power, and if
we had the same tremendous interest at stake, we would be very apt
to do likewise under parallel circumstances. Also, it must be
remembered that she looked on it as an execution for disobedience
under a system which made the slightest disobedience punishable by
death. Putting aside this question of the murder, her evil-doing
resolves itself into the expression of views and the
acknowledgment of motives which are contrary to our preaching if
not to our practice. Now at first sight this might be fairly taken
as a proof of an evil nature, but when we come to consider the
great antiquity of the individual it becomes doubtful if it was
anything more than the natural cynicism which arises from age and
bitter experience, and the possession of extraordinary powers of
observation. It is a well known fact that very often, putting the
period of boyhood out of the question, the older we grow the more
cynical and hardened we get; indeed many of us are only saved by
timely death from utter moral petrifaction if not moral
corruption. No one will deny that a young man is on the average
better than an old one, for he is without that experience of the
order of things that in certain thoughtful dispositions can hardly
fail to produce cynicism, and that disregard of acknowledged
methods and established custom which we call evil. Now the oldest
man upon the earth was but a babe compared to Ayesha, and the
wisest man upon the earth was not one-third as wise. And the fruit
of her wisdom was this, that there was but one thing worth living
for, and that was Love in its highest sense, and to gain that good
thing she was not prepared to stop at trifles. This is really the
sum of her evil doings, and it must be remembered, on the other
hand, that, whatever may be thought of them, she had some virtues
developed to a degree very uncommon in either sex--constancy, for
instance.--L. H. H.
My own opinion is that he would have been mad if he had done so. But
then I confess that my statement on the matter must be accepted with
qualifications. I am in love with Ayesha myself to this day, and I
would rather have been the object of her affection for one short week
than that of any other woman in the world for a whole lifetime. And
let me add that, if anybody who doubts this statement, and thinks me
foolish for making it, could have seen Ayesha draw her veil and flash
out in beauty on his gaze, his view would exactly coincide with my
own. Of course, I am speaking of any /man/. We never had the advantage
of a lady's opinion of Ayesha, but I think it quite possible that she
would have regarded the Queen with dislike, would have expressed her
disapproval in some more or less pointed manner, and ultimately have
got herself blasted.
For two hours or more Leo and I sat with shaken nerves and frightened
eyes, and talked over the miraculous events through which we were
passing. It seemed like a dream or a fairy tale, instead of the
solemn, sober fact. Who would have believed that the writing on the
potsherd was not only true, but that we should live to verify its
truth, and that we two seekers should find her who was sought,
patiently awaiting our coming in the tombs of Kôr? Who would have
thought that in the person of Leo this mysterious woman should, as she
believed, discover the being whom she awaited from century to century,
and whose former earthly habitation she had till this very night
preserved? But so it was. In the face of all we had seen it was
difficult for us as ordinary reasoning men any longer to doubt its
truth, and therefore at last, with humble hearts and a deep sense of
the impotence of human knowledge, and the insolence of its assumption
that denies that to be possible which it has no experience of, we laid
ourselves down to sleep, leaving our fates in the hands of that
watching Providence which had thus chosen to allow us to draw the veil
of human ignorance, and reveal to us for good or evil some glimpse of
the possibilities of life.
JOB HAS A PRESENTIMENT
It was nine o'clock on the following morning when Job, who still
looked scared and frightened, came in to call me, and at the same time
breathe his gratitude at finding us alive in our beds, which it
appeared was more than he had expected. When I told him of the awful
end of poor Ustane he was even more grateful at our survival, and much
shocked, though Ustane had been no favourite of his, or he of hers,
for the matter of that. She called him "pig" in bastard Arabic, and he
called her "hussy" in good English, but these amenities were forgotten
in the face of the catastrophe that had overwhelmed her at the hands
of her Queen.
"I don't want to say anything as mayn't be agreeable, sir," said Job,
when he had finished exclaiming at my tale, "but it's my opinion that
that there /She/ is the old gentleman himself, or perhaps his wife, if
he has one, which I suppose he has, for he couldn't be so wicked all
by himself. The Witch of Endor was a fool to her, sir: bless you, she
would make no more of raising every gentleman in the Bible out of
these here beastly tombs than I should of growing cress on an old
flannel. It's a country of devils, this is, sir, and she's the master
one of the lot; and if ever we get out of it it will be more than I
expect to do. I don't see no way out of it. That witch isn't likely to
let a fine young man like Mr. Leo go."
"Come," I said, "at any rate she saved his life."
"Yes, and she'll take his soul to pay for it. She'll make him a witch,
like herself. I say it's wicked to have anything to do with those sort
of people. Last night, sir, I lay awake and read in my little Bible
that my poor old mother gave me about what is going to happen to
sorceresses and them sort, till my hair stood on end. Lord, how the
old lady would stare if she saw where her Job had got to!"
"Yes, it's a queer country, and a queer people too, Job," I answered,
with a sigh, for, though I am not superstitious like Job, I admit to a
natural shrinking (which will not bear investigation) from the things
that are above Nature.
"You are right, sir," he answered, "and if you won't think me very
foolish, I should like to say something to you now that Mr. Leo is out
of the way"--(Leo had got up early and gone for a stroll)--"and that
is that I know it is the last country as ever I shall see in this
world. I had a dream last night, and I dreamed that I saw my old
father with a kind of night-shirt on him, something like these folks
wear when they want to be in particular full-dress, and a bit of that
feathery grass in his hand, which he may have gathered on the way, for
I saw lots of it yesterday about three hundred yards from the mouth of
this beastly cave.
"'Job,' he said to me, solemn like, and yet with a kind of
satisfaction shining through him, more like a Methody parson when he
has sold a neighbour a marked horse for a sound one and cleared twenty
pounds by the job than anything I can think on--'Job, time's up, Job;
but I never did expect to have to come and hunt you out in this 'ere
place, Job. Such ado as I have had to nose you up; it wasn't friendly
to give your poor old father such a run, let alone that a wonderful
lot of bad characters hail from this place Kôr.'"
"Regular cautions," I suggested.
"Yes, sir--of course, sir, that's just what he said they was--
'cautions, downright scorchers'--sir, and I'm sure I don't doubt it,
seeing what I know of them, and their hot-potting ways," went on Job
sadly. "Anyway, he was sure that time was up, and went away saying
that we should see more than we cared for of each other soon, and I
suppose he was a-thinking of the fact that father and I never could
hit it off together for longer nor three days, and I daresay that
things will be similar when we meet again."
"Surely," I said, "you don't think that you are going to die because
you dreamed you saw your old father; if one dies because one dreams of
one's father, what happens to a man who dreams of his mother-in-law?"
"Ah, sir, you're laughing at me," said Job; "but, you see, you didn't
know my old father. If it had been anybody else--my Aunt Mary, for
instance, who never made much of a job--I should not have thought so
much of it; but my father was that idle, which he shouldn't have been
with seventeen children, that he would never have put himself out to
come here just to see the place. No, sir; I know that he meant
business. Well, sir, I can't help it; I suppose every man must go some
time or other, though it is a hard thing to die in a place like this,
where Christian burial isn't to be had for its weight in gold. I've
tried to be a good man, sir, and do my duty honest, and if it wasn't
for the supercilus kind of way in which father carried on last night--
a sort of sniffing at me as it were, as though he hadn't no opinion of
my references and testimonials--I should feel easy enough in my mind.
Any way, sir, I've been a good servant to you and Mr. Leo, bless him!
--why, it seems but the other day that I used to lead him about the
streets with a penny whip;--and if ever you get out of this place--
which, as father didn't allude to you, perhaps you may--I hope you
will think kindly of my whitened bones, and never have anything more
to do with Greek writing on flower-pots, sir, if I may make so bold as
to say so."
"Come, come, Job," I said seriously, "this is all nonsense, you know.
You mustn't be silly enough to go getting such ideas into your head.
We've lived through some queer things, and I hope that we may go on
"No, sir," answered Job, in a tone of conviction that jarred on me
unpleasantly, "it isn't nonsense. I'm a doomed man, and I feel it, and
a wonderful uncomfortable feeling it is, sir, for one can't help
wondering how it's going to come about. If you are eating your dinner
you think of poison and it goes against your stomach, and if you are
walking along these dark rabbit-burrows you think of knives, and Lord,
don't you just shiver about the back! I ain't particular, sir,
provided it's sharp, like that poor girl, who, now that she's gone, I
am sorry to have spoke hard on, though I don't approve of her morals
in getting married, which I consider too quick to be decent. Still,
sir," and poor Job turned a shade paler as he said it, "I do hope it
won't be that hot-pot game."
"Nonsense," I broke in angrily, "nonsense!"
"Very well, sir," said Job, "it isn't my place to differ from you,
sir, but if you happen to be going anywhere, sir, I should be obliged
if you could manage to take me with you, seeing that I shall be glad
to have a friendly face to look at when the time comes, just to help
one through, as it were. And now, sir, I'll be getting the breakfast,"
and he went, leaving me in a very uncomfortable state of mind. I was
deeply attached to old Job, who was one of the best and honestest men
I have ever had to do with in any class of life, and really more of a
friend than a servant, and the mere idea of anything happening to him
brought a lump into my throat. Beneath all his ludicrous talk I could
see that he himself was quite convinced that something was going to
happen, and though in most cases these convictions turn out to be
utter moonshine--and this particular one especially was to be amply
accounted for by the gloomy and unaccustomed surroundings in which its
victim was placed--still it did more or less carry a chill to my
heart, as any dread that is obviously a genuine object of belief is
apt to do, however absurd the belief may be. Presently the breakfast
arrived, and with it Leo, who had been taking a walk outside the cave
--to clear his mind, he said--and very glad I was to see both, for
they gave me a respite from my gloomy thoughts. After breakfast we
went for another walk, and watched some of the Amahagger sowing a plot
of ground with the grain from which they make their beer. This they
did in scriptural fashion--a man with a bag made of goat's hide
fastened round his waist walking up and down the plot and scattering
the seed as he went. It was a positive relief to see one of these
dreadful people do anything so homely and pleasant as sow a field,
perhaps because it seemed to link them, as it were, with the rest of
As we were returning Billali met us, and informed us that it was
/She's/ pleasure that we should wait upon her, and accordingly we
entered her presence, not without trepidation, for Ayesha was
certainly an exception to the rule. Familiarity with her might and did
breed passion and wonder and horror, but it certainly did /not/ breed
We were as usual shown in by the mutes, and after these had retired
Ayesha unveiled, and once more bade Leo embrace her, which,
notwithstanding his heart-searchings of the previous night, he did
with more alacrity and fervour than in strictness courtesy required.
She laid her white hand on his head, and looked him fondly in the
eyes. "Dost thou wonder, my Kallikrates," she said, "when thou shalt
call me all thine own, and when we shall of a truth be for one another
and to one another? I will tell thee. First, must thou be even as I
am, not immortal indeed, for that I am not, but so cased and hardened
against the attacks of Time that his arrows shall glance from the
armour of thy vigorous life as the sunbeams glance from water. As yet
I may not mate with thee, for thou and I are different, and the very
brightness of my being would burn thee up, and perchance destroy thee.
Thou couldst not even endure to look upon me for too long a time lest
thine eyes should ache, and thy senses swim, and therefore" (with a
little nod) "shall I presently veil myself again." (This by the way
she did not do.) "No: listen, thou shalt not be tried beyond
endurance, for this very evening, an hour before the sun goes down,
shall we start hence, and by to-morrow's dark, if all goes well, and
the road is not lost to me, which I pray it may not be, shall we stand
in the place of Life, and thou shalt bathe in the fire, and come forth
glorified, as no man ever was before thee, and then, Kallikrates,
shalt thou call me wife, and I will call thee husband."
Leo muttered something in answer to this astonishing statement, I do
not know what, and she laughed a little at his confusion, and went on.
"And thou, too, oh Holly; on thee also will I confer this boon, and
then of a truth shalt thou be evergreen, and this will I do--well,
because thou hast pleased me, Holly, for thou art not altogether a
fool, like most of the sons of men, and because, though thou hast a
school of philosophy as full of nonsense as those of the old days, yet
hast thou not forgotten how to turn a pretty phrase about a lady's
"Hulloa, old fellow!" whispered Leo, with a return of his old
cheerfulness, "have you been paying compliments? I should never have
thought it of you!"
"I thank thee, oh Ayesha," I replied, with as much dignity as I could
command, "but if there be such a place as thou dost describe, and if
in this strange place there may be found a fiery virtue that can hold
off Death when he comes to pluck us by the hand, yet would I none of
it. For me, oh Ayesha, the world has not proved so soft a nest that I
would lie in it for ever. A stony-hearted mother is our earth, and
stones are the bread she gives her children for their daily food.
Stones to eat and bitter water for their thirst, and stripes for
tender nurture. Who would endure this for many lives? Who would so
load up his back with memories of lost hours and loves, and of his
neighbour's sorrows that he cannot lessen, and wisdom that brings not
consolation? Hard is it to die, because our delicate flesh doth shrink
back from the worm it will not feel, and from that unknown which the
winding-sheet doth curtain from our view. But harder still, to my
fancy, would it be to live on, green in the leaf and fair, but dead
and rotten at the core, and feel that other secret worm of
recollection gnawing ever at the heart."
"Bethink thee, Holly," she said; "yet doth long life and strength and
beauty beyond measure mean power and all things that are dear to man."
"And what, oh Queen," I answered, "are those things that are dear to
man? Are they not bubbles? Is not ambition but an endless ladder by
which no height is ever climbed till the last unreachable rung is
mounted? For height leads on to height, and there is no resting-place
upon them, and rung doth grow upon rung, and there is no limit to the
number. Doth not wealth satiate, and become nauseous, and no longer
serve to satisfy or pleasure, or to buy an hour's peace of mind? And
is there any end to wisdom that we may hope to reach it? Rather, the
more we learn, shall we not thereby be able only to better compass out
our ignorance? Did we live ten thousand years could we hope to solve
the secrets of the suns, and of the space beyond the suns, and of the
Hand that hung them in the heavens? Would not our wisdom be but as a
gnawing hunger calling our consciousness day by day to a knowledge of
the empty craving of our souls? Would it not be but as a light in one
of these great caverns, that, though bright it burn, and brighter yet,
doth but the more serve to show the depths of the gloom around it? And
what good thing is there beyond that we may gain by length of days?"
"Nay, my Holly, there is love--love which makes all things beautiful,
and doth breathe divinity into the very dust we tread. With love shall
life roll gloriously on from year to year, like the voice of some
great music that hath power to hold the hearer's heart poised on
eagles' wings above the sordid shame and folly of the earth."
"It may be so," I answered; "but if the loved one prove a broken reed
to pierce us, or if the love be loved in vain--what then? Shall a man
grave his sorrows upon a stone when he hath but need to write them on
the water? Nay, oh /She/, I will live my day, and grow old with my
generation, and die my appointed death, and be forgotten. For I do
hope for an immortality to which the little span that perchance thou
canst confer will be but as a finger's length laid against the measure
of the great world; and, mark this! the immortality to which I look,
and which my faith doth promise me, shall be free from the bonds that
here must tie my spirit down. For, while the flesh endures, sorrow and
evil and the scorpion whips of sin must endure also; but when the
flesh hath fallen from us, then shall the spirit shine forth clad in
the brightness of eternal good, and for its common air shall breathe
so rare an ether of most noble thoughts that the highest aspiration of
our manhood, or the purest incense of a maiden's prayer, would prove
too earthly gross to float therein."
"Thou lookest high," answered Ayesha, with a little laugh, "and
speakest clearly as a trumpet and with no uncertain sound. And yet
methinks that but now didst thou talk of 'that Unknown' from which the
winding-sheet doth curtain us. But perchance, thou seest with the eye
of Faith, gazing on that brightness, that is to be, through the
painted-glass of thy imagination. Strange are the pictures of the
future that mankind can thus draw with this brush of faith and this
many-coloured pigment of imagination! Strange, too, that no one of
them doth agree with another! I could tell thee--but there, what is
the use? why rob a fool of his bauble? Let it pass, and I pray, oh
Holly, that when thou dost feel old age creeping slowly toward
thyself, and the confusion of senility making havoc in thy brain, thou
mayest not bitterly regret that thou didst cast away the imperial boon
I would have given to thee. But so it hath ever been; man can never be
content with that which his hand can pluck. If a lamp be in his reach
to light him through the darkness, he must needs cast it down because
it is no star. Happiness danceth ever apace before him, like the
marsh-fires in the swamps, and he must catch the fire, and he must
hold the star! Beauty is naught to him, because there are lips more
honey-sweet; and wealth is naught, because others can weigh him down
with heavier shekels; and fame is naught, because there have been
greater men than he. Thyself thou saidst it, and I turn thy words
against thee. Well, thou dreamest that thou shalt pluck the star. I
believe it not, and I think thee a fool, my Holly, to throw away the
I made no answer, for I could not--especially before Leo--tell her
that since I had seen her face I knew that it would always be before
my eyes, and that I had no wish to prolong an existence which must
always be haunted and tortured by her memory, and by the last
bitterness of unsatisfied love. But so it was, and so, alas, is it to
"And now," went on /She/, changing her tone and the subject together,
"tell me, my Kallikrates, for as yet I know it not, how came ye to
seek me here? Yesternight thou didst say that Kallikrates--him whom
thou sawest--was thine ancestor. How was it? Tell me--thou dost not
Thus adjured, Leo told her the wonderful story of the casket and of
the potsherd that, written on by his ancestress, the Egyptian
Amenartas, had been the means of guiding us to her. Ayesha listened
intently, and, when he had finished, spoke to me.
"Did I not tell thee one day, when we did talk of good and evil, oh
Holly--it was when my beloved lay so ill--that out of good came evil,
and out of evil good--that they who sowed knew not what the crop
should be, nor he who struck where the blow should fall? See, now:
this Egyptian Amenartas, this royal child of the Nile who hated me,
and whom even now I hate, for in a way she did prevail against me--
see, now, she herself hath been the very means to bring her lover to
mine arms! For her sake I slew him, and now, behold, through her he
hath comeback to me! She would have done me evil, and sowed her seeds
that I might reap tares, and behold she hath given me more than all
the world can give, and there is a strange square for thee to fit into
thy circle of good and evil, oh Holly!
"And so," she went on, after a pause--"and so she bade her son destroy
me if he might, because I slew his father. And thou, my Kallikrates,
art the father, and in a sense thou art likewise the son; and wouldst
thou avenge thy wrong, and the wrong of that far-off mother of thine,
upon me, oh Kallikrates? See," and she slid to her knees, and drew the
white corsage still farther down her ivory bosom--"see, here beats my
heart, and there by thy side is a knife, heavy, and long, and sharp,
the very knife to slay an erring woman with. Take it now, and be
avenged. Strike, and strike home!--so shalt thou be satisfied,
Kallikrates, and go through life a happy man, because thou hast paid
back the wrong, and obeyed the mandate of the past."
He looked at her, and then stretched out his hand and lifted her to
"Rise, Ayesha," he said sadly; "well thou knowest that I cannot strike
thee, no, not even for the sake of her whom thou slewest but last
night. I am in thy power, and a very slave to thee. How can I kill
thee?--sooner should I slay myself."
"Almost dost thou begin to love me, Kallikrates," she answered,
smiling. "And now tell me of thy country--'tis a great people, is it
not? with an empire like that of Rome! Surely thou wouldst return
thither, and it is well, for I mean not that thou shouldst dwell in
these caves of Kôr. Nay, when once thou art even as I am, we will go
hence--fear not but that I shall find a path--and then shall we
journey to this England of thine, and live as it becometh us to live.
Two thousand years have I waited for the day when I should see the
last of these hateful caves and this gloomy-visaged folk, and now it
is at hand, and my heart bounds up to meet it like a child's towards
its holiday. For thou shalt rule this England----"
"But we have a queen already," broke in Leo, hastily.
"It is naught, it is naught," said Ayesha; "she can be overthrown."
At this we both broke out into an exclamation of dismay, and explained
that we should as soon think of overthrowing ourselves.
"But here is a strange thing," said Ayesha, in astonishment; "a queen
whom her people love! Surely the world must have changed since I dwelt
Again we explained that it was the character of monarchs that had
changed, and that the one under whom we lived was venerated and
beloved by all right-thinking people in her vast realms. Also, we told
her that real power in our country rested in the hands of the people,
and that we were in fact ruled by the votes of the lower and least
educated classes of the community.
"Ah," she said, "a democracy--then surely there is a tyrant, for I
have long since seen that democracies, having no clear will of their
own, in the end set up a tyrant, and worship him."
"Yes," I said, "we have our tyrants."
"Well," she answered resignedly, "we can at any rate destroy these
tyrants, and Kallikrates shall rule the land."
I instantly informed Ayesha that in England "blasting" was not an
amusement that could be indulged in with impunity, and that any such
attempt would meet with the consideration of the law and probably end
upon a scaffold.
"The law," she laughed with scorn--"the law! Canst thou not
understand, oh Holly, that I am above the law, and so shall my
Kallikrates be also? All human law will be to us as the north wind to
a mountain. Does the wind bend the mountain, or the mountain the
"And now leave me, I pray thee, and thou too, my own Kallikrates, for
I would get me ready against our journey, and so must ye both, and
your servant also. But bring no great quantity of things with thee,
for I trust that we shall be but three days gone. Then shall we return
hither, and I will make a plan whereby we can bid farewell for ever to
these sepulchres of Kôr. Yea, surely thou mayst kiss my hand!"
So we went, I, for one, meditating deeply on the awful nature of the
problem that now opened out before us. The terrible /She/ had
evidently made up her mind to go to England, and it made me absolutely
shudder to think what would be the result of her arrival there. What
her powers were I knew, and I could not doubt but that she would
exercise them to the full. It might be possible to control her for a
while, but her proud, ambitious spirit would be certain to break loose
and avenge itself for the long centuries of its solitude. She would,
if necessary, and if the power of her beauty did not unaided prove
equal to the occasion, blast her way to any end she set before her,
and, as she could not die, and for aught I knew could not even be
killed,[*] what was there to stop her? In the end she would, I had
little doubt, assume absolute rule over the British dominions, and
probably over the whole earth, and, though I was sure that she would
speedily make ours the most glorious and prosperous empire that the
world has ever seen, it would be at the cost of a terrible sacrifice
[*] I regret to say that I was never able to ascertain if /She/ was
invulnerable against the ordinary accidents of life. Presumably
this was so, else some misadventure would have been sure to put an
end to her in the course of so many centuries. True, she offered
to let Leo slay her, but very probably this was only an experiment
to try his temper and mental attitude towards her. Ayesha never
gave way to impulse without some valid object.--L. H. H.
The whole thing sounded like a dream or some extraordinary invention
of a speculative brain, and yet it was a fact--a wonderful fact--of
which the whole world would soon be called on to take notice. What was
the meaning of it all? After much thinking I could only conclude that
this marvellous creature, whose passion had kept her for so many
centuries chained as it were, and comparatively harmless, was now
about to be used by Providence as a means to change the order of the
world, and possibly, by the building up of a power that could no more
be rebelled against or questioned than the decrees of Fate, to change
it materially for the better.
THE TEMPLE OF TRUTH
Our preparations did not take us very long. We put a change of
clothing apiece and some spare boots into my Gladstone bag, also we
took our revolvers and an express rifle each, together with a good
supply of ammunition, a precaution to which, under Providence, we
subsequently owed our lives over and over again. The rest of our gear,
together with our heavy rifles, we left behind us.
A few minutes before the appointed time we once more attended in
Ayesha's boudoir, and found her also ready, her dark cloak thrown over
her winding-sheetlike wrappings.
"Are ye prepared for the great venture?" she said.
"We are," I answered, "though for my part, Ayesha, I have no faith in
"Ah, my Holly," she said, "thou art of a truth like those old Jews--of
whom the memory vexes me so sorely--unbelieving, and hard to accept
that which they have not known. But thou shalt see; for unless my
mirror beyond lies," and she pointed to the font of crystal water,
"the path is yet open as it was of old time. And now let us start upon
the new life which shall end--who knoweth where?"
"Ah," I echoed, "who knoweth where?" and we passed down into the great
central cave, and out into the light of day. At the mouth of the cave
we found a single litter with six bearers, all of them mutes, waiting,
and with them I was relieved to see our old friend Billali, for whom I
had conceived a sort of affection. It appeared that, for reasons not
necessary to explain at length, Ayesha had thought it best that, with
the exception of herself, we should proceed on foot, and this we were
nothing loth to do, after our long confinement in these caves, which,
however suitable they might be for sarcophagi--a singularly
inappropriate word, by the way, for these particular tombs, which
certainly did not consume the bodies given to their keeping--were
depressing habitations for breathing mortals like ourselves. Either by
accident or by the orders of /She/, the space in front of the cave
where we had beheld that awful dance was perfectly clear of
spectators. Not a soul was to be seen, and consequently I do not
believe that our departure was known to anybody, except perhaps the
mutes who waited on /She/, and they were, of course, in the habit of
keeping what they saw to themselves.
In a few minutes' time we were stepping out sharply across the great
cultivated plain or lake bed, framed like a vast emerald in its
setting of frowning cliff, and had another opportunity of wondering at
the extraordinary nature of the site chosen by these old people of Kôr
for their capital, and at the marvellous amount of labour, ingenuity,
and engineering skill that must have been brought into requisition by
the founders of the city to drain so huge a sheet of water, and to
keep it clear of subsequent accumulations. It is, indeed, so far as my
experience goes, an unequalled instance of what man can do in the face
of nature, for in my opinion such achievements as the Suez Canal or
even the Mont Cenis Tunnel do not approach this ancient undertaking in
magnitude and grandeur of conception.
When we had been walking for about half an hour, enjoying ourselves
exceedingly in the delightful cool which about this time of the day
always appeared to descend upon the great plain of Kôr, and which in
some degree atoned for the want of any land or sea breeze--for all
wind was kept off by the rocky mountain wall--we began to get a clear
view of what Billali had informed us were the ruins of the great city.
And even from that distance we could see how wonderful those ruins
were, a fact which with every step we took became more evident. The
town was not very large if compared to Babylon or Thebes, or other
cities of remote antiquity; perhaps its outer wall contained some
twelve square miles of ground, or a little more. Nor had the walls, so
far as we could judge when we reached them, been very high, probably
not more than forty feet, which was about their present height where
they had not through the sinking of the ground, or some such cause,
fallen into ruin. The reason of this, no doubt, was that the people of
Kôr, being protected from any outside attack by far more tremendous
ramparts than any that the hand of man could rear, only required them
for show and to guard against civil discord. But on the other hand
they were as broad as they were high, built entirely of dressed stone,
hewn, no doubt, from the vast caves, and surrounded by a great moat
about sixty feet in width, some reaches of which were still filled
with water. About ten minutes before the sun finally sank we reached
this moat, and passed down and through it, clambering across what
evidently were the piled-up fragments of a great bridge in order to do
so, and then with some little difficulty over the slope of the wall to
its summit. I wish that it lay within the power of my pen to give some
idea of the grandeur of the sight that then met our view. There, all
bathed in the red glow of the sinking sun, were miles upon miles of
ruins--columns, temples, shrines, and the palaces of kings, varied
with patches of green bush. Of course, the roofs of these buildings
had long since fallen into decay and vanished, but owing to the
extreme massiveness of the style of building, and to the hardness and
durability of the rock employed, most of the party walls and great
columns still remained standing.[*]
[*] In connection with the extraordinary state of preservation of
these ruins after so vast a lapse of time--at least six thousand
years--it must be remembered that Kôr was not burnt or destroyed
by an enemy or an earthquake, but deserted, owing to the action of
a terrible plague. Consequently the houses were left unharmed;
also the climate of the plain is remarkably fine and dry, and
there is very little rain or wind; as a result of which these
relics have only to contend against the unaided action of time,
that works but slowly upon such massive blocks of masonry.
--L. H. H.
Straight before us stretched away what had evidently been the main
thoroughfare of the city, for it was very wide, wider than the Thames
Embankment, and regular, being, as we afterwards discovered, paved, or
rather built, throughout of blocks of dressed stone, such as were
employed in the walls, it was but little overgrown even now with grass
and shrubs that could get no depth of soil to live in. What had been
the parks and gardens, on the contrary, were now dense jungle. Indeed,
it was easy even from a distance to trace the course of the various
roads by the burnt-up appearance of the scanty grass that grew upon
them. On either side of this great thoroughfare were vast blocks of
ruins, each block, generally speaking, being separated from its
neighbour by a space of what had once, I suppose, been garden-ground,
but was now dense and tangled bush. They were all built of the same
coloured stone, and most of them had pillars, which was as much as we
could make out in the fading light as we passed swiftly up the main
road, that I believe I am right in saying no living foot had pressed
for thousands of years.[*]
[*] Billali told me that the Amahagger believe that the site of the
city is haunted, and could not be persuaded to enter it upon any
consideration. Indeed, I could see that he himself did not at all
like doing so, and was only consoled by the reflection that he was
under the direct protection of /She/. It struck Leo and myself as
very curious that a people which has no objection to living
amongst the dead, with whom their familiarity has perhaps bred
contempt, and even using their bodies for purposes of fuel, should
be terrified at approaching the habitations that these very
departed had occupied when alive. After all, however, it is only a
savage inconsistency.--L. H. H.
Presently we came to an enormous pile, which we rightly took to be a
temple covering at least eight acres of ground, and apparently
arranged in a series of courts, each one enclosing another of smaller
size, on the principle of a Chinese nest of boxes, the courts being
separated one from the other by rows of huge columns. And, while I
think of it, I may as well state a remarkable thing about the shape of
these columns, which resembled none that I have ever seen or heard of,
being fashioned with a kind of waist at the centre, and swelling out
above and below. At first we thought that this shape was meant to
roughly symbolise or suggest the female form, as was a common habit
amongst the ancient religious architects of many creeds. On the
following day, however, as we went up the slopes of the mountain, we
discovered a large quantity of the most stately looking palms, of
which the trucks grew exactly in this shape, and I have now no doubt
but that the first designer of those columns drew his inspiration from
the graceful bends of those very palms, or rather of their ancestors,
which then, some eight or ten thousand years ago, as now, beautified
the slopes of the mountain that had once formed the shores of the
At the /façade/ of this huge temple, which, I should imagine, is
almost as large as that of El-Karnac, at Thebes, some of the largest
columns, which I measured, being between eighteen to twenty feet in
diameter at the base, by about seventy feet in height, our little
procession was halted, and Ayesha descended from her litter.
"There was a spot here, Kallikrates," she said to Leo, who had run up
to help her down, "where one might sleep. Two thousand years ago did
thou and I and that Egyptian asp rest therein, but since then have I
not set foot here, nor any man, and perchance it has fallen," and,
followed by the rest of us, she passed up a vast flight of broken and
ruined steps into the outer court, and looked round into the gloom.
Presently she seemed to recollect, and, walking a few paces along the
wall to the left, halted.
"It is here," she said, and at the same time beckoned to the two
mutes, who were loaded with provisions and our little belongings, to
advance. One of them came forward, and, producing a lamp, lit it from
his brazier (for the Amahagger when on a journey nearly always carried
with them a little lighted brazier, from which to provide fire). The
tinder of this brazier was made of broken fragments of mummy carefully
damped, and, if the admixture of moisture was properly managed, this
unholy compound would smoulder away for hours.[*] As soon as the lamp
was lit we entered the place before which Ayesha had halted. It turned
out to be a chamber hollowed in the thickness of the wall, and, from
the fact of there still being a massive stone table in it, I should
think that it had probably served as a living-room, perhaps for one of
the door-keepers of the great temple.
[*] After all we are not much in advance of the Amahagger in these
matters. "Mummy," that is pounded ancient Egyptian, is, I believe,
a pigment much used by artists, and especially by those of them
who direct their talents to the reproduction of the works of the
Here we stopped, and after cleaning the place out and making it as
comfortable as circumstances and the darkness would permit, we ate
some cold meat, at least Leo, Job and I did, for Ayesha, as I think I
have said elsewhere, never touched anything except cakes of flour,
fruit and water. While we were still eating, the moon, which was at
her full, rose above the mountain-wall, and began to flood the place
"Wot ye why I have brought you here to-night, my Holly?" said Ayesha,
leaning her head upon her hand and watching the great orb as she rose,
like some heavenly queen, above the solemn pillars of the temple. "I
brought you--nay, it is strange, but knowest thou, Kallikrates, that
thou liest at this moment upon the very spot where thy dead body lay
when I bore thee back to those caves of Kôr so many years ago? It all
returns to my mind now. I can see it, and horrible is it to my sight!"
and she shuddered.
Here Leo jumped up and hastily changed his seat. However the
reminiscence might affect Ayesha, it clearly had few charms for him.
"I brought you," went on Ayesha presently, "that ye might look upon
the most wonderful sight that ever the eye of man beheld--the full
moon shining over ruined Kôr. When ye have done your eating--I would
that I could teach you to eat naught but fruit, Kallikrates, but that
will come after thou hast laved in the fire. Once I, too, ate flesh
like a brute beast. When ye have done we will go out, and I will show
you this great temple and the God whom men once worshipped therein."
Of course we got up at once, and started. And here again my pen fails
me. To give a string of measurements and details of the various courts
of the temple would only be wearisome, supposing that I had them, and
yet I know not how I am to describe what we saw, magnificent as it was
even in its ruin, almost beyond the power of realisation. Court upon
dim court, row upon row of mighty pillars--some of them (especially at
the gateways) sculptured from pedestal to capital--space upon space of
empty chambers that spoke more eloquently to the imagination than any
crowded streets. And over all, the dead silence of the dead, the sense
of utter loneliness, and the brooding spirit of the Past! How
beautiful it was, and yet how drear! We did not dare to speak aloud.
Ayesha herself was awed in the presence of an antiquity compared to
which even her length of days was but a little thing; we only
whispered, and our whispers seemed to run from column to column, till
they were lost in the quiet air. Bright fell the moonlight on pillar
and court and shattered wall, hiding all their rents and imperfections
in its silver garment, and clothing their hoar majesty with the
peculiar glory of the night. It was a wonderful sight to see the full
moon looking down on the ruined fane of Kôr. It was a wonderful thing
to think for how many thousands of years the dead orb above and the
dead city below had gazed thus upon each other, and in the utter
solitude of space poured forth each to each the tale of their lost
life and long-departed glory. The white light fell, and minute by
minute the quiet shadows crept across the grass-grown courts like the
spirits of old priests haunting the habitations of their worship--the
white light fell, and the long shadows grew till the beauty and
grandeur of each scene and the untamed majesty of its present Death
seemed to sink into our very souls, and speak more loudly than the
shouts of armies concerning the pomp and splendour that the grave had
swallowed, and even memory had forgotten.
"Come," said Ayesha, after we had gazed and gazed, I know not for how
long, "and I will show you the stony flower of Loveliness and Wonder's
very crown, if yet it stands to mock time with its beauty and fill the
heart of man with longing for that which is behind the veil," and,
without waiting for an answer, she led us through two more pillared
courts into the inner shrine of the old fane.
And there, in the centre of the inmost court, that might have been
some fifty yards square, or a little more, we stood face to face with
what is perhaps the grandest allegorical work of Art that the genius
of her children has ever given to the world. For in the exact centre
of the court, placed upon a thick square slab of rock, was a huge
round ball of dark stone, some twenty feet in diameter, and standing
on the ball was a colossal winged figure of a beauty so entrancing
and divine that when I first gazed upon it, illuminated and shadowed
as it was by the soft light of the moon, my breath stood still, and
for an instant my heart ceased its beating.
The statue was hewn from marble so pure and white that even now, after
all those ages, it shone as the moonbeams danced upon it, and its
height was, I should say, a trifle over twenty feet. It was the winged
figure of a woman of such marvellous loveliness and delicacy of form
that the size seemed rather to add to than to detract from its so
human and yet more spiritual beauty. She was bending forward and
poising herself upon her half-spread wings as though to preserve her
balance as she leant. Her arms were outstretched like those of some
woman about to embrace one she dearly loved, while her whole attitude
gave an impression of the tenderest beseeching. Her perfect and most
gracious form was naked, save--and here came the extraordinary thing--
the face, which was thinly veiled, so that we could only trace the
marking of her features. A gauzy veil was thrown round and about the
head, and of its two ends one fell down across her left breast, which
was outlined beneath it, and one, now broken, streamed away upon the
air behind her.
"Who is she?" I asked, as soon as I could take my eyes off the statue.
"Canst thou not guess, oh Holly?" answered Ayesha. "Where then is thy
imagination? It is Truth standing on the World, and calling to its
children to unveil her face. See what is writ upon the pedestal.
Without doubt it is taken from the book of Scriptures of these men of
Kôr," and she led the way to the foot of the statue, where an
inscription of the usual Chinese-looking hieroglyphics was so deeply
graven as to be still quite legible, at least to Ayesha. According to
her translation it ran thus:--
"Is there no man that will draw my veil and look upon my face, for
it is very fair? Unto him who draws my veil shall I be, and peace
will I give him, and sweet children of knowledge and good works."
And a voice cried, "Though all those who seek after thee desire
thee, behold! Virgin art thou, and Virgin shalt thou go till Time
be done. No man is there born of woman who may draw thy veil and
live, nor shall be. By Death only can thy veil be drawn, oh
And Truth stretched out her arms and wept, because those who
sought her might not find her, nor look upon her face to face.
"Thou seest," said Ayesha, when she had finished translating, "Truth
was the Goddess of the people of old Kôr, and to her they built their
shrines, and her they sought; knowing that they should never find,
still sought they."
"And so," I added sadly, "do men seek to this very hour, but they find
out; and, as this Scripture saith, nor shall they; for in Death only
is Truth found."
Then with one more look at this veiled and spiritualised loveliness--
which was so perfect and so pure that one might almost fancy that the
light of a living spirit shone through the marble prison to lead man
on to high and ethereal thoughts--this poet's dream of beauty frozen
into stone, which I shall never forget while I live, we turned and
went back through the vast moonlit courts to the spot whence we had
started. I never saw the statue again, which I the more regret,
because on the great ball of stone representing the World whereon the
figure stood, lines were drawn, that probably, had there been light
enough, we should have discovered to be a map of the Universe as it
was known to the people of Kôr. It is at any rate suggestive of some
scientific knowledge that these long-dead worshippers of Truth had
recognised the fact that the globe is round.
WALKING THE PLANK
Next day the mutes woke us before the dawn; and by the time that we
had got the sleep out of our eyes, and gone through a perfunctory wash
at a spring which still welled up into the remains of a marble basin
in the centre of the North quadrangle of the vast outer court, we
found /She/ standing by the litter ready to start, while old Billali
and the two bearer mutes were busy collecting the baggage. As usual,
Ayesha was veiled like the marble Truth (by the way, I wonder if she
originally got the idea of covering up her beauty from that statue?).
I noticed, however, that she seemed very depressed, and had none of
that proud and buoyant bearing which would have betrayed her among a
thousand women of the same stature, even if they had been veiled like
herself. She looked up as we came--for her head was bowed--and greeted
us. Leo asked her how she had slept.
"Ill, my Kallikrates," she answered, "ill. This night have strange and
hideous dreams come creeping through my brain, and I know not what
they may portend. Almost do I feel as though some evil overshadowed
me; and yet how can evil touch me? I wonder," she went on with a
sudden outbreak of womanly tenderness, "I wonder if, should aught
happen to me, so that I slept awhile and left thee waking, thou
wouldst think gently of me? I wonder, my Kallikrates, if thou wouldst
tarry till I came again, as for so many centuries I have tarried for
Then, without waiting for an answer, she went on: "Come, let us be
setting forth, for we have far to go, and before another day is born
in yonder blue should we stand in the place of Life."
In five minutes we were once more on our way through the vast ruined
city, which loomed at us on either side in the grey dawning in a way
that was at once grand and oppressive. Just as the first ray of the
rising sun shot like a golden arrow athwart this storied desolation we
gained the further gateway of the outer wall, and having given one
more glance at the hoar and pillared majesty through which we had
journeyed, and (with the exception of Job, for whom ruins had no
charms) breathed a sigh of regret that we had not had more time to
explore it, passed through the great moat, and on to the plain beyond.
As the sun rose so did Ayesha's spirits, till by breakfast-time they
had regained their normal level, and she laughingly set down her
previous depression to the associations of the spot where she had
"These barbarians swear that Kôr is haunted," she said, "and of a
truth I do believe their saying, for never did I know so ill a night
save one. I remember it now. It was on that very spot when thou didst
lie dead at my feet, Kallikrates. Never will I visit it again; it is a
place of evil omen."
After a very brief halt for breakfast we pressed on with such good
will that by two o'clock in the afternoon we were at the foot of the
vast wall of rock that formed the lip of the volcano, and which at
this point towered up precipitously above us for fifteen hundred or
two thousand feet. Here we halted, certainly not to my astonishment,
for I did not see how it was possible that we should go any farther.
"Now," said Ayesha, as she descended from her litter, "doth our labour
but commence, for here do we part with these men, and henceforward
must we bear ourselves;" and then, addressing Billali, "do thou and
these slaves remain here, and abide our coming. By to-morrow at the
midday shall we be with thee--if not, wait."
Billali bowed humbly, and said that her august bidding should be
obeyed if they stopped there till they grew old.
"And this man, oh Holly," said /She/, pointing to Job; "best is it
that he should tarry also, for if his heart be not high and his
courage great, perchance some evil might overtake him. Also, the
secrets of the place whither we go are not fit for common eyes."
I translated this to Job, who instantly and earnestly entreated me,
almost with tears in his eyes, not to leave him behind. He said he was
sure that he could see nothing worse than he had already seen, and
that he was terrified to death at the idea of being left alone with
those "dumb folk," who, he thought, would probably take the
opportunity to hot-pot him.
I translated what he said to Ayesha, who shrugged her shoulders, and
answered, "Well, let him come, it is naught to me; on his own head be
it, and he will serve to bear the lamp and this," and she pointed to a
narrow plank, some sixteen feet in length, which had been bound above
the long bearing-pole of her hammock, as I had thought to make
curtains spread out better, but, as it now appeared, for some unknown
purpose connected with our extraordinary undertaking.
Accordingly, the plank, which, though tough, was very light, was given
to Job to carry, and also one of the lamps. I slung the other on to my
back, together with a spare jar of oil, while Leo loaded himself with
the provisions and some water in a kid's skin. When this was done
/She/ bade Billali and the six bearer mutes to retreat behind a grove
of flowering magnolias about a hundred yards away, and remain there
under pain of death till we had vanished. They bowed humbly, and went,
and, as he departed, old Billali gave me a friendly shake of the hand,
and whispered that he had rather that it was I than he who was going
on this wonderful expedition with "/She-who-must-be-obeyed/," and upon
my word I felt inclined to agree with him. In another minute they were
gone, and then, having briefly asked us if we were ready, Ayesha
turned, and gazed up the towering cliff.
"Goodness me, Leo," I said, "surely we are not going to climb that
Leo shrugged his shoulders, being in a condition of half-fascinated,
half-expectant mystification, and as he did so, Ayesha with a sudden
move began to climb the cliff, and of course we had to follow her. It
was perfectly marvellous to see the ease and grace with which she
sprang from rock to rock, and swung herself along the ledges. The
ascent was not, however, so difficult as it seemed, although there
were one or two nasty places where it did not do to look behind you,
the fact being that the rock still sloped here, and was not absolutely
precipitous as it was higher up. In this way we, with no great labour,
mounted to the height of some fifty feet above our last standing-
place, the only really troublesome thing to manage being Job's board,
and in doing so drew some fifty or sixty paces to the left of our
starting-point, for we went up like a crab, sideways. Presently we
reached a ledge, narrow enough at first, but which widened as we
followed it, and moreover sloped inwards like the petal of a flower,
so that as we followed it we gradually got into a kind of rut or fold
of rock, that grew deeper and deeper, till at last it resembled a
Devonshire lane in stone, and hid us perfectly from the gaze of
anybody on the slope below, if there had been anybody to gaze. This
lane (which appeared to be a natural formation) continued for some
fifty or sixty paces, and then suddenly ended in a cave, also natural,
running at right angles to it. I am sure it was a natural cave, and
not hollowed by the hand of man, because of its irregular and
contorted shape and course, which gave it the appearance of having
been blown bodily in the mountain by some frightful eruption of gas
following the line of the least resistance. All the caves hollowed by
the ancients of Kôr, on the contrary, were cut out with the most
perfect regularity and symmetry. At the mouth of this cave Ayesha
halted, and bade us light the two lamps, which I did, giving one to
her and keeping the other myself. Then, taking the lead, she advanced
down the cavern, picking her way with great care, as indeed it was
necessary to do, for the floor was most irregular--strewn with
boulders like the bed of a stream, and in some places pitted with deep
holes, in which it would have been easy to break one's leg.
This cavern we pursued for twenty minutes or more, it being, so far as
I could form a judgment--owing to its numerous twists and turns no
easy task--about a quarter of a mile long.
At last, however, we halted at its farther end, and whilst I was still
trying to pierce the gloom a great gust of air came tearing down it,
and extinguished both the lamps.
Ayesha called to us, and we crept up to her, for she was a little in
front, and were rewarded with a view that was positively appalling in
its gloom and grandeur. Before us was a mighty chasm in the black
rock, jagged and torn and splintered through it in a far past age by
some awful convulsion of Nature, as though it had been cleft by stroke
upon stroke of the lightning. This chasm, which was bounded by a
precipice on the hither, and presumably, though we could not see it,
on the farther side also, may have measured any width across, but from
its darkness I do not think it can have been very broad. It was
impossible to make out much of its outline, or how far it ran, for the
simple reason that the point where we were standing was so far from
the upper surface of the cliff, at least fifteen hundred or two
thousand feet, that only a very dim light struggled down to us from
above. The mouth of the cavern that we had been following gave on to a
most curious and tremendous spur of rock, which jutted out in mid air
into the gulf before us, for a distance of some fifty yards, coming to
a sharp point at its termination, and resembling nothing that I can
think of so much as the spur upon the leg of a cock in shape. This
huge spur was attached only to the parent precipice at its base, which
was, of course, enormous, just as the cock's spur is attached to its
leg. Otherwise it was utterly unsupported.
"Here must we pass," said Ayesha. "Be careful lest giddiness overcome
you, or the wind sweep you into the gulf beneath, for of a truth it
hath no bottom;" and, without giving us any further time to get
scared, she started walking along the spur, leaving us to follow her
as best we might. I was next to her, then came Job, painfully dragging
his plank, while Leo brought up the rear. It was a wonderful sight to
see this intrepid woman gliding fearlessly along that dreadful place.
For my part, when I had gone but a very few yards, what between the
pressure of the air and the awful sense of the consequences that a
slip would entail, I found it necessary to go down on my hands and
knees and crawl, and so did the other two.
But Ayesha never condescended to this. On she went, leaning her body
against the gusts of wind, and never seeming to lose her head or her
In a few minutes we had crossed some twenty paces of this awful
bridge, which got narrower at every step, and then all of a sudden a
great gust came tearing along the gorge. I saw Ayesha lean herself
against it, but the strong draught got under her dark cloak, and tore
it from her, and away it went down the wind flapping like a wounded
bird. It was dreadful to see it go, till it was lost in the blackness.
I clung to the saddle of rock, and looked round, while, like a living
thing, the great spur vibrated with a humming sound beneath us. The
sight was a truly awesome one. There we were poised in the gloom
between earth and heaven. Beneath us were hundreds upon hundreds of
feet of emptiness that gradually grew darker, till at last it was
absolutely black, and at what depth it ended is more than I can guess.
Above was space upon space of giddy air, and far, far away a line of
blue sky. And down this vast gulf upon which we were pinnacled the
great draught dashed and roared, driving clouds and misty wreaths of
vapour before it, till we were nearly blinded, and utterly confused.
The whole position was so tremendous and so absolutely unearthly, that
I believe it actually lulled our sense of terror, but to this hour I
often see it in my dreams, and at its mere phantasy wake up covered
with cold sweat.
"On! on!" cried the white form before us, for now the cloak had gone,
/She/ was robed in white, and looked more like a spirit riding down
the gale than a woman; "On, or ye will fall and be dashed to pieces.
Keep your eyes fixed upon the ground, and closely hug the rock."
We obeyed her, and crept painfully along the quivering path, against
which the wind shrieked and wailed as it shook it, causing it to
murmur like a vast tuning-fork. On we went, I do not know for how
long, only gazing round now and again, when it was absolutely
necessary, until at last we saw that we were on the very tip of the
spur, a slab of rock, little larger than an ordinary table, that
throbbed and jumped like any over-engined steamer. There we lay,
clinging to the ground, and looked about us, while Ayesha stood
leaning out against the wind, down which her long hair streamed, and,
absolutely heedless of the hideous depth that yawned beneath, pointed
before her. Then we saw why the narrow plank had been provided, which
Job and I had painfully dragged along between us. Before us was an
empty space, on the other side of which was something, as yet we could
not see what, for here--either owing to the shadow of the opposite
cliff, or from some other cause--the gloom was that of night.
"We must wait awhile," called Ayesha; "soon there will be light."
At the moment I could not imagine what she meant. How could more light
than there was ever come to this dreadful spot? While I was still
wondering, suddenly, like a great sword of flame, a beam from the
setting sun pierced the Stygian gloom, and smote upon the point of
rock whereon we lay, illumining Ayesha's lovely form with an unearthly
splendour. I only wish I could describe the wild and marvellous beauty
of that sword of fire, laid across the darkness and rushing mist-
wreaths of the gulf. How it got there I do not to this moment know,
but I presume that there was some cleft or hole in the opposing cliff,
through which it pierced when the setting orb was in a direct line
therewith. All I can say is, that the effect was the most wonderful
that I ever saw. Right through the heart of the darkness that flaming
sword was stabbed, and where it lay there was the most surpassingly
vivid light, so vivid that even at a distance we could see the grain
of the rock, while, outside of it--yes, within a few inches of its
keen edge--was naught but clustering shadows.
And now, by this ray of light, for which /She/ had been waiting, and
timed our arrival to meet, knowing that at this season for thousands
of years it had always struck thus at sunset, we saw what was before
us. Within eleven or twelve feet of the very tip of the tongue-like
rock whereon we stood there arose, presumably from the far bottom of
the gulf, a sugarloaf-shaped cone, of which the summit was exactly
opposite to us. But had there been a summit only it would not have
helped us much, for the nearest point of its circumference was some
forty feet from where we were. On the lip of this summit, however,
which was circular and hollow, rested a tremendous flat boulder,
something like a glacier stone--perhaps it was one, for all I know to
the contrary--and the end of this boulder approached to within twelve
feet or so of us. This huge rock was nothing more or less than a
gigantic rocking-stone, accurately balanced upon the edge of the cone
or miniature crater, like a half-crown on the rim of a wine-glass;
for, in the fierce light that played upon it and us, we could see it
oscillating in the gusts of wind.
"Quick!" said Ayesha; "the plank--we must cross while the light
endures; presently it will be gone."
"Oh, Lord, sir!" groaned Job, "surely she don't mean us to walk across
that there place on that there thing," as in obedience to my direction
he pushed the long board towards me.
"That's it, Job," I halloaed in ghastly merriment, though the idea of
walking the plank was no pleasanter to me than to him.
I pushed the board on to Ayesha, who deftly ran it across the gulf so
that one end of it rested on the rocking-stone, the other remaining on
the extremity of the trembling spur. Then placing her foot upon it to
prevent it from being blown away, she turned to me.
"Since I was last here, oh Holly," she called, "the support of the
moving stone hath lessened somewhat, so that I am not certain if it
will bear our weight or no. Therefore will I cross the first, because
no harm will come unto me," and, without further ado, she trod lightly
but firmly across the frail bridge, and in another second was standing
safe upon the heaving stone.
"It is safe," she called. "See, hold thou the plank! I will stand on
the farther side of the stone so that it may not overbalance with your
greater weights. Now, come, oh Holly, for presently the light will
I struggled to my knees, and if ever I felt terrified in my life it
was then, and I am not ashamed to say that I hesitated and hung back.
"Surely thou art not afraid," this strange creature called in a lull
of the gale, from where she stood poised like a bird on the highest
point of the rocking-stone. "Make way then for Kallikrates."
This settled me; it is better to fall down a precipice and die than be
laughed at by such a woman; so I clenched my teeth, and in another
instant I was on that horrible, narrow, bending plank, with bottomless
space beneath and around me. I have always hated a great height, but
never before did I realise the full horrors of which such a position
is capable. Oh, the sickening sensation of that yielding board resting
on the two moving supports. I grew dizzy, and thought that I must
fall; my spine /crept/; it seemed to me that I was falling, and my
delight at finding myself sprawling upon that stone, which rose and
fell beneath me like a boat in a swell, cannot be expressed in words.
All I know is that briefly, but earnestly enough, I thanked Providence
for preserving me so far.
Then came Leo's turn, and though he looked rather queer, he came
across like a rope-dancer. Ayesha stretched out her hand to clasp his
own, and I heard her say, "Bravely done, my love--bravely done! The
old Greek spirit lives in thee yet!"
And now only poor Job remained on the farther side of the gulf. He
crept up to the plank, and yelled out, "I can't do it, sir. I shall
fall into that beastly place."
"You must," I remember saying with inappropriate facetiousness--"you
must, Job, it's as easy as catching flies." I suppose that I must have
said it to satisfy my conscience, because although the expression
conveys a wonderful idea of facility, as a matter of fact I know no
more difficult operation in the whole world than catching flies--that
is, in warm weather, unless, indeed, it is catching mosquitoes.
"I can't, sir--I can't, indeed."
"Let the man come, or let him stop and perish there. See, the light is
dying! In a moment it will be gone!" said Ayesha.
I looked. She was right. The sun was passing below the level of the
hole or cleft in the precipice through which the ray reached us.
"If you stop there, Job, you will die alone," I called; "the light is
"Come, be a man, Job," roared Leo; "it's quite easy."
Thus adjured, the miserable Job, with a most awful yell, precipitated
himself face downwards on the plank--he did not dare, small blame to
him, to try to walk it, and commenced to draw himself across in little
jerks, his poor legs hanging down on either side into the nothingness
His violent jerks at the frail board made the great stone, which was
only balanced on a few inches of rock, oscillate in a most dreadful
manner, and, to make matters worse, when he was half-way across the
flying ray of lurid light suddenly went out, just as though a lamp had
been extinguished in a curtained room, leaving the whole howling
wilderness of air black with darkness.
"Come on, Job, for God's sake!" I shouted in an agony of fear, while
the stone, gathering motion with every swing, rocked so violently that
it was difficult to hang on to it. It was a truly awful position.
"Lord have mercy on me!" cried poor Job from the darkness. "Oh, the
plank's slipping!" and I heard a violent struggle, and thought that he
But at that moment his outstretched hand, clasping in agony at the
air, met my own, and I hauled--ah, how I did haul, putting out all the
strength that it has pleased Providence to give me in such abundance--
and to my joy in another minute Job was gasping on the rock beside me.
But the plank! I felt it slip, and heard it knock against a projecting
knob of rock, and it was gone.
"Great heavens!" I exclaimed. "How are we going to get back?"
"I don't know," answered Leo, out of the gloom. "'Sufficient to the
day is the evil thereof,' I am thankful enough to be here."
But Ayesha merely called to me to take her hand and creep after her.
THE SPIRIT OF LIFE
I did as I was bid, and in fear and trembling felt myself guided over
the edge of the stone. I sprawled my legs out, but could touch
"I am going to fall!" I gasped.
"Nay, let thyself go, and trust to me," answered Ayesha.
Now, if the position is considered, it will be easily understood that
this was a greater demand upon my confidence than was justified by my
knowledge of Ayesha's character. For all I knew she might be in the
very act of consigning me to a horrible doom. But in life we sometimes
have to lay our faith upon strange altars, and so it was now.
"Let thyself go!" she cried, and, having no choice, I did.
I felt myself slide a pace or two down the sloping surface of the
rock, and then pass into the air, and the thought flashed through my
brain that I was lost. But no! In another instant my feet struck
against a rocky floor, and I felt that I was standing upon something
solid, and out of reach of the wind, which I could hear singing away
overhead. As I stood there thanking Heaven for these small mercies,
there was a slip and a scuffle, and down came Leo alongside of me.
"Hulloa, old fellow!" he called out, "are you there? This is getting
interesting, is it not?"
Just then, with a terrific yell, Job arrived right on the top of us,
knocking us both down. By the time we had struggled to our feet again
Ayesha was standing among us, and bidding us light the lamps, which
fortunately remained uninjured, as also did the spare jar of oil.
I got out my box of wax matches, and they struck as merrily, there, in
that awful place, as they could have done in a London drawing-room.
In a couple of minutes both the lamps were alight and revealed a
curious scene. We were huddled together in a rocky chamber, some ten
feet square, and scared enough we looked; that is, except Ayesha, who
was standing calmly with her arms folded, and waiting for the lamps to
burn up. The chamber appeared to be partly natural, and partly
hollowed out of the top of the cone. The roof of the natural part was
formed of the swinging stone, and that of the back part of the
chamber, which sloped downwards, was hewn from the live rock. For the
rest, the place was warm and dry--a perfect haven of rest compared to
the giddy pinnacle above, and the quivering spur that shot out to meet
it in mid-air.
"So!" said /She/, "safely have we come, though once I feared that the
rocking stone would fall with you, and precipitate you into the
bottomless depths beneath, for I do believe that the cleft goeth down
to the very womb of the world. The rock whereon the stone resteth hath
crumbled beneath the swinging weight. And now that he," nodding
towards Job, who was sitting on the floor, feebly wiping his forehead
with a red cotton pocket-handkerchief, "whom they rightly call the
'Pig,' for as a pig is he stupid, hath let fall the plank, it will not
be easy to return across the gulf, and to that end must I make a plan.
But now rest a while, and look upon this place. What think ye that it
"We know not," I answered.
"Wouldst thou believe, oh Holly, that once a man did choose this airy
nest for a daily habitation, and did here endure for many years;
leaving it only but one day in every twelve to seek food and water and
oil that the people brought, more than he could carry, and laid as an
offering in the mouth of the tunnel through which we passed hither?"
We looked up wonderingly, and she continued--
"Yet so it was. There was a man--Noot, he named himself--who, though
he lived in the latter days, had of the wisdom of the sons of Kôr. A
hermit was he, and a philosopher, and greatly skilled in the secrets
of Nature, and he it was who discovered the Fire that I shall show
you, which is Nature's blood and life, and also that he who bathed
therein, and breathed thereof, should live while Nature lives. But
like unto thee, oh Holly, this man, Noot, would not turn his knowledge
to account. 'Ill,' he said, 'was it for man to live, for man was born
to die.' Therefore did he tell his secret to none, and therefore did
he come and live here, where the seeker after Life must pass, and was
revered of the Amahagger of the day as holy, and a hermit. And when
first I came to this country--knowest thou how I came, Kallikrates?
Another time I will tell thee, for it is a strange tale--I heard of
this philosopher, and waited for him when he came to fetch his food,
and returned with him hither, though greatly did I fear to tread the
gulf. Then did I beguile him with my beauty and my wit, and flatter
him with my tongue, so that he led me down and showed me the Fire, and
told me the secrets of the Fire, but he would not suffer me to step
therein, and, fearing lest he should slay me, I refrained, knowing
that the man was very old, and soon would die. And I returned, having
learned from him all that he knew of the wonderful Spirit of the
World, and that was much, for the man was wise and very ancient, and
by purity and abstinence, and the contemplations of his innocent mind,
had worn thin the veil between that which we see and the great
invisible truths, the whisper of whose wings at times we hear as they
sweep through the gross air of the world. Then--it was but a very few
days after, I met thee, my Kallikrates, who hadst wandered hither with
the beautiful Egyptian Amenartas, and I learned to love for the first
and last time, once and for ever, so that it entered into my mind to
come hither with thee, and receive the gift of Life for thee and me.
Therefore came we, with that Egyptian who would not be left behind,
and, behold, we found the old man Noot lying but newly dead. /There/
he lay, and his white beard covered him like a garment," and she
pointed to a spot near where I was sitting; "but surely he hath long
since crumbled into dust, and the wind hath borne his ashes hence."
Here I put out my hand and felt in the dust, and presently my fingers
touched something. It was a human tooth, very yellow, but sound. I
held it up and showed it to Ayesha, who laughed.
"Yes," she said, "it is his without a doubt. Behold what remaineth of
Noot, and the wisdom of Noot--one little tooth! And yet that man had
all life at his command, and for his conscience' sake would have none
of it. Well, he lay there newly dead, and we descended whither I shall
lead you, and then, gathering up all my courage, and courting death
that I might perchance win so glorious a crown of life, I stepped into
the flames, and behold! life such as ye can never know until ye feel
it also, flowed into me, and I came forth undying, and lovely beyond
imagining. Then did I stretch out mine arms to thee, Kallikrates, and
bid thee take thine immortal bride, and behold, as I spoke, thou,
blinded by my beauty, didst turn from me, and throw thine arms about
the neck of Amenartas. And then a great fury filled me, and made me
mad, and I seized the javelin that thou didst bear, and stabbed thee,
so that there, at my very feet, in the place of Life, thou didst groan
and go down into death. I knew not then that I had strength to slay
with mine eyes and by the power of my will, therefore in my madness
slew I with the javelin.[*]
[*] It will be observed that Ayesha's account of the death of
Kallikrates differs materially from that written on the potsherd
by Amenartas. The writing on the sherd says, "Then in her rage did
she smite him /by her magic/, and he died." We never ascertained
which was the correct version, but it will be remembered that the
body of Kallikrates had a spear-wound in the breast, which seems
conclusive, unless, indeed, it was inflicted after death. Another
thing that we never ascertained was /how/ the two women--/She/
and the Egyptian Amenartas--were able to bear the corpse of the
man they both loved across the dread gulf and along the shaking
spur. What a spectacle the two distracted creatures must have
presented in their grief and loveliness as they toiled along that
awful place with the dead man between them! Probably however the
passage was easier then.--L. H. H.
"And when thou wast dead, ah! I wept, because I was undying and thou
wast dead. I wept there in the place of Life so that had I been mortal
any more my heart had surely broken. And she, the swart Egyptian--she
cursed me by her gods. By Osiris did she curse me and by Isis, by
Nephthys and by Anubis, by Sekhet, the cat-headed, and by Set, calling
down evil on me, evil and everlasting desolation. Ah! I can see her
dark face now lowering o'er me like a storm, but she could not hurt
me, and I--I know not if I could hurt her. I did not try; it was
naught to me then; so together we bore thee hence. And afterwards I
sent her--the Egyptian--away through the swamps, and it seems that she
lived to bear a son and to write the tale that should lead thee, her
husband, back to me, her rival and thy murderess.
"Such is the tale, my love, and now is the hour at hand that shall set
a crown upon it. Like all things on the earth, it is compounded of
evil and of good--more of evil than of good, perchance; and writ in
letters of blood. It is the truth; naught have I hidden from thee,
Kallikrates. And now one thing before the final moment of thy trial.
We go down into the presence of Death, for Life and Death are very
near together, and--who knoweth?--that might happen which should
separate us for another space of waiting. I am but a woman, and no
prophetess, and I cannot read the future. But this I know--for I
learned it from the lips of the wise man Noot--that my life is but
prolonged and made more bright. It cannot live for aye. Therefore,
before we go, tell me, oh Kallikrates, that of a truth thou dost
forgive me, and dost love me from thy heart. See, Kallikrates: much
evil have I done--perchance it was evil but two nights ago to strike
that girl who loved thee cold in death--but she disobeyed me and
angered me, prophesying misfortune to me, and I smote. Be careful when
power comes to thee also, lest thou too shouldst smite in thine anger
or thy jealousy, for unconquerable strength is a sore weapon in the
hands of erring man. Yea, I have sinned--out of the bitterness born of
a great love have I sinned--but yet do I know the good from the evil,
nor is my heart altogether hardened. Thy love, Kallikrates, shall be
the gate of my redemption, even as aforetime my passion was the path
down which I ran to evil. For deep love unsatisfied is the hell of
noble hearts and a portion of the accursed, but love that is mirrored
back more perfect from the soul of our desired doth fashion wings to
lift us above ourselves, and makes us what we might be. Therefore,
Kallikrates, take me by the hand, and lift my veil with no more fear
than though I were some peasant girl, and not the wisest and most
beauteous woman in this wide world, and look me in the eyes, and tell
me that thou dost forgive me with all thine heart, and that will all
thine heart thou dost worship me."
She paused, and the strange tenderness in her voice seemed to hover
round us like a memory. I know that the sound of it moved me more even
than her words, it was so very human--so very womanly. Leo, too, was
strangely touched. Hitherto he had been fascinated against his better
judgment, something as a bird is fascinated by a snake, but now I
think that all this passed away, and he realised that he really loved
this strange and glorious creature, as, alas! I loved her also. At any
rate, I saw his eyes fill with tears, and he stepped swiftly to her
and undid the gauzy veil, and then took her by the hand, and, gazing
into her deep eyes, said aloud--
"Ayesha, I love thee with all my heart, and so far as forgiveness is
possible I forgive thee the death of Ustane. For the rest, it is
between thee and thy Maker; I know naught of it. I only know that I
love thee as I never loved before, and that I will cleave to thee to
"Now," answered Ayesha, with proud humility--"now when my lord doth
speak thus royally and give with so free a hand, it cannot become me
to lag behind in words, and be beggared of my generosity. Behold!" and
she took his hand and placed it upon her shapely head, and then bent
herself slowly down till one knee for an instant touched the ground--
"Behold! in token of submission do I bow me to my lord! Behold!" and
she kissed him on the lips, "in token of my wifely love do I kiss my
lord. Behold!" and she laid her hand upon his heart, "by the sin I
sinned, by my lonely centuries of waiting wherewith it was wiped out,
by the great love wherewith I love, and by the Spirit--the Eternal
Thing that doth beget all life, from whom it ebbs, to whom it doth
return again--I swear:--
"I swear, even in this most holy hour of completed Womanhood, that I
will abandon Evil and cherish Good. I swear that I will be ever guided
by thy voice in the straightest path of Duty. I swear that I will
eschew Ambition, and through all my length of endless days set Wisdom
over me as a guiding star to lead me unto Truth and a knowledge of the
Right. I swear also that I will honour and will cherish thee,
Kallikrates, who hast been swept by the wave of time back into my
arms, ay, till the very end, come it soon or late. I swear--nay, I
will swear no more, for what are words? Yet shalt thou learn that
Ayesha hath no false tongue.
"So I have sworn, and thou, my Holly, at witness to my oath. Here,
too, are we wed, my husband, with the gloom for bridal canopy--wed
till the end of all things; here do we write our marriage vows upon
the rushing winds which shall bear them up to heaven, and round and
continually round this rolling world.
"And for a bridal gift I crown thee with my beauty's starry crown, and
enduring life, and wisdom without measure, and wealth that none can
count. Behold! the great ones of the earth shall creep about thy feet,
and its fair women shall cover up their eyes because of the shining
glory of thy countenance, and its wise ones shall be abased before
thee. Thou shalt read the hearts of men as an open writing, and hither
and thither shalt thou lead them as thy pleasure listeth. Like that
old Sphinx of Egypt shalt thou sit aloft from age to age, and ever
shall they cry to thee to solve the riddle of thy greatness that doth
not pass away, and ever shalt thou mock them with thy silence!
"Behold! once more I kiss thee, and by that kiss I give to thee
dominion over sea and earth, over the peasant in his hovel, over the
monarch in his palace halls, and cities crowned with towers, and those
who breathe therein. Where'er the sun shakes out his spears, and the
lonesome waters mirror up the moon, where'er storms roll, and Heaven's
painted bows arch in the sky--from the pure North clad in snows,
across the middle spaces of the world, to where the amorous South,
lying like a bride upon her blue couch of seas, breathes in sighs made
sweet with the odour of myrtles--there shall thy power pass and thy
dominion find a home. Nor sickness, nor icy-fingered fear, nor sorrow,
and pale waste of form and mind hovering ever o'er humanity, shall so
much as shadow thee with the shadow of their wings. As a God shalt
thou be, holding good and evil in the hollow of thy hand, and I, even
I, I humble myself before thee. Such is the power of Love, and such is
the bridal gift I give unto thee, Kallikrates, my Lord and Lord of
"And now it is done; now for thee I loose my virgin zone; and come
storm, come shine, come good, come evil, come life, come death, it
never, never can be undone. For, of a truth, that which is, is, and,
being done, is done for aye, and cannot be altered. I have said--Let
us hence, that all things may be accomplished in their order;" and,
taking one of the lamps, she advanced towards the end of the chamber
that was roofed in by the swaying stone, where she halted.
We followed her, and perceived that in the wall of the cone there was
a stair, or, to be more accurate, that some projecting knobs of rock
had been so shaped as to form a good imitation of a stair. Down this
Ayesha began to climb, springing from step to step, like a chamois,
and after her we followed with less grace. When we had descended some
fifteen or sixteen steps we found that they ended in a tremendous
rocky slope, running first outwards and then inwards--like the slope
of an inverted cone, or tunnel. The slope was very steep, and often
precipitous, but it was nowhere impassable, and by the light of the
lamps we went down it with no great difficulty, though it was gloomy
work enough travelling on thus, no one of us knew whither, into the
dead heart of a volcano. As we went, however, I took the precaution of
noting our route as well as I could; and this was not so very
difficult, owing to the extraordinary and most fantastic shape of the
rocks that were strewn about, many of which in that dim light looked
more like the grim faces carven upon medićval gargoyles than ordinary
For a long time we travelled on thus, half an hour I should say, till,
after we had descended for many hundreds of feet, I perceived that we
were reaching the point of the inverted cone. In another minute we
were there, and found that at the very apex of the funnel was a
passage, so low and narrow that we had to stoop as we crept along it
in Indian file. After some fifty yards of this creeping, the passage
suddenly widened into a cave, so huge that we could see neither the
roof nor the sides. We only knew that it was a cave by the echo of our
tread and the perfect quiet of the heavy air. On we went for many
minutes in absolute awed silence, like lost souls in the depths of
Hades, Ayesha's white and ghost-like form flitting in front of us,
till once more the place ended in a passage which opened into a second
cavern much smaller than the first. Indeed, we could clearly make out
the arch and stony banks of this second cave, and, from their rent and
jagged appearance, discovered that, like the first long passage down
which we had passed through the cliff before we reached the quivering
spur, it had, to all appearance, been torn in the bowels of the rock
by the terrific force of some explosive gas. At length this cave ended
in a third passage, through which gleamed a faint glow of light.
I heard Ayesha give a sigh of relief as this light dawned upon us.
"It is well," she said; "prepare to enter the very womb of the Earth,
wherein she doth conceive the Life that ye see brought forth in man
and beast--ay, and in every tree and flower."
Swiftly she sped along, and after her we stumbled as best we might,
our hearts filled like a cup with mingled dread and curiosity. What
were we about to see? We passed down the tunnel; stronger and stronger
the light beamed, reaching us in great flashes like the rays from a
lighthouse, as one by one they are thrown wide upon the darkness of
the waters. Nor was this all, for with the flashes came a soul-shaking
sound like that of thunder and of crashing trees. Now we were through
it, and--oh heavens!
We stood in a third cavern, some fifty feet in length by perhaps as
great a height, and thirty wide. It was carpeted with fine white sand,
and its walls had been worn smooth by the action of I know not what.
The cavern was not dark like the others, it was filled with a soft
glow of rose-coloured light, more beautiful to look on than anything
that can be conceived. But at first we saw no flashes, and heard no
more of the thunderous sound. Presently, however, as we stood in
amaze, gazing at the marvellous sight, and wondering whence the rosy
radiance flowed, a dread and beautiful thing happened. Across the far
end of the cavern, with a grinding and crashing noise--a noise so
dreadful and awe-inspiring that we all trembled, and Job actually sank
to his knees--there flamed out an awful cloud or pillar of fire, like
a rainbow many-coloured, and like the lightning bright. For a space,
perhaps forty seconds, it flamed and roared thus, turning slowly round
and round, and then by degrees the terrible noise ceased, and with the
fire it passed away--I know not where--leaving behind it the same rosy
glow that we had first seen.
"Draw near, draw near!" cried Ayesha, with a voice of thrilling
exultation. "Behold the very Fountain and Heart of Life as it beats in
the bosom of the great world. Behold the substance from which all
things draw their energy, the bright Spirit of the Globe, without
which it cannot live, but must grow cold and dead as the dead moon.
Draw near, and wash you in the living flames, and take their virtue
into your poor frames in all its virgin strength--not as it now feebly
glows within your bosoms, filtered thereto through all the fine
strainers of a thousand intermediate lives, but as it is here in the
very fount and seat of earthly Being."
We followed her through the rosy glow up to the head of the cave, till
at last we stood before the spot where the great pulse beat and the
great flame passed. And as we went we became sensible of a wild and
splendid exhilaration, of a glorious sense of such a fierce intensity
of Life that the most buoyant moments of our strength seemed flat and
tame and feeble beside it. It was the mere effluvium of the flame, the
subtle ether that it cast off as it passed, working on us, and making
us feel strong as giants and swift as eagles.
We reached the head of the cave, and gazed at each other in the
glorious glow, and laughed aloud--even Job laughed, and he had not
laughed for a week--in the lightness of our hearts and the divine
intoxication of our brains. I know that I felt as though all the
varied genius of which the human intellect is capable had descended
upon me. I could have spoken in blank verse of Shakesperian beauty,
all sorts of great ideas flashed through my mind; it was as though the
bonds of my flesh had been loosened and left the spirit free to soar
to the empyrean of its native power. The sensations that poured in
upon me are indescribable. I seemed to live more keenly, to reach to a
higher joy, and sip the goblet of a subtler thought than ever it had
been my lot to do before. I was another and most glorified self, and
all the avenues of the Possible were for a space laid open to the
footsteps of the Real.
Then, suddenly, whilst I rejoiced in this splendid vigour of a new-
found self, from far, far away there came a dreadful muttering noise,
that grew and grew to a crash and a roar, which combined in itself all
that is terrible and yet splendid in the possibilities of sound.
Nearer it came, and nearer yet, till it was close upon us, rolling
down like all the thunder-wheels of heaven behind the horses of the
lightning. On it came, and with it came the glorious blinding cloud of
many-coloured light, and stood before us for a space, turning, as it
seemed to us, slowly round and round, and then, accompanied by its
attendant pomp of sound, passed away I know not whither.
So astonishing was the wondrous sight that one and all of us, save
/She/, who stood up and stretched her hands towards the fire, sank
down before it, and hid our faces in the sand.
When it was gone, Ayesha spoke.
"Now, Kallikrates," she said, "the mighty moment is at hand. When the
great flame comes again thou must stand in it. First throw aside thy
garments, for it will burn them, though thee it will not hurt. Thou
must stand in the flame while thy senses will endure, and when it
embraces thee suck the fire down into thy very heart, and let it leap
and play around thy every part, so that thou lose no moiety of its
virtue. Hearest thou me, Kallikrates?"
"I hear thee, Ayesha," answered Leo, "but, of a truth--I am no coward
--but I doubt me of that raging flame. How know I that it will not
utterly destroy me, so that I lose myself and lose thee also?
Nevertheless will I do it," he added.
Ayesha thought for a minute, and then said--
"It is not wonderful that thou shouldst doubt. Tell me, Kallikrates:
if thou seest me stand in the flame and come forth unharmed, wilt thou
"Yes," he answered, "I will enter even if it slay me. I have said that
I will enter now."
"And that will I also," I cried.
"What, my Holly!" she laughed aloud; "methought that thou wouldst
naught of length of days. Why, how is this?"
"Nay, I know not," I answered, "but there is that in my heart that
calleth me to taste of the flame and live."
"It is well," she said. "Thou art not altogether lost in folly. See
now, I will for the second time bathe me in this living bath. Fain
would I add to my beauty and my length of days if that be possible. If
it be not possible, at the least it cannot harm me.
"Also," she continued, after a momentary pause, "is there another and
a deeper cause why I would once again dip me in the flame. When first
I tasted of its virtue full was my heart of passion and of hatred of
that Egyptian Amenartas, and therefore, despite my strivings to be rid
thereof, have passion and hatred been stamped upon my soul from that
sad hour to this. But now it is otherwise. Now is my mood a happy
mood, and filled am I with the purest part of thought, and so would I
ever be. Therefore, Kallikrates, will I once more wash and make me
pure and clean, and yet more fit for thee. Therefore also, when thou
dost in turn stand in the fire, empty all thy heart of evil, and let
soft contentment hold the balance of thy mind. Shake loose thy
spirit's wings, and take thy stand upon the utter verge of holy
contemplation; ay, dream upon thy mother's kiss, and turn thee towards
the vision of the highest good that hath ever swept on silver wings
across the silence of thy dreams. For from the germ of what thou art
in that dread moment shall grow the fruit of what thou shalt be for
all unreckoned time.
"Now prepare thee, prepare! even as though thy last hour were at hand,
and thou wast to cross to the Land of Shadows, and not through the
Gates of Glory into the realms of Life made beautiful. Prepare, I
WHAT WE SAW
Then came a few moments' pause, during which Ayesha seemed to be
gathering up her strength for the fiery trial, while we clung to each
other, and waited in utter silence.