Part 3 out of 6
the ground before them, the reason of this being that the nature of
the soil frequently changed from causes with which I am not
acquainted, so that places which might be safe enough to cross one
month would certainly swallow the wayfarer the next. Never did I see a
more dreary and depressing scene. Miles on miles of quagmire, varied
only by bright green strips of comparatively solid ground, and by deep
and sullen pools fringed with tall rushes, in which the bitterns
boomed and the frogs croaked incessantly: miles on miles of it without
a break, unless the fever fog can be called a break. The only life in
this great morass was that of the aquatic birds, and the animals that
fed on them, of both of which there were vast numbers. Geese, cranes,
ducks, teal, coot, snipe, and plover swarmed all around us, many being
of varieties that were quite new to me, and all so tame that one could
almost have knocked them over with a stick. Among these birds I
especially noticed a very beautiful variety of painted snipe, almost
the size of a woodcock, and with a flight more resembling that bird's
than an English snipe's. In the pools, too, was a species of small
alligator or enormous iguana, I do not know which, that fed, Billali
told me, upon the waterfowl, also large quantities of a hideous black
water-snake, of which the bite is very dangerous, though not, I
gathered, so deadly as a cobra's or a puff adder's. The bull-frogs
were also very large, and with voices proportionate to their size; and
as for the mosquitoes--the "musqueteers," as Job called them--they
were, if possible, even worse than they had been on the river, and
tormented us greatly. Undoubtedly, however, the worst feature of the
swamp was the awful smell of rotting vegetation that hung about it,
which was at times positively overpowering, and the malarious
exhalations that accompanied it, which we were of course obliged to
On we went through it all, till at last the sun sank in sullen
splendour just as we reached a spot of rising ground about two acres
in extent--a little oasis of dry in the midst of the miry wilderness--
where Billali announced that we were to camp. The camping, however,
turned out to be a very simple process, and consisted, in fact, in
sitting down on the ground round a scanty fire made of dry reeds and
some wood that had been brought with us. However, we made the best we
could of it, and smoked and ate with such appetite as the smell of
damp, stifling heat would allow, for it was very hot on this low land,
and yet, oddly enough, chilly at times. But, however hot it was, we
were glad enough to keep near the fire, because we found that the
mosquitoes did not like the smoke. Presently we rolled ourselves up in
our blankets and tried to go to sleep, but so far as I was concerned
the bull-frogs, and the extraordinary roaring and alarming sound
produced by hundreds of snipe hovering high in the air, made sleep an
impossibility, to say nothing of our other discomforts. I turned and
looked at Leo, who was next me; he was dozing, but his face had a
flushed appearance that I did not like, and by the flickering fire-
light I saw Ustane, who was lying on the other side of him, raise
herself from time to time upon her elbow, and look at him anxiously
However, I could do nothing for him, for we had all already taken a
good dose of quinine, which was the only preventive we had; so I lay
and watched the stars come out by thousands, till all the immense arch
of heaven was strewn with glittering points, and every point a world!
Here was a glorious sight by which man might well measure his own
insignificance! Soon I gave up thinking about it, for the mind wearies
easily when it strives to grapple with the Infinite, and to trace the
footsteps of the Almighty as he strides from sphere to sphere, or
deduce His purpose from His works. Such things are not for us to know.
Knowledge is to the strong, and we are weak. Too much wisdom would
perchance blind our imperfect sight, and too much strength would make
us drunk, and over-weight our feeble reason till it fell and we were
drowned in the depths of our own vanity. For what is the first result
of man's increased knowledge interpreted from Nature's book by the
persistent effort of his purblind observation? It is not but too often
to make him question the existence of his Maker, or indeed of any
intelligent purpose beyond his own? The truth is veiled, because we
could no more look upon her glory than we can upon the sun. It would
destroy us. Full knowledge is not for man as man is here, for his
capacities, which he is apt to think so great, are indeed but small.
The vessel is soon filled, and, were one-thousandth part of the
unutterable and silent wisdom that directs the rolling of those
shining spheres, and the Force which makes them roll, pressed into it,
it would be shattered into fragments. Perhaps in some other place and
time it may be otherwise, who can tell? Here the lot of man born of
the flesh is but to endure midst toil and tribulation, to catch at the
bubbles blown by Fate, which he calls pleasure, thankful if before
they burst they rest a moment in his hand, and when the tragedy is
played out, and his hour comes to perish, to pass humbly whither he
Above me, as I lay, shone the eternal stars, and there at my feet the
impish marsh-born balls of fire rolled this way and that, vapour-
tossed and earth-desiring, and methought that in the two I saw a type
and image of what man is, and what perchance man may one day be, if
the living Force who ordained him and them should so ordain this also.
Oh, that it might be ours to rest year by year upon that high level of
the heart to which at times we momentarily attain! Oh, that we could
shake loose the prisoned pinions of the soul and soar to that superior
point, whence, like to some traveller looking out through space from
Darien's giddiest peak, we might gaze with spiritual eyes deep into
What would it be to cast off this earthy robe, to have done for ever
with these earthy thoughts and miserable desires; no longer, like
those corpse candles, to be tossed this way and that, by forces beyond
our control; or which, if we can theoretically control them, we are at
times driven by the exigencies of our nature to obey! Yes, to cast
them off, to have done with the foul and thorny places of the world;
and, like to those glittering points above me, to rest on high wrapped
for ever in the brightness of our better selves, that even now shines
in us as fire faintly shines within those lurid balls, and lay down
our littleness in that wide glory of our dreams, that invisible but
surrounding Good, from which all truth and beauty comes!
These and many such thoughts passed through my mind that night. They
come to torment us all at times. I say to torment, for, alas! thinking
can only serve to measure out the helplessness of thought. What is the
purpose of our feeble crying in the awful silences of space? Can our
dim intelligence read the secrets of that star-strewn sky? Does any
answer come out of it? Never any at all, nothing but echoes and
fantastic visions! And yet we believe that there is an answer, and
that upon a time a new Dawn will come blushing down the ways of our
enduring night. We believe it, for its reflected beauty even now
shines up continually in our hearts from beneath the horizon of the
grave, and we call it Hope. Without Hope we should suffer moral death,
and by the help of Hope we yet may climb to Heaven, or at the worst,
if she also prove but a kindly mockery given to hold us from despair,
be gently lowered into the abysses of eternal sleep.
Then I fell to reflecting upon the undertaking on which we were bent,
and what a wild one it was, and yet how strangely the story seemed to
fit in with what had been written centuries ago upon the sherd. Who
was this extraordinary woman, Queen over a people apparently as
extraordinary as herself, and reigning amidst the vestiges of a lost
civilisation? And what was the meaning of this story of the Fire that
gave unending life? Could it be possible that any fluid or essence
should exist which might so fortify these fleshy walls that they
should from age to age resist the mines and batterings of decay? It
was possible, though not probable. The infinite continuation of life
would not, as poor Vincey said, be so marvellous a thing as the
production of life and its temporary endurance. And if it were true,
what then? The person who found it could no doubt rule the world. He
could accumulate all the wealth in the world, and all the power, and
all the wisdom that is power. He might give a lifetime to the study of
each art or science. Well, if that were so, and this /She/ were
practically immortal, which I did not for one moment believe, how was
it that, with all these things at her feet, she preferred to remain in
a cave amongst a society of cannibals? This surely settled the
question. The whole story was monstrous, and only worthy of the
superstitious days in which it was written. At any rate I was very
sure that /I/ would not attempt to attain unending life. I had had far
too many worries and disappointments and secret bitternesses during my
forty odd years of existence to wish that this state of affairs should
be continued indefinitely. And yet I suppose that my life has been,
comparatively speaking, a happy one.
And then, reflecting that at the present moment there was far more
likelihood of our earthly careers being cut exceedingly short than of
their being unduly prolonged, I at last managed to get to sleep, a
fact for which anybody who reads this narrative, if anybody ever does,
may very probably be thankful.
When I woke again it was just dawning, and the guard and bearers were
moving about like ghosts through the dense morning mists, getting
ready for our start. The fire had died quite down, and I rose and
stretched myself, shivering in every limb from the damp cold of the
dawn. Then I looked at Leo. He was sitting up, holding his hands to
his head, and I saw that his face was flushed and his eye bright, and
yet yellow round the pupil.
"Well, Leo," I said, "how do you feel?"
"I feel as though I were going to die," he answered hoarsely. "My head
is splitting, my body is trembling, and I am as sick as a cat."
I whistled, or if I did not whistle I felt inclined to--Leo had got a
sharp attack of fever. I went to Job, and asked him for the quinine,
of which fortunately we had still a good supply, only to find that Job
himself was not much better. He complained of pains across the back,
and dizziness, and was almost incapable of helping himself. Then I did
the only thing it was possible to do under the circumstances--gave
them both about ten grains of quinine, and took a slightly smaller
dose myself as a matter of precaution. After that I found Billali, and
explained to him how matters stood, asking at the same time what he
thought had best be done. He came with me, and looked at Leo and Job
(whom, by the way, he had named the Pig on account of his fatness,
round face, and small eyes).
"Ah," he said, when we were out of earshot, "the fever! I thought so.
The Lion has it badly, but he is young, and he may live. As for the
Pig, his attack is not so bad; it is the 'little fever' which he has;
that always begins with pains across the back, it will spend itself
upon his fat."
"Can they go on, my father?" I asked.
"Nay, my son, they must go on. If they stop here they will certainly
die; also, they will be better in the litters than on the ground. By
to-night, if all goes well, we shall be across the marsh and in good
air. Come, let us lift them into the litters and start, for it is very
bad to stand still in this morning fog. We can eat our meal as we go."
This we accordingly did, and with a heavy heart I once more set out
upon our strange journey. For the first three hours all went as well
as could be expected, and then an accident happened that nearly lost
us the pleasure of the company of our venerable friend Billali, whose
litter was leading the cavalcade. We were going through a particularly
dangerous stretch of quagmire, in which the bearers sometimes sank up
to their knees. Indeed, it was a mystery to me how they contrived to
carry the heavy litters at all over such ground as that which we were
traversing, though the two spare hands, as well as the four regular
ones, had of course to put their shoulders to the pole.
Presently, as we blundered and floundered along, there was a sharp
cry, then a storm of exclamations, and, last of all, a most tremendous
splash, and the whole caravan halted.
I jumped out of my litter and ran forward. About twenty yards ahead
was the edge of one of those sullen peaty pools of which I have
spoken, the path we were following running along the top of its bank,
that, as it happened, was a steep one. Looking towards this pool, to
my horror I saw that Billali's litter was floating on it, and as for
Billali himself, he was nowhere to be seen. To make matters clear I
may as well explain at once what had happened. One of Billali's
bearers had unfortunately trodden on a basking snake, which had bitten
him in the leg, whereon he had, not unnaturally, let go of the pole,
and then, finding that he was tumbling down the bank, grasped at the
litter to save himself. The result of this was what might have been
expected. The litter was pulled over the edge of the bank, the bearers
let go, and the whole thing, including Billali and the man who had
been bitten, rolled into the slimy pool. When I got to the edge of the
water neither of them were to be seen; indeed, the unfortunate bearer
never was seen again. Either he struck his head against something, or
get wedged in the mud, or possibly the snake-bite paralyzed him. At
any rate he vanished. But though Billali was not to be seen, his
whereabouts was clear enough from the agitation of the floating
litter, in the bearing cloth and curtains of which he was entangled.
"He is there! Our father is there!" said one of the men, but he did
not stir a finger to help him, nor did any of the others. They simply
stood and stared at the water.
"Out of the way, you brutes!" I shouted in English, and throwing off
my hat I took a run and sprang well out into the horrid slimy-looking
pool. A couple of strokes took me to where Billali was struggling
beneath the cloth.
Somehow, I do not quite know how, I managed to push it free of him,
and his venerable head all covered with green slime, like that of a
yellowish Bacchus with ivy leaves, emerged upon the surface of the
water. The rest was easy, for Billali was an eminently practical
individual, and had the common sense not to grasp hold of me as
drowning people often do, so I got him by the arm, and towed him to
the bank, through the mud of which we were with difficulty dragged.
Such a filthy spectacle as we presented I have never seen before or
since, and it will perhaps give some idea of the almost superhuman
dignity of Billali's appearance when I say that, coughing, half-
drowned, and covered with mud and green slime as he was, with his
beautiful beard coming to a dripping point, like a Chinaman's freshly-
oiled pig-tail, he still looked venerable and imposing.
"Ye dogs," he said, addressing the bearers, as soon as he had
sufficiently recovered to speak, "ye left me, your father, to drown.
Had it not been for this stranger, my son the Baboon, assuredly I
should have drowned. Well, I will remember it," and he fixed them with
his gleaming though slightly watery eye, in a way I saw that they did
not like, though they tried to appear sulkily indifferent.
"As for thee, my son," the old man went on, turning towards me and
grasping my hand, "rest assured that I am thy friend through good and
evil. Thou hast saved my life: perchance a day may come when I shall
After that we cleaned ourselves as best we could, fished out the
litter, and went on, /minus/ the man who had been drowned. I do not
know if it was owing to his being an unpopular character, or from
native indifference and selfishness of temperament, but I am bound to
say that nobody seemed to grieve much over his sudden and final
disappearance, unless, perhaps, it was the men who had to do his share
of the work.
THE PLAIN OF KÔR
About an hour before sundown we at last, to my unbounded gratitude,
emerged from the great belt of marsh on to land that swelled upwards
in a succession of rolling waves. Just on the hither side of the crest
of the first wave we halted for the night. My first act was to examine
Leo's condition. It was, if anything, worse than in the morning, and a
new and very distressing feature, vomiting, set in, and continued till
dawn. Not one wink of sleep did I get that night, for I passed it in
assisting Ustane, who was one of the most gentle and indefatigable
nurses I ever saw, to wait upon Leo and Job. However, the air here was
warm and genial without being too hot, and there were no mosquitoes to
speak of. Also we were above the level of the marsh mist, which lay
stretched beneath us like the dim smoke-pall over a city, lit up here
and there by the wandering globes of fen fire. Thus it will be seen
that we were, speaking comparatively, in clover.
By dawn on the following morning Leo was quite light-headed, and
fancied that he was divided into halves. I was dreadfully distressed,
and began to wonder with a sort of sick fear what the end of the
attack would be. Alas! I had heard but too much of how these attacks
generally terminate. As I was wondering Billali came up and said that
we must be getting on, more especially as, in his opinion, if Leo did
not reach some spot where he could be quiet, and have proper nursing,
within the next twelve hours, his life would only be a matter of a day
or two. I could not but agree with him, so we got Leo into the litter,
and started on, Ustane walking by his side to keep the flies off him,
and see that he did not throw himself out on to the ground.
Within half an hour of sunrise we had reached the top of the rise of
which I have spoken, and a most beautiful view broke upon our gaze.
Beneath us was a rich stretch of country, verdant with grass and
lovely with foliage and flowers. In the background, at a distance, so
far as I could judge, of some eighteen miles from where we then stood,
a huge and extraordinary mountain rose abruptly from the plain. The
base of this great mountain appeared to consist of a grassy slope, but
rising from this, I should say, from subsequent observation, at a
height of about five hundred feet above the level of the plain, was a
most tremendous and absolutely precipitous wall of bare rock, quite
twelve or fifteen hundred feet in height. The shape of the mountain,
which was undoubtedly of volcanic origin, was round, and of course, as
only a segment of its circle was visible, it was difficult to estimate
its exact size, which was enormous. I afterwards discovered that it
could cover less than fifty square miles of ground. Anything more
grand and imposing than the sight presented by this great natural
castle, starting in solitary grandeur from the level of the plain, I
never saw, and I suppose I never shall. Its very solitude added to its
majesty, and its towering cliffs seemed to kiss the sky. Indeed,
generally speaking, they were clothed in clouds that lay in fleecy
masses upon their broad and level battlements.
I sat up in my hammock and gazed out across the plain at this
thrilling and majestic sight, and I suppose that Billali noticed it,
for he brought his litter alongside.
"Behold the house of '/She-who-must-be-obeyed/!'" he said. "Had ever a
queen such a throne before?"
"It is wonderful, my father," I answered. "But how do we enter. Those
cliffs look hard to climb."
"Thou shalt see, my Baboon. Look now at the path below us. What
thinkest thou that it is? Thou art a wise man. Come, tell me."
I looked, and saw what appeared to be the line of roadway running
straight towards the base of the mountain, though it was covered with
turf. There were high banks on each side of it, broken here and there,
but fairly continuous on the whole, the meaning of which I did not
understand. It seemed so very odd that anybody should embank a
"Well, my father," I answered, "I suppose that it is a road, otherwise
I should have been inclined to say that it was the bed of a river, or
rather," I added, observing the extraordinary directness of the
cutting, "of a canal."
Billali--who, by the way, was none the worse for his immersion of the
day before--nodded his head sagely as he replied--
"Thou art right, my son. It is a channel cut out by those who were
before us in this place to carry away water. Of this I am sure: within
the rocky circle of the mountain whither we journey was once a great
lake. But those who were before us, by wonderful arts of which I know
naught, hewed a path for the water through the solid rock of the
mountain, piercing even to the bed of the lake. But first they cut the
channel that thou seest across the plain. Then, when at last the water
burst out, it rushed down the channel that had been made to receive
it, and crossed this plain till it reached the low land behind the
rise, and there, perchance, it made the swamp through which we have
come. Then when the lake was drained dry, the people whereof I speak
built a mighty city on its bed, whereof naught but ruins and the name
of Kôr yet remaineth, and from age to age hewed the caves and passages
that thou wilt see."
"It may be," I answered; "but if so, how is it that the lake does not
fill up again with the rains and the water of the springs?"
"Nay, my son, the people were a wise people, and they left a drain to
keep it clear. Seest thou the river to the right?" and he pointed to a
fair-sized stream that wound away across the plain, some four miles
from us. "That is the drain, and it comes out through the mountain
wall where this cutting goes in. At first, perhaps, the water ran down
this canal, but afterwards the people turned it, and used the cutting
for a road."
"And is there then no other place where one may enter into the great
mountain," I asked, "except through that drain?"
"There is a place," he answered, "where cattle and men on foot may
cross with much labour, but it is secret. A year mightest thou search
and shouldst never find it. It is only used once a year, when the
herds of cattle that have been fatting on the slopes of the mountain,
and on this plain, are driven into the space within."
"And does /She/ live there always?" I asked, "or does she come at
times without the mountain?"
"Nay, my son, where she is, there she is."
By now we were well on to the great plain, and I was examining with
delight the varied beauty of its semi-tropical flowers and trees, the
latter of which grew singly, or at most in clumps of three or four,
much of the timber being of large size, and belonging apparently to a
variety of evergreen oak. There were also many palms, some of them
more than one hundred feet high, and the largest and most beautiful
tree ferns that I ever saw, about which hung clouds of jewelled
honeysuckers and great-winged butterflies. Wandering about among the
trees or crouching in the long and feathered grass were all varieties
of game, from rhinocerotes down. I saw a rhinoceros, buffalo (a large
herd), eland, quagga, and sable antelope, the most beautiful of all
the bucks, not to mention many smaller varieties of game, and three
ostriches which scudded away at our approach like white drift before a
gale. So plentiful was the game that at last I could stand it no
longer. I had a single barrel sporting Martini with me in the litter,
the "Express" being too cumbersome, and espying a beautiful fat eland
rubbing himself under one of the oak-like trees, I jumped out of the
litter, and proceeded to creep as near to him as I could. He let me
come within eighty yards, and then turned his head, and stared at me,
preparatory to running away. I lifted the rifle, and taking him about
midway down the shoulder, for he was side on to me, fired. I never
made a cleaner shot or a better kill in all my small experience, for
the great buck sprang right up into the air and fell dead. The
bearers, who had all halted to see the performance, gave a murmur of
surprise, an unwonted compliment from these sullen people, who never
appear to be surprised at anything, and a party of the guard at once
ran off to cut the animal up. As for myself, though I was longing to
have a look at him, I sauntered back to my litter as though I had been
in the habit of killing eland all my life, feeling that I had gone up
several degrees in the estimation of the Amahagger, who looked on the
whole thing as a very high-class manifestation of witchcraft. As a
matter of fact, however, I had never seen an eland in a wild state
before. Billali received me with enthusiasm.
"It is wonderful, my son the Baboon," he cried; "wonderful! Thou art a
very great man, though so ugly. Had I not seen, surely I would never
have believed. And thou sayest that thou wilt teach me to slay in this
"Certainly, my father," I said airily; "it is nothing."
But all the same I firmly made up my mind that when "my father"
Billali began to fire I would without fail lie down or take refuge
behind a tree.
After this little incident nothing happened of any note till about an
hour and a half before sundown, when we arrived beneath the shadow of
the towering volcanic mass that I have already described. It is quite
impossible for me to describe its grim grandeur as it appeared to me
while my patient bearers toiled along the bed of the ancient
watercourse towards the spot where the rich brown-hued cliff shot up
from precipice to precipice till its crown lost itself in a cloud. All
I can say is that it almost awed me by the intensity of its lonesome
and most solemn greatness. On we went up the bright and sunny slope,
till at last the creeping shadows from above swallowed up its
brightness, and presently we began to pass through a cutting hewn in
the living rock. Deeper and deeper grew this marvellous work, which
must, I should say, have employed thousands of men for many years.
Indeed, how it was ever executed at all without the aid of blasting-
powder or dynamite I cannot to this day imagine. It is and must remain
one of the mysteries of that wild land. I can only suppose that these
cuttings and the vast caves that had been hollowed out of the rocks
they pierced were the State undertakings of the people of Kôr, who
lived here in the dim lost ages of the world, and, as in the case of
the Egyptian monuments, were executed by the forced labour of tens of
thousands of captives, carried on through an indefinite number of
centuries. But who were the people?
At last we reached the face of the precipice itself, and found
ourselves looking into the mouth of a dark tunnel that forcibly
reminded me of those undertaken by our nineteenth-century engineers in
the construction of railway lines. Out of this tunnel flowed a
considerable stream of water. Indeed, though I do not think that I
have mentioned it, we had followed this stream, which ultimately
developed into the river I have already described as winding away to
the right, from the spot where the cutting in the solid rock
commenced. Half of this cutting formed a channel for the stream, and
half, which was placed on a slightly higher level--eight feet perhaps
--was devoted to the purposes of a roadway. At the termination of the
cutting, however, the stream turned off across the plain and followed
a channel of its own. At the mouth of the cave the cavalcade was
halted, and, while the men employed themselves in lighting some
earthenware lamps they had brought with them, Billali, descending from
his litter, informed me politely but firmly that the orders of /She/
were that we were now to be blindfolded, so that we should not learn
the secret of the paths through the bowels of the mountains. To this
I, of course, assented cheerfully enough, but Job, who was now very
much better, notwithstanding the journey, did not like it at all,
fancying, I believe, that it was but a preliminary step to being hot-
potted. He was, however, a little consoled when I pointed out to him
that there were no hot pots at hand, and, so far as I knew, no fire to
heat them in. As for poor Leo, after turning restlessly for hours, he
had, to my deep thankfulness, at last dropped off into a sleep or
stupor, I do not know which, so there was no need to blindfold him.
The blindfolding was performed by binding a piece of the yellowish
linen whereof those of the Amahagger who condescended to wear anything
in particular made their dresses, tightly round the eyes. This linen I
afterwards discovered was taken from the tombs, and was not, as I had
at first supposed, of native manufacture. The bandage was then knotted
at the back of the head, and finally brought down again and the ends
bound under the chin to prevent its slipping. Ustane was, by the way,
also blindfolded, I do not know why, unless it was from fear that she
should impart the secrets of the route to us.
This operation performed we started on once more, and soon, by the
echoing sound of the footsteps of the bearers and the increased noise
of the water caused by reverberation in a confined space, I knew that
we were entering into the bowels of the great mountain. It was an
eerie sensation, being borne along into the dead heart of the rock we
knew not whither, but I was getting used to eerie sensations by this
time, and by now was pretty well prepared for anything. So I lay
still, and listened to the tramp, tramp of the bearers and the rushing
of the water, and tried to believe that I was enjoying myself.
Presently the men set up the melancholy little chant that I had heard
on the first night when we were captured in the whaleboat, and the
effect produced by their voices was very curious, and quite
indescribable. After a while the air began to get exceedingly thick
and heavy, so much so, indeed, that I felt as though I were going to
choke, till at length the litter took a sharp turn, then another and
another, and the sound of the running water ceased. After this the air
was fresher again, but the turns were continuous, and to me,
blindfolded as I was, most bewildering. I tried to keep a map of them
in my mind in case it might ever be necessary for us to try and escape
by this route, but, needless to say, failed utterly. Another half-hour
or so passed, and then suddenly I became aware that we were once more
in the open air. I could see the light through my bandage and feel its
freshness on my face. A few more minutes and the caravan halted, and I
heard Billali order Ustane to remove her bandage and undo ours.
Without waiting for her attentions I got the knot of mine loose, and
As I anticipated, we had passed right through the precipice, and were
now on the farther side, and immediately beneath its beetling face.
The first thing I noticed was that the cliff is not nearly so high
here, not so high I should say by five hundred feet, which proved that
the bed of the lake, or rather of the vast ancient crater in which we
stood, was much above the level of the surrounding plain. For the
rest, we found ourselves in a huge rock-surrounded cup, not unlike
that of the first place where we had sojourned, only ten times the
size. Indeed, I could only just make out the frowning line of the
opposite cliffs. A great portion of the plain thus enclosed by nature
was cultivated, and fenced in with walls of stone placed there to keep
the cattle and goats, of which there were large herds about, from
breaking into the gardens. Here and there rose great grass mounds, and
some miles away towards the centre I thought that I could see the
outline of colossal ruins. I had no time to observe anything more at
the moment, for we were instantly surrounded by crowds of Amahagger,
similar in every particular to those with whom we were already
familiar, who, though they spoke little, pressed round us so closely
as to obscure the view to a person lying in a hammock. Then all of a
sudden a number of armed men arranged in companies, and marshalled by
officers who held ivory wands in their hands, came running swiftly
towards us, having, so far as I could make out, emerged from the face
of the precipice like ants from their burrows. These men as well as
their officers were all robed in addition to the usual leopard skin,
and, as I gathered, formed the bodyguard of /She/ herself.
Their leader advanced to Billali, saluted him by placing his ivory
wand transversely across his forehead, and then asked some question
which I could not catch, and Billali having answered him the whole
regiment turned and marched along the side of the cliff, our cavalcade
of litters following in their track. After going thus for about half a
mile we halted once more in front of the mouth of a tremendous cave,
measuring about sixty feet in height by eighty wide, and here Billali
descended finally, and requested Job and myself to do the same. Leo,
of course, was far too ill to do anything of the sort. I did so, and
we entered the great cave, into which the light of the setting sun
penetrated for some distance, while beyond the reach of the daylight
it was faintly illuminated with lamps which seemed to me to stretch
away for an almost immeasurable distance, like the gas lights of an
empty London street. The first thing I noticed was that the walls were
covered with sculptures in bas-relief, of a sort, pictorially
speaking, similar to those that I have described upon the vases;--
love-scenes principally, then hunting pictures, pictures of
executions, and the torture of criminals by the placing of a,
presumably, red-hot pot upon the head, showing whence our hosts had
derived this pleasant practice. There were very few battle-pieces,
though many of duels, and men running and wrestling, and from this
fact I am led to believe that this people were not much subject to
attack by exterior foes, either on account of the isolation of their
position or because of their great strength. Between the pictures were
columns of stone characters of a formation absolutely new to me; at
any rate, they were neither Greek nor Egyptian, nor Hebrew, nor
Assyrian--that I am sure of. They looked more like Chinese writings
than any other that I am acquainted with. Near to the entrance of the
cave both pictures and writings were worn away, but further in they
were in many cases absolutely fresh and perfect as the day on which
the sculptor had ceased work on them.
The regiment of guards did not come further than the entrance to the
cave, where they formed up to let us pass through. On entering the
place itself we were, however, met by a man robed in white, who bowed
humbly, but said nothing, which, as it afterwards appeared that he was
a deaf mute, was not very wonderful.
Running at right angles to the great cave, at a distance of some
twenty feet from the entrance, was a smaller cave or wide gallery,
that was pierced into the rock both to the right and to the left of
the main cavern. In front of the gallery to our left stood two guards,
from which circumstance I argued that it was the entrance to the
apartments of /She/ herself. The mouth of the right-hand gallery was
unguarded, and along it the mute indicated that we were to go. Walking
a few yards down this passage, which was lighted with lamps, we came
to the entrance of a chamber having a curtain made of some grass
material, not unlike a Zanzibar mat in appearance, hung over the
doorway. This the mute drew back with another profound obeisance, and
led the way into a good-sized apartment, hewn, of course, out of the
solid rock, but to my great relief lighted by means of a shaft pierced
in the face of the precipice. In this room was a stone bedstead, pots
full of water for washing, and beautifully tanned leopard skins to
serve as blankets.
Here we left Leo, who was still sleeping heavily, and with him stopped
Ustane. I noticed that the mute gave her a very sharp look, as much as
to say, "Who are you, and by whose order do you come here?" Then he
conducted us to another similar room which Job took, and then to two
more that were respectively occupied by Billali and myself.
The first care of Job and myself, after seeing to Leo, was to wash
ourselves and put on clean clothing, for what we were wearing had not
been changed since the loss of the dhow. Fortunately, as I think that
I have said, by far the greater part of our personal baggage had been
packed into the whaleboat, and was therefore saved--and brought hither
by the bearers--although all the stores laid in by us for barter and
presents to the natives was lost. Nearly all our clothing was made of
a well-shrunk and very strong grey flannel, and excellent I found it
for travelling in these places, because though a Norfolk jacket,
shirt, and pair of trousers of it only weighed about four pounds, a
great consideration in a tropical country, where every extra ounce
tells on the wearer, it was warm, and offered a good resistance to the
rays of the sun, and best of all to chills, which are so apt to result
from sudden changes of temperature.
Never shall I forget the comfort of the "wash and brush-up," and of
those clean flannels. The only thing that was wanting to complete my
joy was a cake of soap, of which we had none.
Afterwards I discovered that the Amahagger, who do not reckon dirt
among their many disagreeable qualities, use a kind of burnt earth for
washing purposes, which, though unpleasant to the touch till one gets
accustomed to it, forms a very fair substitute for soap.
By the time that I was dressed, and had combed and trimmed my black
beard, the previous condition of which was certainly sufficiently
unkempt to give weight to Billali's appellation for me of "Baboon," I
began to feel most uncommonly hungry. Therefore I was by no means
sorry when, without the slightest preparatory sound or warning, the
curtain over the entrance to my cave was flung aside, and another
mute, a young girl this time, announced to me by signs that I could
not misunderstand--that is, by opening her mouth and pointing down it
--that there was something ready to eat. Accordingly I followed her
into the next chamber, which we had not yet entered, where I found
Job, who had also, to his great embarrassment, been conducted thither
by a fair mute. Job never got over the advances the former lady had
made towards him, and suspected every girl who came near to him of
"These young parties have a way of looking at one, sir," he would say
apologetically, "which I don't call respectable."
This chamber was twice the size of the sleeping caves, and I saw at
once that it had originally served as a refectory, and also probably
as an embalming room for the Priests of the Dead; for I may as well
say at once that these hollowed-out caves were nothing more nor less
than vast catacombs, in which for tens of ages the mortal remains of
the great extinct race whose monuments surrounded us had been first
preserved, with an art and a completeness that has never since been
equalled, and then hidden away for all time. On each side of this
particular rock-chamber was a long and solid stone table, about three
feet wide by three feet six in height, hewn out of the living rock, of
which it had formed part, and was still attached to at the base. These
tables were slightly hollowed out or curved inward, to give room for
the knees of any one sitting on the stone ledge that had been cut for
a bench along the side of the cave at a distance of about two feet
from them. Each of them, also, was so arranged that it ended right
under a shaft pierced in the rock for the admission of light and air.
On examining them carefully, however, I saw that there was a
difference between them that had at first escaped my attention, viz.
that one of the tables, that to the left as we entered the cave, had
evidently been used, not to eat upon, but for the purposes of
embalming. That this was beyond all question the case was clear from
five shallow depressions in the stone of the table, all shaped like a
human form, with a separate place for the head to lie in, and a little
bridge to support the neck, each depression being of a different size,
so as to fit bodies varying in stature from a full-grown man's to a
small child's, and with little holes bored at intervals to carry off
fluid. And, indeed, if any further confirmation was required, we had
but to look at the wall of the cave above to find it. For there,
sculptured all round the apartment, and looking nearly as fresh as the
day it was done, was the pictorial representation of the death,
embalming, and burial of an old man with a long beard, probably an
ancient king or grandee of this country.
The first picture represented his death. He was lying upon a couch
which had four short curved posts at the corners coming to a knob at
the end, in appearance something like written notes of music, and was
evidently in the very act of expiring. Gathered round the couch were
women and children weeping, the former with their hair hanging down
their backs. The next scene represented the embalmment of the body,
which lay stark upon a table with depressions in it, similar to the
one before us; probably, indeed, it was a picture of the same table.
Three men were employed at the work--one superintending, one holding a
funnel shaped exactly like a port wine strainer, of which the narrow
end was fixed in an incision in the breast, no doubt in the great
pectoral artery; while the third, who was depicted as standing
straddle-legged over the corpse, held a kind of large jug high in his
hand, and poured from it some steaming fluid which fell accurately
into the funnel. The most curious part of this sculpture is that both
the man with the funnel and the man who pours the fluid are drawn
holding their noses, either I suppose because of the stench arising
from the body, or more probably to keep out the aromatic fumes of the
hot fluid which was being forced into the dead man's veins. Another
curious thing which I am unable to explain is that all three men were
represented as having a band of linen tied round the face with holes
in it for the eyes.
The third sculpture was a picture of the burial of the deceased. There
he was, stiff and cold, clothed in a linen robe, and laid out on a
stone slab such as I had slept upon at our first sojourning-place. At
his head and feet burnt lamps, and by his side were placed several of
the beautiful painted vases that I have described, which were perhaps
supposed to be full of provisions. The little chamber was crowded with
mourners, and with musicians playing on an instrument resembling a
lyre, while near the foot of the corpse stood a man holding a sheet,
with which he was preparing to cover it from view.
These sculptures, looked at merely as works of art, were so remarkable
that I make no apology for describing them rather fully. They struck
me also as being of surpassing interest as representing, probably with
studious accuracy, the last rites of the dead as practised among an
utterly lost people, and even then I thought how envious some
antiquarian friends of my own at Cambridge would be if ever I found an
opportunity of describing these wonderful remains to them. Probably
they would say that I was exaggerating, notwithstanding that every
page of this history must bear so much internal evidence of its truth
that it would obviously have been quite impossible for me to have
To return. As soon as I had hastily examined these sculptures, which I
think I omitted to mention were executed in relief, we sat down to a
very excellent meal of boiled goat's-flesh, fresh milk, and cakes made
of meal, the whole being served upon clean wooden platters.
When we had eaten we returned to see how Leo was getting on, Billali
saying that he must now wait upon /She/, and hear her commands. On
reaching Leo's room we found the poor boy in a very bad way. He had
woke up from his torpor, and was altogether off his head, babbling
about some boat-race on the Cam, and was inclined to be violent.
Indeed, when we entered the room Ustane was holding him down. I spoke
to him, and my voice seemed to soothe him; at any rate he grew much
quieter, and was persuaded to swallow a dose of quinine.
I had been sitting with him for an hour, perhaps--at any rate I know
that it was getting so dark that I could only just make out his head
lying like a gleam of gold upon the pillow we had extemporised out of
a bag covered with a blanket--when suddenly Billali arrived with an
air of great importance, and informed me that /She/ herself had
deigned to express a wish to see me--an honour, he added, accorded to
but very few. I think that he was a little horrified at my cool way of
taking the honour, but the fact was that I did not feel overwhelmed
with gratitude at the prospect of seeing some savage, dusky queen,
however absolute and mysterious she might be, more especially as my
mind was full of dear Leo, for whose life I began to have great fears.
However, I rose to follow him, and as I did so I caught sight of
something bright lying on the floor, which I picked up. Perhaps the
reader will remember that with the potsherd in the casket was a
composition scarabæus marked with a round O, a goose, and another
curious hieroglyphic, the meaning of which is "Suten se Ra," or "Royal
Son of the Sun." The scarab, which is a very small one, Leo had
insisted upon having set in a massive gold ring, such as is generally
used for signets, and it was this very ring that I now picked up. He
had pulled it off in the paroxysm of his fever, at least I suppose so,
and flung it down upon the rock-floor. Thinking that if I left it
about it might get lost, I slipped it on my own little finger, and
then followed Billali, leaving Job and Ustane with Leo.
We passed down the passage, crossed the great aisle-like cave, and
came to the corresponding passage on the other side, at the mouth of
which the guards stood like two statues. As we came they bowed their
heads in salutation, and then lifting their long spears placed them
transversely across their foreheads, as the leaders of the troop that
had met us had done with their ivory wands. We stepped between them,
and found ourselves in an exactly similar gallery to that which led to
our own apartments, only this passage was, comparatively speaking,
brilliantly lighted. A few paces down it we were met by four mutes--
two men and two women--who bowed low and then arranged themselves, the
women in front and the men behind of us, and in this order we
continued our procession past several doorways hung with curtains
resembling those leading to our own quarters, and which I afterwards
found opened out into chambers occupied by the mutes who attended on
/She/. A few paces more and we came to another doorway facing us, and
not to our left like the others, which seemed to mark the termination
of the passage. Here two more white-, or rather yellow-robed guards
were standing, and they too bowed, saluted, and let us pass through
heavy curtains into a great antechamber, quite forty feet long by as
many wide, in which some eight or ten women, most of them young and
handsome, with yellowish hair, sat on cushions working with ivory
needles at what had the appearance of being embroidery frames. These
women were also deaf and dumb. At the farther end of this great lamp-
lit apartment was another doorway closed in with heavy Oriental-
looking curtains, quite unlike those that hung before the doors of our
own rooms, and here stood two particularly handsome girl mutes, their
heads bowed upon their bosoms and their hands crossed in an attitude
of humble submission. As we advanced they each stretched out an arm
and drew back the curtains. Thereupon Billali did a curious thing.
Down he went, that venerable-looking old gentleman--for Billali is a
gentleman at the bottom--down on to his hands and knees, and in this
undignified position, with his long white beard trailing on the
ground, he began to creep into the apartment beyond. I followed him,
standing on my feet in the usual fashion. Looking over his shoulder he
"Down, my son; down, my Baboon; down on to thy hands and knees. We
enter the presence of /She/, and, if thou art not humble, of a surety
she will blast thee where thou standest."
I halted, and felt scared. Indeed, my knees began to give way of their
own mere motion; but reflection came to my aid. I was an Englishman,
and why, I asked myself, should I creep into the presence of some
savage woman as though I were a monkey in fact as well as in name? I
would not and could not do it, that is, unless I was absolutely sure
that my life or comfort depended upon it. If once I began to creep
upon my knees I should always have to do so, and it would be a patent
acknowledgment of inferiority. So, fortified by an insular prejudice
against "kootooing," which has, like most of our so-called prejudices,
a good deal of common sense to recommend it, I marched in boldly after
Billali. I found myself in another apartment, considerably smaller
than the anteroom, of which the walls were entirely hung with rich-
looking curtains of the same make as those over the door, the work, as
I subsequently discovered, of the mutes who sat in the antechamber and
wove them in strips, which were afterwards sewn together. Also, here
and there about the room, were settees of a beautiful black wood of
the ebony tribe, inlaid with ivory, and all over the floor were other
tapestries, or rather rugs. At the top end of this apartment was what
appeared to be a recess, also draped with curtains, through which
shone rays of light. There was nobody in the place except ourselves.
Painfully and slowly old Billali crept up the length of the cave, and
with the most dignified stride that I could command I followed after
him. But I felt that it was more or less of a failure. To begin with,
it is not possible to look dignified when you are following in the
wake of an old man writhing along on his stomach like a snake, and
then, in order to go sufficiently slowly, either I had to keep my leg
some seconds in the air at every step, or else to advance with a full
stop between each stride, like Mary Queen of Scots going to execution
in a play. Billali was not good at crawling, I suppose his years stood
in the way, and our progress up that apartment was a very long affair.
I was immediately behind him, and several times I was sorely tempted
to help him on with a good kick. It is so absurd to advance into the
presence of savage royalty after the fashion of an Irishman driving a
pig to market, for that is what we looked like, and the idea nearly
made me burst out laughing then and there. I had to work off my
dangerous tendency to unseemly merriment by blowing my nose, a
proceeding which filled old Billali with horror, for he looked over
his shoulder and made a ghastly face at me, and I heard him murmur,
"Oh, my poor Baboon!"
At last we reached the curtains, and here Billali collapsed flat on to
his stomach, with his hands stretched out before him as though he were
dead, and I, not knowing what to do, began to stare about the place.
But presently I clearly felt that somebody was looking at me from
behind the curtains. I could not see the person, but I could
distinctly feel his or her gaze, and, what is more, it produced a very
odd effect upon my nerves. I was frightened, I do not know why. The
place was a strange one, it is true, and looked lonely,
notwithstanding its rich hangings and the soft glow of the lamps--
indeed, these accessories added to, rather than detracted from its
loneliness, just as a lighted street at night has always a more
solitary appearance than a dark one. It was so silent in the place,
and there lay Billali like one dead before the heavy curtains, through
which the odour of perfume seemed to float up towards the gloom of the
arched roof above. Minute grew into minute, and still there was no
sign of life, nor did the curtain move; but I felt the gaze of the
unknown being sinking through and through me, and filling me with a
nameless terror, till the perspiration stood in beads upon my brow.
At length the curtain began to move. Who could be behind it?--some
naked savage queen, a languishing Oriental beauty, or a nineteenth-
century young lady, drinking afternoon tea? I had not the slightest
idea, and should not have been astonished at seeing any of the three.
I was getting beyond astonishment. The curtain agitated itself a
little, then suddenly between its folds there appeared a most
beautiful white hand (white as snow), and with long tapering fingers,
ending in the pinkest nails. The hand grasped the curtain, and drew it
aside, and as it did so I heard a voice, I think the softest and yet
most silvery voice I ever heard. It reminded me of the murmur of a
"Stranger," said the voice in Arabic, but much purer and more
classical Arabic than the Amahagger talk--"stranger, wherefore art
thou so much afraid?"
Now I flattered myself that in spite of my inward terrors I had kept a
very fair command of my countenance, and was, therefore, a little
astonished at this question. Before I had made up my mind how to
answer it, however, the curtain was drawn, and a tall figure stood
before us. I say a figure, for not only the body, but also the face
was wrapped up in soft white, gauzy material in such a way as at first
sight to remind me most forcibly of a corpse in its grave-clothes. And
yet I do not know why it should have given me that idea, seeing that
the wrappings were so thin that one could distinctly see the gleam of
the pink flesh beneath them. I suppose it was owing to the way in
which they were arranged, either accidentally, or more probably by
design. Anyhow, I felt more frightened than ever at this ghost-like
apparition, and my hair began to rise upon my head as the feeling
crept over me that I was in the presence of something that was not
canny. I could, however, clearly distinguish that the swathed mummy-
like form before me was that of a tall and lovely woman, instinct with
beauty in every part, and also with a certain snake-like grace which I
had never seen anything to equal before. When she moved a hand or foot
her entire frame seemed to undulate, and the neck did not bend, it
"Why art thou so frightened, stranger?" asked the sweet voice again--a
voice which seemed to draw the heart out of me, like the strains of
softest music. "Is there that about me that should affright a man?
Then surely are men changed from what they used to be!" And with a
little coquettish movement she turned herself, and held up one arm, so
as to show all her loveliness and the rich hair of raven blackness
that streamed in soft ripples down her snowy robes, almost to her
"It is thy beauty that makes me fear, oh Queen," I answered humbly,
scarcely knowing what to say, and I thought that as I did so I heard
old Billali, who was still lying prostrate on the floor, mutter,
"Good, my Baboon, good."
"I see that men still know how to beguile us women with false words.
Ah, stranger," she answered, with a laugh that sounded like distant
silver bells, "thou wast afraid because mine eyes were searching out
thine heart, therefore wast thou afraid. Yet being but a woman, I
forgive thee for the lie, for it was courteously said. And now tell me
how came ye hither to this land of the dwellers among the caves--a
land of swamps and evil things and dead old shadows of the dead? What
came ye for to see? How is it that ye hold your lives so cheap as to
place them in the hollow of the hand of /Hiya/, into the hand of
'/She-who-must-be-obeyed/'? Tell me also how come ye to know the
tongue I talk. It is an ancient tongue, that sweet child of the old
Syriac. Liveth it yet in the world? Thou seest I dwell among the caves
and the dead, and naught know I of the affairs of men, nor have I
cared to know. I have lived, O stranger, with my memories, and my
memories are in a grave that mine hands hollowed, for truly hath it
been said that the child of man maketh his own path evil;" and her
beautiful voice quivered, and broke in a note as soft as any wood-
bird's. Suddenly her eye fell upon the sprawling frame of Billali, and
she seemed to recollect herself.
"Ah! thou art there, old man. Tell me how it is that things have gone
wrong in thine household. Forsooth, it seems that these my guests were
set upon. Ay, and one was nigh to being slain by the hot-pot to be
eaten of those brutes, thy children, and had not the others fought
gallantly they too had been slain, and not even I could have called
back the life which had been loosed from the body. What means it, old
man? What hast thou to say that I should not give thee over to those
who execute my vengeance?"
Her voice had risen in her anger, and it rang clear and cold against
the rocky walls. Also I thought I could see her eyes flash through the
gauze that hid them. I saw poor Billali, whom I had believed to be a
very fearless person, positively quiver with terror at her words.
"Oh 'Hiya!' oh /She/!" he said, without lifting his white head from
the floor. "Oh /She/, as thou art great be merciful, for I am now as
ever thy servant to obey. It was no plan or fault of mine, oh /She/,
it was those wicked ones who are called my children. Led on by a woman
whom thy guest the Pig had scorned, they would have followed the
ancient custom of the land, and eaten the fat black stranger who came
hither with these thy guests the Baboon and the Lion who is sick,
thinking that no word had come from thee about the Black one. But when
the Baboon and the Lion saw what they would do, they slew the woman,
and slew also their servant to save him from the horror of the pot.
Then those evil ones, ay, those children of the Wicked One who lives
in the Pit, they went mad with the lust of blood, and flew at the
throats of the Lion and the Baboon and the Pig. But gallantly they
fought. Oh /Hiya/! they fought like very men, and slew many, and held
their own, and then I came and saved them, and the evildoers have I
sent on hither to Kôr to be judged of thy greatness, oh /She/! and
here they are."
"Ay, old man, I know it, and to-morrow will I sit in the great hall
and do justice upon them, fear not. And for thee, I forgive thee,
though hardly. See that thou dost keep thine household better. Go."
Billali rose upon his knees with astonishing alacrity, bowed his head
thrice, and his white beard sweeping the ground, crawled down the
apartment as he had crawled up it, till he finally vanished through
the curtains, leaving me, not a little to my alarm, alone with this
terrible but most fascinating person.
"There," said /She/, "he has gone, the white-bearded old fool! Ah, how
little knowledge does a man acquire in his life. He gathereth it up
like water, but like water it runneth through his fingers, and yet, if
his hands be but wet as though with dew, behold a generation of fools
call out, 'See, he is a wise man!' Is it not so? But how call they
thee? 'Baboon,' he says," and she laughed; "but that is the fashion of
these savages who lack imagination, and fly to the beasts they
resemble for a name. How do they call thee in thine own country,
"They call me Holly, oh Queen," I answered.
"Holly," she answered, speaking the word with difficulty, and yet with
a most charming accent; "and what is 'Holly'?"
"'Holly' is a prickly tree," I said.
"So. Well, thou hast a prickly and yet a tree-like look. Strong art
thou, and ugly, but if my wisdom be not at fault, honest at the core,
and a staff to lean on. Also one who thinks. But stay, oh Holly, stand
not there, enter with me and be seated by me. I would not see thee
crawl before me like those slaves. I am aweary of their worship and
their terror; sometimes when they vex me I could blast them for very
sport, and to see the rest turn white, even to the heart." And she
held the curtain aside with her ivory hand to let me pass in.
I entered, shuddering. This woman was very terrible. Within the
curtains was a recess, about twelve feet by ten, and in the recess was
a couch and a table whereon stood fruit and sparkling water. By it, at
its end, was a vessel like a font cut in carved stone, also full of
pure water. The place was softly lit with lamps formed out of the
beautiful vessels of which I have spoken, and the air and curtains
were laden with a subtle perfume. Perfume too seemed to emanate from
the glorious hair and white-clinging vestments of /She/ herself. I
entered the little room, and there stood uncertain.
"Sit," said /She/, pointing to the couch. "As yet thou hast no cause
to fear me. If thou hast cause, thou shalt not fear for long, for I
shall slay thee. Therefore let thy heart be light."
I sat down on the foot of the couch near to the font-like basin of
water, and /She/ sank down softly on to the other end.
"Now, Holly," she said, "how comest thou to speak Arabic? It is my own
dear tongue, for Arabian am I by my birth, even 'al Arab al Ariba' (an
Arab of the Arabs), and of the race of our father Yárab, the son of
Kâhtan, for in that fair and ancient city Ozal was I born, in the
province of Yaman the Happy. Yet dost thou not speak it as we used to
speak. Thy talk doth lack the music of the sweet tongue of the tribes
of Hamyar which I was wont to hear. Some of the words too seemed
changed, even as among these Amahagger, who have debased and defiled
its purity, so that I must speak with them in what is to me another
[*] Yárab the son of Kâhtan, who lived some centuries before the time
of Abraham, was the father of the ancient Arabs, and gave its name
Araba to the country. In speaking of herself as "al Arab al
Ariba," /She/ no doubt meant to convey that she was of the true
Arab blood as distinguished from the naturalised Arabs, the
descendants of Ismael, the son of Abraham and Hagar, who were
known as "al Arab al mostáraba." The dialect of the Koreish was
usually called the clear or "perspicuous" Arabic, but the
Hamaritic dialect approached nearer to the purity of the mother
Syriac.--L. H. H.
"I have studied it," I answered, "for many years. Also the language is
spoken in Egypt and elsewhere."
"So it is still spoken, and there is yet an Egypt? And what Pharaoh
sits upon the throne? Still one of the spawn of the Persian Ochús, or
are the Achæmenians gone, for far is it to the days of Ochús."
"The Persians have been gone for Egypt for nigh two thousand years,
and since then the Ptolemies, the Romans, and many others have
flourished and held sway upon the Nile, and fallen when their time was
ripe," I said, aghast. "What canst thou know of the Persian
She laughed, and made no answer, and again a cold chill went through
me. "And Greece," she said; "is there still a Greece? Ah, I loved the
Greeks. Beautiful were they as the day, and clever, but fierce at
heart and fickle, notwithstanding."
"Yes," I said, "there is a Greece; and, just now, it is once more a
people. Yet the Greeks of to-day are not what the Greeks of the old
time were, and Greece herself is but a mockery of the Greece that
"So! The Hebrews, are they yet at Jerusalem? And does the Temple that
the wise king built stand, and if so what God do they worship therein?
Is their Messiah come, of whom they preached so much and prophesied so
loudly, and doth He rule the earth?"
"The Jews are broken and gone, and the fragments of their people strew
the world, and Jerusalem is no more. As for the temple that Herod
"Herod!" she said. "I know not Herod. But go on."
"The Romans burnt it, and the Roman eagles flew across its ruins, and
now Judæa is a desert."
"So, so! They were a great people, those Romans, and went straight to
their end--ay, they sped to it like Fate, or like their own eagles on
their prey!--and left peace behind them."
"Solitudinem faciunt, pacem appellant," I suggested.
"Ah, thou canst speak the Latin tongue, too!" she said, in surprise.
"It hath a strange ring in my ears after all these days, and it seems
to me that thy accent does not fall as the Romans put it. Who was it
wrote that? I know not the saying, but it is a true one of that great
people. It seems that I have found a learned man--one whose hands have
held the water of the world's knowledge. Knowest thou Greek also?"
"Yes, oh Queen, and something of Hebrew, but not to speak them well.
They are all dead languages now."
She clapped her hands in childish glee. "Of a truth, ugly tree that
thou art, thou growest the fruits of wisdom, oh Holly," she said; "but
of those Jews whom I hated, for they called me 'heathen' when I would
have taught them my philosophy--did their Messiah come, and doth He
rule the world?"
"Their Messiah came," I answered with reverence; "but He came poor and
lowly, and they would have none of Him. They scourged Him, and
crucified Him upon a tree, but yet His words and His works live on,
for He was the Son of God, and now of a truth He doth rule half the
world, but not with an Empire of the World."
"Ah, the fierce-hearted wolves," she said, "the followers of Sense and
many gods--greedy of gain and faction-torn. I can see their dark faces
yet. So they crucified their Messiah? Well can I believe it. That He
was a Son of the Living Spirit would be naught to them, if indeed He
was so, and of that we will talk afterwards. They would care naught
for any God if He came not with pomp and power. They, a chosen people,
a vessel of Him they call Jehovah, ay, and a vessel of Baal, and a
vessel of Astoreth, and a vessel of the gods of the Egyptians--a high-
stomached people, greedy of aught that brought them wealth and power.
So they crucified their Messiah because He came in lowly guise--and
now are they scattered about the earth? Why, if I remember, so said
one of their prophets that it should be. Well, let them go--they broke
my heart, those Jews, and made me look with evil eyes across the
world, ay, and drove me to this wilderness, this place of a people
that was before them. When I would have taught them wisdom in
Jerusalem they stoned me, ay, at the Gate of the Temple those white-
bearded hypocrites and Rabbis hounded the people on to stone me! See,
here is the mark of it to this day!" and with a sudden move she pulled
up the gauzy wrapping on her rounded arm, and pointed to a little scar
that showed red against its milky beauty.
I shrank back, horrified.
"Pardon me, oh Queen," I said, "but I am bewildered. Nigh upon two
thousand years have rolled across the earth since the Jewish Messiah
hung upon His cross at Golgotha. How then canst thou have taught thy
philosophy to the Jews before He was? Thou art a woman and no spirit.
How can a woman live two thousand years? Why dost thou befool me, oh
She leaned back upon the couch, and once more I felt the hidden eyes
playing upon me and searching out my heart.
"Oh man!" she said at last, speaking very slowly and deliberately, "it
seems that there are still things upon the earth of which thou knowest
naught. Dost thou still believe that all things die, even as those
very Jews believed? I tell thee that naught dies. There is no such
thing as Death, though there be a thing called Change. See," and she
pointed to some sculptures on the rocky wall. "Three times two
thousand years have passed since the last of the great race that hewed
those pictures fell before the breath of the pestilence which
destroyed them, yet are they not dead. E'en now they live; perchance
their spirits are drawn towards us at this very hour," and she glanced
round. "Of a surety it sometimes seems to me that my eyes can see
"Yes, but to the world they are dead."
"Ay, for a time; but even to the world are they born again and again.
I, yes I, Ayesha[*]--for that, stranger, is my name--I say to thee
that I wait now for one I loved to be born again, and here I tarry
till he finds me, knowing of a surety that hither he will come, and
that here, and here only, shall he greet me. Why, dost thou believe
that I, who am all-powerful, I, whose loveliness is more than the
loveliness of the Grecian Helen, of whom they used to sing, and whose
wisdom is wider, ay, far more wide and deep than the wisdom of Solomon
the Wise--I, who know the secrets of the earth and its riches, and can
turn all things to my uses--I, who have even for a while overcome
Change, that ye call Death--why, I say, oh stranger, dost thou think
that I herd here with barbarians lower than the beasts?"
[*] Pronounced Assha.--L. H. H.
"I know not," I said humbly.
"Because I wait for him I love. My life has perchance been evil, I
know not--for who can say what is evil and what good?--so I fear to
die even if I could die, which I cannot until mine hour comes, to go
and seek him where he is; for between us there might rise a wall I
could not climb, at least, I dread it. Surely easy would it be also to
lose the way in seeking in those great spaces wherein the planets
wander on for ever. But the day will come, it may be when five
thousand more years have passed, and are lost and melted into the
vault of Time, even as the little clouds melt into the gloom of night,
or it may be to-morrow, when he, my love, shall be born again, and
then, following a law that is stronger than any human plan, he shall
find me /here/, where once he knew me, and of a surety his heart will
soften towards me, though I sinned against him; ay, even though he
knew me not again, yet will he love me, if only for my beauty's sake."
For a moment I was dumbfounded, and could not answer. The matter was
too overpowering for my intellect to grasp.
"But even so, oh Queen," I said at last, "even if we men be born again
and again, that is not so with thee, if thou speakest truly." Here she
looked up sharply, and once more I caught the flash of those hidden
eyes; "thou," I went on hurriedly, "who hast never died?"
"That is so," she said; "and it is so because I have, half by chance
and half by learning, solved one of the great secrets of the world.
Tell me, stranger: life is--why therefore should not life be
lengthened for a while? What are ten or twenty or fifty thousand years
in the history of life? Why in ten thousand years scarce will the rain
and storms lessen a mountain top by a span in thickness? In two
thousand years these caves have not changed, nothing has changed but
the beasts, and man, who is as the beasts. There is naught that is
wonderful about the matter, couldst thou but understand. Life is
wonderful, ay, but that it should be a little lengthened is not
wonderful. Nature hath her animating spirit as well as man, who is
Nature's child, and he who can find that spirit, and let it breathe
upon him, shall live with her life. He shall not live eternally, for
Nature is not eternal, and she herself must die, even as the nature of
the moon hath died. She herself must die, I say, or rather change and
sleep till it be time for her to live again. But when shall she die?
Not yet, I ween, and while she lives, so shall he who hath all her
secret live with her. All I have it not, yet have I some, more
perchance than any who were before me. Now, to thee I doubt not that
this thing is a great mystery, therefore I will not overcome thee with
it now. Another time I will tell thee more if the mood be on me,
though perchance I shall never speak thereof again. Dost thou wonder
how I knew that ye were coming to this land, and so saved your heads
from the hot-pot?"
"Ay, oh Queen," I answered feebly.
"Then gaze upon that water," and she pointed to the font-like vessel,
and then, bending forward, held her hand over it.
I rose and gazed, and instantly the water darkened. Then it cleared,
and I saw as distinctly as I ever saw anything in my life--I saw, I
say, our boat upon that horrible canal. There was Leo lying at the
bottom asleep in it, with a coat thrown over him to keep off the
mosquitoes, in such a fashion as to hide his face, and myself, Job,
and Mahomed towing on the bank.
I started back, aghast, and cried out that it was magic, for I
recognised the whole scene--it was one which had actually occurred.
"Nay, nay; oh Holly," she answered, "it is no magic, that is a fiction
of ignorance. There is no such thing as magic, though there is such a
thing as a knowledge of the secrets of Nature. That water is my glass;
in it I see what passes if I will to summon up the pictures, which is
not often. Therein I can show thee what thou wilt of the past, if it
be anything that hath to do with this country and with what I have
known, or anything that thou, the gazer, hast known. Think of a face
if thou wilt, and it shall be reflected from thy mind upon the water.
I know not all the secret yet--I can read nothing in the future. But
it is an old secret; I did not find it. In Arabia and in Egypt the
sorcerers knew it centuries gone. So one day I chanced to bethink me
of that old canal--some twenty ages since I sailed upon it, and I was
minded to look thereon again. So I looked, and there I saw the boat
and three men walking, and one, whose face I could not see, but a
youth of noble form, sleeping in the boat, and so I sent and saved ye.
And now farewell. But stay, tell me of this youth--the Lion, as the
old man calls him. I would look upon him, but he is sick, thou sayest
--sick with the fever, and also wounded in the fray."
"He is very sick," I answered sadly; "canst thou do nothing for him,
oh Queen! who knowest so much?"
"Of a surety I can. I can cure him; but why speakest thou so sadly?
Dost thou love the youth? Is he perchance thy son?"
"He is my adopted son, oh Queen! Shall he be brought in before thee?"
"Nay. How long hath the fever taken him?"
"This is the third day."
"Good; then let him lie another day. Then will he perchance throw it
off by his own strength, and that is better than that I should cure
him, for my medicine is of a sort to shake the life in its very
citadel. If, however, by to-morrow night, at that hour when the fever
first took him, he doth not begin to mend, then will I come to him and
cure him. Stay, who nurses him?"
"Our white servant, him whom Billali names the Pig; also," and here I
spoke with some little hesitation, "a woman named Ustane, a very
handsome woman of this country, who came and embraced him when she
first saw him, and hath stayed by him ever since, as I understand is
the fashion of thy people, oh Queen."
"My people! speak not to me of my people," she answered hastily;
"these slaves are no people of mine, they are but dogs to do my
bidding till the day of my deliverance comes; and, as for their
customs, naught have I to do with them. Also, call me not Queen--I am
weary of flattery and titles--call me Ayesha, the name hath a sweet
sound in mine ears, it is an echo from the past. As for this Ustane, I
know not. I wonder if it be she against whom I was warned, and whom I
in turn did warn? Hath she--stay, I will see;" and, bending forward,
she passed her hand over the font of water and gazed intently into it.
"See," she said quietly, "is that the woman?"
I looked into the water, and there, mirrored upon its placid surface,
was the silhouette of Ustane's stately face. She was bending forward,
with a look of infinite tenderness upon her features, watching
something beneath her, and with her chestnut locks falling on to her
"It is she," I said, in a low voice, for once more I felt much
disturbed at this most uncommon sight. "She watches Leo asleep."
"Leo!" said Ayesha, in an absent voice; "why, that is 'lion' in the
Latin tongue. The old man hath named happily for once. It is very
strange," she went on, speaking to herself, "very. So like--but it is
not possible!" With an impatient gesture she passed her hand over the
water once more. It darkened, and the image vanished silently and
mysteriously as it had risen, and once more the lamplight, and the
lamplight only, shone on the placid surface of that limpid, living
"Hast thou aught to ask me before thou goest, oh Holly?" she said,
after a few moments' reflection. "It is but a rude life that thou must
live here, for these people are savages, and know not the ways of
cultivated man. Not that I am troubled thereby, for behold my food,"
and she pointed to the fruit upon the little table. "Naught but fruit
doth ever pass my lips--fruit and cakes of flour, and a little water.
I have bidden my girls to wait upon thee. They are mutes, thou
knowest, deaf are they and dumb, and therefore the safest of servants,
save to those who can read their faces and their signs. I bred them so
--it hath taken many centuries and much trouble; but at last I have
triumphed. Once I succeeded before, but the race was too ugly, so I
let it die away; but now, as thou seest, they are otherwise. Once,
too, I reared a race of giants, but after a while Nature would no more
of it, and it died away. Hast thou aught to ask of me?"
"Ay, one thing, oh Ayesha," I said boldly; but feeling by no means as
bold as I trust I looked. "I would gaze upon thy face."
She laughed out in her bell-like notes. "Bethink thee, Holly," she
answered; "bethink thee. It seems that thou knowest the old myths of
the gods of Greece. Was there not one Actæon who perished miserably
because he looked on too much beauty? If I show thee my face,
perchance thou wouldst perish miserably also; perchance thou wouldst
eat out thy heart in impotent desire; for know I am not for thee--I am
for no man, save one, who hath been, but is not yet."
"As thou wilt, Ayesha," I said. "I fear not thy beauty. I have put my
heart away from such vanity as woman's loveliness, that passeth like a
"Nay, thou errest," she said; "that does /not/ pass. My beauty endures
even as I endure; still, if thou wilt, oh rash man, have thy will; but
blame not me if passion mount thy reason, as the Egyptian breakers
used to mount a colt, and guide it whither thou wilt not. Never may
the man to whom my beauty has been unveiled put it from his mind, and
therefore even with these savages do I go veiled, lest they vex me,
and I should slay them. Say, wilt thou see?"
"I will," I answered, my curiosity overpowering me.
She lifted her white and rounded arms--never had I seen such arms
before--and slowly, very slowly, withdrew some fastening beneath her
hair. Then all of a sudden the long, corpse-like wrappings fell from
her to the ground, and my eyes travelled up her form, now only robed
in a garb of clinging white that did but serve to show its perfect and
imperial shape, instinct with a life that was more than life, and with
a certain serpent-like grace that was more than human. On her little
feet were sandals, fastened with studs of gold. Then came ankles more
perfect than ever sculptor dreamed of. About the waist her white
kirtle was fastened by a double-headed snake of solid gold, above
which her gracious form swelled up in lines as pure as they were
lovely, till the kirtle ended on the snowy argent of her breast,
whereon her arms were folded. I gazed above them at her face, and--I
do not exaggerate--shrank back blinded and amazed. I have heard of the
beauty of celestial beings, now I saw it; only this beauty, with all
its awful loveliness and purity, was /evil/--at least, at the time, it
struck me as evil. How am I to describe it? I cannot--simply I cannot!
The man does not live whose pen could convey a sense of what I saw. I
might talk of the great changing eyes of deepest, softest black, of
the tinted face, of the broad and noble brow, on which the hair grew
low, and delicate, straight features. But, beautiful, surpassingly
beautiful as they all were, her loveliness did not lie in them. It lay
rather, if it can be said to have had any fixed abiding place, in a
visible majesty, in an imperial grace, in a godlike stamp of softened
power, which shone upon that radiant countenance like a living halo.
Never before had I guessed what beauty made sublime could be--and yet,
the sublimity was a dark one--the glory was not all of heaven--though
none the less was it glorious. Though the face before me was that of a
young woman of certainly not more than thirty years, in perfect
health, and the first flush of ripened beauty, yet it had stamped upon
it a look of unutterable experience, and of deep acquaintance with
grief and passion. Not even the lovely smile that crept about the
dimples of her mouth could hide this shadow of sin and sorrow. It
shone even in the light of the glorious eyes, it was present in the
air of majesty, and it seemed to say: "Behold me, lovely as no woman
was or is, undying and half-divine; memory haunts me from age to age,
and passion leads me by the hand--evil have I done, and from age to
age evil I shall do, and sorrow shall I know till my redemption
Drawn by some magnetic force which I could not resist, I let my eyes
rest upon her shining orbs, and felt a current pass from them to me
that bewildered and half-blinded me.
She laughed--ah, how musically! and nodded her little head at me with
an air of sublimated coquetry that would have done credit to a Venus
"Rash man!" she said; "like Actæon, thou hast had thy will; be careful
lest, like Actæon, thou too dost perish miserably, torn to pieces by
the ban-hounds of thine own passions. I too, oh Holly, am a virgin
goddess, not to be moved of any man, save one, and it is not thou.
Say, hast thou seen enough!"
"I have looked on beauty, and I am blinded," I said hoarsely, lifting
my hand to cover up my eyes.
"So! what did I tell thee? Beauty is like the lightning; it is lovely,
but it destroys--especially trees, oh Holly!" and again she nodded and
Suddenly she paused, and through my fingers I saw an awful change come
over her countenance. Her great eyes suddenly fixed themselves into an
expression in which horror seemed to struggle with some tremendous
hope arising through the depths of her dark soul. The lovely face grew
rigid, and the gracious willowy form seemed to erect itself.
"Man," she half whispered, half hissed, throwing back her head like a
snake about to strike--"Man, whence hadst thou that scarab on thy
hand? Speak, or by the Spirit of Life I will blast thee where thou
standest!" and she took one light step towards me, and from her eyes
there shone such an awful light--to me it seemed almost like a flame--
that I fell, then and there, on the ground before her, babbling
confusedly in my terror.
"Peace," she said, with a sudden change of manner, and speaking in her
former soft voice. "I did affright thee! Forgive me! But at times, oh
Holly, the almost infinite mind grows impatient of the slowness of the
very finite, and am I tempted to use my power out of vexation--very
nearly wast thou dead, but I remembered----. But the scarab--about the
"I picked it up," I gurgled feebly, as I got on to my feet again, and
it is a solemn fact that my mind was so disturbed that at the moment I
could remember nothing else about the ring except that I had picked it
up in Leo's cave.
"It is very strange," she said with a sudden access of womanlike
trembling and agitation which seemed out of place in this awful woman
--"but once I knew a scarab like to that. It--hung round the neck--of
one I loved," and she gave a little sob, and I saw that after all she
was only a woman, although she might be a very old one.
"There," she went on, "it must be one like to it, and yet never did I
see one like to it, for thereto hung a history, and he who wore it
prized it much.[*] But the scarab that I knew was not set thus in the
bezel of a ring. Go now, Holly, go, and, if thou canst, try to forget
that thou hast of thy folly looked upon Ayesha's beauty," and, turning
from me, she flung herself on her couch, and buried her face in the
[*] I am informed by a renowned and learned Egyptologist, to whom I
have submitted this very interesting and beautifully finished
scarab, "Suten se Ra," that he has never seen one resembling it.
Although it bears a title frequently given to Egyptian royalty, he
is of opinion that it is not necessarily the cartouche of a
Pharaoh, on which either the throne or personal name of the
monarch is generally inscribed. What the history of this
particular scarab may have been we can now, unfortunately, never
know, but I have little doubt but that it played some part in the
tragic story of the Princess Amenartas and her lover Kallikrates,
the forsworn priest of Isis.--Editor.
As for me, I stumbled from her presence, and I do not remember how I
reached my own cave.
A SOUL IN HELL
It was nearly ten o'clock at night when I cast myself down upon my
bed, and began to gather my scattered wits, and reflect upon what I
had seen and heard. But the more I reflected the less I could make of
it. Was I mad, or drunk, or dreaming, or was I merely the victim of a
gigantic and most elaborate hoax? How was it possible that I, a
rational man, not unacquainted with the leading scientific facts of
our history, and hitherto an absolute and utter disbeliever in all the
hocus-pocus which in Europe goes by the name of the supernatural,
could believe that I had within the last few minutes been engaged in
conversation with a woman two thousand and odd years old? The thing
was contrary to the experience of human nature, and absolutely and
utterly impossible. It must be a hoax, and yet, if it were a hoax,
what was I to make of it? What, too, was to be said of the figures on
the water, of the woman's extraordinary acquaintance with the remote
past, and her ignorance, or apparent ignorance, of any subsequent
history? What, too, of her wonderful and awful loveliness? This, at
any rate, was a patent fact, and beyond the experience of the world.
No merely mortal woman could shine with such a supernatural radiance.
About that she had, at any rate, been in the right--it was not safe
for any man to look upon such beauty. I was a hardened vessel in such
matters, having, with the exception of one painful experience of my
green and tender youth, put the softer sex (I sometimes think that
this is a misnomer) almost entirely out of my thoughts. But now, to my
intense horror, I /knew/ that I could never put away the vision of
those glorious eyes; and alas! the very /diablerie/ of the woman,
whilst it horrified and repelled, attracted in even a greater degree.
A person with the experience of two thousand years at her back, with
the command of such tremendous powers, and the knowledge of a mystery
that could hold off death, was certainly worth falling in love with,
if ever woman was. But, alas! it was not a question of whether or no
she was worth it, for so far as I could judge, not being versed in
such matters, I, a fellow of my college, noted for what my
acquaintances are pleased to call my misogyny, and a respectable man
now well on in middle life, had fallen absolutely and hopelessly in
love with this white sorceress. Nonsense; it must be nonsense! She had
warned me fairly, and I had refused to take the warning. Curses on the
fatal curiosity that is ever prompting man to draw the veil from
woman, and curses on the natural impulse that begets it! It is the
cause of half--ay, and more than half--of our misfortunes. Why cannot
man be content to live alone and be happy, and let the women live
alone and be happy too? But perhaps they would not be happy, and I am
not sure that we should either. Here is a nice state of affairs. I, at
my age, to fall a victim to this modern Circe! But then she was not
modern, at least she said not. She was almost as ancient as the
I tore my hair, and jumped up from my couch, feeling that if I did not
do something I should go off my head. What did she mean about the
scarabæus too? It was Leo's scarabæus, and had come out of the old
coffer that Vincey had left in my rooms nearly one-and-twenty years
before. Could it be, after all, that the whole story was true, and the
writing on the sherd was /not/ a forgery, or the invention of some
crack-brained, long-forgotten individual? And if so, could it be that
/Leo/ was the man that /She/ was waiting for--the dead man who was to
be born again! Impossible! The whole thing was gibberish! Who ever
heard of a man being born again?
But if it were possible that a woman could exist for two thousand
years, this might be possible also--anything might be possible. I
myself might, for aught I knew, be a reincarnation of some other
forgotten self, or perhaps the last of a long line of ancestral
selves. Well, /vive la guerre!/ why not? Only, unfortunately, I had no
recollection of these previous conditions. The idea was so absurd to
me that I burst out laughing, and, addressing the sculptured picture
of a grim-looking warrior on the cave wall, called out to him aloud,
"Who knows, old fellow?--perhaps I was your contemporary. By Jove!
perhaps I was you and you are I," and then I laughed again at my own
folly, and the sound of my laughter rang dismally along the vaulted
roof, as though the ghost of the warrior had echoed the ghost of a
Next I bethought me that I had not been to see how Leo was, so, taking
up one of the lamps which was burning at my bedside, I slipped off my
shoes and crept down the passage to the entrance of his sleeping cave.
The draught of the night air was lifting his curtain to and fro
gently, as though spirit hands were drawing and redrawing it. I slid
into the vault-like apartment, and looked round. There was a light by
which I could see that Leo was lying on the couch, tossing restlessly
in his fever, but asleep. At his side, half-lying on the floor, half-
leaning against the stone couch, was Ustane. She held his hand in one
of hers, but she too was dozing, and the two made a pretty, or rather
a pathetic, picture. Poor Leo! his cheek was burning red, there were
dark shadows beneath his eyes, and his breath came heavily. He was
very, very ill; and again the horrible fear seized me that he might
die, and I be left alone in the world. And yet if he lived he would
perhaps be my rival with Ayesha; even if he were not the man, what
chance should I, middle-aged and hideous, have against his bright
youth and beauty? Well, thank Heaven! my sense of right was not dead.
/She/ had not killed that yet; and, as I stood there, I prayed to
Heaven in my heart that my boy, my more than son, might live--ay, even
if he proved to be the man.
Then I went back as softly as I had come, but still I could not sleep;
the sight and thought of dear Leo lying there so ill had but added
fuel to the fire of my unrest. My wearied body and overstrained mind
awakened all my imagination into preternatural activity. Ideas,
visions, almost inspirations, floated before it with startling
vividness. Most of them were grotesque enough, some were ghastly, some
recalled thoughts and sensations that had for years been buried in the
/débris/ of my past life. But, behind and above them all, hovered the
shape of that awful woman, and through them gleamed the memory of her
entrancing loveliness. Up and down the cave I strode--up and down.
Suddenly I observed, what I had not noticed before, that there was a
narrow aperture in the rocky wall. I took up the lamp and examined it;
the aperture led to a passage. Now, I was still sufficiently sensible
to remember that it is not pleasant, in such a situation as ours was,
to have passages running into one's bed-chamber from no one knows
where. If there are passages, people can come up them; they can come
up when one is asleep. Partly to see where it went to, and partly from
a restless desire to be doing something, I followed the passage. It
led to a stone stair, which I descended; the stair ended in another
passage, or rather tunnel, also hewn out of the bed-rock, and running,
so far as I could judge, exactly beneath the gallery that led to the
entrance of our rooms, and across the great central cave. I went on
down it: it was as silent as the grave, but still, drawn by some
sensation or attraction that I cannot define, I followed on, my
stockinged feet falling without noise on the smooth and rocky floor.
When I had traversed some fifty yards of space, I came to another
passage running at right angles, and here an awful thing happened to
me: the sharp draught caught my lamp and extinguished it, leaving me
in utter darkness in the bowels of that mysterious place. I took a
couple of strides forward so as to clear the bisecting tunnel, being
terribly afraid lest I should turn up it in the dark if once I got
confused as to the direction, and then paused to think. What was I to
do? I had no match; it seemed awful to attempt that long journey back
through the utter gloom, and yet I could not stand there all night,
and, if I did, probably it would not help me much, for in the bowels
of the rock it would be as dark at midday as at midnight. I looked
back over my shoulder--not a sight or a sound. I peered forward into
the darkness: surely, far away, I saw something like the faint glow of
fire. Perhaps it was a cave where I could get a light--at any rate, it
was worth investigating. Slowly and painfully I crept along the
tunnel, keeping my hand against its wall, and feeling at every step
with my foot before I put it down, fearing lest I should fall into
some pit. Thirty paces--there was a light, a broad light that came and
went, shining through curtains! Fifty paces--it was close at hand!
Sixty--oh, great heaven!
I was at the curtains, and they did not hang close, so I could see
clearly into the little cavern beyond them. It had all the appearance
of being a tomb, and was lit up by a fire that burnt in its centre
with a whitish flame and without smoke. Indeed, there, to the left,
was a stone shelf with a little ledge to it three inches or so high,
and on the shelf lay what I took to be a corpse; at any rate, it
looked like one, with something white thrown over it. To the right was
a similar shelf, on which lay some broidered coverings. Over the fire
bent the figure of a woman; she was sideways to me and facing the
corpse, wrapped in a dark mantle that hid her like a nun's cloak. She
seemed to be staring at the flickering flame. Suddenly, as I was
trying to make up my mind what to do, with a convulsive movement that
somehow gave an impression of despairing energy, the woman rose to her
feet and cast the dark cloak from her.
It was /She/ herself!
She was clothed, as I had seen her when she unveiled, in the kirtle of
clinging white, cut low upon her bosom, and bound in at the waist with
the barbaric double-headed snake, and, as before, her rippling black
hair fell in heavy masses down her back. But her face was what caught
my eye, and held me as in a vice, not this time by the force of its
beauty, but by the power of fascinated terror. The beauty was still
there, indeed, but the agony, the blind passion, and the awful
vindictiveness displayed upon those quivering features, and in the
tortured look of the upturned eyes, were such as surpass my powers of
For a moment she stood still, her hands raised high above her head,
and as she did so the white robe slipped from her down to her golden
girdle, baring the blinding loveliness of her form. She stood there,
her fingers clenched, and the awful look of malevolence gathered and
deepened on her face.
Suddenly I thought of what would happen if she discovered me, and the
reflection made me turn sick and faint. But, even if I had known that
I must die if I stopped, I do not believe that I could have moved, for
I was absolutely fascinated. But still I knew my danger. Supposing she
should hear me, or see me through the curtain, supposing I even
sneezed, or that her magic told her that she was being watched--swift
indeed would be my doom.
Down came the clenched hands to her sides, then up again above her
head, and, as I am a living and honourable man, the white flame of the
fire leapt up after them, almost to the roof, throwing a fierce and
ghastly glare upon /She/ herself, upon the white figure beneath the
covering, and every scroll and detail of the rockwork.
Down came the ivory arms again, and as they did so she spoke, or
rather hissed, in Arabic, in a note that curdled my blood, and for a
second stopped my heart.
"Curse her, may she be everlastingly accursed."
The arms fell and the flame sank. Up they went again, and the broad
tongue of fire shot up after them; and then again they fell.
"Curse her memory--accursed be the memory of the Egyptian."
Up again, and again down.
"Curse her, the daughter of the Nile, because of her beauty.
"Curse her, because her magic hath prevailed against me.
"Curse her, because she held my beloved from me."
And again the flame dwindled and shrank.
She put her hands before her eyes, and abandoning the hissing tone,
"What is the use of cursing?--she prevailed, and she is gone."
Then she recommenced with an even more frightful energy:--
"Curse her where she is. Let my curses reach her where she is and
disturb her rest.
"Curse her through the starry spaces. Let her shadow be accursed.
"Let my power find her even there.
"Let her hear me even there. Let her hide herself in the blackness.
"Let her go down into the pit of despair, because I shall one day find
Again the flame fell, and again she covered her eyes with her hands.
"It is of no use--no use," she wailed; "who can reach those who sleep?
Not even I can reach them."
Then once more she began her unholy rites.
"Curse her when she shall be born again. Let her be born accursed.
"Let her be utterly accused from the hour of her birth until sleep
"Yea, then, let her be accursed; for then shall I overtake her with my
vengeance, and utterly destroy her."
And so on. The flame rose and fell, reflecting itself in her agonised
eyes; the hissing sound of her terrible maledictions, and no words of
mine can convey how terrible they were, ran round the walls and died
away in little echoes, and the fierce light and deep gloom alternated
themselves on the white and dreadful form stretched upon that bier of
But at length she seemed to wear herself out and cease. She sat
herself down upon the rocky floor, shook the dense cloud of her
beautiful hair over her face and breast, and began to sob terribly in
the torture of a heartrending despair.
"Two thousand years," she moaned--"two thousand years have I wanted
and endured; but though century doth still creep on to century, and
time give place to time, the sting of memory hath not lessened, the
light of hope doth not shine more bright. Oh! to have lived two
thousand years, with all my passion eating out my heart, and with my
sin ever before me. Oh, that for me life cannot bring forgetfulness!
Oh, for the weary years that have been and are yet to come, and
evermore to come, endless and without end!
"My love! my love! my love! Why did that stranger bring thee back to
me after this sort? For five hundred years I have not suffered thus.
Oh, if I sinned against thee, have I not wiped away the sin? When wilt
thou come back to me who have all, and yet without thee have naught?
What is there that I can do? What? What? What? And perchance she--
perchance that Egyptian doth abide with thee where thou art, and mock
my memory. Oh, why could I not die with thee, I who slew thee? Alas,
that I cannot die! Alas! Alas!" and she flung herself prone upon the
ground, and sobbed and wept till I thought her heart must burst.
Suddenly she ceased, raised herself to her feet, rearranged her robe,
and, tossing back her long locks impatiently, swept across to where
the figure lay upon the stone.
"Oh Kallikrates," she cried, and I trembled at the name, "I must look
upon thy face again, though it be agony. It is a generation since I
looked upon thee whom I slew--slew with mine own hand," and with
trembling fingers she seized the corner of the sheet-like wrapping
that covered the form upon the stone bier, and then paused. When she
spoke again, it was in a kind of awed whisper, as though her idea were
terrible even to herself.
"Shall I raise thee," she said, apparently addressing the corpse, "so
that thou standest there before me, as of old? I /can/ do it," and she
held out her hands over the sheeted dead, while her whole frame became
rigid and terrible to see, and her eyes grew fixed and dull. I shrank
in horror behind the curtain, my hair stood up upon my head, and,
whether it was my imagination or a fact I am unable to say, but I
thought that the quiet form beneath the covering began to quiver, and
the winding sheet to lift as though it lay on the breast of one who
slept. Suddenly she withdrew her hands, and the motion of the corpse
seemed to me to cease.
"To what purpose?" she said gloomily. "Of what good is it to recall
the semblance of life when I cannot recall the spirit? Even if thou
stoodest before me thou wouldst not know me, and couldst but do what I
bid thee. The life in thee would be /my/ life, and not /thy/ life,
For a moment she stood there brooding, and then cast herself down on
her knees beside the form, and began to press her lips against the
sheet, and weep. There was something so horrible about the sight of
this awe-inspiring woman letting loose her passion on the dead--so
much more horrible even than anything that had gone before--that I
could no longer bear to look at it, and, turning, began to creep,
shaking as I was in every limb, slowly along the pitch-dark passage,
feeling in my trembling heart that I had seen a vision of a Soul in
On I stumbled, I scarcely know how. Twice I fell, once I turned up the
bisecting passage, but fortunately found out my mistake in time. For
twenty minutes or more I crept along, till at last it occurred to me
that I must have passed the little stair by which I had descended. So,
utterly exhausted, and nearly frightened to death, I sank down at
length there on the stone flooring, and sank into oblivion.
When I came to I noticed a faint ray of light in the passage just
behind me. I crept to it, and found it was the little stair down which
the weak dawn was stealing. Passing up it, I gained my chamber in
safety, and, flinging myself on the couch, was soon lost in slumber or
AYESHA GIVES JUDGMENT
The next thing that I remember was opening my eyes and perceiving the
form of Job, who had now practically recovered from his attack of
fever. He was standing in the ray of light that pierced into the cave
from the outer air, shaking out my clothes as a makeshift for brushing
them, which he could not do because there was no brush, and then
folding them up neatly and laying them on the foot of the stone couch.
This done, he got my travelling dressing-case out of the Gladstone
bag, and opened it ready for my use. First he stood it on the foot of
the couch also, then, being afraid, I suppose, that I should kick it
off, he placed it on a leopard skin on the floor, and stood back a
step or two to observe the effect. It was not satisfactory, so he shut
up the bag, turned it on end, and, having rested it against the foot
of the couch, placed the dressing-case on it. Next he looked at the
pots full of water, which constituted our washing apparatus. "Ah!" I
heard him murmur, "no hot water in this beastly place. I suppose these
poor creatures only use it to boil each other in," and he sighed
"What is the matter, Job?" I said.
"Beg pardon, sir," he said, touching his hair. "I thought you were
asleep, sir; and I am sure you seem as though you want it. One might
think from the look of you that you had been having a night of it."
I only groaned by way of answer. I had, indeed, been having a night of
it, such as I hope never to have again.
"How is Mr. Leo, Job?"
"Much the same, sir. If he don't soon mend, he'll end, sir; and that's
all about it; though I must say that that there savage, Ustane, do do
her best for him, almost like a baptised Christian. She is always
hanging round and looking after him, and if I ventures to interfere
it's awful to see her; her hair seems to stand on end, and she curses
and swears away in her heathen talk--at least I fancy she must be
cursing, from the look of her."
"And what do you do then?"
"I make her a perlite bow, and I say, 'Young woman, your position is
one that I don't quite understand, and can't recognise. Let me tell
you that I has a duty to perform to my master as is incapacitated by
illness, and that I am going to perform it until I am incapacitated
too,' but she don't take no heed, not she--only curses and swears away
worse than ever. Last night she put her hand under that sort of night-
shirt she wears and whips out a knife with a kind of a curl in the
blade, so I whips out my revolver, and we walks round and round each
other till at last she bursts out laughing. It isn't nice treatment
for a Christian man to have to put up with from a savage, however
handsome she may be, but it is what people must expect as is /fools/
enough" (Job laid great emphasis on the "fools") "to come to such a
place to look for things no man is meant to find. It's a judgment on
us, sir--that's my view; and I, for one, is of opinion that the
judgment isn't half done yet, and when it is done we shall be done
too, and just stop in these beastly caves with the ghosts and the
corpseses for once and all. And now, sir, I must be seeing about Mr.
Leo's broth, if that wild cat will let me; and, perhaps, you would
like to get up, sir, because it's past nine o'clock."
Job's remarks were not of an exactly cheering order to a man who had
passed such a night as I had; and, what is more, they had the weight
of truth. Taking one thing with another, it appeared to me to be an
utter impossibility that we should escape from the place we were.
Supposing that Leo recovered, and supposing that /She/ would let us
go, which was exceedingly doubtful, and that she did not "blast" us in
some moment of vexation, and that we were not hot-potted by the
Amahagger, it would be quite impossible for us to find our way across
the network of marshes which, stretching for scores and scores of
miles, formed a stronger and more impassable fortification round the
various Amahagger households than any that could be built or designed
by man. No, there was but one thing to do--face it out; and, speaking
for my own part, I was so intensely interested in the whole weird
story that, so far as I was concerned, notwithstanding the shattered
state of my nerves, I asked nothing better, even if my life paid
forfeit to my curiosity. What man for whom physiology has charms could
forbear to study such a character as that of this Ayesha when the
opportunity of doing so presented itself? The very terror of the
pursuit added to its fascination, and besides, as I was forced to own
to myself even now in the sober light of day, she herself had
attractions that I could not forget. Not even the dreadful sight which
I had witnessed during the night could drive that folly from my mind;
and alas! that I should have to admit it, it has not been driven
thence to this hour.
After I had dressed myself I passed into the eating, or rather
embalming chamber, and had some food, which was as before brought to
me by the girl mutes. When I had finished I went and saw poor Leo, who
was quite off his head, and did not even know me. I asked Ustane how
she thought he was; but she only shook her head and began to cry a
little. Evidently her hopes were small; and I then and there made up
my mind that, if it were in any way possible, I would get /She/ to
come and see him. Surely she would cure him if she chose--at any rate
she said she could. While I was in the room, Billali entered, and also
shook his head.
"He will die at night," he said.
"God forbid, my father," I answered, and turned away with a heavy
"/She-who-must-be-obeyed/ commands thy presence, my Baboon," said the
old man as soon as we got to the curtain; "but, oh my dear son, be
more careful. Yesterday I made sure in my heart that /She/ would blast
thee when thou didst not crawl upon thy stomach before her. She is
sitting in the great hall even now to do justice upon those who would
have smitten thee and the Lion. Come on, my son; come swiftly."
I turned, and followed him down the passage, and when we reached the
great central cave saw that many Amahagger, some robed, and some
merely clad in the sweet simplicity of a leopard skin, were hurrying
along it. We mingled with the throng, and walked up the enormous and,
indeed, almost interminable cave. All the way its walls were
elaborately sculptured, and every twenty paces or so passages opened
out of it at right angles, leading, Billali told me, to tombs,
hollowed in the rock by "the people who were before." Nobody visited
those tombs now, he said; and I must say that my heart rejoiced when I
thought of the opportunities of antiquarian research which opened out
At last we came to the head of the cave, where there was a rock daïs
almost exactly similar to the one on which we had been so furiously
attacked, a fact that proved to me that these daïs must have been used
as altars, probably for the celebration of religious ceremonies, and
more especially of rites connected with the interment of the dead. On
either side of this daïs were passages leading, Billali informed me,
to other caves full of dead bodies. "Indeed," he added, "the whole
mountain is full of dead, and nearly all of them are perfect."
In front of the daïs were gathered a great number of people of both
sexes, who stood staring about in their peculiar gloomy fashion, which
would have reduced Mark Tapley himself to misery in about five
minutes. On the daïs was a rude chair of black wood inlaid with ivory,
having a seat made of grass fibre, and a footstool formed of a wooden
slab attached to the framework of the chair.
Suddenly there was a cry of "Hiya! Hiya!" ("/She! She!/"), and
thereupon the entire crowd of spectators instantly precipitated itself
upon the ground, and lay still as though it were individually and
collectively stricken dead, leaving me standing there like some
solitary survivor of a massacre. As it did so a long string of guards
began to defile from a passage to the left, and ranged themselves on
either side of the daïs. Then followed about a score of male mutes,
then as many women mutes bearing lamps, and then a tall white figure,
swathed from head to foot, in whom I recognised /She/ herself. She
mounted the daïs and sat down upon the chair, and spoke to me in
/Greek/, I suppose because she did not wish those present to
understand what she said.
"Come hither, oh Holly," she said, "and sit thou at my feet, and see
me do justice on those who would have slain thee. Forgive me if my
Greek doth halt like a lame man; it is so long since I have heard the
sound of it that my tongue is stiff, and will not bend rightly to the
I bowed, and, mounting the daïs, sat down at her feet.
"How hast thou slept, my Holly?" she asked.
"I slept not well, oh Ayesha!" I answered with perfect truth, and with
an inward fear that perhaps she knew how I had passed the heart of the
"So," she said, with a little laugh; "I, too, have not slept well.
Last night I had dreams, and methinks that thou didst call them to me,
"Of what didst thou dream, Ayesha?" I asked indifferently.
"I dreamed," she answered quickly, "of one I hate and one I love," and
then, as though to turn the conversation, she addressed the captain of
her guard in Arabic: "Let the men be brought before me."
The captain bowed low, for the guard and her attendants did not
prostrate themselves, but had remained standing, and departed with his
underlings down a passage to the right.
Then came a silence. /She/ leaned her swathed head upon her hand and
appeared to be lost in thought, while the multitude before her