Part 4 out of 6
continued to grovel upon their stomachs, only screwing their heads
round a little so as to get a view of us with one eye. It seemed that
their Queen so rarely appeared in public that they were willing to
undergo this inconvenience, and even graver risks, to have the
opportunity of looking on her, or rather on her garments, for no
living man there except myself had ever seen her face. At last we
caught sight of the waving of lights, and heard the tramp of men
coming along the passage, and in filed the guard, and with them the
survivors of our would-be murderers, to the number of twenty or more,
on whose countenances a natural expression of sullenness struggled
with the terror that evidently filled their savage hearts. They were
ranged in front of the daïs, and would have cast themselves down on
the floor of the cave like the spectators, but /She/ stopped them.
"Nay," she said in her softest voice, "stand; I pray you stand.
Perchance the time will soon be when ye shall grow weary of being
stretched out," and she laughed melodiously.
I saw a cringe of terror run along the rank of the doomed wretches,
and, wicked villains as they were, I felt sorry for them. Some
minutes, perhaps two or three, passed before anything fresh occurred,
during which /She/ appeared from the movement of her head--for, of
course, we could not see her eyes--to be slowly and carefully
examining each delinquent. At last she spoke, addressing herself to me
in a quiet and deliberate tone.
"Dost thou, oh my guest, recognise these men?"
"Ay, oh Queen, nearly all of them," I said, and I saw them glower at
me as I said it.
"Then tell to me, and this great company, the tale whereof I have
Thus adjured, I, in as few words as I could, related the history of
the cannibal feast, and of the attempted torture of our poor servant.
The narrative was received in perfect silence, both by the accused and
by the audience, and also by /She/ herself. When I had done, Ayesha
called upon Billali by name, and, lifting his head from the ground,
but without rising, the old man confirmed my story. No further
evidence was taken.
"Ye have heard," said /She/ at length, in a cold, clear voice, very
different from her usual tones--indeed, it was one of the most
remarkable things about this extraordinary creature that her voice had
the power of suiting itself in a wonderful manner to the mood of the
moment. "What have ye to say, ye rebellious children, why vengeance
should not be done upon you?"
For some time there was no answer, but at last one of the men, a fine,
broad-chested fellow, well on in middle-life, with deep-graven
features and an eye like a hawk's, spoke, and said that the orders
that they had received were not to harm the white men; nothing was
said of their black servant, so, egged on thereto by a woman who was
now dead, they proceeded to try to hot-pot him after the ancient and
honourable custom of their country, with a view of eating him in due
course. As for their sudden attack upon ourselves, it was made in an
access of sudden fury, and they deeply regretted it. He ended by
humbly praying that they might be banished into the swamps, to live
and die as it might chance; but I saw it written on his face that he
had but little hope of mercy.
Then came a pause, and the most intense silence reigned over the whole
scene, which, illuminated as it was by the flicker of the lamps
striking out broad patterns of light and shadow upon the rocky walls,
was as strange as any I ever saw, even in that unholy land. Upon the
ground before the daïs were stretched scores of the corpselike forms
of the spectators, till at last the long lines of them were lost in
the gloomy background. Before this outstretched audience were the
knots of evil-doers, trying to cover up their natural terrors with a
brave appearance of unconcern. On the right and left stood the silent
guards, robed in white and armed with great spears and daggers, and
men and women mutes watching with hard curious eyes. Then, seated in
her barbaric chair above them all, with myself at her feet, was the
veiled white woman, whose loveliness and awesome power seemed to
visibly shine about her like a halo, or rather like the glow from some
unseen light. Never have I seen her veiled shape look more terrible
than it did in that space, while she gathered herself up for
At last it came.
"Dogs and serpents," /She/ began in a low voice that gradually
gathered power as she went on, till the place rang with it. "Eaters of
human flesh, two things have ye done. First, ye have attacked these
strangers, being white men, and would have slain their servant, and
for that alone death is your reward. But that is not all. Ye have
dared to disobey me. Did I not send my word unto you by Billali, my
servant, and the father of your household? Did I not bid you to
hospitably entertain these strangers, whom now ye have striven to
slay, and whom, had not they been brave and strong beyond the strength
of men, ye would cruelly have murdered? Hath it not been taught to you
from childhood that the law of /She/ is an ever fixed law, and that he
who breaketh it by so much as one jot or tittle shall perish? And is
not my lightest word a law? Have not your fathers taught you this, I
say, whilst as yet ye were but children? Do ye not know that as well
might ye bid these great caves to fall upon you, or the sun to cease
its journeying, as to hope to turn me from my courses, or make my word
light or heavy, according to your minds? Well do ye know it, ye Wicked
Ones. But ye are all evil--evil to the core--the wickedness bubbles up
in you like a fountain in the spring-time. Were it not for me,
generations since had ye ceased to be, for of your own evil way had ye
destroyed each other. And now, because ye have done this thing,
because ye have striven to put these men, my guests, to death, and yet
more because ye have dared to disobey my word, this is the doom that I
doom you to. That ye be taken to the cave of torture,[*] and given
over to the tormentors, and that on the going down of to-morrow's sun
those of you who yet remain alive be slain, even as ye would have
slain the servant of this my guest."
[*] "The cave of torture." I afterwards saw this dreadful place, also
a legacy from the prehistoric people who lived in Kôr. The only
objects in the cave itself were slabs of rock arranged in various
positions to facilitate the operations of the torturers. Many of
these slabs, which were of a porous stone, were stained quite dark
with the blood of ancient victims that had soaked into them. Also
in the centre of the room was a place for a furnace, with a cavity
wherein to heat the historic pot. But the most dreadful thing
about the cave was that over each slab was a sculptured
illustration of the appropriate torture being applied. These
sculptures were so awful that I will not harrow the reader by
attempting a description of them.--L. H. H.
She ceased, and a faint murmur of horror ran round the cave. As for
the victims, as soon as they realised the full hideousness of their
doom, their stoicism forsook them, and they flung themselves down upon
the ground, and wept and implored for mercy in a way that was dreadful
to behold. I, too, turned to Ayesha, and begged her to spare them, or
at least to mete out their fate in some less awful way. But she was
hard as adamant about it.
"My Holly," she said, again speaking in Greek, which, to tell the
truth, although I have always been considered a better scholar of the
language than most men, I found it rather difficult to follow, chiefly
because of the change in the fall of the accent. Ayesha, of course,
talked with the accent of her contemporaries, whereas we have only
tradition and the modern accent to guide us as to the exact
pronunciation. "My Holly, it cannot be. Were I to show mercy to those
wolves, your lives would not be safe among this people for a day. Thou
knowest them not. They are tigers to lap blood, and even now they
hunger for your lives. How thinkest thou that I rule this people? I
have but a regiment of guards to do my bidding, therefore it is not by
force. It is by terror. My empire is of the imagination. Once in a
generation mayhap I do as I have done but now, and slay a score by
torture. Believe not that I would be cruel, or take vengeance on
anything so low. What can it profit me to be avenged on such as these?
Those who live long, my Holly, have no passions, save where they have
interests. Though I may seem to slay in wrath, or because my mood is
crossed, it is not so. Thou hast seen how in the heavens the little
clouds blow this way and that without a cause, yet behind them is the
great wind sweeping on its path whither it listeth. So it is with me,
oh Holly. My moods and changes are the little clouds, and fitfully
these seem to turn; but behind them ever blows the great wind of my
purpose. Nay, the men must die; and die as I have said." Then,
suddenly turning to the captain of the guard:--
"As my word is, so be it!"
THE TOMBS OF KÔR
After the prisoners had been removed Ayesha waved her hand, and the
spectators turned round, and began to crawl off down the cave like a
scattered flock of sheep. When they were a fair distance from the
daïs, however, they rose and walked away, leaving the Queen and myself
alone, with the exception of the mutes and the few remaining guards,
most of whom had departed with the doomed men. Thinking this a good
opportunity, I asked /She/ to come and see Leo, telling her of his
serious condition; but she would not, saying that he certainly would
not die before the night, as people never died of that sort of fever
except at nightfall or dawn. Also she said that it would be better to
let the sickness spend its course as much as possible before she cured
it. Accordingly, I was rising to leave, when she bade me follow her,
as she would talk with me, and show me the wonders of the caves.
I was too much involved in the web of her fatal fascinations to say
her no, even if I had wished, which I did not. She rose from her
chair, and, making some signs to the mutes, descended from the daïs.
Thereon four of the girls took lamps, and ranged themselves two in
front and two behind us, but the others went away, as also did the
"Now," she said, "wouldst thou see some of the wonders of this place,
oh Holly? Look upon this great cave. Sawest thou ever the like? Yet
was it, and many more like it, hollowed by the hands of the dead race
that once lived here in the city on the plain. A great and wonderful
people must they have been, those men of Kôr, but, like the Egyptians,
they thought more of the dead than of the living. How many men,
thinkest thou, working for how many years, did it need to the
hollowing out this cave and all the galleries thereof?"
"Tens of thousands," I answered.
"So, oh Holly. This people was an old people before the Egyptians
were. A little can I read of their inscriptions, having found the key
thereto--and see, thou here, this was one of the last of the caves
that they hollowed," and, turning to the rock behind her, she motioned
the mutes to hold up the lamps. Carven over the daïs was the figure of
an old man seated in a chair, with an ivory rod in his hand. It struck
me at once that his features were exceedingly like those of the man
who was represented as being embalmed in the chamber where we took our
meals. Beneath the chair, which, by the way, was shaped exactly like
the one in which Ayesha had sat to give judgment, was a short
inscription in the extraordinary characters of which I have already
spoke, but which I do not remember sufficient of to illustrate. It
looked more like Chinese writing than any other that I am acquainted
with. This inscription Ayesha proceeded, with some difficulty and
hesitation, to read aloud and translate. It ran as follows:--
"In the year four thousand two hundred and fifty-nine from the
founding of the City of imperial Kôr was this cave (or burial
place) completed by Tisno, King of Kôr, the people thereof and
their slaves having laboured thereat for three generations, to be
a tomb for their citizens of rank who shall come after. May the
blessings of the heaven above the heaven rest upon their work, and
make the sleep of Tisno, the mighty monarch, the likeness of whose
features is graven above, a sound and happy sleep till the day of
awakening,[*] and also the sleep of his servants, and of those of
his race who, rising up after him, shall yet lay their heads as
[*] This phrase is remarkable, as seeming to indicate a belief in a
"Thou seest, oh Holly," she said, "this people founded the city, of
which the ruins yet cumber the plain yonder, four thousand years
before this cave was finished. Yet, when first mine eyes beheld it two
thousand years ago, was it even as it is now. Judge, therefore, how
old must that city have been! And now, follow thou me, and I will show
thee after what fashion this great people fell when the time was come
for it to fall," and she led the way down to the centre of the cave,
stopping at a spot where a round rock had been let into a kind of
large manhole in the flooring, accurately filling it just as the iron
plates fill the spaces in the London pavements down which the coals
are thrown. "Thou seest," she said. "Tell me, what is it?"
"Nay, I know not," I answered; whereon she crossed to the left-hand
side of the cave (looking towards the entrance) and signed to the
mutes to hold up the lamps. On the wall was something painted with a
red pigment in similar characters to those hewn beneath the sculpture
of Tisno, King of Kôr. This inscription she proceeded to translate to
me, the pigment still being fresh enough to show the form of the
letters. It ran thus:
"I, Junis, a priest of the Great Temple of Kôr, write this upon the
rock of the burying-place in the year four thousand eight hundred
and three from the founding of Kôr. Kôr is fallen! No more shall
the mighty feast in her halls, no more shall she rule the world,
and her navies go out to commerce with the world. Kôr is fallen!
and her mighty works and all the cities of Kôr, and all the
harbours that she built and the canals that she made, are for the
wolf and the owl and the wild swan, and the barbarian who comes
after. Twenty and five moons ago did a cloud settle upon Kôr, and
the hundred cities of Kôr, and out of the cloud came a pestilence
that slew her people, old and young, one with another, and spared
not. One with another they turned black and died--the young and
the old, the rich and the poor, the man and the woman, the prince
and the slave. The pestilence slew and slew, and ceased not by day
or by night, and those who escaped from the pestilence were slain
of the famine. No longer could the bodies of the children of Kôr
be preserved according to the ancient rites, because of the number
of the dead, therefore were they hurled into the great pit beneath
the cave, through the hole in the floor of the cave. Then, at
last, a remnant of this the great people, the light of the whole
world, went down to the coast and took ship and sailed northwards;
and now am I, the Priest Junis, who write this, the last man left
alive of this great city of men, but whether there be any yet left
in the other cities I know not. This do I write in misery of heart
before I die, because Kôr the Imperial is no more, and because
there are none to worship in her temple, and all her palaces are
empty, and her princes and her captains and her traders and her
fair women have passed off the face of the earth."
I gave a sigh of astonishment--the utter desolation depicted in this
rude scrawl was so overpowering. It was terrible to think of this
solitary survivor of a mighty people recording its fate before he too
went down into darkness. What must the old man have felt as, in
ghastly terrifying solitude, by the light of one lamp feebly
illuminating a little space of gloom, he in a few brief lines daubed
the history of his nation's death upon the cavern wall? What a subject
for the moralist, or the painter, or indeed for any one who can think!
"Doth it not occur to thee, oh Holly," said Ayesha, laying her hand
upon my shoulder, "that those men who sailed North may have been the
fathers of the first Egyptians?"
"Nay, I know not," I said; "it seems that the world is very old."
"Old? Yes, it is old indeed. Time after time have nations, ay, and
rich and strong nations, learned in the arts, been and passed away and
been forgotten, so that no memory of them remains. This is but one of
several; for Time eats up the works of man, unless, indeed, he digs in
caves like the people of Kôr, and then mayhap the sea swallows them,
or the earthquake shakes them in. Who knows what hath been on the
earth, or what shall be? There is no new thing under the sun, as the
wise Hebrew wrote long ago. Yet were not these people utterly
destroyed, as I think. Some few remained in the other cities, for
their cities were many. But the barbarians from the south, or
perchance my people, the Arabs, came down upon them, and took their
women to wife, and the race of the Amahagger that is now is a bastard
brood of the mighty sons of Kôr, and behold it dwelleth in the tombs
with its fathers' bones.[*] But I know not: who can know? My arts
cannot pierce so far into the blackness of Time's night. A great
people were they. They conquered till none were left to conquer, and
then they dwelt at ease within their rocky mountain walls, with their
man servants and their maid servants, their minstrels, their
sculptors, and their concubines, and traded and quarrelled, and ate
and hunted and slept and made merry till their time came. But come, I
will show thee the great pit beneath the cave whereof the writing
speaks. Never shall thine eyes witness such another sight."
[*] The name of the race Ama-hagger would seem to indicate a curious
mingling of races such as might easily have occurred in the
neighbourhood of the Zambesi. The prefix "Ama" is common to the
Zulu and kindred races, and signifies "people," while "hagger" is
an Arabic word meaning a stone.--Editor.
Accordingly I followed her to a side passage opening out of the main
cave, then down a great number of steps, and along an underground
shaft which cannot have been less than sixty feet beneath the surface
of the rock, and was ventilated by curious borings that ran upward, I
know not where. Suddenly the passage ended, and she halted and bade
the mutes hold up the lamps, and, as she had prophesied, I saw a scene
such as I was not likely to see again. We were standing in an enormous
pit, or rather on the brink of it, for it went down deeper--I do not
know how much--than the level on which we stood, and was edged in with
a low wall of rock. So far as I could judge, this pit was about the
size of the space beneath the dome of St. Paul's in London, and when
the lamps were held up I saw that it was nothing but one vast charnel-
house, being literally full of thousands of human skeletons, which lay
piled up in an enormous gleaming pyramid, formed by the slipping down
of the bodies at the apex as fresh ones were dropped in from above.
Anything more appalling than this jumbled mass of the remains of a
departed race I cannot imagine, and what made it even more dreadful
was that in this dry air a considerable number of the bodies had
simply become desiccated with the skin still on them, and now, fixed
in every conceivable position, stared at us out of the mountain of
white bones, grotesquely horrible caricatures of humanity. In my
astonishment I uttered an ejaculation, and the echoes of my voice,
ringing in the vaulted space, disturbed a skull that had been
accurately balanced for many thousands of years near the apex of the
pile. Down it came with a run, bounding along merrily towards us, and
of course bringing an avalanche of other bones after it, till at last
the whole pit rattled with their movement, even as though the
skeletons were getting up to greet us.
"Come," I said, "I have seen enough. These are the bodies of those who
died of the great sickness, is it not so?" I added, as we turned away.
"Yea. The people of Kôr ever embalmed their dead, as did the
Egyptians, but their art was greater than the art of the Egyptians,
for, whereas the Egyptians disembowelled and drew the brain, the
people of Kôr injected fluid into the veins, and thus reached every
part. But stay, thou shalt see," and she halted at haphazard at one of
the little doorways opening out of the passage along which we were
walking, and motioned to the mutes to light us in. We entered into a
small chamber similar to the one in which I had slept at our first
stopping-place, only instead of one there were two stone benches or
beds in it. On the benches lay figures covered with yellow linen,[*]
on which a fine and impalpable dust had gathered in the course of
ages, but nothing like to the extent that one would have anticipated,
for in these deep-hewn caves there is no material to turn to dust.
About the bodies on the stone shelves and floor of the tomb were many
painted vases, but I saw very few ornaments or weapons in any of the
[*] All the linen that the Amahagger wore was taken from the tombs,
which accounted for its yellow hue. It was well washed, however,
and properly rebleached, it acquired its former snowy whiteness,
and was the softest and best linen I ever saw.--L. H. H.
"Uplift the cloths, oh Holly," said Ayesha, but when I put out my hand
to do so I drew it back again. It seemed like sacrilege, and, to speak
the truth, I was awed by the dread solemnity of the place, and of the
presences before us. Then, with a little laugh at my fears, she drew
them herself, only to discover other and yet finer cloths lying over
the forms upon the stone bench. These also she withdrew, and then for
the first for thousands upon thousands of years did living eyes look
upon the face of that chilly dead. It was a woman; she might have been
thirty-five years of age, or perhaps a little less, and had certainly
been beautiful. Even now her calm clear-cut features, marked out with
delicate eyebrows and long eyelashes which threw little lines of the
shadow of the lamplight upon the ivory face, were wonderfully
beautiful. There, robed in white, down which her blue-black hair was
streaming, she slept her last long sleep, and on her arm, its face
pressed against her breast, there lay a little babe. So sweet was the
sight, although so awful, that--I confess it without shame--I could
scarcely withhold my tears. It took me back across the dim gulf of
ages to some happy home in dead Imperial Kôr, where this winsome lady
girt about with beauty had lived and died, and dying taken her last-
born with her to the tomb. There they were before us, mother and babe,
the white memories of a forgotten human history speaking more
eloquently to the heart than could any written record of their lives.
Reverently I replaced the grave-cloths, and, with a sigh that flowers
so fair should, in the purpose of the Everlasting, have only bloomed
to be gathered to the grave, I turned to the body on the opposite
shelf, and gently unveiled it. It was that of a man in advanced life,
with a long grizzled beard, and also robed in white, probably the
husband of the lady, who, after surviving her many years, came at the
last to sleep once more for good and all beside her.
We left the place and entered others. It would be too long to describe
the many things I saw in them. Each one had its occupants, for the
five hundred and odd years that had elapsed between the completion of
the cave and the destruction of the race had evidently sufficed to
fill these catacombs, numberless as they were, and all appeared to
have been undisturbed since the day when they were placed there. I
could fill a book with the description of them, but to do so would
only be to repeat what I have said, with variations.
Nearly all the bodies, so masterfully was the art with which they had
been treated, were as perfect as on the day of death thousands of
years before. Nothing came to injure them in the deep silence of the
living rock: they were beyond the reach of heat and cold and damp, and
the aromatic drugs with which they had been saturated were evidently
practically everlasting in their effect. Here and there, however, we
saw an exception, and in these cases, although the flesh looked sound
enough externally, if one touched it it fell in, and revealed the fact
that the figure was but a pile of dust. This arose, Ayesha told me,
from these particular bodies having, either owing to haste in the
burial or other causes, been soaked in the preservative,[*] instead of
its being injected into the substance of the flesh.
[*] Ayesha afterwards showed me the tree from the leaves of which this
ancient preservative was manufactured. It is a low bush-like tree,
that to this day grows in wonderful plenty upon the sides of the
mountains, or rather upon the slopes leading up to the rocky
walls. The leaves are long and narrow, a vivid green in colour,
but turning a bright red in the autumn, and not unlike those of a
laurel in general appearance. They have little smell when green,
but if boiled the aromatic odour from them is so strong that one
can hardly bear it. The best mixture, however, was made from the
roots, and among the people of Kôr there was a law, which Ayesha
showed me alluded to on some of the inscriptions, to the effect
that on pain of heavy penalties no one under a certain rank was to
be embalmed with the drugs prepared from the roots. The object and
effect of this was, of course, to preserve the trees from
extermination. The sale of the leaves and roots was a Government
monopoly, and from it the Kings of Kôr derived a large proportion
of their private revenue.--L. H. H.
About the last tomb we visited I must, however, say one word, for its
contents spoke even more eloquently to the human sympathies than those
of the first. It had but two occupants, and they lay together on a
single shelf. I withdrew the grave-cloths and there, clasped heart to
heart, were a young man and a blooming girl. Her head rested on his
arm, and his lips were pressed against her brow. I opened the man's
linen robe, and there over his heart was a dagger-wound, and beneath
the woman's fair breast was a like cruel stab, through which her life
had ebbed away. On the rock above was an inscription in three words.
Ayesha translated it. It was "/Wedded in Death/."
What was the life-story of these two, who, of a truth, were beautiful
in their lives, and in their death were not divided?
I closed my eyelids, and imagination, taking up the thread of thought,
shot its swift shuttle back across the ages, weaving a picture on
their blackness so real and vivid in its details that I could almost
for a moment think that I had triumphed o'er the Past, and that my
spirit's eyes had pierced the mystery of Time.
I seemed to see this fair girl form--the yellow hair streaming down
her, glittering against her garments snowy white, and the bosom that
was whiter than the robes, even dimming with its lustre her ornaments
of burnished gold. I seemed to see the great cave filled with
warriors, bearded and clad in mail, and, on the lighted daïs where
Ayesha had given judgment, a man standing, robed, and surrounded by
the symbols of his priestly office. And up the cave there came one
clad in purple, and before him and behind him came minstrels and fair
maidens, chanting a wedding song. White stood the maid against the
altar, fairer than the fairest there--purer than a lily, and more cold
than the dew that glistens in its heart. But as the man drew near she
shuddered. Then out of the press and throng there sprang a dark-haired
youth, and put his arms about this long-forgotten maid, and kissed her
pale face in which the blood shot up like lights of the red dawn
across the silent sky. And next there was turmoil and uproar, and a
flashing of swords, and they tore the youth from her arms, and stabbed
him, but with a cry she snatched the dagger from his belt, and drove
it into her snowy breast, home to the heart, and down she fell, and
then, with cries and wailing, and every sound of lamentation, the
pageant rolled away from the arena of my vision, and once more the
past shut to its book.
Let him who reads forgive the intrusion of a dream into a history of
fact. But it came so home to me--I saw it all so clear in a moment, as
it were; and, besides, who shall say what proportion of fact, past,
present, or to come, may lie in the imagination? What is imagination?
Perhaps it is the shadow of the intangible truth, perhaps it is the
In an instant the whole thing had passed through my brain, and /She/
was addressing me.
"Behold the lot of man," said the veiled Ayesha, as she drew the
winding sheets back over the dead lovers, speaking in a solemn,
thrilling voice, which accorded well with the dream that I had
dreamed: "to the tomb, and to the forgetfulness that hides the tomb,
must we all come at last! Ay, even I who live so long. Even for me, oh
Holly, thousands upon thousands of years hence; thousands of years
after you hast gone through the gate and been lost in the mists, a day
will dawn whereon I shall die, and be even as thou art and these are.
And then what will it avail that I have lived a little longer, holding
off death by the knowledge that I have wrung from Nature, since at
last I too must die? What is a span of ten thousand years, or ten
times ten thousand years, in the history of time? It is as naught--it
is as the mists that roll up in the sunlight; it fleeth away like an
hour of sleep or a breath of the Eternal Spirit. Behold the lot of
man! Certainly it shall overtake us, and we shall sleep. Certainly,
too, we shall awake and live again, and again shall sleep, and so on
and on, through periods, spaces, and times, from æon unto æon, till
the world is dead, and the worlds beyond the world are dead, and
naught liveth but the Spirit that is Life. But for us twain and for
these dead ones shall the end of ends be Life, or shall it be Death?
As yet Death is but Life's Night, but out of the night is the Morrow
born again, and doth again beget the Night. Only when Day and Night,
and Life and Death, are ended and swallowed up in that from which they
came, what shall be our fate, oh Holly? Who can see so far? Not even
And then, with a sudden change of tone and manner--
"Hast thou seen enough, my stranger guest, or shall I show thee more
of the wonders of these tombs that are my palace halls? If thou wilt,
I can lead thee to where Tisno, the mightiest and most valorous King
of Kôr, in whose day these caves were ended, lies in a pomp that seems
to mock at nothingness, and bid the empty shadows of the past do
homage to his sculptured vanity!"
"I have seen enough, oh Queen," I answered. "My heart is overwhelmed
by the power of the present Death. Mortality is weak, and easily
broken down by a sense of the companionship that waits upon its end.
Take me hence, oh Ayesha!"
THE BALANCE TURNS
In a few minutes, following the lamps of the mutes, which, held out
from the body as a bearer holds water in a vessel, had the appearance
of floating down the darkness by themselves, we came to a stair which
led us to /She's/ ante-room, the same that Billali had crept up upon
on all fours on the previous day. Here I would have bid the Queen
adieu, but she would not.
"Nay," she said, "enter with me, oh Holly, for of a truth thy
conversation pleaseth me. Think, oh Holly: for two thousand years have
I had none to converse with save slaves and my own thoughts, and
though of all this thinking hath much wisdom come, and many secrets
been made plain, yet am I weary of my thoughts, and have come to
loathe mine own society, for surely the food that memory gives to eat
is bitter to the taste, and it is only with the teeth of hope that we
can bear to bite it. Now, though thy thoughts are green and tender, as
becometh one so young, yet are they those of a thinking brain, and in
truth thou dost bring back to my mind certain of those old
philosophers with whom in days bygone I have disputed at Athens, and
at Becca in Arabia, for thou hast the same crabbed air and dusty look,
as though thou hadst passed thy days in reading ill-writ Greek, and
been stained dark with the grime of manuscripts. So draw the curtain,
and sit here by my side, and we will eat fruit, and talk of pleasant
things. See, I will again unveil to thee. Thou hast brought it on
thyself, oh Holly; fairly have I warned thee--and thou shalt call me
beautiful as even those old philosophers were wont to do. Fie upon
them, forgetting their philosophy!"
And without more ado she stood up and shook the white wrappings from
her, and came forth shining and splendid like some glittering snake
when she has cast her slough; ay, and fixed her wonderful eyes upon me
--more deadly than any Basilisk's--and pierced me through and through
with their beauty, and sent her light laugh ringing through the air
like chimes of silver bells.
A new mood was on her, and the very colour of her mind seemed to
change beneath it. It was no longer torture-torn and hateful, as I had
seen it when she was cursing her dead rival by the leaping flames, no
longer icily terrible as in the judgment-hall, no longer rich, and
sombre, and splendid, like a Tyrian cloth, as in the dwellings of the
dead. No, her mood now was that of Aphrodité triumphing. Life--
radiant, ecstatic, wonderful--seemed to flow from her and around her.
Softly she laughed and sighed, and swift her glances flew. She shook
her heavy tresses, and their perfume filled the place; she struck her
little sandalled foot upon the floor, and hummed a snatch of some old
Greek epithalamium. All the majesty was gone, or did but lurk and
faintly flicker through her laughing eyes, like lightning seen through
sunlight. She had cast off the terror of the leaping flame, the cold
power of judgment that was even now being done, and the wise sadness
of the tombs--cast them off and put them behind her, like the white
shroud she wore, and now stood out the incarnation of lovely tempting
womanhood, made more perfect--and in a way more spiritual--than ever
woman was before.
"So, my Holly, sit there where thou canst see me. It is by thine own
wish, remember--again I say, blame me not if thou dost wear away thy
little span with such a sick pain at the heart that thou wouldst fain
have died before ever thy curious eyes were set upon me. There, sit
so, and tell me, for in truth I am inclined for praises--tell me, am I
not beautiful? Nay, speak not so hastily; consider well the point;
take me feature by feature, forgetting not my form, and my hands and
feet, and my hair, and the whiteness of my skin, and then tell me
truly, hast thou ever known a woman who in aught, ay, in one little
portion of her beauty, in the curve of an eyelash even, or the
modelling of a shell-like ear, is justified to hold a light before my
loveliness? Now, my waist! Perchance thou thinkest it too large, but
of a truth it is not so; it is this golden snake that is too large,
and doth not bind it as it should. It is a wide snake, and knoweth
that it is ill to tie in the waist. But see, give me thy hands--so--
now press them round me, and there, with but a little force, thy
fingers touch, oh Holly."
I could bear it no longer. I am but a man, and she was more than a
woman. Heaven knows what she was--I do not! But then and there I fell
upon my knees before her, and told her in a sad mixture of languages--
for such moments confuse the thoughts--that I worshipped her as never
woman was worshipped, and that I would give my immortal soul to marry
her, which at that time I certainly would have done, and so, indeed,
would any other man, or all the race of men rolled into one. For a
moment she looked surprised, and then she began to laugh, and clap her
hands in glee.
"Oh, so soon, oh Holly!" she said. "I wondered how many minutes it
would need to bring thee to thy knees. I have not seen a man kneel
before me for so many days, and, believe me, to a woman's heart the
sight is sweet, ay, wisdom and length of days take not from that dear
pleasure which is our sex's only right.
"What wouldst thou?--what wouldst thou? Thou dost not know what thou
doest. Have I not told thee that I am not for thee? I love but one,
and thou art not the man. Ah Holly, for all thy wisdom--and in a way
thou art wise--thou art but a fool running after folly. Thou wouldst
look into mine eyes--thou wouldst kiss me! Well, if it pleaseth thee,
/look/," and she bent herself towards me, and fixed her dark and
thrilling orbs upon my own; "ay, and /kiss/ too, if thou wilt, for,
thanks be given to the scheme of things, kisses leave no marks, except
upon the heart. But if thou dost kiss, I tell thee of a surety wilt
thou eat out thy breast with love of me, and die!" and she bent yet
further towards me till her soft hair brushed my brow, and her
fragrant breath played upon my face, and made me faint and weak. Then
of a sudden, even as I stretched out my hands to clasp, she
straightened herself, and a quick change passed over her. Reaching out
her hand, she held it over my head, and it seemed to me that something
flowed from it that chilled me back to common sense, and a knowledge
of propriety and the domestic virtues.
"Enough of this wanton folly," she said with a touch of sternness.
"Listen, Holly. Thou art a good and honest man, and I fain would spare
thee; but, oh! it is so hard for woman to be merciful. I have said I
am not for thee, therefore let thy thoughts pass by me like an idle
wind, and the dust of thy imagination sink again into the depths--
well, of despair, if thou wilt. Thou dost not know me, Holly. Hadst
thou seen me but ten hours past when my passion seized me, thou hadst
shrunk from me in fear and trembling. I am of many moods, and, like
the water in that vessel, I reflect many things; but they pass, my
Holly; they pass, and are forgotten. Only the water is the water
still, and I still am I, and that which maketh the water maketh it,
and that which maketh me maketh me, nor can my quality be altered.
Therefore, pay no heed to what I seem, seeing that thou canst not know
what I am. If thou troublest me again I will veil myself, and thou
shalt behold my face no more."
I rose, and sank on the cushioned couch beside her, yet quivering with
emotion, though for a moment my mad passion had left me, as the leaves
of a tree quiver still, although the gust be gone that stirred them. I
did not dare to tell her that I /had/ seen her in that deep and
hellish mood, muttering incantations to the fire in the tomb.
"So," she went on, "now eat some fruit; believe me, it is the only
true food for man. Oh, tell me of the philosophy of that Hebrew
Messiah, who came after me, and who thou sayest doth now rule Rome,
and Greece, and Egypt, and the barbarians beyond. It must have been a
strange philosophy that He taught, for in my day the peoples would
have naught of our philosophies. Revel and lust and drink, blood and
cold steel, and the shock of men gathered in the battle--these were
the canons of their creeds."
I had recovered myself a little by now, and, feeling bitterly ashamed
of the weakness into which I had been betrayed, I did my best to
expound to her the doctrines of Christianity, to which, however, with
the single exception of our conception of Heaven and Hell, I found
that she paid but scant attention, her interest being all directed
towards the Man who taught them. Also I told her that among her own
people, the Arabs, another prophet, one Mohammed, had arisen and
preached a new faith, to which many millions of mankind now adhered.
"Ah!" she said; "I see--two new religions! I have known so many, and
doubtless there have been many more since I knew aught beyond these
caves of Kôr. Mankind asks ever of the skies to vision out what lies
behind them. It is terror for the end, and but a subtler form of
selfishness--this it is that breeds religions. Mark, my Holly, each
religion claims the future for its followers; or, at least, the good
thereof. The evil is for those benighted ones who will have none of
it; seeing the light the true believers worship, as the fishes see the
stars, but dimly. The religions come and the religions pass, and the
civilisations come and pass, and naught endures but the world and
human nature. Ah! if man would but see that hope is from within and
not from without--that he himself must work out his own salvation! He
is there, and within him is the breath of life and a knowledge of good
and evil as good and evil is to him. Thereon let him build and stand
erect, and not cast himself before the image of some unknown God,
modelled like his poor self, but with a bigger brain to think the evil
thing, and a longer arm to do it."
I thought to myself, which shows how old such reasoning is, being,
indeed, one of the recurring qualities of theological discussion, that
her argument sounded very like some that I have heard in the
nineteenth century, and in other places than the caves of Kôr, and
with which, by the way, I totally disagree, but I did not care to try
and discuss the question with her. To begin with, my mind was too
weary with all the emotions through which I had passed, and, in the
second place, I knew that I should get the worst of it. It is weary
work enough to argue with an ordinary materialist, who hurls
statistics and whole strata of geological facts at your head, whilst
you can only buffet him with deductions and instincts and the
snowflakes of faith, that are, alas! so apt to melt in the hot embers
of our troubles. How little chance, then, should I have against one
whose brain was supernaturally sharpened, and who had two thousand
years of experience, besides all manner of knowledge of the secrets of
Nature at her command! Feeling that she would be more likely to
convert me than I should to convert her, I thought it best to leave
the matter alone, and so sat silent. Many a time since then have I
bitterly regretted that I did so, for thereby I lost the only
opportunity I can remember having had of ascertaining what Ayesha
/really/ believed, and what her "philosophy" was.
"Well, my Holly," she continued, "and so those people of mine have
found a prophet, a false prophet thou sayest, for he is not thine own,
and, indeed, I doubt it not. Yet in my day was it otherwise, for then
we Arabs had many gods. Allât there was, and Saba, the Host of Heaven,
Al Uzza, and Manah the stony one, for whom the blood of victims
flowed, and Wadd and Sawâ, and Yaghûth the Lion of the dwellers in
Yaman, and Yäûk the Horse of Morad, and Nasr the Eagle of Hamyar; ay,
and many more. Oh, the folly of it all, the shame and the pitiful
folly! Yet when I rose in wisdom and spoke thereof, surely they would
have slain me in the name of their outraged gods. Well, so hath it
ever been;--but, my Holly, art thou weary of me already, that thou
dost sit so silent? Or dost thou fear lest I should teach thee my
philosophy?--for know I have a philosophy. What would a teacher be
without her own philosophy? and if thou dost vex me overmuch beware!
for I will have thee learn it, and thou shalt be my disciple, and we
twain will found a faith that shall swallow up all others. Faithless
man! And but half an hour since thou wast upon thy knees--the posture
does not suit thee, Holly--swearing that thou didst love me. What
shall we do?--Nay, I have it. I will come and see this youth, the
Lion, as the old man Billali calls him, who came with thee, and who is
so sick. The fever must have run its course by now, and if he is about
to die I will recover him. Fear not, my Holly, I shall use no magic.
Have I not told thee that there is no such thing as magic, though
there is such a thing as understanding and applying the forces which
are in Nature? Go now, and presently, when I have made the drug ready,
I will follow thee."[*]
[*] Ayesha was a great chemist, indeed chemistry appears to have been
her only amusement and occupation. She had one of the caves fitted
up as a laboratory, and, although her appliances were necessarily
rude, the results that she attained were, as will become clear in
the course of this narrative, sufficiently surprising.--L. H. H.
Accordingly I went, only to find Job and Ustane in a great state of
grief, declaring that Leo was in the throes of death, and that they
had been searching for me everywhere. I rushed to the couch, and
glanced at him: clearly he was dying. He was senseless, and breathing
heavily, but his lips were quivering, and every now and again a little
shudder ran down his frame. I knew enough of doctoring to see that in
another hour he would be beyond the reach of earthly help--perhaps in
another five minutes. How I cursed my selfishness and the folly that
had kept me lingering by Ayesha's side while my dear boy lay dying!
Alas and alas! how easily the best of us are lighted down to evil by
the gleam of a woman's eyes! What a wicked wretch was I! Actually, for
the last half-hour I had scarcely thought of Leo, and this, be it
remembered, of the man who for twenty years had been my dearest
companion, and the chief interest of my existence. And now, perhaps,
it was too late!
I wrung my hands, and glanced round. Ustane was sitting by the couch,
and in her eyes burnt the dull light of despair. Job was blubbering--I
am sorry I cannot name his distress by any more delicate word--audibly
in the corner. Seeing my eye fixed upon him, he went outside to give
way to his grief in the passage. Obviously the only hope lay in
Ayesha. She, and she alone--unless, indeed, she was an imposter, which
I could not believe--could save him. I would go and implore her to
come. As I started to do so, however, Job came flying into the room,
his hair literally standing on end with terror.
"Oh, God help us, sir!" he ejaculated in a frightened whisper, "here's
a corpse a-coming sliding down the passage!"
For a moment I was puzzled, but presently, of course, it struck me
that he must have seen Ayesha, wrapped in her grave-like garment, and
been deceived by the extraordinary undulating smoothness of her walk
into a belief that she was a white ghost gliding towards him. Indeed,
at that very moment the question was settled, for Ayesha herself was
in the apartment, or rather cave. Job turned, and saw her sheeted
form, and then, with a convulsive howl of "Here it comes!" sprang into
a corner, and jammed his face against the wall, and Ustane, guessing
whose the dread presence must be, prostrated herself upon her face.
"Thou comest in a good time, Ayesha," I said, "for my boy lies at the
point of death."
"So," she said softly; "provided he be not dead, it is no matter, for
I can bring him back to life, my Holly. Is that man there thy servant,
and is that the method wherewith thy servants greet strangers in thy
"He is frightened of thy garb--it hath a death-like air," I answered.
"And the girl? Ah, I see now. It is she of whom thou didst speak to
me. Well, bid them both to leave us, and we will see to this sick Lion
of thine. I love not that underlings should perceive my wisdom."
Thereon I told Ustane in Arabic and Job in English both to leave the
room; an order which the latter obeyed readily enough, and was glad to
obey, for he could not in any way subdue his fear. But it was
otherwise with Ustane.
"What does /She/ want?" she whispered, divided between her fear of the
terrible Queen and her anxiety to remain near Leo. "It is surely the
right of a wife to be near her husband when he dieth. Nay, I will not
go, my lord the Baboon."
"Why doth not that woman leave us, my Holly?" asked Ayesha from the
other end of the cave, where she was engaged in carelessly examining
some of the sculptures on the wall.
"She is not willing to leave Leo," I answered, not knowing what to
say. Ayesha wheeled round, and, pointing to the girl Ustane, said one
word, and one only, but it was quite enough, for the tone in which it
was said meant volumes.
And then Ustane crept past her on her hands and knees, and went.
"Thou seest, my Holly," said Ayesha, with a little laugh, "it was
needful that I should give these people a lesson in obedience. That
girl went nigh to disobeying me, but then she did not learn this morn
how I treat the disobedient. Well, she has gone; and now let me see
the youth," and she glided towards the couch on which Leo lay, with
his face in the shadow and turned towards the wall.
"He hath a noble shape," she said, as she bent over him to look upon
Next second her tall and willowy form was staggering back across the
room, as though she had been shot or stabbed, staggering back till at
last she struck the cavern wall, and then there burst from her lips
the most awful and unearthly scream that I ever heard in all my life.
"What is it, Ayesha?" I cried. "Is he dead?"
She turned, and sprang towards me like a tigress.
"Thou dog!" she said, in her terrible whisper, which sounded like the
hiss of a snake, "why didst thou hide this from me?" And she stretched
out her arm, and I thought that she was about to slay me.
"What?" I ejaculated, in the most lively terror; "what?"
"Ah!" she said, "perchance thou didst not know. Learn, my Holly,
learn: there lies--there lies my lost Kallikrates. Kallikrates, who
has come back to me at last, as I knew he would, as I knew he would;"
and she began to sob and to laugh, and generally to conduct herself
like any other lady who is a little upset, murmuring "Kallikrates,
"Nonsense," thought I to myself, but I did not like to say it; and,
indeed, at that moment I was thinking of Leo's life, having forgotten
everything else in that terrible anxiety. What I feared now was that
he should die while she was "carrying on."
"Unless thou art able to help him, Ayesha," I put in, by way of a
reminder, "thy Kallikrates will soon be far beyond thy calling. Surely
he dieth even now."
"True," she said, with a start. "Oh, why did I not come before! I am
unnerved--my hand trembles, even mine--and yet it is very easy. Here,
thou Holly, take this phial," and she produced a tiny jar of pottery
from the folds of her garment, "and pour the liquid in it down his
throat. It will cure him if he be not dead. Swift, now! Swift! The man
I glanced towards him; it was true enough, Leo was in his death-
struggle. I saw his poor face turning ashen, and heard the breath
begin to rattle in his throat. The phial was stoppered with a little
piece of wood. I drew it with my teeth, and a drop of the fluid within
flew out upon my tongue. It had a sweet flavour, and for a second made
my head swim, and a mist gather before my eyes, but happily the effect
passed away as swiftly as it had arisen.
When I reached Leo's side he was plainly expiring--his golden head was
slowly turning from side to side, and his mouth was slightly open. I
called to Ayesha to hold his head, and this she managed to do, though
the woman was quivering from head to foot, like an aspen-leaf or a
startled horse. Then, forcing the jaw a little more open, I poured the
contents of the phial into his mouth. Instantly a little vapour arose
from it, as happens when one disturbs nitric acid, and this sight did
not increase my hopes, already faint enough, of the efficacy of the
One thing, however, was certain, the death throes ceased--at first I
thought because he had got beyond them, and crossed the awful river.
His face turned to a livid pallor, and his heart-beats, which had been
feeble enough before, seemed to die away altogether--only the eyelid
still twitched a little. In my doubt I looked up at Ayesha, whose
head-wrapping had slipped back in her excitement when she went reeling
across the room. She was still holding Leo's head, and, with a face as
pale as his own, watching his countenance with such an expression of
agonised anxiety as I had never seen before. Clearly she did not know
if he would live or die. Five minutes slowly passed and I saw that she
was abandoning hope; her lovely oval face seemed to fall in and grow
visibly thinner beneath the pressure of a mental agony whose pencil
drew black lines about the hollows of her eyes. The coral faded even
from her lips, till they were as white as Leo's face, and quivered
pitifully. It was shocking to see her: even in my own grief I felt for
"Is it too late?" I gasped.
She hid her face in her hands, and made no answer, and I too turned
away. But as I did so I heard a deep-drawn breath, and looking down
perceived a line of colour creeping up Leo's face, then another and
another, and then, wonder of wonders, the man we had thought dead
turned over on his side.
"Thou seest," I said in a whisper.
"I see," she answered hoarsely. "He is saved. I thought we were too
late--another moment--one little moment more--and he had been gone!"
and she burst into an awful flood of tears, sobbing as though her
heart would break, and yet looking lovelier than ever as she did it.
As last she ceased.
"Forgive me, my Holly--forgive me for my weakness," she said. "Thou
seest after all I am a very woman. Think--now think of it! This
morning didst thou speak of the place of torment appointed by this new
religion of thine. Hell or Hades thou didst call it--a place where the
vital essence lives and retains an individual memory, and where all
the errors and faults of judgment, and unsatisfied passions and the
unsubstantial terrors of the mind wherewith it hath at any time had to
do, come to mock and haunt and gibe and wring the heart for ever and
for ever with the vision of its own hopelessness. Thus, even thus,
have I lived for full two thousand years--for some six and sixty
generations, as ye reckon time--in a Hell, as thou callest it--
tormented by the memory of a crime, tortured day and night with an
unfulfilled desire--without companionship, without comfort, without
death, and led on only down my dreary road by the marsh lights of
Hope, which, though they flickered here and there, and now glowed
strong, and now were not, yet, as my skill told me, would one day lead
unto my deliverer.
"And then--think of it still, oh Holly, for never shalt thou hear such
another tale, or see such another scene, nay, not even if I give thee
ten thousand years of life--and thou shalt have it in payment if thou
wilt--think: at last my deliverer came--he for whom I had watched and
waited through the generations--at the appointed time he came to seek
me, as I knew that he must come, for my wisdom could not err, though I
knew not when or how. Yet see how ignorant I was! See how small my
knowledge, and how faint my strength! For hours he lay there sick unto
death, and I felt it not--I who had waited for him for two thousand
years--I knew it not. And then at last I see him, and behold, my
chance is gone but by a hair's breadth even before I have it, for he
is in the very jaws of death, whence no power of mine can draw him.
And if he die, surely must the Hell be lived through once more--once
more must I face the weary centuries, and wait, and wait till the time
in its fulness shall bring my Beloved back to me. And then thou gavest
him the medicine, and that five minutes dragged long before I knew if
he would live or die, and I tell thee that all the sixty generations
that are gone were not so long as that five minutes. But they passed
at length, and still he showed no sign, and I knew that if the drug
works not then, so far as I have had knowledge, it works not at all.
Then thought I that he was once more dead, and all the tortures of all
the years gathered themselves into a single venomed spear, and pierced
me through and through, because again I had lost Kallikrates! And
then, when all was done, behold! he sighed, behold! he lived, and I
knew that he would live, for none die on whom the drug takes hold.
Think of it now, my Holly--think of the wonder of it! He will sleep
for twelve hours and then the fever will have left him!"
She stopped, and laid her hand upon his golden head, and then bent
down and kissed his brow with a chastened abandonment of tenderness
that would have been beautiful to behold had not the sight cut me to
the heart--for I was jealous!
Then followed a silence of a minute or so, during which /She/
appeared, if one might judge from the almost angelic rapture of her
face--for she looked angelic sometimes--to be plunged into a happy
ecstasy. Suddenly, however, a new thought struck her, and her
expression became the very reverse of angelic.
"Almost had I forgotten," she said, "that woman, Ustane. What is she
to Kallikrates--his servant, or----" and she paused, and her voice
I shrugged my shoulders. "I understand that she is wed to him
according to the custom of the Amahagger," I answered; "but I know
Her face grew dark as a thunder-cloud. Old as she was, Ayesha had not
"Then there is an end," she said; "she must die, even now!"
"For what crime?" I asked, horrified. "She is guilty of naught that
thou art not guilty of thyself, oh Ayesha. She loves the man, and he
has been pleased to accept her love: where, then, is her sin?"
"Truly, oh Holly, thou art foolish," she answered, almost petulantly.
"Where is her sin? Her sin is that she stands between me and my
desire. Well, I know that I can take him from her--for dwells there a
man upon this earth, oh Holly, who could resist me if I put out my
strength? Men are faithful for so long only as temptations pass them
by. If the temptation be but strong enough, then will the man yield,
for every man, like every rope, hath his breaking strain, and passion
is to men what gold and power are to women--the weight upon their
weakness. Believe me, ill will it go with mortal woman in that heaven
of which thou speakest, if only the spirits be more fair, for their
lords will never turn to look upon them, and their Heaven will become
their Hell. For man can be bought with woman's beauty, if it be but
beautiful enough; and woman's beauty can be ever bought with gold, if
only there be gold enough. So was it in my day, and so it will be to
the end of time. The world is a great mart, my Holly, where all things
are for sale to whom who bids the highest in the currency of our
These remarks, which were as cynical as might have been expected from
a woman of Ayesha's age and experience, jarred upon me, and I
answered, testily, that in our heaven there was no marriage or giving
"Else would it not be heaven, dost thou mean?" she put in. "Fie on
thee, Holly, to think so ill of us poor women! Is it, then, marriage
that marks the line between thy heaven and thy hell? but enough of
this. This is no time for disputing and the challenge of our wits. Why
dost thou always dispute? Art thou also a philosopher of these latter
days? As for this woman, she must die; for, though I can take her
lover from her, yet, while she lived, might he think tenderly of her,
and that I cannot away with. No other woman shall dwell in my Lord's
thoughts; my empire shall be all my own. She hath had her day, let her
be content; for better is an hour with love than a century of
loneliness--now the night shall swallow her."
"Nay, nay," I cried, "it would be a wicked crime; and from a crime
naught comes but what is evil. For thine own sake, do not this deed."
"Is it, then, a crime, oh foolish man, to put away that which stands
between us and our ends? Then is our life one long crime, my Holly,
since day by day we destroy that we may live, since in this world none
save the strongest can endure. Those who are weak must perish; the
earth is to the strong, and the fruits thereof. For every tree that
grows a score shall wither, that the strong one may take their share.
We run to place and power over the dead bodies of those who fail and
fall; ay, we win the food we eat from out of the mouths of starving
babes. It is the scheme of things. Thou sayest, too, that a crime
breeds evil, but therein thou dost lack experience; for out of crimes
come many good things, and out of good grows much evil. The cruel rage
of the tyrant may prove a blessing to the thousands who come after
him, and the sweetheartedness of a holy man may make a nation slaves.
Man doeth this, and doeth that from the good or evil of his heart; but
he knoweth not to what end his moral sense doth prompt him; for when
he striketh he is blind to where the blow shall fall, nor can he count
the airy threads that weave the web of circumstance. Good and evil,
love and hate, night and day, sweet and bitter, man and woman, heaven
above and the earth beneath--all these things are necessary, one to
the other, and who knows the end of each? I tell thee that there is a
hand of fate that twines them up to bear the burden of its purpose,
and all things are gathered in that great rope to which all things are
needful. Therefore doth it not become us to say this thing is evil and
this good, or the dark is hateful and the light lovely; for to other
eyes than ours the evil may be the good and the darkness more
beautiful than the day, or all alike be fair. Hearest thou, my Holly?"
I felt it was hopeless to argue against casuistry of this nature,
which, if it were carried to its logical conclusion, would absolutely
destroy all morality, as we understand it. But her talk gave me a
fresh thrill of fear; for what may not be possible to a being who,
unconstrained by human law, is also absolutely unshackled by a moral
sense of right and wrong, which, however partial and conventional it
may be, is yet based, as our conscience tells us, upon the great wall
of individual responsibility that marks off mankind from the beasts?
But I was deeply anxious to save Ustane, whom I liked and respected,
from the dire fate that overshadowed her at the hands of her mighty
rival. So I made one more appeal.
"Ayesha," I said, "thou art too subtle for me; but thou thyself hast
told me that each man should be a law unto himself, and follow the
teaching of his heart. Hath thy heart no mercy towards her whose place
thou wouldst take? Bethink thee--as thou sayest--though to me the
thing is incredible--he whom thou desirest has returned to thee after
many ages, and but now thou hast, as thou sayest also, wrung him from
the jaws of death. Wilt thou celebrate his coming by the murder of one
who loved him, and whom perchance he loved--one, at the least, who
saved his life for thee when the spears of thy slaves would have made
an end thereof? Thou sayest also that in past days thou didst
grievously wrong this man, that with thine own hand thou didst slay
him because of the Egyptian Amenartas whom he loved."
"How knowest thou that, oh stranger? How knowest thou that name? I
spoke it not to thee," she broke in with a cry, catching at my arm.
"Perchance I dreamed it," I answered; "strange dreams do hover about
these caves of Kôr. It seems that the dream was, indeed, a shadow of
the truth. What came to thee of thy mad crime?--two thousand years of
waiting, was it not? And now wouldst thou repeat the history? Say what
thou wilt, I tell thee that evil will come of it; for to him who
doeth, at the least, good breeds good and evil evil, even though in
after days out of evil cometh good. Offences must needs come; but woe
to him by whom the offence cometh. So said that Messiah of whom I
spoke to thee, and it was truly said. If thou slayest this innocent
woman, I say unto thee that thou shalt be accursed, and pluck no fruit
from thine ancient tree of love. Also, what thinkest thou? How will
this man take thee red-handed from the slaughter of her who loved and
"As to that," she answered, "I have already answered thee. Had I slain
thee as well as her, yet should he love me, Holly, because he could
not save himself from therefrom any more than thou couldst save
thyself from dying, if by chance I slew thee, oh Holly. And yet maybe
there is truth in what thou dost say; for in some way it presseth on
my mind. If it may be, I will spare this woman; for have I not told
thee that I am not cruel for the sake of cruelty? I love not to see
suffering, or to cause it. Let her come before me--quick now, before
my mood changes," and she hastily covered her face with its gauzy
Well pleased to have succeeded even to this extent, I passed out into
the passage and called to Ustane, whose white garment I caught sight
of some yards away, huddled up against one of the earthenware lamps
that were placed at intervals along the tunnel. She rose, and ran
"Is my lord dead? Oh, say not he is dead," she cried, lifting her
noble-looking face, all stained as it was with tears, up to me with an
air of infinite beseeching that went straight to my heart.
"Nay, he lives," I answered. "/She/ hath saved him. Enter."
She sighed deeply, entered, and fell upon her hands and knees, after
the custom of the Amahagger people, in the presence of the dread
"Stand," said Ayesha, in her coldest voice, "and come hither."
Ustane obeyed, standing before her with bowed head.
Then came a pause, which Ayesha broke.
"Who is this man?" she said, pointing to the sleeping form of Leo.
"The man is my husband," she answered in a low voice.
"Who gave him to thee for a husband?"
"I took him according to the custom of our country, oh /She/."
"Thou hast done evil, woman, in taking this man, who is a stranger. He
is not a man of thine own race, and the custom fails. Listen:
perchance thou didst this thing through ignorance, therefore, woman,
do I spare thee, otherwise hadst thou died. Listen again. Go from
hence back to thine own place, and never dare to speak to or set thine
eyes upon this man again. He is not for thee. Listen a third time. If
thou breakest this my law, that moment thou diest. Go."
But Ustane did not move.
Then she looked up, and I saw that her face was torn with passion.
"Nay, oh /She/. I will not go," she answered in a choked voice: "the
man is my husband, and I love him--I love him, and I will not leave
him. What right hast thou to command me to leave my husband?"
I saw a little quiver pass down Ayesha's frame, and shuddered myself,
fearing the worst.
"Be pitiful," I said in Latin; "it is but Nature working."
"I am pitiful," she answered coldly in the same language; "had I not
been pitiful she had been dead even now." Then, addressing Ustane:
"Woman, I say to thee, go before I destroy thee where thou art!"
"I will not go! He is mine--mine!" she cried in anguish. "I took him,
and I saved his life! Destroy me, then, if thou hast the power! I will
not give thee my husband--never--never!"
Ayesha made a movement so swift that I could scarcely follow it, but
it seemed to me that she lightly struck the poor girl upon the head
with her hand. I looked at Ustane, and then staggered back in horror,
for there upon her hair, right across her bronze-like tresses, were
three finger-marks /white as snow/. As for the girl herself, she had
put her hands to her head, and was looking dazed.
"Great heavens!" I said, perfectly aghast at this dreadful
manifestation of human power; but /She/ did but laugh a little.
"Thou thinkest, poor ignorant fool," she said to the bewildered woman,
"that I have not the power to slay. Stay, there lies a mirror," and
she pointed to Leo's round shaving-glass that had been arranged by Job
with other things upon his portmanteau; "give it to this woman, my
Holly, and let her see that which lies across her hair, and whether or
no I have power to slay."
I picked up the glass, and held it before Ustane's eyes. She gazed,
then felt at her hair, then gazed again, and then sank upon the ground
with a sort of sob.
"Now, wilt thou go, or must I strike a second time?" asked Ayesha, in
mockery. "Look, I have set my seal upon thee so that I may know thee
till thy hair is all as white as it. If I see thy face again, be sure,
too, that thy bones shall soon be whiter than my mark upon thy hair."
Utterly awed and broken down, the poor creature rose, and, marked with
that awful mark, crept from the room, sobbing bitterly.
"Look not so frighted, my Holly," said Ayesha, when she had gone. "I
tell thee I deal not in magic--there is no such thing. 'Tis only a
force that thou dost not understand. I marked her to strike terror to
her heart, else must I have slain her. And now I will bid my servants
to bear my Lord Kallikrates to a chamber near mine own, that I may
watch over him, and be ready to greet him when he wakes; and thither,
too, shalt thou come, my Holly, and the white man, thy servant. But
one thing remember at thy peril. Naught shalt thou say to Kallikrates
as to how this woman went, and as little as may be of me. Now, I have
warned thee!" and she slid away to give her orders, leaving me more
absolutely confounded than ever. Indeed, so bewildered was I, and
racked and torn with such a succession of various emotions, that I
began to think that I must be going mad. However, perhaps fortunately,
I had but little time to reflect, for presently the mutes arrived to
carry the sleeping Leo and our possessions across the central cave, so
for a while all was bustle. Our new rooms were situated immediately
behind what we used to call Ayesha's boudoir--the curtained space
where I had first seen her. Where she herself slept I did not then
know, but it was somewhere quite close.
That night I passed in Leo's room, but he slept through it like the
dead, never once stirring. I also slept fairly well, as, indeed, I
needed to do, but my sleep was full of dreams of all the horrors and
wonders I had undergone. Chiefly, however, I was haunted by that
frightful piece of /diablerie/ by which Ayesha left her finger-marks
upon her rival's hair. There was something so terrible about her
swift, snake-like movement, and the instantaneous blanching of that
threefold line, that, if the results to Ustane had been much more
tremendous, I doubt if they would have impressed me so deeply. To this
day I often dream of that awful scene, and see the weeping woman,
bereaved, and marked like Cain, cast a last look at her lover, and
creep from the presence of her dread Queen.
Another dream that troubled me originated in the huge pyramid of
bones. I dreamed that they all stood up and marched past me in
thousands and tens of thousands--in squadrons, companies, and armies--
with the sunlight shining through their hollow ribs. On they rushed
across the plain to Kôr, their imperial home; I saw the drawbridges
fall before them, and heard their bones clank through the brazen
gates. On they went, up the splendid streets, on past fountains,
palaces, and temples such as the eye of man never saw. But there was
no man to greet them in the market-place, and no woman's face appeared
at the windows--only a bodiless voice went before them, calling:
"/Fallen is Imperial Kôr!--fallen!--fallen! fallen!/" On, right
through the city, marched those gleaming phalanxes, and the rattle of
their bony tread echoed through the silent air as they pressed grimly
on. They passed through the city and clomb the wall, and marched along
the great roadway that was made upon the wall, till at length they
once more reached the drawbridge. Then, as the sun was sinking, they
returned again towards their sepulchre, and luridly his light shone in
the sockets of their empty eyes, throwing gigantic shadows of their
bones, that stretched away, and crept and crept like huge spiders'
legs as their armies wound across the plain. Then they came to the
cave, and once more one by one flung themselves in unending files
through the hole into the pit of bones, and I awoke, shuddering, to
see /She/, who had evidently been standing between my couch and Leo's,
glide like a shadow from the room.
After this I slept again, soundly this time, till morning, when I
awoke much refreshed, and got up. At last the hour drew near at which,
according to Ayesha, Leo was to awake, and with it came /She/ herself,
as usual, veiled.
"Thou shalt see, oh Holly," she said; "presently shall he awake in his
right mind, the fever having left him."
Hardly were the words out of her mouth, when Leo turned round and
stretched out his arms, yawned, opened his eyes, and, perceiving a
female form bending over him, threw his arms round her and kissed her,
mistaking her, perhaps, for Ustane. At any rate, he said, in Arabic,
"Hullo, Ustane, why have you tied your head up like that? Have you got
the toothache?" and then, in English, "I say, I'm awfully hungry. Why,
Job, you old son of a gun, where the deuce have we got to now--eh?"
"I am sure I wish I knew, Mr. Leo," said Job, edging suspiciously past
Ayesha, whom he still regarded with the utmost disgust and horror,
being by no means sure that she was not an animated corpse; "but you
mustn't talk, Mr. Leo, you've been very ill, and given us a great deal
of hanxiety, and, if this lady," looking at Ayesha, "would be so kind
as to move, I'll bring you your soup."
This turned Leo's attention to the "lady," who was standing by in
perfect silence. "Hullo!" he said; "that is not Ustane--where is
Then, for the first time, Ayesha spoke to him, and her first words
were a lie. "She has gone from hence upon a visit," she said; "and,
behold, in her place am I here as thine handmaiden."
Ayesha's silver notes seemed to puzzle Leo's half-awakened intellect,
as also did her corpse-like wrappings. However, he said nothing at the
time, but drank off his soup greedily enough, and then turned over and
slept again till the evening. When he woke for the second time he saw
me, and began to question me as to what had happened, but I had to put
him off as best I could till the morrow, when he awoke almost
miraculously better. Then I told him something of his illness and of
my doings, but as Ayesha was present I could not tell him much except
that she was the Queen of the country, and well disposed towards us,
and that it was her pleasure to go veiled; for, though of course I
spoke in English, I was afraid that she might understand what we were
saying from the expression of our faces, and besides, I remembered her
On the following day Leo got up almost entirely recovered. The flesh
wound in his side was healed, and his constitution, naturally a
vigorous one, had shaken off the exhaustion consequent on his terrible
fever with a rapidity that I can only attribute to the effects of the
wonderful drug which Ayesha had given to him, and also to the fact
that his illness had been too short to reduce him very much. With his
returning health came back full recollection of all his adventures up
to the time when he had lost consciousness in the marsh, and of course
of Ustane also, to whom I had discovered he had grown considerably
attached. Indeed, he overwhelmed me with questions about the poor
girl, which I did not dare to answer, for after Leo's first awakening
/She/ had sent for me, and again warned me solemnly that I was to
reveal nothing of the story to him, delicately hinting that if I did
it would be the worse for me. She also, for the second time, cautioned
me not to tell Leo anything more than I was obliged about herself,
saying that she would reveal herself to him in her own time.
Indeed, her whole manner changed. After all that I had seen I had
expected that she would take the earliest opportunity of claiming the
man she believed to be her old-world lover, but this, for some reason
of her own, which was at the time quite inscrutable to me, she did not
do. All that she did was to attend to his wants quietly, and with a
humility which was in striking contrast with her former imperious
bearing, addressing him always in a tone of something very like
respect, and keeping him with her as much as possible. Of course his
curiosity was as much excited about this mysterious woman as my own
had been, and he was particularly anxious to see her face, which I
had, without entering into particulars, told him was as lovely as her
form and voice. This in itself was enough to raise the expectations of
any young man to a dangerous pitch, and, had it not been that he had
not as yet completely shaken off the effects of illness, and was much
troubled in his mind about Ustane, of whose affection and brave
devotion he spoke in touching terms, I have no doubt that he would
have entered into her plans, and fallen in love with her by
anticipation. As it was, however, he was simply wildly curious, and
also, like myself, considerably awed, for, though no hint had been
given to him by Ayesha of her extraordinary age, he not unnaturally
came to identify her with the woman spoken of on the potsherd. At
last, quite driven into a corner by his continual questions, which he
showered on me while he was dressing on this third morning, I referred
him to Ayesha, saying, with perfect truth, that I did not know where
Ustane was. Accordingly, after Leo had eaten a hearty breakfast, we
adjourned into /She's/ presence, for her mutes had orders to admit us
at all hours.
She was, as usual, seated in what, for want of a better term, we
called her boudoir, and on the curtains being drawn she rose from her
couch and, stretching out both hands, came forward to greet us, or
rather Leo; for I, as may be imagined, was now quite left in the cold.
It was a pretty sight to see her veiled form gliding towards the
sturdy young Englishman, dressed in his grey flannel suit; for, though
he is half a Greek in blood, Leo is, with the exception of his hair,
one of the most English-looking men I ever saw. He has nothing of the
subtle form or slippery manner of the modern Greek about him, though I
presume that he got his remarkable personal beauty from his foreign
mother, whose portrait he resembles not a little. He is very tall and
big-chested, and yet not awkward, as so many big men are, and his head
is set upon him in such a fashion as to give him a proud and vigorous
air, which was well translated in his Amahagger name of the "Lion."
"Greeting to thee, my young stranger lord," she said in her softest
voice. "Right glad am I to see thee upon thy feet. Believe me, had I
not saved thee at the last, never wouldst thou have stood upon those
feet again. But the danger is done, and it shall be my care"--and she
flung a world of meaning into the words--"that it doth return no
Leo bowed to her, and then, in his best Arabic, thanked her for all
her kindness and courtesy in caring for one unknown to her.
"Nay," she answered softly, "ill could the world spare such a man.
Beauty is too rare upon it. Give me no thanks, who am made happy by
"Humph! old fellow," said Leo aside to me in English, "the lady is
very civil. We seem to have tumbled into clover. I hope that you have
made the most of your opportunities. By Jove! what a pair of arms she
I nudged him in the ribs to make him keep quiet, for I caught sight of
a gleam from Ayesha's veiled eyes, which were regarding me curiously.
"I trust," went on Ayesha, "that my servants have attended well upon
thee; if there can be comfort in this poor place, be sure it waits on
thee. Is there aught that I can do for thee more?"
"Yes, oh /She/," answered Leo hastily, "I would fain know whither the
young lady who was looking after me has gone to."
"Ah," said Ayesha: "the girl--yes, I saw her. Nay, I know not; she
said that she would go, I know not whither. Perchance she will return,
perchance not. It is wearisome waiting on the sick, and these savage
women are fickle."
Leo looked both sulky and distressed at this intelligence.
"It's very odd," he said to me in English; and then, addressing /She/,
"I cannot understand," he said; "the young lady and I--well--in short,
we had a regard for each other."
Ayesha laughed a little very musically, and then turned the subject.
"GIVE ME A BLACK GOAT!"
The conversation after this was of such a desultory order that I do
not quite recollect it. For some reason, perhaps from a desire to keep
her identity and character in reserve, Ayesha did not talk freely, as
she usually did. Presently, however, she informed Leo that she had
arranged a dance that night for our amusement. I was astonished to
hear this, as I fancied that the Amahagger were much too gloomy a folk
to indulge in any such frivolity; but, as will presently more clearly
appear, it turned out that an Amahagger dance has little in common
with such fantastic festivities in other countries, savage or
civilised. Then, as we were about to withdraw, she suggested that Leo
might like to see some of the wonders of the caves, and as he gladly
assented thither we departed, accompanied by Job and Billali. To
describe our visit would only be to repeat a great deal of what I have
already said. The tombs we entered were indeed different, for the
whole rock was a honeycomb of sepulchres,[*] but the contents were
nearly always similar. Afterwards we visited the pyramid of bones that
had haunted my dreams on the previous night, and from thence went down
a long passage to one of the great vaults occupied by the bodies of
the poorer citizens of Imperial Kôr. These bodies were not nearly so
well preserved as were those of the wealthier classes. Many of them
had no linen covering on them, also they were buried from five hundred
to one thousand in a single large vault, the corpses in some instances
being thickly piled one upon another, like a heap of slain.
[*] For a long while it puzzled me to know what could have been done
with the enormous quantities of rock that must have been dug out
of these vast caves; but I afterwards discovered that it was for
the most part built into the walls and palaces of Kôr, and also
used to line the reservoirs and sewers.--L. H. H.
Leo was of course intensely interested in this stupendous and
unequalled sight, which was, indeed, enough to awake all the
imagination a man had in him into the most active life. But to poor
Job it did not prove attractive. His nerves--already seriously shaken
by what he had undergone since we had arrived in this terrible country
--were, as may be imagined, still further disturbed by the spectacle
of these masses of departed humanity, whereof the forms still remained
perfect before his eyes, though their voices were for ever lost in the
eternal silence of the tomb. Nor was he comforted when old Billali, by
way of soothing his evident agitation, informed him that he should not
be frightened of these dead things, as he would soon be like them
"There's a nice thing to say of a man, sir," he ejaculated, when I
translated this little remark; "but there, what can one expect of an
old man-eating savage? Not but what I dare say he's right," and Job
When we had finished inspecting the caves, we returned and had our
meal, for it was now past four in the afternoon, and we all--
especially Leo--needed some food and rest. At six o'clock we, together
with Job, waited on Ayesha, who set to work to terrify our poor
servant still further by showing him pictures on the pool of water in
the font-like vessel. She learnt from me that he was one of seventeen
children, and then bid him think of all his brothers and sisters, or
as many of them as he could, gathered together in his father's
cottage. Then she told him to look in the water, and there, reflected
from its stilly surface, was that dead scene of many years gone by, as
it was recalled to our retainer's brain. Some of the faces were clear
enough, but some were mere blurs and splotches, or with one feature
grossly exaggerated; the fact being that, in these instances, Job had
been unable to recall the exact appearances of the individuals, or
remembered them only by a peculiarity of his tribe, and the water
could only reflect what he saw with his mind's eye. For it must be
remembered that /She's/ power in this matter was strictly limited; she
could apparently, except in very rare instances, only photograph upon
the water what was actually in the mind of some one present, and then
only by his will. But, if she was personally acquainted with a
locality, she could, as in the case of ourselves and the whale-boat,
throw its reflection upon the water, and also, it seems, the
reflection of anything extraneous that was passing there at the time.
This power, however, did not extend to the minds of others. For
instance, she could show me the interior of my college chapel, as I
remembered it, but not as it was at the moment of reflection; for,
where other people were concerned, her art was strictly limited to the
facts or memories present to /their/ consciousness at the moment. So
much was this so that when we tried, for her amusement, to show her
pictures of noted buildings, such as St. Paul's or the Houses of
Parliament, the result was most imperfect; for, of course, though we
had a good general idea of their appearance, we could not recall all
the architectural details, and therefore the minutiæ necessary to a
perfect reflection were wanting. But Job could not be got to
understand this, and, so far from accepting a natural explanation of
the matter, which was after all, though strange enough in all
conscience, nothing more than an instance of glorified and perfected
telepathy, he set the whole thing down as a manifestation of the
blackest magic. I shall never forget the howl of terror which he
uttered when he saw the more or less perfect portraits of his long-
scattered brethren staring at him from the quiet water, or the merry
peal of laughter with which Ayesha greeted his consternation. As for
Leo, he did not altogether like it either, but ran his fingers through
his yellow curls, and remarked that it gave him the creeps.
After about an hour of this amusement, in the latter part of which Job
did /not/ participate, the mutes by signs indicated that Billali was
waiting for an audience. Accordingly he was told to "crawl up," which
he did as awkwardly as usual, and announced that the dance was ready
to begin if /She/ and the white strangers would be pleased to attend.
Shortly afterwards we all rose, and, Ayesha having thrown a dark cloak
(the same, by the way, that she had worn when I saw her cursing by the
fire) over her white wrappings, we started. The dance was to be held
in the open air, on the smooth rocky plateau in front of the great
cave, and thither we made our way. About fifteen paces from the mouth
of the cave we found three chairs placed, and here we sat and waited,
for as yet no dancers were to be seen. The night was almost, but not
quite, dark, the moon not having risen as yet, which made us wonder
how we should be able to see the dancing.
"Thou wilt presently understand," said Ayesha, with a little laugh,
when Leo asked her; and we certainly did. Scarcely were the words out
of her mouth when from every point we saw dark forms rushing up, each
bearing with him what we at first took to be an enormous flaming
torch. Whatever they were, they were burning furiously, for the flames
stood out a yard or more behind each bearer. On they came, fifty or
more of them, carrying their flaming burdens and looking like so many
devils from hell. Leo was the first to discover what these burdens
"Great heaven!" he said, "they are corpses on fire!"
I stared and stared again--he was perfectly right--the torches that
were to light our entertainment were human mummies from the caves!
On rushed the bearers of the flaming corpses, and, meeting at a spot
about twenty paces in front of us, built their ghastly burdens
crossways into a huge bonfire. Heavens! how they roared and flared! No
tar barrel could have burnt as those mummies did. Nor was this all.
Suddenly I saw one great fellow seize a flaming human arm that had
fallen from its parent frame, and rush off into the darkness.
Presently he stopped, and a tall streak of fire shot up into the air,
illumining the gloom, and also the lamp from which it sprang. That
lamp was the mummy of a woman tied to a stout stake let into the rock,
and he had fired her hair. On he went a few paces and touched a
second, then a third, and a fourth, till at last we were surrounded on
all three sides by a great ring of bodies flaring furiously, the
material with which they were preserved having rendered them so
inflammable that the flames would literally spout out of the ears and
mouth in tongues of fire a foot or more in length.
Nero illuminated his gardens with live Christians soaked in tar, and
we were now treated to a similar spectacle, probably for the first
time since his day, only happily our lamps were not living ones.
But, although this element of horror was fortunately wanting, to
describe the awful and hideous grandeur of the spectacle thus
presented to us is, I feel, so absolutely beyond my poor powers that I
scarcely dare attempt it. To begin with, it appealed to the moral as
well as the physical susceptibilities. There was something very
terrible, and yet very fascinating, about the employment of the remote
dead to illumine the orgies of the living; in itself the thing was a
satire, both on the living and the dead. Cæsar's dust--or is it
Alexander's?--may stop a bunghole, but the functions of these dead
Cæsars of the past was to light up a savage fetish dance. To such base
uses may we come, of so little account may we be in the minds of the
eager multitudes that we shall breed, many of whom, so far from
revering our memory, will live to curse us for begetting them into
such a world of woe.
Then there was the physical side of the spectacle, and a weird and
splendid one it was. Those old citizens of Kôr burnt as, to judge from
their sculptures and inscriptions, they had lived, very fast, and with
the utmost liberality. What is more, there were plenty of them. As
soon as ever a mummy had burnt down to the ankles, which it did in
about twenty minutes, the feet were kicked away, and another one put
in its place. The bonfire was kept going on the same generous scale,
and its flames shot up, with a hiss and a crackle, twenty or thirty
feet into the air, throwing great flashes of light far out into the
gloom, through which the dark forms of the Amahagger flitted to and
fro like devils replenishing the infernal fires. We all stood and
stared aghast--shocked, and yet fascinated at so strange a spectacle,
and half expecting to see the spirits those flaming forms had once
enclosed come creeping from the shadows to work vengeance on their
"I promised thee a strange sight, my Holly," laughed Ayesha, whose
nerves alone did not seem to be affected; "and, behold, I have not
failed thee. Also, it hath its lesson. Trust not to the future, for
who knows what the future may bring! Therefore, live for the day, and
endeavour not to escape the dust which seems to be man's end. What
thinkest thou those long-forgotten nobles and ladies would have felt
had they known that they should one day flare to light the dance or
boil the pot of savages? But see, here come the dancers; a merry crew
--are they not? The stage is lit--now for the play."
As she spoke, we perceived two lines of figures, one male and the
other female, to the number of about a hundred, each advancing round
the human bonfire, arrayed only in the usual leopard and buck skins.
They formed up, in perfect silence, in two lines, facing each other
between us and the fire, and then the dance--a sort of infernal and
fiendish cancan--began. To describe it is quite impossible, but,
though there was a good deal of tossing of legs and double-shuffling,
it seemed to our untutored minds to be more of a play than a dance,
and, as usual with this dreadful people, whose minds seem to have
taken their colour from the caves in which they live, and whose jokes
and amusements are drawn from the inexhaustible stores of preserved
mortality with which they share their homes, the subject appeared to
be a most ghastly one. I know that it represented an attempted murder
first of all, and then the burial alive of the victim and his
struggling from the grave; each act of the abominable drama, which was
carried on in perfect silence, being rounded off and finished with a
furious and most revolting dance round the supposed victim, who
writhed upon the ground in the red light of the bonfire.
Presently, however, this pleasing piece was interrupted. Suddenly
there was a slight commotion, and a large powerful woman, whom I had
noted as one of the most vigorous of the dancers, came, made mad and
drunken with unholy excitement, bounding and staggering towards us,
shrieking out as she came:--
"I want a Black Goat, I must have a Black Goat, bring me a Black
Goat!" and down she fell upon the rocky floor foaming and writhing,
and shrieking for a Black Goat, about as hideous a spectacle as can
well be conceived.
Instantly most of the dancers came up and got round her, though some
still continued their capers in the background.
"She has got a Devil," called out one of them. "Run and get a black
goat. There, Devil, keep quiet! keep quiet! You shall have the goat
presently. They have gone to fetch it, Devil."
"I want a Black Goat, I must have a Black Goat!" shrieked the foaming
rolling creature again.
"All right, Devil, the goat will be here presently; keep quiet,
there's a good Devil!"
And so on till the goat, taken from a neighbouring kraal, did at last
arrive, being dragged bleating on to the scene by its horns.
"Is it a Black One, is it a Black One?" shrieked the possessed.
"Yes, yes, Devil, as black as night;" then aside, "keep it behind
thee, don't let the Devil see that it has got a white spot on its rump
and another on its belly. In one minute, Devil. There, cut his throat
quick. Where is the saucer?"
"The Goat! the Goat! the Goat! Give me the blood of my black goat! I
must have it, don't you see I must have it? Oh! oh! oh! give me the
blood of the goat."
At this moment a terrified /bah!/ announced that the poor goat had
been sacrificed, and the next minute a woman ran up with a saucer full
of blood. This the possessed creature, who was then raving and foaming
her wildest, seized and /drank/, and was instantly recovered, and
without a trace of hysteria, or fits, or being possessed, or whatever
dreadful thing it was she was suffering from. She stretched her arms,
smiled faintly, and walked quietly back to the dancers, who presently
withdrew in a double line as they had come, leaving the space between
us and the bonfire deserted.
I thought that the entertainment was now over, and, feeling rather
queer, was about to ask /She/ if we could rise, when suddenly what at
first I took to be a baboon came hopping round the fire, and was
instantly met upon the other side by a lion, or rather a human being
dressed in a lion's skin. Then came a goat, then a man wrapped in an
ox's hide, with the horns wobbling about in a ludicrous way. After him
followed a blesbok, then an impala, then a koodoo, then more goats,
and many other animals, including a girl sewn up in the shining scaly
hide of a boa-constrictor, several yards of which trailed along the
ground behind her. When all the beasts had collected they began to
dance about in a lumbering, unnatural fashion, and to imitate the
sounds produced by the respective animals they represented, till the
whole air was alive with roars and bleating and the hissing of snakes.
This went on for a long time, till, getting tired of the pantomime, I
asked Ayesha if there would be any objection to Leo and myself walking
round to inspect the human torches, and, as she had nothing to say
against it, we started, striking round to the left. After looking at
one or two of the flaming bodies, we were about to return, thoroughly
disgusted with the grotesque weirdness of the spectacle, when our
attention was attracted by one of the dancers, a particularly active
leopard, that had separated itself from its fellow-beasts, and was
whisking about in our immediate neighbourhood, but gradually drawing
into a spot where the shadow was darkest, equidistant between two of
the flaming mummies. Drawn by curiosity, we followed it, when suddenly
it darted past us into the shadows beyond, and as it did so erected
itself and whispered, "Come," in a voice that we both recognised as
that of Ustane. Without waiting to consult me Leo turned and followed
her into the outer darkness, and I, feeling sick enough at heart, went
after them. The leopard crawled on for about fifty paces--a sufficient
distance to be quite beyond the light of the fire and torches--and
then Leo came up with it, or, rather, with Ustane.
"Oh, my lord," I heard her whisper, "so I have found thee! Listen. I
am in peril of my life from '/She-who-must-be-obeyed/.' Surely the
Baboon has told thee how she drove me from thee? I love thee, my lord,
and thou art mine according to the custom of the country. I saved thy
life! My Lion, wilt thou cast me off now?"
"Of course not," ejaculated Leo; "I have been wondering whither thou
hadst gone. Let us go and explain matters to the Queen."
"Nay, nay, she would slay us. Thou knowest not her power--the Baboon
there, he knoweth, for he saw. Nay, there is but one way: if thou wilt
cleave to me, thou must flee with me across the marshes even now, and
then perchance we may escape."
"For Heaven's sake, Leo," I began, but she broke in--
"Nay, listen not to him. Swift--be swift--death is in the air we
breathe. Even now, mayhap, /She/ heareth us," and without more ado she
proceeded to back her arguments by throwing herself into his arms. As
she did so the leopard's head slipped from her hair, and I saw the
three white finger-marks upon it, gleaming faintly in the starlight.
Once more realising the desperate nature of the position, I was about
to interpose, for I knew that Leo was not too strong-minded where
women were concerned, when--oh! horror!--I heard a little silvery
laugh behind me. I turned round, and there was /She/ herself, and with
her Billali and two male mutes. I gasped and nearly sank to the
ground, for I knew that such a situation must result in some dreadful
tragedy, of which it seemed exceedingly probable to me that I should
be the first victim. As for Ustane, she untwined her arms and covered
her eyes with her hands, while Leo, not knowing the full terror of the
position, merely covered up, and looked as foolish as a man caught in
such a trap would naturally do.
Then followed a moment of the most painful silence that I ever
endured. It was broken by Ayesha, who addressed herself to Leo.
"Nay, now, my lord and guest," she said in her softest tones, which
yet had the ring of steel about them, "look not so bashful. Surely the
sight was a pretty one--the leopard and the lion!"
"Oh, hang it all!" said Leo in English.
"And thou, Ustane," she went on, "surely I should have passed thee by,
had not the light fallen on the white across thy hair," and she
pointed to the bright edge of the rising moon which was now appearing
above the horizon. "Well! well! the dance is done--see, the tapers
have burnt down, and all things end in silence and in ashes. So thou
thoughtest it a fit time for love, Ustane, my servant--and I, dreaming
not that I could be disobeyed, thought thee already far away."
"Play not with me," moaned the wretched woman; "slay me, and let there
be an end."
"Nay, why? It is not well to go so swift from the hot lips of love
down to the cold mouth of the grave," and she made a motion to the
mutes, who instantly stepped up and caught the girl by either arm.
With an oath Leo sprang upon the nearest, and hurled him to the
ground, and then stood over him with his face set, and his fist ready.
Again Ayesha laughed. "It was well thrown, my guest; thou hast a
strong arm for one who so late was sick. But now out of thy courtesy I
pray thee let that man live and do my bidding. He shall not harm the
girl; the night air grows chill, and I would welcome her in mine own
place. Surely she whom thou dost favour shall be favoured of me also."
I took Leo by the arm, and pulled him from the prostrate mute, and he,
half bewildered, obeyed the pressure. Then we all set out for the cave
across the plateau, where a pile of white human ashes was all that
remained of the fire that had lit the dancing, for the dancers had
In due course we gained Ayesha's boudoir--all too soon, it seemed to
me, having a sad presage of what was to come lying heavy on my heart.
Ayesha seated herself upon her cushions, and, having dismissed Job and
Billali, by signs bade the mutes tend the lamps and retire--all save
one girl, who was her favourite personal attendant. We three remained
standing, the unfortunate Ustane a little to the left of the rest of
"Now, oh Holly," Ayesha began, "how came it that thou who didst hear
my words bidding this evil-doer"--and she pointed to Ustane--"to go
hence--thou at whose prayer I did weakly spare her life--how came it,
I say, that thou wast a sharer in what I saw to-night? Answer, and for
thine own sake, I say, speak all the truth, for I am not minded to
hear lies upon this matter!"
"It was by accident, oh Queen," I answered. "I knew naught of it."
"I do believe thee, oh Holly," she answered coldly, "and well it is
for thee that I do--then does the whole guilt rest upon her."
"I do not find any guilt therein," broke in Leo. "She is not another
man's wife, and it appears that she has married me according to the
custom of this awful place, so who is the worse? Any way, madam," he
went on, "whatever she has done I have done too, so if she is to be
punished let me be punished also; and I tell thee," he went on,
working himself up into a fury, "that if thou biddest one of those
dead and dumb villains to touch her again I will tear him to pieces!"
And he looked as though he meant it.
Ayesha listened in icy silence, and made no remark. When he had
finished, however, she addressed Ustane.
"Hast thou aught to say, woman? Thou silly straw, thou feather, who
didst think to float towards thy passion's petty ends, even against
the great wind of my will! Tell me, for I fain would understand. Why
didst thou this thing?"
And then I think I saw the most tremendous exhibition of moral courage
and intrepidity that it is possible to conceive. For the poor doomed
girl, knowing what she had to expect at the hands of her terrible
Queen, knowing, too, from bitter experience, how great was her
adversary's power, yet gathered herself together, and out of the very
depths of her despair drew materials to defy her.
"I did it, oh /She/," she answered, drawing herself up to the full of
her stately height, and throwing back the panther skin from her head,
"because my love is stronger than the grave. I did it because my life
without this man whom my heart chose would be but a living death.
Therefore did I risk my life, and, now that I know that it is forfeit
to thine anger, yet am I glad that I did risk it, and pay it away in
the risking, ay, because he embraced me once, and told me that he
loved me yet."
Here Ayesha half rose from her couch, and then sank down again.
"I have no magic," went on Ustane, her rich voice ringing strong and
full, "and I am not a Queen, nor do I live for ever, but a woman's
heart is heavy to sink through waters, however deep, oh Queen! and a
woman's eyes are quick to see--even through thy veil, oh Queen!
"Listen: I know it, thou dost love this man thyself, and therefore
wouldst thou destroy me who stand across thy path. Ay, I die--I die,
and go into the darkness, nor know I whither I go. But this I know.
There is a light shining in my breast, and by that light, as by a
lamp, I see the truth, and the future that I shall not share unroll
itself before me like a scroll. When first I knew my lord," and she
pointed to Leo, "I knew also that death would be the bridal gift he
gave me--it rushed upon me of a sudden, but I turned not back, being
ready to pay the price, and, behold, death is here! And now, even as I
knew that, so do I, standing on the steps of doom, know that thou
shalt not reap the profit of thy crime. Mine he is, and, though thy
beauty shine like a sun among the stars, mine shall he remain for
thee. Never here in this life shall he look thee in the eyes and call
thee spouse. Thou too art doomed, I see"--and her voice rang like the
cry of an inspired prophetess; "ah, I see----"
Then came an answering cry of mingled rage and terror. I turned my
head. Ayesha had risen, and was standing with her outstretched hand
pointing at Ustane, who had suddenly stopped speaking. I gazed at the
poor woman, and as I gazed there came upon her face that same woeful,
fixed expression of terror that I had seen once before when she had
broken out into her wild chant. Her eyes grew large, her nostrils
dilated, and her lips blanched.
Ayesha said nothing, she made no sound, she only drew herself up,
stretched out her arm, and, her tall veiled frame quivering like an
aspen leaf, appeared to look fixedly at her victim. Even as she did so
Ustane put her hands to her head, uttered one piercing scream, turned
round twice, and then fell backwards with a thud--prone upon the
floor. Both Leo and myself rushed to her--she was stone dead--blasted
into death by some mysterious electric agency or overwhelming will-
force whereof the dread /She/ had command.
For a moment Leo did not quite realise what had happened. But, when he
did, his face was awful to see. With a savage oath he rose from beside
the corpse, and, turning, literally sprang at Ayesha. But she was
watching, and, seeing him come, stretched out her hand again, and he
went staggering back towards me, and would have fallen, had I not
caught him. Afterwards he told me that he felt as though he had
suddenly received a violent blow in the chest, and, what is more,
utterly cowed, as if all the manhood had been taken out of him.
Then Ayesha spoke. "Forgive me, my guest," she said softly, addressing
him, "if I have shocked thee with my justice."
"Forgive thee, thou fiend," roared poor Leo, wringing his hands in his
rage and grief. "Forgive thee, thou murderess! By Heaven, I will kill
thee if I can!"
"Nay, nay," she answered in the same soft voice, "thou dost not
understand--the time has come for thee to learn. /Thou/ art my love,
my Kallikrates, my Beautiful, my Strong! For two thousand years,
Kallikrates, have I waited for /thee/, and now at length thou hast
come back to me; and as for this woman," pointing to the corpse, "she
stood between me and thee, and therefore have I laid her in the dust,
"It is an accursed lie!" said Leo. "My name is not Kallikrates! I am
Leo Vincey; my ancestor was Kallikrates--at least, I believe he was."
"Ah, thou sayest it--thine ancestor was Kallikrates, and thou, even
thou, art Kallikrates reborn, come back--and mine own dear lord!"
"I am not Kallikrates, and, as for being thy lord, or having aught to
do with thee, I had sooner be the lord of a fiend from hell, for she
would be better than thou."
"Sayest thou so--sayest thou so, Kallikrates? Nay, but thou hast not
seen me for so long a time that no memory remains. Yet am I very fair,
"I hate thee, murderess, and I have no wish to see thee. What is it to
me how fair thou art? I hate thee, I say."
"Yet within a very little space shalt thou creep to my knee, and swear
that thou dost love me," answered Ayesha, with a sweet, mocking laugh.
"Come, there is no time like the present time, here before this dead
girl who loved thee, let us put it to the proof.
"Look now on me, Kallikrates!" and with a sudden motion she shook her
gauzy covering from her, and stood forth in her low kirtle and her
snaky zone, in her glorious radiant beauty and her imperial grace,
rising from her wrappings, as it were, like Venus from the wave, or
Galatea from her marble, or a beatified spirit from the tomb. She
stood forth, and fixed her deep and glowing eyes upon Leo's eyes, and
I saw his clenched fists unclasp, and his set and quivering features
relax beneath her gaze. I saw his wonder and astonishment grow into
admiration, and then into fascination, and the more he struggled the
more I saw the power of her dread beauty fasten on him and take
possession of his senses, drugging them, and drawing the heart out of
him. Did I not know the process? Had not I, who was twice his age,
gone through it myself? Was I not going through it afresh even then,
although her sweet and passionate gaze was not for me? Yes, alas, I
was! Alas, that I should have to confess that at that very moment I
was rent by mad and furious jealousy. I could have flown at him, shame
upon me! The woman had confounded and almost destroyed my moral sense,
as she was bound to confound all who looked upon her superhuman
loveliness. But--I do not quite know how--I got the better of myself,
and once more turned to see the climax of the tragedy.
"Oh, great Heaven!" gasped Leo, "art thou a woman?"
"A woman in truth--in very truth--and thine own spouse, Kallikrates!"
she answered, stretching out her rounded ivory arms towards him, and
smiling, ah, so sweetly!
He looked and looked, and slowly I perceived that he was drawing
nearer to her. Suddenly his eye fell upon the corpse of poor Ustane,
and he shuddered and stopped.
"How can I?" he said hoarsely. "Thou art a murderess; she loved me."
Observe, he was already forgetting that he had loved her.
"It is naught," she murmured, and her voice sounded sweet as the
night-wind passing through the trees. "It is naught at all. If I have
sinned, let my beauty answer for my sin. If I have sinned, it is for
love of thee: let my sin, therefore, be put away and forgotten;" and
once more she stretched out her arms and whispered "/Come/," and then
in another few seconds it was all over.
I saw him struggle--I saw him even turn to fly; but her eyes drew him
more strongly than iron bonds, and the magic of her beauty and
concentrated will and passion entered into him and overpowered him--
ay, even there, in the presence of the body of the woman who had loved
him well enough to die for him. It sounds horrible and wicked enough,
but he should not be too greatly blamed, and be sure his sin will find
him out. The temptress who drew him into evil was more than human, and
her beauty was greater than the loveliness of the daughters of men.
I looked up again and now her perfect form lay in his arms, and her
lips were pressed against his own; and thus, with the corpse of his
dead love for an altar, did Leo Vincey plight his troth to her red-
handed murderess--plight it for ever and a day. For those who sell
themselves into a like dominion, paying down the price of their own
honour, and throwing their soul into the balance to sink the scale to
the level of their lusts, can hope for no deliverance here or
hereafter. As they have sown, so shall they reap and reap, even when
the poppy flowers of passion have withered in their hands, and their
harvest is but bitter tares, garnered in satiety.
Suddenly, with a snake-like motion, she seemed to slip from his