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Full text of "Ayesha, the return of She"

AYESHA 

The Return of She 



\ 



AYES HA 

The Return of She 



By 

H. RIDER HAGGARD 



" Here ends this history so far as it concerns science 
and the outside world. What its end will be as regards 
Leo and myself is more than I can guess. But we feel 
that it is not reached. . . . Often I sit alone at night, 
staring with the eyes of my mind into the blackness of 
unborn time, and wondering in what shape and form the 
great drama will be finally developed, and where the 
scene of its next act will be laid. And when, ultimately, 
thatyfwa/ development occurs, as I have no doubt it must 
and will occur, in obedience to a fate that never swerves 
and a purpose which cannot be altered, what will be the 
part played therein by that beautiful Egyptian Amenar- 
tas, the Princess of the royal house of the Pharaohs, for 
the love of whom the priest Kallikrates broke his vows 
to Isis, and, pursued by the vengeance of the outraged 
goddess, fled down the coast of Lybia to meet his doom 
at Kor?" She, Silver Library Edition, p. 277. 



NEW YORK 

GROSSET & DUNLAP 

PUBLISHERS 



^ 



/7 



Copyright, 1904, 1905 
BY H. RIDER HAGGARD 

Published, October, 1905 



All rights reserved, including that 
of translation into foreign languages, 
including the Scandinavian. 



Dedication 

MY DEAR LANG, 

The appointed years alas! how many of them are 
gone by, leaving Ayesha lovely and loving and ourselves 
alive. As it was promised in the Caves of Kor She has 
returned again. 

To you therefore who accepted the first, I offer this 
further history of one of the various incarnations of that 
Immortal. 

My hope is that after you have read her record, not 
withstanding her subtleties and sins and the shortcomings 
of her chronicler (no easy office!) you may continue to 
wear your chain of " loyalty to our lady Ayesha." Such, 
I confess, is still the fate of your old friend 

H. RIDER HAGGARD. 

DlTCHINGHAM, 1905. 



382 



Author s Note 

NOT with a view of conciliating those readers who on 
principle object to sequels, but as a matter of fact, the 
Author wishes to say that he does not so regard this book. 

Rather does he venture to ask that it should be con 
sidered as the conclusion of an imaginative tragedy (if he 
may so call it) whereof one half has been already pub 
lished. 

This conclusion it was always his desire to write should 
he be destined to live through those many years which, in 
obedience to his original design, must be allowed to lapse 
between the events of the first and second parts of the 
romance. 

In response to many enquiries he may add that the 
name Ayesha, which since the days of the prophet Ma 
homet, who had a wife so called, and perhaps before them, 
has been common in the East, should be pronounced 
Assha. 



Contents 



CHAPTER PAGE 

INTRODUCTION n 

I THE DOUBLE SIGN 21 

II THE LAMASERY 31 

III THE BEACON LIGHT 49 

IV THE AVALANCHE 60 

V THE GLACIER 7* 

VI IN THE GATE . . 82 

VII THE FIRST ORDEAL 9 6 

VIII THE DEATH-HOUNDS 108 

IX THE COURT OF KALOON ...... 122 

X IN THE SHAMAN S CHAMBER . . . . .134 

XI THE HUNT AND THE KILL . . . .146 

XII THE MESSENGER 163 

XIII BENEATH THE SHADOWING WINGS . . . .184 

XIV THE COURT OF DEATH 202 

XV THE SECOND ORDEAL .217 

XVI THE CHANGE 238 

XVII THE BETROTHAL . . . . . \ . . 248 

XVIII THE THIRD ORDEAL 257 

XIX LEO AND THE LEOPARD ...... 270 



CONTENTS 

CHAPTER PAGE 

XX AYESHA S ALCHEMY 285 

XXI THE PROPHECY OF ATENE ...... 305 

XXII THE LOOSING OF THE POWERS 320 

XXIII THE YIELDING OF AYESHA 335 

XXIV THE PASSING OF AYESHA 347 



Introduction 



VERILY and indeed it is the unexpected that happens! 
Probably if there was one person upon the earth from 
whom the Editor of this, and of a certain previous his 
tory, did not expect to hear again, that person was 
Ludwig Horace Holly. This, too, for a good reason; 
he believed him to have taken his departure from the 
earth. 

When Mr. Holly last wrote, many, many years ago, 
it was to transmit the manuscript of She, and to announce 
that he and his ward, Leo Vincey, the beloved of the 
divine Ayesha, were about ,to travel to Central Asia in 
the hope, I suppose, that there she would fulfil her 
promise and appear to them again. 

Often I have wondered, idly enough, what happened 
to them there ; whether they were dead, or perhaps dron 
ing their lives away as monks in some Thibetan Lamasery, 
or studying magic and practising asceticism under the 
tuition of the Eastern Masters trusting that thus they 
would build a bridge by which they might pass to the side 
of their adored Immortal. 

Now at length, when I had not thought of them for 
months, without a single warning sign, out of the blue as 
it were, comes the answer to these wonderings \ 

To think only to think that I, the Editor aforesaid, 
from its appearance suspecting something quite familiar 
and without interest, pushed aside that dingy, unregis 
tered, brown-paper parcel directed in an unknown hand, 
and for two whole days let it lie forgotten. Indeed there 
it might be lying now, had not another person been 



12 A YES HA 

moved to curiosity, and opening it, found within a bundle 
of manuscript badly burned upon the back, and with this 
two letters addressed to myself. 

Although so great a time had passed since I saw it, and 
it was shaky now because of the author s age or sickness, I 
knew the writing at once nobody ever made an " H " 
with that peculiar twirl under it except Mr. Holly. I 
tore open the sealed envelope, and sure enough the first 
thing my eye fell upon was the signature, L. H. Holly. 
It is long since I read anything so eagerly as I did that 
letter. Here it is : 

" MY DEAR SIR, I have ascertained that you still live, 
and strange to say I still live also for a little while. 

" As soon as I came into touch with civilization again 
I found a copy of your book She, or rather of my book, 
and read it first of all in a Hindostani translation. My 
host he was a minister of some religious body, a man 
of worthy but prosaic mind expressed surprise that a 
* wild romance should absorb me so much. I answered 
that those who have wide experience of the hard facts of 
life often find interest in romance. Had he known 
what were the hard facts to which I alluded, I wonder 
what that excellent person would have said? 

" I see that you carried out your part of the business 
well and faithfully. Every instruction has been obeyed, 
nothing has been added or taken away. Therefore, to 
you, to whom some twenty years ago I entrusted the 
beginning of the history, I wish to entrust its end also. 
You were the first to learn of She-Who-Must-Be-Obeyed, 
who from century to century sat alone, clothed with un 
changing loveliness in the sepulchres of Kor, waiting till 
her lost love was born again, and Destiny brought him 
back to her. 

" It is right, therefore, that you should be the first to 
learn also of Ayesha, Hesea and Spirit of the Mountain, 
the priestess of that Oracle which since the time of Alex- 



INTRODUCTION 13 

ander the Great has reigned between the flaming pillars 
in the Sanctuary, the last holder of the sceptre of Hes 
or Isis upon the earth. It is right also that to you first 
among men I should reveal the mystic consummation of 
the wondrous tragedy which began at Kor, or perchance 
far earlier in Egypt and elsewhere. 

" I am very ill ; I have struggled back to this old house 
of mine to die, and my end is at hand. I have asked the 
doctor here, after all is over, to send you the Record, 
that is unless I change my mind and burn it first. You 
will also receive, if you receive anything at all, a case 
containing several rough sketches which may be of use to 
you, and a sistrum, the instrument that has been always 
used in the worship of the Nature goddesses of the old 
Egyptians, Isis and Hathor, which you will see is as 
beautiful as it is ancient. I give it to you for two reasons ; 
as a token of my gratitude and regard, and as the only 
piece of evidence that is left to me of the literal truth 
of what I have written in the accompanying manuscript, 
where you will find it often mentioned. Perhaps also you 
will value it as a souvenir of, I suppose, the strangest and 
loveliest being who ever was, or rather, is. It was her 
sceptre, the rod of her power, with which I saw her salute 
the Shadows in the Sanctuary, and her gift to me. 

" It has virtues also ; some part of Ayesha s might yet 
haunts the symbol to which even spirits bowed, but if 
you should discover them, beware how they are used. 

" I have neither the strength nor the will to write more. 
The Record must speak for itself. Do with it what you 
like, and believe it or not as you like. I care nothing 
who know that it is true. 

" Who and what was Ayesha, nay, what is Ayesha ? 
An incarnate essence, a materialised spirit of Nature the 
unforeseeing, the lovely, the cruel and the immortal; 
ensouled alone, redeemable only by Humanity and its 
piteous sacrifice? Say you! I have done with specula 
tions who depart to solve these mysteries. 



14 A YES HA 

" I wish you happiness and good fortune. Farewell to 
you and to all. 

" L. HORACE HOLLY." 

I laid the letter down, and, filled with sensations that 
it is useless to attempt to analyse or describe, opened the 
second envelope, of which I also print the contents, omit 
ting only certain irrelevant portions, and the name of the 
writer as, it will be noted, he requests me to do. 

This epistle, that was dated from a remote place upon 
the shores of Cumberland, ran as follows : 

" DEAR SIR, As the doctor who attended Mr. Holly 
in his last illness I am obliged, in obedience to a promise 
that I made to him, to become an intermediary in a some 
what strange business, although in truth it is one of which 
I know very little, however much it may have interested 
me. Still I do so only on the strict understanding that 
no mention is to be made of my name in connexion with 
the matter, or of the locality in which I practise. 

" About ten days ago I was called in to see Mr. Holly 
at an old house upon the Cliff that for many years re 
mained untenanted except by the caretakers, which house 
was his property, and had been in his family for genera 
tions. The housekeeper who summoned me told me that 
her master had but just returned from abroad, somewhere 
in Asia, she said, and that he was very ill with his heart 
dying, she believed; both of which suppositions proved to 
be accurate. 

" I found the patient sitting up in bed (to ease his 
heart), and a strange-looking old man he was. He had 
dark eyes, small but full of fire and intelligence, a magni 
ficent and snowy-white beard that covered a chest of ex 
traordinary breadth, and hair also white, which en 
croached upon his forehead and face so much that it met 
the whiskers upon his cheeks. His arms were remarkable 
for their length and strength, though one of them seemed 



INTRODUCTION 15 

to have been much torn by some animal. He told me 
that a dog had done this, but if so it must have been a dog 
of unusual power. He was a very ugly man, and yet, 
forgive the bull, beautiful. I cannot describe what I 
mean better than by saying that his face was not like the 
face of any ordinary mortal whom I have met in my lim 
ited experience. Were I an artist who wished to portray 
a wise and benevolent but rather grotesque spirit, I should 
take that countenance as a model. 

" Mr. Holly was somewhat vexed at my being called HT., 
which had been done without his knowledge. Soon we 
became friendly enough, however, and he expressed 
gratitude for the relief that I was able to give him, 
though I could not hope to do more. At different times 
he talked a good deal of the various countries in which 
he had travelled, apparently for very many years, upon 
some strange quest that he never clearly defined to me. 
Twice also he became light-headed, and spoke, for the 
most part in languages that I identified as Greek and 
Arabic; occasionally in English also, when he appeared 
to be addressing himself to a being who was the object 
of his veneration, I might almost say of his worship. 
What he said then, however, I prefer not to repeat, for I 
heard it in my professional capacity. 

" One day he pointed to a rough box made of some, 
foreign wood (the same that I have now duly despatched 
to you by train), and, giving me your name and address, 
said that without fail it was to be forwarded to you after 
his death. Also he asked me to do up a manuscript* 
which, like the box, was to be sent to you. 

" He saw me looking at the last sheets, which had been 
burned away, and said (I repeat his exact words) 

* Yes, yes, that can t be helped now, it must go as it is.. 
You see I made up my mind to destroy it after all, and it 
was already on the fire when the command came the 
clear, unmistakable command and I snatched it off 
again. 



1 6 r AYESHA 

" What Mr. Holly meant by this command I do not 
know, for he would speak no more of the matter. 

" I pass on to the last scene. One night about eleven 
o clock, knowing ithat my patient s end was near, I went 
up to see him, proposing to inject some strychnine to keep 
the heart going a little longer. Before I reached the 
house I met the caretaker coming to seek me in a great 
fright, and asked her if her master was dead. She 
answered No ; but he was gone had got out of bed 
and, just as he was, barefooted, left the house, and was 
last seen by her grandson among the very Scotch firs 
where we were talking. The lad, who was terrified out 
of his wits, for he thought that he beheld a ghost, had told 
her so. 

" The moonlight was very brilliant that night, especially 
as fresh snow had fallen, which reflected its rays. I was 
on foot, and began to search among the firs, till presently 
just outside of them I found the track of naked feet in 
the snow. Of course I followed, calling to the house 
keeper to go and wake her husband, for no one else lives 
near by. The spoor proved very easy to trace across the 
clean sheet of snow. It ran up the slope of a hill behind 
the house. 

" Now, on the crest of this hill is an ancient monument 
of upright monoliths set there by some primeval people, 
known locally as the Devil s Ring a sort of miniature 
Stonehenge in fact. I had seen it several times, and 
happened to have been present not long ago at a meeting 
of an archaeological society when its origin and purpose 
were discussed. I remember that one learned but some 
what eccentric gentleman read a short paper upon a rude, 
hooded bust and head that are cut within the chamber of 
a tall, flat-topped cromlech, or dolmen, which stands alone 
in the centre of the ring. 

" He said that it was a representation of the Egyptian 
goddess, Isis, and that this place had once been sacred 
to some form of her worship, or at any rate to that of a 



INTRODUCTION 17 

Nature goddess with like attributes, a suggestion which 
the other learned gentlemen treated as absurd. They 
declared that Isis had never travelled into Britain, though 
for my part I do not see why the Phoenicians, or even the 
Romans, who adopted her cult, more or less, should not 
have brought it here. But I know nothing of such mat 
ters and will not discuss them. 

" I remembered also that Mr. Holly was acquainted 
with this place, for he had mentioned it to me on the 
previous day, asking if the stones were* still uninjured as 
they used to be when he was young. He added also, and 
the remark struck me, that yonder was where he would 
wish to die. When I answered that I feared he would 
never take so long a walk again, I noted that he smiled a 
little. 

" Well, this conversation gave me a clue, and without 
troubling more about the footprints I went on as fast as 
I could to the Ring, half a mile or so away. Presently I 
reached it, and there yes, there standing by the crom 
lech, bareheaded, and clothed in his night-things only, 
stood Mr. Holly in the snow, the strangest figure, I think, 
that ever I beheld. 

" Indeed never shall I forget that wild scene. The 
circle of rough, single stones pointing upwards to the 
star-strewn sky, intensely lonely and intensely solemn : the 
tall trilithon towering above them in the centre, its 
shadow, thrown by the bright moon behind it, lying long 
and black upon the dazzling sheet of snow, and, standing 
clear of this shadow so that I could distinguish his every 
motion, and even the rapt look upon his dying face, the 
white-draped figure of Mr. Holly. He appeared to be 
uttering some invocation in Arabic, I think for long 
before I reached him I could catch the tones of his full, 
sonorous voice, and see his waving, outstretched arms. 
In his right hand he held the looped sceptre which, by his 
express wish I send to you with the drawings. I could 
see the flash of the jewels strung upon the wires, and in 
the great stillness, hear the tinkling of its golden bells. 



1 8 A YES HA 

" Presently, too, I seemed to become aware of another 
presence, and now you will understand why I desire and 
must ask that my identity should be suppressed. Natu 
rally enough I do not wish to be mixed up with a super 
stitious tale which is, on the face of it, impossible and ab 
surd. Yet under all the circumstances I think it right to 
tell you that I saw, or thought I saw, something gather 
in the shadow of the central dolmen, or emerge from its 
rude chamber I know not which for certain something 
bright and glorious which gradually took the form of a 
woman upon whose forehead burned a star-like fire. 

" At any rate the vision or reflection, or whatever it 
was, startled me so much that I came to a halt under the 
lee of one of the monoliths, and found myself unable even 
to call to the distraught man whom I pursued. 

" Whilst I stood thus it became clear to me that Mr. 
Holly also saw something. At least he turned towards 
the Radiance in the shadow, uttered one cry ; a wild, glad 
cry, and stepped forward; then seemed to fall through it 
on to his face. 

" When I reached the spot the light had vanished, and 
all I found was Mr. Holly, his arms still outstretched, and^ 
the sceptre gripped tightly in his hand, lying quite dead in 
the shadow of the trilithon." 

The rest of the doctor s letter need not be quoted as it 
deals only with certain very improbable explanations of 
the origin of this Figure of light, the details of the re 
moval of Holly s body, and of how he managed to satisfy 
the coroner that no inquest was necessary. 

The box of which he speaks arrived safely. Of the 
drawings in it I need say nothing, and of the sistrum or 
sceptre only a few words. It was fashioned of crystal 
to the well-known shape of the Crux-ansata, or the em 
blem of life of the Egyptians ; the rod, the cross and the 
loop combined in one. From side to side of this loop ran 
golden wires, and on these were strung gems of three 



INTRODUCTION 19 

colours, glittering diamonds, sea-blue sapphires, and 
blood-red rubies, while to the fourth wire, that at the top, 
hung four little golden bells. 

When I took hold of it first my arm shook slightly 
with excitement, and those bells began to sound ; a sweet, 
faint music like to that of chimes heard far away at night 
in the silence of the sea. I thought too, but perhaps this 
was fancy, that a thrill passed from the hallowed and 
beautiful thing into my body. 

On the mystery itself, as it is recorded in th manu 
script, I make no comment. Of it and its inner signi 
fications every reader must form his or her own judg 
ment. One thing alone is clear to me on the hypothesis 
that Mr. Holly tells the truth as to what he and Leo 
Vincey saw and experienced, which I at least believe 
that though sundry interpretations of this mystery were 
advanced by Ayesha and others, none of them are quite 
satisfactory. 

Indeed, like Mr. Holly, I incline to the theory that SHE, 
if I may still call her by that name although it is seldom 
given to her in these pages, put forward some of them, 
such as the vague Isis-myth, and the wondrous picture- 
story of the Mountain-fire, as mere veils to hide the truth 
which it was her purpose to reveal at last in that song she 
never sang. 

THE EDITOR. 



AYESHA: 

The Further History 

of 
She-Who-Must-Be-Obeyed 

CHAPTER I 

THE DOUBLE SIGN 

HARD on twenty years have gone by since that night of 
Leo s vision the most awful years, perhaps, which were 
ever endured by men twenty years of search and hard 
ship ending in soul-shaking wonder and amazement. 

My death is very near to me, and of this I am glad, for 
I desire to pursue the quest in other realms, as it has 
been promised to me that I shall do. I desire to learn the 
beginning and the end of the spiritual drama of which it 
has been my strange lot to read some pages upon earth. 

I, Ludwig Horace Holly, have been very ill ; they car 
ried me, more dead than alive, down those mountains 
whose lowest slopes I can see from my window, for I 
write this on the northern frontiers of India. Indeed any 
othtf man had long since perished, but Destiny kept my 
breath in me, perhaps that a record might remain. L 
must bide here a month or two till I am strong enough 
to travel homewards, for I have a fancy to die in the 
place where I was born. So while I have strength I will 



21 



22 r AYESHA 

put the story down, or at least those parts of it that are 
most essential, for much can, or at any rate must be 
omitted. I shrink from attempting too long a book, 
though my notes and memory would furnish me with 
sufficient material for volumes. 

I will begin with the Vision. 

After Leo Vincey and I came back from Africa in 1885, 
desiring solitude, which indeed we needed sorely to re 
cover from the fearful shock we had experienced, and 
to give us time and opportunity to think, we went to an 
old house upon the shores of Cumberland that has be 
longed to my family for many generations. This house, 
unless somebody has taken it believing me to be dead, is 
Still my property and thither I travel to die. 

Those whose eyes read the words I write, if any should 
ever read them, may ask What shock? 

Well, I am Horace Holly, and my companion, my be 
loved friend, my son in the spirit whom I reared from 
infancy was nay, is Leo Vincey. 

We are those men who, following an ancient clue, trav 
elled to the Caves of Kor in Central Africa, and there dis- . 
covered her whom we sought, the immortal She-who- 
must-be-obeyed. In Leo she found her love, that re-born 
Kallikrates, the Grecian priest of Isis whom some two 
thousand years before she had slain in her jealous rage, 
thus executing on him the judgment of the angry god 
dess. In her also I found the divinity whom I was 
doomed to worship from afar, not with the flesh, for that 
is all lost and gone from me, but, what is sorer still, be 
cause its burden is undying, with the will and soul which 
animate a man throughout the countless aeons of his being. 
The flesh dies, or at least it changes, and its passions pass, 
but that other passion of the spirit that longing for one- 
jness is undying as itself. 

What crime have I committed that this sore punishment 
should be laid upon me ? Yet, in truth, is it a punishment ? 



THE DOUBLE SIGN 23 

May it not prove to be but that black and terrible Gate 
which leads to the joyous palace of Rewards ? She swore 
that I should ever be her friend and his and dwell with 
them eternally, and I believe her. 

For how many winters did we wander among the icy 
hills and deserts! Still, at length, the Messenger came 
and led us to the Mountain, and on the Mountain we 
found the Shrine, and in the Shrine the Spirit. May not 
these things be an allegory prepared for our instruction ? 
I will take comfort. I will hope that it is so. Nay, I am 
sure that it is so. 

It will be remembered that in Kor we found the immor 
tal woman. There before the flashing rays and vapours 
of the Pillar of Life she declared her mystic love, and 
then in our very sight was swept to a doom so horrible 
that even now, after all which has been and gone, I shiver 
at its recollection. Yet what were Ayesha s last words? 
"Forget me not . . . have pity on my shame. I die 
not. I shall come again and shall once more be beautiful. 
I swear it it is true." 

Well, I cannot set out that history afresh. Moreover it 
is written ; the man whom I trusted in the matter did not 
fail me, and the book he made of it seems to be known 
throughout the world, for I have found it here in English, 
yes, and read it first translated into Hindostani. To it 
then I refer the curious. 

In that house upon the desolate sea-shore of Cumber 
land, we dwelt a year, mourning the lost, seeking an ave 
nue by which it might be found again and discovering 
none. Here our strength came back to us, and Leo s 
hair, that had been whitened in the horror of the Caves, 
grew again from grey to golden. His beauty returned 
to him also, so that his face was as it had been, only puri 
fied and saddened. 

Well I remember that night and the hour of illumina 
tion. We were heart-broken, we were in despair. We 



24 AYESHA 

sought signs and could find none. The dead remained 
dead to us and no answer came to all our crying. 

It was a sullen Augut evening, and after we had dined 
we walked upon the shore, listening to the slow surge of 
the waves and watching he lightning flicker from the 
bosom of a distant cloud. In silence we walked, till at 
last Leo groaned it was more of a sob than a groan 
and clasped my arm. 

" I can bear it no longer, Horace/ he said for so he 
called me now " I am in torment. The desire to see 
Ayesha once more saps my brain. Without hope I shall 
go quite mad. And I am strong, I may live another fifty 
years." 

" What then can you do? " I asked. 

" I can take a short road to knowledge or to peace," 
he answered solemnly. " I can die, and die I will yes, to 
night." 

I turned upon him angrily, for his words filled me with 
fear. 

" Leo, you are a coward ! " I said. " Cannot you bear 
your part of pain as others do ? " 

" You mean as you do, Horace," he answered with a 
dreary laugh, " for on you also the curse lies with less 
cause. Well, you are stronger than I am, and more 
tough; perhaps because you have lived longer. No, I 
cannot bear it. I will die." 

" It is a crime," I said, " the greatest insult you can 
offer to the Power that made you, to cast back its gift 
of life as a thing outworn, contemptible and despised. A 
crime, I say. which will bring with it worse punishment 
than any you can dream J perhaps even the punishment of 
everlasting separation." 

" Does a man stretched in some torture-den commit a 
crime if he snatches a knife and kills himself, Horace? 
Perhaps; but surely that sin should find forgiveness if 
torn flesh and quivering nerves may plead for mercy. I 
am such a man, and I will use that knife and take my 



THE DOUBLE SIGN 25 

chance. She is dead, and in death at least I shall be nearer 
her." 

" Why so, Leo ? For aught you know Ayesha may be 
living." 

" No ; for then she would have given me some sign. 
My mind is made up, so talk no more, or, if talk we must, 
let it be of other things." 

Then I pleaded with him, though with little hope, for 
I saw that what I had feared for long was come to pass, 
Leo was mad : shock and sorrow had destroyed his reason. 
Were it not so, he, in his own way a very religious man, 
one who held, as I knew, strict opinions on such matters, 
would never have purposed to commit the wickedness of 
suicide. 

" Leo," I said, " are you so heartless that you would 
leave me here alone? Do you pay me thus for all my 
love and care, and wish to drive me to my death ? Do so 
if you will, and my blood be on your head." 

** Your blood! Why your blood, Horace? " 

" Because that road is broad and two can travel it. We 
have lived long years together and together endured 
much ; I am sure that we shall not be long parted." 

Then the tables were turned and he grew afraid for me. 
But I only answered, " If you die I tell you that I shall 
die also. It will certainly kill me." 

So Leo gave way. " Well," he exclaimed suddenly, " I 
promise you it shall not be to-night. Let us give Life 
another chance." 

" Good," I answered ; but I went to my bed full of 
fear. For I was certain that this desire of death, having 
once taken hold of him, would grow and grow, until at 
length it became too strong, and then then I should 
wither and die who could not live on alone. In my despair 
I threw out my soul towards that of her who was de 
parted. 

" Ayesha ! " I cried, " if you have any power, if in any 
way it is permitted, show that you still live, and save 



26 AYES HA 

your lover from this sin and me from a broken heart. 
Have pity on his sorrow and breathe hope into his spirit, 
for without hope Leo cannot live, and without him I shall 
not live." 

Then, worn out, I slept. 

I was aroused by the voice of Leo speaking to me in 
low, excited tones through the darkness. 

" Horace," he said, " Horace, my friend, my father, 
listen ! " 

In an instant I was wide awake, every nerve and fibre 
of me, for the tones of his voice told me that something 
had happened which bore upon our destinies. 

" Let me light a candle first," I said. 

" Never mind the candle, Horace ; I would rather speak 
in the dark. I went to sleep, and I dreamed the most vivid 
dream that ever came to me. I seemed to stand under 
the vault of heaven, it was black, black, not a star shone 
in it, and a great loneliness possessed me. Then suddenly 
high up in the vault, miles and miles away, I saw a little 
light and thought that a planet had appeared to keep me 
company. The light began to descend slowly, like a 
floating flake of fire. Down it sank, and down and down, 
till it was but just above me, and I perceived that it was 
shaped like a tongue or fan of flame. At the height of 
my head from the ground it stopped and stood steady, 
and by its ghostly radiance I saw that beneath was the 
shape of a woman and that the flame burned upon her 
forehead. The radiance gathered strength and now I saw 
the woman. 

" Horace, it was Ayesha herself, her eyes, her lovely 
face, her cloudy hair, and she looked at me sadly, re 
proachfully, I thought, as one might who says, Why did 
you doubt ? 

" I tried to speak to her but my lips were dumb. I 
tried to advance and to embrace her, my arms would not 
move. There was a barrier between us. She lifted her 
hand and beckoned as though bidding me to follow her. 



THE DOUBLE SIGN 27 

" Then she glided away, and, Horace, my spirit seemed 
to loose itself from the body and to be given the power to 
follow. We passed swiftly eastward, over lands and seas, 
and I knew the road. At one point she paused and I 
looked downwards. Beneath, shining in the moonlight, 
appeared the ruined palaces of Kor, and there not far 
away was the gulf we trod together. 

" Onward above the marshes, and now we stood upon 
the Ethiopian s Head, and gathered round, watching us 
earnestly, were the faces of the Arabs, our companions 
who drowned in the sea beneath. Job was among them 
also, and he smiled at me sadly and shook his head, as 
though he wished to accompany us and could not. 

" Across the sea again, across the sandy deserts, across 
more sea, and the shores of India lay beneath us. Then 
northward, ever northward, above the plains, till we 
reached a place of mountains capped with eternal snow. 
We passed them and stayed for an instant above a build 
ing set upon the brow of a plateau. It was a monastery, 
for old monks droned prayers upon its terrace. I shall 
know it again, for it is built in the shape of a half-moon 
and in front of it sits the gigantic, ruined statue of a god 
who gazes everlastingly across the desert. I knew, how 
I cannot say, that now we were far past the furthest bor 
ders of Thibet and that in front of us lay untrodden 
lands. More mountains stretched beyond that desert, a 
sea of snowy peaks, hundreds and hundreds of them. 

" Near to the monastery, jutting out into the plain like 
some rocky headland, rose a solitary hill, higher than all 
behind. We stood upon its snowy crest and waited, till 
presently, above the mountains and the desert at our feet 
shot a sudden beam of light, that beat upon us like some 
signal flashed across the sea. On we went, floating down 
the beam on over the desert and the mountains, across 
a great flat land beyond, in which were many villages and 
a city on a mound, till we lit upon a towering peak. 
Then I saw that this peak was loop-shaped like the sym- 



2 8 AYES HA 

bol of Life of the Egyptians the crux-ansata and sup 
ported by a lava stem hundreds of feet in height. Also I 
saw that the fire which shone through it rose from the 
crater of a volcano beyond. Upon the very crest of this 
loop we rested a while, till the Shadow of Ayesha pointed 
downward with its hand, smiled and vanished. Then I 
awoke. 

" Horace, I tell you that the sign has come to us." 

His voice died away in the darkness, but I sat still, 
brooding over what I had heard. Leo groped his way to 
me and, seizing my arm, shook it. 

"Are you asleep?" he asked angrily. "Speak, man, 
speak!" 

" No," I answered, " never was I more awake. Give 
me time." 

Then I rose, and going to the open window, drew up 
the blind and stood there staring at the sky, which grew 
pearl-hued with the first faint tinge of dawn. Leo came 
also and leant upon the window-sill, and I could feel that 
his body was trembling as though with cold. Clearly he 
was much moved. 

" You talk of a sign," I said to him, " but in your sign 
I see nothing but a wild dream." 

" It was no dream," he broke in fiercely ; " it was a 
vision." 

" A vision then if you will, but there are visions true 
and false, and how can we know that this is true ? Listen, 
Leo. What is there in all that wonderful tale which could 
not have been fashioned in your own brain, distraught as 
it is almost to madness with your sorrow and your long 
ings ? You dreamed that you were alone in the vast uni 
verse. Well, is not every living creature thus alone ? You 
dreamed that the shadowy shape of Ayesha came to you. 
Has it ever left your side? You dreamed that she led 
you over sea and land, past places haunted by your mem 
ory, above the mysterious mountains of the Unknown to 



THE DOUBLE SIGN 29 

an undiscovered peak. Does she not thus lead you 
through life to that peak which lies beyond the Gates of 
Death ? You dreamed " 

" Oh ! no more of it," he exclaimed. " What I saw, I 
saw, and that I shall follow. Think as you will, Horace, 
and do what you will. To-morrow I start for India, with 
you if you choose to come ; if not, without you." 

" You speak roughly, Leo," I said. " You forget that 
/ have had no sign, and that the nightmare of a man so 
near to insanity that but a few hours ago he was deter 
mined upon suicide, will be a poor staff to lean on when 
we are perishing in the snows of Central Asia. A mixed 
vision, this of yours, Leo, with its mountain peak shaped 
like a crux-ansata and the rest. Do you suggest that 
Ayesha is re-incarnated in Central Asia as a female 
Grand Lama or something of that sort? " 

" I never thought of it, but why not ? " asked Leo 
quietly. " Do you remember a certain scene in the Caves 
of Kor yonder, when the living looked upon the dead, and 
dead and living were the same ? And do you remember 
what Ayesha swore, that she would come again yes, to 
this world ; and how could that be except by re-birth, or, 
what is the same thing, by the transmigration of the 
spirit?" 

I did not answer this argument. I was struggling with 
myself. 

" No sign has come to me," I said, " and yet I have had 
a part in the play, humble enough, I admit, and I believe 
that I have still a part." 

" No," he said, " no sign has come to you. I wish that 
it had. Oh ! how I wish you could be convinced as I am, 
Horace ! " 

Then we were silent for a long while, silent, with our 
eyes fixed upon the sky. 

It was a stormy dawn. Clouds in fantastic masses hung 
upon the ocean. One of them was like a great mountain, 



3 o AYESHA 

and we watched it idly. It changed its shape, the crest 
of it grew hollow like a crater. From this crater sprang 
a projecting cloud, a rough pillar with a knob or lump 
resting on its top. Suddenly the rays of the risen sun 
struck upon this mountain and the column and they 
turned white like snow. Then as though melted by those 
iiery arrows, the centre of the excrescence above the pillar 
thinned out and vanished, leaving an enormous loop of 
inky cloud. 

" Look," said Leo in a low, frightened voice, " that is 
the shape of the mountain which I saw in my vision. 
There upon it is the black loop, and there through it 
shines the fire. It would seem that the sign is for both of 
us, Horace. 

I looked and looked again till presently the vast loop 
vanished into the blue of heaven. Then I turned and 
said 

" I will come with you to Central Asia, Leo." 



CHAPTER II 

THE LAMASERY 

SIXTEEN years had passed since that night vigil in the 
old Cumberland house, and, behold ! we two, Leo and I, 
were still travelling, still searching for that mountain 
peak shaped like the Symbol of Life which never, never 
could be found. 

Our adventures would fill volumes, but of what use is it 
to record them. Many of a similar nature are already 
written of in books ; those that we endured were more 
prolonged, that is all. Five years we spent in Thibet, 
for the most part as guests of various monasteries, where 
we studied the law and traditions of the Lamas. Here we 
were once sentenced to death in punishment for having 
visited a forbidden city, but escaped through the kindness 
of a Chinese official. 

Leaving Thibet, we wandered east and west and north, 
thousands and thousands of miles, sojourning amongst 
many tribes in Chinese territory and elsewhere, learning 
many tongues, enduring much hardship. Thus we 
would hear a legend of a place, say nine hundred miles 
away, and spend two years in reaching it, to find when we 
came there, nothing. 

And so the time went on. Yet never once did we think 
of giving up the quest and returning, since, before we 
started, we had sworn an oath that we would achieve or 
die. Indeed we ought to have died a score of times, yet 
always were preserved, most mysteriously preserved. 

Now we were in country where, so far as I could learn, 
no European had ever set a foot. In a part of the vast land 

3* 



32 A YES HA 

called Turkestan there is a great lake named Balhkash, 
of which we visited the shores. Two hundred miles or so 
to the westward is a range of mighty mountains marked 
on the maps as Arkarty-Tau, on which we spent a year, 
and five hundred or so to the eastward are other moun 
tains called Cherga, whither we journeyed at last, having 
explored the triple ranges of the Tau. 

Here it was that at last our true adventures began. On 
one of the spurs of these awful Cherga mountains it is 
unmarked on any map we well-nigh perished of starva 
tion. The winter was coming on and we could find no 
game. The last traveller we had met, hundreds of miles 
south, told us that on that range was a monastery in 
habited by Lamas of surpassing holiness. He said that 
they dwelt in this wild land, over which no power claimed 
dominion and where no tribes lived, to acquire " merit," 
with no other company than that of their own pious con 
templations. We did not believe in its existence, still we 
were searching for that monastery, driven onward by the 
blind fatalism which was our only guide through all these 
endless wanderings. As we were starving and could 
find no " argals," that is fuel with which to make a fire, 
we walked all night by the light of the moon, driving be 
tween us a single yak for now we had no attendant, the 
last having died a year before. 

He was a noble beast, that yak, and had the best con 
stitution of any animal I ever knew, though now, like his 
masters, he was near his end. Not that he was over-laden, 
for a few rifle cartridges, about a hundred and fifty, the 
remnant of a store which we had fortunately been able to 
buy from a caravan two years before, some money in gold 
and silver, a little tea and a bundle of skin rugs and sheep 
skin garments were his burden. On, on we trudged across 
a plateau of snow, having the great mountains on our 
right, till at length the yak gave a sigh and stopped. So 
we stopped also, because we must, and wrapping ourselves 
in the skin rugs, sat down in the snow to wait for day 
light. 



THE LAMASERY. 33 

" We shall have to kill him and eat his flesh raw," I 
said, patting the poor yak that lay patiently at our side. 

" Perhaps we may find game in the morning," answered 
Leo, still hopeful. 

* And perhaps we may not, in which case we must die." 

" Very good," he replied, " then let us die. It is the 
last resource of failure. We shall have done our best." 

" Certainly, Leo, we shall have done our best, if sixteen 
years of tramping over mountains and through eternal 
snows in pursuit of a dream of the night can be called 
best." 

" You know what I believe," he answered stubbornly, 
and there was silence between us, for here arguments did 
not avail. Also even then I could not think that all our 
toils and sufferings would be in vain. 

The dawn came, and by its light we looked at one 
another anxiously, each of us desiring to see what strength 
was left, to his companion. Wild creatures we should 
have seemed to the eyes of any civilized person. Leo was 
now over forty years of age, and certainly his maturity 
had fulfilled the promise of his youth, for a more magni 
ficent man I never knew. Very tall, although he seemed 
spare to the eye, his girth matched his height, and those 
many years of desert life had turned his muscles to steel. 
His hair had grown long, like my own, for it was a protec 
tion from sun and cold, and hung upon his neck, a curling, 
golden mane, as his great beard hung upon his breast, 
spreading outwards almost to the massive shoulders. The 
face, too what could be seen of it was beautiful though 
burnt brown with weather; refined and full of thought, 
sombre almost, and in it, clear as crystal, steady as stars, 
shone his large grey eyes. 

And I I was what I have always been ugly and hir 
sute, iron-grey now also, but in spite of my sixty odd 
years, still wonderfully strong, for my strength seemed 
to increase with time, and my health was perfect In 
fact, during all this period of rough travels, although 



34 AYESHA 

now and again we had met with accidents which laid us 
up for awhile, neither of us had known a day of sick 
ness. Hardship seemed to have turned our constitutions 
to iron and made them impervious to every human ail 
ment. Or was this because we alone amongst living men 
had once inhaled the breath of the Essence of Life ? 

Our fears relieved for notwithstanding our foodless 
night, as yet neither of us showed any signs of exhaustion 
we turned to contemplate the landscape. At our feet 
beyond a little belt of fertile soil, began a great desert of 
the sort with which we were familiar sandy, salt- 
encrusted, treeless, waterless, and here and there streaked 
with the first snows of winter. Beyond it, eighty or a 
hundred miles away in that lucent atmosphere it was 
impossible to say how far exactly rose more mountains, 
a veritable sea of them, of which the white peaks soared 
upwards by scores. 

As the golden rays of the rising sun touched their 
snows to splendour, I saw Leo s eyes become troubled. 
Swiftly he turned and looked along the edge of the 
desert. 

" See there ! " he said, pointing to something dim and f 
enormous. Presently the light reached it also. It was 
a mighty mountain not more than ten miles away, that 
stood out by itself among the sands. Then he turned once 
more, and with his back to the desert stared at the slope 
of the hills, along the base of which we had been travel 
ling. As yet they were in gloom, for the sun was behind 
them, but presently light began to flow over their crests 
like a flood. Down it crept, lower, and yet lower, till it 
reached a little plateau not three hundred yards above us. 
There, on the edge of the plateau, looking out solemnly 
across the waste, sat a great ruined idol, a colossal 
Buddha, while to the rear of the idol, built of yellow stone, 
appeared the low crescent-shaped mass of a monastery. 

""At last!" cried Leo, "oh, Heaven! at last!" and, 
flinging himself down, he buried his face in the snow as 



THE LAMASERY. 35 

though to hide it there, lest I should read something writ 
ten on it which he did not desire that even I should see. 

I let him lie a space, understanding what was passing 
in his heart, and indeed in mine also. Then going to the 
yak that, poor brute, had no share in these joyous emotions 
but only lowed and looked round with hungry eyes, I piled 
the sheepskin rugs on to its back. This done, I laid my 
hand on Leo s shoulder, saying, in the most matter-of-fact 
voice I could command 

" Come. If that place is not deserted, we may find 
food and shelter there, and it is beginning to storm 
again." 

He rose without a word, brushed the snow from his 
beard and garments and came to help me to lift the yak 
to its feet, for the worn-out beast was too stiff and weak 
to rise of itself. Glancing at him covertly, I saw on 
Leo s face a very strange and happy look-; a great peace 
appeared to possess Kim. 

We plunged upwards through the snow slope, dragging 
the yak with us, to the terrace whereon the monastery 
was built. Nobody seemed to be about there, nor could 
I discern any footprints. Was the place but a ruin ? We 
had found many such ; indeed this ancient land is full of 
buildings that had once served as the homes of men, 
learned and pious enough after their own fashion, who 
lived and died hundreds, or even thousands, of years ago, 
long before our Western civilization came into being. 

My heart, also my stomach , which was starving, sank 
at the thought, but while I gazed doubtfully, a little coil 
of blue smoke sprang from a chimney, and never, I think, 
did I see a more joyful sight. In the centre of the edifice 
was a large building, evidently the temple, but nearer to 
us I saw a small door, almost above which the smoke 
appeared. To this door I went and knocked, calling 
aloud 

" Open ! open, holy Lamas. Strangers seek your 
charity." After awhile there was a sound of shuffling feet 



36 AYESHA 

and the door creaked upon its hinges, revealing an old, old 
man, clad in tattered, yellow garments. 

" Who is it ? Who is it ? " he exclaimed, blinking at me 
through a pair of horn spectacles. " Who comes to dis 
turb our solitude, the solitude of the holy Lamas of the 
Mountains ? " 

" Travellers, Sacred One, who have had enough of 
solitude," I answered in his own dialect, with which I 
was well acquainted. " Travellers who are starving and 
who ask your charity, which," I added, " by the Rule you 
cannot refuse." 

He stared at us through his horn spectacles, and, able 
to make nothing of our faces, let his glance fall to our 
garments which were as ragged as his own, and of much 
the same pattern. Indeed, they were those of Thibetan 
monks, including a kind of quilted petticoat and an outer 
vestment not unlike an Eastern burnous. We had adopted 
them because we had no others. Also they protected us 
from the rigours of the climate and from remark, had 
there been any to remark upon them. 

" Are you Lamas ? " he asked doubtfully, " and if so, 
of what monastery ? " 

" Lamas sure enough," I answered, " who belong to a 
monastery called the World, where, alas ! one grows hun- 

gry." 

The reply seemed to please him, for he chuckled a little, 
then shook his head, saying 

" It is against our custom to admit strangers unless 
they be of our own faith, which I am sure you are not." 

" And much more is it against your Rule, holy Khubil- 
ghan," for so these abbots are entitled, " to suffer 
strangers to starve " ; and I quoted a well-known passage 
from the sayings of Buddha which fitted the point pre 
cisely. 

" I perceive that you are instructed in the Books," he 
exclaimed with wonder on his yellow, wrinkled face, " and 
to such we cannot refuse shelter. Come in, brethren of the 



THE LAMASERY 37 

monastery called the World. But stay, there is the yak, 
who also has claims upon our charity," and, turning, he 
struck upon a gong or bell which hung within the door. 

At the sound another man appeared, more wrinkled and 
to all appearance older than the first, who stared at us 
open-mouthed. 

" Brother," said the abbot, " shut that great mouth of 
yours lest an evil spirit should fly down it ; take this poor 
yak and give it fodder with the other cattle." 

So we unstrapped our belongings from the back of the 
beast, and the old fellow whose grandiloquent title was 
" Master of the Herds," led it away. 

When it had gone, not too willingly for our faithful 
friend disliked parting from us and distrusted this new 
guide the abbot, who was named Kou-en, led us into the 
living room or rather the kitchen of the monastery, for it 
served both purposes. Here we found the rest of the 
monks, about twelve in all, gathered round the fire of 
which we had seen the smoke, and engaged, one of them 
in preparing the morning meal, and the rest in warming 
themselves. 

They were all old men; the youngest could not have 
been less than sixty-five. To these we were solemnly in 
troduced as " Brethren of the Monastery called the World, 
where folk grow r hungry," for the abbot Kou-en could not 
make up his mind to part from this little joke. 

They stared at us, they rubbed their thin hands, they 
bowed and wished us well and evidently were delighted 
at our arrival. This was not strange, however, seeing 
that ours were the first new faces which they had seen for 
four long years. 

Nor did they stop at words, for while they made water 
hot for us to wash in, two of them went to prepare a room 
and others drew off our rough hide boots and thick outer 
garments and brought us slippers for our feet. Then 
they led us to the guest chamber, which they informed us 
was a " propitious place," for once it had been slept in by 



3 8 A YES HA 

a noted saint. Here a fire was lit, and, wonder of won 
ders ! clean garments, including linen, all of them ancient 
and faded, but of good quality, were brought for us to 
put on. 

So we washed yes, actually washed all over and hav 
ing arrayed ourselves in the robes, which were somewhat 
small for Leo, struck the bell that hung in the room and 
were conducted by a monk who answered it, back to the 
kitchen, where the meal was now served. It consisted 
of a kind of porridge, to which was added new milk 
brought in by the " Master of the Herds," dried fish from 
a lake, and buttered tea, the last two luxuries produced in 
our special honour. Never had food tasted more delicious 
to us, and, I may add, never did we eat more. Indeed, at 
last I was obliged to request Leo to stop, for I saw the 
monks staring at him and heard the old abbot chuckling to 
himself . 

" Oho ! The Monastery of the World, where folk grow 
hungry" to which another monk, who was called the 
" Master of the Provisions," replied uneasily, that if we 
went on like this, their store of food would scarcely last 
the winter. So we finished at length, feeling, as some book 
of maxims which I can remember in my youth said all 
polite people should do that we could eat more, and much 
impressed our hosts by chanting a long Buddhist grace. 

" Their feet are in the Path ! Their feet are in the 
Path ! " they said, astonished. 

" Yes," replied Leo, " they have been in it for sixteen 
years of our present incarnation. But we are only be 
ginners, for you, holy Ones, know how star-high, how 
ocean-wide and how desert-long is that path. Indeed it 
is to be instructed as to the right way of walking therein 
that we have been miraculously directed by a dream to 
seek you out, as the most pious, the most saintly and the 
most learned of all the Lamas in these parts." 

" Yes, certainly we are that," answered the abbot Kou- 
en, " seeing that there is no other monastery within five 



THE LAMASERY. 39 

months journey," and again he chuckled, " though, alas ! " 
he added with a pathetic little sigh, " our numbers grow 
few." 

After this we asked leave to retire to our chamber in 
order to rest, and there, upon very good imitations of 
beds, we slept solidly for four and twenty hours, rising at 
last perfectly refreshed and well. 

Such was our introduction to the Monastery of the 
Mountains for it had no other name where we were 
destined to spend the next six months of our lives. 
Within a few days for they were not long in giving us 
their complete confidence those good-hearted and simple 
old monks told us all their history. 

It seemed that of old time there was a Lamasery here, 
in which dwelt several hundred brethren. This, indeed, 
was obviously true, for the place was enormous, although 
for the most part ruined, and, as the weather-worn statue 
of Buddha showed, very ancient. The story ran, ac 
cording to the old abbot, that two centuries or so before, 
the monks had been killed out by some fierce tribe who 
lived beyond the desert and across the distant mountains, 
which tribe were heretics and worshippers of fire. Only 
a few of them escaped to bring the sad news to other com 
munities, and for five generations no attempt was made 
to re-occupy the place. 

At length it was revealed to him, our friend Kou-en, 
when a young man, that he was a re-incarnation of one of 
the old monks of this monastery, who also was named 
Kou-en, and that it was his duty during his present life 
to return thither, as by so doing he would win much merit 
and receive many wonderful revelations. So he gathered 
a band of zealots and, with the blessing and consent of 
his superiors, they started out, and after many hardships 
and losses found and took possession of the place, repair 
ing it sufficiently for their needs. 

This happened about fifty wars before, and here they 



40 AYES HA 

had dwelt ever since, only communicating occasionally 
with the outside world. At first their numbers were re 
cruited from time to time by new brethren, but at length 
these ceased to come, with the result that the community 
was dying out 

" And what then ? " I asked. 

" And then," the abbot answered, " nothing. We have 
acquired much merit ; we have been blest with many reve 
lations, and, after the repose we have earned in Devachan, 
our lots in future existences will be easier. What more 
can we ask or desire, removed as we are from all the- 
temptations of the world ? " 

For the rest, in the intervals of their endless prayers, 
and still more endless contemplations, they were husband 
men, cultivating the soil, which was fertile at the foot of 
the mountain, and tending their herd of yaks. Thus they 
wore away their blameless lives until at last they died of 
old age, and, as they believed and who shall say that 
they were wrong the eternal round repeated itself else 
where. 

Immediately after, indeed on the very day of our ar 
rival at the monastery the winter began in earnest with 
bitter cold and snowstorms so heavy and frequent that all 
the desert was covered deep. Very soon it became obvious 
to us that here we must stay until the spring, since to 
attempt to move in any direction would be to perish. With 
some misgivings we explained this to the abbot Kou-en, 
offering to remove to one of the empty rooms in the 
ruined part of the building, supporting, ourselves with 
fish that we could catch by cutting a hole in the ice of 
the lake above the monastery, and if we were able to find 
any, on game, which we might trap or shoot in the scrub- 
like forest of stunted pines and junipers that grew around 
its border. But he would listen to no such thing. We 
had been sent to be their guests, he said, and their guests 
we should remain for so long as might be convenient to 



THE LAMASERY 41 

us. Would we lay upon them the burden of the sin of 
inhospitality ? Besides, he remarked with his chuckle 

" We who dwell alone like to hear about that other 
great monastery called the World, where the monks are 
not so favoured as we who are set in this blessed situation, 
and where folk even go hungry in body, and," he added, 
" in soul." 

Indeed, as we soon found out, the dear old man s object 
was to keep our feet in the Path until we reached the goal 
of Truth, or, in other words, became excellent Lamas like 
himself and his flock. 

So we walked in the Path, as we had done in many 
another Lamasery, and assisted at the long prayers in the 
ruined temple and studied the Kandjur, or " Translation 
of the Words " of Buddha, which is their bible and a 
very long one, and generally showed that our " minds were 
open." Also we expounded to them the doctrines of our 
own faith, and greatly delighted were they to find so 
many points of similarity between it and theirs. Indeed, 
I am not certain but that if we could have stopped there 
long enough, say ten years, we might have persuaded 
some of them to accept a new revelation of which we were 
the prophets. Further, in spare hours we told them many 
tales of " the Monastery called the World," and it was 
really delightful, and in a sense piteous, to see the joy 
with which they listened to these stories of wondrous 
countries and new races of men ; they who knew only of 
Russia and China and some semi-savage tribes, inhabitants 
of the mountains and the deserts. 

" It is right for us to learn all this," they declared, 
" for, who knows, perhaps in future incarnations we may 
become inhabitants of these places/ 

But though the time passed thus in comfort and indeed, 
compared to many of our experiences, in luxury, oh ! our 
hearts were hungry, for in them bnrned the consuming 
fire of our quest. We felt that we were on the threshold 
yes, we knew it, we knew it, and yet our wretched physi- 



42 AYESHA 

cal limitations made it impossible for us to advance by a 
single step. On the desert beneath fell the snow, more 
over great winds arose suddenly that drove those snows 
like dust, piling them in heaps as high as trees, beneath 
which any unfortunate traveller would be buried. Here 
we must wait, there was nothing else to be done. 

One alleviation we found, and only one. In a ruined 
room of the monastery was a library of many volumes, 
placed there, doubtless, by the monks who were massacred 
in times bygone. These had been more or less cared for 
and re-arranged by their successors, who gave us liberty 
to examine them as often as we pleased. Truly it 
was a strange collection, and I should imagine 
of priceless value, for among them were to be found 
Buddhistic, Sivaistic and Shamanistic writings that we 
had never before seen or heard of, together with the 
lives of a multitude of Bodhisatvas, or distinguished 
saints, written in various tongues, some of which we did 
not understand. 

What proved more interesting to us, however, was a 
diary in many tomes that for generations had been kept 
by the Khubilghans or abbots of the old Lamasery, in 
which every event of importance was recorded in great 
detail. Turning over the pages of one of the last volumes 
of this diary, written apparently about two hundred and 
fifty years earlier, and shortly before the destruction of 
the monastery, we came upon an entry of which the 
following for I can only quote from memory is the 
substance 

" In the summer of this year, after a very great sand 
storm, a brother (the name was given, but I forget it) 
found in the desert a man of the people who dwell beyond 
the Far Mountains, of whom rumours have reached this 
Lamasery from time to time. He was living, but beside 
him were the bodies of two of his companions who had 
been overwhelmed by sand and thirst. He was very 
fierce looking. He refused to say how he came into the 



THE LAMASERY 43 

desert, telling us only that he had followed the road 
known to the ancients before communication between his 
people and the outer world ceased. We gathered, how 
ever, that his brethren with whom he fled had com 
mitted some crime for which they had been condemned 
to die, and that he had accompanied them in their flight. 
He told us that there was a fine country beyond the 
mountains, fertile, but plagued with droughts and earth 
quakes, which latter, indeed, we often feel here. 

" The people of that country were, he said, warlike and 
very numerous but followed agriculture. They had al 
ways lived there, though ruled by Khans who were 
descendants of the Greek king called Alexander, who 
conquered much country to the south-west of us. This 
may be true, as our records tell us that about two thou 
sand years ago an army sent by that invader penetrated 
to these parts, though of his being with them nothing is 
said. 

" The stranger-man told us also that his people worship 
a priestess called Hes or the Hesea, who is said to reign 
from generation to generation. She lives in a great 
mountain, apart, and is feared and adored by all, but is 
not the queen of the country, in the government of which 
she seldom interferes. To her, however, sacrifices are 
offered, and he who incurs her vengeance dies, so that 
even the chiefs of that land are afraid of her. Still their 
subjects often fight, for they hate each other. 

" We answered that he lied when he said that this 
woman was immortal for that was what we supposed he 
meant since nothing is immortal ; also we laughed at his 
tale of her power. This made the man very angry. In 
deed he declared that our Buddha was not so strong as 
this priestess, and that she would show it by being avenged 
upon us. 

" After this we gave him food and turned him out of 
the Lamasery, and he went, saying that when he returned 
we should learn who spoke the truth. We do not know 



44 A YES HA 

what became of him, and he refused to reveal to us the 
road to his country, which lies beyond the desert and the 
Far Mountains. We think that perhaps he was an evil 
spirit sent to frighten us, in which he did not succeed." 

Such is a precis of this strange entry, the discovery 
of which, vague as it was, thrilled us with hope and ex 
citement Nothing more appeared about the man or his 
country, but within a little over a year from that date 
the diary of the abbot came to a sudden end without any 
indication that unusual events had occured or were ex 
pected. 

Indeed, the last item written in the parchment book 
mentioned the preparation of certain new lands to be used 
for the sowing of grain in future seasons, which sug 
gested that the brethren neither feared nor expected dis 
turbance. We wondered whether the man from beyond 
the mountains was as good as his word and had brought 
down the vengeance of that priestess called the Hesea 
upon the community which sheltered him. Also we won 
dered ah ! how we wondered who and what this. Hesea 
might be. 

On the day following this discovery we prayed the 
abbot, Kou-en, to accompany us to the library, and having 
read him the passage, asked if he knew anything of the 
matter. He swayed his wise old head, which always re 
minded me of that of a tortoise, and answered 

" A little. Very little, and that mostly about the army 
of the Greek king who is mentioned in the writing." 

We inquired what he could possibly know of this mat 
ter, whereon Kou-en replied calmly 

" In those days when the faith of the Holy One was 
still young, I dwelt as a humble brother in this very 
monastery, which was one of the first built, and I saw the 
army pass, that is all. That," he added meditatively, 
" was in my fiftieth incarnation of this present Round 



THE LAMASERY 45 

no, I am thinking of another army in my seventy- 
third." 1 

Here Leo began a great laugh, but I managed to kick 
him beneath the table and he turned it into a sneeze. This 
was fortunate, as such ribald merriment would have hurt 
the old man s feelings terribly. After all, also, as Leo 
himself had once said, surely we were not the people to 
mock at the theory of re-incarnation, which, by the way, 
is the first article of faith among nearly one quarter of the 
human race, and this not the most foolish quarter. 

" How can that be I ask for instruction, learned One 
seeing that memory perishes with death ? " 

" Ah ! " he answered, " Brother Holly, it may seem to 
do so, but oftentimes it comes back again, especially to 
those who are far advanced upon the Path. For instance, 
until you read this passage I had forgotten all about that 
army, but now I see it passing, passing, and myself with 
other monks standing by the statue of the big Buddha 
in front yonder, and watching it go by. It was not a very 
large army, for most of the soldiers had died, or been 
killed, and it was being pursued by the wild people who 
lived south of us in those days, so that it was in a great 
hurry to put the desert between it and them. The general 
of the army was a swarthy man I wish that I could re 
member his name, but I cannot. 

" Well," he went on, " that general came up to the 
Lamasery and demanded a sleeping place for his wife 
and children, also provisions and medicines, and guides 
across the desert. The abbot of that day told him it was 
against our law to admit a woman under our roof, to 
which he answered that if we did not, we should have no 
roof left, for he would burn the place and kill every one 
of us with the sword. Now, as you know, to be killed 
by violence means that we must pass sundry incarnations 

1 As students of their lives and literature will be aware, it is common . 
for Buddhist priests to state positively that they remember events which 
occurred during their previous incarnations. ED. 



46 AYES HA 

in the forms of animals, a horrible thing, so we chose the 
lesser evil and gave way, and afterwards obtained absolu 
tion for our sins from the Great Lama. Myself I did not 
see this queen, but I saw the priestess of their worship 
alas ! alas ! " and Kou-en beat his breast. 

" Why alas ? " I asked, as unconcernedly as I could, 
for this story interested me strangely. 

" Why ? Oh ! because I may have forgotten the army, 
but I have never forgotten that priestess, and she has 
been a great hindrance to me through many ages, delay 
ing me upon my journey to the Other Side, to the Shore 
of Salvation, I, as a humble Lama, was engaged in pre 
paring her apartment when she entered and threw aside 
her veil; yes, and perceiving a young man, spoke to me, 
asking many questions, and even if I was not glad to 
look again upon a woman." 

" What what was she like ? " said Leo, anxiously. 

" What was she like ? Oh ! she was all loveliness in one 
shape; she was like the dawn upon the snows; she was 
like the evening star above the mountains ; she was like 
the first flower of the spring. Brother, ask me not what 
she was like, nay, I will say no more. Oh ! my sin, my 
sin. I am slipping backward and you draw my black 
shame out into the light of day. Nay, I will confess it 
that you may know how vile a thing I am I whom per 
haps you have thought holy like yourselves. That 
woman, if woman she were, lit a fire in my heart which 
will not burn out, oh! and more, more/ and Kou-en 
rocked himself to and fro upon his stool while tears of 
contrition trickled from beneath his horn spectacles, " she 
made me worship her! For first she asked me of my 
faith and listened eagerly as I expounded it, hoping that 
the light would come into her heart; then, after I had 
finished she said 

" So your Path is Renunciation and your Nirvana a 
most excellent Nothingness which some would think it 
scarce worth while to strive so hard to reach. Now I 



THE LAMASERY 47 

will show you a more joyous way and a goddess more 
worthy of your worship. 

" What way, and what goddess ? I asked of her. 

" The way of Love and Life/ she answered, that 
makes all the world to be, that made you, O seeker of 
Nirvana, and the goddess called Nature/ 

" Again I asked where is that goddess, and behold ! 
she drew herself up, looking most royal, and touching her 
ivory breast, she said, I am She. Now kneel you down 
and do me homage/ 

" My brethren, I knelt, yes, I kissed her foot, and then 
I fled away shamed and broken-hearted, and as I went she 
laughed, and cried : Remember me when you reach 
Devachan, O servant of the Budda- saint, for though I 
change, I do not die, and even there I shall be with you 
who once gave me worship/ 

" And it is so, my brethren, it is so ; for though I ob 
tained absolution for my sin and have suffered much for 
it through this, my next incarnation, yet I cannot be rid 
of her, and for me the Utter Peace is far, far away," and 
Kou-en placed his withered hands before his face and 
sobbed outright. 

A ridiculous sight, truly, to see a holy Khublighan 
well on the wrong side of eighty, weeping like a child 
over a dream of a beautiful woman which he imagined 
he had once dreamt in his last life more than two thou 
sand years ago. So the reader will say. But I, Holly, 
for reasons of my own, felt deep sympathy with that poor 
old man, and Leo was also sympathetic. We patted him 
on the back; we assured him that he was the victim of 
some evil hallucination which could never be brought up 
against him in this or any future existence, since, if sin 
there were, it must have been forgiven long ago, and so 
forth. When his calm was somewhat restored we tried 
also to extract further information from him, but with 
poor results, so far as the priestess was concerned. 

He said that he did not know to what religion she 



48 AYES HA 

belonged, and did not care, but thought that it must be an 
evil one. She went away the next morning with the 
army, and he never saw or heard of her any more, though 
it came into his mind that he was obliged to be locked in 
his cell for eight days to prevent himself from following 
her. Yes, he had heard one thing, for the abbot of that 
day had told the brethren. This priestess was the real 
general of the army, not the king or the queen, the latter 
of whom hated her. It was by her will that they pushed 
on northwards across the desert to some country beyond 
the mountains, where she desired to establish herself and 
her worship. 

We asked if there really was any country beyond the 
mountains, and Kou-en answered wearily that he believed 
so. Either in this or in a previous life he had heard that 
people lived there who worshipped fire. Certainly also 
it was true that about thirty years ago a brother who had 
climbed -the great peak yonder to spend some days in 
solitary meditation, returned and reported that he had 
seen a marvellous thing, namely, a shaft of fire burning in 
the heavens beyond those same mountains, though whether 
this were a vision, or what, he could not say. He re- 
called, however, that about that time they had felt a great 
earthquake. 

Then the memory of that fancied transgression again 
began to afflict Kou-en s innocent old heart, and he crept 
away lamenting and was seen no more for a week. Nor 
would he ever speak again to us of this matter. 

But we spoke of it much with hope and wonder, and 
made up our minds that we would at once ascend this 
mountain. 



CHAPTER III 

THE BEACON LIGHT 

A WEEK later came our opportunity of making this ascent 
of the mountain, for now in mid-winter it ceased storm 
ing, and hard frost set in, which made it possible to walk 
upon the surface of the snow. Learning from the monks 
that at this season ovis poll and other kinds of big-horned 
sheep and game descended from the hills to take refuge 
in certain valleys, where they scraped away the snow to 
find food, we announced that we were going out to hunt. 
The excuse we gave was that we were suffering from con 
finement and needed exercise, having by the teaching of 
our religion no scruples about killing game. 

Our hosts replied that the adventure was dangerous, as 
the weather might change at any moment. They told us, 
however, that on the slopes of this very mountain which 
we desired to climb, there was a large natural cave where, 
if need be, we could take shelter, and to this cave one of 
them, somewhat younger and more active than the rest, 
offered to guide us So, having manufactured a rough 
tent from skins, and laden our old yak, now in the best 
of condition, with food and garments, on one still morning 
we started as soon as it was light. Under the guidance 
of the monk, who, notwithstanding his years, walked 
very well, we reached the northern slope of the peak be 
fore mid-day. Here, as he had said, we found a great 
cave of which the opening was protected by an over-hang 
ing ledge of rock. Evidently this cave was the favourite 
place of shelter for game at certain seasons of the year, 
since in it were heaped vast accumulations of their drop 
pings, which removed any fear of a lack of fuel. 

49 



50 A YES HA 

The rest of that short day we spent in setting up our 
tent in the cave, in front of which we lit a large fire, and 
in a survey of the slopes of the mountain, for we told the 
monk that we were searching for the tracks of wild sheep. 
Indeed, as it happened, on our way back to the cave we 
came across a small herd of ewes feeding upon the mosses 
in a sheltered spot where in summer a streamlet ran. Of 
these we were so fortunate as to kill two, for no sports 
man had ever come here, and they were tame enough, 
poor things. As meat would keep for ever in that tem 
perature, we had now sufficient food to last us for a fort 
night, and dragging the animals down the snow slopes to 
the cave, we skinned them by the dying light. 

That evening we supped upon fresh mutton, a great lux 
ury, which the monk enjoyed as much as we did, since, 
whatever might be his views as to taking life, he liked 
mutton. Then we turned into the tent and huddled our 
selves together for warmth, as the temperature must have 
been some degrees below zero. The old monk rested well 
enough, but neither Leo nor I slept over much, for won 
der as to what we might see from the top of that mountain 
banished sleep. 

Next morning at the dawn, the weather being still 
favourable, our companion returned to the monastery, 
whither we said we would follow him in a day or two. 

Now at last we were alone, and without wasting an in 
stant began our ascent of the peak. It was many thousand 
feet high and in certain places steep enough, but the deep, 
frozen snow made climbing easy, so that by midday we 
reached the top. Hence the view was magnificent. Be 
neath us stretched the desert, and beyond it a broad belt 
of fantastically shaped, snow-clad mountains, hundreds 
and hundreds of them ; in front, to the right, to the left, 
as far as the eye could reach. 

" They are just as I saw them in my dream so many 
Wears ago," muttered Leo ; " the same, the very same." 
I " And where was the fiery light ? " I asked. 



THE BEACON LIGHT 51 

" Yonder, I think ;" and he pointed north by east. 

" Well, it is not there now," I answered," and this place 
is cold." 

So, since it was dangerous to linger, lest the darkness 
should overtake us on our return journey, we descended 
the peak again, reaching the cave about sunset. The next 
four days we spent in the same way. Every morning 
we crawled up those wearisome banks of snow, and every 
afternoon we slid and tobogganed down them again, till I 
grew heartily tired of the exercise. 

On the fourth night, instead of coming to sleep in the 
tent Leo sat himself down at the entrance to the cave. I 
asked him why he did this, but he answered impatiently, 
because he wished it, so I left him alone. I could see, 
indeed, that he was in a strange and irritable mood, for 
the failure of our search oppressed him. Moreover, we 
knew, both of us, that it could not be much prolonged, 
since the weather might break at any moment, when 
ascents of the mountain would become impossible. 

In the middle of the night I was awakened by Leo 
shaking me and saying 

" Come here, Horace, I have something to show you." 

Reluctantly enough I crept from between the rugs and 
out of the tent. To dress there was no need, for we slept 
in all our garments. He led me to the mouth of the cave 
and pointed northward. I looked. The night was very 
dark; but far, far away appeared a faint patch of light 
upon the sky, such as might be caused by the reflection of 
a distant fire. 

" What do you make of it ? " he asked anxiously. 

" Nothing in particular," I answered, " it may be any 
thing. The moon no, there is none, dawn no, it is too 
northerly, and it does not break for three hours. Some 
thing burning, a house, or a funeral pyre, but how can 
there be such things here ? I give it up." 

" I think it is a reflection, and that if we were on the 
peak we should see the light which throws it," said Leo 
slowly. 



52 AYES HA 

" Yes, but we are not, and cannot get there in the dark." 

" Then, Horace, we must spend a night there." 

" It will be our last in this incarnation," I answered 
with a laugh, " that is if it comes on to snow." 

" We must risk it, or I will risk it. Look, the light has 
faded ; " and there at least he was right, for undoubtedly 
it had. The night was as black as pitch. 

" Let s talk it over to-morrow," I said, and went back 
to the tent, for I was sleepy and incredulous, but Leo sat 
on by the mouth of the cave. 

At dawn I awoke and found breakfast already cooked. 

" I must start early," Leo explained. 

" Are you mad ? " I asked. " How can we camp on 
that place?" 

" I don t know, but I am going. I must go, Horace." 

" Which means that we both must go. But how about 
the yak?" 

" Where we can climb, it can follow," he answered. 

So we strapped the tent and other baggage, including 
a good supply of cooked meat, upon the beast s back, and 
started. The tramp was long since we were obliged to 
make some detours to avoid slopes of frozen snow in 
which, on our previous ascents, we had cut footholds with 
an axe, for up these the laden animal could not clamber. 
Reaching the summit at length, we dug a hole, and there 
pitched the tent, piling the excavated snow about its sides. 
By this time it began to grow dark, and having descended 
into the tent, yak and all, we ate our food and waited. 

Oh ! what cold was that. The frost was fearful, and at 
this height a wind blew whose icy breath passed through 
all our wrappings, and seemed to burn our flesh beneath 
as though with hot irons. It was fortunate that we had 
brought the yak, for without the warmth from its shaggy 
body I believe that we should have perished, even in our 
tent. For some hours we watched, as indeed we must, 
since to sleep might mean to die, yet saw nothing save the 
lonely stars, and heard nothing in that awful silence, for 



THE BEACON LIGHT 53 

here even the wind made no noise as it slid across the 
snows. Accustomed as I was to such exposure, my facul 
ties began to grow numb and my eyes to shut, when sud 
denly Leo said 

" Look, below the red star! " 

I looked, and there high in the sky was the same curious 
glow which we had seen upon the previous night. There 
was more than this indeed, for beneath it, almost on a line 
with us and just above the crests of the intervening peaks, 
appeared a faint sheet of fire and revealed against it, ; 
something black. Whilst we watched, the fire widened, 
spread upwards and grew in power and intensity. Now 
against its naming background the black object became 
clearly visible, and lo ! it was the top of a soaring pillar 
surmounted by a loop. Yes, we could see its every out 
line. It was the crux ansata, the Symbol of Life itself. 

The symbol vanished, the fire sank. Again it blazed up / 
more fiercely than before and the loop appeared afresh, 
then once more disappeared. A third time the fire shone, ] 
and with such intensity, that no lightning could surpass 
its brilliance. All around the heavens were lit up, and 
through the black needle-shaped eye of the symbol, as 
from the flare of a beacon, or the search-light of a ship, 
one fierce ray shot across the sea of mountain tops and 
the spaces of the desert, straight as an arrow to the lofty 
peak on which we lay. Yes, it lit upon the snow, staining" 
it red, and upon the wild, white faces of us who watched, 
though to the right and left of us spread thick darkness. 
My compass lay before me on the snow, and I could even 
see its needle ; and beyond us the shape of a white fox 
that had crept near, scenting food. Then it was gone as 
swiftly as it came. Gone too were the symbol and the veil 
of flame behind it, only the glow lingered a little on the 
distant sky. 

For awhile there was silence between us, then Leo 
said 

" Do you remember, Horace, when we lay upon the 



54 AYES HA 

Rocking Stone where her cloak fell upon me " as he 
said the words the breath caught in his throat " how 
the ray of light was sent to us in farewell, and to show 
us a path of escape from the Place of Death? Now I 
think that it has been sent again in greeting to point out 
the path to the Place of Life where Ayesha dwells, whom 
>ve have lost awhile." 

" It may be so," I answered shortly, for the matter 
was beyond speech or argument, beyond wonder even. 
But I knew then, as I know now that we were players in 
some mighty, predestined drama; that our parts were 
written and we must speak them, as our path was pre 
pared and we must tread it to the end unknown. Fear 
and doubt were left behind, hope was sunk in certainty; 
the fore-shadowing visions of the night had found an 
actual fulfilment and the pitiful seed of the promise of her 
who died, growing unseen through all the cruel, empty 
years, had come to harvest. 

No, we feared no more, not even when with the dawn 
rose the roaring wind, through which we struggled down 
the mountain slopes, as it would seem in peril of our 
lives at every step ; not even as hour by hour we fought 
our way onwards through the whirling snow-storm, that 
made us deaf and blind. For we knew that those lives 
were charmed. We could not see or hear, yet we were 
led. Clinging to the yak, we struggled downward and 
homewards, till at length out of the turmoil and the gloom 
its instinct brought us unharmed to the door of the monas 
tery, where the old abbot embraced us in his joy, and the 
monks put up prayers of thanks. For they were sure that 
we must be dead. Through such a storm, they said, no 
man had ever lived before. 

It was still mid-winter, and oh ! the awful weariness of 
those months of waiting. In our hands was the key, 
yonder amongst those mountains lay the door, but not yet 
might we set that key within its lock. For between us 



THE BEACON LIGHT 55 

and these stretched the great desert, where the snow 
rolled like billows, and until that snow melted we dared 
not attempt its passage. So we sat in the monastery, 
and schooled our hearts to patience. 

Still even to these frozen wilds of Central Asia spring 
comes at last. One evening the air felt warm, and that 
night there were only a few degrees of frost. The next 
the clouds banked up, and in the morning not snow was 
falling from them, but rain, and we found the old monks 
preparing their instruments of husbandry, as they said 
that the season of sowing was at hand. For three days it 
rained, while the snows melted before our eyes. On the 
fourth torrents of water were rushing down the mountain 
and the desert was once more brown and bare, though not 
for long, for within another week it was carpeted with 
flowers. Then we knew that the time had come to start. 

" But whither go you ? Whither go you ? " asked the 
old abbot in dismay. " Are you not happy here ? Do 
you not make great strides along the Path, as may be 
known by your pious conversation? Is not everything 
that we have your own ? Oh ! why would you leave us ? " 

" We are wanderers," we answered, " and when we 
see mountains in front of us we must cross them." 

Kou-en looked at us shrewdly, then asked 

" What do you seek beyond the mountains ? And, my 
brethren, what merit is gathered by hiding the truth 
from an old man, for such concealments are separated 
from falsehoods but by the length of a single barleycorn. 
Tell me, that at least my prayers may accompany you." 

" Holy abbot," I said, " awhile ago yonder in the library 
you made a certain confession to us." 

" Oh ! remind me not of it," he said, holding up his 
hands. " Why do you wish to torment me ? " 

" Far be the thought from us, most kind friend and 
virtuous man," I answered. " But, as it chances, your 
story is very much our own, and we think that we have 
experience of this same priestess." 



5 6 A YES HA 

" Speak on," he said, much interested. 

So I told him the outlines of our tale ; for an hour or 
more I told it while he sat opposite to us swaying his head 
like a tortoise and saying nothing. At length it was done. 

" Now," I added, " let the lamp of your wisdom shine 
upon our darkness. Do you not find this story wondrous, 
or do you perchance think that we are liars ? " 

" Brethren of the great monastery called the World," 
Kou-en answered with his customary chuckle, " why 
should I think you liars who, from the moment my eyes 
fell upon you, knew you to be true men ? Moreover, why 
should I hold this tale so very wondrous ? You have but 
stumbled upon the fringe of a truth with which we have 
been acquainted for many, many ages. 

" Because in a vision she showed you this monastery, 
and led you to a spot beyond the mountains where she 
vanished, you hope that this woman whom you saw die is 
re-incarnated yonder. Why not ? In this there is nothing 
impossible to those who are instructed in the truth, though 
the lengthening of her last life was strange and contrary 
to experience. Doubtless you will find her there as you 
expect, and doubtless her khama, or identity, is the same 
as that which in some earlier life of hers once brought me 
to sin. 

" Only be not mistaken, she is no immortal ; nothing is 
immortal. She is but a being held back by her own pride, 
her own greatness if you will, upon the path towards Nir 
vana. That pride will be humbled, as already it has been 
humbled; that brow of majesty shall be sprinkled with 
the dust of change and death, that sinful spirit must be 
purified by sorrows and by separations. Brother Leo, if 
you win her, it will be but to lose, and then the ladder 
must be reclimbed. Brother Holly, for you as for me loss 
is our only gain, since thereby we are spared much 
woe. Oh! bide here and pray with me. Why dash 
yourselves against a rock? Why labour to pour water 
into a broken jar whence it must sink into the sands of 



THE BEACON LIGHT 57 

profitless experience, and there be wasted, whilst you re 
main athirst ? " 

" Water makes the sand fertile," I answered. " Where 
water falls, life conies, and sorrow is the seed of joy/ 

" Love is the law of life," broke in Leo ; " without love 
there is no life. I seek love that I may live. I believe that 
all these things are ordained to an end which we do not 
know. Fate draws me on I fulfil my fate " 

" And do but delay your freedom. Yet I will not 
argue with you, brother, who must follow your own road. 
See now, what has this woman, this priestess of a false 
faith if she be so still, brought you in the past ? Once in 
another life, or so I understand your story, you were 
sworn to a certain nature-goddess, who was named Isis, 
were you not, and to her alone ? Then a woman tempted 
you, and you fled with her afar. And there what found 
you? The betrayed and avenging goddess who slew 
you, or if not the goddess, one who had drunk of her 
wisdom and was the minister of her vengeance. 
Having that wisdom this minister woman or evil 
spirit refused to die because she had learned to love 
you, but waited knowing that in your next life she would 
find you again, as indeed she would have done more 
swiftly in Devachan had she died without living on 
alone in so much misery. And she found you, and she 
died, or seemed to die, and now she is re-born, as she 
must be, and doubtless you will meet once more, and 
aga;n there must come misery. Oh! my friends, go not 
across the mountains ; bide here with me and lament your 
sins." 

" Nay," answered Leo, " we are sworn to a tryst, and 
we do not break our word." 

Then, brethren, go keep your tryst, and when you 
have reaped its harvest think upon my sayings, for I am 
sure that the wine you crush from the vintage of your 
desire will run red like blood, and that in its drinking you 
shall find neither forgetfulness nor peace. Made blind by 



58 A YES HA 

a passion of which well I know the sting and power, you 
seek to add a fair-faced evil to your lives, thinking that 
from this unity there shall be born all knowledge and 
great joy. 

" Rather should you desire to live alone in holiness until 
at length your separate lives are merged and lost in the 
Good Unspeakable, the eternal bliss that lies in the last 
Nothingness. Ah! you do not believe me now; you 
shake your heads and smile ; yet a day will dawn, it may 
be after many incarnations, when you shall bow them in 
the dust and weep, saying to me, Brother Kou-en, yours 
were the words of wisdom, ours the deeds of foolish 
ness ; " and with a deep sigh the old man turned and 
left us. 

" A cheerful faith, truly," said Leo, looking after him, 
" to dwell through aeons in monotonous misery in order 
that consciousness may be swallowed up at last in some 
void and formless abstraction called the Utter Peace/ 
I would rather take my share of a bad world and keep 
my hope of a better. Also I do not think that he knows 
anything of Ayesha and her destiny/ 

" So would I," I answered, " though perhaps he is 
right after all. Who can tell ? Moreover, what is the use 
of reasoning? Leo, we have no choice; we follow our 
fate. To what that fate may lead us we shall learn in due 
season/ 

Then we went to rest, for it was late, though I found 
little sleep that night. The warnings of the ancient abbot, 
good and learned man as he was, full also of ripe experi 
ence and of the foresighted wisdom that is given to such 
as he, oppressed me deeply. He promised us sorrow and 
bloodshed beyond the mountains, ending in death and re 
births full of misery. Well, it might be so, but no ap 
proaching sufferings could stay our feet. And even if 
they could, they should not, since to see her face again I 
was ready to brave them all. And if this was my case 
what must be that of Leo ! " 



THE BEACON LIGHT 59 

A strange theory that of Kou-en s, that Ayesha was 
the goddess in old Egypt to whom Kallikrates was 
priest, or at the least her representative 1 . That the royal 
Amenartas, with whom he fled, seduced him from the 
goddess to whom he was sworn. That this goddess in 
carnate in Ayesha or using the woman Ayesha and her 
passions as her instruments was avenged upon them 
both at Kor, and that there in an after age the bolt she 
shot fell back upon her own head. 

Well, I had often thought as much myself. Only I was, 
sure that She herself could be no actual divinity, though 
she might be a manifestation of one, a priestess, a mes 
senger, charged to work its will, to avenge or to reward, 
and yet herself a human soul, with hopes and passions to 
be satisfied, and a destiny to fulfil. In truth, writing now, 
when all is past and done with, I find much to confirm me 
in, and little to turn me from that theory, since life and 
powers of a quality which are more than human do not 
alone suffice to make a soul divine. On the other hand, 
however, it must be borne in mind that on one occasion 
at any rate, Ayesha did undoubtedly suggest that in the 
beginning she was " a daughter of Heaven," and that 
there were others, notably the old Shaman Simbri, who 
seemed to take it for granted that her origin was super 
natural. But of all these things I hope to speak in their 
season. 

Meanwhile what lay beyond the mountains? Should 
we find her there who held the sceptre and upon earth 
wielded the power of the outraged Isis, and with her, that 
other woman who wrought the wrong ? And if so, would 
the dread, inhuman struggle reach its climax around the 
person of the sinful priest ? In a few months, a few days 
even, we might begin to know. 

Thrilled by this thought at length I fell asleep. 



CHAPTER IV 

THE AVALANCHE 

ON the morning of the second day from that night the 
sunrise found us already on our path across the desert. 
There, nearly a mile behind us, we could see the ruined 
statue of Buddha seated in front of the ancient monastery, 
and in that clear atmosphere could even distinguish the 
bent form of our friend, the old abbot, Kou-en, leaning 
against it until we were quite lost to sight. All the 
monks had wept when we parted from them, and Kou-en 
even more bitterly than the rest, for he had learned to 
love us. 

" I am grieved," he said, " much grieved, which in 
deed I should not be, for such emotion partakes of sin. 
Yet I find comfort, for I know well that although I must 
soon leave this present life, yet we shall meet again in 
many future incarnations, and after you have put away 
these follies, together tread the path to perfect peace. 
Now take with you my blessings and my prayers and 
begone, forgetting not tliat should you live to return " 
and he shook his head: doubtfully " here you will be ever 
welcome." 

So we embraced him and went sorrowfully. 

It will be remembered that when the mysterious light 
fell upon us on the peak I had my compass with me and 
was able roughly to take its bearings. For lack of any 
better guide we now followed these bearings, travelling 
almost due north-east, for in that direction had shone the 
fire. All day in the most beautiful weather we marched 

60 



THE AVALANCHE 61 

across the flower-strewn desert, seeing nothing except 
bunches of game and one or two herds of wild asses which 
had come down from the mountains to feed upon the new 
grass. As evening approached we shot an antelope and 
made our camp for we had brought the yak and a tent 
with us among some tamarisk scrub, of which the dry 
stems furnished us with fuel. Nor did we lack for 
water, since by scraping in the sand soaked with melted 
snow, we found plenty of fair quality. So that night we 
supped in luxury upon tea and antelope meat, which in 
deed we were glad to have, as it spared our little store of 
dried provisions. 

The next morning we ascertained our position as well 
as we could, and estimated that we had crossed about a 
quarter of the desert, a guess which proved very accurate, 
for on the evening of the fourth day of our journey we 
reached the bottom slopes of the opposing mountains, 
without having experienced either accident or fatigue. 
As Leo said, things were " going like clockwork," but I 
reminded him that a good start often meant a bad finish. 
Nor was I wrong, for now came our hardships. To 
begin with, the mountains proved to be exceeding high ; 
it took us two days to climb their lower slopes. Also the 
heat of the sun had softened the snow, which made 
walking through it laborious, whilst, accustomed though 
we were to such conditions through long years of travel 
ling, its continual glitter affected our eyes. 

The morning of the seventh day found us in the mouth 
of a defile which wound away into the heart of the 
mountains. As it seemed the only possible path, we fol 
lowed it, and were much cheered to discover that here 
must once have run a road. Not that we could see any 
road, indeed, for everything was buried in snow. But 
that one lay beneath our feet we were certain, since, al 
though we marched along the e^dge of precipices, our 
path, however steep, was always flat ; moreover, the rock 
upon one side of it had often been scarped by the hand of 



62 AYESHA 

man. Of this there could be no doubt, for as the snow 
did not cling here, we saw the tool marks upon its bare 
surface. 

Also we came to several places where galleries had 
been built out from the mountain side, by means of beams 
let into it, as is still a common practice in Thibet. These 
beams of course had long since rotted away, leaving a 
gulf between us and the continuation of the path. When 
we met with such gaps we were forced to go back and. 
make a detour round or over some mountain ; but al 
though much delayed thereby, as it happened, we always 
managed to regain the road, if not without difficulty and 
danger. 

What tried us more for here our skill and experience 
as mountaineers could not help us was the cold at night r 
obliged as we were to camp in the severe frost at a great 
altitude, and to endure through the long hours of dark 
ness penetrating and icy winds, which soughed cease 
lessly down the pass. 

At length on the tenth day we reached the end of the 
defile, and as night was falling, camped there in the most 
bitter cold. Those were miserable hours, for now we 
had no fuel with which to boil water, and must satisfy 
our thirst by eating frozen snow, while our eyes smarted 
so sorely that we could not sleep, and notwithstanding all 
our wraps and the warmth that we gathered from the yak 
in the little tent, the cold caused our teeth to chatter like 
castanets. 

The dawn came, and, after it, the sunrise. We crept 
from the tent, and leaving it standing awhile, dragged 
our stiffened limbs a hundred yards or so to a spot where 
the defile took a turn, in order that we might thaw in the 
rays of the sun, which at that hour could not reach us 
where we had camped. 

Leo was round it first, and I heard him utter an ex 
clamation. In a few seconds I reached his side, and lo \ 
before us lay our Promised Land. 



THE AVALANCHE 63 

Far beneath us, ten thousand feet at least for it must 
be remembered that we viewed it from the top of a 
mountain it stretched away and away till its distances 
met the horizon. In character it was quite flat, an alluvial 
plain that probably, in some primeval age, had been the 
bottom of one of the vast lakes of which a number exist 
in Central Asia, most of them now in process of desicca 
tion. One object only relieved this dreary flatness, a 
single, snow-clad, and gigantic mountain, of which even 
at that distance for it was very far from us we could 
clearly see the outline. Indeed we could see more, for 
from its rounded crest rose a great plume of smoke, 
showing that it was an active volcano, and on the hither 
lip of the crater an enormous pillar of rock, whereof the 
top was formed to the shape of a loop. 

Yes, there it stood before us, that symbol of our vision 
which we had sought these many years, and at the 
sight of it our hearts beat fast and our breath came 
quickly. We noted at once that although we had not 
seen it during our passage of the mountains, since the 
peaks ahead and the rocky sides of the defile hid it from 
view, so great was its height that it overtopped the tallest 
of them. This made it clear to us how it came to be 
possible that the ray of light passing through the loop 
could fall upon the highest snows of that towering pinna 
cle which we had climbed upon the further side of the 
.desert. 

Also now we were certain of the cause of that ray, for 
the smoke behind the loop explained this mystery. Doubt 
less, at times when the volcano was awake, that smoke 
must be replaced by flame, emitting light of fearful in 
tensity, and this light it was that reached us, concentrated 
and directed by the loop. 

For the rest we thought that about thirty miles away 
we could make out a white-roofed town set upon a 
mound, situated among trees upon the banks of a wide 
river, which flowed across the plain. Also it was evident 



(54 A YES HA 

that this country had a large population who cultivated 
.the soil, for by the aid of a pair of field glasses, one of 
our few remaining and most cherished possessions, we 
could see the green of springing crops pierced by irriga 
tion canals and the lines of trees that marked the limits 
of the fields. 

Yes, there before us stretched the Promised Land, and 
there rose the mystic Mount, so that all we had to do 
,was to march down the snow slopes and enter it where we 
would. 

Thus we thought in our folly, little guessing what lay 
before us, what terrors and weary suffering we must 
endure before we stood at length beneath the shadow of 
the Symbol of Life. 

Our fatigues forgotten, we returned to the tent, hastily 
swallowed some of our dried food, which we washed 
down with lumps of snow that gave us toothache and 
chilled us inside, but which thirst compelled us to eat, 
dragged the poor yak to its feet, loaded it up, and started. 

All this while, so great was our haste and so occupied 
were each of us with our own thoughts that, if my mem 
ory serves me, we scarcely interchanged a word. Down 
the snow slopes we marched swiftly and without hesita*- 
tion, for here the road was marked for us by means of 
pillars of rock set opposite to one another at intervals. 
These pillars we observed with satisfaction, for they told 
us that we were still upon a highway which led to the 
Promised Land. 

Yet, as we could not help noting, it was one which 
seemed to have gone out of use, since with the exception 
of a few wild-sheep tracks and the spoor of some bears 
and mountain foxes, not a single sign of beast or man 
could we discover. This, however, was to be explained, 
we reflected, by the fact that doubtless the road was only 
used in the summer season. Or perhaps the inhabitants 
of the country were now stay-at-home people who never 
travelled it at all. 



THE AVALANCHE 65 

Those slopes were longer than we thought; indeed, 
when darkness closed in we had not reached the foot of 
them. So we were obliged to spend another night in the 
snow, pitching our tent in the shelter of an over-hanging 
rock. As we had descended many thousand feet, the 
temperature proved, fortunately, a little milder; indeed, 
I do not think that there were more than eighteen or 
twenty degrees of frost that night. Also here and there 
the heat of the sun had melted the snow in secluded 
places, so that we were able to find water to drink, while 
the yak could fill its poor old stomach with dead-looking 
mountain mosses, which it seemed to think better than 
nothing. 

Again, the still dawn came, throwing its red garment 
over the lonesome, endless mountains, and we dragged 
ourselves to our numbed feet, ate some of our remaining 
food, and started onwards. Now we could no longer 
see the country beneath, for it and even the towering 
volcano were hidden from us by an intervening ridge 
that seemed to be pierced by a single narrow gulley, 
towards which we headed. Indeed, as the pillars showed 
us, thither ran the buried road. By mid-day it appeared 
quite close to us, and we tramped on in feverish haste. As 
it chanced, however, there was no need to hurry, for an 
hour later we learned the truth. 

Between us and the mouth of the gulley rose, or rather 
sank, a sheer precipice that was apparently three or four 
hundred feet in depth, and at its foot we could hear the 
sound of water. 

Right to the edge of this precipice ran the path, for one 
of the stone pillars stood upon its extreme brink, and yet 
how could a road descend such a place as that? We 
stared aghast ; then a possible solution occurred to us. 

" Don t you see," said Leo, with a hollow laugh, " the 
gulf has opened since this track was used : volcanic action 
probably." 

" Perhaps, or perhaps there was a wooden bridge or 



66 AYESHA 

stairway which has rotted. It does not matter. We 
must find another path, that is all," I answered as cheer 
fully as I could. 

" Yes, and soon," he said, " if we do not wish to stop 
here for ever." 

So we turned to the right and marched along the edge 
of the precipice till, a mile or so away, we came to a 
small glacier, of which the surface was sprinkled with 
large stones frozen into its substance. This glacier hung 
down the face of the cliff like a petrified waterfall, but 
whether or no it reached the foot we could not discover. 
At any rate, to think of attempting its descent seemed 
out of the question. From this point onwards we could 
see that the precipice increased in depth and far as the 
eye could reach was absolutely sheer. 

So we went back again and searched to the left of our 
road. Here the mountains receded, so that above us rose 
a mighty, dazzling slope of snow and below us lay that 
same pitiless, unclimbable gulf. As the light began to 
fade we perceived, half a mile or more in front a bare- 
topped hillock of rock, which stood on the verge of the 
precipice, and hurried to it, thinking that from its crest 
we might be able to discover a way of descent. 

When at length we had struggled to the top, it was 
about a hundred and fifty feet high; what we did dis 
cover was that, here also, as beyond the glacier, the gulf 
was infinitely deeper than at the spot where the road 
ended, so deep indeed that we could not see its bottom, 
although from it came the sound of roaring water. More 
over, it was quite half a mile in width. 

Whilst we stared round us the sinking sun vanished 
behind a mountain and, the sky being heavy, the light 
went out like that of a candle. Now the ascent of this 
hillock had proved so steep, especially at one place, where 
we were obliged to climb a sort of rock ladder, that we 
scarcely cared to attempt to struggle down it again in that 
gloom. Therefore, remembering that there was little to 



THE AVALANCHE 67 

choose between the top of this knoll and the snow plain 
at its foot in the matter of temperature or other con 
veniences, and being quite exhausted, we determined to 
spend the night upon it, thereby, as we were to learn, 
saving our lives. 

Unloading the yak, we pitched our tent under the lee 
of the topmost knob of rock and ate a couple of handfuls 
of dried fish and corn-cake. This was the last of the 
food that we had brought with us from the Lamasery, 
and we reflected with dismay that unless we could shoot 
something, our commissariat was now represented by 
the carcass of our old friend the yak. Then we wrapped 
ourselves up in our thick rugs and fur garments and for 
got our miseries in sleep. 

It cannot have been long before daylight when we were 
awakened by a sudden and terrific sound like the boom of 
a great cannon, followed by thousands of other sounds, 
which might be compared to the fusillade of musketry. 

" Great Heaven ! What is that ? " I said. 

We crawled from the tent, but as yet could see noth 
ing, whilst the yak began to low in a terrified manner. 
But if we could not see we could hear and feel. The 
booming and cracking had ceased, and was followed by 
a soft, grinding noise, the most sickening sound, I think, 
to which I ever listened. This was accompanied by a 
strange, steady, unnatural wind, which seemed to press 
upon us as water presses. Then the dawn broke and we 
saw. 

The mountain-side was moving down upon us in a vast 
avalanche of snow. 

Oh ! what a sight was that. On from the crest of the 
precipitous slopes above, two miles and more away, it 
came, a living thing, rolling, sliding, gliding; piling itself 
in long, leaping waves, hollowing itself into cavernous 
valleys, like a tempest-driven sea, whilst above its surface 
hung a powdery cloud of frozen spray. 

As we watched, clinging to each other terrified, the first 



68 AYESHA 

of these waves struck our hill, causing the mighty mass 
of solid rock to quiver like a yacht beneath the impact of 
an ocean roller, or an aspen in a sudden rush of wind. It 
struck and slowly separated, then with a majestic motion 
flowed like water over the edge of the precipice on either 
side, and fell with a thudding sound into the unmeasured 
depths beneath. And this was but a little thing, a mere 
forerunner, for after it, with a slow, serpentine movement, 
rolled the body of the avalanche. 

It came in combers, it came in level floods. It piled 
itself against our hill, yes, to within fifty feet of the head 
of it, till we thought that even that rooted rock must be 
torn from its foundations and hurled like a pebble to the 
deeps beneath. And the turmoil of it all ! The screaming 
of the blast caused by the compression of the air, the 1 
dull, continuous thudding of the fall of millions of tons of 
snow as they rushed through space and ended their jour 
ney in the gulf. 

Nor was this the worst of it, for as the deep snows 
above thinned, great boulders that had been buried beneath 
them., perhaps for centuries, were loosened from their 
resting-places and began to thunder down the hill. At 
first they moved slowly, throwing up the hard snow 
around them as the prow of a ship throws foam. Then 
gathering momentum, they sprang into the air with leaps 
such as those of shells ricocheting upon water, till in the 
end, singing and hurtling, many of them rushed past and 
even over us to vanish far beyond. Some indeed struck 
our little mountain with the force of shot fired from the 
great guns of a battle-ship, and shattered there, or if they 
fell upon its side, tore away tons of rock and passed with 
them into the chasm like a meteor surrounded by its satel 
lites. Indeed, no bombardment devised and directed by 
man eould have been half so terrible or, had there been 
anything to destroy, half so destructive. 

The scene was appalling in its unchained and resistless 
might evolved suddenly from the completest calm. There 



THE AVALANCHE 69 

in the lap of the quiet mountains, looked down upon by 
the peaceful, tender sky, the powers hidden in the breast 
of Nature were suddenly set free, and, companioned by 
whirlwinds and all the terrifying majesty of sound, loosed 
upon the heads of us two human atoms. 

At the first rush of snow we had leapt back behind our 
protecting peak and, lying at full length upon the ground, 
gripped it and clung there, fearing lest the wind should 
whirl us to the abyss. Long ago our tent had gone like a 
dead leaf in an autumn gale, and at times it seemed as if 
we must follow. 

The boulders hurtled over and past us; one of them 
fell full upon the little peak, shattering its crest and burst 
ing into fragments, which fled away, each singing its own 
wild song. We were not touched, but when we looked 
behind us it was to see the yak, which had risen in its 
terror, lying dead and headless. Then in our fear we lay 
still, waiting for the end, and wondering dimly whether 
we should be buried in the surging snow or swept away 
with the hill, or crushed by the flying rocks, or lifted and 
lost in the hurricane. 

How long did it last ? We never knew. It may have 
been ten minutes or two hours, for in such a scene time 
loses its proportion". Only we became aware that the 
wind had fallen, w le the noise of grinding snow and 
hurtling boulders a sed. Very cautiously we gained our 
feet and looked. 

In front of us tl * sheer mountain side, for a depth of 
over two miles, fr the width of about a thousand yards, 
which had been co . ered with many feet of snow, was now 
bare rock. Piled up against the face of our hill, almost 
to its summit, lay a tongue of snow, pressed to the con 
sistency of ice and spotted with boulders that had lodged 
there. The peak itself was torn and shattered, so that it 
revealed great gleaming surfaces and pits, in which glit 
tered mica, or some other mineral. The vast gulf behind 
was half filled with the avalanche and its debris. But for 
the rest, it seemed as though nothing had happened, for 



70 AYES HA 

the sun shone sweetly overhead and the solemn snows re 
flected its rays from the sides of a hundred hills. And we 
had endured it all and were still alive ; yes, and unhurt. 

But what a position was ours ! We dared not attempt 
to descend the mount, lest we should sink into the loose 
snow and be buried there. Moreover, all along the breadth 
of the path of the avalanche boulders from time to time 
still thundered down the rocky slope, and with them 
came patches of snow that had been left behind by the big 
slide, small in themselves, it is true, but each of them large 
enough to kill a hundred men. It was obvious, therefore, 
that until these conditions changed, or death released us, 
we must abide where we were upon the crest of the 
hillock. 

So there we sat, foodless and frightened, wondering 
what our old friend Kou-en would say if he could see us 
now. By degrees hunger mastered all our other sensa 
tions and we began to turn longing eyes upon the headless 
body of the yak. 

" Let s skin him," said Leo, " it will be something to do, 
and we shall want his hide to-night/ 

So with affection, and even reverence, we performed 
this office for the dead companion of our journeyings, re 
joicing the while that it was not we who had brought him 
to his end. Indeed, long residence among peoples who 
believed fully that the souls of men could pass into, or 
were risen from, the bodies of animals, had made us a 
little superstitious on this matter. It would be scarcely 
pleasant, we reflected, in some future incarnation, to find 
our faithful friend clad in human form and to hear him 
bitterly reproach us for his murder. 

Being dead, however, these arguments did not apply 
to eating him, as we were sure he would himself acknowl 
edge. So we cut off little bits of his flesh and, rolling 
them in snow till they looked as though they were nicely 
floured, hunger compelling us, swallowed them at a gulp. 
It was a disgusting meal and we felt like cannibals : but 
what could we do ? 



CHAPTER V 

THE GLACIER 

EVEN that day came to an end at last, and after a few 
more lumps of yak, our tent being gone, we drew his 
hide over us and rested as best we could, knowing that 
at least we had no more avalanches to fear. That night 
it froze sharply, so that had it not been for the yak s hide 
and the other rugs and garments, which fortunately we 
were wearing when the snow-slide began, it would, I 
think, have gone hard with us. As it was, we suffered 
a great deal. 

" Horace," said Leo at the dawn, " I am going to leave 
this. If we have to die, I would rather do so moving; 
but I don t believe that we shall die." 

" Very well," I said, " let us start. If the snow won t 
bear us now, it never will." 

So we tied up our rugs and the yak s hide in two bun 
dles and, having cut off some more of the frozen meat, 
began our descent. Now, although the mount was under 
two hundred feet high, its base, fortunately for us for 
otherwise it must have been swept away by the mighty 
pressure of the avalanche was broad, so that there was 
a long expanse of piled-up snow between us and the level 
ground. 

Since, owing to the overhanging conformation of the 
place, it was quite impossible for us to descend in front 
where pressure had made the snow hard as stone, we 
were obliged to risk a march over the looser material 
upon its flank. As there was nothing to be gained by 
waiting, off we went, Leo leading and step by step trying 



72 A YES HA 

the snow. To our joy we discovered that the sharp night 
frost had so hardened its surface that it would support us. 
About half way down, however, where the pressure had 
been less, it became much softer, so that we were forced 
to lie upon our faces, which enabled us to distribute our 
weight over a larger surface, and thus slither gently down 
the hill. 

All went well until we were within twenty paces of the 
bottom, where we must cross a soft mound formed of 
the powdery dust thrown off by the avalanche in its rush. 
Leo slipped over safely, but I, following a yard or two to 
his right, of a sudden felt the hard crust yield beneath me. 
An ill-judged but quite natural flounder and wriggle, 
such as a newly-landed flat-fish gives upon the sand, com 
pleted the mischief, and with one piercing but swiftly 
stifled yell, I vanished. 

Any one who has ever sunk in deep water will know 
that the sensation is not pleasant, but I can assure him 
that to go through the same experience in soft snow is 
infinitely worse; mud alone could surpass its terrors. 
Down I went, and down, till at length I seemed to reach 
a rock which alone saved me from disappearing for ever. 
Now I felt the snow closing above me and with it came 
darkness and a sense of suffocation. So soft was the 
drift, however, that before I was overcome I contrived 
with my arms to thrust away the powdery dust from 
about my head, thus forming a little hollow into which 
air filtered slowly. Getting my hands upon the stone, I 
strove to rise, but could not, the weight upon me was too 
great. 

Then I abandoned hope and prepared to die. The process 
proved not altogether unpleasant. I did not see visions 
from my past life as drowning men are supposed to do, 
but and this shows how strong was her empire over me 
my mind flew back to Ayesha. I seemed to behold her 
and a man at her side, standing over me in some dark, 
rocky gulf. She was wrapped in a long travelling cloak, 



THE GLACIER 73 

and her lovely eyes were wild with fear. I rose to salute 
her, and make report, but she cried in a fierce, concen 
trated voice 

" What evil thing has happened here ? Thou livest ; 
then where is my lord Leo ? Speak, man, and say where 
thou hast hid my lord or die." 

The vision was extraordinarily real and vivid, I re 
member, and, considered in connection with a certain sub 
sequent event, in all ways most remarkable, but it passed 
as swiftly as it came. 

Then my senses left me. 

I saw a light again. I heard a voice, that of Leo! 
" Horace/ he cried, " Horace, hold fast to the stock of 
the rifle." Something was thrust against my outstretched 
hand. I gripped it despairingly, and there came a strain. 
It was useless, I did not move. Then, bethinking me, I 
drew up my legs and by chance or the mercy of Heaven, 
I know not, got my feet against a ridge of the rock on 
which I was lying. Again I felt the strain, and thrust 
with all my might. Of a sudden the snow gave, and out 
of that hole I shot like a fox from its earth. 

I struck something. It was Leo straining at the gun, 
and I knocked him backwards. Then down the steep 
slope we rolled, landing at length upon the very edge of 
the precipice. I sat up, drawing in the air with great 
gasps, and oh ! how sweet it was. My eyes fell upon my 
hand, and I saw that the veins stood out on the back of it, 
black as ink and large as cords. Clearly I must have been 
near my end. 

" How long was I in there ? " I gasped to Leo, who 
sat at my side, wiping off the sweat that ran from his 
face in streams. 

" Don t know. Nearly twenty minutes, I should 
think." 

: Twenty minutes ! It seemed like twenty centuries. 
How did you get me out ? You could not stand upon the 
drift dust." 



74 A YES HA 

" No : I lay upon the yak skin where the snow was 
harder and tunnelled towards you through the powdery 
stuff with my hands, for I knew where you had sunk and 
it was not far off. At last I saw your finger tips; they 
were so blue that for a few seconds I took them for rock, 
but thrust the butt of the rifle against them. Luckily 
you still had life enough to catch hold of it, and you know 
the rest. Were we not both very strong, it could never 
have been done." 

" Thank you, old fellow," I said simply. 

" Why should you thank me ? " he asked with one of his 
quick smiles. " Do you suppose that I wished to con 
tinue this journey alone? Come, if you have got your 
breath, let us be getting on. You have been sleeping in a 
cold bed and want exercise. Look, my rifle is broken and 
yours is lost in the snow. Well, it will save us the trouble 
of carrying the cartridges," and he laughed drearily. 

Then we began our march, heading for the spot where 
the road ended four miles or so away, for to go forward 
seemed useless. In due course we reached it safely. Once 
a mass of snow as large as a church swept down just in 
front of us, and once a great boulder loosened from the 
mountain rushed at us suddenly like an attacking lion, or 
the stones thrown by Polyphemus at the ship of Odys 
seus, and, leaping over our heads, vanished with an angry 
scream into the depths beneath. But we took little heed 
of these things : our nerves were deadened, and no danger 
seemed to affect them. 

There was the end of the road, and there were our 
own footprints and the impress of the yak s hoofs in the 
snow. The sight of them affected me, for it seemed 
strange that we should have lived to look upon them 
again. We stared over the edge of the precipice. Yes, it 
was sheer and absolutely unclimbable. 

" Come to the glacier," said Leo. 

So we went on to it, and scrambling a little way down 
its root, made an examination. Here, so far as we could 



THE GLACIER 75, 

judge, the cliff was about four hundred feet deep. But 
whether or no the tongue of ice reached to the foot of it 
we were unable to tell, since about two thirds of the way 
down it arched inwards, like the end of a bent bow, and 
the conformation of the overhanging rocks on either side 
was such that we could not see where it terminated. We 
climbed back again and sat down, and despair took hold 
of us, bitter, black despair. 

" What are we to do ? " I asked. " In front of us 
death. Behind us death, for how can we recross those 
mountains without food or guns to shoot it with? Here 
death, for we must sit and starve. We have striven and 
failed. Leo, our end is at hand. Only a miracle can save 
us." 

" A miracle," he answered. " Well, what was it that 
led us to the top of the mount so that we were able to- 
escape the avalanche? And what was it which put that 
rock in your way as you sank into the bed of dust, and 
gave me wit and strength to dig you out of your grave of 
snow? And what is it that has preserved us through 
seventeen years of dangers such as few men have known 
and lived? Some directing Power. Some Destiny that 
will accomplish itself in us. Why should the Power cease 
to guide ? Why should the Destiny be baulked at last ? " 

He paused, then added fiercely, " I tell you, Horace, 
that even if we had guns, food, and yaks, I would not 
turn back upon our spoor, since to do so would prove me 
a coward and unworthy of her. I will go on." 

"How? "I asked. 

" By that road," and he pointed to the glacier. 

" It is a road to death ! " 

" Well, if so, Horace, it would seem that in this land 
men find life in death, or so they believe. If we die now, 
we shall die travelling our path, and in the country where 
we perish we may be born again. At least I am deter 
mined, so you must choose." 

" I have chosen long ago. Leo, we began this journey 



76 AYES HA 

together and we. will end it together. Perhaps Ayesha 
knows and will help us," and I laughed drearily. " If not 
- come, we are wasting time." 

Then w r e took counsel, and the end of it was that we 
cut a skin rug and the yak s tough hide into strips and 
knotted these together into two serviceable ropes, which 
we fastened about our middles, leaving one end loose, for 
we thought that they might help us in our descent. 

Next we bound fragments of another skin rug about 
our legs and knees to protect them from the chafing of 
the ice and rocks, and for the same reason put on our 
thick leather gloves. This done, we took the remainder 
of our gear and heavy robes and, having placed stones in 
them, threw them over the brink of the precipice, trusting 
to find them again, should we ever reach its foot. Now 
our preparations were complete, and it was time for us 
to start upon perhaps one of the most desperate journeys 
ever undertaken by men of their own will. 

Yet we stayed a little, looking at each other in piteous 
fashion, for we could not speak. Only we embraced, and 
I confess, I think I wept a little. It all seemed so sad 
and hopeless, these longings endured through many 
years, these perpetual, weary travellings, and now the 
end. I could not bear to think of that splendid man, my 
ward, my most dear friend, the companion of my life, who 
stood before me so full of beauty and of vigour, but who 
must within a few short minutes be turned into a heap of 
quivering, mangled flesh. For myself it did not matter. 
I was old, it was time that I should die. I had lived inno 
cently, if it were innocent to follow this lovely image, this 
Siren of the caves, who lured us on to doom. 

No, I don t think that I thought of myself then, but I 
thought a great deal of Leo, and when I saw his deter 
mined face and flashing eyes as he nerved himself to the 
last endeavour, I was proud of him. So in broken ac 
cents I blessed him and wished him well through all the 
zeons, praying that I might be his companion to the end 



THE GLACIER 77 

of time. In few words and short he thanked me and gave 
me back my blessing. Then he muttered 

" Come." 

So side by side we began the terrible descent. At first 
it was easy enough, although a slip would have hurled us 
to eternity. But we were strong and skilful, accustomed 
to such places moreover, and made none. About a quar 
ter of the way down we paused, standing upon a great 
boulder that was embedded in the ice, and, turning round 
cautiously, leaned our backs against the glacier and looked 
about us. Truly it was a horrible place, almost sheer, nor 
did we learn much, for beneath us, a hundred and twenty 
feet or more, the projecting bend cut off our view of 
what lay below. 

So, feeling that our nerves would not bear a prolonged 
contemplation of that dizzy gulf, once more we set our 
faces to the ice and proceeded on the downward climb. 
Now matters were more difficult, for the stones were 
fewer and once or twice we must slide to reach them, not 
knowing if we should ever stop again. But the ropes 
which we threw over the angles of the rocks, or salient 
points of ice, letting ourselves down by their help and 
drawing them after us when we reached the next foot 
hold, saved us from disaster. 

Thus at length we came to the bend, which was more 
than half way down the precipice, being, so far as I 
could judge, about two hundred and fifty feet from its 
lip, and say one hundred and fifty from the darksome 
bottom of the narrow gulf. Here were no stones, but 
only some rough ice, on which we sat to rest. 

" We must look," said Leo presently. 

But the question was, how to do this. Indeed, there 
was only one way, to hang over the bend and discover 
what lay below. We read each other s thought without 
the need of words, and I made a motion as though I 
would start. 

" No," said Leo, " I am younger and stronger than 



78 AYES HA 

you. Come, help me/ 7 and he began to fasten the end 
of his rope to a strong, projecting point of ice. " Now," 
he said, " hold my ankles." 

It seemed an insanity, but there was nothing else to 
be done, so, fixing my heels in a niche, I grasped them 
and slowly he slid forward till his body vanished to the 
middle. What he saw does not matter, for I saw it all 
afterwards, but what happened was that suddenly all 
his great weight came upon my arms with such a jerk 
that his ankles were torn from my grip. 

Or, who knows! perhaps in my terror I loosed them, 
obeying the natural impulse which prompts a man to save 
his own life. If so, may I be forgiven, but had I held 
on, I must have been jerked into the abyss. Then the rope 
ran out and remained taut. 

" Leo ! " I screamed, " Leo ! " and I heard a muffled 
voice saying, as I thought, " Come." What it really said 
was " Don t come." But indeed and may it go to my 
credit I did not pause to think, but face outwards, just 
as I was sitting, began to slide and scramble down the 
ice. 

In two seconds I had reached the curve, in three I was 
over it. Beneath was what I can only describe as a great 
icicle broken off short, and separated from the cliff by 
about four yards of space. This icicle was not more than 
fifteen feet in length and sloped outwards, so that my 
descent was not sheer. Moreover, at the end of it the 
trickling of water, or some such accident, had worn away 
the ice, leaving a little ledge as broad, perhaps, as a man s 
hand. There were roughnesses on the surface below the 
curve, upon which my clothing caught, also I gripped 
them desperately with my fingers. Thus it came about 
that I slid down quite gently and, my heels landing upon 
the little ledge, remained almost upright, with out 
stretched arms like a person crucified to a cross of ice. 

Then I saw everything, and the sight curdled the blood 
within my veins. Hanging to the rope, four or five feet 



THE GLACIER 79 

below the broken point, was Leo, out of reach of it, and 
out of reach of the cliff ; as he hung turning slowly round 
and round, much as for in a dreadful, inconsequent 
fashion the absurd similarity struck me even then a 
joint turns before the fire. Below yawned the black gulf, 
and at the bottom of it, far, far beneath, appeared a faint, 
white sheet of snow. That is what I saw. 

Think of it! Think of it! I crucified upon the ice, 
my heels resting upon a little ledge ; my fingers grasping 
excrescences on which a bird could scarcely have found a 
foothold; round and below me dizzy space. To climb 
back whence I came was impossible, to stir even was im 
possible, since one slip and I must be gone. 

And below me, hung like a spider to its cord, Leo turn 
ing slowly round and round ! 

I could see that rope of green hide stretch beneath his 
weight and the double knots in it slip and tighten, and I 
remember wondering which would give first, the hide or 
the knots, or whether it would hold till he dropped from 
the noose limb by limb. 

Oh! I have been in many a perilous place, I who 
sprang from the Spraying Stone to the point of the 
Trembling Spur, and missed my aim, but never, never 
in such a one as this. Agony took hold of me; a cold 
sweat burst from every pore. I could feel it running 
down my face like tears ; my hair bristled upon my head. 
And below, in utter silence, Leo turned round and round, 
and each time he turned his up-cast eyes met mine with a 
look that was horrible to see. 

The silence was the worst of it, the silence and the 
helplessness. If he had cried out, if he had struggled, 
it would have been better. But to know that he was alive 
there, with every nerve and perception at its utmost 
stretch. Oh ! my God ! Oh ! my God ! 

My limbs began to ache, and yet I dared not stir a 
muscle. They ached horribly, or so I thought, and be 
neath this torture, mental and physical, my mind gave. 



8o AYES HA 

I remembered things: remembered how, as a child, I 
had climbed a tree and reached a place whence I could 
move neither up nor down, and what I suffered then. Re 
membered how once in Egypt a foolhardy friend of mine 
had ascended the Second Pyramid alone, and become thus 
crucified upon its shining cap, where he remained for a 
whole half hour with four hundred feet of space beneath 
him. I could see him now stretching his stockinged foot 
downwards in a vain attempt to reach the next crack, and 
drawing it back again ; could see his tortured face, a white 
blot upon the red granite. 

Then that face vanished and blackness gathered round 
me, and in the blackness visions : of the living, resistless 
avalanche, of the snow-grave into which I had sunk oh ! 
years and years ago ; of Ayesha demanding Leo s life at 
my hands. Blackness and silence, through which I could 
only hear the cracking of my muscles. 

Suddenly in the blackness a flash, and in the silence a 
sound. The flash was the flash of a knife which Leo had 
drawn. He was hacking at the cord with it fiercely, 
fiercely, to make an end. And the sound was that of the 
noise he made, a ghastly noise, half shout of defiance and 
half yell of terror, as at the third stroke it parted. 

I saw it part. The tough hide was half cut through, 
and its severed portion curled upwards and downwards 
like the upper and lower lips of an angry dog, whilst 
that which was unsevered stretched out slowly, slowly, 
till it grew quite thin. Then it snapped, so that the rope 
flew upwards and struck me across the face like the lash 
of a whip. 

Another instant and I heard a crackling, thudding 
sound. Leo had struck the ground below. Leo was 
dead, a mangled mass of flesh and bone as I had pictured 
him. I could not bear it. My nerve and human dignity 
came back. I would not wait until, my strength ex 
hausted, I slid from my perch as a wounded bird falls 



THE GLACIER 81 

from a tree. No, I would follow him at once, of my own 
act. 

I let my arms fall against my sides, and rejoiced in 
the relief from pain that the movement gave me. Then 
balanced upon my heels, I stood upright, took my last 
look at the sky, muttered my last prayer. For an instant 
I remained thus poised. 

Shouting, " I come," I raised my hands above my head 
and dived as a bather dives, dived into the black gulf 
beneath. 



CHAPTER VI 

IN THE GATE 

OH ! that rush through space ! Folk falling thus are 
supposed to lose consciousness, but I can assert that this 
is not true. Never were my wits and perceptions more 
lively than while I travelled from that broken glacier to 
the ground, and never did a short journey seem to take 
a longer time. I saw the white floor, like some living 
thing, leaping up through empty air to meet me, then 
finis! 

Crash! Why, what was this? I still lived. I was in 
water, for I could feel its chill, and going down, down, 
till I thought I should never rise again. But rise I did, 
though my lungs were nigh to bursting first. As I 
floated up towards the top I remembered the crash, which- 
told me that I had passed through ice. Therefore I should 
meet ice at the surface again. Oh ! to think that after 
surviving so much I must be drowned like a kitten and 
beneath a sheet of ice. My hands touched it. There it 
was above me shining white like glass. Heaven be 
praised ! My head broke through ; in this low and shel 
tered gorge it was but a film no thicker than a penny 
formed by the light frost of the previous night. So I 
rose from the deep and stared about me, treading water 
with my feet. 

Then I saw the gladdest sight that ever my eyes be 
held, for on the right, not ten yards away, the water run 
ning from his hair and beard, was Leo. Leo alive, for he 
broke the thin ice with his arms as he struggled towards 

82 



IN THE GATE 83 

the shore from the deep river. 1 He saw me also, and 
his grey eyes seemed to start out of his head. 

" Still living, both of us, and the precipice passed ! " he 
shouted in a ringing, exultant voice. " I told you we 
were led." 

"Aye, but whither?" I answered as I too fought my 
way through the film of ice. 

Then it was I became aware that we were no longer 
alone, for on the bank of the river, some thirty yards 
from us, stood two figures, a man leaning upon a long 
staff and a woman. He was a very old man, for his 
eyes were horny, his snow-white hair and beard hung 
upon the bent breast and shoulders, and his sardonic, 
wrinkled features were yellow as wax. They might 
have been those of a death mask cut in marble. There, 
clad in an ample, monkish robe, and leaning upon the 
staff, he stood still as a statue and watched us. I noted 
it all, every detail, although at the time I did not know 
that I was doing so, as we broke our way through the ice 
towards them and afterwards the picture came back to 
me. Also I saw that the woman, who was very tall, 
pointed to us. 

Nearer the bank, or rather to the rock edge of the 
river, its surface was free of ice, for here the stream ran 
very swiftly. Seeing this, we drew close together and 
swam on side by side to help each other if need were. 
There was much need, for in the fringe of the torrent 
the strength that had served me so long seemed to desert 
me, and I became helpless ; numbed, too, with the biting 
coldness of the water. Indeed, had not Leo grasped my 
clothes I think that I should have been swept away by the 

1 Usually, as we learned afterwards, the river at this spot was quite 
shallow ; only a foot or two in depth. It was the avalanche that by 
damming it with fallen heaps of snow had raised its level very many 
feet. Therefore, to this avalanche, which had threatened to destroy 
us, we in reality owed our lives, for had the stream stood only at its 
normal height we must have been dashed to pieces upon the stones. 
L. H. H. 



84 AYES HA 

current to perish. Thus aided I fought on a while, till 
he said 

" I am going under. Hold to the rope end." 

So I gripped the strip of yak s hide that was still fast 
about him, and, his hand thus freed, Leo made a last 
splendid effort to keep us both, cumbered as we were 
with the thick, soaked garments that dragged us down 
like lead, from being sucked beneath the surface. More 
over, he succeeded where any other swimmer of less 
strength must have failed. Still, I believe that we should 
have drowned, since here the water ran like a mill-race, 
had not the man upon the shore, seeing our plight and 
urged thereto by the woman, run with surprising swift 
ness in one so aged, to a point of rock that jutted some 
yards into the stream, past which we were being swept, 
and seating himself, stretched out his long stick towards 
us. 

With a desperate endeavour, Leo grasped it as we 
went by, rolling over and over each other, and held on. 
Round we swung into the eddy, found our feet, were 
knocked down again, rubbed and pounded on the rocks. 
But still gripping that staff of salvation, to his end of 
which the old man clung like a limpet to a stone, while 
the woman clung to him, we recovered ourselves, and, 
sheltered somewhat by the rock, floundered towards the 
shore. Lying on his face for we were still in great 
danger the man extended his arm. We could not reach 
it ; and worse, suddenly the staff was torn from him ; we 
were being swept away. 

Then it was that the woman did a noble thing, for 
springing into the water yes, up to -her armpits and 
holding fast to the old man by her left hand, with the 
right she seized Leo s hair and dragged him shorewards. 
Now he found his feet for a moment, and throwing one 
arm about her slender form, steadied himself thus, while 
with the othe*- he supported me. Next followed a long 
confused struggle, but the end of it was that three of us, 



IN THE GATE 85 

the old man, Leo and I, rolled in a heap upon the bank 
and lay there gasping. 

Presently I looked up. The woman stood over us, 
water streaming from her garments, staring like one in a 
dream at Leo s face, smothered as it was with blood run 
ning from a deep cut in his head. Even then I noticed 
how stately and beautiful she was. Now she seemed to 
awake and, glancing at the robes that clung to her splen 
did shape, said something to her companion, then turned 
and ran towards the cliff. 

As we lay before him, utterly exhausted, the old man, 
who had risen, contemplated us solemnly with his dim 
eyes. He spoke, but we did not understand. Again he 
tried another language and without success. A third 
time and our ears were opened, for the tongue he used 
was Greek ; yes, there in Central Asia he addressed us in 
Greek, not very pure, it is true, but still Greek. 

" Are you wizards," he said, " that you have lived to- 
reach this land ? " 

" Nay," I answered in the same tongue, though in 
broken words since of Greek I had thought little for 
many a year " for then we should have come otherwise," 
and I pointed to our hurts and the precipice behind us. 

They know the ancient speech ; it is as we were told 
from the Mountain," he muttered to himself. Then he 
asked 

" Strangers, what seek you ? " 

Now I grew cunning and did not answer, fearing lest, 
should he learn the truth, he would thrust us back into 
the river. But Leo had no such caution, or rather ail 
reason had left him ; he was light-headed. 

" We seek," he stuttered out his Greek, which had 
always been feeble, now was simply barbarous and mixed 
with various Thibetan dialects " we seek the land of the 
Fire Mountain that is crowned with the Sign of Life." 

The man stared at us. " So you know," he said, then 
broke off and added, " and whom do you eeek? " 



86 AYES HA 

" Her," answered Leo wildly, " the Queen." I think 
that he meant to say the priestess, or the goddess, but 
could only think of the Greek for Queen, or rather tome- 
thing resembling it. Or perhaps it was because the 
woman who had gone looked like a queen. 

" Oh ! " said the man, " you seek a queen then you 
are those for whom we were bidden to watch. Nay, how 
can I be sure ? " 

" Is this a time to put questions ? " I gasped angrily. 
" Answer me one rather : who are you ? " 

" I ? Strangers, my title is Guardian of the Gate, and 
the lady who was with me is the Khania of Kaloon." 

At this point Leo began to faint. 

" That man is sick," said the Guardian, " and now 
that you have got your breath again, you must have shel 
ter, both of you, and at once. Come, help me." 

So, supporting Leo on either side, we dragged our 
selves away from that accursed cliff and Styx-like river 
up a narrow, winding gorge. Presently it opened out, 
and there, stretching across the glade, we saw the Gate. 
Of this all I observed then, for my memory of the details 
of this scene and of the conversation that passed is very 
weak and blurred, was that it seemed to be a mighty wall 
of rock in which a pathway had been hollowed where 
doubtless once passed the road. On one side of this 
passage was a stair, which we began to ascend with great 
difficulty, for Leo was now almost senseless and scarcely 
moved his legs. Indeed at the head of the first flight he 
sank down in a heap, nor did our strength suffice to lift 
him. 

While I wondered feebly what was to be done, I heard 
footsteps, and looking up, saw the woman who had saved 
him descending the stair, and after her two robed men 
with a Tartar cast of countenance, very impassive ; small 
eyes and yellowish skin. Even the sight of us did not ap 
pear to move them to astonishment. She spoke some 
words to them, whereon they lifted Leo s heavy frame, 
apparently with ease, and carried him up the steps. 



IN THE GATE 87 

We followed, and reached a room that seemed to be 
hewn from the rock above the gateway, where the woman 
called Khania left us. From it we passed through other 
rooms, one of them a kind of kitchen, in which a fire 
burned, till we came to a large chamber, evidently a sleep 
ing place, for in it were wooden bedsteads, mattresses and 
rugs. Here Leo was laid down, and with the assistance 
of one of his servants, the old Guardian undressed him, 
at the same time motioning me to take off my own gar 
ments. This I did gladly enough for the first time during 
many days, though with great pain and difficulty, to find 
that I was a mass of wounds and bruises. 

Presently our host blew upon a whistle, and the other 
servant appeared bringing hot water in a jar, with which 
we were washed over. Then the Guardian dressed our 
hurts with some soothing ointment, and wrapped us round 
with blankets. After this broth was brought, into which 
he mixed medicine, and giving me a portion to drink 
where I lay upon one of the beds, he took Leo s head 
upon his knee and poured the rest of it down his throat. 
Instantly a wonderful warmth ran through me, and my 
aching brain began to swim. Then I remembered no 
more. 

After this we were very, very ill. What may be the 
exact medical definition of our sickness I do not know, but 
in effect it was such as follows loss of blood, extreme 
exhaustion of body, paralysing shock to the nerves and 
extensive cuts and contusions. These taken together pro 
duced a long period of semi-unconsciousness, followed by 
another period of fever and delirium. All that I can re 
call of those weeks while we remained the guests of the 
Guardian of the Gate, may be summed up in one word 
dreams, that is until at last I recovered my senses. 

The dreams themselves are forgotten, which is perhaps 
as well, since they were very confused, and for the most 
part awful; a hotch-potch of nightmares, reflected with- 



88 AYES HA 

out doubt from vivid memories of our recent and fear 
some sufferings. At times I would wake up from them a 
little, I suppose when food was administered to me, and 
receive impressions of whatever was passing in the place. 
Thus I can recollect that yellow-faced old Guardian 
standing over me like a ghost in the moonlight, stroking 
his long beard, his eyes fixed upon my face, as though 
he would search out the secrets of my soul. 

They are the men," he muttered to himself, " without 
doubt they are the men," then walked to the window and 
looked up long and earnestly, like one who studies the 
stars. 

After this I remember a disturbance in the room, and 
dominating it, as it were, the rich sound of a woman s 
voice and the rustle of a woman s silks sweeping the 
stone floor. I opened my eyes and saw that it was she 
who had helped to rescue us, who had rescued us in fact, 
a tall and noble-looking lady with a beauteous, weary face 
and liquid eyes which seemed to burn. From the heavy 
cloak she wore I thought that she must have just returned 
from a journey. 

She stood above me and looked at me, then turned 
away with a gesture of indifference, if not of disgust, 
speaking to the Guardian in a low voice. By way of answer 
he bowed, pointing to the other bed where Leo lay asleep, 
and thither she passed with slow, imperious movements. 
I saw her bend down and lift the corner of a wrapping 
which covered his wounded head, and heard her utter 
some smothered words before she turned round to the 
Guardian as though to question him further. 

But he had gone, and being alone, for she thought me 
senseless, she drew a rough stool to the side of the bed, 
and seating herself studied Leo, who lay thereon, with 
an earnestness that was almost terrible, for her soul 
seemed to be concentrated in her eyes, and to find expres 
sion through them. Long she gazed thus, then rose 
and began to walk swiftly up and down the chamber,, 



IN THE GATE 89 

pressing 1 her hands now to her bosom and now to her 
brow, a certain passionate perplexity stamped upon her 
face, as though she struggled to remember something 
and could not. 

"Where and when?" she whispered. "Oh! where 
and when ? " 

Of the end of that scene I know nothing, for although 
I fought hard against it, oblivion mastered me. After 
this I became aware that the regal-looking woman called 
Khania, was always in the room, and that she seemed to 
be nursing Leo with great care and tenderness. Some 
times even she nursed me when Leo did not need atten 
tion, and she had nothing else to do, or so her manner 
seemed to suggest. It was as though I excited her curi 
osity, and she wished me to recover that it might be 
satisfied. 

Again I awoke, how long afterwards I cannot say. It 
was night, and the room was lighted by the moon only, 
now shining in a clear sky. Its steady rays entering at 
the window-place fell on Leo s bed, and by them I saw 
that the dark, imperial woman was watching at his side. 
Some sense of her presence must have communicated 
itself to him, for he began to mutter in his sleep, now 
in English, now in Arabic. She became intensely inter 
ested; as her every movement showed. Then rising 
suddenly she glided across the room on tiptoe to look at 
me. Seeing her coming I feigned to be asleep, and so 
well that she was deceived. 

For I was also interested. Who was this lady 
whom the Guardian had called the Khania of Kaloon? 
Could it be she whom we sought? Why not? And yet 
if I saw Ayesha, surely I should know her, surely there 
would be no room for doubt. 

Back she went again to the bed, kneeling down beside 
Leo, and in the intense silence which followed for he had 
Ceased his mutterings I thought that I could hear the 
beating of her heart. Now she began to speak, very low 



9 o AYES HA 

and in that same bastard Greek tongue, mixed here and 
there with Mongolian words such as are common to the 
dialects of Central Asia. I could not hear or understand 
all she said, but some sentences I did understand, and 
they frightened me not a little. 

" Man of my dreams," she murmured, " whence come 
you? Who are you? Why did the Hesea bid me to 
meet you ? " Then some sentences I could not catch. 
" You sleep ; in sleep the eyes are opened. Answer, I 
bid you; say what is the bond between you and me? 
Why have I dreamt of you? W^hy do I know you? 

Why ? " and the sweet, rich voice died slowly from a 

whisper into silence, as though she were ashamed to utter 
what was on her tongue. 

As she bent over him a lock of her hair broke loose 
from its jewelled fillet and fell across his face. At its 
touch Leo seemed to wake, for he lifted his gaunt, white 
hand and touched the hair, then said in English 

" Where am I ? Oh ! I remember ; " and their eyes 
met as he strove to lift himself and could not. Then he 
spoke again in his broken, stumbling Greek, " You are 
the lady who saved me from the water. Say, are you 
also that queen whom I have sought so long and endured 
so much to find ? " 

" I know not," she answered in a voice as sweet as 
honey, a low, trembling voice ; " but true it is I am a 
queen if a Khania be a queen." 

" Say, then, Queen, do you remember me ? " 

" We have met in dreams," she answered, " I think 
that we have met in a past that is far away. Yes ; I knew 
it when first I saw you there by the river. Stranger with 
the well-remembered face, tell me, I pray you, how you 
are named ? " 

" Leo Vincey." 

She shook her head, whispering 

" I know not the name, yet you I know. 

" You know me ! How do you know me ? " he said 



IN THE GATE 91 

heavily, and seemed to sink again into slumber or swoon. 

She watched him for awhile very intently. Then as 
though some force that she could not resist drew her, 
I saw her bend down her head over his sleeping face. 
Yes; and I saw her kiss him swiftly on the lips, then 
spring back crimson to the hair, as though overwhelmed 
with shame at this victory of her mad passion. 

Now it was that she discovered me. 

Bewildered, fascinated, amazed, I had raised myself 
upon my bed, not knowing it; I suppose that I might 
see and hear the better. It was wrong, doubtless, but 
no common curiosity over-mastered me, w r ho had my 
share in all this story. More, it was foolish, but illness 
and wonder had killed my reason. 

Yes, she saw me watching them , and such fury seemed 
to take hold of her that I thought my hour had come. 

"Man, have you dared ?" she said in an intense 

whisper, and snatching at her girdle. Now in her hand 
shone a knife, and I knew that it was destined for my 
heart. Then in this sore danger my wit came back to me 
and as she advanced I stretched out my shaking hand, 
saying 

" Oh ! of your pity, give me to drink. The fever burns 
me, it burns," and I looked round like one bewildered who 
sees not, repeating, " Give me drink, you who are called 
Guardian," and I fell back exhausted. 

She stopped like a hawk in its stoop, and swiftly 
sheathed the dagger. Then taking a bowl of milk that 
stood on a table near her, she held it to my lips, search 
ing my face the while with her flaming eyes, for indeed 
passion, rage, and fear had lit them till they seemed to 
flame. I drank the milk in great gulps, though never in 
my life did I find it more hard to swallow. 

" You tremble," she said ; " have dreams haunted 
you?" 

" Aye, friend," I answered, " dreams of that fearsome 
precipice and of the last leap." 



92 AYES HA 

"Aught else? "she asked. 

"Nay; is it not enough? Oh! what a journey to 
have taken to befriend a queen." 

" To befriend a queen," she repeated puzzled. " What 
means the man? You swear you have had no other 
dreams?" 

"Aye, I swear by the Symbol of Life and the Mount 
of the Wavering Flame, and by yourself, O Queen from 
the ancient days." 

Then I sighed and pretended to swoon, for I could 
think of nothing else to do. As I closed my eyes I .saw 
her face that had been red as dawn turn pale as eve, 
for my words and all which might lie behind them, had 
gone home. Moreover, she was in doubt, for I could 
hear her fingering the handle of the dagger. Then she 
spoke aloud, words for my ears if they still were open. 

" I ami glad," she said, " that he dreamed no other 
dreams, since had he done so and babbled of them it 
would have been ill-omened, and I do not wish that one 
who has travelled far to visit us should be hurled to the 
death-dogs for burial; one, moreover, who although old 
and hideous, still has the air of a wise and silent man." 

Now while I shivered at these unpleasant hints 
though what the " death-dogs " in which people were 
buried might be, I could not conceive to my intense joy 
I heard the foot of the Guardian on the stairs, heard him 
too enter the room and saw him bow before the lady. 

" How go these sick men, niece ? " 1 he said in his cold 
voice. 

" They swoon, both of them," she answered. 

" Indeed, is it so ? " I thought otherwise. I thought 
they woke." 

"What have you heard, Shaman (i.e. wizard)?" she 
asked angrily. 

1 I found later that the Khania, Atene, was not Simbri s niece but 
his great-niece, on the mother s side. L. H. H. 



IN THE GATE 93 

" I ? Oh ! I heard the grating of a dagger in its 
sheath and the distant baying of the death-hounds." 

" And what have you seen, Shaman ? " she asked again, 
" looking through the Gate you guard ? " 

" Strange sight, Khania, my niece. But men awake 
from swoons." 

" Aye," she answered, " so while this one sleeps, bear 
him to another chamber, for he needs change, and the 
lord yonder needs more space and untainted air." 

The Guardian, whom she called " Shaman " or Ma 
gician, held a lamp in his hand, and by its light it was 
easy to see his face, which I watched out of the corner of 
my eye. I thought that it wore a very strange expres 
sion, one moreover that alarmed me somewhat. From 
the beginning I had misdoubted me of this old man, 
whose cast of countenance was vindictive as it was able ; 
now I was afraid of him. 

" To which chamber, Khania ? " he said with meaning. 

" I think," she answered slowly, " to one that is 
healthful, where he will recover. The man has wisdom," 
she added as though in explanation, " moreover, having 
the word from the Mountain, to harm him would be 
dangerous. But why do you ask ? " 

He shrugged his shoulders. 

" I tell you I heard the death-hounds bay, that is all. 
Yes, with you I think that he has wisdom, and the bee 
which seeks honey should suck the flower before it 
fades ! Also, as you say, there are commands with which 
it is ill to trifle, even if we cannot guess their meaning." 

Then going to the door he blew upon his whistle, and 
instantly I heard the feet of his servants upon the 
stairs. He gave them an order, and gently enough they 
lifted the mattress on which I lay and followed him 
down sundry passages and past some stairs into another 
chamber shaped like that we had left, but not so large, 
where they placed me upon a bed. 

The Guardian watched me awhile to see that I did not 



94 A YES HA 

wake. Next he stretched out his hand and felt my heart 
and pulse ; an examination the results of which seemed 
to puzzle him, for he uttered a little exclamation and 
shook his head. After this he left the room, and I heard 
him bolt the door behind him. Then, being still very 
weak, I fell asleep in earnest. 

When I awoke it was broad daylight. My mind was 
clear and I felt better than I had done for many a day, 
signs by which I knew that the fever had left rue and 
that I was on the high road to recovery. Now I remem 
bered all the events of the previous night and was able 
to weigh them carefully. This, to be sure, I did for many 
reasons, among them that I knew I had been and still 
was, in great danger. 

I had seen and heard too much, and this woman called 
Khania guessed that I had seen and heard. Indeed, had 
it not been for my hints about the Symbol of Life and the 
Mount of Flame, after I had disarmed her first rage by my 
artifice, I felt sure that she would have ordered the old 
Guardian or Shaman to do me to death in this way or the 
other ; sure also that he would not have hesitated to obey 
her. I had been spared partly because, for some unknown 
reason, she was afraid to kill me, and partly that she 
might learn how much I knew, although the " death- 
hounds had bayed," whatever that might mean. Well, 
up to the present I was safe, and for the rest I must 
take my chance. Moreover it was necessary to be cau 
tious, and, if need were, to feign ignorance. So, dis 
missing the matter of my own fate from my mind, I fell 
to considering the scene which I had witnessed and what 
might be its purport. 

Was our quest at an end? Was this woman Ayesha? 
Leo had so dreamed, but he was still delirious, therefore 
here was little on which to lean. What seemed more 
to the point was that she herself evidently appeared to 
think that there existed some tie between her and this 
sick man. Why had she embraced him ? I was sure that 



IN THE GATE 95 

she could be no wanton, nor indeed would any woman 
indulge for its own sake in such folly with a stranger 
who hung between life and death. What she had done 
was done because irresistible impulse, born of knowledge, 
or at least of memories, drove her on, though mayhap 
the knowledge was imperfect and the memories were 
undefined. Who save Ayesha could have known any 
thing of Leo in the past? None who lived upon the 
earth to-day. 

And yet, why not, if what Kou-en the abbot and tens 
of millions of his fellow-worshippers believed were true? 
If the souls of human beings were in fact strictly limited 
in number and became the tenants of an endless succes 
sion of physical bodies which they change from time to 
time as we change our worn-out garments, why should 
not others have known him ? For instance that daughter 
of the Pharaohs who " caused him through love to break 
the vows that he had vowed " knew a certain Kallikrates, 
a priest of " Isis whom the gods cherish and the demons 
obey ; " even Amenartas, the mistress of magic. 

Oh ! now a light seemed to break upon me, a wonderful 
light. What if Amenartas and this Khania, this woman 
with royalty stamped on every feature, should be the 
same ? Would not that " magic of my own people that I 
have " of which she wrote upon the Sherd, enable her to 
pierce the darkness of the Past and recognize the priest 
whom she had bewitched to love her, snatching him out 
of the very hand of the goddess? What if it were not 
Ayesha, but Amenartas re-incarnate who ruled this hid 
den land and once more sought to make the man she loved 
break through his vows ? If so, knowing the evil that 
must come, I shook even at its shadow. The truth must 
be learned, but how? 

Whilst I wondered the door opened, and the sardonic, 
inscrutable-old-faced man, whom this Khania had called 
Magician, and who called the Khania, niece, entered and 
stood before me. 



CHAPTER VII 

THE FIRST ORDEAL 

THE Shaman advanced to my side and asked me cour 
teously how I fared. 

I answered, " Better. Far better, oh, my host but 
how are you named ? " 

" Simbri," he answered, " and, as I told you by the 
water, my title is Hereditary Guardian of the Gate. By 
profession I am the royal Physician in this land." 

" Did you say physician or magician ? " I asked care 
lessly, as though I had not caught the word. He gave 
me a curious look. 

" I said physician, and it is well for you and your 
companion that I have some skill in my art. Otherwise 
I think, perhaps, you would not have been alive to-day, O 
my guest but how are you named? " 

" Holly," I said. 

" O my guest, Holly." 

" Had it not been for the foresight that brought you 
,and the lady Khania to the edge of yonder darksome 
river, certainly we should not have been alive, venerable 
Simbri, a foresight that seems to me to savour of magic 
in such a lonely place. That is why I thought you might 
have described yourself as a magician, though it is true 
that you may have been but fishing in those waters." 

" Certainly I was fishing, stranger Holly for men, and 
I caught two." 

" Fishing by chance, host Simbri ? " 

" Nay, by design, guest Holly. My trade of physician 
includes the study of future events, for I am the chief 

Q 6 



THE FIRST ORDEAL 



97 



of the Shamans or Seers of this land, and, having been 
warned of your coming quite recently, I awaited your ar 
rival." 

" Indeed, that is strange, most courteous also. So 
here physician and magician mean the same." 

" You say it," he answered with a grave bow ; " but 
tell me, if you will, how did you find your way to a land 
whither visitors do not wander ? " 

" Oh ! " I answered, " perhaps we are but travellers, or 
perhaps we also have studied medicine." 

" I think that you must have studied it deeply, since 
otherwise you would not have lived to cross those moun 
tains in search of now, what did you seek? Your com 
panion, I think, spoke of a queen yonder, on the banks 
of the torrent." 

" Did he ? Did he, indeed ? Well, that is strange since 
he seems to have found one, for surely that royal-looking 
lady, named Khania, who sprang into the stream and 
saved us, must be a queen." 

" A queen she is, and a great one, for in our land 
Khania means queen, though how, friend Holly, a man 
who has lain senseless can have learned this, I do not 
know. Nor do I know how you come to speak our lan 
guage." 

" That is simple, for the tongue you talk is very ancient, 
and as it chances in my own country it has been my ( lot 
to study and to teach it. It is Greek, but although it is 
still spoken in the world, how it reached these mountains 
I cannot say." 

" I will tell you," he answered. " Many generations 
ago a great conqueror born of the nation that spoke this 
tongue fought his way through the country to the south 
of us. He was driven back, but a general of his of an 
other race advanced and crossed the mountains, and over 
came the people of this land, bringing with him his mas 
ter s language and his own worship. Here he established 
his dynasty, and here it remains, for being ringed in 



98 AYES HA 

with deserts and with pathless mountain snows, we hold 
no converse with the outer world." 

" Yes, I know something of that story ; the conqueror 
was named Alexander, was he not ? " I asked. 

" He was so named, and the name of the general was 
Rassen, a native of a country called Egypt, or so our 
records tell us. His descendants hold the throne to this 
day, and the Khania is of his blood." 

" Was the goddess whom he worshipped called Isis ? " 

" Nay," he answered, " she was called Hes." 

" Which," I interrupted, " is but another title for Isis. 
Tell me, is her worship continued here ? I ask because it 
is now dead in Egypt, which was its home." 

" There is a temple on the Mountain yonder," he re 
plied indifferently, " and in it are priests and priestesses 
who practise some ancient cult. But the real god of this 
people now, as long before the day of Rassen their con 
queror, is the fire that dwells in this same Mountain, 
which from time to time breaks out and slays them." 

" And does a goddess dwell in the fire? " I asked. 

Again he searched my face with his cold eyes, then 
answered 

" Stranger Holly, I know nothing of any goddess. 
That Mountain is sacred, and to seek to learn its secrets 
is to die. Why do you ask such questions ? " 

" Only because I am curious in the matter of old re 
ligions, and seeing the symbol of Life upon yonder peak, 
came hither to study yours, of which indeed a tradition 
still remains among the learned." 

" Then abandon that study, friend Holly, for the road 
to it runs through the j.aws of the death-hounds, and the 
spears of savages. Nor indeed is there anything to 
learn." 

" And what, Physician, are the death-hounds ? " 

" Certain dogs to which, according to our ancient cus 
tom, all offenders against the law or the will of the Khan, 
are cast to be torn to pieces." 



THE FIRST ORDEAL 99 

" The will of the Khan ! Has this Khania of yours a 
husband then ? " 

" Aye," he answered, " her cousin, who was the ruler 
of half the land. Now they and the land are one. But 
you have talked enough ; I am here to say that your food 
is ready," and he turned to leave the room. 

" One more question, friend Simbri. How came I to 
this chamber, and where is my companion? " 

" You were borne hither in your sleep, and see, the 
change has bettered you. Do you remember nothing ? " 

" Nothing, nothing at all," I answered earnestly. " But 
what of my friend ? " 

" He also is better. The Khania Atene nurses him." 

" Atene ? " I said. " That is an old Egyptian name. 
It means the Disk of the Sun, and a woman who bore it 
thousands of years ago was famous for her beauty." 

" Well, and is not my niece Ateue beautiful ? " 

" How can I tell, O uncle of the Khania," I answered 
wearily, " who have scarcely seen her ? " 

Then he departed, and presently his yellow-faced, silent 
servants brought me my food. 

Later in the morning the door opened again, and 
through it, unattended, came the Khania Atene, who shut 
and bolted it behind her. This action did not reassure 
me, still, rising in my bed, I saluted her as best I could, 
although at heart I was afraid. She seemed to read my 
doubts for she said 

" Lie down, and have no fear. At present you will come 
by no harm from me. Now, tell me what is the man 
called Leo to you ? Your son ? Nay, it cannot be, since 
forgive me light is not born of darkness." 

" I have always thought that it was so born, Khania. 
Yet you are right; he is but my adopted son, and a man 
whom I love." 

" Say, what seek you here? " she asked. 

" We seek, Khania, whatsoever Fate shall bring us on 
yonder Mountain, that which is crowned with flame." 



ioo AYES HA 

Her face paled at the words, but she answered in a 
steady voice 

" Then there you will find nothing but doom, if indeed 
you do not find it before you reach its slopes, which are 
guarded by savage men. Yonder is the College of Hes, 
and to violate its Sanctuary is death to any man, death in 
the ever-burning fire." 

" And who rules this college, Khania a priestess ? " 

" Yes, a priestess, whose face I have never seen, for she 
is so old that she veils herself from curious eyes." 

" Ah ! she veils herself, does she ? " I answered, as the 
blood went thrilling through my veins, I who remembered 
another who also was so old that she veiled herself from 
curious eyes. " Well, veiled or unveiled, we would visit 
her, trusting to find that we are welcome." 

:< That you shall not do," she said, " for it is unlawful, 
and I will not have your blood upon my hands." 

" Which is the stronger," I asked of her, " you, Khania, 
or this priestess of the Mountain ? " 

" I am the stronger, Holly, for so you are named, are 
you not? Look you, at my need I can summon sixty 
thousand men in war, while she has naught but her priests 
and the fierce, untrained tribes." 

" The sword is not the only power in the world," I 
answered. " Tell me, now, does this priestess ever visit 
the country of Kaloon ? " 

" Never, never, for by the ancient pact, made after the 
last great struggle long centuries ago between the College 
and the people of the Plain, it was decreed and sworn to 
that should she set her foot across the river, this means 
war to the end between us, and rule for the victor over 
both. Likewise, save when unguarded they bear their 
dead to burial, or for some such high purpose, no Khan 
or Khania of Kaloon ascends the Mountain." 

" Which then is the true master the Khan of Kaloon 
or the head of the College of Hes ? " I asked again. 

" In matters spiritual, the priestess of Hes, who is our 



THE FIRST ORDEAL 101 

Oracle and the voice of Heaven. In matters temporal, the 
Khan of Kaloon." 

" The Khan. Ah ! you are married, lady, are you 
not?" 

" Aye," she answered, her face flushing. " And I will 
tell you what you soon must learn, if you have not learned 
it already, I am the wife of a madman, and he is hateful 
to me." 

" I have learned the last already, Khania." 

She looked at me with her piercing eyes. 

" What ! Did my uncle, the Shaman, he who is called 
Guardian, tell you? Nay, you saw, as I knew you saw, 
and it would have been best to slay you for, oh! what 
must you think of me ? " 

I made no answer, for in truth I did not know what to 
think, also I feared lest further rash admissions should be 
followed by swift vengeance. 

" You must believe," she went on, " that I, who have 
ever hated men, that I I swear that it is true whose 
lips are purer than those mountain snows, I, the Khania 
of Kaloon, whom they name Heart-of-Ice, am but a 
shameless thing." And, covering her face with her hand, 
she moaned in the bitterness of her distress. 

" Nay," I said, " there may be reasons, explanations, if 
it pleases you to give them." 

" Wanderer, there are such reasons ; and since you 
know so much, you shall learn them also. Like that hus 
band of mine, I have become mad. When first I saw the 
face of your companion, as I dragged him from the river, 
madness entered me, and I I " 

" Loved him," I suggested. " Well, such things have 
happened before to people who were not mad." 

" Oh ! " she went on, " it was more than love ; I was 
possessed, and that night I knew not what I did. A 
Power drove me on ; a Destiny compelled me, and to the 
end I am his, and his alone. Yes, I am his, and I swear 
that he shall be mine ; " and with this wild declaration, 



102 AYESHA 

dangerous enough under the conditions, she turned and 
fled the room. 

She was gone, and after the struggle, for such it was, 
I sank back exhausted. How came it that this sudden 
passion had mastered her? Who and what was this 
Khania, I wondered again, and this was more to the 
point, who and what would Leo believe her to be? If 
only I could be with him before he said words or did 
deeds impossible to recall. 

Three days went by, during which time I saw no more of 
the Khania, who, or so I was informed by Simbri, the 
Shaman, had returned to her city to make ready for us, 
her guests. I begged him to allow me to rejoin Leo, but 
he answered politely, though with much firmness, that my 
foster-son did better without me. Now, I grew suspi 
cious, fearing lest some harm had come to Leo, though 
how to discover the truth I knew not. In my anxiety I 
tried to convey a note to him, written upon a leaf of a 
water-stained pocket-book, but the yellow-faced servant 
refused to touch it, and Simbri said drily that he would 
have naught to do with writings which he could not read. 
At length, on the third night I made up my mind that 
whatever the risk, with leave or without it, I would try to 
find him. 

By this time I could walk well, and indeed was almost 
strong again. So about midnight, when the moon was 
up, for I had no other light, I crept from my bed, threw 
on my garments, and taking a knife, which was the only 
weapon I possessed, opened the door of my room and 
started. 

Now, when I was carried from the rock-chamber where 
Leo and I had been together, I took note of the way. 
First, reckoning from my sleeping-place, there was a 
passage thirty paces long, for I had counted the footfalls 
of my bearers. Then came a turn to the left, and ten 
more paces of passage, and lastly near certain steps run- 



THE FIRST ORDEAL 103 

ning to some place unknown, another sharp turn to the 
right which led to our old chamber. 

Down the long passage I walked stealthily, and al 
though it was pitch dark, found the turn to the left, and 
followed it till I came to the second sharp turn to the 
right, that of the gallery from which rose the stairs. I 
crept round it only to retreat hastily enough, as well I 
might, for at the door of Leo s room, which she was in 
the act of locking on the outside, as I could see by the 
light of the lamp that she held in her hand, stood the 
Khania herself. 

My first thought was to fly back to my own chamber, 
but I abandoned it, feeling sure that I should be seen. 
Therefore I determined, if she discovered me, to face the 
matter out and say that I was trying to find Leo, and to 
learn how he fared. So I crouched against the wall, and 
waited with a beating heart. I heard her sweep down 
the passage, and yes begin to mount the stair. 

Now, what should I do ? To try to reach Leo was use 
less, for she had locked the door with the key she held. 
Go back to bed ? No, I would follow her, and if we met 
would make the same excuse. Thus I might get some 
tidings, or perhaps a dagger thrust. 

So round the corner and up the steps I went, noiselessly 
as a snake. They were many and winding, like those of 
a church tower, but at length I came to the head of them, 
where was a little landing, and opening from it a door. It 
was a very ancient door; the light streamed through 
cracks where its panels had rotted, and from the room 
beyond came the sound of voices, those of the Shaman 
Simbri and the Khania. 

" Have you learned aught, my niece ? " I heard him 
say, and also heard her answer- 

" A little. A very little." 

Then in my thirst for knowledge I grew bold, and 
stealing to the door, looked through one of the cracks in 
its wood. Opposite to me, in the full flood of light 



104 AYES HA 

thrown by a hanging lamp, her hand resting on a table 
at which Simbri was seated, stood the Khania. Truly 
she was a beauteous sight, for she wore robes of royal 
purple, and on her brow a little coronet of gold, beneath 
which her curling hair streamed down her shapely neck 
and bosom. Seeing her I guessed at once that she had 
arrayed herself thus for some secret end, enhancing her 
loveliness by every art and grace that is known to woman. 
Simbri was looking at her earnestly, with fear and doubt 
written on even his cold, impassive features. 

" What passed between you, then ? " he asked, peering 
at her. 

" I questioned him closely as to the reason of his com 
ing to this land, and wrung from him the answer that it 
was to seek some beauteous woman he would say no 
more. I asked him if she were more beauteous than I 
am, and he replied with courtesy nothing else, I think 
that it would be hard to say, but that she had been differ 
ent. Then I said that though it behooved me not to speak 
of such a matter, there was no lady in Kaloon whom men 
held to be so fair as I; moreover, that I was its ruler, 
and that I and no other had saved him from the water. 
Aye, and I added that my heart told me I was the woman 
whom he sought/ 

" Have done, niece," said Simbri impatiently, " I would 
not hear of the arts you used well enough, doubtless. 
What then?" 

" Then he said that it might be so, since he thought 
that this woman was born again, and studied me a while, 
asking me if I had ever passed through fire/ To this I re 
plied that the only fires I had passed were those of the 
spirit, and that I dwelt in them now. He said, * Show me 
your hair/ and I placed a lock of it in his hand. Presently 
he let it fall, and from that satchel which he wears about 
his neck drew out another tress of hair oh ! Simbri, my 
uncle, the loveliest hair that ever eyes beheld, for it was 
soft as silk, and reached from my coronet to the ground. 



THE FIRST ORDEAL 

Moreover, no raven s wing in the sunshine ever shone as 
did that fragrant tress. 

" Yours is beautiful/ he said, but see, they are not 
the same/ 

" Mayhap/ I answered, since no woman ever wore 
such locks/ 

" You are right/ he replied, for she whom I seek was 
more than a woman. 

" And then and then though I tried him in many 
ways he would say no more, so, feeling hate against this 
Unknown rising in my heart, and fearing lest I should 
utter words that were best unsaid, I left him. Now I bid 
you, search the books which are open to your wisdom 
and tell me of this woman whom he seeks, who she is, and 
where she dwells. Oh! search them swiftly, that I may 
find her and kill her if I can." 

" Aye, if you can," answered the Shaman, " and if .she 
lives to kill. But say, where shall we begin our quest? 
Now, this letter from the Mountain that the head-priest 
Oros sent to your court a while ago ? " and he selected 
a parchment from a pile which lay upon the table and 
looked at her. 

" Read," she said, " I would hear it again." 

So he read : " From the Hesea of the House of Fire, 
to Atene, Khania of Kaloon. 

" MY SISTER Warning has reached me that two 
strangers of a western race journey to your land, seeking 
my Oracle, of which they would ask a question. On the 
first day of the next moon, I command that you and with 
you Simbri, your great-uncle, the wise Shaman, Guardian 
of the Gate, shall be watching the river in the gulf at the 
foot of the ancient road, for by that steep path the 
strangers travel. Aid them in all things and bring them 
safely to the Mountain, knowing that in this matter I 
shall hold him and you. to account. Myself I will not 
meet them, since to do so would be to break the pact be 
tween our powers, which says that the Hesea of the 



io6 AYES HA 

Sanctuary visits not the territory of Kaloon, save in war. 
Also their coming is otherwise appointed." 

" It would seem," said Simbri, laying down the parch 
ment, " that these are no chance wanderers, since Hes 
awaits them." 

" Aye, they are no chance wanderers, since my heart 
awaited one of them also. Yet the Hesea cannot be that 
woman, for reasons which are known to you." 

" There are many women on the Mountain," suggested 
the Shaman in a dry voice, " if indeed any woman has to 
do with this matter." 

" I at least have to do with it, and he shall not go to 
the Mountain." 

" Hes is powerful, my niece, and beneath these smooth 
words of hers lies a dreadful threat. I say that she is 
mighty from of old and has servants in the earth and air 
who warned her of the coming of these men, and will 
warn her of what befalls them. I know it, who hate 
her, and to your royal house of Rassen it has been known 
for many a generation. Therefore thwart her not lest ill 
befall us all, for she is a spirit and terrible. She says 
that it is appointed that they shall go " 

" And I say it is appointed that he shall not go. Let 
the other go if he desires." 

" Atene, be plain, what will you with the man called 
Leo that he should become your lover ? " asked the Sha 
man. 

She stared him straight in the eyes, and answered 
boldly 

" Nay, I will that he should become my husband." 

" First he must will it too, who seems to have no mind 
that way. Also, how can a woman have two husbands ? " 

She laid her hand upon his shoulder and said 

" I have no husband. You know it well, Simbri. I 
charge you by the close bond of blood between us, brew 
me another draught " 

" That we may be bound yet closer in a bond of mur- 



THE FIRST ORDEAL 107 

der ! Nay, Atene, I will not ; already your sin lies heavy 
on my head. You are very fair; take the man in your 
own net, if you may, or let him be, which is better far." 

" I cannot let him be. Would that I were able. I 
must love him as I must hate the other whom he loves, 
yet some power hardens his heart against me. Oh ! 
great Shaman, you that peep and mutter, you who can 
read the future and the past, tell me what you have 
learned from your stars and divinations." 

" Already I have sought through many a secret, toil 
some hour and learned this, Atene," he answered. " You 
are right, the fate of yonder man is intertwined with 
yours, but between you and him there rises a mighty wall 
that my vision cannot pierce nor my familiars climb. Yet 
I am taught that in death you and he aye, and I also, 
shall be very near together." 

" Then come death," she exclaimed with sullen pride, 
" for thence at least I ll pluck out my desire." 

" Be not so sure," he answered, " for I think that the 
Power follows us even down this dark gulf of death. I 
think also that I feel the sleepless eyes of Hes watching 
our secret souls." 

" Then blind them with the dust of illusions as you can. 
To-morrow, also, saying nothing of their sex, send a mes 
senger to the Mountain and tell the Hesea that two old 
strangers have arrived mark you, old but that they 
are very sick, that their limbs were broken in the river, 
and that when they have healed again, I will send them 
to ask the question of her Oracle that is, some three 
moons hence. Perchance she may believe you, and be con 
tent to wait ; or if she does not, at least no more words. I 
must sleep or my brain will burst. Give me that medi- 
cince which brings dreamless rest, for never did I need 
it more, who also feel eyes upon me," and she glanced 
towards the door. 

Then I left, and not too soon, for as I crept down the 
darksome passage, I heard it open behind me. 



CHAPTER VIII 

THE DEATH-HOUNDS 

IT may have been ten o clock on the following morning, 
or a little past it, when the Shaman Simbri came into my 
room and asked me how I had slept. 

" Like a log," I answered, " like a log. A drugged 
man could not have rested more soundly." 

" Indeed, friend Holly, and yet you look fatigued." 

" My dreams troubled me somewhat," I answered. " I 
suffer from such things. But surely by your face, 
friend Simbri, you cannot have slept at all, for never yet 
have I seen you with so weary an air." 

" I am weary," he said, with a sigh. " Last night I 
spent up on my business watching at the Gates." 

" What gates ? " I asked. " Those by which we entered 
this kingdom, for, if so, I would rather watch than travel 
them." 

" The Gates of the Past and of the Future. Yes, those 
by which you entered, if you will ; for did you not travel 
out of a wondrous Past towards a Future that you cannot 
guess?" 

" But both of which interest you," I suggested. 

"Perhaps," he answered, then added, "I come to tell 
you that within an hour you are to start for the city, 
whither the Khania has but now gone on to make ready 
for you." 

" Yes ; only you told me that she had gone some days 
ago. Well, I am sound again and prepared to march, but 
say, how is my foster-son ? " 

" He mends, he mends. But you shall see him for your- 

108 



THE DEATH-HOUNDS 109 

self. It is the Khania s will. Here come the slaves 
bearing your robes, and with them I leave you." 

So with their assistance I dressed myself, first in good, 
clean under-linen, then in wide woollen trousers and vest, 
and lastly in a fur-lined camel-hair robe dyed black that 
was very comf6rtable to wear, and in appearance not 
unlike a long overcoat. A flat cap of the same material 
and a pair of boots made of untanned hide completed my 
attire. 

Scarcely was I ready when the yellow-faced servants, 
with many bows, took me by the hand and led me down 
the passages and stairs of the Gate-house to its door. 
Here, to my great joy, I found Leo, looking pale and 
troubled, but otherwise as well as I could expect after his 
sickness. He was attired like myself, save that his gar 
ments were of a finer quality, and the overcoat was 
white, with a hood to it, added, I suppose, to protect the 
wound in his head from cold and the sun. This white dress 
I thought became him very well, also about it there was 
nothing grotesque or even remarkable. He sprang to me 
and seized my hand, asking how I fared and where I 
had been hidden away, a greeting of which, as I could 
see, the warmth was not lost upon Simbri, who stood by. 

I answered, well enough now that we were together 
again, and for the rest I would tell him later. 

Then they brought us palanquins, carried, each of them, 
by two ponies, one of which was harnessed ahead and the 
other behind between long shaft-like poles. In these we 
seated ourselves, and at a sign from Simbri slaves took 
the leading ponies by the bridle and we started, leaving be 
hind us that grim old Gate-house through which we were 
the first strangers to pass for many a generation. 

For a mile or more our road ran down a winding, 
rocky gorge, till suddenly it took a turn, and the country 
of Kaloon lay stretched before us. At our feet was a 
river, probably the same with which we had made ac 
quaintance in the gulf, where, fed by the mountain snows, 



no A YES HA 

it had its source. Here it flowed rapidly, but on the vast, 
alluvial lands beneath became a broad and gentle stream 
that wound its way through the limitless plains till it was 
lost in the blue of the distance. 

To the north, however, this smooth, monotonous ex 
panse was broken by that Mountain which had guided 
us from afar, the House of Fire. It was a great distance 
from us, more than a hundred miles, I should say, yet 
even so a most majestic sight in that clear air. Many 
leagues from the base of its peak the ground began to 
rise in brown and rugged hillocks, from which sprang the 
holy Mountain itself, a white and dazzling point that 
soared full twenty thousand feet into the heavens. 

Yes, and there upon the nether lip of its crater stood 
the gigantic pillar, surmounted by a yet more gigantic 
loop of virgin rock, whereof the blackness stood out 
grimly against the blue of the sky beyond and the blind 
ing snow beneath. 

We gazed at it with awe, as well we might, this beacon 
of our hopes that for aught we knew might also prove 
their monument, feeling even then that yonder our fate 
would declare itself. I noted further that all those with 
us did it reverence by bowing their heads as they caught 
sight of the peak, and by laying the first finger of the 
right hand across the first finger of the left, a gesture, as 
we afterwards discovered, designed to avert its evil in 
fluence. Yes, even Simbri bowed, a yielding to inherited 
superstition of which I should scarcely have suspected 
him. 

" Have you ever journeyed to that Mountain? " asked 
Leo of him. 

Simbri shook his head and answered evasively. 

" The people of the Plain do not set foot upon the 
Mountain. Among its slopes beyond the river which 
washes them, live hordes of brave and most savage men, 
with whom we are oftentimes at war ; for when they are 
hungry they raid our cattle and our crops. Moreover, 



THE DEATH-HOUNDS in 

there, when the Mountain labours, run red streams of 
molten rock, and now and again hot ashes fall that slay 
the traveller." 

" Do the ashes ever fall in your country? " asked Leo-. 

" They have been known to do so when the Spirit of 
the Mountain is angry, and that is why we fear her." 

" Who is this Spirit ? " said Leo eagerly. 

" I do not know, lord," he answered with impatience. 
" Can men see a spirit ? " 

" You look as though you might, and had, not so long 
ago," replied Leo, fixing his gaze on the old man s w r axen 
face and uneasy eyes. For now their horny calm was 
gone from the eyes of Simbri, which seemed as though 
they had beheld some sight that haunted him. 

" You do me too much honour, lord," he replied ; " my 
skill and vision do not reach so far. But see, here is the 
landing-stage, where boats await us, for the rest of our 
journey is by water." 

These boats proved to be roomy and comfortable, hav 
ing flat bows and sterns, since, although sometimes a sail 
was hoisted, they were designed for towing, not to be 
rowed with oars. Leo and I entered the largest of them, 
and to our joy were left alone except for the steersman. 

Behind us was another boat, in which were attendants 
and slaves, and some men who looked like soldiers, for 
they carried bows and swords. Now the ponies were 
taken from the palanquins, that were packed away, and 
ropes of green hide, fastened to iron rings in the prows 
of the boats, were fixed to the towing tackle with which 
the animals had been reharnessed. Then we started, the 
ponies, two arranged tandem fashion to each punt, trot 
ting along a well-made towing path that was furnished 
with wooden bridges wherever canals or tributary streams 
entered the main river. 

" Thank Heaven," said Leo, " we are together again 
at last ! Do you remember, Horace, that when we entered 
the land of Kor it was thus, in a boat ? The tale repeats 
itself." 



H2 AYES HA 

" I can quite believe it," I answered. " I can believe 
anything. Leo, I say that we are but gnats meshed in a 
web, and yonder Khania is the spider and Simbri the 
Shaman guards the net. But tell me all you remember of 
what has happened to you, and be quick, for I do not 
know how long they may leave us alone." 

" Well," he said, " of course I remember our arrival 
at that Gate after the lady and the old man had pulled us 
out of the river, and, Horace, talking of spiders reminds 
me of hanging at the end of that string of yak s hide. 
Not that I need much reminding, for I am not likely to 
forget it. Do you know I cut the rope because I felt that 
I was going mad, and wished to die sane. What happened 
to you ? Did you slip ? " 

" No; I jumped after you. It seemed best to end to 
gether, so that we might begin again together." 

" Brave old Horace ! " he said affectionately, the tears 
starting to his grey eyes. 

" Well, never mind all that," I broke in ; " you see you 
were right when you said that we should get through, and 
we have. Now for your tale." 

" It is interesting, but not very long," he answered/ 
colouring. " I went to sleep, and when I woke it was 
to find a beautiful woman leaning over me, and Horace 
at first I thought that it was you know who, and that 
she kissed me ; but perhaps it was all a dream." 

" It was no dream," I answered. " I saw it." 

" I am sorry to hear it very sorry. At any rate there 
was the beautiful woman the Khania for I saw her 
plenty of times afterwards, and talked to her in my best 
modern Greek by the way, Ayesha knew the old Greek; 
that s curious." 

" She knew several of the ancient tongues, and so did 
other people. Go on." 

. " Well, she nursed me very kindly, but, so far as I 
know, until last night there was nothing more affection 
ate, and I had sense enough to refuse to talk about our 



THE DEATH-HOUNDS 113 

somewhat eventful past. I pretended not to understand, 
said that we were explorers, etc., and kept asking her 
where you were, for I forgot to say I found that you had 
gone. I think that she grew rather angry with me, for 
she wanted to know something, and, as you can guess, I 
wanted to know a good deal. But I could get nothing 
out of her except that she was the Khania a person in 
authority. There was no doubt about that, for when one 
of those slaves or servants came in and interrupted her 
while she was trying to draw the facts out of me, she 
called to some of her people to throw him out of the 
window, and he only saved himself by going down the 
stairs very quickly. 

" Well, I could make nothing of her, and she could 
make little of me, though why she should be so tenderly 
interested in a stranger, I don t know unless, unless 
oh ! who is she, Horace ? " 

" If you will go on I will tell you what I think presently. 
One tale at a time." 

" Very good. I got quite well and strong, comparatively 
speaking, till the climax last night, which upset me again. 
After that old prophet, Simbri, had brought me my sup 
per, just as I was thinking of going to sleep, the Khania 
came in alone, dressed like a queen. I can tell you she 
looked really royal, like a princess in a fairy book, with a 
crown on, and her chestnut black hair flowing round her. 

" Well, Horace, then she began to make love to me 
in a refined sort of way, or so I thought, looked at me and 
sighed, saying that we had known each other in the past 
very well indeed I gathered and implying that she 
wished to continue our friendship. I fenced with her as 
best I could ; but a man feels fairly helpless lying on his 
back with a very handsome and very imperial-looking 
lady standing over him and paying him compliments. 

" The end of it was that, driven to it by her questions 
and to stop that sort of thing, I told her that I was look 
ing for my wife, whom I had lost, for, after all, Ayesha is 



/.i 4 A YES HA 

rny wife, Horace. She smiled and suggested that I need 
wot look far; in short, that the lost wife was already 
found in herself, who had come to save me from death 
m the river. Indeed, she spoke with such conviction that 
I grew sure that she was not merely amusing herself, 
2nd felt very much inclined to believe her, for, after all, 
Ayesha may be changed now. 

" Then while I was at my wits end I remembered the 
lock of hair all that remains to us of her" and Leo 
touched his breast. " I drew it out and compared it with 
the Khania s, and at the sight of it she became quite dif 
ferent, jealous, I suppose, for it is longer than hers, and 
not in the least like. 

" Horace, I tell you that the touch of that lock of hair 
for she did touch it appeared to act upon her "nature 
like nitric acid upon sham gold. It turned it black; all 
the bad in her came out. In her anger her voice sounded 
coarse; yes, she grew almost vulgar, and, as you know, 
when Ayesha was in a rage she might be wicked as we 
understand it, and was certainly terrible, but she was 
never either coarse or vulgar, any more than lightning is. 

" Well, from that moment I was sure that whoever this 
Khania may be, she had nothing to do with Ayesha ; they 
are so different that they never could have been the same 
like the hair. So I lay quiet and let her talk, and coax, 
and threaten on, until at length she drew herself up and 
marched from the room, and I heard her lock the door 
behind her. That s all I have to tell you, and quite enough 
too, for I don t think that the Khania has done with me, 
and, to say the truth, I am afraid of her." 

" Yes," I said, " quite enough. Now sit still, and don t 
start or talk loud, for that steersman is probably a spy, and 
I can feel old Simbri s eyes fixed upon our backs. Don t 
interrupt either, for our time alone may be short." 

Then I set to work and told him everything I knew, 
while he listened in blank astonishment. 

" Great Heavens ! what a tale," he exclaimed as I fin- 



THE DEATH-HOU&DS 115 

% 

ished. " Now, who is this Hesea who sent the letter 
from the Mountain ? And who, who is the Khania ? " 

" Who does your instinct tell you that she is, Leo ? " 

" Amenartas ? " he whispered doubtfully. " The woman 
who wrote the Sherd, whom Ayesha said was the Egyp 
tian princess my wife two thousand years ago ? Amen 
artas re-born ? " 

I nodded. "I think so. Why not? As I have told 
you again and again, I have always been certain of one 
thing, that if we were allowed to see the next act of the 
piece, we should find Amenartas, or rather the spirit of 
Amenartas, playing a leading part in it ; you will remember 
I wrote as much in that record. 

" If the old Buddhist monk Kou-en could remember 
his past, as thousands of them swear that they do, and be 
sure of his identity continued from that past, why should 
not this woman, with so much at stake, helped as she is 
by the wizardry of the Shaman, her uncle, faintly re 
member hers? 

" At any rate, Leo, why should she not still be suffi 
ciently under its influence to cause her, without any fault 
or seeking of her own, to fall madly in love at first sight 
with a man whom, after all, she has always loved ? " 

" The argument seems sound enough, Horace, and if so 
I am sorry for the Khania, who hasn t much choice in the 
matter been forced into it, so to speak." 

" Yes, but meanwhile your foot is in a trap again. 
Guard yourself, Leo, guard yourself. I believe that this is 
a trial sent to you, and doubtless there will be more to 
follow. But I believe also that it would be better for you 
to die than to make any mistake." 

" I know it well," he answered ; " and you need not 
be afraid. Whatever this Khania may have been to me 
in the past if she was anything at all that story is done 
with. I seek Ayesha, and Ayesha alone, and Venus her 
self shall not tempt me from her." 

Then we began to speak with hope and fear of that 



n6 AYES HA 

mysterious Hesea who had sent the letter from the Moun 
tain, commanding the Shaman Simbri to meet us : the 
priestess or spirit whom he declared was " mighty from of 
old " and had " servants in the earth and air." 

Presently the prow of our barge bumped against the 
bank of the river, and looking round I saw that Simbri 
had left the boat in which he sat and was preparing to 
enter ours. This he did, and, placing himself gravely on 
a seat in front of us, explained that nightfall was coming 
on, and he wished to give us his company and protection 
through the dark. 

" And to see that we do not give him the slip in it," 
muttered Leo. 

Then the drivers whipped up their ponies, and we went 
on again. 

" Look behind you," said Simbri presently, " and you 
will see the city where you will sleep to-night." 

We turned ourselves, and there, about ten miles away, 
perceived a flat-roofed town of considerable, though not 
of very great size. Its position was good, for it was set 
upon a large island that stood a hundred feet or more 
above the level of the plain, the river dividing into two 
branches at the foot of it, and, as we discovered after 
wards, uniting again beyond. 

The vast mound upon which this city was built had the 
appearance of being artificial, but very possibly the soil 
whereof it was formed had been washed up in past ages 
during times of flood, so that from a mudbank in the 
centre of the broad river it grew by degrees to its present 
proportions. With the exception of a columned and tow 
ered edifice that crowned the city and seemed to be en 
circled by gardens, we could see no great buildings in the 
place. 

" How is the city named ? " asked Leo of Simbri. 

" Kaloon," he answered, " as was all this land even when 
my fore-fathers, the conquerors, marched across the 
mountains and took it more than two thousand years ago. 



THE DEATH-HOUNDS 117 

They kept the ancient title, but the territory of the Moun 
tain they called Hes, because they said that the loop upon 
yonder peak was the symbol of a goddess of this name 
whom their general worshipped." 

" Priestesses still live there, do they not?" said Leo, 
trying in his turn to extract the truth. 

" Yes, and priests also. The College of them was es 
tablished by "the conquerors, who subdued all the land.. 
Or rather, it took the place of another College of those 
who fashioned the Sanctuary and the Temple, whose god 
was the fire in the Mountain, as it is that of the people of 
Kaloon to-day." 

" Then who is worshipped there now ? " 

" The goddess Hes, it is said ; but we know little of the 
matter, for between us and the Mountain folk there has 
been enmity for ages. They kill us and we kill them, for 
they are jealous of their shrine, which none may visit save 
by permission, to consult the Oracle and to make prayer 
or offering in times of calamity, when a Khan dies, or the 
waters of the river sink and the crops fail, or when ashes 
fall and earthquakes shake the land, or great sickness- 
comes. Otherwise, unless they attack us, we leave them 
alone, for though every man is trained to arms, and can 
fight if need be, we are a peaceful folk, who cultivate the 
soil from generation to generation, and thus grow rich. 
Look round you. Is it not a scene of peace ? " 

We stood up in the boat and gazed about us at the 
pastoral prospect. Everywhere appeared herds of cattle 
feeding upon meadow lands, or troops of mules and 
horses, or square fields sown with corn and outlined by 
trees. Village folk, also, clad in long, grey gowns, were 
labouring on the land, or, their day s toil finished, driving 
their beasts homewards along roads built upon the banks 
of the irrigation dykes, towards the hamlets that were 
placed on rising knolls amidst tall poplar groves. 

In its sharp contrast with the arid deserts and fearful 
mountains amongst which we had wandered for so many 



n8 A YES HA 

years, this country struck us as most charming, and in 
deed, seen by the red light of the sinking sun on that 
spring day, even as beautiful with the same kind of beauty 
which is to be found in Holland. One could understand 
too that these landowners and peasant-farmers would by 
choice be men of peace, and what a temptation their 
wealth must offer to the hungry, half-savage tribes of the 
mountains. 

Also it was easy to guess when the survivors of Alex 
ander s legions under their Egyptian general burst 
through the iron band of snow-clad hills and saw this 
sweet country, with its homes, its herds, and its ripening 
grain, that they must have cried with one voice, " We 
will march and fight and toil no more. Here we will sit 
us down to live and die." Thus doubtless they did, tak> 
ing them wives from among the women of the people of 
the land which they had conquered perhaps after a single 
battle. 

Now as the light faded the wreaths of smoke which 
hung over the distant Fire-mountain began to glow lur 
idly. Redder and more angry did they become while 
the darkness gathered, till at length they seemed to be 
charged with pulsing sheets of flame propelled from the 
womb of the volcano, which threw piercing beams of 
light through the eye of the giant loop that crowned its 
brow. Far, far fled those beams, making a bright path 
across the land, and striking the white crests of the bor 
dering wall of mountains. High in the air ran that path, 
over the dim roofs of the city of Kaloon, over the river, 
yes, straight above us, over the mountains, and doubtless 
though there we could not follow them across the des 
ert to that high eminence on its farther side where we had 
lain bathed in their radiance. It was a wondrous and most 
impressive sight, one too that filled our companions with 
fear, for the steersmen in our boats and the drivers on the 
towing-path groaned aloud and began to utter prayers. 

" What do they say ? " asked Leo of Simbri. 



THE DEATH-HOUNDS 119 

" They say, lord, that the Spirit of the Mountain is 
angry, and passes down yonder flying light that is called 
the Road of Hes to work some evil to our land. There 
fore they pray her not to destroy them." 

" Then does that light not always shine thus ? " he 
asked again. 

" Nay, but seldom. Once about three months ago, and 
now to-night, but before that not for years. Let us pray 
that it portends no misfortune to Kaloon and its inhab 
itants." 

For some minutes this fearsome illumination continued, 
then it ceased as suddenly as it had begun, and there re 
mained of it only the dull glow above the crest of the 
peak. 

Presently the moon rose, a white, shining ball, and by 
its rays we perceived that we drew near to the city. But 
there was still something left for us to see before we 
reached its shelter. While we sat quietly in the boat 
for the silence was broken only by the lapping of the 
still waters against its sides and the occasional splash of 
the slackened tow-line upon their surface we heard a 
distant sound as of a hunt in full cry. 

Nearer and nearer it came, its volume swelling every 
moment, till it was quite close at last. Now echoing from 
the trodden earth of the towing-path not that on which 
our ponies travelled, but the other on the west bank of the 
river was heard the beat of the hoofs of a horse gallop 
ing furiously. Presently it appeared, a fine, white animal, 
on the back of which sat a man. It passed us like a flash, 
but as he went by the man lifted himself and turned his 
head, so that we saw his face in the moonlight ; saw also 
the agony of fear that was written on it and in his eyes. 

He had come out of the darkness. He was gone into 
the darkness, but after him swelled that awful music. 
Look ! a dog appeared, a huge, red dog, that dropped its 
foaming muzzle to the ground as it galloped, then lifted 
it and uttered a deep-throated, bell-like bay. Others fol- 



120 AYESHA 

lowed, and yet others : in all there must have been a hun 
dred of them, every one baying as it took the scent. 

" The death-hounds!" I muttered, clasping Leo by the 
arm. , 

" Yes," he answered, " they are running that poor devil. 
Here comes the huntsman." 

As he spoke there appeared a second figure, splendidly 
mounted, a cloak streaming from his shoulders, and in 
his hand a long whip, which he waved. He was big but 
loosely jointed, and as he passed he turned his face also, 
and we saw that it was that of a madman. There could 
be no doubt of it ; insanity blazed in those hollow eyes and 
rang in that savage, screeching laugh. 

" The Khan ! The Khan ! " said Simbri, bowing, and I 
could see that he was afraid. 

Now he too was gone, and after him came his guards. I 
counted eight of them, all carrying whips, with which 
they flogged their horses. 

" What does this mean, friend Simbri ? " I asked, as 
the sounds grew faint in the distance. 

" It means, friend Holly," he answered, " that the Khan 
does justice in his own fashion hunting to death one 
that has angered him." 

" What then is his crime ? And who is that poor man ? " 

" He is a great lord of this land, one of the royal kins 
men, and the crime for which he has been condemned is 
that he told the Khania he loved her, and offered to make 
war upon her husband and kill him, if she would promise 
herself to him in marriage. But she hated the man, as 
she hates all men, and brought the matter before the 
Khan. That is all the story." 

" Happy is that prince who has so virtuous a wife ! " I 
could not help saying unctuously, but with meaning, and 
the old wretch of a Shaman turned his head at my words 
and began to stroke his white beard. 

It was but a little while afterwards that once more we 
heard the baying of the death-hounds. Yes, they were 



THE DEATH-HOUNDS 121 

heading straight for us, this time across country. Again 
the white horse and its rider appeared, utterly exhausted, 
both of them, for the poor beast could scarcely struggle 
on to the towing-path. As it gained it a great red hound 
with a black ear gripped its flank, and at the touch of the 
fangs it screamed aloud in terror as only a horse can. The 
rider sprang from its back, and, to our horror, ran to the 
river s edge, thinking evidently to take refuge in our boat. 
But before ever he reached the water the devilish brutes 
were upon him. 

What followed I will not describe, but never shall I for 
get the scene of those two heaps of worrying wolves, and 
of the maniac Khan, who yelled in his fiendish joy, and 
cheered on his death-hounds to finish their red work. 



CHAPTER IX 

THE COURT OF KALOON 

HORRIFIED, sick at heart, we continued our journey. No 
wonder that the Khania hated such a mad despot. And 
this woman was in love with Leo, and this lunatic Khan, 
her husband, was a victim to jealousy, which he avenged 
after the very unpleasant fashion that we had witnessed. 
Truly an agreeable prospect for all of us ! Yet, I could 
not help reflecting, as an object lesson that horrid scene 
had its advantages. 

Now we reached the place where the river forked at 
the end of the island, and disembarked upon a quay. 
Here a guard of men commanded by some Household 
officer, was waiting to receive us. They led us through a 
gate in the high wall, for the town was fortified, up a 
narrow, stone-paved street which ran between houses ap 
parently of the usual Central Asian type, and, so far as I 
could judge by moonlight, with no pretensions to archi 
tectural beauty, and not large in size. 

Clearly our arrival was expected and excited interest, 
for people were gathered in knots about the street to watch 
us pass ; also at the windows of the houses and even on 
their flat roofs. At the top of the long street was a sort 
of market place, crossing which, accompanied by a curious 
crowd who made remarks about us that we could not 
understand, we reached a gate in an inner wall. Here 
we were challenged, but at a word from Simbri it opened, 
and we passed through to find ourselves in gardens. Fol 
lowing a road or drive, we came to a large, rambling 
house or palace, surmounted by high towers and very 
solidly built of stone in a heavy, bastard Egyptian style. 



122 



THE COURT OF KALOON 123 

Beyond its doorway we found ourselves in a courtyard 
surrounded by a kind of verandah from which short pas 
sages led to different rooms. Down one of these passages 
we were conducted by the officer to an apartment, or 
rather a suite, consisting of a sitting and two bed-cham 
bers, which were panelled, richly furnished in rather bar 
baric fashion, and well-lighted with primitive oil lamps. 

Here Simbri left us, saying that the officer would wait 
in the outer room to conduct us to the dining-hall as soon 
as we were ready. Then we entered the bed-chambers, 
where we found servants, or slaves, quiet-mannered, obse 
quious men. These valets changed our foot-gear, and 
taking off our heavy travelling robes, replaced them with 
others fashioned like civilized frock-coats, but made of 
some white material and trimmed with a beautiful ermine 
fur. 

Having dressed us in these they bowed to show that 
our toilette was finished, and led us to the large outer 
room where the officer awaited us. He conducted us 
through several other rooms, all of them spacious and 
apparently unoccupied, to a great hall lit with many lamps 
and warmed for the nights were still cold with large 
peat fires. The roof of this hall was flat and supported by 
thick, stone columns with carved capitals, and its walls 
were hung with worked tapestries, that gave it an air of 
considerable comfort. 

At the head of the hall on a dais stood a long, narrow 
table, spread with a cloth ad set with platters and cups 
of silver. Here we waited till butlers with wands ap 
peared through some curtains which they drew. Then 
came a man beating a silver gong, and after him a dozen 
or more courtiers, all dressed in white robes like our 
selves, followed by perhaps as many ladies, some of them 
young and good-looking, and for the most part of a fair 
type, with well-cut features, though others were rather 
yellow-skinned. They bowed to us and we to them. 

Then there was a pause while we studied one another. 



I2 4 A YES HA 

till a trumpet blew and heralded by footmen in a kind of 
yellow livery, two figures were seen advancing down the 
passage beyond the curtains, preceded by the Shaman 
Simbri and followed by other officers. They were the 
Khan and the Khania of Kaloon. 

No one looking at this Khan as he entered his dining- 
hall clad in festal white attire would have imagined him to 
be the same raving human brute whom we had just seen 
urging on his devilish hounds to tear a fellow-creature 
and a helpless horse to fragments and devour them. Now 
he seemed a heavy, loutish man, very strongly built and 
not ill-looking, but with shifty eyes, evidently a person of 
dulled intellect, whom one would have thought incapable 
of keen emotions of any kind. The Khania need not be 
described. She was as she had been in the chambers of 
the Gate, only more weary looking; indeed her eyes had 
a haunted air and it was easy to see that the events of 
the previous night had left their mark upon her mind. 
At the sight of us she flushed a little, then beckoned to us 
to advance, and said to her husband 

" My lord, these are the strangers of whom I have told 
you." 

His dull eyes fell upon me first, and my appearance 
seemed to amuse him vaguely, at any rate he laughed 
rudely, saying in barbarous Greek mixed with words from 
the local patois 

" What a curious old animal ! I have never seen you 
before, have I ? " 

" No, great Khan," I answered, " but I have seen you 
out hunting this night. Did you have good sport ? " 

Instantly he became wide awake, and answered, rub 
bing his hands 

" Excellent. He gave us a fine run, but my little dogs 

caught him at last, and then " and he snapped his 

powerful jaws together. 

" Cease your brutal talk," broke in his wife fiercely, 
and he slunk away from her and in so doing stumbled 
against Leo, who was waiting to be presented to him. 



THE COURT OF KALOON 125 

The sight of this great, golden-bearded man seemed to 
astonish him, for he stared at him, then asked 

" Are you the Khania s other friend whom she went to 
see in the mountains of the Gate ? Then I could not un 
derstand why she took so much trouble, but now I do. 
Well, be careful, or I shall have to hunt you also." 

Now Leo grew angry and was about to reply, but I 
laid my hand upon his arm and said in English 

" Don t answer ; the man is mad." 

" Bad, you mean," grumbled Leo ; " and if he tries to set 
his cursed dogs on me, I will break his neck." 

Then the Khania motioned to Leo to take a seat be 
side her, placing me upon her other hand, between her 
self and her uncle, the Guardian, while the Khan shuffled 
to a chair a little way down the table, where he called two 
of the prettiest ladies to keep him company. 

Such was our introduction to the court of Kaloon. As 
for the meal that followed, it was very plentiful, but 
coarse, consisting for the most part of fish, mutton, and 
sweetmeats, all of them presented upon huge silver plat 
ters. Also much strong drink was served, a kind of spirit 
distilled from grain, of which nearly all present drank 
more than was good for them. After a few words to 
me about our journey, the Khania turned to Leo and 
talked to him for the rest of the evening, while I devoted 
myself to the old Shaman Simbri. 

Put briefly, the substance of what I learned from him 
then and afterwards was as follows 

Trade was unknown to the people of Kaloon, for the 
reason that all communication with the south had been 
cut off for ages, the bridges that once existed over the 
chasm having been allowed to rot away. Their land, 
which was very large and densely inhabited, was ringed 
round with unclimbable mountains, except to the north, 
where stood the great Fire-peak. The slopes of this Peak 
and an unvisited expanse of country behind that ran up 
to the confines of a desert, were the home of ferocious 



126 A YES HA 

mountain tribes, untamable Highlanders, who killed every 
stranger they caught. Consequently, although the pre 
cious and other metals were mined to a certain extent 
and manufactured into articles of use and ornament, 
money did not exist among the peoples either of the Plain 
or of the Mountain, all business being transacted on the 
principle of barter, and even the revenue collected in kind. 

Amongst the tens of thousands of the aborigines of 
Kaloon dwelt a mere handful of a ruling class, who were 
said to be and probably were descended from the con 
querors that appeared in the time of Alexander., Their 
blood, however, was now much mixed with that of the first 
inhabitants, who, to judge from their appearance and 
the yellow hue of their descendants must have belonged 
to some branch of the great Tartar race. The govern 
ment, if so it could be called, was, on the whole, of a mild 
though of a very despotic nature, and vested in. an heredi 
tary Khan or Khania, according as a man or a woman 
might be in the most direct descent. 

Of religions there were two, that of the people, who 
worshipped the Spirit of the Fire Mountain, and that of 
the rulers, who believed in magic, ghosts and divinations. 
Even this shadow of a religion, if so it can be called, was 
dying out, like its followers, for generation by genera 
tion, the white lords grew less in number or became ab 
sorbed in the bulk of the people. 

Still their rule was tolerated. I asked Simbri why, 
seeing that they were so few. He shrugged his shoulders 
and answered, because it suited the country of which the 
natives had no ambition. Moreover, the present Khania, 
our hostess, was the last of the direct line of rulers, her 
husband and cousin having less of the blood royal in his 
veins, and as such the people were attached to her. 

Also, as is commonly the case with bold and beautiful 
women, she was popular among them, especially as she 
was just and very liberal to the poor. These were many, 
as the country was over-populated, which accounted for 



THE COURT OF KALOON 127 

its wonderful state of cultivation. Lastly they trusted to 
her skill and courage to defend them from the continual 
attacks of the Mountain tribes who raided their crops and 
herds. Their one grievance against her was that she had 
no child to whom the khanship could descend, which 
meant that after her death, as had happened after that of 
her father, there would be struggles for the succession. 

" Indeed/ added Simbri, with meaning, and glancing 
at Leo, out of the corners of his eyes, " the folk say openly 
that it would be a good thing if the Khan, who oppresses 
them and whom they hate, should die, so that the Khania 
might take another husband while she is still young. Al 
though he is mad, he know r s this, and that is why he is so 
jealous of any lord who looks at her, as, friend Holly you 
saw to-night. > For should such an one gain her favour, 
Rassen thinks that it would mean his death." 

" Also he may be attached to his wife," I suggested, 
speaking in a whisper. 

" Perhaps so," answered Simbri ; " but if so, she loves 
not him, nor any of these men," and he glanced round the 
hall. 

Certainly they did not look lovable, for by this time 
most of them were half drunk, while even the w r omen 
seemed to have taken as much as was good for them. 
The Khan himself presented a sorry spectacle, for he was 
leaning back in his chair, shouting something about his 
hunting, in a thick voice. The arm of one of his pretty 
companions was round his neck, while the other gave him 
to drink from a gold cup ; some of the contents of which 
had been spilt down his white robe. 

Just then Atene looked round and saw him and an ex 
pression of hatred and contempt gathered on her beautiful 
face. 

" See," I heard her say to Leo, " see the companion of 
my days, and learn w r hat it is to be Khania of Kaloon." 

" Then why do you not cleanse your court? " he asked. 

" Because, lord, if I did so there would be no court left. 



128 A YES HA 

Swine will to their mire and these men and women, who 
live in idleness upon the toil of the humble folk, will to 
their liquor and vile luxury. Well, the end is near, for it 
is killing them, and their children are but few ; weakly also, 
for the ancient blood grows thin and stale. But you are 
weary and would rest. To-morrow we will ride together," 
and calling to an officer, she bade him conduct us to our 
rooms. 

So we rose, and, accompanied by Simbri, bowed to her 
and went, she standing and gazing after us, a royal and 
pathetic figure in the midst of all that dissolute revelry. 
The Khan rose also, and in his cunning fashion under 
stood something of the meaning of it all. 

" You think us gay," he shouted ; " and why should we 
not be who do not know how long we have to live ? But 
you yellow-haired fellow, you must not let Atene look at 
you like that. I tell you she is my wife, and if you do, I 
shall certainly have to hunt you." 

At this drunken sally the courtiers roared with laughter, 
but taking Leo by the arm Simbri hurried him from the 
hall. 

" Friend ? " said Leo, when we were outside, " it seems 
to me that this Khan of yours threatens my life." 

" Have no fear, lord," answered the Guardian ; 
" so long as the Khania does not threaten it you are 
safe. She is the real ruler of this land, and I stand next 
to her." 

" Then I pray you," said Leo, " keep me out of the 
way of that drunken man, for, look you, if I am attacked 
I defend myself." 

" And who can blame you ? " Simbri replied with one of 
his slow, mysterious smiles. 

Then we parted, and having placed both our beds in 
one chamber, slept soundly enough, for we were very 
tired, till we were awakened in the morning by the baying 
of those horrible death-hounds, being fed, I suppose, in 
a place near by. 



THE COURT OF KALOON 129 

Now in this city of Kaloon it was our weary destiny 
to dwell for three long months, one of the most hateful 
Jimes, perhaps, that we ever passed in all our lives. In 
deed, compared to it our endless wanderings amid the 
Central Asia snows and deserts were but pleasure pil 
grimages, and our stay at the monastery beyond the 
mountains a sojourn in Paradise. To set out its record in 
full would be both tedious and useless, so I will only tell 
briefly of our principal adventures. 

On the morrow of our arrival the Khania Atene sent 
us two beautiful white horses of pure and ancient blood, 
and at noon we mounted them and went out to ride with 
her accompanied by a guard of soldiers. First she led 
us to the kennels where the death-hounds were kept, great 
flagged courts surrounded by iron bars, in which were 
narrow, locked gates. Never had I seen brutes so large 
and fierce; the mastiffs of Thibet were but as lap-dogs 
compared to them. They were red and black, smooth- 
coated and with a blood-hound head, and the moment 
they saw us they came ravening and leaping at the bars 
as an angry wave leaps against a rock. 

These hounds were in the charge of men of certain fami 
lies, who had tended them for generations. They obeyed 
their keepers and the Khan readily enough, but no stranger 
might venture near them. Also these brutes were the 
executioners of the land, for to them all murderers and 
other criminals were thrown, and with them, as we had 
seen, the Khan hunted any who had incurred his dis 
pleasure. Moreover, they were used for a more innocent 
purpose, the chasing of certain great bucks which were 
preserved in woods and swamps of reeds. Thus it came 
about that they were a terror to the country, since no man 
knew but what in the end he might be devoured by them. 
"Going to the dogs" is a term full of meaning in any- 
land, but in Kaloon it had a significance that was terrible. 

After we had looked at the hounds, not without a 
prophetic shudder, we rode round the walls of the town, 



130 AYES HA 

which were laid out as a kind of boulevard, where the 
inhabitants walked and took their pleasure in the even 
ings. On these, however, there was not much to see ex 
cept the river beneath and the plain beyond, moreover, 
though they were thick and high there were places in 
them that must be passed carefully, for, like everything 
else with which the effete ruling class had to do, they had 
been allowed to fall into disrepair. 

The town itself was an uninteresting place also, for the 
most part peopled by hangers-on of the Court. So we 
were not sorry when we crossed the river by a high- 
pitched bridge, where in days to come I was destined 
to behold one of the strangest sights ever seen my mortal 
man, and rode out into the country. Here all was differ 
ent, for we found ourselves among the husbandmen, who 
were the descendants of the original owners of the land 
and lived upon its produce. Every available inch of soil 
seemed to be cultivated by the aid of a wonderful system 
of irrigation. Indeed water was lifted to levels where it 
would not flow naturally, by means of wheels turned with 
mules, or even in some places carried up by the women, 
who bore poles on their shoulders to which were balanced 
buckets. 

Leo asked the Khania what happened if there was a bad 
season. She replied grimly that famine happened, in 
which thousands of people perished, and that after the 
famine came pestilence. These famines were periodical, 
and were it not for them, she added, the people would 
long ago have been driven to kill each other like hungry 
rats, since having no outlet and increasing so rapidly, the 
land, large as it w r as, could not hold them all. 

" Will this be a good year? " I asked. 

" It is feared not," she answered, " for the river has 
not risen well and but few rains have fallen. Also the 
light that shone last night on the Fire-mountain is thought 
a bad omen, which means, they say, that the Spirit of the 
Mountain is angry and that drought will follow. Let us 



THE COURT OF KALOON 131 

hope they will not say also that this is because strangers 
have visited the land, bringing with them bad luck." 

" If so/ said Leo with a laugh, " we shall have to fly f 
to the Mountain to take refuge there." 

" Do you then wish to take refuge in death ? " she 
asked darkly. " Of this be sure, my guests, that never 
while I live shall you be allowed to cross the river which 
borders the slopes of yonder peak." 

"Why not, Khania?" 

" Because, my lord Leo that is your name, is it not ? 
such is my will, and while I rule here my will is law. 
Come, let us turn homewards." 

That night we did not eat in the great hall, but in the 
room which adjoined our bed-chambers. We were not 
left alone, however, for the Khania and her uncle, the 
Shaman, who always attended her, joined our meal. 
When we greeted them wondering, she said briefly that it 
was arranged thus because she refused to expose us to 
more insults. She added that a festival had begun which 
would last for a week, and that she did not wish us to see 
how vile were the ways of her people. 

That evening and many others which followed it we 
never dined in the central hall again passed pleasantly 
enough, for the Khania made Leo tell her of England 
where he was born, and of the lands that he had visited, 
their peoples and customs. I spoke also of the history of 
Alexander, whose general Rassen, her far-off forefather, 
conquered the country of Kaloon, and of the land of 
Egypt, whence the latter came, and so it went on till mid 
night, while Atene listened to us greedily, her eyes fixed 
always on Leo s face. 

Many such nights did we spend thus in the palace of 
the city of Kaloon where, in fact, we were close prisoners. 
But oh ! the days hung heavy on our hands. If we went 
into the courtyard or reception rooms of the palace, the 
lords and their followers gathered round us and pestered 



132 A YES HA 

us with questions, for, being very idle, they were also 
very curious. 

Also the women, some of whom were fair enough, be 
gan to talk to us on this pretext or on that, and did their 
best to make love to Leo ; for, in contrast with their slim, 
delicate-looking men, they found this deep-chested, yel 
low-haired stranger to their taste. Indeed they troubled 
him much with gifts of flowers and messages sent by 
servants or soldiers, making assignations with him, which 
of course he did not keep. 

If we went out into the streets, matters were as bad, for 
then the people ceased from their business, such as it was, 
and followed us about, staring at us till we took refuge 
again in the palace gardens. 

There remained, therefore, only our rides in the coun 
try with the Khania, but after three or four of them, these 
came to an end owing to the jealousy of the Khan, who 
vowed that if we went out together any more he would 
follow with the death-hounds. So we must ride alone, if 
at all, in the centre of a large guard of soldiers sent to 
see that we did not attempt to escape, and accompanied 
very often by a mob of peasants, who with threats and 
entreaties demanded that we should give back the rain 
which they said we had taken from them. For now the 
great drought had begun in earnest. 

Thus it came about that at length our only resource 
was making pretence to fish in the river, where the water 
was so clear and low that we could catch nothing, watch 
ing the while the Fire-mountain, that loomed in the dis 
tance mysterious and unreachable, and vainly racking our 
brains for plans to escape thither, or at least to communi 
cate with its priestess, of whom we could learn no more. 

For two great burdens lay upon our souls. The burden 
of desire to continue our search and to meet with its re 
ward which we were sure that we should pluck amid the 
snows of yonder peak, if we could but come there ; and 
the burden of approaching catastrophe at the hands of the 



THE COURT OF. KALOON 133 

Khania Atene. She had made no love to Leo since that 
night in the Gateway, and, indeed, even if she had wished 
to, this would have been difficult, since I took care that he 
was never left for one hour alone. No duenna could have 
clung to a Spanish princess more closely than I did to Leo. 
Yet I could see well that her passion was no whit 
abated ; that it grew day by day, indeed, as the fire swells 
in the heart of a volcano, and that soon it must break loose 
and spread its ruin round. The omen of it was to be read 
in her words, her gestures, and her tragic eyes. 



CHAPTER X 

IN THE SHAMAN S CHAMBER 

ONE night Simbri asked us to dine with him in his own 
apartments in the highest tower of the palace had we 
but known it, for us a fateful place indeed, for here the 
last act of the mighty drama was destined to be fulfilled. 
So we went, glad enough of any change. When we had 
eaten Leo grew very thoughtful, then said suddenly 

" Friend Simbri, I wish to ask a favour of you that 
you will beg the Khania to let us go our ways." 

Instantly the Shaman s cunning old face became like a 
mask of ivory. 

" Surely you had better ask your favours of the lady 
herself, lord ; I do not think that any in reason will be re 
fused to you," he replied. 

" Let us stop fencing," said Leo, " and consider the 
facts. It has seemed to me that the Khania Atene is not 
happy with her husband." 

" Your eyes are very keen, lord, and who shall say that 
they have deceived you ? " 

" It has seemed, further," went on Leo, reddening, 
" that she has been so good as to look on me with some 
undeserved regard." 

" Ah ! perhaps you guessed that in the Gate-house yon 
der, if you have not forgotten what most men would re 
member." 

" I remember certain things, Simbri, that have to do 
with her and you." 

The Shaman only stroked his beard and said : " Pro 
ceed!" 

134 



IN THE SHAMAN S CHAMBER 135 

" There is little to add, Simbri, except that I am not 
minded to bring scandal on the name of the first lady in 
your land." 

" Nobly said, lord, nobly said, though here they do not 
trouble much about such things. But how if the matter 
could be managed without scandal ? If, for instance, the 
Khania chose to take another husband the whole land 
would rejoice, for she is the last of her royal race." 

" How can she take another husband when she has one 
living ? " 

" True ; indeed that is a question which I have con 
sidered, but the answer to it is that men die. It is the 
common lot, and the Khan has been drinking very heavily 
of late." 

" You mean that men can be murdered," said Leo 
angrily. " Well, I will have nothing to do with such a 
crime. Do you understand me ? " 

As the words passed his lips I heard a rustle and turned 
my head. Behind us were curtains beyond which the 
Shaman slept, kept his instruments of divination and 
worked out his horoscopes. Now they had been drawn, 
and between them, in her royal array, stood the Khania 
still as a statue. 

" Who was it that spoke of crime ? " she asked in a 
cold voice. " Was it you, my lord Leo ? " 

Rising from his chair, he faced her and said 

" Lady, I am glad that you have heard my words, even 
if they should vex you." 

" Why should it vex me to learn that there is one honest 
man in this court who will have naught to do with mur 
der? Nay, I honour you for those words. Know also 
that no such foul thoughts have come near to me. Yet, 
Leo Vincey, that which is written is written." 

" Doubtless, Khania ; but what is written? " 
Tell him, Shaman." 

Now Simbri passed behind the curtain and returned 
thence with a roll from which he read : " The heavens 



136 AYES HA 

have declared by their signs infallible that before the next 
new moon, the Khan Rassen will lie dead at the hands of 
the stranger lord who came to this country from across 
the mountains." 

" Then the heavens have declared a lie," said Leo con 
temptuously. 

" That is as you will," answered Atene ; " but so it 
must befall, not by my hand or those of my servants, but 
by yours. And then ? " 

" Why by mine ? Why not by Holly s ? Yet, if so, then 
doubtless I shall suffer the punishment of my crime at the 
hands of his mourning widow," he replied exasperated. 

" You are pleased to mock me, Leo Vincey, well know 
ing what a husband this man is to me." 

Now I felt that the crisis had come, and so did Leo, 
for he looked her in the face and said 

" Speak on, lady, say all you wish ; perhaps it will be 
better for us both." 

" I obey you, lord. Of the beginning of this fate I 
know nothing, but I read from the first page that is open 
to me. It has to do with this present life of mine. Learn, 
Leo Vincey, that from my childhood onwards you have 
haunted me. Oh ! when first I saw you yonder by the 
river, your face was not strange to me, for I knew it I 
knew it well in dreams. When I was a little maid and 
slept one day amidst the flowers by the river s brim, it 
came first to me ask my uncle here if this be not so, 
though it is true that your face was younger then. After 
wards again and again I saw it in my sleep and learned 
to know that you were mine, for the magic of my heart 
taught me this. 

" Then passed the long years while I felt that you were 
drawing near to me, slowly, very slowly, but ever draw 
ing nearer, wending onward and outward through the 
peoples of the world; across the hills, across the plains, 
across the sands, across the snows, on to my side. At 
length came the end, for one night not three moons ago, 



IN THE SHAMAN S CHAMBER 137 

whilst this wise man, my uncle, and I sat together here 
studying the lore that he has taught me and striving to 
wring its secrets from the past, a vision came to me. 

" Look you, I was lost in a charmed sleep which looses 
the spirit from the body and gives it strength to stray afar 
and to see those things that have been and that are yet to 
be. Then I saw you and your companion clinging to a 
point of broken ice, over the river of the gulf. I do not 
lie ; it is written here upon the scroll. Yes, it was you, the 
man of my dreams, and no other, and we knew the place 
and hurried thither and waited by the water, thinking 
that perhaps beneath it you lay dead. 

" Then, w r hile we waited, lo ! two tiny figures appeared 
far above upon the icy tongue that no man may climb, and 
oh! you know the rest. Spellbound we stood and saw 
you slip and hang, saw you sever the thin cord and rush 
downwards, yes and, saw that brave man, Holly, leap 
headlong after you. 

" But mine was the hand that drew you from the tor 
rent, where otherwise you must have drowned, you the 
love of the long past and of to-day, aye, and of all time. 
Yes, you and no other, Leo Vincey. It was this spirit that 
foresaw your danger and this hand v/hich delivered you 
from death, and and would you refuse them now when 
I, the Khania of Kaloon, proffer them to you ? " 

So she spoke, and leaned upon the table, looking up 
into his face with lips that trembled and with appealing 
eyes. 

" Lady," said Leo, " you saved me, and again I thank 
you, though perhaps it would have been better if you had 
let me drown. But, forgive me the question, if all this 
tale be true, why did you marry another man ? " 

Now she shrank back as though a knife had pricked her. 

" Oh ! blame me not," she moaned, " it was but policy 
which bound me to this madman, whom I ever loathed. 
They urged me to it; yes, even you, Simbri, my uncle, 
and for that deed accursed be your head urged me, say- 



138 AYESHA 

ing that it was necessary to end the war between Rassen s 
faction and my own. That I was the last of the true race, 
moreover, which must be carried on ; saying also that my 
dreams and my rememberings were but sick phantasies. 
So, alas! alas! I yielded, thinking to make my people 
great." 

" And yourself, the greatest of them, if all I hear is 
true," commented Leo bluntly, for he was determined to 
end this thing. " Well, I do not blame you, Khania, al 
though now you tell me that I must cut a knot you tied 
by taking the life of this husband of your own choice, for 
so forsooth it is decreed by fate, that fate which you have 
shaped. Yes, I must do what you will not do, and kill 
him. Also your tale of the decree of the heavens and of 
that vision which led you to the precipice to save us is 
false. Lady, you met me by the river because the 
mighty Hesea, the Spirit of the Mountain, so com 
manded you." 

" How know you that ? " Atene said, springing up and 
facing him, while the jaw of old Simbri dropped and the 
eyelids blinked over his glazed eyes. 

" In the same way that I know much else. Lady, it 
would have been better if you had spoken all the truth." 

Now Atene s face went ashen and her cheeks sank in. 

" Who told you ? " she whispered. " Was it you, Ma 
gician ? " and she turned upon her uncle like a snake 
about to strike. " Oh ! if so, be sure that I shall learn it, 
and though we are of one blood and have loved each 
other, I will pay you back in agony." 

" Atene, Atene," Simbri broke in, holding up his claw- 
like hands, " you know well it was not I." 

" Then it was you, you ape-faced wanderer, you mes 
senger of the evil gods ? Oh ! why did I not kill you at-.tlw ( 
first? Well, that fault can be remedied." 

" Lady," I said blandly, " am I also a magician? " 

" Aye," she answered, " I think that you are, and that 
you have a mistress who dwells in fire." 



IN THE SHAMAN S CHAMBER 139 

" Then, Khania," I said, " such servants and such mis 
tresses are ill to meddle with. Say, what answer has the 
Hesea sent to your report of our coming to this land ? " 

" Listen," broke in Leo before she could reply. "I go } 
to ask a certain question of the Oracle on yonder moun- \ 
tain peak. With your will or without it I tell you that I 
go, and afterwards you can settle which is the stronger 
the Khania of Kaloon or the Hesea of the House of Fire." 

Atene listened and for a while stood silent, perhaps be 
cause she had no answer. Then she said with a little 
laugh 

" Is that your will ? Well, I think that yonder are none 
whom you would wish to wed. There is fire and to spare, 
but no lovely, shameless spirit haunts it to drive men mad 
with evil longings ; " and as though at some secret 
thought, a spasm of pain crossed her face and caught her 
breath. Then she went on in the same cold voice 

" Wanderers, this land has its secrets, into which no 
foreigner must pry. I say to you yet again that while I 
live you set no foot upon that Mountain. Know also, 
Leo Vincey, I have bared my heart to you, and I have 
been told in answer that this long quest of yours is not 
for me, as I was sure in my folly, but, as I think, for some 
demon wearing the shape of woman, whom you will never 
find. Now I make no prayer to you ; it is not fitting, but 
you have learned too much. 

" Therefore, consider well to-night and before next sun 
down answer. Having offered, I do not go back, and to 
morrow you shall tell me whether you will take me when 
the time comes, as come it must, and rule this land and be 
great and happy in my love, or whether, you and your 
familiar together, you will die. Choose then between the 
vengeance of Atene and her love, since I am not minded 
to be mocked in my own land as a wanton who sought a 
stranger and was refused." 

Slowly, slowly, in an intense whisper she spoke the 
words, that fell one by one from her lips like drops of 



1 40 AYESHA 

blood from a death wound, and there followed silence. 
Never shall I forget the scene. There the old wizard 
watched us through his horny eyes, that, blinked like those 
of some night bird. There stood the imperial woman in 
her royal robes, with icy rage written on her face and ven 
geance in her glance. There, facing her, was the great 
form of Leo, quiet, alert, determined, holding back his 
doubts and fears with the iron hand of will. And there 
to the right was I, noting all things and wondering how 
long I, " the familiar," who had earned Atene s hate, 
would be left alive upon the earth. 

Thus we stood, watching each other, till suddenly I 
noted that the flame of the lamp above us flickered and 
felt a draught strike upon my face. Then I looked round, 
and became aware of another presence. For yonder m 
the shadow showed the tall form of a man. See ! it 
shambled forward silently, and I saw that its feet were 
naked. Now it reached the ring of the lamplight and 
burst into a savage laugh. 

It was the Khan. 

Atene, his wife, looked up and saw him, and never did I 
admire that passionate woman s boldness more, who ad 
mired little else about her save her beauty, for her face 
showed neither anger nor fear, but contempt only. And 
yet she had some cause to be afraid, as she well knew. 

" What do you here, Rassen ? " she asked, " creeping 
on me with your naked feet ? Get you back to your drink 
and the ladies of your court." 

But he still laughed on, an hyena laugh. 

" What have you heard ? " she said, " that makes you 
so merry ? " 

" What have I heard ? " Rassen gurgled out between 
his screams of hideous glee. " Oho ! I have heard the 
Khania, the last of the true blood, the first in the land, 
the proud princess who will not let her robes be soiled by 
those of the ladies of the court and my wife, my wife, 
who asked me to marry her mark that, you strangers 



IN THE SHAMAN S CHAMBER 141 

because I was her cousin and a rival ruler, and the richest 
lord in all the land, and thereby she thought she would 
increase her power I have heard her offer herself to a 
nameless wanderer with a great yellow beard, and I have 
heard him, who hates and would escape from her " here 
he screamed with laughter " refuse her in such a fashion 
as I would not refuse the lowest woman in the palace. 

" I have heard also but that I always knew that I am 
mad; for, strangers, I was made mad by a hate-philtre 
which that old Rat," and he pointed to Simbri, " gave me 
in my drink yes, at my marriage feast. It worked well, 
for truly there is no one whom I -hate more than the 
Khania Atene. Why, I cannot bear her touch, it makes 
me sick. I loathe to be in the same room with her; she 
taints the air ; there is a smell of sorceries about her. 

" It seems that it takes you thus also, Yellow-beard ? 
Well, if so, ask the old Rat for a love drink ; he can mix 
it, and then you will think her sweet and sound and fair, 
and spend some few months jollily enough. Man, don t 
be a fool, the cup that is thrust into your hands looks 
goodly. Drink, drink deep. You ll never guess the 
liquor s bad till to-morrow though it be mixed with a 
husband s poisoned blood/ and again Rassen screamed in 
his unholy mirth. 

To all these bitter insults, venomed with the sting of 
truth, Atene listened without a word. Then she turned 
to us and bowed. 

" My guests," she said, " I pray you pardon me for all 
I cannot help. You have strayed to a corrupt and evil 
land, and there stands its crown and flower. Khan Ras 
sen, your doom is written, and I do not hasten it, because 
once for a little while we were near to each other, though 
you have been naught to me for this many a year save a 
snake that haunts my house. Were it otherwise, the next 
cup you drank should still your madness, and that vile 
tongue of yours which gives its venom voice. My uncle, 
come with me. Your hand, for I grow weak with shame 
and woe." 



1 42 AYES PI A 

The old Shaman hobbled forward, but when he came 
face to face with the Khan he stopped and looked him 
up and down with his dim eyes. Then he said 

" Rassen, I saw you born, the son of an evil woman, 
and your father none knew but I. The flame flared that 
night upon the Fire-mountain, and the stars hid their 
faces, for none of them would own you, no, not even 
those of the most evil influence. I saw you wed and rise 
drunken from your marriage feast, your arm about a 
wanton s neck. I have seen you rule, wasting the land 
for your cruel pleasure, turning the fertile fields into great 
parks for your game, leaving those who tilled them to 
starve upon the road or drown themselves in ditches for 
very misery. And soon, soon I shall see you die in pain 
and blood, and then the chain will fall from the neck of 
this noble lady whom. 1 you revile, and another more worthy 
shall take your place and rear up children to fill your 
throne, and the land shall have rest again." 

Now I listened to these words and none who did not 
hear them can guess the fearful bitterness with which 
they were spoken expecting every moment that the Khan 
would draw the short sword at his side and cut the old 
man down. But he did not ; he cowered before him like 
a dog before some savage master, the weight of whose 
whip he knows. Yes, answering nothing, he shrank into 
the corner and cowered there, while Simbri, taking Atene 
by the hand, went from the room. At its massive, iron- 
bound door he turned and pointing to the crouching figure 
with his staff, said 

" Khan Rassen, I raised you up, and now I cast you 
down. Remember me when you lie dying in blood and 
pain." 

Their footsteps died away, and the Khan crept from 
his corner, looking about him furtively. 

" Have that Rat and the other gone ? " he asked of us, 
wiping his damp brow with his sleeve ; and I saw that 
fear had sobered him and that for awhile the madness had 
left his eyes. 



IN THE SHAMAN S CHAMBER 143 

I answered that they had gone. 

"You think me a coward," he went on passionately, 
" and it is true, I am afraid of him and her as you, Yel 
low-beard, will be afraid when your turn comes. I tell 
you that they sapped my strength and crazed me with 
their drugged drink, making me the thing I am, for who 
can war against their wizardries ? Look you now. Once 
I was a prince, the lord of half this land, noble of form 
and upright of heart, and I loved her accursed beauty as 
all must love it on whom she turns her eyes. And she 
turned them on me, she sought me in marriage; it was 
that old Rat who bore her message. 

" So I stayed the great war and married the Khania 
and became the Khan ; but better had it been for me if I 
had crept into her kitchen as a scullion, than into her 
chamber as a husband. For from the first she hated me, 
and the more I loved, the more she hated, till at our wed 
ding feast she doctored me with that poison which made 
me loathe her, and thus divorced us ; which made me mad 
also, eating into my brain like fire." 

" If she hated you so sorely, Khan," I asked, " why did 
she not mix a stronger draught and have done with you ? " 

"Why? Because of policy, for I ruled half the land. 
Because it suited her also that I should live on, a thing to 
mock at, since while I was alive no other husband could be 
forced upon her by the people. For she is not a woman, 
she is a witch, who desires to live alone, or so I thought 
until to-night " and he glowered at Leo. 

" She knew also that although I must shrink from her, 
I still love her in my heart, and can still be jealous, and 
therefore that I should protect her from all men. It was 
she who set me on that lord whom my dogs tore awhile 
ago, because he was powerful and sought her favour and 
would not be denied. But now," and again he glowered 
at Leo, " now I know why she has always seemed so cold. 
It is because there lived a man to melt whose ice she hus 
banded her fire." 



144 "AYESHA 

Then Leo, who all this while had stood silent, stepped 
forward. 

" Listen, Khan," he said. " Did the ice seem like melt 
ing a little while ago ? " 

" No unless you lied. But that was only because the 
fire is not yet hot enough. Wait awhile until it burns up, 
and melt you must, for who can match his will against 
Atene ? " 

" And what if the ice desires to flee the fire ? Khan, 
they said that I should kill you, but I do not seek your 
blood. You think that I would rob you of your wife, yet 
I have no such thought towards her. We desire to escape 
this town of yours, but cannot, because its gates are 
locked, and we are prisoners, guarded night and day. 
Hear me, then. You have the power to set us free and to 
be rid of us." 

The Khan looked at him cunningly. " And if I set you 
free, whither would you go? You could tumble down 
yonder gorge, but only the birds can climb its heights." 

" To the Fire-mountain, where we have business." 

Rassen stared at him. 

" Is it I who am mad, or are you, who wish to visit 
the Fire-mountain? Yet that is nothing to me, save that 
I do not believe you. But if so you might return again 
and bring others with you. Perchance, having its lady, 
you wish this land also by right of conquest. It has foes 
up yonder." 

" It is not so," answered Leo earnestly. " As one man 
to another, I tell you it is not so. I ask no smile of your 
wife and no acre of your soil. Be wise and help us to be 
gone, and live on undisturbed in such fashion as may 
please you." 

The Khan stood still awhile, swinging his long arms 
vacantly, till something seemed to come into his mind that 
moved him to merriment, for he burst into one of his hide 
ous laughs. 

" I am thinking," he said, " what Atene would say if 



IN THE SHAMAN S CHAMBER 145 

she woke up to find her sweet bird flown. She would 
search for you and be angry with me." 

" It seems that she cannot be angrier than she is," I 
answered. " Give us a night s start and let her search 
never so closely, she shall not find us." 

" You forget, Wanderer, that she and her old Rat have 
arts. Those who knew where to meet you might know 
where to seek you. And yet, and yet, it would be rare to 
see her rage. Oh, Yellow-beard, where are you, Yellow- 
beard ? he went on, mimicking his wife s voice. Come 
back and let me melt your ice, Yellow-beard. " 

Again he laughed ; then said suddenly 

" When can you be ready ? " 

" In half an hour," I answered. 

" Good. Go to your chambers and prepare. I will join 
you there presently." 

So we went. 



CHAPTER XI 

THE HUNT AND THE KILL 

WE reached our rooms, meeting no one in the passages, 
and there made our preparations. First we changed our 
festal robes for those warmer garments in which we had 
travelled to the city of Kaloon. Then we ate and drank 
what we could of the victuals which stood in the ante 
chamber, not knowing when we should find more food, 
and filled two satchels such as these people sling about 
their shoulders, with the remains of the meat and liquor 
and a few necessaries. Also we strapped our big hunting 
knives about our middles and armed ourselves with short 
spears that were made for the stabbing of game. 

" Perhaps he has laid a plot to murder us, and we may 
as well defend ourselves while we can," suggested Leo. 

I nodded, for the echoes of the Khan s last laugh still 
rang in my ears. It was a very evil laugh. 

" Likely enough," I said. " I do not trust that insane 
brute. Still, he wishes to be rid of us." 

" Yes, but as he said, live men may return, whereas the 
dead do not." 

" Atene thinks otherwise," I commented. 

" And yet she threatened us with death," answered Leo. 

" Because her shame and passion make her mad," I re 
plied, after which we were silent. 

Presently the door opened, and through it came the 
Khan, muffled in a great cloak as though to disguise him 
self. 

" Come," he said, " if you are ready." Then, catching 
sight of the spears we held, he added : " You will not need 
those things. You do not go a-hunting." 

146 



THE HUNT AND THE KILL 147 

" No," I answered, " but who can say we might be 
hunted." 

" If you believe that perhaps you had best stay where 
you are till the Khania wearies of Yellow-beard and opens 
the gates for you," he replied, eyeing me with his cunning 
glance. 

" I think not," I said, and we started, the Khan leading 
the way and motioning us to be silent. 

We passed through the empty rooms on to the veran 
dah, and from the verandah down into the courtyard, 
where he whispered to us to keep in the shadow. For the 
moon shone very clearly that night, so clearly, I remem 
ber, that I could see the grass which grew between the 
joints of the pavement, and the little shadows thrown 
by each separate blade upon the worn surface of its stones. 
Now I wondered how we should pass the gate, for there 
a guard was stationed, which had of late been doubled by 
order of the Khania. But this gate we left upon our right, 
taking a path that led into the great walled garden, where 
Rassen brought us to a door hidden behind a clump of 
shrubs, which he unlocked with a key he carried. 

Now we w r ere outside the palace wall, and our road ran 
past the kennels. As we went by these, the great, sleep 
less death-hounds, that wandered to and fro like prowling 
lions, caught our wind and burst into a sudden chorus of 
terrific bays. I shivered at the sound, for it was fearful 
in that silence, also I thought that it would arouse the 
keepers. But the Khan went to the bars and showed him 
self, whereon the brutes, which knew him, ceased their 
noise. 

" Fear not," he said as he returned, " the huntsmen 
know that they are starved to-night, for to-morrow cer 
tain criminals will be thrown to them." 

Now we had reached the palace gates. Here the Khan 
bade us hide in an archway and departed. We looked at 
each other, for the same thought was in both our minds 
that he had gone to fetch the murderers who were to 



148 A YES HA 

make an end of us. But in this we did him wrong, for 
presently we heard the sound of horses hoofs upon the 
stones, and he returned leading the two white steeds that 
Atene had given us. 

" I saddled them with my own hands," he whispered. 
" Who can do more to speed the parting guest ? Now 
mount, hide your faces in your cloaks as I do, and follow 
me." 

So we mounted, and he trotted before us like a running 
footman, such as the great lords of Kaloon employed when 
they went about their business or their pleasure. Leaving 
the main street, he led us through a quarter of the town 
that had an evil reputation, and down its tortuous by-ways. 
Here we met a few revellers, while from time to time 
night-birds flitted from the doorways and, throwing aside 
their veils, looked at us, but as we made no sign drew 
back again, thinking that we passed to some assignation. 
We reached the deserted docks upon the river s edge and 
came to a little quay, alongside of which a broad ferry 
boat was fastened. 

" You must put your horses into it and row across," 
Rassen said, " for the bridges are guarded, and without 
discovering myself I cannot bid the soldiers to let you 
pass." 

So with some little trouble we urged the horses into 
the boat, where I held them by their bridles while Leo took 
the oars. 

" Now go your ways, accursed wanderers," cried the 
Khan as he thrust us from the quay, " and pray the Spirit 
of the Mountain that the old Rat and his pupil your love, 
Yellow-beard, your love are not watching you in their 
magic glass. For if so we may meet again." 

Then as the stream caught us, sweeping the boat out 
towards the centre of the river, he began to laugh that 
horrible laugh of his, calling after us 

" Ride fast, ride fast for safety, strangers ; there is death 
behind." 



THE HUNT AND THE KILL 149 

Leo put out his strength and backed water, so that the 
punt hung upon the edge of the stream. 

" I think that we should do well to land again and kill 
that man, for he means mischief," he said. 

He spoke in English, but Rassen must have caught 
the ring of his voice and guessed its meaning with the 
cunning of the mad. At least he shouted 

" Too late, fools," and with a last laugh turned, ran so 
swiftly up the quay that his cloak flew out upon the air 
behind him, and vanished into the shadows at its head. 

" Row on," I said, and Leo bent himself to the oars. 

But the ferry-boat was cumbersome and the current 
swift, so that we were swept down a long way before we 
could cross it. At length we reached still water near the 
further shore, and seeing a landing-place, managed to 
beach the punt and to drag our horses to the bank. Then 
leaving the craft to drift, for we had no time to scuttle her, 
we looked to our girths and bridles, and mounted, heading 
towards the far column of glowing smoke which showed 
like a beacon above the summit of the House of Fire. 

At first our progress was very slow, for here there 
seemed to be no path, and we were obliged to pick our way 
across the fields, and to search for bridges that spanned 
such of the water-ditches as were too wide for us to jump. 
More than an hour was spent in this work, till we came to 
a village wherein none were stirring, and here struck a 
road which seemed to run towards the mountain, though, 
as we learned afterwards, it took us very many miles out 
of our true path. Now for the first time we were able to 
canter, and pushed on at some speed, though not too fast, 
for we wished to spare our horses and feared lest they 
might fall in the uncertain light. 

A while before dawn the moon sank behind the Moun 
tain, and the gloom grew so dense that we were forced to 
stop, which we did, holding the horses by their bridles and 
allowing them to graze a little on some young corn. Then 
the sky turned grey, the light faded from the column of 



150 A YES HA 

smoke that was our guide, the dawn came, blushing red 
upon the vast snows of the distant peak, and shooting its 
arrows through the loop above the pillar. We let the 
horses drink from a channel that watered the corn, and, 
mounting them, rode onward slowly. 

Now with the shadows of the night a weight of fear 
seemed to be lifted off our hearts and we grew hopeful, 
aye, almost joyous. That hated city was behind us. Be 
hind us were the Khania with her surging, doom-driven 
passions and her stormy loveliness, the wizardries of her 
horny-eyed mentor, so old in years and secret sin, and 
the madness of that strange being, half-devil, half-martyr, 
at once cruel and a coward the Khan, her husband, and 
his polluted court. In front lay the fire, the snow and the 
mystery they hid, sought for so many empty years. Now 
we would solve it or we would die. So we pressed for 
ward joyfully to meet our fate, whatever it might be. 

For many hours our road ran deviously through culti 
vated land, where the peasants at their labour laid down 
their tools and gathered into knots to watch us pass, and 
quaint, flat-roofed villages, whence the women snatched 
up their children and fled at the sight of us. They be 
lieved us to be lords from the court who came to work 
them some harm in person or in property, and their terror 
told us how the country smarted beneath the rod of the 
oppressor. By mid-day, although the peak seemed to be 
but little nearer, the character of the land had changed. 
Now it sloped gently upwards, and therefore could not be 
irrigated. 

Evidently all this great district was dependent on 
the fall of timely rains, which had not come that 
spring. Therefore, although the population was still dense 
and every rod of the land was under the plough or spade, 
the crops were failing. It was pitiful to see the green, un- 
eared corn already turning yellow because of the lack of 
moisture, the beasts searching the starved pastures for 
food and the poor husbandmen wandering about their 
fields or striving to hoe the iron soil. 



THE HUNT AND THE KILL 151 

Here the people seemed to know us as the two foreign 
ers whose coming had been noised abroad, and, the fear 
of famine having made them bold, they shouted at us 
as we went by to give them back the rain which we had 
stolen, or so we understood their words. Even the women 
and the children in the villages prostrated themselves be 
fore us, pointing first to the Mountain and then to the 
hard, blue sky, and crying to us to send them rain. Once, 
indeed, we were threatened by a mob of peasants armed 
with spades and reaping-hooks, who seemed inclined to 
bar our path, so that we were obliged to put our horses to 
a gallop and pass through them with a rush. As we went 
forward the country grew ever more arid and its inhabi 
tants more scarce, till we saw no man save a few wander 
ing herds who drove their cattle from place to place in 
search of provender. 

By evening we guessed that we had reached that border 
tract which was harried by the Mountain tribes, for here 
strong towers built of stone were dotted about the heaths, 
doubtless to serve as watch-houses or places of refuge. 
Whether they were garrisoned by soldiers I do not know, 
but I doubt it, for we saw none. It seems probable indeed 
that these forts were relics of days when the land of 
Kaloon was guarded from attack by rulers of a very dif 
ferent character to that of the present Khan and his im 
mediate predecessors. 

At length even the watch-towers were left behind, and 
by sundown we found ourselves upon a vast uninhabited 
plain, where we could see no living thing. Now we made 
up our minds to rest our horses awhile, proposing to push 
forward again with the moon, for having the wrath of the 
Khania behind us we did not dare to linger. By this even 
ing doubtless she would have discovered our escape, since 
before sundown, as she had decreed, Leo must make his 
choice and give his answer. Then, as we were sure, she 
would strike swiftly. Perhaps her messengers were al 
ready at their work rousing the country to capture us, and 
her soldiers following on our path. 



15* A YES HA 

We unsaddled the horses and let them refresh them 
selves by rolling on the sandy soil, and graze after a 
fashion upon the coarse tufts of withering herbage which 
grew around. There was no water here ; but this did not 
so much matter, for both they and we had drunk at a little 
muddy pool we found not more than an hour before. We 
were finishing our meal of the food that we had brought 
with us, which, indeed, we needed sorely after our sleep 
less night and long day s journey, when my horse, which 
was knee-haltered close at hand, lay down to roll again. 
This it could not do with ease because of the rope about 
its fore-leg, and I watched its efforts idly, till at length, at 
the fourth attempt, after hanging for a few seconds upon 
its back, its legs sticking straight into the air, it fell over 
slowly towards me as horses do. 

" Why are its hoofs so red ? Has it cut itself ? " asked 
Leo in an indifferent voice. 

As it chanced I also had just noticed this red tinge, and 
for the first time, since it was most distinct about the ani 
mal s frogs, which until it rolled thus I had not seen. So 
I rose to look at them, thinking that probably the evening 
light had deceived us, or that we might have passed 
through some ruddy-coloured mud. Sure enough they 
were red, as though a dye had soaked into the horn and 
the substance of the frogs. What was more, they gave 
out a pungent, aromatic smell that was unpleasant, such a 
smell as might arise from blood mixed with musk and 
spices. 

" It is very strange," I said. " Let us look at your beast, 
Leo." 

So we did, and found that its hoofs had been similarly- 
treated. 

" Perhaps it is a native mixture to preserve the horn/ 
suggested Leo. 

I thought awhile, then a terrible idea struck me. 

" I don t want to frighten you," I said, " but I think that 
we had better saddle up and get on." 



THE HUNT AND THE KILL 153 

" Why ? " he asked. 

" Because I believe that villain of a Khan has doctored 
our horses." 

" What for? To make them go lame? " 

" No, Leo, to make them leave a strong scent upon dry 
ground." 

He turned pale. " Do you mean those hounds ? " 

I nodded. Then wasting no more time in words, we 
saddled up in frantic haste. Just as I fastened the last 
strap of my saddle I thought that a faint sound reached 
my ear. 

" Listen," I said. Again it came, and now there was 
no doubt about it. It was the sound of baying dogs. 

" By heaven ! the death-hounds," said Leo. 

" Yes," I answered quietly enough, for at this crisis my 
nerves hardened and all fear left me, " our friend the 
Khan is out a-hunting. That is why he laughed." 

" What shall we do ? " asked Leo. " Leave the horses ? " 

I looked at the Peak. Its nearest flanks were miles 
and miles away. 

" Time enough to do that when we are forced. We 
can never reach that mountain on foot, and after they 
had run down the horses, they would hunt us by spoor or 
gaze. No, man, ride as you never rode before." 

We sprang to our saddles, but before we gave rein I 
turned and looked behind me. It will be remembered that 
we had ridden up a long slope which terminated in a 
ridge, about three miles away, the border of the great 
plain whereon we stood. Now the sun had sunk behind 
that ridge so that although it was still light the plain had 
fallen into shadow. Therefore, while no distant object 
could be seen upon the plain, anything crossing the ridge 
remained visible enough in that clear air, at least to per 
sons of keen sight. 

This is what we saw. Over the ridge poured a multi 
tude of little objects, and amongst the last of these gal 
loped a man mounted on a great horse, who led another 
horse by the bridle. 



154 r AYESHA 

" All the pack are out," said Leo grimly, " and Rassen 
has brought a second mount with him. Now I see why 
he wanted us to leave the spears, and I think," he shouted 
as we began to gallop, " that before all is done the Sha 
man may prove himself a true prophet." 

Away we sped through the gathering darkness, heading 
straight for the Peak. While we went I calculated our 
chances. Our horses, as good as any in the land, were 
still strong and fresh, for although we had ridden far 
we had not over-pressed them, and their condition was 
excellent. But doubtless the death-hounds were fresh 
also, for, meaning to run us down at night when he 
thought that he might catch us sleeping, Rassen would 
have brought them along easily, following us by inquiry 
among the peasants and only laying them on our spoor 
after the last village had been left behind. 

Also he had two mounts, and for aught we knew 
though afterwards this proved not to be the case, for he 
wished to work his wickedness alone and unseen he 
might be followed by attendants with relays. Therefore 
it would appear that unless we reached some place whither 
he did not dare to follow, before him that is the slopes 
of the Peak many miles away, he must run us down. 
There remained the chance also that the dogs would tire 
and refuse to pursue the chase. 

This, however, seemed scarcely probable, for they were 
extraordinarily swift and strong, and so savage that when 
once they had scented blood, in which doubtless our 
horses hoofs were steeped, they would fall dead from 
exhaustion sooner than abandon the trail. Indeed, both 
the Khania and Simbri had often told us as much. An 
other chance they might lose the scent, but seeing its 
nature, again this was not probable. Even an English 
pack will carry the trail of a red herring breast high with 
out a fault for hours, and here was something stronger a 
cunning compound of which the tell-tale odour would 
hold for days. A last chance. If we were forced to 



i 

THE HUNT AND THE KILL 155 

abandon our horses, we, their riders, might possibly es 
cape, could we find any place to hide in on that great 
plain. If not, we should be seen as well as scented, and 
then 

No, the odds were all against us, but so they had often 
been before; meanwhile we had three miles start, and 
perhaps help would come to us from the Mountain, some 
help unforeseen. So we set our teeth and sped away like 
arrows while the light lasted. 

Very soon it failed, and whilst the moon was hidden be 
hind the mountains the night grew dark. 

Now the hounds gained on us, for in the gloom, which 
to them was nothing, we did not dare to ride full speed, 
fearing lest our horses should stumble and lame them 
selves, or fall. Then it was for the second time since we 
had dwelt in this land of Kaloon that of a sudden the 
fire flamed upon the Peak. When we had seen it before, 
it had appeared to flash across the heavens in one great 
lighthouse ray, concentrated through the loop above the 
pillar, and there this night also the ray ran far above us 
like a lance of fire. But now that we were nearer to its 
fount we found ourselves bathed in a soft, mysterious 
radiance like that of the phosphorescence on a summer 
sea, reflected downwards perhaps from the clouds and 
massy rock roof of the column loop and diffused by the 
snows beneath. 

This unearthly glimmer, faint as it was, helped us 
much, indeed but for it we must have been overtaken, 
for here the ground was very rough, full of holes also 
made by burrowing marmots. Thus in our extremity help 
did come to us from the Mountain, until at length the 
moon rose, when as quickly as they had appeared the 
volcanic fires vanished, leaving behind them nothing but 
the accustomed pillar of dull red smoke. 

It is a commonplace to speak of the music of hounds at 
chase, but often I have wondered how that music sounds 
in the ears of the deer or the fox fleeing for its life. 



156 AYESHA 

Now, when we filled the place of the quarry, it was my 
destiny to solve this problem, and I assert with confidence 
that the progeny of earth can produce no more hideous 
noise. It had come near to us, and in the desolate silence 
of the night the hellish harmonies of its volume seemed 
terrific, yet I could discern the separate notes of which it 
was composed, especially one deep, bell-like bay. 

I remembered that I had heard this bay when we sat 
in the boat upon the river and saw that poor noble done 
to death for the crime of loving the Khania. As the 
hunt passed us then I observed that it burst from the 
throat of the leading hound, a huge brute, red in colour, 
with a coal-black ear, fangs that gleamed like ivory, and 
a mouth which resembled a hot oven. I even knew the 
name of the beast, for afterwards the Khan, whose 
peculiar joy it was, had pointed it out to me. He called 
it Master, because no dog in the pack dared fight it, and 
told me that it could kill an armed man alone. 

Now, as its baying warned us, Master was not half a 
mile away! 

The coming of the moonlight enabled us to gallop 
faster, especially as here the ground was smooth, being 
covered with a short, dry turf, and for the next two 
hours we gained upon the pack. Yes, it was only two 
hours, or perhaps less, but it seemed a score of centuries. 
The slopes of the Peak were now not more than ten miles 
ahead, but our horses were giving out at last. They had 
borne us nobly, poor beasts, though we were no light 
weights, yet their strength had its limits. The sweat ran 
from them, their sides panted like bellows, they breathed 
in gasps, they stumbled and would scarcely answer to 
the flogging of our spear-shafts. Their gallop sank to a 
jolting canter, and I thought that soon they must come to 
a dead stop. 

We crossed the brow of a gentle rise, from which the 
ground, that was sprinkled with bush and rocks, sloped 
downwards to where, some miles below us, the river ran, 



THE HUNT AND THE KILL 157 

.bounding the enormous flanks of the Mountain. When 
we had travelled a little way down this slope we were 
obliged to turn in order to pass between two heaps of 
rock, which brought us side on to its brow. And there, 
crossing it not more than three hundred yards away, we 
saw the pack. There were fewer of them now ; doubtless 
many had fallen out of the hunt, but many still remained. 
Moreover, not far behind them rode the Khan, though his 
second mount was gone, or more probably he was riding 
it, having galloped the first to a standstill. 

Our poor horses saw them also, and the sight lent them 
wings, for all the while they knew that they were running 
for their lives. This we could tell from the way they 
quivered whenever the baying came near to them, not as 
horses tremble with the pleasureable excitement of the 
hunt, but in an extremity of terror, as I have often seen 
them do when a prowling tiger roars close to their camp. 
On they went as though they were fresh from the stable, 
nor did they fail again until another four miles or so were 
covered and the river was but a little way ahead, for we 
could hear the rush of its waters. 

Then slowly but surely the pack overtook us. We 
passed a clump of bush, but when we had gone a couple 
of hundred yards or so across the open plain beyond, 
feeling that the horses were utterly spent, I shouted to 
Leo 

" Ride round back to the bush and hide there." 

So we did, and scarcely had we reached it and dis 
mounted when the hounds came past. Yes, they went 
within fifty yards of us, lolloping along upon our spoor 
and running all but mute, for now they were too weary 
to waste their breath in vain. " Run for it," I said to Leo 
as soon as they had gone by, " for they will be back on the 
scent presently," and we set off to the right across the line 
that the hounds had taken, so as not to cut our own 
spoor. 

About a hundred yards away was a rock, which fortu- 



158 A YES HA 

nately we were able to reach before the pack swung 
round upon the horses tracks, and therefore they did not 
view us. Here we stayed until following the loop, they 
came to the patch of bush and passed behind it. Then we 
ran forward again as far as we could go. Glancing back 
wards as we went, I saw our two poor, foundered beasts 
plunging away across the plain, happily almost in the 
same line along which we had ridden from the rise. They 
were utterly done, but freed from our weights and urged 
on by fear, could still gallop and keep ahead of the dogs, 
though we knew that this would not be for very long. I 
saw also that the Khan, guessing what we had done in our 
despair, was trying to call his hounds off the horses, but 
as yet without avail, for they would not leave the quarry 
which they had viewed. 

All this came to my sight in a flash, but I remember 
the picture well. The mighty, snow-clad Peak sur 
mounted by its column of glowing smoke and casting its 
shadow for mile upon mile across the desert flats; the 
plain with its isolated rocks and grey bushes ; the doomed 
horses struggling across it with convulsive bounds; the 
trailing line of great dogs that loped after them, and 
amongst these, looking small and lonely in that vast place, 
the figure of the Khan and his horse, of which the black 
hide was beflecked with foam. Then above, the blue and 
tender sky, where the round moon shone so clearly that 
in her quiet, level light no detail, even the smallest, could 
escape the eye. 

Now youth and even middle age were far behind me, 
and although a very strong man for my years, I could not 
run as I used to do. Also I was most weary, and my 
limbs were stiff and chafed with long riding, so I 
made but slow progress, and to worsen matters I struck 
my left foot against a stone and hurt it much. I im 
plored Leo to go on and leave me, for we thought that if 
we could once reach the river our scent would be lost in 
the water; at any rate that it would give us a chance of 



THE HUNT AND THE KILL 159 

life. Just then too, I heard the belling bay of the hound 
Master, and waited for the next. Yes, it was nearer to us. 
The Khan had made a cast and found our line. Presently 
we must face the end. 

" Go, go ! " I said. " I can keep them back for a few 
minutes and you may escape. It is your quest, not mine. 
Ayesha awaits you, not me, and I am weary of life. I 
wish to die and have done with it." 

Thus I gasped, not all at once, but in broken words, as 
I hobbled along clinging to Leo s arm. But he only an 
swered in a low voice 

" Be quiet, or they will hear you," and on he went, 
dragging me with him.. 

We were quite near the water now, for we could see it 
gleaming below us, and oh! how I longed for one deep 
drink. I remember that this was the uppermost desire 
in my mind, to drink and drink. But the hounds were 
nearer still to us, so near that we could hear the pattering 
of their feet on the dry ground mingled with the thud of 
the hoofs of the Khan s galloping horse. We had reached 
some rocks upon a little rise, just where the bank began, 
when Leo said suddenly 

" No use, we can t make it. Stop and let s see the thing 
through." 

So we wheeled round, resting our backs against the 
rock. There, about a hundred yards off, were the death- 
hounds, but Heaven be praised ! 0/2/3 three of them. The 
rest had followed the flying horses, and doubtless when 
they caught them at last, which may have been far dis 
tant, had stopped to gorge themselves upon them. So 
they were out of the fight. Only three, and the Khan, a 
wild figure, who galloped with them ; but those three, the 
black and red brute, Master, and two others almost as 
fierce and big. 

" It might be worse," said Leo. " If you will try to 
tackle the dogs, I ll do my best with the Khan," and 
stooping down he rubbed his palms in the grit, for they 



160 AYES HA 

were wet as water, an example which I followed. Then 
we gripped the spears in our right hands and the knives 
in our left, and waited. 

The dogs had seen us now and came on, growling 
and baying fearfully. With a rush they came, and I am 
not ashamed to own that I felt terribly afraid, for the 
brutes seemed the size of lions and more fierce. One, it 
was the smallest of them, outstripped the others, and, 
leaping up the little rise, sprang straight at my throat. 

Why or how I do not know, but on the impulse of the 
moment I too sprang to meet it, so that its whole weight 
came upon the point of my spear, which was backed by my 
weight. The spear entered between its forelegs^ and such 
was the shock that I was knocked backwards. But when 
I regained my feet I saw the dog rolling on the ground 
before me and gnashing at the spear shaft, which had 
been twisted from my hand. 

The other two had jumped at Leo, but failed to get 
hold, though one of them tore away a large fragment from 
his tunic. Foolishly enough, he hurled his spear at it but 
missed, for the steel passed just under its belly and buried 
itself deep in the ground. The pair of them did not come 
on again at once. Perhaps the sight of their dying com 
panion made them pause. At any rate, they stood at a lit 
tle distance snarling, where, as our spears were gone, they 
were safe from us. 

Now the Khan had ridden up and sat upon his horse 
glowering at us, and his face was like the face of a devil. 
I had hoped that he might fear to attack, but the moment 
I saw his eyes, I knew that this would not be. He was 
quite mad with hate, jealousy, and the long-drawn excite 
ment of the hunt, and had come to kill or be killed. 
Sliding from the saddle, he drew his short sword for 
either he had lost his spear or had brought none and 
made a hissing noise to the two dogs, pointing at me with 
the sword. I saw them spring and I saw him rush at 
Leo, and after that who can tell exactly what happened? 



THE HUNT AND THE KILL 161 

My knife went home to the hilt in the body of one dog 
and it came to the ground and lay there for its hind 
quarters were paralysed, howling, snarling and biting at 
me. But the other, the fiend called Master, got me by 
the right arm beneath the elbow, and I felt my bones 
crack in its mighty jaws, and the agony of it, or so I sup 
pose, caused me to drop the knife, so that I was weapon 
less. The brute dragged me from the rock and began to 
shake and worry me, although I kicked it in the stomach 
with all my strength. I fell to my knees and, as it 
chanced, my left hand came upon a stone of about the 
size of a large orange, which I gripped. I gained my 
feet again and pounded at its skull with the stone, but still 
it did not leave go, and this was well for me, for its next 
hold would have been on my throat. 

We twisted and tumbled to and fro, man and dog to 
gether. At one turn I thought that I saw Leo and the 
Khan rolling over and over each other upon the ground ; 
at another, that he, the Khan, was sitting against a stone 
looking at me, and it came into my mind that he must 
have killed Leo and was watching while the dog worried 
me to death. 

Then just as things began to grow black, something 
sprang forward and I saw the huge hound lifted from the 
earth. Its jaws opened, my arm came free and fell 
against my side. Yes! the brute was whirling round in 
the air. Leo held it by its hind legs and with all his great 
strength whirled it round and round. 

Thud! He had dashed its head against the rock, and it 
fell and lay still, a huddled heap of black and red. 

Oddly enough, I did not faint ; I suppose that the pain 
and the shock to my nerves kept me awake, for I heard 
Leo say in a matter-of-fact voice between his gasps for 
breath 

" Well, that s over, and I think that I have fulfilled the 
Shaman s prophecy. Let s look and make sure." 

Then he led me with him to one of the rocks, and 



162 AYESHA 

there, resting supinely against it, sat the Khan, still living 
but unable to move hand or foot. The madness had quite 
left his face and he looked at us with melancholy eyes, 
like the eyes of a sick child. 

" You are brave men," he said, slowly, " strong also, 
to have killed those hounds and broken my back. So it 
has come about as was foretold by the old Rat. After 
all, I should have hunted Atene, not you, though now she 
lives to avenge me, for her own sake, not mine. Yellow- 
beard, she hunts you too and with deadlier hounds than 
these, those of her thwarted passions. Forgive me and fly 
to the Mountain, Yellow-beard, whither I go before you, 
for there one dwells who is stronger than Atene." 

Then his jaw dropped and he was dead. 



CHAPTER XII 

THE MESSENGER 

" HE is gone," I panted, " and the world hasn t lost 
much." 

" Well, it didn t give him much, did it, poor devil, so 
don t let s speak ill of him," answered Leo, who had 
thrown himself exhausted to the ground. " Perhaps he 
was all right before they made him mad. At any rate he 
had pluck, for I don t want to tackle such another." 

" How did you manage it ? " I asked. 

" Dodged in beneath his sword, closed with him, threw 
him and smashed him up over that lump of stone. Sheer 
strength, that s all. A cruel business, but it was his life or 
mine, and there you are. It s lucky I finished it in time to 
help you before that oven-mouthed brute tore your throat 
out. Did you ever see such a dog? It looks as large as 
a young donkey. Are you much hurt, Horace ? " 

" Oh, my forearm is chewed to a pulp, but nothing 
else, I think. Let us get down to the water ; if I can t 
drink soon I shall faint. Also the rest of the pack is 
somewhere about, fifty or more of them." 

" I don t think they will trouble us, they have got the 
horses, poor beasts. Wait a minute and I will come." 

Then he rose, found the Khan s sword, a beautiful and 
ancient weapon, and with a single cut of its keen edge, 
killed the second dog that I had wounded, which was still 
yowling and snarling at us. After this he collected the 
two spears and my knife, saying that they might be use 
ful, and without trouble caught the Khan s horse, which 
stood with hanging head close by, so tired that even this 
desperate fight had not frightened it away. 

163 



164 A YES HA 

" Now," he said, " up you go, old fellow. You are not 
fit to walk any farther ; " and with his help I climbed into 
the saddle. 

Then slipping the rein over his arm he led the horse, 
which walked stiffly, on to the river, that ran within a 
quarter of a mile of us, though to me, tortured as I was 
by pain and half delirious with exhaustion, the journey 
seemed long enough. 

Still we came there somehow, and, forgetting my 
wounds, I tumbled from the horse, threw myself flat and 
drank and drank, more, I think, than ever I did before. 
Not in all my life have I tasted anything so delicious as 
was that long draught of water. When I had satisfied 
my thirst, I dipped my head and made shift to jerk my 
wounded arm into it, for its coolness seemed to still the 
pain. Presently Leo rose, the water running from his 
face and beard, and said 

" What shall we do now ? The river seems to be wide, 
over a hundred yards, and it is low, but there may be deep 
water in the middle. Shall we try to cross, in which 
case we might drown, or stop where we are till daylight 
and take our chance of the death-hounds ? " 

" I can t go another foot," I murmured faintly, " much 
less try to ford an unknown river." 

Now, about thirty yards from the shore was an island 
covered with reeds and grasses. 

" Perhaps we could reach that," he said. " Come, get 
on to my back, and we will try." 

I obeyed with difficulty, and we set out, he feeling his 
way with the handle of the spear. The water proved to 
be quite shallow ; indeed, it never came much above his 
knees, so that we reached the island without trouble. 
Here Leo laid me down on the soft rushes, and, returning 
to the mainland, brought over the black horse and the re 
maining weapons, and having unsaddled the beast, knee- 
haltered and turned it loose, whereon it immediately lay 
down, for it was too spent to feed. 



THE MESSENGER 165 

Then he set to work to doctor my wounds. Well it 
proved for me that the sleeve of my garment was so thick, 
for even through it the flesh of my forearm was torn to 
ribbons, moreover a bone seemed to be broken. Leo col 
lected a double handful of some soft wet moss and, having 
washed the arm, wrapped it round with a handkerchief, 
over which he laid the moss. Then with a second hand 
kerchief and some strips of linen torn from our under 
garments he fastened a couple of split reeds to serve as 
rough splints to the wounded limb. While he was doing 
this I suppose that I slept or swooned. At any rate, I 
remember no more. 

Sometime during that night Leo had a strange dream, 
of which he told me the next morning. I suppose that it 
must have been a dream as certainly I saw or was aware 
of nothing. Well, he dreamed I use his own words as 
nearly as possible that again he heard those accursed 
death-hounds in full cry. Nearer and nearer they came, 
following our spoor to the edge of the river all the pack 
that had run down the horses. At the water s brink they 
halted and were mute. Then suddenly a puff of wind 
brought the scent of us upon the island to one of them 
which lifted up its head and uttered a single bay. The 
rest clustered about it, and all at once they made a dash 
at the water. 

Leo could see and hear everything. He felt that after 
all our doom was now at hand, and yet, held in the grip 
of nightmare, if nightmare it were, he was quite unable to 
stir or even to cry out to wake and warn me. 

Now followed the marvel of this vision. Giving tongue 
as they came, half swimming and half plunging, the 
hounds drew near to the island where we slept. Then 
suddenly Leo saw that we were no longer alone. In front 
of us, on the brink of the water, stood the figure of a 
woman clad in some dark garment. He could not describe 
her face or appearance, for her back was towards him. 



1 66 AYES HA 

All he knew was that she stood there, like a guard, hold 
ing some object in her raised hand, and that suddenly the 
advancing hounds caught sight of her. In an instant it 
was as though they were paralysed by fear for their 
bays turned to fearful howlings. One or two of those 
that were nearest to the island seemed to lose their footing 
and be swept away by the stream. The rest struggled 
back to the bank, and fled wildly like whipped curs. 

Then the dark, commanding figure, which in his dream 
Leo took to be the guardian Spirit of the Mountain, van 
ished. That it left no footprints behind it I can vouch, for 
in the morning we looked to see. 

When, awakened by the sharp pangs in my arm, I 
opened my eyes again, the dawn was breaking. A thin 
mist hung over the river and the island, and through it I 
could see Leo sleeping heavily at my side and the shape of 
the black horse, which had risen and was grazing close at 
hand. I lay still for a while remembering all that we had 
undergone and wondering that I should live to wake, 
till presently above the murmuring of the water I heard 
a sound which terrified me, the sound of voices. I sat up 
and peered through the reeds, and there upon the bank, 
looking enormous in the mist, I saw two figures mounted 
upon horses, those of a woman and a man. 

They were pointing to the ground as though they ex 
amined spoor in the sand. I heard the man say some 
thing about the dogs not daring to enter the territory of 
the Mountain, a remark which came back to my mind 
again after Leo had told me his dream. Then I remem 
bered how we were placed. 

" Wake ! " I whispered to Leo. " Wake, we are pur 
sued." 

He sprang to his feet, rubbing his eyes and snatching at 
a spear. Now those upon the bank saw him, and a sweet 
voice spoke through the mist, saying 

" Lay down that weapon, my guest, for we are not come 
to harm you." 



THE MESSENGER 167 

It was the voice of the Khania Atene, and the man with 
her was the old Shaman Simbri. 

" What shall we do now, Horace ? " asked Leo with 
something like a groan, for in the whole world there were 
no two people whom he less wished to see. 

" Nothing," I answered, " it is for them to play." 

" Come to us," called the Khania across the water. " I 
swear that we mean no harm. Are we not alone ? " 

" I do not know," answered Leo, " but it seems un 
likely. Where we are we stop until we are ready to 
march again." 

Atene spoke to Simbri. What she said we could not 
hear, for she whispered, but she appeared to be arguing 
with him and persuading him to some course of which 
he strongly disapproved. Then suddenly both of them 
put their horses at the water and rode to us through the 
shallows. Reaching the island, they dismounted, and we 
stood staring at each other. The old man seemed very 
weary in body and oppressed in mind, but the Khania was 
strong and beautiful as ever, nor had passion and fatigue 
left any trace upon her inscrutable face. It was she who 
broke the silence, saying 

" You have ridden fast and far since last we met, my 
guests, and left an evil token to mark the path you took. 
Yonder among the rocks one lies dead. Say, how came 
he to his end, who has no wound upon him ? " 

" By these," answered Leo, stretching out his hands. 

" I knew it," she answered, " and I blame you not, for 
fate decreed that death for him, and now it is fulfilled. 
Still, there are those to whom you must answer for his 
blood, and I only can protect you from them." 

" Or betray me to them," said Leo. " Khania, what do 
you seek ? " 

That answer which you should have given me this 
twelve hours gone. Remember, before you speak, that I 
alone can save your life aye, and will do it and clothe you 
with that dead madman s crown and mantle." 



1 68 "AYES HA 

" You shall have your answer on yonder Mountain," 
said Leo, pointing to the peak above us, " where I seek 
mine." 

She paled a little and replied, " To find that it is death, 
for, as I have told you, the place is guarded by savage folk 
who know no pity." 

" So be it. Then Death is the answer that we seek. 
Come, Horace, let us go to meet him." 

" I swear to you," she broke in, " that there dwells not 
the woman of your dreams. I am that woman, yes, even 
I, as you are the man of mine." 

" Then, lady, prove it yonder upon the Mountain," Leo 
answered. 

" There dwells there no woman," Atene went on hur 
riedly, " nothing dwells there. It is the home of fire and 
a Voice." 

" What voice ? " 

" The Voice of the Oracle that speaks from the fire. 
The Voice of a Spirit whom no man has ever seen, or 
shall see." 

" Come, Horace," said Leo, and he moved towards the 
horse. 

" Men," broke in the old Shaman, " would you rush 
upon your doom ? Listen ; I have visited yonder haunted 
place, for it was I who according to custom brought 
thither the body of the Khan Atene s father for burial, 
and I warn you to set no foot within its temples." 

" Which your mistress said that we should never 
reach," I commented, but Leo only answered 

" We thank you for your warning," and added, " Hor 
ace, watch them while I saddle the horse, lest they do us 
a mischief." 

So I took the spear in my uninjured hand and stood 
ready. But they made no attempt to hurt us, only fell 
back a little and began to talk in hurried whispers. It 
was evident to me that they were much perturbed. In a 
few minutes the horse was saddled and Leo assisted me to 
mount it. Then he said 



THE MESSENGER 169 

" We go to accomplish out fate, whatever it may be, but 
before we part, Khania, I thank you for the kindness you 
have shown us, and pray you to be wise and forget that 
we have ever been. Through no will of mine your hus 
band s blood is on my hands, and that alone must separate 
us for ever. We are divided by the doors of death and 
destiny. Go back to your people, and pardon me if most 
unwillingly I have brought you doubt and trouble. Fare 
well." 

She listened with bowed head, then replied, very sadly 

" I thank you for your gentle words, but, Leo Vincey, 
we do not part thus easily. You have summoned me to 
the Mountain, and even to the Mountain I shall follow 
you. Aye, and there I will meet its Spirit, as I have 
always known I must and as the Shaman here has always 
known I must. Yes, I will match my strength and magic 
against hers, as it is decreed that I shall do. To the 
victor be that crown for which we have warred for ages." 

Then suddenly Atene sprang to her saddle, and turn 
ing her horse s head rode it back through the water to the 
shore, followed by old Simbri, who lifted up his crooked 
hands as though in woe and fear, muttering as he went 

" You have entered the forbidden river and now, Atene, 
the day of decision is upon us all upon us and her that 
predestined day of ruin and of war." 

" What do they mean ? " asked Leo of me. 

" I don t know," I answered ; " but I have no doubt we 
shall find out soon enough and that it will be something 
unpleasant. Now for this river." 

Before we had struggled through it I thought more 
than once that the day of drowning was upon us also, for 
in places there were deep rapids which nearly swept us 
away. But Leo, who waded, leading the Khan s horse 
by the bridle, felt his path and supported himself with the 
spear shaft, so that in the end we reached the other bank 
safely. 

Beyond it lay a breadth of marshy lands, that doubtless 



170 AYES HA 

were overflowed when the torrent was in flood. Through 
these we pushed our way as fast as we could, for w-e feared 
lest the Khania had gone to fetch her escort, which we 
thought she might have left behind the rise, and would 
return with it presently to hunt us down. At that time 
we did not know what we learned afterwards, that with 
its bordering river the soil of the Mountain was abso 
lutely sacred and, in practice, inviolable. True, it had 
been invaded by the people of Kaloon in several wars, but 
on each occasion their army was destroyed or met with 
terrible disaster. Little wonder then they had come to 
believe that the House of Fire was under the protection 
of some unconquerable Spirit. 

Leaving the marsh, we reached a bare, rising plain, 
which led to the first slope of the Mountain three or four 
miles away. Here we expected every moment to be at 
tacked by the savages of whom we had heard so much, 
but no living creature did we see. The place was a desert 
streaked with veins of rock that once had been molten 
lava. I do not remember much else about it ; indeed, the 
pain in my arm was so sharp that I had no eyes for physi 
cal features. At length the rise ended in a bare, broad 
donga, quite destitute of vegetation, of which the bottom 
was buried in lava and a debris of rocks washed down by 
the rain or melting snows from slopes above. This donga 
was bordered on the farther side by a cliff, perhaps fifty 
feet in height, in which we could see no opening. 

Still we descended the place, that was dark and rugged ; 
pervaded, moreover, by an extraordinary gloom, and as 
we went perceived that its lava floor was sprinkled over 
with a multitude of white objects. Soon we came to the 
first of these and found that it was the skeleton of a 
human being. Here was a veritable Valley of Dead 
Bones, thousands upon thousands of them ; a gigantic 
graveyard. It seemed as though some great army had 
perished here. 

Indeed, we found afterwards that this was the case, for 




"It was stirring/ 



THE MESSENGER 171 

on one of those occasions in the far past when the people 
of Kaloon had attacked the Mountain tribes, they were 
trapped and slaughtered in this gully, leaving their bones 
as a warning and a token. Among these sad skeletons we 
wandered disconsolately, seeking a path up the opposing 
cliff, and finding none, until at length we came to a halt, 
not knowing which way to turn. Then it was that we met 
with our first strange experience on the Mountain. 

The gulf and its mouldering relics depressed us, so that 
for awhile we were silent, and, to tell the truth, somewhat 
afraid. Yes, even the horse seemed afraid, for it snorted 
a little, hung its head and shivered. Close by us lay a 
pile of bones, the remains evidently of a number of 
wretched creatures that, dead or living, had been hurled 
down from the cliff above, and on the top of the pile was a 
little huddled heap, which we took for more bones. 

" Unless we can find a way out of this accursed charnel- 
house before long, I think that we shall add to its com 
pany," I said, staring round me. 

As the words left my lips it seemed to me that from 
the corner of my eye I saw the heap on the top of the 
bones stir. I looked round. Yes, it was stirring. It rose, 
it stood up, a human figure, apparently that of a woman 
but of this I could not be sure wrapped from head to 
foot in white and wearing a hanging veil over its face, or 
rather a mask with cut eye-holes. It advanced towards us 
while we stared at it, till the horse, catching sight of the 
thing, shied violently and nearly threw me. When at a 
distance of about ten paces it paused and beckoned with its 
hand, that was also swathed in white like the arm of a 
mummy. 

" What the devil are you ? " shouted Leo, arid his voice 
echoed drearily among those naked rocks. But the crea 
ture did not answer, it only continued to beckon. 

Leo walked up to it to assure himself that we were not 
the victims of some hallucination. As he came it glided 
back to its heap of bones and stood there like a ghost of 



172 A YES HA 

one dead arisen from amidst these grinning evidences of 
death, or rather a swathed corpse, for that is what it re 
sembled. Leo followed with the intention of touching it to 
assure himself of its reality, whereon it lifted its white- 
wrapped arm and struck him lightly on the breast. Then 
as he recoiled it pointed with its hand, first upwards as 
though to the Peak or the sky, and next at the wall of rock 
which faced us. 

He returned to me saying, " What shall we do ? " 

" Follow, I suppose. It may be a messenger from 
above/ and I nodded toward the mountain crest. 

" From below, more likely," Leo muttered, " for I don t 
like the look of this guide." 

Still he motioned with his hand to the creature to pro 
ceed. Apparently it understood, for it turned to the left 
and began to pick its way amongst the stones and skele 
tons swiftly and without noise. We followed for several 
hundred yards till it reached a shallow cleft in the rock. 
This cleft we had seen already, but as it appeared to end 
at a depth of about thirty feet, we passed on. The figure 
entered here and vanished. 

" It must be a shadow," said Leo doubtfully. 

" Nonsense," I answered, " shadows don t strike one. 
Go on." 

So he led the horse up the cleft, to find that at the end 
it turned sharply to the right and that the form was 
standing there awaiting us. Forward it went again and 
we after it down a little gorge that grew ever gloomier 
till it terminated in what might have been a cave, or a 
gallery cut in the rock. 

Here our guide came back to us apparently with the 
intention of taking the horse by the bridle, but at this 
nearer sight of it the brute snorted and reared up, so that 
it almost fell backwards upon me. As it found its feet 
again the figure struck it on the head in the same pas 
sionless, inhuman way that it had struck Leo, whereon 
the horse trembled and burst into a -sweat as though with 



THE MESSENGER 173 

fear, making no further attempt to escape or to disobey. 
Then it took one side of the bridle in its swathed hand 
and, Leo clinging to the other, we plunged into the tun 
nel. 

Our position was not pleasant, for we knew not whither 
we were being led by this horrible conductor, and sus 
pected that it might be to meet our deaths in the dark 
ness. Moreover, I guessed that the path was narrow and 
bordered by some gulf, for as we went I heard stones 
fall, apparently to a considerable depth, while the poor 
horse lifted its feet gingerly and snorted in abject fear. 
At length we saw daylight, and never was I more glad of 
its advent, although it showed us that there was a gulf 
on our right, and that the path we travelled could not 
measure more than ten feet in width. 

Now we are out of the tunnel, that evidently had saved 
us a wide detour, and standing for the first time upon 
the actual slope of the Mountain, which stretched upwards 
for a great number of miles till it reached the snow-line 
above. Here also we saw evidences of human life, for 
the ground was cultivated in patches and herds of moun 
tain sheep and cattle were visible in the distance. 

Presently we entered a gully, following a rough path 
that led along the edge of a raging torrent. It was a 
desolate place, half a mile wide or more, having hun 
dreds of fantastic lava boulders strewn about its slopes. 
Before we had gone a mile I heard a shrill whistle, and 
suddenly from behind these boulders sprang a number of 
men, quite fifty of them. All we could note at the time 
was that they were brawny, savage-looking fellows, for 
the most part red haired and bearded, although their com 
plexions were rather dark, who wore cloaks of white goat 
skins and carried spears and shields. I should imagine 
that they were not unlike the ancient Picts and Scots as 
they appeared to the invading Romans. At us they came 
uttering their shrill, whistling cries, evidently with the 
intention of spearing us on the spot. 



174 AYESHA 

" Now for it," said Leo, drawing his sword, for escape 
was impossible ; they were all round us. " Good-bye, 
Horace." 

" Good-bye," I answered rather faintly, understanding 
what the Khania and the old Shaman had meant when 
they said that we should be killed before we ascended the 
first slope of the Mountain. 

Meanwhile our ghastly-looking guide had slipped be 
hind a great boulder, and even then it occurred to me that 
her part in the tragedy being played, she, if it were a 
woman at all, was withdrawing herself while we met our 
miserable fate. But here I did her injustice, for she had, I 
suppose, come to save us from this very fate which with 
out her presence we must most certainly have suffered. 
When the savages were within a few yards suddenly she 
appeared on the top of the boulder, looking like a second 
Witch of Endor, and stretched out her arm. Not a word 
did she speak, only stretched out her draped arm, but the 
effect was remarkable and instantaneous. 

At the sight of her down on to their faces went those 
wild men, every one of them, as though a lightning stroke 
had in an instant swept them out of existence. -Then she let 
her arm fall and beckoned, whereon a great fellow who, I 
suppose, was the leader of the band, rose and crept 
towards her with bowed head, submissive as a beaten dog. 
To him she made signs, pointing to us, pointing to the 
far-off Peak, crossing and uncrossing her white-wrapped 
arms, but so far as I could hear, speaking no word. It 
was evident that the chief understood her, however, for 
he said something in a guttural language. Then he ut 
tered his shrill whistle, whereon the band rose and de 
parted thence at full speed, this way and the other, so that 
in another minute they had vanished as quickly as they 
came. 

Now our guide motioned to us to proceed, and led the 
way upward as calmly as though nothing had happened. 

For over two hours we went on thus till our path 



THE MESSENGER 175 

brought us from the ravine on to a grassy declivity, across 
which it wound its way. Here, to our astonishment, we 
found a fire burning, and hanging above the fire an 
earthenware pot, which was on the boil, although we 
could see no man tending it. The figure signalled to me 
to dismount, pointing to the pot in token that we were to 
eat the food which doubtless she had ordered the wild men 
to prepare for us, and very glad was I to obey her. Pro 
vision had been made for the horse also, for near the fire 
lay a great bundle of green forage. 

While Leo off-saddled the beast and spread the proven 
der for it, taking with me a spare earthen vessel that lay 
ready, I went to the edge of the torrent to drink and 
steep my wounded arm in its ice-cold stream. This re 
lieved it greatly, though by now I was sure from various 
symptoms that the brute Master s fangs had fortunately 
only broken or injured the small bone, a discovery for 
which I was thankful enough. Having finished attending 
to it as well as I was able, I filled the jar with water. 

On my way back a thought struck me, and going to 
where our mysterious guide stood still as Lot s wife after 
she had been turned into a pillar of salt, I offered it to 
her, hoping that she would unveil her face and drink. 
Then for the first time she showed some sign of being 
human, or so I thought, for it seemed to me that she 
bowed ever so little in acknowledgment of the courtesy. 
If so and I may have been mistaken this was all, for 
the next instant she turned her back on me to show that 
it was declined. So she would not, or for aught I knew, 
could not drink. Neither would she eat, for when Leo 
tried her afterwards with food she refused it in like 
fashion. 

Meanwhile he had taken the pot off the fire, and as 
soon as its contents grew cool enough we fell on them 
eagerly, for we were starving. After we had eaten and 
drunk, Leo re-dressed my arm as best he could and we 
rested awhile. Indeed, I think that, being very tired, we 



176 A YES HA 

began to doze, for I was awakened by a shadow falling on 
us and looked up to see our corpse-like guide standing 
close by and pointing first to the sun, then at trie horse, 
as though to show us that \ve had far to travel. So we 
saddled up and went on again somewhat refreshed, for 
at least we were no longer ravenous. 

All the rest of that day we journeyed on up the grassy 
slopes, seeing no man, although occasionally we heard 
the wild whistle which told us that we were being watched 
by the Mountain savages. By sundown the character 
of the country had changed, for the grass was replaced 
with rocks, amongst which grew stunted firs. We had 
left the lower slopes and were beginning to climb the 
Mountain itself. 

The sun sank and we went on through the twilight. 
The twilight died and we went on through the dark, our 
path lit only by the stars and the faint radiance of the 
glowing pillar of smoke above the Peak, which was re 
flected on to us from the mighty mantle of its snows. 
Forward we toiled, whilst a few paces ahead of us walked 
our unwearying guide. If she had seemed weird and in 
human before, now she appeared a very ghost, as, clad 
in her graveyard white, upon which the faint light shim 
mered, never speaking, never looking back, she glided on 
noiselessly between the black rocks and the twisted, dark- 
green firs and junipers. 

Soon we lost all count of the road. We turned this 
way and turned that way, we passed an open patch and 
through the shadows of a grove, till at length as the moon 
rose we entered a ravine, and following a path that ran 
down it, came to a place which is best described as a 
large amphitheatre cut by the hand of nature out of the 
rock of the Mountain. Evidently it was chosen as a place 
of defence, for its entrance was narrow and tortuous, 
built up at the end also, so that only one person could 
pass its gateway at a time. Within an open space and at 
its farther side stood low, stone houses built against the 



THE MESSENGER 177 

rock. In front of these houses, the moonlight shining full 
upon them, were gathered several hundred men and 
women arranged in a semicircle and in alternate com 
panies, who appeared to be engaged in the celebration of 
some rite. 

It was wild enough. In front of them, and in the ex 
act centre of the semi-circle, stood a gigantic, red-bearded 
man, who was naked except for a skin girdle about his 
loins. He was swinging himself backwards and forwards, 
his hands resting upon his hips, and as he swung, shout 
ing something like " Ho, haha, ho!" When he bent 
towards the audience it bent towards him, and every time 
he straightened himself it echoed his final shout of " Ho! " 
in a volume of sound that made the precipices ring. Nor 
v/as this all, for perched upon his hairy head, with arched 
back and waving tail, stood a great white cat. 

Anything stranger, and indeed more fantastic than the 
general effect of this scene, lit by the bright moonlight 
and set in that \vild arena, it was never my lot to witness. 
The red-haired, half-naked men and women, the gigantic 
priest, the mystical white cat, that, gripping his scalp with 
its claws, waved its tail and seemed to take a part in the 
performance; the unholy chant and its volleying chorus, 
all helped to make it extraordinarily impressive. This 
struck us the more, perhaps, because at the time we could 
not in the least guess its significance, though we imagined 
that it must be preliminary to some sacrifice or offering. 
It was like the fragment of a nightmare preserved by the 
awakened senses in all its mad, meaningless reality. 

Now round the open space where these savages were 
celebrating their worship, or whatever it might be, ran 
a rough stone wall about six feet in height, in which wall 
was a gateway. Towards this we advanced quite unseen, 
for upon our side of the wall grew many stunted pines. 
Through these pines our guide led us, till in the thickest 
of them, some few yards from the open gateway and a lit 
tle to the right of it, she motioned to us to stop. 



1 78 A YES HA 

Then she went to a low place in the wall and stood 
there as though she were considering the scene beyond. It 
seemed to us, indeed, that she saw what she had not ex 
pected and was thereby perplexed or angered. Presently 
she appeared to make up her mind, for again she motioned 
to us to remain where we were, enjoining silence upon us 
by placing her swathed hand upon the mask that hid her 
face. Next moment she was gone. How she went, or 
whither, I cannot say ; all we knew was that she was no 
longer there. 

" What shall we do now ? " whispered Leo to me. 

" Stay where we are till she comes back again or some 
thing happens," I answered. 

So there being nothing else to be done, we stayed, hop 
ing that the horse would not betray us by neighing, or 
that we might not be otherwise discovered, since we were 
certain that if so we should be in danger of death. Very 
soon, however, we forgot the anxieties of our own posi 
tion in the study of the wild scene before us, which now 
began to develop a fearful interest. 

It would seem that what has been described was but 
preliminary to the drama itself, and that this drama was 
the trial of certain people for their lives. This we could 
guess, for after awhile the incantation ceased and the 
crowd in front of the big man with the cat upon his 
head opened out, while behind him a column of smoke 
rose into the air, as though light had been set to some 
sunk furnace. 

Into the space that had thus been cleared were now led 
seven persons, whose hands were tied behind them. They 
were of both sexes and included an old man and a woman 
with a tall and handsome figure, who appeared to be quite 
young, scarcely more than a girl indeed. These seven 
were ranged in a line where they stood, clearly in great 
fear, for the old man fell upon his knees and one of the 
women began to sob. Thus they were left awhile, per 
haps to allow the fire behind them to burn up, which it 



THE MESSENGER 179 

soon did with great fierceness, throwing a vivid light 1 
upon every detail of the spectacle. 

Now all was ready, and a man brought a wooden tray 
to the red-bearded priest, who was seated on a stool, the 
white cat upon his knees, whither we had seen it leap 
from his head a little while before. He took the tray by 
its handles and at a word from him the cat jumped on to 
it and sat there. Then amidst the mest intense silence he 
rose and uttered some prayer, apparently to the cat, which 
sat facing him. This done he turned the tray round so 
that the creature s back was now towards him, and, ad 
vancing to the line of prisoners, began to walk up and 
down in front of them, which he did several times, at each 
turn drawing a little nearer. 

Holding out the tray, he presented it at the face of the 
prisoner on the left, whereon the cat rose, arched its back 
and began to lift its paws up and down. Presently he 
moved to the next prisoner and held it before him awhile, 
and so on till he came to the fifth, that young woman of 
whom I have spoken. Now the cat grew very angry, for 
in the death-Hive stillness we could hear it spitting and 
growling. At length it seemed to lift its paws and strike 
the girl upon the face, whereon she screamed aloud, a 
terrible scream. Then all the audience broke out into a 
shout, a single word, which we understood, for we had 
heard one very like it used by the people of the Plain. It 
was " Witch ! Witch ! Witch! " 

Executioners who were waiting for the victim to be 
chosen in this ordeal by cat, rushed forward and seizing 
the girl began to drag her towards the fire. The prisoner 
who was standing by her and whom we rightly guessed 
to be her husband, tried to protect her, but his arms being 
bound, poor fellow, he could do nothing. One of the exe 
cutioners knocked him down with a stick. For a moment 
his wife escaped and threw herself upon him, but the 
brutes lifted her up again, haling her towards the fire, 
whilst all the audience shouted wildly. 



i8o AYES HA 

" I can t stand this," said Leo, " it s murder cold 
blooded murder," and he drew his sword. 

" Best leave the beasts alone," I answered doubtfully, 
though my own blood was boiling in my veins. 

Whether he heard or not I do not know, for the 
next thing I saw was Leo rushing through the gate wav 
ing the Khan s sword and shouting at the top of his voice. 
Then I struck my heels into the ribs of the horse and fol 
lowed after him. In ten seconds w r e were among them. 
As we came the savages fell back this way and that, star 
ing at us amazed, for at first I think they took us for ap 
paritions. Thus Leo on foot and I galloping after him, 
we came to the place. 

The executioners and their victim were near the fire 
now a very great fire of resinous pine logs built in a pit 
that measured about eight feet across. Close to it sat 
the priest upon his stool, watching the scene with a cruel 
smile, and rewarding the cat with little gobbets of raw 
meat, that he took from a leathern pouch at his side, occu 
pations in which he was so deeply engaged that he never 
saw us until we were right on to him. 

Shouting, " Leave her alone, you blackguards," Leo 
rushed at the executioners, and with a single blow of his 
sword severed the arm of one of them who gripped the 
woman by the nape of the neck. 

With a yell of pain and rage the man sprang back and 
stood waving the stump towards the people and staring at 
it wildly. In the confusion that followed I saw the victim 
slip from the hands of her astonished would-be murderers 
and run into the darkness, where she vanished. Also I 
saw the witch-doctor spring up, still holding the tray on 
which the cat was sitting, and heard him begin to shout a 
perfect torrent of furious abuse at Leo, who in reply 
waved his sword and cursed him roundly in English and 
many other languages. 

Then of a sudden the cat upon the tray, infuriated, I 
suppose, by the noise and the interruption of its meal, 



THE MESSENGER 181 

sprang straight at Leo s face. He appeared to catch it 
in mid-air with his left hand and with all his strength 
dashed it to the ground, where it lay writhing and screech 
ing. Then, as though by an afterthought, he stooped, 
picked the devilish creature up again and hurled it into 
the heart of the fire, for he was mad with rage and knew 
not what he did. 

At the sight of that awful sacrilege for such it was to 
them who worshipped this beast a gasp of horror rose 
from the spectators, followed by a howl of execration. 
Then like a wave of the sea they rushed at us. I saw Leo 
cut one man down, and next instant I was off the horse 
and being dragged towards the furnace. At the edge of 
it I met Leo in like plight, but fighting furiously, for his 
strength was great and they were half afraid of him. 

" Why couldn t you leave the cat alone ? " I shouted at 
him in idiotic remonstrance, for my brain had gone, and 
all I knew was that we were about to be thrown into the 
fiery pit. Already I was over it ; I felt the flames singe my 
hair and saw its red caverns awaiting me, when of a sud 
den the brutal hands that held me were unloosed and I 
fell backwards to the ground, where I lay staring up 
wards. 

This was what I saw. Standing in front of the fire, her 
draped form quivering as though with rage, was our 
ghostly-looking guide, who pointed with her hand at the 
gigantic, red-headed witch-doctor. But she was no 
longer alone, for with her were a score or more of men 
clad in white robes and armed with swords; black-eyed, 
ascetic-looking men, with clean-shaved heads and faces, 
for their scalps shone in the firelight. 

At the sight of them terror had seized that multitude 
which, mad as goaded bulls but a few seconds before, now 
fled in every direction like sheep frightened by a wolf. 
The leader of the white-robed priests, a man with a gen 
tle face, which when at rest was clothed in a perpetual 
smile, was addressing the medicine-man, and I under 
stood something of his talk. 



i82 AYESHA 

" Dog," he said in effect, speaking in a smooth, meas 
ured voice that yet was terrible, " accursed dog, beast- 
worshipper, what were you about to do to the guests of 
the mighty Mother of the Mountain? Is it for this that 
you and your idolatries have been spared so long? An 
swer, if you have anything to say. Answer quickly, for 
your time is short." 

With a groan of fear the great fellow flung himself 
upon his knees, not to the head-priest who questioned him, 
but before the quivering shape of our guide, and to her 
put up half-articulate prayers for mercy. 

" Cease," said the high-priest, " she is the Minister who 
judges and the Sword that strikes. I am the Ears and the 
Voice. Speak and tell me were you about to cast those 
men, whom you were commanded to receive hospitably, 
into yonder fire because they saved the victim of your f 
devilries and killed the imp you cherished? Nay, I saw 
it all. Know that it was but a trap set to catch you, who 
have been allowed to live too long." 

But still the wretch writhed before the draped form and 
howled for mercy. 

" Messenger," said the high-priest, " with thee the 
power goes. Declare thy decree." 

Then our guide lifted her hand slowly and pointed to 
the fire. At once the man turned ghastly white, groaned 
and fell back, as I think, quite dead, slain by his own ter 
ror. 

Now many of the people had fled, but some remained, 
and to these the priest called in cold tones, bidding them 
approach. They obeyed, creeping towards him. 

" Look," he said, pointing to the man, " look and trem 
ble at the justice of Hes the Mother. Aye, and be sure 
that as it is with him, so shall it be with every one of you 
who dares to defy her and to practise sorcery and murder. 
Lift up that dead dog who was your chief." 

Some of them crept forward and did his bidding. 

" Now, cast him into the bed which he had made ready 
for his victims." 



THE MESSENGER 183 

Staggering forward to the edge of the flaming pit, they 
obeyed, and the great body fell with a crash amongst the 
burning boughs and vanished there. 

" Listen, you people," said the priest, " and learn that 
this man deserved his dreadful doom. Know you why 
he purposed to kill that woman whom the strangers 
saved ? Because his familiar marked her as a witch, you 
think. I tell you it was not so. It was because she being 
fair, he would have taken her from her husband, as he 
had taken many another, and she refused him. But the 
Eye saw, the Voice spoke, and the Messenger did judg 
ment. He is caught in his own snare, and so shall you be, 
every one of you who dares to think evil in his heart or to 
do it with his hands. 

" Such is the just decree of the Hesea, spoken by her* 
from her throne amidst the fires of the Mountain." 



CHAPTER XIII 

BENEATH THE SHADOWING WINGS 

ONE by one the terrified tribesmen crept away. When 
the last of them were gone the priest advanced to Leo 
and saluted him by placing his hand upon his forehead. 

" Lord," he said, in the same corrupt Grecian dialect 
which was used by the courtiers of Kaloon, " I will not 
ask if you are hurt, since from the moment that you 
entered the sacred river and set foot within this land you 
and your companion were protected by a power invisible 
and could not be harmed by man or spirit, however great 
may have seemed your danger. Yet vile hands have been 
laid upon you, and this is the command of the Mother 
whom I serve, that, if you desire it, every one of those 
men who touched you shall die before your eyes. Say, is 
that your will ? " 

" Nay," answered Leo ; " they were mad and blind, let 
no blood be shed for us. All we ask of you, friend but, 
how are you called ? " 

" Name me Oros," he answered. 

" Friend Oros a good title for one who dwells upon 
the Mountain all we ask is food and shelter, and to be 
led swiftly into the presence of her whom you name 
Mother, that Oracle whose wisdom we have travelled far 
to seek." 

He bowed and answered : " The food and shelter are 
prepared and to-morrow, when you have rested, I am 
commanded to conduct you whither you desire to be. 
Follow me, I pray you " ; and he preceded us past the 
fiery pit to a building that stood about fifty yards away 
against the rock wall of the amphitheatre. 

184 



BENEATH THE SHADOWING WINGS 185, 

It would seem that it was a guest-house, or at least had 
been made ready to serve that purpose, as in it lamps were 
lit and a fire burned, for here the air was cold. The house 
was divided into two rooms, the second of them a sleeping 
place, to which he led us through the first. 

" Enter," he said, " for you will need to cleanse your 
selves, and you " here he addressed himself to me " to 
be treated for that hurt to your arm which you had from 
the jaws of the great hound." 

" How know you that ? " I asked. 

" It matters not if I do know and have made ready," 
Oros answered gravely. 

This second room was lighted and warmed like the first, 
moreover, heated water stood in basins of metal and on 
the beds were laid clean linen garments and dark-col 
oured hooded robes, lined with rich fur. Also upon a little 
table were ointments, bandages, and splints, a marvellous 
thing to see, for it told me that the very nature of my 
hurt had been divined. But I asked no more questions; 
I was too weary; moreover, I knew that it would be use 
less. 

Now the priest Oros helped me to remove my tattered 
robe, and, undoing the rough bandages upon my arm, 
washed it gently with warm water, in which he mixed 
some spirit, and examined it with the skill of a trained 
doctor. 

" The fangs rent deep," he said, " and the small bone is 
broken, but you will take no harm, save for the scars 
which must remain." Then, having treated the wounds 
with ointment, he wrapped the limb with such a delicate 
touch that it scarcely pained me, saying that by the mor 
row the swelling would have gone down and he would 
set the bone. This indeed happened. 

After it was done he helped me to wash and to clothe 
myself in the clean garments, and put a sling about my 
neck to serve as a rest for my arm. Meanwhile Leo had 
also dressed himself, so that we left the chamber together 



1 86 AYES HA 

very different men to the foul, blood-stained wanderers 
who had entered there. In the outer room we found food 
prepared for us, of which we ate with a thankful heart and 
without speaking. Then, blind with weariness, we re 
turned to the other chamber and, having removed our 
outer garments, flung ourselves upon the beds and were 
soon plunged in sleep. 

At some time in the night I awoke suddenly, at what 
hour I do not know, as certain people wake, I among 
them, when their room is entered, even without the slight 
est noise. Before I opened my eyes I felt that some one 
was with us in the place. Nor was I mistaken. A little 
lamp still burned in the chamber, a mere wick floating in 
oil, and by its light I saw a dim, ghost-like form standing 
near the door. Indeed I thought almost that it was a 
ghost, till presently I remembered, and knew it for our 
corpse-like guide, who appeared to be looking intently 
at the bed on which Leo lay, or so I thought, for the head 
was bent in that direction. 

At first she was quite still, then she moaned aloud, a 
low and terrible moan, which seemed to well from the 
very heart. 

So the thing was not dumb, as I had believed. Evi 
dently it could suffer, and express its suffering in a human 
fashion. Look ! it was wringing its padded hands as in 
an excess of woe. Now it would seem that Leo began to 
feel its influence also, for he stirred and spoke in his 
sleep, so low at first that I could only distinguish the 
tongue he used, which was Arabic. Presently I caught a 
few words. 

"Ayesha," he said, " Ayesha!" 

The figure glided towards him and stopped. He sat 
up in the bed still fast asleep, for his eyes were shut. He 
stretched out his arms, as though seeking one whom he 
would embrace, and spoke again in a low and passionate 
voice 

" Ayesha, through life and death I have sought thee 
long. Come to me, my goddess, my desired." 



BENEATH THE SHADOWING WINGS 187 

The figure glided yet nearer, and I could see that it was 
trembling, and now its arms were extended also. 

At the bedside she halted, and Leo laid himself down 
again. Now the coverings had fallen back, exposing his 
breast, where lay the leather satchel he always wore, that 
which contained the lock of Ayesha s hair. He was fast 
asleep, and the figure seemed to fix its eyes upon this 
satchel. Presently it did more, for, with surprising deft 
ness those white-wrapped fingers opened its clasp, yes, 
and drew out the long tress of shining hair. Long and 
earnestly she gazed at it, then gently replaced the relic, 
closed the satchel and for a little while seemed to weep. 
While she stood thus the dreaming Leo once more 
stretched out his arms and spoke, saying, in the same 
passion-laden voice 

" Come to me, my darling, my beautiful, my beauti 
ful ! " 

At those words, with a little mufHed scream, like that of 
a scared night-bird, the figure turned and flitted through 
the doorway. 

When I was quite certain that she had gone, I gasped 
aloud. 

What might this mean, I wondered, in a very agony of 
bewilderment. This could certainly be no dream : it was 
real, for I was wide awake. Indeed, what did it all mean ? 
Who was the ghastly, mummy-like thing which had 
guided us unharmed through such terrible dangers; the 
Messenger that all men feared, who could strike down a 
brawny savage with a motion of its hand? Why did it 
creep into the place thus at dead of night, like a spirit re 
visiting one beloved ? W r hy did its presence cause me to 
awake and Leo to dream ? Why did it draw out the tress ; 
indeed, how knew it that this tress was hidden there? 
And why oh ! why, at those tender and passionate words 
did it flit away at last like some scared bat ? 

The priest Oros had called our guide Minister, and 



i88 AYESHA 

Sword, that is, one who carries out decrees. But what 
if they were its own decrees? What if this thing should 
be she whom we sought, Ayesha herself ? Why should I 
tremble at the thought, seeing that if so, our quest was 
ended, we had achieved ? Oh ! it must be because about 
this being there was something terrible, something un- 
human and appalling. If Ayesha lived within those 
mummy-cloths, then it was a different Ayesha whom we 
had known and worshipped. Well could I remember the 
white-draped form of She-Who-Must-Be-Obcyed, and 
how, long before she revealed her glorious face to us, we 
guessed the beauty and the majesty hidden beneath that 
veil by which her radiant life and loveliness incarnate 
could not be disguised. 

But what of this creature? I would not pursue the 
thought. I was mistaken. Doubtless she was what the 
priest Oros had said some half-supernatural being to 
whom certain powers were given, and, doubtless, she had 
come to spy on us in our rest that she might make report 
to the giver of those powers. 

Comforting myself thus I fell asleep again, for fatigue 
overcame even such doubts and fears. In the morning, 
when they were naturally less vivid, I made up my mind 
that, for various reasons, it would be wisest to say noth 
ing of what I had seen to Leo. Nor, indeed, did I do so 
until some days had gone by. 

When I awoke the full light was pouring into the cham 
ber, and by it I saw the priest Oros standing at my bed 
side. I sat up and asked him what time it was, to which 
he answered with a smile, but in a low voice, that it lacked 
but two hours of mid-day, adding that he had come to set 
my arm. Now I saw why he spoke low, for Leo was still 
fast asleep. 

" Let him rest on," he said, as he undid the wrappings 
on my arm, " for he has suffered much, and," he con 
tinued significantly, " may still have more to suffer." 

" What do you mean, friend Oros ? " I asked sharply. 



BENEATH THE SHADOWING WINGS 189 

" I thought you told us that we were safe upon this Moun 
tain." 

" I told you, friend " and he looked at me. 

" Holly is my name " 

" friend Holly, that your bodies are safe. I said 
nothing of all the rest of you. Man is more than flesh 
and blood. He is mind and spirit as well, and these can 
be injured also." 

" Who is there that would injure them? " I asked. 

" Friend," he answered, gravely, " you and your com 
panion have come to a haunted land, not as mere wander 
ers, for then you would be dead ere now, but of set pur 
pose, seeking to lift the veil from mysteries which have 
been hid for ages. Well, your aim is known and it may 
chance that it will be achieved. But if this veil is lifted, it 
may chance also that you will find what shall send your 
souls shivering to despair and madness. Say, are you not 
afraid ? " 

" Somewhat," I answered. " Yet my foster-son and I 
have seen strange things and lived. We have seen the 
very Light of Life roll by in majesty; we have been the 
guests of an Immortal, and watched Death seem to con 
quer her and leave us untouched. Think you then that 
we will turn cowards now? Nay, we march on to fulfil 
our destinies." 

At these words Oros showed neither curiosity nor sur 
prise ; it was as though I told him only what he knew. 

" Good," he replied, smiling, and with a courteous bow 
of his shaven head, " within an hour you shall march on 
to fulfil your destinies. If I have warned you, forgive 
me, for I was bidden so to do, perhaps to try your mettle. 
Is it needful that I should repeat this warning to the 
lord " and again he looked at me. 

" Leo Vincey," I said. 

" Leo Vincey, yes, Leo Vincey," he repeated, as though 
the name were familiar to him but had slipped his mind. 
" But you have not answered my question. Is it needful 
that I should repeat the warning ? " 



AYES HA 

" Not in the least ; but you can do so if you wish when 
he awakes." 

" Nay, I think with you, that it would be but waste of 
words, for forgive the comparison what the wolf 
dares " and he looked at me " the tiger does not flee 
from," and he nodded towards Leo. " There, see how 
much better are the wounds upon your arm, which is no 
longer swollen. Now I will bandage it, and within some 
few weeks the bone will be as sound again as it was before 
you met the Khan Rassen hunting in the Plains. By the 
way, you will see him again soon, and his fair wife with 
him." 

" See him 1 again ? Do the dead, then, come to life upon 
this Mountain ? " 

" Nay, but certain of them are brought hither for burial. 
It is the privilege of the rulers of Kaloon ; also, I think, 
that the Khani has questions to ask of its Oracle." 

" Who is its Oracle ? " I asked with eagerness. 

" The Oracle," he replied darkly, " is a Voice. It was 
ever so, was it not ? " 

" Yes ; I have heard that from Atene, but a voice im 
plies a speaker. Is this speaker she whom you name 
Mother?" 

" Perhaps, friend Holly." 

" And is this Mother a spirit? " 

" It is a point that has been much debated. They told 
you so in the Plains, did they not ? Also the Tribes think 
it on the Mountain. Indeed, the thing seems reasonable, 
seeing that all of us who live are flesh and spirit. But 
you will form your own judgment and then we can discuss 
the matter. There, your arm is finished. Be careful now 
not to strike it or to fall, and look, your companion 
awakes." 

Something over an hour later we started upon our up 
ward journey. I was again mounted on the Khan s horse, 
which having been groomed and fed was somewhat rested, 



BENEATH THE SHADOWING WINGS 191 

while to Leo a litter had been offered. This he declined, 
however, saying that he had now recovered and would 
not be carried like a woman. So he walked by the side of 
my horse, using his spear as a staff. We passed the fire- 
pit now full of dead, white ashes, among which were 
mixed those of the witch-finder and his horrible cat 
preceded by our dumb guide, at the sight of whom, in her 
pale wrappings, the people of the tribe who had returned 
to their village prostrated themselves, and so remained 
until she was gone by. 

One of them, however, rose again and, breaking 
through our escort of priests, ran to Leo, knelt before him 
and kissed his hand. It was that young woman whose 
life he had saved, a noble-looking girl, with masses of red 
hair, and by her was her husband, the marks of his bonds 
still showing on his arms. Our guide seemed to see this 
incident, though how she did so I do not know. At any 
rate she turned and made some sign which the priest inter 
preted. 

Calling the woman to him he asked her sternly how she 
dared to touch the person of this stranger with her vile 
lips. She answered that it was because her heart was 
grateful. Oros said that for this reason she was for 
given; moreover, that in reward for what they had suf 
fered he was commanded to lift up her husband to be the 
ruler of that tribe during the pleasure of the Mother. He 
gave notice, moreover, that all should obey the new chief 
in his place, according to their customs, and if he did any 
evil, make report that he might suffer punishment. Then 
waving the pair aside, without listening to their thanks or 
the acclamations of the crowd, he passed on. 

As we went down the ravine by which we had ap 
proached the village on the previous night, a sound of 
chanting struck our ears. Presently the path turned, and 
we saw a solemn procession advancing up that dismal, 
sunless gorge. At the head of it rode none other than the 
beautiful Khania, followed by her great-uncle, the old 



192 AYESHA 

Shaman, and after these came a company of shaven priests 
in their white robes, bearing between them a bier, upon 
which, its face uncovered, lay the body of the Khan, 
draped in a black garment. Yet he looked better thus 
than he had ever done, for now death had touched this 
insane and dissolute man with something of the dignity 
which he lacked in life. 

Thus then we met. At the sight of our guide s white 
form, the horse which the Khania rode reared up so vio 
lently that I thought it would have thrown her. But she 
mastered the animal with her whip and voice, and called 
out 

" Who is this draped hag of the Mountain that stops 
the path of the Khania Atene and her dead lord? My 
guests, I find you in ill company, for it seems that you are 
conducted by an evil spirit to meet an evil fate. That 
guide of yours must surely be something hateful and hide 
ous, for were she a wholesome woman she would not fear 
to show her face." 

Now the Shaman plucked his mistress by the sleeve, 
and the priest Oros, bowing to her, prayed her to be 
silent and cease to speak such ill-omened words into the 
air, which might carry them she knew not whither. But 
some instinctive hate seemed to bubble up in Atene, and 
she would not be silent, for she addressed our guide using 
the direct " thou," a manner of speech that we found was 
.very usual on the Mountain though rare upon the Plains. 

" Let the air carry them whither it will," she cried. 
" Sorceress, strip off thy rags, fit only for a corpse too vile 
to view. Show us what thou art, thou flitting night-owl, 
who thinkest to frighten me with that livery of death, 
which only serves to hide the death within." 

" Cease, I pray lady, cease," said Oros, stirred for once 
out of his imperturbable calm. " She is the Minister, none 
other, and with her goes the Power." 

" Then it goes not against Atene, Khania of Kaloon," 
she answered, " or so I think. Power, forsooth ! Let 



BENEATH THE SHADOWING WINGS 193 

her show her power. If she has any it is not her own, 
but that of the Witch of the Mountain, who feigns to be a 
spirit, and by her sorceries has drawn away my guests " 
and she pointed to us " thus bringing my husband to his 
death/ 

" Niece, be silent ! " said the old Shaman, whose wrin 
kled face was white with terror, whilst Oros held up his 
hands as though in supplication to some unseen Strength, 
saying 

" O thou that hearest and seest, be merciful, I beseech 
thee, and forgive this woman her madness, lest the blood 
of a guest should stain the hands of thy servants, and the 
ancient honour of our worship be brought low in the eyes 
of men." 

Thus he prayed, but although his hands were uplifted, 
it seemed to me that his eyes were fixed upon our guide, as 
ours were. While he spoke, I saw her hand raised, as she 
had raised it when she slew or rather sentenced the witch 
doctor. Then she seemed to reflect, and stayed it in mid 
air, so that it pointed at the Khania. She did not move, 
she made no sound, only she pointed, and, the angry 
words died upon Atene s lips, the fury left her eyes, and 
the colour her face. Yes, she grew white and silent as the 
corpse upon the bier behind her. Then, cowed by that 
invisible power, she struck her horse so fiercely that it 
bounded by us onward towards the village, at which the 
funeral company were to rest awhile. 

As the Shaman Simbri followed the Khania, the priest 
Oros caught his horse s bridle and said to him 

" Magician, we have met before, for instance, when 
your lady s father was brought to his funeral. Warn her, 
then, you that know something of the truth and of her 
power to speak more gently of the ruler of this land. 
Say to her, from me, that had she not been the ambassa 
dress of death, and, therefore, inviolate, surely ere now 
she would have shared her husband s bier. Farewell, to 
morrow we will speak again," and, loosing the Shaman s 
bridle, Oros passed on. 



i 9 4 AYES HA 

Soon we had left the melancholy procession behind us 
and, issuing from the gorge, turned up the Mountain slope 
towards the edge of the bright snows that lay not far 
above. It was as we came out of this darksome valley, 
where the overhanging pine trees almost eclipsed the light, 
that suddenly we missed our guide. 

" Has she gone back to to reason with the Khania ? " 
I asked of Oros. 

" Nay ! " he answered, with a slight smile, " I think that 
she has gone forward to give warning that the Hesea s 
guests draw near." 

" Indeed," I answered, staring hard at the bare slope of 
mountain, up which not a mouse could have passed with 
out being seen. " I understand she has gone forward," 
and the matter dropped. But what I did not understand 
was how she had gone. As the Mountain was honey 
combed with caves and galleries, I suppose, however, that 
she entered one of them. 

All the rest of that day we marched upwards, gradually 
drawing nearer to the snow-line, as we went gathering 
what information we could from the priest Oros. This 
was the sum of it 

From the beginning of the world, as he expressed it, 
that is, from thousands and thousands of years ago, this 
Mountain had been the home of a peculiar fire-worship, 
of which the head heirophant was a woman. About 
twenty centuries before, however, the invading general 
named Rassen, had made himself Khan of Kaloon. Ras- 
sen established a new priestess on the Mountain, a wor 
shipper of the Egyptian goddess, Hes, or Isis. This 
priestess had introduced certain modifications in the an 
cient doctrines, superseding the cult of fire, pure and 
simple, by a new faith, which, while holding to some of 
the old ceremonies, revered as its head the Spirit of Life 
or Nature, of whom they looked upon their priestess as 
the earthly representative. 

Of this priestess Oros would only tell us that she was 



BENEATH THE SHADOWING WINGS 195 

" ever present," although we gathered that when one 
priestess died or was " taken to the fire," as he put it, her 
child, whether in fact or by adoption, succeeded her and 
was known by the same names, those of " Hes " or the 
" Hesea " and " Mother." We asked if we should see this 
Mother, to which he answered that she manifested herself 
very rarely. As to her appearance and attributes he would 
say nothing, except that the former changed from time to 
time and that when she chose to use it she had " all 
power." 

The priests of her College, he informed us, numbered 
three hundred, never more nor less, and there were also 
three hundred priestesses. Certain of those who desired 
it were allowed to marry, and from among their children 
were reared up the new generation of priests and priest 
esses. Thus they were a people apart from all others, 
with distinct racial characteristics. This, indeed, was evi 
dent, for our escort were all exceedingly like to each other, 
very handsome and refined in appearance, with dark eyes, 
clean-cut features and olive-hued skins ; such a people as 
might well have descended from Easterns of high blood, 
with a dash of that of the Egyptians and Greeks thrown 
in. 

We asked him whether the mighty looped pillar that 
towered from the topmost cup of the Mountain was the 
work of men. He answered, No; the hand of Nature 
had fashioned it, and that the light shining through it 
came from the fires which burned in the crater of the 
volcano. The first priestess, having recognized in this 
gigantic column the familiar Symbol of Life of the Egyp 
tian worship, established her altars beneath its shadow. 

For the rest, the Mountain with its mighty slopes and 
borderlands was peopled by a multitude of half-savage 
folk, who accepted the rule of the Hesea, bringing her 
tribute of all things necessary, such as food and metals. 
Much of the meat and grain however the priests raised 
themselves on sheltered farms, and the metals they worked 



1 96 AYES HA 

with their own hands. This rule, however, was of a moral 
nature, since for centuries the College had sought no con 
quests and the Mother contented herself with punishing 
crime in some such fashion as we had seen. For the petty 
wars between the Tribes and the people of the Plain they 
were not responsible, and those chiefs who carried them 
on were deposed, unless they had themselves been at 
tacked. All the Tribes, however, were sworn to the de 
fence of the Hesea and the College, and, however much 
they might quarrel amongst themselves, if need arose, 
were ready to die for her to the last man. That war must 
one day break out again between the priests of the Moun 
tain and the people of Kaloon was recognized ; therefore 
they endeavoured to be prepared for that great and final 
struggle. 

Such was the gist of his history, which, as we learned 
afterwards, proved to be true in every particular. 

Towards sundown we came to a vast cup extending 
over many thousand acres, situated beneath the snow-line 
of the peak and filled with rich soil washed down, I sup 
pose, from above. So sheltered was the place by its con 
figuration and the over-hanging mountain that, facing 
south-west as it did, notwithstanding its altitude it pro 
duced corn and other temperate crops in abundance. Here 
the College had its farms, and very well cultivated these 
seemed to be. This great cup, which could not be seen 
from below, we entered through a kind of natural gate 
way, that might be easily defended against a host. 

There were other peculiarities, but it is not necessary 
to describe them further than to say that I think the soil 
benefited by the natural heat of the volcano, and that 
when this erupted, as happened occasionally, the lava 
streams always passed to the north and south of the cup 
of land. Indeed, it was these lava streams that had built 
up the protecting cliffs. 

Crossing the garden-like lands, we came to a small 



BENEATH THE SHADOWING WINGS 197 

town beautifully built of lava rock. Here dwelt the 
priests, except those who were on duty, no man of the 
Tribes or other stranger being allowed to set foot within 
the place. 

Following the main street of this town, we arrived at 
the face of the precipice beyond, and found ourselves in 
front of a vast archway, closed with massive iron gates 
fantastically wrought. Here, taking my horse with them, 
our escort left us alone with Oros. As we drew near the 
great gates swung back upon their hinges. We passed 
them with what sensations I cannot describe and 
groped our way down a short corridor which ended in tall, 
iron-covered doors. These also rolled open at our ap 
proach, and next instant we staggered back amazed and 
half-blinded by the intense blaze of light within. 

Imagine, you who read, the nave of the vastest cathedral 
with which you are acquainted. Then double or treble 
its size, and you will have some conception of that temple 
in which we found ourselves. Perhaps in the beginning 
it had been a cave, who can say ? but now its sheer walls, 
its multitudinous columns springing to the arched roof far 
above us, had all been worked on and fashioned by the 
labour of men long dead; doubtless the old fire-worship 
pers of thousands of years ago. 

You w 7 ill wonder how so great a place was lighted, but 
I think that never would you guess. Thus by twisted 
columns of living flame! I counted eighteen of them, but 
thefe rhay have been others. They sprang from the floor 
at regular intervals along the lines of what in a cathedral 
would be the aisles. Right to the roof they sprang, of 
even height and girth, so fierce was the force of the 
natural gas that drove them, and there were lost, I sup 
pose, through chimneys bored in the thickness of the 
rock. Nor did they give off smell or smoke, or in that 
great, cold place, any heat which could be noticed, only an 
intense white light like that of molten iron, and a sharp 
hissing noise as of a million angry snakes. 



1 98 AYES HA 

The huge temple was utterly deserted, and, save for this 
sybilant, pervading sound, utterly silent ; an awesome, an 
overpowering place. 

" Do these candles of yours ever go out? " asked Leo of 
Oros, placing his hand before his dazzled eyes. 

" How can they," replied the priest, in his smooth, 
matter-of-fact voice, " seeing that they rise from the eter 
nal fire which the builders of this hall worshipped ? Thus 
they have burned from the beginning, and thus they will 
burn for ever, though, if we wish it, we can shut off their 
light. 1 Be pleased to follow me: you will see greater 
things." 

So in awed silence we followed, and, oh ! how small 
and miserable we three human beings looked alone in that 
vast temple illuminated by this lightning radiance. We 
reached the end of it at length, only to find that to right 
and left ran transepts on a like gigantic scale and lit in the 
same amazing fashion. Here Oros bade us halt, and we 
waited a little while, till presently, from either transept 
arose a sound of chanting, and we perceived two white- 
robed processions advancing towards us from their depths. 

On they came, very slowly, and we saw that the pro 
cession to the right was a company of priests, and that to 
the left a company of priestesses, a hundred or so of them 
in all. 

Now the men ranged themselves in front of us, while 
the women ranged themselves behind, and at a signal 
from Oros, all of them still chanting some wild and thrill 
ing hymn, once more we started forward, this time along 
a narrow gallery closed at the end with double wooden 
doors. As our procession reached these they opened, and 
before us lay the crowning wonder of this marvellous 
fane, a vast, ellipse-shaped apse. Now we understood. 

1 This, as I ascertained afterwards, was done by thrusting a broad 
stone of great thickness over the apertures through which the gas or fire 
rushed and thus cutting off the air. These stones were worked to and 
fro by means of pulleys connected with iron rods. L. H. H. 



BENEATH THE SHADOWING WINGS 199 

The plan of the temple was the plan of the looped pillar 
which stood upon the brow of the Peak, and as we rightly 
guessed, its dimensions were the same. 

At intervals around this ellipse the fiery columns flared, 
but otherwise the place was empty. 

No, not quite, for at the head of the apse, almost be- 
iween two of the flame columns, stood a plain, square 
altar of the size of a small room, in front of which, as we 
saw when we drew nearer, were hung curtains of woven 
silver thread. On this altar was placed a large statue of 
silver, that, backed as it was by the black rock, seemed to 
concentrate and reflect from its burnished surface the in 
tense light of the two blazing pillars. 

It was a lovely thing, but to describe it is hard indeed. 
The figure, which was winged, represented a draped 
woman of mature years, and pure but gracious form, half 
hidden by the forward-bending wings. Sheltered by these, 
yet shown between them, appeared the image of a male 
child, clasped to its bearer s breast with her left arm, 
while the right was raised toward the sky. A study of 
Motherhood, evidently, but how shall I write of all that 
was conveyed by those graven faces ? 

To begin with the child. It was that of a sturdy boy, 
full of health and the joy of life. Yet he had been sleep 
ing, and in his sleep some terror had over-shadowed him 
with the dark shades of death and evil. There was fear 
in the lines of his sweet mouth and on the lips and cheeks, 
that seemed to quiver. He had thrown his little arm about 
his mother s neck, and, pressing close against her breast, 
looked up to her for safety, his right hand and out 
stretched finger pointing downwards and behind him, as 
though to indicate whence the danger came. Yet it was 
passing, already half-forgotten, for the upturned eyes ex 
pressed confidence renewed, peace of soul attained. 

And the mother. She did not seem to mock or chide 
his fears, for her lovely face was anxious and alert. Yet 
upon it breathed a very atmosphere of unchanging tender- 



200 AYESHA 

ness and power invincible ; care for the helpless, strength 
to shelter it from every harm. The great, calm eyes told 
their story, the parted lips were whispering some tale of 
hope, sure and immortal ; the raised hand revealed whence 
that hope arose. All love seemed to be concentrated in 
the brooding figure, so human, yet so celestial ; all heaven 
seemed to lie an open path before those quivering wings. 
And see, the arching instep, the upward-springing foot, 
suggested that thither those wings were bound, bearing 
their God-given burden far from the horror of the earth, 
deep into the bosom of a changeless rest above. 

The statue was only that of an affrighted child in its 
mother s arms; its interpretation made clear even to the 
dullest by the simple symbolism of some genius Human- 
.ity saved by the Divine. 

While we gazed at its enchanting beauty, the priests 
and priestesses, filing away to right and left, arranged 
themselves alternately, first a man and then a woman, 
within the ring of the columns of fire that burned around 
the loop-shaped shrine. So great was its circumference 
that the whole hundred of them must stand wide apart 
one from another, and, to our sight, resembled little lonely 
children clad in gleaming garments, while their chant of 
worship reached us only like echoes thrown from a far 
precipice. In short, the effect of this holy shrine and its 
occupants was superb yet overwhelming, at least I know 
that it filled me with a feeling akin to fear. 

Oros waited till the last priest had reached his appointed 
place. Then he turned and said, in his gentle, reverent 
tones 

" Draw nigh, now, O Wanderers well-beloved, and give 
greeting to the Mother," and he pointed towards the 
statue. 

" Where is she ? " asked Leo, in a whisper, for here we 
scarcely dared to speak aloud. " I see no one." 

" The Hesea dwells yonder," he answered, and, taking 
each of us by the hand, he led us forward across the great 
emptiness of the apse to the altar at its head. 



BENEATH THE SHADOWING WINGS 201 

As we drew near the distant chant of the priests gath 
ered in volume, assuming a glad, triumphant note, and it 
seemed to me though this, perhaps was fancy that the 
light from the twisted columns of flame grew even 
brighter. 

At length we were there, and, Oros, loosing our hands, 
prostrated himself thrice before the altar. Then he rose 
again, and, falling behind us, stood in silence with bent 
head and folded fingers. We stood silent also, our hearts 
filled with mingled hope and fear like a cup with wine. 

Were our labours ended ? Had we found her whom we 
sought, or were we, perchance, but enmeshed in the web 
of some marvellous mummery and about to make ac 
quaintance with the secret of another new and mystical 
worship ? For years and years we had searched, enduring 
every hardness of flesh and spirit that man can suffer, and 
now we were to learn whether we had endured in vain. 
Yes, and Leo would learn if the promise was to be ful 
filled to him, or whether she whom he adored had become 
but a departed dream to be sought for only beyond the 
gate of Death. Little wonder that he trembled and turned 
white in the agony of that great suspense. 

Long, long was the time. Hours, years, ages, aeons, 
seemed to flow over us as we stood there before glittering 
silver curtains that hid the front of the black altar beneath 
the mystery of the sphinx-like face of the glorious image 
which was its guardian, clothed with that frozen smile of 
eternal love and pity. All the past went before us as we 
struggled in those dark waters of our doubt. Item by 
item, event by event, we rehearsed the story which began 
in the Caves of Kor, for our thoughts, so long attuned, 
were open to each other and flashed from soul to soul. 

Oh ! now we knew, they were open also to another soul. 
We could see nothing save the Altar and the Effigy, we 
could only hear the slow chant of the priests and priest 
esses and the snake-like hiss of the rushing fires. Yet we 
knew that our hearts were as an open book to One who 
watched beneath the Mother s shadowing wings. 



CHAPTER XIV 

THE COURT OF DEATH 

Now the curtains were open. Before us appeared a cham 
ber hollowed from the thickness of the altar, and in its 
centre a throne, and on the throne a figure clad in waves 
of billowy white flowing from the head over the arms of 
the throne down to its marble steps. We could see no 
more in the comparative darkness of that place, save that 
beneath the folds of the drapery the Oracle held in its 
hand a loop-shaped, jewelled sceptre. 

Moved by some impulse, we did as Oros had done, 
prostrating ourselves, and there remained upon our knees. 
At length we heard a tinkling as of little bells, and, look 
ing up, saw that the sistrum-shaped sceptre was stretched 
towards us by the draped arm which held it. Then a 
thin, clear voice spoke, and I thought that it trembled a 
little. It spoke in Greek, but in a much purer Greek than 
all these people used. 

" I greet you, Wanderers, who have journeyed so far 
to visit this most ancient shrine, and although doubtless of 
some other faith, are not ashamed to do reverence to that 
unworthy one who is for this time its Oracle and the 
guardian of its mysteries. Rise now and have no fear of 
me ; for have I not sent my Messenger and servants to 
conduct you to this Sanctuary ? " 

Slowly we rose, and stood silent, not knowing what to 
say. 

" I greet you, Wanderers," the voice repeated. " Tell 
me thou " and the sceptre pointed towards Leo " how 
art thou named ? " 

202 



THE COURT OF DEATH 203 

" I am named Leo Vincey," he answered. 

" Leo Vincey ! I like the name, which to me well befits 
a man so goodly. And thott, the companion of Leo Vin 
cey?" 

" I am named Horace Holly." 

" So. Then tell me, Leo Vincey and Horace Holly, 
what came ye so far to seek ? " 

We looked at each other, and I said 

" The tale is long and strange. O but by what title 
must we address thee ? " 

" By the name which I bear here, Hes." 

" O Hes," I said, wondering what name she bore else 
where. 

" Yet I desire to hear that tale," she went on, and to me 
her voice sounded eager. " Nay, not all to-night, for I 
know that you both are weary; a little of it only. In 
sooth, Strangers, there is a sameness in this home of con 
templations, and no heart can feed only on the past, if 
such a thing there be. Therefore I welcome a new history 
from the world without. Tell it me, thou, Leo, as briefly 
as thou wilt, so that thou tell the truth, for in the Pres 
ence of which I am a Minister, may nothing else be ut 
tered." 

" Priestess," he said, in his curt fashion, " I obey. 
Many years ago when I was young, my friend and foster- 
father and I, led by records of the past, travelled to a 
wild land, and there found a certain divine woman who 
had conquered time." 

" Then that woman must have been both aged and hide 
ous." 

" I said, Priestess, that she had conquered time, not 
suffered it, for the gift of immortal youth was hers. Also 
she was not hideous ; she was beauty itself." 

" Therefore stranger, thou didst worship her for her 
beauty s sake, as a man does." 

" I did not worship her ; I loved her, which is another 
thing. The priest Oros here worships thee, whom he 
calls Mother. I loved that immortal woman." 



204 A YES HA 

11 Then thou shouldst love her still. Yet, not so, since 
love is very mortal." 

" I love her still," he answered, " although she died." 

" Why, how is that? Thou saidst she was immortal." 

" Perchance she only seemed to die ; perchance she 
changed. At least I lost her, and what I lost I seek, and 
have sought this many a year." 

" Why dost thou seek her in my Mountain, Leo Vin- 
cey?" 

" Because a vision led me to ask counsel of its Oracle. 
I am come hither to learn tidings of my lost love, since 
here alone these may be found." 

" And thou, Holly, didst thou also love an immortal 
woman whose immortality, it seems, must bow to death ? " 

" Priestess," I answered, " I am sworn to this quest, and 
where my foster-son goes I follow. He follows beauty 
that is dead " 

" And thou dost follow him. Therefore both of you 
follow beauty as men have ever done, being blind and 
mad." 

" Nay," I answered, " if they were blind, beauty would 
be naught to them who could not see it, and if they were 
mad, they would not know it when it was seen. Knowl 
edge and vision belong to the wise, O Hes." 

" Thou art quick of wit and tongue, Holly, as " and 

she checked herself, then of a sudden, said, " Tell me, did 
my servant the Khania of Kaloon entertain both of you 
hospitably in her city, and speed you on your journey 
hither, as I commanded her ? " 

" We knew not that she was thy servant," I replied. 
" Hospitality we had and to spare, but we were sped from 
her Court hitherward by the death-hounds of the Khan, 
her husband. Tell us, Priestess, what thou knowest of 
this journey of ours." 

" A little," she answered carelessly. " More than three 
moons ago my spies saw you upon the far mountains, and, 
creeping very close to you at night, heard you speak to- 



THE COURT OF DEATH 205 

gether of the object of your wanderings, then, returning 
thence swiftly, made report to me. Thereon I bade the 
Khania Atene, and that old magician her great-uncle, who 
is Guardian of the Gate, go down to the ancient gates of 
Kaloon to receive you and bring you hither with all speed. 
Yet for men who burned to learn the answer to a riddle, 
you have been long in coming/ 

" We came as fast as we might, O Hes," said Leo ; 
" and if thy spies could visit those mountains, where no 
man was, and find a path down that hideous precipice, 
they must have been able also to tell thee the reason of our 
delay. Therefore I pray, ask it not of us." 

" Nay, I will ask it of Atene herself, and she shall surely 
answer me, for she stands without," replied the Hesea 
in a cold voice. " Oros, lead the Khania hither and be 
swift." 

The priest turned and walking quickly to the wooden 
doors by which we had entered the shrine, vanished there. 

" Now," said Leo to me nervously in the silence that 
followed, and speaking in English, " now I wish we were 
somewhere else, for I think that there will be trouble." 

" I don t think, I am sure," I answered ; " but the more 
the better, for out of trouble may come the truth, which 
we need sorely." Then I stopped, reflecting that the 
strange woman before us said that her spies had over 
heard our talk upon the mountains, where we had spoken 
nothing but English. 

As it proved, I was wise, for quite quietly the Hesea 
repeated after me 

" Thou hast experience, Holly, for out of trouble comes 
the truth, as out of wine." 

Then she was silent, and, needless to say, I did not 
pursue the conversation. 

The doors swung open, and through them came a pro 
cession clad in black, followed by the Shaman Simbri, 
who walked in front of a bier, upon which lay the body of 



206 AYESHA 

the Khan, carried by eight priests. Behind it was Atene, 
draped in a black veil from head to foot, and after her 
marched another company of priests. In front of the 
altar the bier was set down and the priests fell back, 
leaving Atene and her uncle standing alone before the 
corpse. 

" What seeks my vassal, the Khania of Kaloon ? " asked 
the Hesea in a cold voice. 

Now Atene advanced and bent the knee, but with little 
graciousness. 

" Ancient Mother, Mother from of old, I do reverence 
to thy holy Office, as my forefathers have done for many 
a generation," and again she curtseyed. " Mother, this 
dead man asks of thee that right of sepulchre in the fires 
of the holy Mountain which from the beginning has been 
accorded to the royal departed who went before him." 

" It has been accorded as thou sayest," answered the 
Hesea, " by those priestesses who filled my place before 
me, nor shall it be refused to thy dead lord, or to thee 
Atene when thy time comes." 

" I thank thee, O Hes, and I pray that this decree may 
be written down, for the snows of age have gathered on 
thy venerable head and soon thou must leave us for 
awhile. Therefore bid thy scribes that it be written down, 
so that the Hesea who rules after thee may fulfil it in its 
season." 

" Cease," said the Hesea, " cease to pour out thy bitter 
ness at that which should command thy reverence, oh ! 
thou foolish child, who dost not know but that to-morrow 
the fire shall claim the frail youth and beauty which are 
thy boast. I bid thee cease, and tell me how did death 
find this lord of thine ? " 

" Ask those wanderers yonder, that were his guests, for 
his blood is on their heads and cries for vengeance at thy 
hands." 

" I killed him," said Leo, " to save my own life. He 
tried to hunt us down with his dogs, and there are the 



THE COURT OF DEATH 207 

marks of them," and he pointed to my arm. " The priest 
Oros knows, for he dressed the hurts." 

" How did this chance ? " asked the Hesea of Atene. 

" My lord was mad," she answered boldly, " and such 
was his cruel sport." 

" So. And was thy lord jealous also? Nay, keep back 
the falsehood I see rising to thy lips. Leo Vincey, answer 
thou me. Yet, I will not ask thee to lay bare the secrets 
of a woman who has offered thee her love. Thou, Holly, 
speak, and let it be the truth." 

" It is this, O Hes," I answered. " Yonder lady and 
her uncle the Shaman Simbri saved us from death in the 
waters of the river that bounds the precipices of Kaloon. 
Afterwards we were ill, and they treated us kindly, but 
the Khania became enamoured of my foster-son." 

Here the figure of the Priestess stirred beneath its 
gauzy wrappings, and the Voice asked 

" And did thy foster-son become enamoured of the 
Khania, as being a man he may well have done, for with 
out doubt she is fair ? " 

" He can answer that question for himself, O Hes. All 
I know is that he strove to escape from her, and that in 
the end she gave him a day to choose between death and 
marriage with her, when her lord should be dead. So, 
helped by the Khan, her husband, who was jealous of him, 
we fled towards this Mountain, which we desired to reach. 
Then the Khan set his hounds upon us, for he was mad 
and false-hearted. We killed him and came on in spite of 
this lady, his wife, and her uncle, who would have pre 
vented us, and were met in a Place of Bones by a certain 
veiled guide, who led us up the Mountain and twice 
saved us from death. That is all the story." 

" Woman, what hast thou to say ? " asked the Hesea 
in a menacing voice. 

" But little," Atene answered, without flinching. " For 
years I have been bound to a madman and a brute, and if 
my fancy wandered towards this man and his fancy wan- 



208 A YES HA 

dered towards me well, Nature spoke to us, and that is 
all. Afterwards it seems that he grew afraid of the ven 
geance of Rassen, or this Holly, whom I would that the 
hounds had torn bone from bone, grew afraid. So they 
strove to escape the land, and perchance wandered to thy 
Mountain. But I weary of this talk, and ask thy leave to 
rest before to-morrow s rite." 

"Thou sayest, Atene," said the Hesea, "that Nature 
spoke to this man and to thee, and that his heart is thine ; 
but that, fearing thy lord s vengeance, he fled from thee, 
he who seems no coward. Tell me, then, is that Itress he 
hides in the satchel on his breast thy gage of love to 
him?" 

" I know nothing of what he hides in the satchel," an 
swered the Khania sullenly. 

" And yet, yonder in the Gatehouse when he lay so sick 
he set the lock against thine own ah, dost remember 
now?" 

" So, O Hes, already he has told thee all our secrets, 
though they be such as most men hide within their 
breasts ; " and she looked contemptuously at Leo. 

" I told her nothing of the matter, Khania," Leo said 
in an angry voice. 

" Nay, thou toldest me -nothing; Wanderer my watch 
ing wisdom told me. Oh, didst thou think, Atene, that 
thou couldst hide the truth from the all-seeing Hesea of 
the Mountain? If so, spare thy breath, for I know all, 
and have known it from the first. I passed thy disobedi 
ence by ; of thy false messages I took no heed. For my 
own purposes I, to whom time is naught, suffered even 
that thou shouldst hold these, my guests, thy prisoners 
whilst thou didst strive by threats and force to win a love 
denied." 

She paused, then went on coldly : " Woman, I tell thee 
that, to complete thy sin, thou hast even dared to lie to me 
here, in my very Sanctuary." 

" If so, what of it? " was the bold answer. " Dost thou 



THE COURT OF DEATH 209 

love the man thyself? Nay, it is monstrous. Nature 
would cry aloud at such a shame. Oh ! tremble not with 
rage. Hes, I know thy evil powers, but I know also that 
I am thy guest, and that in this hallowed place, beneath 
yonder symbol of eternal Love, thou may st shed no blood. 
More, thou canst not harm me, Hes, who am thy equal." 

" Atene," replied the measured Voice, " did I desire it, 
I could destroy thee where thou art. Yet thou art right, 
I shall not harm thee, thou faithless servant. Did not my 
writ bid thee through yonder searcher of the stars, thy 
uncle, to meet these guests of mine and bring them 
straight to my shrine ? Tell me, for I seek to know, how 
comes it that thou didst disobey me ? " 

" Have then thy desire," answered Atene in a new and 
earnest voice, devoid now of bitterness and, falsehood. " I 
disobeyed because that man is not thine, but mine, and no 
other woman s; because I love him and have loved him 
from of old. Aye, since first our souls sprang into life I 
have loved him, as he has loved me. My own heart tells 
me so; the magic of my uncle here tells me so, though 
how and where and when these things have been I know 
not. Therefore I come to thee, Mother of Mysteries, 
Guardian of the secrets of the past, to learn the truth. At 
least thou canst not lie at thine own altar, and I charge 
thee, by the dread name of that Power to which thou also 
must render thy account, that thou answer now and here. 

" Who is this man to whom my being yearns ? What 
has he been to me ? What has he to do with thee ? Speak, 
O Oracle and make the secret clear. Speak, I command, 
even though afterwards thou dost slay me if thou canst." 

" Aye, speak ! speak ! " said Leo, " for know I am in 
sore suspense. I also am bewildered by memories and 
rent with hopes and fears." 

And I too echoed, " Speak ! " 

" Leo Vincey," asked the Hesea, after she had thought 
awhile, " whom dost thou believe me to be ? " 

" I believe," he answered solemnly, " that thou art that 



210 AYESHA 

Ayesha at whose hands I died of old in the Caves of K6r 
in Africa. I believe thou art that Ayesha whom not 
twenty years ago I found and loved in those same Caves 
of Kor, and there saw perish miserably, swearing that 
thou wouldst return again." 

" See now, how madness can mislead a man," broke in 
Atene triumphantly. " Not twenty years ago, he said, 
whereas I know well that more than eighty summers have 
gone by since my grandsire in his youth saw this same 
priestess sitting on the Mother s throne." 

" And whom dost thou believe me to be, O Holly? " the 
Priestess asked, taking no note of the Khania s words. 

" What he believes I believe," I answered. " The dead 
come back to life sometimes. Yet alone thou knowest 
the truth, and by thee only it can be revealed." 

" Aye," she said, as though musing, " the dead come 
back to life sometimes and in strange shape, and, may-- 
hap, I know the truth. To-morrow when yonder body is 
borne on high for burial we will speak of it again. Till 
then rest you all, and prepare to face that fearful thing 
the Truth." 

While the Hesea still spoke the silvery curtains swung 
to their place as mysteriously as they had opened. Then, 
as though at some signal, the black-robed priests ad 
vanced. Surrounding Atene, they led her from the Sanc 
tuary, accompanied by her uncle the Shaman, who, as it 
seemed to me, either through fatigue or fear, could 
scarcely stand upon his feet, but stood blinking his dim 
eyes as though the light dazed him. When these were 
gone, the priests and priestesses, who all this time had 
been ranged round the walls, far out of hearing of our 
talk, gathered themselves into their separate companies, 
and still chanting, departed also, leaving us alone with 
Oros and the corpse of the Khan, which remained where 
it had been set down. 

Now the head-priest Oros beckoned to us to follow 
him, and we went also. Nor was I sorry to leave the 



THE COURT OF DEATH 211 

place, for its death-like loneliness enhanced, strangely 
enough, as it was, by the flood of light that filled it; a 
loneliness which was concentrated and expressed in the 
awful figure stretched upon the bier, oppressed and over 
came us, whose nerves were broken by all that we had 
undergone. Thankful enough was I when, having passed 
the transepts and down the length of the vast nave, we 
came to the iron doors, the rock passage, and the outer 
gates, which, as before, opened to let us through, and so 
at last into the sweet, cold air of the night at that hour 
v/hich precedes the dawn. 

Oros led us to a house well-built and furnished, where 
at his bidding, like men in a dream, we drank of some 
liquor which he gave us. I think that drink was drugged, 
at least after swallowing it I remembered no more till I 
awoke to find myself lying on a bed and feeling wonder 
fully strong and well. This I thought strange, for a lamp 
burning in the room showed me that it was still dark, and 
therefore that I could have rested but a little time. 

I tried to sleep again, but was not able, so fell to think 
ing till I grew weary of the task. For here thoughts 
would not help me ; nothing could help, except the truth, 
" that fearful thing," as the veiled Priestess had called it. 

Oh! what if she should prove not the Ayesha whom 
we desired, but some " fearful thing " ? What were the 
meaning of the Khania s hints and of her boldness, that 
surely had been inspired by the strength of a hidden 
knowledge ? What if nay, it could not be I would rise 
and dress my arm. Or I would wake Leo and make him 
dress it anything to occupy my mind until the appointed 
hour, when we must learn the best or the worst. 

I sat up in the bed and saw a figure advancing towards 
me. It was Oros, who bore a lamp in his hand. 

" You have slept long, friend Holly," he said, " and now 
it is time to be up and doing." 

" Long? " I answered testily. " How can that be, when 
it is still dark?" 



212 A YES HA 

" Because, friend, the dark is that of a new night. 
Many hours have gone by since you lay down upon this 
bed. Well, you were wise to rest you while you may, for 
who knows when you will sleep again ! Come, let me 
bathe your arm." 

" Tell me," I broke in 

" Nay, friend," he interrupted firmly, " I will tell you 
nothing, except that soon you must start to be present at 
the funeral of the Khan, and, perchance, to learn the 
answer to your questions." 

Ten minutes later he led me to the eating-chamber of 
the house, where I found Leo already dressed, for Oros 
had awakened him before he came to me and bidden him 
to prepare himself. Oros told us here that the Hesea had 
not suffered us to be disturbed until the night came again 
since we had much to undergo that day. So presently we 
started. 

Once more we were led through the flame-lit hall till 
we came to the loop-shaped apse. The place was empty 
now, even the corpse of the Khan had gone, and no draped 
Oracle sat in the altar shrine, for its silver curtains were 
drawn, and we saw that it was untenanted. 

" The Mother has departed to do honour to the dead, 
according to the ancient custom," Oros explained to us. 

Then we passed the altar, and behind the statue found 
a door in the rock wall of the apse, and beyond the door 
a passage, and a hall as of a house, for out of it opened 
other doors leading to chambers. These, our guide told 
us, were the dwelling-places of the Hesea and her maid 
ens. He added that they ran to the side of the Moun 
tain and had windows that opened on to gardens and 
let in the light and air. In this hall six priests were wait 
ing, each of whom carried a bundle of torches beneath 
his arm and held in his hand a lighted lamp. 

" Our road runs through the dark," said Oros, " though 
were it day we might climb the outer snows, but this at 
night it is dangerous to do." 



THE COURT OF DEATH 213 

Then taking torches, he lit them at a lamp and gave one 
to each of us. 

Now our climb began. Up endless sloping galleries 
we went, hewn with inconceivable labour by the primeval 
fire-worshippers from the living rock of the Mountain. 
It seemed to me that they stretched for miles, and indeed 
this was so, since, although the slope was always gentle, 
it took us more than an hour to climb them. At length 
we came to the foot of a great stair. 

" Rest awhile here, my lord," Oros said, bowing to Leo 
with the reverence that he had shown him from the first, 
" for this stair is steep and long. Now we stand upon 
the Mountain s topmost lip, and are about to climb that 
tall looped column which soars above." 

So we sat down in the vault-like place and let the sharp 
draught of air rushing to and from the passages play 
upon us, for we were heated with journeying up those 
close galleries. As we sat thus I heard a roaring sound 
and asked Oros what it might be. He answered that we 
were very near to the crater of the volcano, and that what 
we heard through the thickness of the rock was the rush 
ing of its everlasting fires. Then the ascent commenced. 

It was not dangerous though very wearisome, for there 
were nearly six hundred of those steps. The climb of the 
passages had reminded me of that of the gallery of the 
Great Pyramid drawn out for whole furlongs ; that of the 
pillar was like the ascent of a cathedral spire, or rather 
of several spires piled one upon another. 

Resting from time to time, we dragged ourselves up 
the steep steps, each of them quite a foot in height, till 
the pillar was climbed and only the loop remained. Up 
it we went also, Oros leading us, and glad was I that the 
stairway still ran within the substance of the rock, for I 
could feel thelieedle s mighty eye quiver in the rush of the 
winds which swept about its sides. 

At length we saw light before us, and in another twenty 
steps emerged upon a platform. As Leo, who went in 



214 A YES HA 

front of me, walked from the stairway I saw Oros and 
another priest seize him by the arms, and called to him 
to ask what they were doing. 

" Nothing," he cried back, " except that this is a dizzy 
place and they feared lest I should fall. Mind how you 
come, Horace," and he stretched out his hand to me. 

Now I was clear of the tunnel, and I believe that had it 
not been for that hand I should have sunk to the rocky 
floor, for the sight before me seemed to paralyse my brain. 
Nor was this to be wondered at, for I doubt whether the 
world can show such another. 

We stood upon the very apex of the loop, a flat space of 
rock about eighty yards in length by some thirty in 
breadth, with the star-strewn sky above us. To the 
south, twenty thousand feet or more below, stretched the 
dim Plain of Kaloon, and to the east and west the snow- 
clad shoulders of the peak and the broad brown slopes be 
neath. To the north was a different sight, and one more 
awesome. There, right under us as it seemed, for the 
pillar bent inwards, lay the vast crater of the volcano, and 
in the centre of it a wide lake of fire that broke into bub 
bles and flowers of sudden flame or spouted, writhed and 
twisted like an angry sea. 

From the surface of this lake rose smoke and gases 
that took fire as they floated upwards, and, mingling to 
gether, formed a gigantic sheet of living light. Right 
opposite to us burned this sheet and, the flare of it passing 
through the -needle-eye of the pillar under us, sped away 
in one dazzling beam across the country of Kaloon, across 
the mountains beyond, till it was lost on the horizon. 

The wind blew from south to north, being sucked in 
towards the hot crater of the volcano, and its fierce breath, 
that screamed through the eye of the pillar and against its 
rugged surface, bent the long crest of the sheet of flame, 
as an ocean roller is bent over by the gale, and tore from 
it fragments of fire, that floated away to leeward like the 
blown-out sails of a burning ship. 



THE COURT OF DEATH 215 

Had it not been for this strong and steady wind indeed, 
no creature could have lived upon the pillar, for the va 
pours would have poisoned him; but its unceasing blast 
drove these all away towards the north. For the same 
reason, in the thin air of that icy place the heat was not too 
great to be endured. 

Appalled by that terrific spectacle, which seemed more 
appropriate to the terrors of the Pit than to this earth of 
ours, and fearful lest the blast should whirl me like a dead 
leaf into the glowing gulf beneath, I fell on to my sound 
hand and my knees, shouting to Leo to do likewise, and 
looked about me. Now I observed lines of priests 
wrapped in great capes, kneeling upon the face of the 
rock and engaged apparently in prayer, but of Hes the 
Mother, or of Atene, or of the corpse of the dead Khan 
I could see nothing. 

Whilst I wondered where they might be, Oros, upon 
whose nerves this dread scene appeared to have no effect, 
and some of our attendant priests surrounded us and led 
us onwards by a path that ran perilously near to the 
rounded edge of the rock. A few downward steps and 
we found that we were under shelter, for the gale was 
roaring over us. Twenty more paces and we came to a 
recess cut, I suppose, by man in the face of the loop, in 
such fashion that a lava roof was left projecting half 
across its width. 

This recess, or rock chamber, which was large enough 
to shelter a great number of people, we reached safely, 
to discover that it was already tenanted. Seated in a 
chair hewn from the rock was the Hesea, wearing a broid- 
ered, purple mantle above her gauzy wrappings that en 
veloped her from head to foot. There, too, standing near 
to her were th~ Khania Atene and her uncle the old Sha 
man, who looked but ill at ease, and lastly, stretched upon 
his funeral couch, the fiery light beating upon his stark 
form and face, lay the dead Khan, Rassen. 

We advanced to the throne and bowed to her who sat 



216 A YES HA 

thereon. The Hesea lifted her hooded head, which seemed: 
to have been sunk upon her breast as though she were 
overcome by thought or care, and addressed Oros the 
priest. For in the shelter of those massive walls by com 
parison there was silence and folk could hear each other 
speak. 

" So thou hast brought them safely, my servant," she 
said, " and I am glad, for to those that know it not this 
road is fearful. My guests, what say you of the burying- 
pit of the Children^ of Hes ? " 

" Our faith tells us of a hell, lady," answered Leo, " and 
I think that yonder cauldron loo ks like its mouth." 

" Nay," s.he answered, " there is no hell, save that which 
fromTife to life we fashion for ourselves within the circle 
of this little star. Leo Vincey, I tell thee that hell is here, 
aye, here" and she struck her hand upon her breast, while" 
once more her head drooped forward as though bowed 
down beneath some load of secret misery. 

Thus she stayed awhile, then lifted it and spoke again,, 
saying 

" Midnight is past, and much must be done and suf 
fered before the dawn. Aye, the darkness must be turned 
to light, or perchance the light to eternal darkness." 

" Royal woman," she went on, addressing Atene, " as 
is his right, thou hast brought thy dead lord hither for 
burial in this consecrated place, where the ashes of all 
who went before him have become fuel for the holy fires. 
Oros, my priest, summon thou the Accuser and him who 
makes defence, and let the books be opened that I may 
pass my judgment on the dead, and call his soul to live 
again, or pray that from it the breath of life may be with 
held. 

" Priest, I say the Court of Death is open." 



CHAPTER XV 

THE SECOND ORDEAL 

OROS bowed and left the place, whereon the Hesea signed 
to us to stand upon her right and to Atene to stand upon 
her left. Presently from either side the hooded priests 
and priestesses stole into the chamber, and to the number 
of fifty or more ranged themselves along its walls. Then 
came two figures draped in black and masked, who bore 
parchment books in their hands, and placed themselves 
on either side of the corpse, while Oros stood at its feet, 
facing the Hesea. 

Now she lifted the sistrum that she held, and in obedi 
ence to the signal Oros said 

" Let the books be opened." 

Thereon the masked Accuser to the right broke the 
seal of his book and began to read its pages. It was a 
tale of the sins of this dead man entered as fully as 
though that officer were his own conscience given life and 
voice. In cold and horrible detail it told of the evil do 
ings of his childhood, of his youth, and of his riper years, 
and thus massed together the record was black indeed. 

T listened amazed, wondering what spy had been set 
upon the deeds of yonder man throughout his days ; think 
ing also with a shudder of how heavy would be the tale 
against any one of us, if such a spy should companion 
him from the cradle to the grave ; remembering too that 
full surely this count is kept by scribes even more watch 
ful than the ministers of Hes. 

At length the long story drew to its close. Lastly it 
told of the murder of that noble upon the banks of the 

217 



218 A YES HA 

river; it told of the plot against our lives for no just 
cause ; it told of our cruel hunting with the death-hounds, 
and of its end. Then the Accuser shut his book and cast 
it on the ground, saying 

" Such is the record, O Mother. Sum it up as thou 
hast been given wisdom." 

Without speaking, the Hesea pointed with her sistrum 
to the Defender, who thereon broke the seal of his book 
and began to read. 

Its tale spoke of all the good that the dead man had 
done ; of every noble word that he had said, of every kind 
action ; of plans which he had made for the welfare of 
his vassals ; of temptations to ill that he had resisted ; of 
the true love that he had borne to the woman who became 
his wife ; of the prayers which he had made and of the 
offerings which he had sent to the temple of Hes. 

Making no mention of her name, it told of how that 
wife of his had hated him, of how she and the magician, 
who had fostered and educated her, and was her relative 
and guide, had set other women to lead him astray that 
she might be free of him. Of how too they had driven 
him mad with a poisonous drink which took away his 
judgment, unchained all the evil in his heart, and caused 
him by its baneful influence to shrink unnaturally from 
her whose love he still desired. 

Also it set out that the heaviest of his crimes were in 
spired by this wife of his, who sought to befoul his name 
in the ears of the people whom she led him to oppress, 
and how bitter jealousy drove him to cruel acts, the last 
and worst of which caused him foully to violate the law 
of hospitality, and in attempting to bring about the death 
of blameless guests at their hands to find his own. 

Thus the Defender read, and having read, closed the 
book and threw it on the ground, saying 

" Such is the record, O Mother, sum it up as thou hast 
been given wisdom." 

Then the Khania, who all this time had stood cold and 



THE SECOND ORDEAL 219 

impassive, stepped forward to speak, and with her her 
uncle, the Shaman Simbri. But before a word passed 
Atene s lips the Hesea raised her sceptre and forbade 
them, saying 

" Thy day of trial is not yet, nor have we aught to do- 
with thee. When thou liest where he lies and the books of 
thy deeds are read aloud to her who sits in judgment, 
then let thine advocate make answer for these things." 

" So be it," answered Atene haughtily and fell back. 

Now it was the turn of the high-priest Oros. 
" Mother," he said, " thou hast heard. Balance the writ 
ings, assess the truth, and according to thy wisdom, issue 
thy commands. Shall we hurl him who was Rassen feet 
first Jnto the fiery gulf, that he may walk again in the 
paths of life, or head first, in token that he is dead in 
deed?" 

Then while all waited in a hushed expectancy, the great 
Priestess delivered her verdict. 

" I hear, I balance, I assess, but judge I do not. who 
claim no such power. Let the Spirit who sent him forth, 
to whom he is returned again, pass judgment on his spirit. 
This dead one has sinned deeply, yet has he been more 
deeply sinned against. Nor against that man can be reck 
oned the account of his deeds of madness. Cast him then 
to his grave feet first that his name may be whitened in the 
ears of those unborn, and that thence he may return 
again at the time appointed. It is spoken." 

Now the Accuser lifted the book of his accusations 
from the ground and* advancing, hurled it into the gulf in. 
token that it was blotted out. Then he turned and van 
ished from the chamber; while the Advocate, taking up 
his book, gave it into the keeping of the priest Oros, that 
it might be preserved in the archives of the temple for 
ever. This done, the priests began a funeral chant and a 
solemn invocation to the great Lord of the Under-world 
that he would receive this spirit and acquit it there as here 
it had been acquitted by the Hesea, his minister. 



220 AYES HA 

Ere their dirge ended certain of the priests, advancing 
with slow steps, lifted the bier and carried it to the edge 
of the gulf ; then at a sign from the Mother, hurled it feet 
foremost into the fiery lake below, whilst all watched to 
see how it struck the flame. For this they held to be an 
omen, since should the body turn over in its descent it 
was taken as a sign that the judgment of mortal men had 
foeen refused in the Place of the Immortals. It did not 
turn; it rushed downwards straight as a plummet and 
plunged into the fire hundreds of feet below, and there 
for ever vanished. This indeed was not strange since, as 
we discovered afterwards, the feet were weighted. 

In fact this solemn rite was but a formula that, down 
to the exact words of judgment and committal, had been 
practised here from unknown antiquity over the bodies 
of the priests and priestesses of the Mountain, and of cer 
tain of the great ones of the Plain. So it was in ancient 
Egypt, whence without doubt this ceremony of the trial 
of the dead was derived, and so it continued to be in the 
land of Hes, for no priestess ever ventured to condemn 
the soul of one departed. 

The real interest of the custom, apart from its solemnity 
and awful surroundings, centred in the accurate knowl 
edge displayed by the masked Accuser and Advocate of 
the life-deeds of the deceased. It showed that although 
the College of Hes affected to be indifferent to the doings 
and politics of the people of the Plain that they once ruled 
and over which, whilst secretly awaiting an opportunity of 
re-conquest, they still claimed a spiritual authority, the at 
titude was assumed rather than real. Moreover it sug 
gested a system of espionage so piercing and extraordi 
nary that it was difficult to believe it unaided by the 
habitual exercise of some gift of clairvoyance. 

The service, if I may call it so, was finished; the dead 
man had followed the record of his sins into that lurid 
sea of fire, and by now was but a handful of charred 



THE SECOND ORDEAL 221 

dust. But if his book had closed, ours remained open and 
at its strangest chapter. We knew it, all of tts, and waited, 
our nerves thrilled, with expectancy. 

The Hesea sat brooding on her rocky throne. She also 
knew that the hour had come. Presently she sighed, then 
motioned with her sceptre and spoke a word or two, dis 
missing the priests and priestesses, who departed and were 
seen no more. Two of them remained however, Oros and 
the head priestess who was called Papave, a young woman 
of a noble countenance. 

" Listen, my servants," she said. " Great things are 
about to happen, which have to do with the coming of 
yonder strangers, for whom I have waited these many 
years as is well known to you. Nor can I tell the issue 
since to me, to whom power is given so freely, foresight 
of the future is denied. It well may happen, therefore, 
that this seat will soon be empty and this frame but food 
for the eternal fires. Nay, grieve not, grieve not, for I do 
not die and if so, the spirit shall return again. 

" Hearken, Papave. Thou art of the blood, and to thee 
alone have I opened all the doors of wisdom. If I pass 
now or at any time, take thou the ancient power, fill thou 
my place, and in all things do as I have instructed thee, 
that from this Mountain light may shine upon the world. 
Further I command thee, and thee also, Oros my priest, 
that if I be summoned hence you entertain these strangers 
hospitably until it is possible to escort them from the 
land, whether by the road they came or across the north 
ern hills and deserts. Should the Khania Atene attempt 
to detain them against their will, then raise the Tribes 
upon her in the name of the Hesea ; depose her from her 
seat, conquer her land and hold it. Hear and obey." 

" Mother, we hear and we will obey," answered Oros 
and Papave as" with a single voice. 

She waved her hand to show that this matter was fin 
ished ; then after long thought spoke again, addressing 
herself to the Khania. 



222 A YES HA 

" Atene, last night thou didst ask me a question why 
them dost love this man," and she pointed to Leo. " To 
that the answer would be easy, for is he not one who 
might well stir passion in the breast of a woman such as 
thou art? But thou didst say also that thine own heart 
and the wisdom of yonder magician, thy uncle, told thee 
that since thy soul first sprang to life thou hadst loved 
him, and didst adjure me by the Power to whom I must 
give my account to draw the curtain from the past and 
let the truth be known. 

" Woman, the hour has come, and I obey thy summons 
not because thou dost command but because it is my 
will. Of the beginning I can tell thee nothing, who am 
still human and no goddess. I know not why we three 
are wrapped in this coil of fate ; I know not the destinies 
to which we journey up the ladder of a thousand lives, 
with grief and pain climbing the endless stair of circum 
stance, or, if I know, I may not say. Therefore I take up* 
the tale where my own memory gives me light." 

The Hesea paused, and we saw her frame shake as 
though beneath some fearful inward effort of the will. 
" Look now behind you," she cried, throwing her arms 
wide. 

We turned, and at first saw nothing save the great cur 
tain of fire that rose from the abyss of the volcano, where 
of, as I have told, the crest was bent over by the 
wind like the crest of a breaking billow. But presently, as 
we watched, in the depths of this red veil, Nature s awful 
lamp-flame, a picture began to form as it forms in the 
seer s magic crystal. 

Behold! a temple set amid sands and washed by a 
wide, palm-bordered river, and across its pyloned court 
processions of priests, who pass to and fro with flaunting 
banners. The court empties; I could see the shadow of 
a falcon s wings that fled across its sunlit floor. A man 
clad in a priest s white robe, shaven-headed, and bare 
footed, enters through the southern pylon gate and walks 



THE SECOND ORDEAL 223 

slowly towards a painted granite shrine, in which sits the 
image of a woman crowned with the double crown of 
Egypt, surmounted by a lotus bloom, and holding in her 
hand the sacred sistrum. Now, as though he heard some 
sound, he halts and looks towards us, and by the heaven 
above me, his face is the face of Leo Vincey in his youth, 
the face too of that Kallikrates whose corpse we had seen 
in the Caves of Kor ! 

" Look, look ! " gasped Leo, catching me by the arm ; 
but I only nodded my head in answer. 

The man walks on again, and kneeling before the god 
dess in the shrine, embraces her feet and makes his prayer 
to her. Now the gates roll open, and a procession enters, 
headed by a veiled, noble-looking woman, who bears of 
ferings, which she sets on the table before the shrine, 
bending her knee to the effigy of the goddess. Her obla 
tions made, she turns to depart, and as she goes brushes 
her hand against the hand of the watching priest, who 
hesitates, then follows her. 

When all her company have passed the gate she lingers 
alone in the shadow of the pylon, whispering to the 
priest and pointing to the river and the southern land 
beyond. He is disturbed ; he reasons with her, till, after 
one swift glance round, she lets drop her veil, bending 
towards him and their lips meet. 

As she flies her face is turned towards us, and lo ! it is 
the very face of Atene, and amid her dusky hair the uraeus 
rears itself in jewelled gold, the symbol of her royal rank. 
She looks at the shaven priest ; she laughs as though in 
triumph ; she points to the westering sun and to the river, 
and is gone. 

Aye, and that laugh of long ago is echoed by Atene at 
our side, for she also laughs in triumph and cries aloud 
to the old Shaman 

" True diviners were my heart and thou ! Behold how 
I won him in the past." 

Then, like ice on fire fell the cold voice of the Hesea. 



224 AYES PI A 

" Be silent, woman, and see how thou didst lose him in 
the past." 

Lo! the scene changes, and on a couch a lovely shape 
lies sleeping. She dreams; she is afraid; and over her 
bends and whispers in her ear a shadowy form clad with 
the emblems of the goddess in the shrine, but now wear 
ing upon her head the vulture cap. The woman wakes 
from her dream and looks round, and oh ! the face is the 
face of Ayesha as it was seen of us when first she loosed 
her veil in the Caves of Kor. 

A sigh went up from us ; we could not speak who thus 
fearfully once more beheld her loveliness. 

Again she sleeps, again the awful form bends over her 
and whispers. It points, the distance opens. Lo! on a 
stormy sea a boat, and in the boat two wrapped in each 
other s arms, the priest and the royal woman, while over 
them like a Vengeance, raw-necked and ragged-pinioned, 
hovers a following vulture, such a vulture as the goddess 
wore for headdress. 

That picture fades from its burning frame, leaving the 
vast sheet of fire empty as the noonday sky. Then an 
other forms. First a great, smooth-walled cave carpeted 
with sand, a cave that we remembered well. Then lying 
on the sand, now no longer shaven, but golden-haired, the 
corpse of the priest staring upwards with his glazed eyes, 
his white skin streaked with blood, and standing over him 
two women. One holds a javelin in her hand and is 
naked except for her flowing hair, and beautiful, beautiful 
beyond imagining. The other, wrapped in a dark cloak, 
beats the air with her hands, casting up her eyes as 
though to call the curse of Heaven upon her rival s head. 
And those women are she into whose sleeping ear the 
shadow had whispered, and the royal Egyptian who had 
kissed her lover beneath the pylon gate. 

Slowly all the figures faded ; it was as though the fire 
ate them up, for first they became thin and white as ashes ; 
then vanished. The Hesea, who had been leaning for- 



THE SECOND ORDEAL 225 

ward, sank backwards in her chair, as if weary with the 
toil of her own magic. 

For a while confused pictures flitted rapidly to and fro 
across the vast mirror of the flame, such as might be re 
flected from an intelligence crowded with the memories 
of over two thousand years which it was too exhausted to 
separate and define. 

Wild scenes, multitudes of people, great caves, and in 
them faces, amongst others our own, starting up distorted 
and enormous, to grow tiny in an instant and depart; 
stark imaginations of Forms towering and divine; of 
Things monstrous and inhuman ; armies marching, illimit 
able battle-fields, and corpses rolled in blood, and hovering 
over them the spirits of the slain. 

These pictures died as the others had died, and the fire 
was blank again. 

Then the Hesea spoke in a voice very faint at first, that 
by slow degrees grew stronger. 

" Is thy question answered, O Atene? " 

" I have seen strange sights, Mother, mighty limnings 
worthy of thy magic, but how know I that they are more 
than vapours of thine own brain cast upon yonder fire to 
deceive and mock us? " * 

<; Listen then," said the Hesea, in her weary voice, " to 
the interpretation of the writing, and cease to trouble me 
with thy doubts. Many an age ago, but shortly after I be 
gan to live this last, long life of mine, Isis, the great god 
dess of Egypt, had her Holy House at Behbit, near th e 
Nile. It is a ruin now, and Isis has departed from Egypt, 
though still under the Power that fashioned it and her : 
she rules the world, for she is Nature s self. Of that 

1 Considered inj.he light of subsequent revelations, vouchsafed to us 
by Ayesha herself, I am inclined to believe that Atene s shrewd sur 
mise was accurate, and that these fearful pictures, although founded on 
events that had happened in the past, were in the main " vapours" cast 
upon the crater fire; visions raised in our minds to "deceive and 
mock us." L. H. H. 



226 A YES HA 

shrine a certain man, a Greek, Kallikrates by name, was 
chief priest, chosen for her service by the favour of the 
goddess, vowed to her eternally and to her alone, by the 
dreadful oath that might not be broken without punish 
ment as eternal. 

" In the flame thou sawest that priest, and here at thy 
side he stands, re-born, to fulfil his destiny and ours. 

" There lived also a daughter of Pharaoh s house, one 
Amenartas, who cast eyes of love upon this Kallikrates, 
and, wrapping him in her spells for then as now she 
practised witcheries, caused him to break his oaths and 
fly with her, as thou sawest written in the flame. Thou, 
Atene, wast that Amenartas. 

" Lastly there lived a certain Arabian, named Ayesha, 
a wise and lovely woman, who, in the emptiness of her 
heart, and the sorrow of much knowledge, had sought 
refuge in the service of the universal Mother, thinking 
there to win the true wisdom which ever fled from her. 
That Ayesha, as thou sawest also, the goddess visited in a 
dream, bidding her to follow those faithless ones, and 
work Heaven s vengeance on them, and promising her in 
reward victory over death upon the earth and beauty such 
as had not been known in woman. 

She followed far; she awaited them where they wan 
dered. Guided by a sage named Noot, one who from the 
beginning had been appointed to her service and that of 
another thou, O Holly, wast that man she found the 
essence in which to bathe is to outlive Generations, Faiths, 
and Empires, saying 

" I will slay these guilty ones. I will slay them pres 
ently, as I am commanded/ 

" Yet Ayesha slew not, for now their sin was her sin, 
since she who had never loved came to desire this man. 
She led them to the Place of Life, purposing there to 
clothe him and herself with immortality, and let the 
woman die. But it was not so fated, for then the goddess 
smote. The life was Ayesha s as had been sworn, but 



THE SECOND ORDEAL 227 

in its first hour, blinded with jealous rage because he 
shrank from her unveiled glory to the mortal woman at 
his side, this Ayesha brought him to his death, and alas ! 
alas ! left herself undying. 

" Thus did the angry goddess work woe upon her faith 
less ministers, giving to the priest swift doom, to the 
priestess Ayesha, long remorse and misery, and to the 
royal Amenartas jealousy more bitter than life or death, 
and the fate of unending effort to win back that love 
which, defying Heaven, she had dared to steal, but to be 
bereft thereof again. 

" Lo ! now the ages pass, and, at the time appointed, to 
that undying Ayesha who, whilst awaiting his re-birth, 
from century to century mourned his loss, and did bitter 
penance for her sins, came back the man, her heart s de 
sire. Then, whilst all went well for her and him, again 
the goddess smote arid robbed her of her reward. Before 
her lover s living eyes, sunk in utter shame and misery, 
the beautiful became hideous, the undying seemed to die. 

" Yet, O Kallikrates, I tell thee that she died not. Did 
not Ayesha swear to thee yonder in the Caves of Kor that 
she would come again? for even in that awful hour this 
comfort kissed her soul. Thereafter, Leo Vincey, who 
art Killikrates, did not her spirit lead thee in thy sleep 
and stand w r ith thee upon this very pinnacle which should 
be thy beacon light to guide thee back to her ? And didst 
thou not search these many years, not knowing that she 
companioned thy every step and strove to guard thee in 
every danger, till at length in the permitted hour thou 
earnest back to her ? " 

She paused, and looked towards Leo, as though await 
ing his reply. 

" Of the first part of the tale, except from the writing 
on the sherd, I know nothing, Lady," he said ; " of the 
rest I, or rather we, know that it is true. Yet I would 
ask a question, and I pray thee of thy charity let thy 



228 A YES HA 

answer be swift and short. Thou sayest that in the per 
mitted hour I came back to Ayesha. Where then is Aye- 
sha? Art thou Ayesha? And if so why is thy voice 
changed? Why art thou less in stature? Oh! in the 
name of whatever god thou dost worship, tell me art thou 
Ayesha?" 

"/ am Ayesha" she answered solemnly, "that very 
Ayesha to whom thou didst pledge thyself eternally." 

" She lies, she lies," broke in Atene. " I tell thee, hus 
band for such with her own lips she declares thou art to 
me that yonder woman who says that she parted from 
thee young and beautiful, less than twenty years ago, is 
none other than the aged priestess who for a century at 
least has borne rule in these halls of Hes. Let her deny 
it if she can." 

" Oros," said the Mother, " tell thou the tale of the 
death of that priestess of whom the Khania speaks." 

The priest bowed, and in his usual calm voice, as 
though he were narrating some event of every day, said 
mechanically, and in a fashion that carried no conviction 
to my mind 

" Eighteen years ago, on the fourth night of the first 
month of the winter in the year 2333 of the founding of 
the worship of Hes on this Mountain, the priestess of 
whom the Khania Atene speaks, died of old age in my 
presence in the hundred and eighth year of her rule. 
Three hours later we went to lift her from the throne on 
which she died, to prepare her corpse for burial in this 
fire, according to the ancient custom. Lo ! a miracle, for 
she lived again, the same, yet very changed. 

" Thinking this a work of evil magic, the Priests and 
Priestesses of the College rejected her, and would have 
driven her from the throne. Thereon the Mountain blazed 
and thundered, the light from the fiery pillars died, and 
great terror fell upon the souls of men. Then from the 
deep darkness above the altar where stands the statue 
of the Mother of Men, the voice of the living goddess 
spoke, saying 



THE SECOND ORDEAL 229 

" Accept ye her whom I have set to rule over you, 
that my judgments and my purposes may be fulfilled/ 

" The Voice ceased, the fiery torches burnt again, and 
we bowed the knee to the new Hesea, and named her 
Mother in the ears of all. That is the tale to which hun 
dreds can bear witness." 

" Thou nearest, Atene," said the Hesea. " Dost thou 
still doubt?" 

" Aye," answered the Khania, " for I hold that Oros 
also lies, or if he lies not, then he dreams, or perchance 
that voice he heard was thine own. Now if thou art this 
undying woman, this Ayesha, let proof be made of it to 
these two men who knew thee in the past. Tear away 
those wrappings that guard thy loveliness thus jealously. 
Let thy shape divine, thy beauty incomparable, shine out 
upon our dazzled sight. Surely thy lover will not forget 
such charms ; surely he will know thee, and bow the knee, 
saying, This is my Immortal, and no other woman. 

" Then, and not till then, will I believe that thou art 
even what thou declarest thyself to be, an evil spirit, who 
bought undying life with murder and used thy demon 
loveliness to bewitch the souls of men." 

Now the Hesea on the throne seemed to be much trou 
bled, for she rocked herself to and fro, and wrung her 
white-draped hands. 

" Kallikrates," she said in a voice that sounded like a 
moan, " is this thy will ? For if it be, know that I must 
obey. Yet I pray thee command it not, for the time is not 
yet come ; the promise unbreakable is not yet fulfilled. / 
am somewhat changed, Kallikrates, since I kissed thee on 
the brow and named thee mine, yonder in the Caves of 
Kor." 

Leo looked about him desperately, till his eyes fell upon 
the mocking^face of Atene, who cried 

" Bid her unveil, my lord. I swear to thee I ll not be 
jealous." 

At that taunt he took fire. 



230 AYESHA 

" Aye," he said, " I bid her unveil, that I may learn the 
best or worst, who otherwise must die of this suspense. 
Howsoever changed, if she be Ayesha I shall know her, 
and if she ]pe Ayesha, I shall love her." 

" Bold words, Kallikrates," answered the Hesea ; " yet 
from my very heart I thank thee for them : those sweet 
words of trust and faithfulness to thou knowest not what. 
Learn now the truth, for I may keep naught back from 
thee. When I unveil it is decreed that thou must make 
thy choice for the last time on this earth between yonder 
woman, my rival from the beginning, and that Ayesha 
to whom thou art sworn. Thou canst reject me if thou 
wilt, and no ill shall come to thee, but many a blessing, as 
men reckon them power and wealth and love. Only then 
thou must tear my memory from thy heart, for then I 
leave thee to follow thy fate alone, till at the last the 
purpose of these deeds and sufferings is made clear. 

" Be warned. No light ordeal lies before thee. Be 
warned. I can promise thee naught save such love as 
woman never gave to man, love that perchance I know 
not must yet remain unsatisfied upon the earth." 

Then she turned to me and said : 

" Oh ! thou, Holly, thou true friend, thou guardian from 
of old, thou, next to him most beloved by me, to thy clear 
and innocent spirit perchance wisdom may be given that 
is denied to us, the little children whom thine arms pro 
tect. Counsel thou him, my Holly, with the counsel thai: 
is given thee, and I will obey thy words and his, and, 
whatever befalls, will bless thee from my soul. Aye, and 
should he cast me off, then in the Land beyond the lands, 
in the Star appointed, where all earthly passions fade, 
together will we dwell eternally in a friendship glorious, 
thou and I alone. 

" For thou wilt not reject; thy steel, forged in the fur 
nace of pure truth and power, shall not lose its temper 
in these small fires of temptation and become a rusted 
chain to bind thee to another woman s breast until it 
canker to her heart and thine." 



THE SECOND ORDEAL 231 

" Ayesha, I thank thee for thy words," I answered 
simply, " and by them and that promise of thine, I, thy 
poor friend for more I never thought to be am a thou 
sandfold repaid for many sufferings. This I will add, that 
for my part I know that thou art She whom we have 
lost, since, whate er the lips that speak them, those 
thoughts and words are Ayesha s and hers alone." 

Thus I spoke, not knowing what else to say, for I was 
filled with a great joy, a calm and ineffable satisfaction, 
which broke thus feebly from my heart. For now I knew 
that I was dear to Ayesha as I had always been dear to 
Leo ; the closest of friends, from whom she never would 
be parted. What more could I desire ? " 

We fell back ; \ve spoke together, whilst they watched us 
silently. What we said I do not quite remember, but the 
end of it was that, as the Hesea had done, Leo bade me 
judge and choose. Then into my mind there came a clear 
command, from my own conscience or otherwhere, who 
can say ? This was the command, that I should bid her to 
unveil, and let fate declare its purposes. 

" Decide," said Leo, " I cannot bear much more. Like 
that woman, whoever she may be, whatever happens, I 
will not blame you, Horace." 

" Good," I answered, " I have decided," and, stepping 
forward, I said : " We have taken counsel, Hes, and it is 
our will, who would learn the truth and be at rest, that 
thou shouldst unveil before us, here and now." 

" I hear and obey," the Priestess answered, in a voice 
like to that of a dying woman, " only, I beseech you both, 
be pitiful to me, spare me your mockeries; add not the 
coals of your hate and scorn to the fires of a soul in hell, 
for whate er I am, I became it for thy sake, Kallikrates. 
Yet, yet I alst> am athirst for knowledge; for though I 
know all wisdom, although I wield much power, one thing 
remains to me to learn what is the worth of the love of 
man, and if, indeed, it can live beyond the horrors of the 
grave ? " 



232 AYES HA 

Then, rising slowly, the Hesea walked, or rather tot 
tered to the unroofed open space in front of the rock 
chamber, and stood there quite near to the brink of the 
flaming gulf beneath. 

" Come hither, Papave, and loose these veils," she cried 
in a shrill, thin voice. 

Papave advanced, and with a look of awe upon her 
handsome face began the task. She was not a tall woman, 
yet as she bent over her I noted that she seemed to tower 
above her mistress, the Hesea. 

The outer veils fell revealing more within. These fell 
also, and now before us stood the mummy-like shape, al 
though it seemed to be of less stature, of that strange be 
ing who had met us in the Place of Bones. So it would 
seem that our mysterious guide and the high priestess Hes 
were the same. 

Look ! Length by length the wrappings sank from her. 
Would they never end? How small grew the frame 
within ? She was very short now, unnaturally short for a 
full-grown woman, and oh! I grew sick at heart. The 
last bandages uncoiled themselves like shavings from a 
stick; two wrinkled hands appeared, if hands they could 
be called. Then the feet once I had seen such on the 
mummy of a princess of Egypt, and even now by some 
fantastic play of the mind, I remembered that on her 
coffin this princess was named " The Beautiful." 

Everything was gone now, except a shift and a last 
inner veil about the head. Hes waved back the priestess 
Papave, who fell half fainting to the ground and lay there 
covering her eyes with her hand. Then uttering some 
thing like a scream she gripped this veil in her thin talons, 
tore it away, and with a gesture of uttermost despair, 
turned and faced us. 

Oh ! she was nay, I will not describe her. I knew her 
at once, for thus had I seen her last before the Fire of 
Life, and, strangely enough, through the mask of un 
utterable age, through that cloak of humanity s last de- 



THE SECOND ORDEAL 233 

cay, still shone some resemblance to the glorious and 
superhuman Ayesha : the shape of the face, the air of de 
fiant pride that for an instant bore her up I know not 
what. 

Yes, there she stood, and the fierce light of the heart 
less fires beat upon her, revealing every shame. 

There was a dreadful silence. I saw Leo s lips turn 
white and his knees begin to give ; but by some effort he 
recovered himself, and stayed still and upright like a dead 
man held by a wire. Also I saw Atene and this is to her 
credit turn her head away. She had desired to see her 
rival humiliated, but that horrible sight shocked her ; some 
sense of their common womanhood for the moment 
touched her pity. Only Simbri, who, I think, knew what 
to expect, and Oros remained quite unmoved ; indeed, in 
that ghastly silence the latter spoke, and ever afterwards I 
loved him for his words. 

" What of the vile vessel, rotted in the grave of time ? 
What of the flesh that perishes?" he said. "Look 
through the ruined lamp to the eternal light which burns 
within. Look through its covering carrion to the in 
extinguishable soul." 

My heart applauded these noble sentiments. I w r as of 
one mind with Oros, but oh, Heaven ! I felt that my 
brain was going, and I wished that it would go, so that I 
might hear and see no more. 

That look which gathered on Ayesha s mummy face ! 
At first there had been a little hope, but the hope died, 
and anguish, anguish, anguish took its place. 

Something must be done, this could not endure. My 
lips clave together, no word would come ; my feet re 
fused to move. 

I began to contemplate the scenery. How wonderful 
were that sheet of flame, and the ripples which ran up and 
down its height. How awesome its billowy crest. It 
would be warm lying in yonder red gulf below with tlie 



234 AYESHA 

dead Rassen, but oh ! I wished that I shared his bed and 
had finished with these agonies. 

Thank Heaven, Atene was speaking. She had stepped 
to the side of the naked-headed Thing, and stood by it in 
all the pride of her rich beauty and perfect womanhood. 

" Leo Vincey, or Kallikrates," said Atene, " take which 
name thou wilt ; thou thinkest ill of me perhaps, but know 
that at least I scorn to mock a rival in her mortal shame. 
She told us a wild tale but now, a tale true or false, but 
more false than true, I think, of how I robbed a goddess 
of a votary, and of how that goddess Ayesha s self 
perchance was avenged upon me for the crime of yield 
ing to the man I loved. Well, let goddesses if such in 
deed there be take their way and work their will upon 
the helpless, and I, a mortal, will take mine until the clutch 
of doom closes round my throat and chokes out life and 
memory, and I too am a goddess or a clod. 

" Meanwhile, thou man, I shame not to say it before all" 
these witnesses, I love thee, and it seems that this this 
woman or goddess loves thee also, and she has told us 
that now, now thou must choose between us once and for 
ever. She has told us too that if I sinned against Isis, 
whose minister be it remembered she declares herself, her 
self she sinned yet more. For she would have taken thee 
both from a heavenly mistress and from an earthly bride, 
and yet snatch that guerdon of immortality which is hers 
to-day. Therefore if I am evil, she is worse, nor does the 
flame thajt burns within the casket whereof Oros spoke 
shine so very pure and bright. 

" Choose thou then Leo Vincey, and let there be an 
end. I vaunt not myself ; thou knowest what I have been 
and seest what I am. Yet I can give thee love and happi 
ness and, mayhap, children to follow after thee, and with 
them some place and power. What yonder witch can 
give thee thou canst guess. Tales of the past, pictures 
on the flame, wise maxims and honeyed words, and after 
thou art dead once more, promises perhaps, of joy to come 



THE SECOND ORDEAL 235 

when that terrible goddess whom she serves so closely 
shall be appeased. I have spoken. Yet I will add a 
word : 

" O thou for whom, if the Hesea s tale be true, I did 
once lay down my royal rank and dare the dangers of an 
unsailed sea; O thou whom in ages gone I would have 
sheltered with my frail body from the sorceries of this 
cold, self-seeking witch; O thou whom but a little while 
ago at my own life s risk I drew from death in yonder 
river, choose, choose ! " 

To all this speech, so moderate yet so cruel, so well- 
reasoned and yet so false, because of its glosses and omis 
sions, the huddled Ayesha seemed to listen with a fierce 
intentness. Yet she made no answer, not a single word, 
not a sign even ; she who had said her say and scorned to 
plead her part. 

I looked at Leo s ashen face. He leaned towards Atene, 
drawn perhaps by the passion shining in her beauteous 
eyes, then of a sudden straightened himself, shook his 
head and sighed. The colour flamed to his brow, and his 
eyes grew almost happy. 

" After all," he said, thinking aloud rather than speak 
ing, " I have to do not with unknowable pasts or with 
mystic futures, but with the things of my own life. Aye 
sha waited for me through two thousand years ; Atene 
could marry a man she hated for power s sake, and then 
could poison him, as perhaps she would poison me when 
I wearied her. I know not what oaths I swore to Amen- 
artas, if such a woman lived. I remember the oaths I 
swore to Ayesha. If I shrink from her now, why then 
my life is a lie and my belief a fraud ; then love will not 
endure the touch of age and never can survive the grave. 

" Nay, remembering what Ayesha was I take her as she 
is, in faith and hope of what she shall be. At least love is 
immortal and if it must, why let it feed on memory alone 
till death sets free the soul." 



236 AYESHA 

Then stepping to where stood the dreadful, shrivelled 
form, Leo knelt down before it and kissed her on the brow. 

Yes, he kissed the trembling horror of that wrinkled 
head, and I think it was one of the greatest, bravest acts 
ever done by man. 

" Thou hast chosen," said Atene in a cold voice, " and 
I tell thee, Leo Vincey, that the manner of thy choice 
makes me mourn my loss the more. Take now thy thy 
bride and let me hence." 

But Ayesha still said no word and made no sign, till 
presently she sank upon her bony knees and began to 
pray aloud. These were the words of her prayer, as I 
heard them, though the exact Power to which it was ad 
dressed is not very easy to determine, as I never discov 
ered who or what it was that she worshipped in her 
heart 

" O Thou minister of the almighty Will, thou sharp 
sword in the hand of Doom, thou inevitable Law that art 
named Nature ; thou who wast crowned as Isis of the 
Egyptians, but art the goddess of all climes and ages ; thou 
that leadest the man to the maid, and layest the infant on 
his mother s breast, that bringest our dust to its kindred 
dust, that givest life to death, and into the dark of death 
breathest the light of life again ; thou who causest the 
abundant earth to bear, whose smile is Spring, whose 
laugh is the ripple of the sea, whose noontide rest is 
drowsy Summer, and whose sleep is Winter s night, hear 
thou the supplication of thy chosen child and minister : 

" Of old thou gavest me thine own strength with death 
less days, and beauty above every daughter of this Star. 
But I sinned against thee sore, and for my sin I paid in 
endless centuries of solitude, in the vileness that makes 
me loathsome to my lover s eyes, and for its diadem of 
perfect power sets upon my brow this crown of naked 
mockery. Yet in thy breath, the swift essence that 
brought me light, that brought me gloom, thou didst vow 
to me that I who cannot die should once more pluck the 



THE SECOND ORDEAL 237 

lost flower of my immortal loveliness from this foul slime 
of shame. 

" Therefore, merciful Mother that bore me, to thee I 
make my prayer. Oh, let his true love atone my sin ; or, 
if it may not be, then give me death, the last and most 
blessed of thy boons ! " 



CHAPTER XVI 

THE CHANGE 

SHE ceased, and there was a long, long silence. Leo and 
I looked at each other in dismay. We had hoped against 
hope that this beautiful and piteous prayer, addressed ap 
parently to the great, dumb spirit of Nature, would be 
answered. That meant a miracle, but what of it? The 
prolongation of the life of Ayesha was a miracle, though 
it is true that some humble reptiles are said to live as long 
as she had done. 

The transference of her spirit from the Caves of Kor 
to this temple was a miracle, that is, to our western minds, 
though the dwellers in these parts of Central Asia would 
not hold it so. That she should re-appear with the same 
hideous body was a miracle. But was it the same body ? 
Was it not the body of the last Hesea ? One very ancient 
woman is much like another, and eighteen years of the 
working of the soul or identity within might well wear 
away their trivial differences and give to the borrowed 
form some resemblance to that which it had left. 

At least the figures on that mirror of the flame were a 
miracle. Nay, why so? A hundred clairvoyants in a 
hundred cities can produce or see their like in water and 
in crystal, the difference being only one of size. They 
were but reflections of scenes familiar to the mind of 
Ayesha, or perhaps not so much as that. Perhaps they 
were only phantasms called up in our minds by her mes 
meric force. 

Nay, none of these things were true miracles, since all, 
however strange, might be capable of explanation. What 
right then had we to expect a marvel now ? 

238 



THE CHANGE 239 

Such thoughts as these rose in our minds as the endless 
minutes were born and died and nothing happened. 

Yes, at last one thing did happen. The light from the 
sheet of flame died gradually away as the flame itself sank 
downwards into the abysses of the pit. But about this in 
itself there was nothing wonderful, for as we had seen 
with our own eyes from afar this fire varied much, and 
indeed it was customary for it to die down at the ap 
proach of dawn, which now drew very near. 

Still that onward-creeping darkness added to the ter 
rors of the scene. By the last rays of the lurid light we 
saw Ayesha rise and advance some few paces to that 
little tongue of rock at the edge of the pit off which the 
body of Rassen had been hurled ; saw her standing on it 
also, looking like some black, misshapen imp against the 
smoky glow which still rose from the depths beneath. 

Leo would have gone forward to her, for he believed 
that she was about to hurl herself to doom, which indeed 
I thought was her design. But the priest Oros, and the 
priestess Papave, obeying, I suppose, some secret com 
mand that reached them I know not how, sprang to him 
and seizing his arms, held him back. Then it became 
quite dark, and through the darkness we could hear Aye 
sha chanting a dirge-like hymn in some secret, holy 
tongue which was unknown to us. 

A great flake of fire floated through the gloom, rocking 
to and fro like some vast bird upon its pinions. We had 
seen many such that night, torn by the gale from the crest 
of the blazing curtain as I have described. But but 

" Horace," whispered Leo through his chattering teeth, 
" that flame is coming up against the wind!" 

" Perhaps the wind has changed," I answered, though 
I knew well that it had not; that it blew stronger than 
ever from the south. 

Nearer and nearer sailed the rocking flame, two enor 
mous wings w r as the shape of it, with something dark be- 



240 AYES HA 

tween them. It reached the little promontory. The wings 
appeared to fold themselves about the dwarfed figure 
that stood thereon illuminating it for a moment. Then 
the light went out of them and they vanished everything 
vanished. 

A while passed, it may have been one minute or ten, 
when suddenly the priestess Papave, in obedience to some 
summons which we could not hear, crept by me. I knew 
that it was she because her woman s garments touched me 
as she went. Another space of silence and of deep dark 
ness, during which I heard Papave return, breathing in 
short, sobbing gasps like one who is very frightened. 

Ah! I thought, Ayesha has cast herself into the pit. 
The tragedy is finished ! 

Then it was that the wondrous music came. Of course 
it may have been only the sound of priests chanting be- 
3 r ond us, but I do not think so, since its quality was quite 
different to any that I heard in the temple before or after 
wards : to any indeed that ever I heard upon the earth. 

I cannot describe it, but it was awful to listen to, yet 
most entrancing. From the black, smoke-veiled pit where 
the fire had burned it welled and echoed now a single 
heavenly voice, now a sweet chorus, and now an air-shak 
ing thunder as of a hundred organs played to time. 

That diverse and majestic harmony seemed to include, 
to express every human emotion, and I have often thought 
since then that in its all-embracing scope and range, this, 
the song or paean of her re-birth was symbolical of the in 
finite variety of Ayesha s spirit. Yet like that spirit it had 
its master notes; power, passion, suffering, mystery and 
loveliness. Also there could be no doubt as to the general 
significance of the chant by whomsoever it was sung. It 
was the changeful story of a mighty soul ; it was worship, 
worship, worship of a queen divine ! 

Like slow clouds of incense fading to the bannered roof 
of some high choir, the bursts of unearthly melodies grew 



THE CHANGE 241 

faint; in the far distance of the hollow pit they wailed 
themselves away. 

Look ! from the east a single ray of upward-springing 
light. 
"""Toehold the dawn," said the quiet voice of Oros. 

That ray pierced the heavens above our heads, a very 
sword of flame. It sank downwards, swiftly. Suddenly 
it fell, not upon us, for as yet the rocky walls of our 
chamber warded it away, but on to the little promontory 
at its edge. 

Oh ! and there a Glory covered with a single garment 
stood a shape celestial. It seemed to be asleep, since 
the eyes were shut. Or was it dead, for at first that face 
was a face of death ? Look, the sunlight played upon her, 
shining through the thin veil, the dark eyes opened like 
the eyes of a wondering child ; the blood of life flowed up 
the ivory bosom into the pallid cheeks; the raiment of 
black and curling tresses wavered in the wind ; the head 
of the jewelled snake that held them sparkled beneath her 
breast. 

Was it an illusion, or was this Ayesha as she had been 
when she entered the rolling flame in the caverns of Kor ? 
Our knees gave way beneath us, and down, our arms 
about each other s necks, Leo and I sank till we lay upon 
the ground. Then a voice sweeter than honey, softer 
than the whisper of a twilight breeze among the reeds, 
spoke near to us, and these were the words it said 

" Conic hither to me, Kallikrates, who would pay thee 
back that redeeming kiss of faith and love thou gavest me 
but now! " 

Leo struggled to his feet. Like a drunken man he stag 
gered to where Ayesha stood, then overcome, sank before 
her on his knees. 

" Arise," she said, " it is I who should kneel to thee," 
and she stretched out her hand to raise him, whispering 
in his ear the while. 



242 AYES HA 

Still he would not, or could not rise, so very slowly she 
bent over him and touched him with her lips upon the 
brow. Next she beckoned to me. I came and would 
have knelt also, but she suffered it not. 

" Nay," she said, in her rich, remembered voice, " thou 
art no suitor ; it shall not be. Of lovers and worshippers 
henceforth as before, I can find a plenty if I will, or even 
if I will it not. But where shall I find another friend like 
to thee, O Holly, whom thus I greet?" and leaning towards 
me, with her lips she touched me also on the brow just 
touched me, and no more. 

Fragrant was Ayesha s breath as roses, the odour of 
roses clung to her lovely hair; her sweet body gleamed 
like some white sea-pearl; a faint but palpable radiance 
crowned her head ; no sculptor ever fashioned such a mar 
vel as the arm with which she held her veil about her ; no 
stars in heaven ever shone more purely bright than did her 
calm, entranced eyes. 

Yet it is true, even with her lips upon me, all I felt for 
her was a love divine into which no human passion en 
tered. Once, I acknowledge to my shame, it was other 
wise, but I am an old man now and have done with such 
frailties. Moreover, had not Ayesha named me Guardian, 
Protector, Friend, and sworn to me that with her and Leo 
I should ever dwell where all earthly passions fail. I re 
peat : what more could I desire ? 

Taking Leo by the hand Ayesha returned with him 
into the shelter of the rock-hewn chamber and when she 
entered its shadows, shivered a little as though with cold. 
I rejoiced at this I remember, for it seemed to show me 
that she still was human, divine as she might appear. 
Here her priest and priestess prostrated themselves before 
her new-born splendour, but she motioned to them to rise, 
laying a hand upon the head of each as though in blessing. 

" I am a cold," she said, " give me my mantle," and 
Papave threw the purple-broidered garment upon her 
shoulders, whence now it hung royally, like a coronation 
robe. 



THE CHANGE 243 

" Nay," she went on, " it is not this long-lost shape of 
mine, which in his kiss my lord gave back to me, that 
shivers in the icy wind, it is my spirit s self bared to the 
bitter breath of Destiny. O my love, my love, offended 
Powers are not easily appeased, even when they appear to 
pardon, and though I shall no more be made a mockery 
in thy sight, how long is given us together upon the world 
I know not ; but a little hour perchance. Well, ere we pass 
otherwhere, we will make it glorious, drinking as deeply 
of the cup of joy as we have drunk of those of sorrows 
and of shame. This place is hateful to me, for here I have 
suffered more than ever woman did on earth or phantom 
in the deepest hell. It is hateful, it is ill-omened. I pray 
that never again may I behold it. 

" Say, what is it passes in thy mind, magician?" and 
of a sudden she turned fiercely upon the Shaman Simbri 
who stood near, his arms crossed upon his breast. 

" Only, thou Beautiful," he answered, " a dim shadow 
of things to come. " I have what thou dost lack with all 
thy wisdom, the gift of foresight, and here I see a dead 
man lying " 

" Another word," she broke in with fury born of some 
dark fear, " and thou shalt be that man. Fool, put me not 
in mind that now I have strength again to rid me of the 
ancient foes I hate, lest I should use a sword thou thrust- 
est to my hand," and her eyes that had been so calm and 
happy, blazed upon him like fire. 

The old wizard felt their fearsome might and shrank 
from it till the wall stayed him. 

" Great One ! now as ever I salute thee. Yes, now as 
at the first beginning whereof we know alone," he stam 
mered. " I had no more to say ; the face of that dead man 
was not revealed to me. I saw only that some crowned 
Khan of Kaloon to be shall lie here, as he whom the flame 
has taken lay^ an hour ago." 

" Doubtless many a Khan of Kaloon will lie here," she 
answered coldly. " Fear not, Shaman, my wrath is past, 



244 AYES HA 

yet be wise, mine enemy, and prophesy no more evil to the 
great. Come, let us hence." 

So, still led by Leo, she passed from that chamber and 
stood presently upor. the apex of the soaring pillar. The 
sun was up now, flooding the Mountain flanks, the plains 
of Kaloon far beneath and the distant, misty peaks with 
a sheen of gold. Ayesha stood considering the mighty 
prospect, then addressing Leo, she said 

" The world is very fair ; I give it all to thee." 

Now Atene spoke for the first time. 

" Dost thou mean Hes if thou art still the Hesea and 
not a demon arisen from the Pit that thou offerest my 
territories to this man as a love-gift? If so, I tell thee 
that first thou must conquer them." 

" Ungentle are thy words and mien," answered Ayesha, 
" yet I forgive them both, for I also can scorn to mock a 
rival in my hour of victory. When thou wast the fairer,, 
thou didst proffer him these very lands, but say, who is 
the fairer now? Look at us, all of you, and judge," and 
she stood by Atene and smiled. 

The Khania was a lovely woman. Never to my knowl 
edge have I seen one lovelier, but oh ! how coarse and 
poor she showed beside the wild, ethereal beauty of Aye 
sha born again. For that beauty was not altogether hu 
man, far less so indeed than it had been in the Caves of 
Kor ; now it was the beauty of a spirit. 

The little light that always shone upon Ayesha J s brow ; 
the wide-set, maddening eyes which were filled sometimes 
with the fire of the stars and sometimes with the blue 
darkness of the heavens wherein they float; the curved 
lips, so wistful yet so proud ; the tresses fine as glossy silk 
that still spread and rippled as though with a separate 
life ; the general air, not so much of majesty as of some se 
cret power hard to be restrained, which strove in that deli 
cate body and proclaimed its presence to the most care 
less; that flame of the soul within whereof Oros had 
spoken, shining now through no " vile vessel," but in a 



THE CHANGE 245 

vase of alabaster and of pearl none of these things and 
qualities were altogether human. I felt it and was afraid, 
and Atene felt it also, for she answered 

" I am but a woman. What thou art, thou knowest 
best. Still a taper cannot shine midst yonder fires or a 
glow-worm against a fallen star ; nor can my mortal flesli 
compare with the glory thou hast earned from hell in pay 
ment for thy gifts and homage to the lord of 111. Yet as 
woman I am thy equal, and as spirit I shall be thy mis 
tress, when robbed of these borrowed beauties thou, Aye- 
sha, standest naked and ashamed before the Judge of all 
whom thou hast deserted and defied ; yes, as thou stoodest 
but now upon yonder brink above the burning pit where 
thou yet shalt wander wailing thy lost love. For this I 
know, mine enemy, tftat inayjind spirit cannot mate and 
Atene ceased, choking in her bitteFrage and jealousy. 

Now watching Ayesha, I saw her wince a little beneath 
these evil-omened words, saw also a tinge of grey touch 
the carmine of her lips and her deep eyes grow dark and 
troubled. But in a moment her fears had gone and she 
was asking in a voice that rang clear as silver bells 

" Why ravest thou, Atene, like some short-lived sum 
mer torrent against the barrier of a seamless cliff? Dost 
think, poor creature of an hour, to sweep away the rock 
of my eternal strength with foam and bursting bubbles? 
Have done and listen. I do not seek thy petty rule, who, if 
I will it, can take the empire of the world. Yet learn, thou 
holdest it of my hand. More I purpose soon to visit 
thee in thy city choose thou if it shall be in peace or war ! 

" Therefore, Khania, purge thy court and amend thy 
laws, that when I come I may find contentment in the 
land which now it lacks, and confirm thee in thy govern 
ment. My counsel to thee also is that thou choose some 
worthy man to husband, let him be whom thou wilt, if 
only he is just and upright and one upon whom thou may- 
est rest, needing wise guidance as thou dost, Atene. 

" Come, now, my guests, let us hence," and she walked 



246 A YES HA 

past the Khania, stepping fearlessly upon the very edge 
of the wind-swept, rounded peak. 

In a second the attempt had been made and failed, so 
quickly indeed that it was not until Leo and I compared 
our impressions afterwards that we could be sure of what 
had happened. As Ayesha passed her, the maddened 
Khania drew a hidden dagger and struck with all her 
force at her rival s back. I saw the knife vanish to the 
hilt in her body, as I thought, but this cannot have been 
so since it fell to the ground, and she who should have 
been dead, took no hurt at all. 

Feeling that she had failed, with a movement like the 
sudden lurch of a ship, Atene thrust at Ayesha, proposing 
to hurl her to destruction in the depths beneath. Lo ! her 
outstretched arms went past her although Ayesha never 
seemed to stir. Yes it was Atene who would have fallen, 
Atene who already fell, had not Ayesha put out her 
hand and caught her by the wrist, bearing all her back 
ward-swaying weight as easily as though she were but an 
infant, and without effort drawing her to safety. 

" Foolish woman ! " she said in pitying tones. " Wast 
thou so vexed that thou wouldst strip thyself of the pleas 
ant shape which heaven has given thee? Surely this is 
madness, Atene, for how knowest thou in what likeness 
thou mightest be sent to tread the earth again? As no 
queen perhaps, but as a peasant s child, deformed, un 
sightly; for such reward, it is said, is given to those that 
achieve self-murder. Or even, as many think, shaped 
like a beast a snake, a cat, a tigress ! Why, see," and she 
picked the dagger from the ground and ( cast it into the 
air, " that point was poisoned. Had it but pricked thee 
now ! " and she smiled at her and shook her head. 

But Atene could bear no more of this mockery, more 
venomed than her own steel. 

" Thou art not mortal," she wailed. " How can I pre 
vail against thee? To Heaven I leave thy punishment," 




" As Ayesha passed her, the maddened Khania drew a hidden 
dagger and struck." 



THE CHANGE 247 

and there upon the rocky peak Atene sank down and 
wept. 

Leo stood nearest to her, and the sight of this royal 
woman in her misery proved too much for him to bear. 
Stepping to her side he stooped and lifted her to her feet, 
muttering some kind words. For a moment she rested 
on his arm, then shook herself free of him and took the 
proffered hand of her old uncle Simbri. 

" I see," said Ayesha, " that as ever, thou art courteous, 
my lord Leo, but it is best that her own servant should 
take charge of her, for she may hide more daggers. 
Come, the day grows, and surely we need rest." 



CHAPTER XVII 

THE BETROTHAL 

TOGETHER we descended the multitudinous steps and 
passed the endless, rock-hewn passages till we came to 
the door of the dwelling of the high-priestess and were 
led through it into a hall beyond. Here Ayesha parted 
from us saying that she was outworn, as indeed she 
seemed to be with an utter weariness, not of the body, but 
of the spirit. For her delicate form drooped like a rain- 
laden lily, her eyes grew dim as those of a person in a 
trance, and her voice came in a soft, sweet whisper, the 
voice of one speaking in her sleep. 

" Good-bye," she said to us. " Oros will guard you 
both, and lead you to me at the appointed time. Rest you 
well." 

So she went and the priest led us into a beautiful apart 
ment that opened on to a sheltered garden. So overcome 
were we also by all that we had endured and seen, that we 
could scarcely speak, much less discuss these marvellous 
events. 

" My brain swims," said Leo to Oros, " I desire to 
sleep." 

He bowed and conducted us to a chamber where were 
beds, and on these we flung ourselves down and slept, 
dreamlessly, like little children. 

When we awoke it was afternoon. We rose and bathed, 
then saying that we wished to be alone, went together 
into the garden where even at this altitude, now, at the 
end of August, the air was still mild and pleasant. Be 
hind a rock by a bed of campanulas and other mountain 

248 



THE BETROTHAL 249 

flowers and ferns, was a bench near to the banks of a little 
stream, on which we seated ourselves. 

"What have you to say, Horace?" asked Leo laying 
his hand upon my arm. 

" Say ? " I answered. " That things have come about 
most marvellously; that we have dreamed aright and la 
boured not in vain ; that you are the most fortunate of men 
and should be the most happy." 

He looked at me somewhat strangely, and answered 

" Yes, of course ; she is lovely, is she not but," and 
his voice dropped to its lowest whisper, " I wish, Horace, 
that Ayesha were a little more human, even as human as 
she was in the Caves of Kor. I don t think she is quite 
flesh and blood, I felt it when she kissed me if you can 
call it a kiss for she barely touched my hair. Indeed 
how can she be who changed thus in an hour ? Flesh and 
blood are not born of flame, Horace." 

" Are you sure that she was so born ? " I asked. " Like 
the visions on the fire, may not that hideous shape have 
been but an illusion of our minds? May she not be still 
the same Ayesha whom we knew in Kor, not re-born, but 
wafted hither by some mysterious agency ? " 

" Perhaps. Horace, we do not know I think that we 
shall never know. But. I admit that to me the thing is 
terrifying. I am drawn to her by an infinite attraction, 
her eyes set my blood on fire, the touch of her hand is as 
that of a wand of madness laid upon my brain. And yet 
between us there is some wall, invisible, still present. Or 
perhaps it is only fancy. But, Horace, I think that she is 
afraid of Atene. Why, in the old days the Khania would 
have been dead and forgotten in an hour you remember 
Ustane?" 

" Perhaps she may have grown more gentle, Leo, who, 
like ourselves, has learned hard lessons." 

" Yes," .he answered, " I hope that is so. At any rate 
she has grown more divine only, Horace, what kind of a 
husband shall I be for that bright being, if ever I get so 
far?" 



250 A YES PI A 

" Why should you not get so far? " I asked angrily, for 
his words jarred upon my tense nerves. 

" I don t know," he answered, " but on general princi 
ples do you think that such fortune will be allowed to a 
man? Also, what did Atene mean when she said that 
man and spirit cannot mate and other things ? " 

" She meant that she hoped they could not, I imagine, 
and, Leo, it is useless to trouble yourself with forebodings 
that are more fitted to my years than yours, and probably 
are based on nothing. Be a philosopher, Leo. You have 
striven by wonderful ways such as are unknown in the 
history of the world ; you have attained. Take the goods 
the gods provide you the glory, the love and the power 
and let the future look to itself." 

Before he could answer Oros appeared from round the 
rock, and, bowing with more than his usual humility to 
Leo, said that the Hesea desired our presence at a service 
in the Sanctuary. Rejoiced at the prospect of seeing her 
again before he had hoped to do so, Leo sprang up and 
we accompanied him back to our apartment. 

Here priests were waiting, who, somewhat against his 
will, trimmed his hair and beard, and would have done the 
same for me had I not refused their offices. Then they 
placed gold-embroidered sandals on our feet and wrapped 
Leo in a magnificent, white robe, also richly worked with 
gold and purple ; a somewhat similar robe but of less or 
nate design being given to me. Lastly, a silver sceptre 
was thrust into his hand and into mine a plain wand. This 
sceptre was shaped like a crook, and the sight of it gave 
me some clue to the nature of the forthcoming ceremony. 

" The crook of Osiris ! " I whispered to Leo. 

" Look here," he answered, " I don t want to imperson 
ate any Egyptian god, or to be mixed up in their heathen 
idolatries ; in fact, I won t." 

" Better go*through with it," I suggested, " probably it 
is only something symbolical." 

But Leo, who, notwithstanding the strange circum- 



THE BETROTHAL 251 

stances connected with his life, retained the religious prin 
ciples in which I had educated him, very strongly indeed, 
refused to move an inch until the nature of this service 
was made clear to him. Indeed he expressed himself upon 
the subject with vigour to Oros. At first the priest 
seemed puzzled what to do, then explained that the forth 
coming ceremony was one of betrothal. 

On learning this Leo raised no further objections, ask 
ing only with some nervousness whether the Khania 
would be present. Oros answered " No," as she had al 
ready departed to Kaloon, vowing war and vengeance. 

Then we were led through long passages, till finally we 
emerged into the gallery immediately in front of the great 
wooden doors of the apse. At our approach these swung 
open and we entered it, Oros going first, then Leo, then 
myself, and following us, the procession of attendant 
priests. 

As soon as our eyes became accustomed to the dazzling 
glare of the flaming pillars, we saw that some great rite 
was in progress in the temple, for in front of the divine 
statue of Motherhood, white-robed and arranged in ser 
ried ranks, stood the company of the priests to the num 
ber of over two hundred, and behind these the company 
of the priestesses. Facing this congregation and a little 
in advance of the two pillars of fire that flared on either 
side of the shrine, Ayesha herself was seated in a raised 
chair so that she could be seen of all, while to her right 
stood a similar chair of which I could guess the purpose. 

She was unveiled and gorgeously apparelled, though 
save for the white beneath, her robes were those of a 
queen rather than of a priestess. About her radiant brow 
ran a narrow band of gold, whence rose the head of a 
hooded asp cut out of a single, crimson jewel, beneath 
which in endless profusion the glorious waving hair flowed 
down and around, hiding even the folds of her purple 
cloak. 

This cloak, opening in front, revealed an under- 



252 A YES HA 

tunic of white silk cut low upon her bosom and kept 
in place by a golden girdle, a double-headed snake, 
so like to that which She had worn in Kor that it might 
have been the same. Her naked arms were bare of orna 
ment, and in her right hand she held the jewelled sistrum 
set with its gems and bells. 

No empress could have looked more royal and no 
woman was ever half so lovely, for to Ayesha s human 
beauty was added a spiritual glory, her heritage alone. 
Seeing her we could see naught else. The rhythmic move 
ment of the bodies of the worshippers, the rolling grand 
eur of their chant of welcome echoed from the mighty 
roof, the fearful torches of living flame; all these things 
were lost on us. For there re-born, enthroned, her arms 
stretched out in gracious welcome, sat that perfect and im 
mortal woman, the appointed bride of one of us, the friend 
and lady of the other, her divine presence breathing power, 
mystery and love. 

On we marched between the ranks of hierophants, till 
Oros and the priests left us and we stood alone face to 
face with Ayesha. Now she lifted her sceptre and the 
chant ceased. In the midst of the following silence, she 
rose from her seat and gliding down its steps, came to 
where Leo stood and touched him on the forehead with 
her sistrum, crying in a loud, sweet voice 

" Behold the Chosen of the Hesea ! " whereon all that 
audience echoed in a shout of thunder 

" Welcome to the Chosen of the Hesea ! " 

Then while the echoes of that glad cry yet rang round 
the rocky walls, Ayesha motioned to me to stand at her 
side, and taking Leo by the hand drew him towards her, 
so that now he faced the white-robed company. Holding 
him thus she began to speak in clear and silvery tones. 

" Priests and priestesses of Hes, servants with her of 
the Mother of the world, hear me. Now for the first 
time I appear among you as I am, you who heretofore 
have looked but on a hooded shape, not knowing its form 



THE BETROTHAL 253 

or fashion. Learn now the reason that I draw my veil. 
Ye see this man, whom ye believed a stranger that with 
his companion had wandered to our shrine. I tell you 
that he is no stranger; that of old, in lives forgotten, he 
was my lord who now conies to seek his love again. Say, 
is it not so, Kallikrates ? " 

" It is so," answered Leo. 

" Priests and priestesses of Hes, as ye know, from the 
, beginning it has been the right and custom of her who 
holds my place to choose one to be her lord. Is it not 
so?" 

" It is so, O Hes," they answered. 

She paused a while, then with a gesture of infinite 
sweetness turned to Leo, bent towards him thrice and 
slowly sank upon her knee. 

" Say thou," Ayesha said, looking up at him with her 
wondrous eyes, " say before these here gathered, and all 
those witnesses whom thou canst not see, dost thou again 
accept me as thy affianced bride ? " 

" Aye, Lady," he answered, in a deep but shaken voice, 
" now and for ever." 

Then while all watched, in the midst of a great silence, 
Ayesha rose, cast down her sistrum sceptre that rang 
upon the rocky floor, and stretched out her arms towards 
him. 

Leo also bent towards her, and would have kissed her 
upon the lips. But I who watched, saw his face grow 
white as it drew near to hers. While the radiance crept 
from her brow to his, turning his bright hair to gold, I 
saw also that this strong man trembled like a reed and 
seemed as though he were about to fall. 

I think that Ayesha noted it too, for ere ever their lips 
met, she thrust -iiim from her and again that grey mist of 
fear gathered on her face. 

In an instant it passed. She had slipped from him 
and with her hand held his hand as though to support 
him. Thus they stood till his feet grew firm and his 
strength returned. 



254 AYESHA 

Oros restored the sceptre to her, and lifting it she said 

" O love and lord, take thou the place prepared for 
thee, where thou shalt sit for ever at my side, for with 
myself I give thee more than thou canst know or than I 
will tell thee now. Mount thy throne, O Affianced of Hes, 
and receive the worship of thy priests." 

" Nay/ he answered with a start as that word fell upon 
his ears. " Here and now I say it once and for all. I am 
but a man who know nothing of strange gods, their attri 
butes and ceremonials. None shall bow the knee to me 
and on earth, Ayesha, I bow mine to thee alone." 

Now at this bold speech some of those who heard it 
looked astonished and whispered to each other, while a 
voice called 

" Beware, thou Chosen, of the anger of the Mother ! " 

Again for a moment Ayesha looked afraid, then with a 
little laugh, swept the thing aside, saying 

" Surely with that I should be content. For me, O 
Love, thy adoration for thee the betrothal song, no more." 

So having no choice Leo mounted the throne, where 
notwithstanding his splendid presence, enhanced as it was 
by those glittering robes, he looked ill enough at ease, as 
indeed must any man of his faith and race. Happily how 
ever, if some act of semi-idolatrous homage had been 
proposed, Ayesha found a means to prevent its celebra 
tion, and soon all such matters were forgotten both by the 
singers who sang, and us who listened to the majestic 
chant that followed. 

Of its words unfortunately we were able to understand 
but little, both because of the volume of sound and of the 
secret, priestly language in which it was given, though its 
general purport could not be mistaken. 

The female voices began it, singing very low, and con 
veying a strange impression of time and distance. Now 
followed bursts of gladness alternating with melancholy 
chords suggesting sighs and tears and sorrows long en 
dured, and at the end a joyous, triumphant paean thrown 



THE BETROTHAL 255 

to and fro between the men and women singers, terminat 
ing in one united chorus repeated again and again, louder 
and yet louder, till it culminated in a veritable crash of 
melody, then of a sudden ceased. 

Ayesha rose and waved her sceptre, whereon all the 
company bowed thrice, then turned and breaking into 
some sweet, low chant that sounded like a lullaby, 
marched, rank after rank, across the width of the Sanctu 
ary and through the carven doors which closed behind the 
last ot them. 

When all had gone, leaving us alone, save for the priest 
Oros and the priestess Papave, who remained in attend 
ance on their mistress, Ayesha, who sat gazing before her 
with dreaming, empty eyes, seemed to awake, for she rose 
and said 

" A noble chant, is it not, and an ancient ? It was the 
wedding song of the feast of Isis and Osiris at Behbit in 
Egypt, and there I heard it before ever I saw the dark 
some Caves of Kor. Often have I observed, my Holly, 
that music lingers longer than aught else in this change 
ful world, though it is rare that the very words should re 
main unvaried. Come, beloved tell me, by what name 
shall I call thee ? Thou art Kallikrates and yet " 

" Call me Leo, Ayesha," he answered, " as I was chris 
tened in the only life of which I have any knowledge. 
This Kallikrates seems to have been an unlucky man, and 
the deeds he did, if in truth he was aught other than a tool 
in the hand of destiny, have bred no good to the inheritors 
of his body or his spirit, whichever it may be or to 
those women with whom his life was intertwined. Call 
me Leo, then, for of Kallikrates I have had enough since 
that night when I looked upon the last of him in Kor." 

" Ah ! I remember," she answered, " when thou sawest 
thyself lying in that narrow bed, and I sang thee a song, 
did I not, of the past and of the future? I can recall two 
lines of it ; the rest I have forgotten 

* Onward, never weary, clad with splendour for a robe ! 
Till accomplished be our fate, and the night is rushing down.* 



2 $6 AYES HA 

Yes, my Leo, now indeed we are clad with splendour 
for a robe/ and now our fate draws near to its accomplish 
ment. Then perchance will come the down-rushing of 
the night ; " and she sighed, looked up tenderly and said, 
" See, I am talking to thee in Arabic. Hast thou forgot 
ten it?" 

" No." 

" Then let it be our tongue, for I love it best of all, who 
lisped it at my mother s knee. Now leave me here alone 
awhile; I would think. Also," she added thoughtfully, 
and speaking with a strange and impressive inflexion of 
the voice, " there are some to whom I must give audi 
ence." 

So we went, all of us, supposing that Ayesha was about 
to receive a deputation of the Chiefs of the Mountain 
Tribes who came to felicitate her upon her betrothal. 



CHAPTER XVIII 

THE THIRD ORDEAL 

AN hour, two hours passed, while we strove to rest in 
our sleeping place, but could not, for some influence dis 
turbed us. 

" Why does not Ayesha come? " asked Leo at length, 
pausing in his walk up and down the room. " I want to 
see her again; I cannot bear to be apart from her. I 
feel as though she were drawing me to her." 

" How can I tell you ? Ask Oros ; he is outside the 
door." 

So he went and asked him, but Oros only smiled, and 
answered that the Hesea had not entered her chamber, so 
doubtless she must still remain in the Sanctuary. 

" Then I am going to look for her. Come, Oros, and 
you too, Horace." 

Oros bowed, but declined, saying that he was bidden to 
bide at our door, adding that we, " to whom all the paths 
were open," could return to the Sanctuary if we thought 
well. 

" I do think well," replied Leo sharply. " Will you 
come, Horace, or shall I go without you ? " 

I hesitated. The Sanctuary was a public place, it is true, 
but Ayesha had said that she desired to be alone there 
for awhile. Without more words, however, Leo shrugged 
his shoulders and started. 

" You will never find your way," I said, and followed 
him. 

We went down the long passages that were dimly 
lighted with lamps and came to the gallery. Here we 

257 



258 A YES HA 

found no lamps; still we groped our way to the great 
wooden doors. They were shut, but Leo pushed upon 
them impatiently, and one of them swung open a little, so 
that we could squeeze ourselves between them. As we 
passed it closed noiselessly behind us. 

Now we should have been in the Sanctuary, and in the 
full blaze of those awful columns of living fire. But they 
were out, or we had strayed elsewhere ; at least the dark 
ness was intense. We tried to work our way back to the 
doors again, but could not. We were lost. 

More, something oppressed us; we did not dare to 
speak. We went on a few paces and stopped, for we be 
came aware that we were not alone. Indeed, it seemed to 
me that we stood in the midst of a thronging multitude, 
but not of men and women. Beings pressed about us ; we 
could feel their robes, yet could not touch them ; we could 
feel their breath, but it was cold. The air stirred all 
round us as they passed to and fro, passed in endless 
numbers. It was as though we had entered a cathedral 
filled with the vast congregation of all the dead who once 
had worshipped there. We grew afraid my face was 
damp with fear, the hair stood up upon my head. We 
seemed to have wandered into a hall of the Shades. 

At length light appeared far away, and we saw that it 
emanated from the two pillars of fire which had burned 
on either side of the Shrine, that of a sudden became 
luminous. So we were in the Sanctuary, and still near to 
the doors. Now those pillars were not bright ; they were 
low and lurid; the rays from them scarcely reached us 
standing in the dense shadow. 

But if we could not be seen in them we still could see. 
Look ! Yonder sat Ayesha on a throne, and oh ! she was 
awful in her death-like majesty. The blue light of the 
sunken columns played upon her, and in it she sat erect, 
with such a face and mien of pride as no human creature 
ever wore. Power seemed to flow from her ; yes, it flowed 
from those wide-set, glittering eyes like light from jewelsc 



THE THIRD ORDEAL 259 

She seemed a Queen of Death receiving homage from 
the dead. More, she was receiving homage from dead or 
living I know not which for, as I thought it, a shadowy 
Shape arose before the throne and bent the knee to her, 
then another, and another, and another. 

As each vague Being appeared and bowed its starry 
head she raised her sceptre in answering salutation. We 
could hear the distant tinkle of the sistrum bells, the only 
sound in all that place, yes, and see her lips move, though 
no whisper reached us from them. Surely spirits were 
worshipping her ! 

We gripped each other. We shrank back and found 
the door. It gave to our push. Now we were in the 
passages again, and now we had reached our room. 

At its entrance Oros was standing as we had left him. 
He greeted us with his fixed smile, taking no note of the 
terror written on our faces. We passed him, and enter 
ing the room stared at each other. 

" What is she ? " gasped Leo. " An angel ? " 

" Yes," I answered, " something of that sort." But to 
myself I thought that there are doubtless many kinds of 
angels. 

"And what were those those shadows doing?" he 
asked again. 

" Welcoming her after her transformation, I suppose. 
But perhaps they were not shadows only priests dis 
guised and conducting some secret ceremonial ! " 

Leo shrugged his shoulders but made no other answer. 

At length the door opened, and Oros, entering, said that 
the Hesea commanded our presence in her chamber. 

So, still oppressed with fear and wonder for what we 
had seen was perhaps more dreadful than anything that 
had gone before we went, to find Ayesha seated and 
looking somewhat weary, but otherwise unchanged. With 
her was the priestess Papave, who had just unrobed her 
of the royal mantle which she wore in the Sanctuary. 



2 6o AYESHA 

Ayesha beckoned Leo to her, taking his hand and 
searching his face with her eyes, not without anxiety as I 
thought. 

Now I turned, purposing to leave them alone, but she 
saw, and said to me, smiling 

" Why wouldst thou forsake us, Holly ? To go back 
to the Sanctuary once more ? " and she looked at me with 
meaning in her glance. " Hast thou questions to ask of 
the statue of the Mother yonder that thou lovest the place 
so much ? They say it speaks, telling of the future to 
those who dare to kneel beside it uncompanioned from 
night till dawn. Yet I have often done so, but to me it 
has never spoken, though none long to learn the future 
more." 

I made no answer, nor did she seem to expect any, for 
she went on at once 

" Nay, bide here and let us have done with all sad and 
solemn thoughts. We three will sup together as of old, 
and for awhile forget our fears and cares, and be happy 
as children who know not sin and death, or that change 
which is death indeed. Oros, await my lord without. 
Papave, I will call thee later to disrobe me. Till then let 
none disturb us." 

The room that Ayesha inhabited was not very large, 
as we saw by the hanging lamps with which it was lighted. 
It was plainly though richly furnished, the rock walls 
being covered with tapestries, and the tables and chairs 
inlaid with silver, but the only token that here a woman 
had her home was that about it stood several bowls of 
flowers. One of these, I remember, was filled with the 
delicate harebells I had admired, dug up roots and all, and 
set in moss. 

" A poor place," said Ayesha, " yet better than that in 
which I dwelt those two thousand years awaiting thy 
coming, Leo, for, see, beyond it is a garden, wherein I 
sit," and she sank down upon a couch by the table, mo 
tioning to us to take our places opposite to her. 



THE THIRD ORDEAL 261 

The meal was simple; for us, eggs boiled hard and 
cold venison ; for her, milk, some little cakes of flour, and 
mountain berries. 

Presently Leo rose and threw off his gorgeous, purple- 
broidered robe, which he still wore, and cast upon a chair 
the crook-headed sceptre that Oros had again thrust into 
his hand. Ayesha smiled as he did so, saying 

" It would seem that thou boldest these sacred em 
blems in but small respect." 

" Very small," he answered. " Thou heardest my 
words in the Sanctuary, Ayesha, so let us make a pact. 
Thy religion I do not understand, but I understand my 
own, and not even for thy sake will I take part in what I 
hold to be idolatry." 

Now I thought that she would be angered by this plain 
speaking, but she only bowed her head and answered 
meekly 

" Thy will is mine, Leo, though it will not be easy al 
ways to explain thy absence from the ceremonies in the 
temple. Yet thou hast a right to thine own faith, which 
doubtless is mine also." 

" How can that be ? " he asked, looking up. 

" Because all great Faiths are the same, changed a little 
to suit the needs of passing times and peoples. What 
taught that of Egypt, which, in a fashion, w r e still follow 
here ? That hidden in a multitude of manifestations, one 
Power great and good, rules all the universes : that the 
holy shall inherit a life eternal and the vile, eternal death : 
that men shall be shaped and judged by their own hearts 
and deeds, and here and hereafter drink of the cup which 
they have brewed : that their real home is not on earth, 
but beyond the earth, where all riddles shall be answered 
and all sorrows cease. Say, dost thou believe these things, 
as I do?" 

" Aye, Ayesha, but Hes or Isis is thy goddess, for hast 
thou not told us tales of thy dealings with her in the past, 
and did we not hear thee make thy prayer to her ? Who, 
then, is this goddess Hes ? " 



262 AYESHA 

" Know, Leo, that she is what I named her Nature s 
soul, no divinity, but the secret spirit of the world ; that 
universal Motherhood, whose symbol thou hast seen yon 
der, and in whose mysteries lie hid all earthly life and 
knowledge." 

" Does, then, this merciful Motherhood follow her vo 
taries with death and evil, as thou sayest she has followed 
thee for thy disobedience, and me and another because 
of some unnatural vows broken long ago ? " Leo asked 
quietly. . A 

Resting her arm upon the table, Ayesha looked at him 
with sombre eyes an answered 

" In that Faith of thine of which thou speakest are 
there perchance two gods, each having many ministers : a 
god of good and a god of evil, an Osiris and a Set ? " 

He nodded. 

" I thought it. And the god of ill is strong, is he not, 
and can put on the shape of good? Tell me, then, Leo, 
in the world that is to-day, whereof I know so little, hast 
thou ever heard of frail souls who for some earthly bribe 
have sold themselves to that evil one, or to his minister, 
and been paid their price in bitterness and anguish ? " 

" All wicked folk do as much in this form or in that," 
he answered. 

" And if once there lived a woman who was mad with 
the thirst for beauty, for life, for wisdom, and for love, 
might she not oh ! might she not perchance 

" Sell herself to the god called Set, or one of his angels? 
Ayesha, dost thou mean " and Leo rose, speaking in a 
voice that was full of fear " that thou art such a 
woman ? " 

" And if so ? " she asked, also rising and drawing 
slowly near to him. 

" If so," he answered hoars Jy, "if so, I think that 
perhaps we had best fulfil our fate t apart 

" Ah ! " she said, with a little scream of pain as though 
a knife had stabbed her, " wouldst thou away to Atene ? 



THE THIRD ORDEAL 263 

I tell thee that thou canst not leave me. I have power 
above all men thou shouldst know it, whom once I slew. 
Nay, thou hast no memory, poor creature of a breath, and 
I I remember too well. I will not hold thee dead again, 
I ll hold thee living. Look now on my beauty, Leo " 
and she bent her swaying form towards him, compelling 
him with her glorious, alluring eyes " and begone if thou 
canst. Why, thou drawest nearer to me. Man, that is not 
the path of flight. 

" Nay, I will not tempt thee with these common 
lures. Go, Leo, if thou wilt. Go, my love, and leave 
me to my loneliness and my sin. Now at once. Atene 
will shelter thee till spring, when thou canst cross the 
mountains and return to thine own world again, and to 
those things of common life which are thy joy. See, Leo, 
I veil myself that thou mayest not be tempted," and she 
flung the corner of her cloak about her head, then asked a 
sudden question through it 

" Didst thou not but now return to the Sanctuary with 
Holly after I bade thee leave me there alone ? Methought 
I saw the two of you standing by its doors." 

" Yes, we came to seek thee," he answered. 

" And found more than ye sought, as often chances to 
the bold is it not so ? Well, I willed that ye should come 
and see, and protected you where others might have died." 

" What didst thou there upon the throne, and whose 
were those forms which we saw bending before thee ? " 
he asked coldly. 

" I have ruled in many shapes and lands, Leo. Per 
chance they were ancient companions and servitors of 
mine come to greet me once again and to hear my 
tidings. Or perchance they were but shadows of thy 
brain, pictures like those upon the fire, that it pleased me 
to summon to thy sight, to try thy strength and con 
stancy. 

" Leo Vincey, know now the truth ; that all things are 
illusions, even that there exists no future and no past, 



264 A YES HA 

that what has been and what shall be already is eternally. 
Know that I, Ayesha, am but a magic wraith, foul when 
thou seest me foul, fair when thou seest me fair ; a spirit- 
bubble reflecting a thousand lights in the sunshine of thy 
smile, grey as dust and gone in the shadow of thy frown. 
Think of the throned Queen before whom the shadowy 
Powers bowed and worship, for that is I. Think of the 
hideous, withered Thing thou sawest naked on the rock, 
and flee away, for that is I. Or keep me lovely, and 
adore, knowing all evil centred in my spirit, for that is I. 
Now, Leo, thou hast the truth. Put me from thee for 
ever and for ever if thou wilt, and be safe ; or clasp me, 
clasp me to thy heart, and in payment for my lips and 
love take my sin upon thy head ! Nay, Holly, be thou 
silent, for now he must judge alone." 

Leo turned, as I thought, at first, to find the door. But 
it was not so, for he did but walk up and down the room 
awhile. Then he came back to where Ayesha stood, and 
spoke quite simply and in a very quiet voice, such as men 
of his nature often assume in moments of great emotion. 

" Ayesha," he said, " when I saw thee as thou wast, 
aged and thou knowest how I clung to thee. Now, 
when thou hast told me the secret of this unholy pact of 
thine, when with my eyes, at least, I have seen thee reign 
ing a mistress of spirits good or ill, yet I cling to thee. 
Let thy sin, great or little whate er it is be my sin also. 
In truth, I feel its weight sink to my soul and become a 
part of me, and although I have no vision or power of 
prophecy, I am sure that I shall not escape its punish 
ment. Well, though I be innocent, let me bear it for thy 
sake. I am content." 

Ayesha heard, the cloak slipped from her head, and for 
a moment she stood silent like one amazed, then burst 
into a passion of sudden tears. Down she went before 
him, and clinging to his garments, she bowed her stately 
shape until her forehead touched the ground. Yes, that 
proud being, who was more than mortal, whose nostrils 



THE THIRD ORDEAL 265 

but now had drunk the incense of the homage of ghosts 
or spirits, humbled herself at this man s feet. 

With an exclamation of horror, half-maddened at the 
piteous sight, Leo sprang to one side, then stooping, lifted 
and led her still weeping to the couch. 

" Thou knowest not what thou hast done," Ayesha said 
at last. " Let all thou sawest on the Mountain s crest 
or in the Sanctuary be but visions of the night; let that 
tale of an offended goddess be a parable, a fable, if thou 
wilt. This at least is true, that ages since I sinned for 
thee and against thee and another; that ages since I 
bought beauty and life indefinite wherewith I might win 
thee and endow thee at a cost which few would dare; 
that I have paid interest on the debt, in mockery, utter 
loneliness, and daily pain which scarce could be endured, 
until the bond fell due at last and must be satisfied. 

" Yes, how I may not tell thee, thou and thou alone 
stoodst between me and the full discharge of this most 
dreadful debt for know 7 that in mercy it is given to us to 
redeem one another." 

Now he would have spoken, but with a motion of her 
hand she bade him be silent, and continued 

" See now, Leo, three great dangers has thy body passed 
of late upon its journey to my side ; the Death-hounds, the 
Mountains, and the Precipice. Know that these were but 
types and ordained foreshadowings of the last threefold 
trial of thy soul. From the pursuing passions of Atene 
which must have undone us both, thou hast escaped vic 
torious. Thou hast endured the desert loneliness of the 
sands and snows starving for a comfort that never came. 
Even when the avalanche thundered round thee thy faith 
stood fast as it stood above the Pit of flame, while after 
bitter years of doubt a rushing flood of horror swallowed 
up thy hopes." As thou didst descend the glacier s steep, 
not knowing what lay beneath that fearful path, so but 
now and of thine own choice, for very love of me, thou 
hast plunged headlong into an abyss that is deeper far, to 



266 AYESHA 

share its terrors with my spirit. Dost thou understand at 
last?" 

" Something, not all, I think," he answered slowly. 

" Surely thou art wrapped in a double veil of blindness," 
she cried impatiently. " Listen again : 

" Hadst thou yielded to Nature s crying and rejected me 
but yesterday, in that foul shape I must perchance have 
lingered for uncounted time, playing the poor part of 
priestess of a forgotten faith. This was the first tempta 
tion, the ordeal of thy flesh nay, not the first the sec 
ond, for Atene and her lurings were the first. But thou 
wast loyal, and in the magic of thy conquering love my 
beauty and my womanhood were re-born. 

" Hadst thou rejected me to-night, when, as I was bid 
den to do, I showed thee that vision in the Sanctuary and 
confessed to thee my soul s black crime, then hopeless and 
helpless, unshielded by my earthly power, I must have 
wandered on into the deep and endless night of solitude. 
This was the third appointed test, the trial of thy spirit, 
and by thy steadfastness, Leo, thou hast loosed the hand 
of Destiny from about my throat. Now I am regenerate 
in thee through thee may hope again for some true life 
beyond, which thou shalt share. And yet, and yet, if thou 
shouldst suffer, as well may chance " 

" Then I suffer, and there s an end," broke in Leo se 
renely. " Save for a few things my mind is clear, and 
there must be justice for us all at last. If I have broken 
the bond that bound thee, if I have freed thee from some 
threatening, spiritual ill by taking a risk upon my head, 
well, I have not lived, and if need be, shall not die in vain. 
So let us have done with all these problems, or rather 
first answer thou me one. Ayesha, how wast thou changed 
upon that peak ? " 

" In flame I left thee, Leo, and in flame I did return, as 
in flame, mayhap, we shall both depart. Or perhaps the 
change was in the eyes of all of you who watched, and not 
in this shape of mine. I have answered. Seek to learn 
no more." 



THE THIRD ORDEAL 267 

" One thing I do still seek to learn. Ayesha, we were 
betrothed to-night. When wilt thou marry me ? " 

" Not yet, not yet," she answered hurriedly, her voice 
quivering as she spoke. " Leo, thou must put that hope 
from thy thoughts awhile, and for some few months, a 
year perchance, be content to play the part of friend and 
lover." 

" Why so ? " he asked, with bitter disappointment. 
" Ayesha, those parts have been mine for many a day ; 
more, I grow no younger, and, unlike thee, shall soon be 
old. Also, life is fleeting, and sometimes I think that I 
near its end." 

" Speak no such evil-omened words," she said, spring 
ing from the couch and stamping her sandalled foot upon 
the ground in anger born of fear. :l Yet thou sayest 
truth; thou art unfortified against the accidents of time 
and chance. Oh ! horrible, horrible ; thou mightest die 
again, and leave me living." 

" Then give me of thy life, Ayesha." 

" That would I gladly, all of it, couldst thou but repay 
me with the boon of death to come. 

" Oh ! ye poor mortals," she went on, with a sudden 
burst of passion ; " ye beseech your gods for the gift of 
many years, being ignorant that ye would sow a seed 
within your breasts whence ye must garner ten thousand 
miseries. Know ye not that this world is indeed the wide 
house of hell, in whose chambers from time to time the 
spirit tarries a little while, then, weary and aghast, speeds 
wailing to the peace that it has won. 

" Think then what it is to live on here eternally and yet 
be human ; to age in soul and see our beloved die and 
pass to lands whither we may not hope to follow ; to wait 
while drop by drop the curse of the long centuries falls 
upon our imperishable being, like water slow dripping on 
a diamond that it cannot wear, till they be born anew for 
getful of us, and again sink from our helpless arms into 
the void unknowable. 



2 68 AYESHA 

" Think what it is to see the sins we sin, the tempting 
look, the word idle or unkind aye, even the selfish 
thought or struggle, multiplied ten thousandfold and more 
eternal than ourselves, spring up upon the universal bo 
som of the earth to be the bane of a million destinies, 
whilst the everlasting Finger writes its endless count, and 
a cold voice of Justice cries in our conscience-haunted soli 
tude, Oh ! soul unshriven, behold the ripening harvest 
thy wanton hand did scatter, and long in vain for the wa 
ters of forgetfulness/ 

" Think what it is to have every earthly wisdom, yet 
to burn unsatisfied for the deeper and forbidden draught ; 
to gather up all wealth and power and let them slip again, 
like children weary of a painted toy ; to sweep the harp of 
fame, and, maddened by its jangling music, to stamp it 
small beneath our feet ; to snatch at pleasure s goblet and 
find its wine is sand, and at length, outworn, to cast us 
down and pray the pitiless gods with whose stolen gar 
ment we have wrapped ourselves, to take it back again, 
and suffer us to slink naked to the grave. 

" Such is the life thou askest, Leo. Say, wilt thou have 
it now?" 

" If it may be shared with thee," he answered. " These 
woes are born of loneliness, but then our perfect fellow 
ship would turn them into joy." 

" Aye," she said, " while it was permitted to endure. 
So be it, Leo. In the spring, when the snows melt, we 
will journey together to Libya, and there thou shalt be 
bathed in the Fount of Life, that forbidden Essence of 
which once thou didst fear to drink. Afterwards I will 
wed thee." 

" That place is closed for ever, Ayesha." 

" Not to my feet and thine," she answered. " Fear not, 
my love, were this mountain heaped thereon, I would blast 
a path through it with mine eyes and lay its secret bare. 
Oh! would that thou wast as I am, for then before to 
morrow s sun we d watch the rolling pillar thunder by, 
and thou shouldst taste its glory. 



THE THIRD ORDEAL 269 

" But it may not be. Hunger or cold can starve thee, 
and waters drown; swords can slay thee, or sickness sap 
away thy strength. Had it not been for the false Atene, 
who disobeyed my words, as it was foredoomed that she 
should do, by this day we were across the mountains, or 
had travelled northward through the frozen desert and the 
rivers. Now we must await the melting of the snows, for 
winter is at hand, and in it, as thou knowest, no man can 
live upon their heights." 

" Eight months till April before we can start, and how 
long to cross the mountains and all the vast distances be 
yond, and the seas, and the swamps of Kor ? Why, at the 
best, Ayesha, two years must go by before we can even 
find the place ; " and he fell to entreating her to let them 
be wed at once and journey afterwards. 

But she said, Nay, and nay, and nay, it should not be, 
till at length, as though fearing his pleading, or that of her 
own heart, she rose and dismissed us. 

" Ah ! my Holly," she said to me as we three parted, 
" I promised thee and myself some few hours of rest and 
of the happiness of quiet, and thou seest how my desire 
has been fulfilled. Those old Egyptians were wont to 
share their feasts with one grizzly skeleton, but here I 
counted four to-night that you both could see, and they 
are named Fear, Suspense, Foreboding, and Love-denied. 
Doubtless also, when these are buried others will come to 
haunt us, and snatch the poor morsel from our lips. 

" So hath it ever been with me, whose feet misfortune 
dogs. Yet I hope on, and now many a barrier lies be 
hind us ; and Leo, thou hast been tried in the appointed, 
triple fires and yet proved true. Sweet be thy slumbers, O 
my love, and sweeter still thy dreams, for know, my soul 
shall share them. I vow to thee that to-morrow we ll be 
happy, aye, to-morrow without fail." 

" Why will she not marry me at once ? " asked Leo, 
when we were alone in our chamber. 
" Because she is afraid," I answered. 



CHAPTER XIX 

LEO AND THE LEOPARD 

DURING the weeks that followed these momentous days 
often and often I wondered to myself whether a more 
truly wretched being had ever lived than the woman, or the 
spirit, whom we knew as She, Hes, and Ayesha. Whether 
in fact also, or in our imagination only, she had arisen 
from the ashes of her hideous age into the full bloom of 
perpetual life and beauty inconceivable. 

These things at least were certain: Ayesha had 
achieved the secret of an existence so enduring that for all 
human purposes it might be called unending. Within 
certain limitations such as her utter inability to foresee 
the future undoubtedly also, she was endued with pow 
ers that can only be described as supernatural. 

Her rule over the strange community amongst whom 
she lived was absolute ; indeed, its members regarded her 
as a goddess, and as such she was worshipped. After 
marvellous adventures, the man who was her very life, I 
might almost say her soul, whose being was so mysteri 
ously intertwined with hers, whom she loved also with 
the intensest human passion of which woman can be capa 
ble, had sought her out in this hidden corner of the world. 

More, thrice he had proved his unalterable fidelity to 
her. First, by his rejection of the royal and beautiful, if 
undisciplined, Atene. Secondly, by clinging to Ayesha 
when she seemed to be repulsive to every natural sense. 
Thirdly, after that homage scene in the Sanctuary 
though with her unutterable perfections before his eyes 
this did not appear to be so wonderful by steadfastness 

270 



LEO AND THE LEOPARD 271 

in the face of her terrible avowal, true or false, that she 
had won her gifts and him through some dim, unholy pact 
with the powers of evil, in the unknown fruits and conse 
quences of which he must be involved as the price of her 
possession. 

Yet Ayesha was miserable. Even in her lightest moods 
it was clear to me that those skeletons at the feast of which 
she had spoken were her continual companions. Indeed, 
when we were alone she would acknowledge it in dark 
hints and veiled allegories or allusions. Crushed though 
her rival the Khania Atene might be, also she was still 
jealous of her. 

Perhaps " afraid " would be a better word, for some 
instinct seemed to warn Ayesha that soon or late her hour 
would come to Atene again, and that then it would be her 
own turn to drink of the bitter waters of despair. 

What troubled her more a thousandfold, however, were 
her fears for Leo. As may well be understood, to stand 
in his intimate relationship to this half divine and mar 
vellous being, and yet not to be allowed so much as to 
touch her lips, did not conduce to his physical or mental 
well-being, especially as he knew that the wall of separa 
tion must not be climbed for at least two years. Little 
wonder that Leo lost appetite, grew thin and pale, and 
could not sleep, or that he implored her continually to re 
scind -her decree and marry him. 

But on this point Ayesha was immovable. Instigated 
thereto by Leo, and I may add my own curiosity, when 
we were alone I questioned her again as to the reasons of 
this self-denying ordinance. All she would tell me, how 
ever, was that between them rose the barrier of Leo s mor 
tality, and that until his physical being had been impreg 
nated with the mysterious virtue of the Vapour of Life, it 
was not wise^hat she should take him as a husband. 

I asked her why, seeing that though a long-lived one, 
she was still a woman, whereon her face assumed a calm 
but terrifying smile, and she answered 



272 "A YES HA 

" Art so sure, my Holly ? Tell me, do your women 
wear such jewels as that set -upon my brow?" and she 
pointed to the faint but lambent light which glowed about 
her forehead. 

More, she began slowly to stroke her abundant hair, 
then her breast and body. Wherever her ringers passed 
the mystic light was born, until in that darkened room 
for the dusk was gathering she shimmered from head 
to foot like the water of a phosphorescent sea, a being 
glorious yet fearful to behold. Then she waved her hand, 
and, save for the gentle radiance on her brow, became as 
she had been. 

" Art so sure, my Holly ? " Ayesha repeated. " Nay, 
shrink not; that flame will not burn thee. Mayhap thou 
didst but imagine it, as I have noted thou dost imagine 
many things ; for surely no woman could clothe herself in 
light and live, nor has so much as the smell of fire passed 
upon my garments." 

Then at length my patience was outworn, and I grew 
angry. 

" I am sure of nothing, Ayesha," I answered, " except 
that thou wilt make us mad with all these tricks and 
changes. Say, art thou a spirit then ? " 

" We are all spirits," she said reflectively, " and I, per 
haps, more than some. Who can be certain ? " 

" Not I," I answered. " Yet I implore, woman or 
spirit, tell me one thing. Tell me the truth. In the be 
ginning what wast thou to Leo, and what was he to 
thee?" 

She looked at me very solemnly and answered 

" Does my memory deceive me, Holly, or is it written 
in the first book of the Law of the Hebrews, which once 
I used to study, that the -sons of Heaven came down to 
the daughters of men, and found that they were fair ? " 

" It is so written," I answered. 

" Then, Holly, might it not have chanced that once a 
daughter of Heaven came down to a man of Earth and 



LEO AND THE LEOPARD 273 

loved him well? Might it not chance that for her great 
sin, she, this high, fallen star, who had befouled her 
immortal state for him, was doomed to suffer till at length 
his love, made divine by pain and faithful even to a mem 
ory, was permitted to redeem her ? " 

Now at length I saw light and sprang up eagerly, but 
in a cold voice she added : 

" Nay, Holly, cease to question me, for there are things 
of which I can but speak to thee in figures and in parables, 
not to mock and bewilder thee, but because I must. Inter 
pret them as thou wilt. Still, Atene thought me no mor 
tal, since she told us that man and spirit may not mate; 
and there are matters in which I let her judgment weigh 
with me, as without doubt now, as in other lives, she and 
that old Shaman, her uncle, have wisdom, aye, and fore 
sight. So bid my lord press me no more to wed him, for 
it gives me pain to say him nay ah ! thou knowest not 
how much. 

" Moreover, I will declare myself to thee, old friend ; 
whatever else I be, at least I am too womanly to listen to 
the pleadings of my best beloved and not myself be 
moved. See, I have set a curb upon desire and drawn it 
until my heart bleeds ; but if he pursues me with con 
tinual words and looks of burning love, who knoweth 
but that I shall kindle in his flame and throw the reins of 
reason to the winds ? 

" Oh, then together we might race adown our pas 
sions steep ; together dare the torrent that rages at its 
foot, and there perchance be whelmed or torn asunder. 
Nay, nay, another space of journeying, but a little space, 
and we reach the bridge my wisdom found, and cross it 
safely, and beyond for ever ride on at ease through the 
happy meadows of our love." 

Then she was silent, nor would she speak more upon 
the matter. Also and this was the worst of it even 
now I was not sure that she told me the truth, or, at any 
rate, all of it, for to Ayesha s mind truth seemed many col- 



274 A YES HA 

cured as are the rays of light thrown from the different 
faces of a cut jewel. We never could be certain which 
shade of it she was pleased to present, who, whether by 
preference or of necessity, as she herself had said, spoke 
of such secrets in figures of speech and parables. 

It is a fact that to this hour I do not know whether 
Ayesha is spirit or woman, or, as I suspect, a blend of 
both. I do not know the limits of her powers, or if that 
elaborate story of the beginning of her love for Leo was 
true which personally I doubt or but a fable, invented 
by her mind, and through it, as she had hinted, pictured 
on the flame for her own hidden purposes. 

I do not know whether when first we saw her on the 
Mountain she was really old and hideous, or did but put 
on that shape in our eyes in order to test her lover. I 
do not know whether, as the priest Oros bore witness 
which he may well have been bidden to do her spirit 
passed into the body of the dead priestess of Hes, or 
whether when she seemed to perish there so miserably, 
her body and her soul were wafted straightway from the 
Caves of Kor to this Central Asian peak. 

I do not know why, as she was so powerful, she did 
not come to seek us, instead of leaving us to seek her 
through so many weary years, though I suggest that 
some superior force forbade her to do more than com 
panion us unseen, watching our every act, reading our 
every thought, until at length we reached the predestined 
place and hour. Also, as will appear, there were other 
things of which this is not the time to speak, whereby 
I am still more tortured and perplexed. 

In short, I know nothing, except that my existence has 
been intertangled with one of the great mysteries of the 
world; that the glorious being called Ayesha won the 
secret of life from whatever power holds it in its keeping ; 
that she alleged although of this, remember, we have 
no actual proof such life was to be attained by bathing 
in a certain emanation, vapour or essence; that she was 



LEO AND THE LEOPARD 275 

possessed by a passion not easy to understand, but terrific 
in its force and immortal in its nature, concentrated upon 
one other being and one alone. That through this passion 
also some angry fate smote her again, again, and yet 
again, making of her countless days a burden, and leading 
the power and the wisdom which knew all but could fore 
know nothing, into abysses of anguish, suspense, and dis 
appointment such as Heaven be thanked ! we common 
men and women are not called upon to plumb. 

For the rest, should human eyes ever fall upon it, each 
reader must form his own opinion of this history, its 
true interpretation and significance. These and the exact 
parts played by Atene and myself in its development I 
hope to solve shortly, though not here. 

Well, as I have said, the upshot of it all was that Aye- 
sha was devoured with anxiety about Leo. Except in this 
matter of marriage, his every wish was satisfied, and in 
deed forestalled. Thus he was never again asked to share 
in any of the ceremonies of the Sanctuary, though, in 
deed, stripped of its rites and spiritual symbols, the re 
ligion of the College of Hes proved pure and harmless 
enough. It was but a diluted version of the Osiris and 
I sis worship of old Egypt, from which it had been in 
herited, mixed with the Central Asian belief in the trans 
migration or reincarnation of souls and the possibility of 
drawing near to the ultimate Godhead by holiness of 
thought and life. 

In fact, the head priestess and Oracle was only wor 
shipped as a representative of the Divinity, while the 
temporal aims of the College in practice were confined to 
good works, although it is true that they still sighed for 
their lost authority over the country of Kaloon. Thus 
they had hospicals, and during the long and severe win 
ters, when the Tribes of the Mountain slopes were often 
driven to the verge of starvation, gave liberally to the 
destitute from their stores of food. 



276 AYES HA 

Leo liked to be with Ayesha continually, so we spent 
each evening in her company, and much of the day also, 
until she found that this inactivity told upon him who for 
years had been accustomed to endure every rigour of cli 
mate in the open air. After this came home to her al 
though she was always haunted by terror lest any accident 
should befall him Ayesha insisted upon his going out to 
kill the wild sheep and the ibex, which lived in numbers 
on the mountain ridges, placing him in the charge of the 
chiefs and huntsmen of the Tribes, with whom thus he 
became well acquainted. In this exercise, however, I ac 
companied him but rarely, as, if used too much, my arm 
still gave me pain. 

Once indeed such an accident did happen. I was seated 
in the garden with Ayesha and watching her. Her head 
rested on her hand, and she was looking with her wide 
eyes, across which the swift thoughts passed like clouds 
over a windy sky, or dreams through the mind of a 
sleeper looking out vacantly towards the mountain 
snows. Seen thus her loveliness was inexpressible, amaz 
ing; merely to gaze upon it was an intoxication. Con 
templating it, I understood indeed that, like to that of the 
fabled Helen, this gift of hers alone and it was but one 
of many must have caused infinite sorrows, had she ever 
been permitted to display it to the world. It would have 
driven humanity to madness : the men with longings and 
the women with jealousy and hate. 

And yet in what did her surpassing beauty lie ? Aye- 
sha s face and form were perfect, it is true; but so are 
those of some other women. Not in these then did it live 
alone, but rather, I think, especially while what I may 
call her human moods were on her, in the soft mystery 
that dwelt upon her features and gathered and changed 
in her splendid eyes. Some such mystery may be seen, 
however faintly, on the faces of certain of the masterpieces 
of the Greek sculptors, but Ayesha it clothed like an ever- 
present atmosphere, suggesting a glory that was not of 
earth, making her divine. 



LEO AND THE LEOPARD 277 

As I gazed at her and wondered thus, of a sudden she 
became terribly agitated, and, pointing to a shoulder of 
the Mountain miles and miles away, said 

"Look!" 

I looked, but saw nothing except a sheet of distant 
snow. 

" Blind fool, canst thou not see that my lord is in dan 
ger of his life ? " she cried. " Nay, I forgot, thou hast no 
vision. Take it now from me and look again ; " and lay 
ing her hand, from which a strange, numbing current 
seemed to flow, upon my head, she muttered some swift 
words. 

Instantly my eyes were opened, and, not upon the dis 
tant Mountain, but in the air before me as it were, I saw 
Leo rolling over and over at grips with a great snow- 
leopard, whilst the chief and huntsmen with him ran 
round and round, seeking an opportunity to pierce the 
savage brute with their spears and yet leave him un 
harmed. 

Ayesha, rigid with terror, swayed to and fro at my 
side, till presently the end came, for I could see Leo drive 
his long knife into the bowels of the leopard, which at 
once grew limp, separated from him, and after a struggle 
or two in the bloodstained snow, lay still. Then he rose, 
laughing and pointing to his rent garments, whilst one 
of the huntsmen came forward and began to bandage 
some wounds in his hands and thigh with strips of linen 
torn from his under-robe. 

The vision vanished suddenly as it had come, and I 
felt Ayesha leaning heavily upon my shoulder like any 
other frightened woman, and heard her gasp 

" That danger also has passed by, but how many are 
there to follow? Oh! tormented heart, how long canst 
thou endure L" 

Then her wrath flamed up against the chief and his 
huntsmen, and she summoned messengers and sent them 
out at speed with a litter and ointments, bidding them to 



278 A YES HA 

bear back the lord Leo and to bring his companions to her 
very presence. 

" Thou seest what days are mine, my Holly, aye, and 
have been these many years," she said ; " but those hounds 
shall pay me for this agony." 

Nor would she suffer me to reason with her. 

Four hours later Leo returned, limping after the litter 
in which, instead of himself, for whom it was sent, lay 
a mountain sheep and the skin of the snow-leopard that 
he had placed there to save the huntsmen the labour of 
carrying them. Ayesha was waiting for him in the hall 
of her dwelling, and gliding to him I cannot say she 
walked overwhelmed him with mingled solicitude and 
reproaches. He listened awhile, then asked 

" How dost thou know anything of this matter? The 
leopard skin has not yet been brought to thee." 

" I know because I saw," she answered. " The worst 
hurt was above thy knee; hast thou dressed it with the 
salve I sent ? " 

" Not I," he said. " But thou hast not left this Sanctu 
ary ; how didst thou see ? By thy magic ? " 

" If thou wilt, at least I saw, and Holly also saw thee 
rolling in the snow with that fierce brute, while those 
curs ran round like scared children." 

" I am weary of this magic," interrupted Leo crossly. 
" Cannot a man be left alone for an hour even with a 
leopard of the mountain ? As for those brave men 

At this moment Oros entered and whispered something, 
bowing low. 

" As for those brave men, I will deal with them," 
said Ayesha with bitter emphasis, and covering herself 
for she never appeared unveiled to the people of the 
Mountain she swept from the place. 

" Where has she gone, Horace? " asked Leo. " To one 
of her services in the Sanctuary ? " 

" I don t know," I answered ; " but if so, I think it will 
be that chief s burial service." 



LEO AND THE LEOPARD 279 

" Will it ? " he exclaimed, and instantly limped after 
her. 

A minute or two later I thought it wise to follow. In 
the Sanctuary a curious scene was in progress. Ayesha 
was seated in front of the statue. Before her, very much 
frightened, knelt a brawny, red-haired chieftain and five 
of his followers, who still carried their hunting spears, 
while with folded arms and an exceedingly grim look 
upon his face, Leo, who, as I learned afterwards, had al 
ready interfered and been silenced, stood upon one side 
listening to what passed. At a little distance behind were 
a dozen or more of the temple guards, men armed with 
swords and picked for their strength and stature. 

Ayesha, in her sweetest voice, was questioning the men 
as to how the leopard, of which the skin lay before her, 
had come to attack Leo. The chief answered that they 
had tracked the brute to its lair between two rocks ; that 
one of them had gone in and wounded it, whereon it 
sprang upon him and struck him down ; that then the lord 
Leo had engaged it while the man escaped, and was also 
struck down, after which, rolling with it on the ground, 
he stabbed and slew the animal. That was all. 

" No, not all," said Ayesha ; " for you forget, cowards 
that you are, that, keeping yourselves in safety, you left 
my lord to the fury of this beast. Good. Drive them out 
on to the Mountain, there to perish also at the fangs of 
beasts, and make it known that he who gives them food 
or shelter dies." 

Offering no prayer for pity or excuse, the chief and 
his followers rose, bowed, and turned to go. 

" Stay a moment, comrades," said Leo, " and, chief, 
give me your arm ; my scratch grows stiff ; I cannot walk 
fast. We will finish this hunt together." 

" What doest thou ? Art mad ? " asked Ayesha. 

" I know not whether I am mad," he answered, " but 
I know that thou art wicked and unjust. Look now, than 
these hunters none braver ever breathed. That man " 



28o A YES HA 

and he pointed to the one whom the leopard had struck 
down " took my place and went in before me because 
I ordered that we should attack the creature, and thus 
was felled. As thou seest all, thou mightest have seen 
this also. Then it sprang on me, and the rest of these, 
my friends, ran round waiting a chance to strike, which 
at first they could not do unless they would have killed me 
with it, since I and the brute rolled over and over in the 
snow. As it was, one of them seized it with his bare 
hands : look at the teeth marks on his arm. So if they are 
to perish on the Mountain, I, who am the man to blame, 
perish with them." 

Now, while the hunters looked at him with fervent 
gratitude in their eyes, Ayesha thought a little, then said 
cleverly enough 

" In truth, my lord Leo, had I known all the tale, well 
mightest thou have named me wicked and unjust; but 
I knew only what I saw, and out of their own mouths 
did I condemn them. My servants, my lord here has 
pleaded for you, and you are forgiven; more, he who 
rushed in upon the leopard and he who seized it with his 
hands shall be rewarded and advanced. Go ; but I warn 
you if you suffer my lord to come into more danger, you 
shall not escape so easily again." 

So they bowed and went, still blessing Leo with their 
ey o: since death by exposure on the Mountain snows 
was che most terrible form of punishment known to these 
people, and one only inflicted by the direct order of Hes 
upon murderers or other great criminals. 

When we had left the Sanctuary and were alone again 
in the hall, the storm that I had seen gathering upon 
Leo s face broke in earnest. Ayesha renewed her in 
quiries about his wounds, and wished to call Oros, the 
physician, to dress them, and as he refused this, offered to 
do so herself. He begged that she would leave his wounds 
alone, and then, his great beard bristling with wrath, 



LEO AND THE LEOPARD 281 

asked her solmenly if he was a child in arms, a query so 
absurd that I could not help laughing-. 

Then he scolded her yes, he scolded Ayesha ! Wish 
ing to know what she meant (i) by spying upon him 
with her magic, an evil gift that he had always disliked 
and mistrusted; (2) by condemning brave and excellent 
men, his good friends, to a death of fiendish cruelty 
upon such evidence, or rather out of temper, on no evi 
dence at all ; and (3) by giving him into charge of them, 
as though he were a little boy, and telling them that they 
would have to answer for it if he were hurt : he who, in 
his time, had killed every sort of big game known and 
passed through some perils and encounters ? 

Thus he beat her with his words, and, wonderful to 
say, Ayesha, this being more than woman, submitted to 
the chastisement meekly. Yet had any other man dared 
to address her with roughness even, I doubt not that his 
speech and his life would have come to a swift and simul 
taneous end, for I knew that now, as of old, she could slay 
by the mere effort of her will. But she did not slay ; she 
did not even threaten, only, as any other loving woman 
might have done, she began to cry. Yes, great tears 
gathered in those lovely eyes of hers and, rolling one 
by one down her face, fell for her head was bent hum 
bly forward like heavy raindrops on the marble floor. 

At the sight of this touching evidence of her human, 
loving heart all Leo s anger melted. Now it was he 
who grew penitent and prayed her pardon humbly. She 
gave him her hand in token of forgiveness, saying 

" Let others speak to me as they will " (sorry should 
I have been to try it) ! " but from thee, Leo, I cannot bear 
harsh words. Oh, thou art cruel, cruel. In what have I 
offended? Can I help it if my spirit keeps its watch 
upon thee, Ss indeed, though thou knewest it not, it has 
done ever since we parted yonder in the Place of Life ? 
Can I help it if, like some mother who sees her little 
child at play upon a mountain s edge, my soul is torn 



282 A YES HA 

with agony when I know thee in dangers that I am power 
less to prevent or share? What are the lives of a few 
half-wild huntsmen that I should let them weigh for a 
single breath against thy safety, seeing that if I slew 
these, others would be more careful of thee ? Whereas if 
I slay them not, they or their fellows may even lead thee 
into perils that would bring about thy death/ and she 
gasped with horror at the word. 

" Listen, beloved," said Leo. The life of the hum 
blest of those men is of as much value to him as mine is 
to me, and thou hast no more right to kill him than thou 
hast to kill me. It is evil that because thou carest for me 
thou shouldst suffer thy love to draw thee into cruelty and 
crime. If thou art afraid for me, then clothe me with 
that immortality of thine, which, although I dread it 
somewhat, holding it a thing unholy, and, on this earth, 
not permitted by my Faith, I should still rejoice to inherit 
for thy dear sake, knowing that then we could never more 
be parted. Or, if as thou sayest, this as yet thou canst not 
do, then let us be wed and take what fortune gives us. 
All men must die ; but at least before I die I shall have 
been happy with thee for a while yes, if only for a single 
liour." 

" Would that I dared," Ayesha answered with a little 
piteous motion of her hand. " Oh ! urge me no more, 
Leo, lest that at last I should take the risk and lead thee 
down a dreadful road. Leo, hast thou never heard of the 
love which slays, or of the poison that may lurk in a 
cup of joy too perfect? " 

Then, as though she feared herself, Ayesha turned 
from him and fled. 

Thus this matter ended. In itself it was not a great 
one, for Leo s hurts were mere scratches, and the hunters, 
instead of being killed, were promoted to be members of 
his body-guard. Yet it told us many things. For in 
stance, that whenever she chose to do so, Ayesha had the 



LEO AND THE LEOPARD 283 

power of perceiving all Leo s movements from afar, and 
even, of communicating her strength of mental vision to 
others, although to help him in any predicament she ap 
peared to have no power, which, of course, accounted for 
the hideous and ever-present might of her anxiety. 

Think what it would be to any one of us were we mys 
teriously acquainted with every open danger, every risk 
of sickness, every secret peril through which our best- 
beloved must pass. To see the rock trembling to its 
fall and they loitering beneath it ; to see them drink of wa 
ter and know it full of foulest poison ; to see them embark 
upon a ship and be aware that it was doomed to sink, 
but not to be able to warn them or to prevent them. 
Surely no mortal brain could endure such constant ter 
rors, since hour by hour the arrows of death flit unseen 
and unheard past the breasts of each of us, till at length 
one finds its home there. 

What then must Ayesha have suffered, watching with 
her spirit s eyes all the hair-breadth escapes of our jour- 
neyings? When, for instance, in the beginning she saw 
Leo at my house in Cumberland about to kill himself in 
his madness and despair, and by some mighty effort of her 
superhuman will, wrung from whatever Power it was 
that held her in its fearful thraldom, the strength to hurl 
her soul across the world and thereby in his sleep reveal 
to him the secret of the hiding-place where he would find 
her. 

Or to take one more example out of many when she 
saw him hanging by that slender thread of yak s hide 
from the face of the waterfall of ice and herself remained 
unable to save him, or even to look forward for a single 
moment and learn whether or no he was about to meet a 
hideous death, in which event she must live on alone until 
in some dim age he was born again. 

Nor can her sorrows have ended with these more ma 
terial fears, since others as piercing must have haunted 
her. Imagine, for instance, the agonies of her jealous 



284 UYESHA 

heart when she knew her lover to be exposed to the 
temptations incident to his solitary existence, and more 
especially to those of her ancient rival Atene, who, by 
Ayesha s own account, had once been his wife. Imagine 
also her fears lest time and human change should do 
their natural work on him, so that by degrees the memory 
of her wisdom and her strength, and the image of her 
loveliness faded from his thought, and with them his de 
sire for her company ; thus leaving her who had endured 
so long, forgotten and alone at last. 

Truly, the Power that limited our perceptions did so 
in purest mercy, for were it otherwise with us, our race 
would go mad and perish raving in its terrors. 

Thus it would seem that Ayesha, great tormented soul, 
thinking to win life and love eternal and most glorious, 
was in truth but another blind Pandora. From her stolen 
casket of beauty and super-human power had leapt into 
her bosom, there to dwell unceasingly, a hundred tortur 
ing demons, of whose wings mere mortal kind do but feel 
the far-off, icy shadowing. 

Yes; and that the parallel might be complete, Hope 
alone still lingered in that rifled chest. 



CHAPTER XX 
AYESHA S ALCHEMY 

IT was shortly after this incident of the snow-leopard that 
one of these demon familiars of Ayesha s, her infinite 
ambition, made its formidable appearance. When we 
had dined with her in the evening, Ayesha s habit was to 
discuss plans for our mighty and unending future, that 
awful inheritance which she had promised to us. 

Here I must explain, if I have not done so already, 
that she had graciously informed me that notwithstand 
ing my refusal in past years of such a priceless oppor 
tunity, I also was to be allowed to bathe my superannu 
ated self in the vital fires, though in what guise I should 
emerge from them, like Herodotus when he treats of the 
mysteries of old Egypt, if she knew, she did not think it 
law r ful to reveal. 

Secretly I hoped that my outward man might change 
for the better, as the prospect of being fixed for ever in 
the shape of my present and somewhat unpleasing per 
sonality, did not appeal to me as attractive. In truth, so 
far as I was concerned, the matter had an academic rather 
than an actual interest, such as we take in a fairy tale, 
since I did not believe that I should ever put on this kind 
of immortality. Nor, I may add, now as before, was I 
at all certain that I wished to do so. 

These plans of Ayesha s were far reaching and indeed 
terrific. Her acquaintance with the modern world, its 
political and social developments, was still strictly lim 
ited; for if she had the power to follow its growth and 
activities, certainly it was one of which she made no use. 



286 AYESHA 

In practice her knowledge seemed to be confined to what 
she had gathered during the few brief talks which took 
place between us upon this subject in past time at Kor. 
Now her thirst for information proved insatiable, although 
it is true that ours was scarcely up to date, seeing that 
ever since we lost touch with the civilized peoples, 
namely, for the last fifteen years or so, we had been as 
much buried as she was herself. 

Still we were able to describe to her the condition of 
the nations and their affairs as they were at the period 
when we bade them farewell, and, more or less incor 
rectly, to draw maps of the various countries and their 
boundaries, over which she pondered long. 

The Chinese were the people in whom she proved to 
be most interested, perhaps because she was acquainted 
with the Mongolian type, and like ourselves, understood 
a good many of their dialects. Also she had a motive 
for her studies, which one night she revealed to us in the 
most matter-of-fact fashion. 

Those who have read the first part of her history, which 
I left in England to be published, may remember that 
when we found her at Kor, She horrified us by express 
ing a determination to possess herself of Great Britain, 
for the simple reason that we belonged to that country. 
Now, however, like her powers, her ideas had grown, for 
she purposed to make Leo the absolute monarch of the 
world. In vain did he assure her most earnestly that he 
desired no such empire. She merely laughed at him and 
said 

" If I arise amidst the Peoples, I must rule the Peoples, 
for how can Ayesha take a second place among mortal 
men ? And thou, my Leo, rulest me, yes, mark the truth,, 
thou art my master ! Therefore it is plain that thou wilt 
be the master of this earth, aye, and perchance of others 
which do not yet appear, for of these also I know some 
thing, and, I think, can reach them if I will, though hith 
erto I have had no mind that way. My true life has not 



AYES HAS ALCHEMY 287 

yet begun. Its little space within this world has been filled 
with thought and care for thee ; in waiting till thou wast 
born again, and during these last years of separation, 
until thou didst return. 

" But now a few more months, and the days of prepara 
tion past, endowed with energy eternal, with all the wis 
dom of the ages, and with a strength that can bend the 
mountains or turn the ocean from its bed, and we begin to 
be. Oh ! how I sicken for that hour when first, like twin 
stars new to the firmament of heaven, we break in our 
immortal splendour upon the astonished sight of men. 
It will please me, I tell thee, Leo, it will please me, to see 
Powers, Principalities and Dominions, marshalled by their 
kings and governors, bow themselves before our thrones 
and humbly crave the liberty to do our will. At least," 
she added, " it will please me for a little time, until we 
seek higher things." 

So she spoke, while the radiance upon her brow in 
creased and spread itself, gleaming above her like a 
golden fan, and her slumbrous eyes took fire from it till, 
to my thought, they became glowing mirrors in which I 
saw pomp enthroned and suppliant peoples pass. 

" And how," asked Leo, with something like a groan 
for this vision of universal rule viewed from afar did 
not seem to charm him " how, Ayesha, wilt thou bring 
these things about ? " 

"How, my Leo? Why, easily enough. For many 
nights I have listened to the wise discourses of our Holly 
here, at least he thinks them wise who still has so much 
to learn, and pored over his crooked maps, comparing 
them with those that are written in my memory, who of 
late have had no time for the study of such little mat 
ters. Also I have weighed and pondered your reports of 
the races of this world ; their various follies, their futile 
struggling for wealth and small supremacies, and I have 
determined that it would be wise and kind to weld them 
to one whole, setting ourselves at the head of them to 



288 AYESHA 

direct their destinies, and cause wars, sickness, and pov 
erty to cease, so that these creatures of a little day 
(ephemeridse was the word she used) may live happy 
from the cradle to the grave. 

" Now, were it not because of thy strange shrinking 
from bloodshed, however politic and needful for my 
Leo, as yet thou art no true philosopher this were 
quickly done, since I can command a weapon which would 
crush their armouries and whelm their navies in the deep ; 
yes, I, whom even the lightnings and Nature s elemental 
powers must obey. But thou shrinkest from the sight of 
death, and thou believest that Heaven would be dis 
pleased because I make myself or am chosen the in 
strument of Heaven. Well, so let it be, for thy will is 
mine, and therefore we will tread a gentler path." 

" And how wilt thou persuade the kings of the earth 
to place their crowns upon thy head ? " I asked, aston 
ished. 

" By causing their peoples to offer them to us," she 
answered suavely. " Oh ! Holly, Holly, how narrow is 
thy mind, how strained the quality of thine imagination! 
Set its poor gates ajar, I pray, and bethink thee. When 
we appear among men, scattering gold to satisfy their 
want, clad in terrifying power, in dazzling beauty and in 
immortality of days, will they not cry, Be ye our mon- 
archs and rule over us ! 

" Perhaps," I answered dubiously, " but where wilt 
thou appear ? " 

She took a map of the eastern hemisphere which I had 
drawn and, placing her finger upon Pekin, said 

" There is the place that shall be our home for some 
few centuries, say three, or five, or seven, should it take 
so long to shape this people to my liking and our pur 
poses. I have chosen these Chinese because thou tellest 
me that their numbers are uncountable, that they are 
brave, subtle, and patient, and though now powerless be 
cause ill-ruled and untaught, able with their multitudes 



AYESHA S ALCHEMY 289 

to flood the little western nations. Therefore among 
them we will begin our reign and for some few ages be 
at rest while they learn wisdom from us, and thou, my 
Holly, makest their armies unconquerable and givest their 
land good government, wealth, peace, and a new re 
ligion." 

What the new religion was to be I did not ask. It 
seemed unnecessary, since I was convinced that in prac 
tice it would prove a form of Ayesha-worship. Indeed, 
my mind was so occupied with conjectures, some of them 
quaint and absurd enough, as to what would happen at 
the first appearance of Ayesha in China that I forgot this 
subsidiary development of our future rule. 

" And if the little western nations will not wait to be 
flooded ? " suggested Leo with irritation, for her con 
temptuous tone angered him, one of a prominent western 
nation. " If they combine, for instance, and attack thee 
first?" 

" Ah ! " she said, with a flash of her eyes. " I have 
thought of it, and for my part hope that it will chance, 
since then thou canst not blame me if I put out my 
strength. Oh ! then the East, that has slept so long, shall 
awake shall awake, and upon battlefield after battlefield 
such as history cannot tell of, thou shalt see my flaming 
standards sweep on to victory. One by one thou shalt 
watch the nations fall and perish, until at length I build 
thy throne upon the hecatombs of their countless dead 
and crown thee emperor of a world regenerate in blood 
and fire." 

Leo, whom this new gospel of regeneration seemed to 
appall, who was, in fact, a hater of absolute monarchies 
and somewhat republican in his views and sympathies, 
continued the argument, but I took no further heed. The 
thing was grotesque in its tremendous and fantastic ab 
surdity; Ayesha s ambitions were such as no imperial- 
minded madman could conceive. 

Yet here came the rub I had not the slightest doubt 



2 9 o AYESHA 

but that she was well able to put, them into practice and 
carry them to some marvellous and awful conclusion. 
Why not ? Death could not touch her ; she had triumphed 
over death. Her beauty that " cup of madness " in her 
eyes, as she named it once to me and her reckless will 
would compel the hosts of men to follow her. Her pierc 
ing intelligence would enable her to invent new weapons 
with which the most highly-trained army could not possi 
bly compete. Indeed, it might be as she said, and as I for 
one believed, with good reason, it proved, that she held 
at her command the elemental forces of Nature, such as 
those that lie hid in electricity, which would give all living 
beings to her for a prey. 

Ayesha was still woman enough to have worldly ambi 
tions, and the most dread circumstance about her super 
human powers was that they appeared to be unrestrained 
by any responsibility to God or man. She was, as we 
might well imagine a fallen angel to be, if indeed, as she 
herself once hinted and as Atene and the old Shaman 
believed, this were not her true place in creation. By 
only two things that I was able to discover could she be 
moved her love for Leo and, in a very small degree, her 
friendship for myself. 

Yet her devouring passion for this one man, inexplica 
ble in its endurance and intensity, would, I felt sure even 
then, in the future as in the past, prove to be her heel 
of Achilles. When Ayesha was dipped in the waters of 
Dominion and Deathlessness, this human love left her 
heart mortal, that through it she might be rendered harm 
less as a child, who otherwise would have devastated the 
universe. 

I was right. 

Whilst I was still indulging myself in these reflections 
and hoping that Ayesha would not take the trouble to read 
them in my mind, I became aware that Oros was bowing 
to the earth before her. 



AYESHA S ALCHEMY 291 

" Thy business, priest ? " she asked sharply ; for when 
she was with Leo Ayesha did not like to be disturbed. 

" Hes, the spies are returned." 

" Why didst thou send them out ? " she asked indiffer 
ently. " What need have I of thy spies ? " 

" Hes, thou didst command me." 

"Well, their report?" 

" Hes, it is most grave. The people of Kaloon are des 
perate because of the drought which has caused their 
crops to fail, so that starvation stares them in the eyes, 
and this they lay to the charge of the strangers who came 
into their land and fled to thee. The Khania Atene also 
is mad with rage against thee and our holy College. La 
bouring night and day, she has gathered two great armies, 
one of forty, and one of twenty thousand men, and the 
latter of these she sends against the Mountain under the 
command of her uncle, Simbri the Shaman. In case it 
should be defeated she purposes to remain with the sec 
ond and greater army on the plains about Kaloon." 

u Tidings indeed," said Ayesha with a scornful laugh. 
" Has her hate made this woman mad that she dares thus 
to match herself against me? My Holly, it crossed thy 
mind but now that it was I who am mad, boasting of what 
I have no power to perform. Well, within six days thou 
shalt learn oh! verily thou shalt learn, and, though the 
issue be so very small, in such a fashion that thou wilt 
doubt no more for ever. Stay, I will look, though the 
effort of it wearies me, for those spies may be but victims 
to their own fears, or to the falsehoods of Atene." 

Then suddenly, as was common with her when thus Aye 
sha threw her sight afar, which either from indolence, or 
because, as she said, it exhausted her, she did but rarely, 
her lovely face grew rigid like that of a person in a 
trance ; the light faded from her brow, and the great pu 
pils of her eyes contracted themselves and lost their 
colour. 

In a little while, five minutes perhaps, she sighed like 



292 AYES HA 

one awakening from a deep sleep, passed her hand across 
her forehead and was as she had been, though somewhat 
languid, as though strength had left her. 

" It is true enough," she said, " and soon I must be 
stirring lest many of my people should be killed. My 
lord, wouldst thou see war? Nay, thou shalt bide here 
in safety whilst I go forward to visit Atene as I prom 
ised." 

" Where thou goest, I go," said Leo angrily, his face 
flushing to the roots of his hair with shame. 

" I pray thee not, I pray thee not," she answered, yet 
without venturing to forbid him. " We will talk of it 
hereafter. Oros, away ! Send round the Fire of Hes 
to every chief. Three nights hence at the moonrise bid 
the Tribes gather nay, not all, twenty thousand of their 
best will be enough, the rest shall stay to guard the 
Mountain and this Sanctuary. Let them bring food with 
them for fifteen days. I join them at the following dawn. 
Go." 

He bowed and went, whereon, dismissing the matter 
from her mind, Ayesha began to question me again about 
the Chinese and their customs. 

It was in course of a somewhat similar conversation 
on the following night, of which, however, I forget 
the exact details, that a remark of Leo s led to another 
exhibition of Ayesha s marvellous powers. 

Leo who had been considering her plans for conquest, 
and again combating them as best he could, for they 
were entirely repugnant to his religious, social and politi 
cal views said suddenly that after all they must break 
down, since they would involve the expenditure of sums 
of money so vast that even Ayesha herself would be un 
able to provide them by any known methods of taxation. 
She looked at him and laughed a little. 

" Verily, Leo," she said, " to thee, yes ; and to Holly 
here I must seem as some madcap girl blown to and fro 



AYESHA S ALCHEMY 293 

by every wind of fancy, and building me a palace wherein 
to dwell out of dew and vapours, or from the substance 
of the sunset fires. Thinkest thou then that I would enter 
on this war one woman against all the world " and as 
she spoke her shape grew royal and in her awful eyes 
there came a look that chilled my blood " and make 
no preparation for its necessities? Why, since last we 
spoke upon this matter, foreseeing all, I have considered 
in my mind, and now thou shalt learn how, without cost 
to those we rule and for that reason alone shall they 
love us dearly I will glut the treasuries of the Empress 
of the Earth. 

" Dost remember, Leo, how in Kor I found but a single 
pleasure during all those weary ages that of forcing my 
mother Nature one by one to yield me up her choicest se 
crets ; I, who am a student of all things which are and of 
the forces that cause them to be born. Now follow me, 
both of you, and ye shall look on what mortal eyes have 
not yet beheld." 

" What are we to see ? " I asked doubtfully, having a 
lively recollection of Ayesha s powers as a chemist. 

" That thou shalt learn, or shalt not learn if it pleases 
thee to stay behind. Come, Leo, my love, my love, and 
leave this wise philosopher first to find his riddle and next 
to guess it." 

Then turning her back to me she smiled on him so 
-sweetly that although really he was more loth to go than 
I, Leo would have followed her through a furnace door, 
as indeed, had he but known it, he was about to do. 

So they started, and I accompanied them since with 
Ayesha it was useless to indulge in any foolish pride, or 
to make oneself a victim to consistency. Also I was 
anxious to see her new marvel, and did not care to rely 
for an account of it upon Leo s descriptive skill, which at 
its best was never more than moderate. 

She took us down passages that we had not passed be 
fore, to a door which she signed to Leo to open. He 



294 r AYESHA 

obeyed, and from the cave within issued a flood of light. 
As we guessed at once, the place was her laboratory, for 
about it stood metal flasks and various strange-shaped 
instruments. Moreover, there was a furnace in it, one of 
the best conceivable, for it needed neither fuel nor stoking, 
whose gaseous fires, like those of the twisted columns in 
the Sanctuary, sprang from the womb of the volcano 
beneath our feet. 

When we entered two priests were at work there : one 
of them stirring a cauldron with an iron rod and the 
other receiving its molten contents into a mould of clay. 
They stopped to salute Ayesha, but she bade them to con 
tinue their task, asking them if all went well. 

" Very well, O Hes," they answered ; and we passed 
through that cave and sundry doors and passages to a 
little chamber cut in the rock. There was no lamp or 
flame of fire in it, and yet the place was filled with a gentle 
light which seemed to flow from the opposing wall. 

"What were those priests doing?" I said, more to 
break the silence than for any other reason. 

" Why waste breath upon foolish questions ? " she re 
plied. " Are no metals smelted in thy country, O Holly ? 
Now hadst thou sought to know what I am doing But 
.that, without seeing, thou wouldst not believe, so, Doubter, 
thou shalt see." 

Then she pointed to and bade us don, two strange gar 
ments that hung upon the wall, made of a material which 
seemed to be half cloth and half wood and having head 
pieces not unlike a diver s helmet. 

So under her directions Leo helped me into mine, lac 
ing it up behind, after which, or so I gathered from the 
sounds for no light came through the helmet she did 
the same service for him. 

" I seem very much in the dark," I said presently ; for 
now there was silence again, and beneath this extinguisher 
I felt alarmed and wished to be sure that I was not left 
alone. 



AYESHA S ALCHEMY 295 

" Aye Holly," I heard Ayesha s mocking voice make 
answer, " in the dark, as thou wast ever, the thick dark 
of ignorance and unbelief. Well, now, as ever also, I will 
give thee light." As she spoke I heard something roll 
back ; I suppose that it must have been a stone door. 

Then, indeed, there was light, yes, even through the 
thicknesses of that prepared garment, such light as seemed 
to blind me. By it I saw that the wall opposite to us had 
opened and that we were all three of us, on the threshold 
of another chamber. At the end of it stood something 
like a little altar of hard, black stone, and on this altar 
lay a mass of substance of the size of a child s head, but 
fashioned, I suppose from fantasy, to the oblong shape of 
a human eye. 

Out of this eye there poured that blistering and in 
tolerable light. It was shut round by thick, funnel-shaped 
screens of a material that looked like fire-brick, yet it 
pierced them as though they were but muslin. More, the 
rays thus directed upwards struck full upon a lump of 
metal held in place above them by a massive frame-work. 

And what rays they were! If all the cut diamonds of 
the world were brought together and set beneath a mighty 
burning-glass, the light flashed from them would not 
have been a thousandth part so brilliant. They scorched 
my eyes and caused the skin of my face and limbs to 
smart, yet Ayesha stood there unshielded from them. 
Aye, she even went down the length of the room and, 
throwing back her veil, bent over them, as it seemed a 
woman of molten steel in whose body the bones were visi 
ble, and examined the mass that was supported by the 
hanging cradle. 

" It is ready and somewhat sooner than I thought," she 
said. Then as though it were but a feather weight, she 
lifted the lump in her bare hands and glided back with it 
to where we stood, laughing and saying 

" Tell me now, O thou well-read Holly, if thou hast 
ever heard of a better alchemist than this poor priestess 



296 AYESHA 

of a forgotten faith ? " And she thrust the glowing sub 
stance up almost to the mask that hid my face. 

Then I turned and ran, or rather waddled, for in that 
gear I could not run, out of the chamber until the rock 
wall beyond stayed me, and there, with my back towards 
her, thrust my helmeted head against it, for I felt as 
though red-hot bradawls had been plunged into my eyes. 
So I stood while she laughed and mocked behind me until 
at length I heard the door close and the blessed darkness 
came like a gift from Heaven. 

Then Ayesha began to loose Leo from his ray-proof ar 
mour, if so it can be called, and he in turn loosed me ; and 
there in that gentle radiance we stood blinking at each 
other like owls in the sunlight, while the tears streamed 
down our faces. 

" Well, art satisfied, my Holly ? " she asked. 

" Satisfied with what ? " I answered angrily, for the 
smarting of my eyes was unbearable. " Yes, with burn 
ings and bedevilments I am well satisfied." 

" And I also," grumbled Leo, who was swearing softly 
but continuously to himself in the other corner of the 
place. 

But Ayesha only laughed, oh ! she laughed until she 
seemed the goddess of all merriment come to earth, 
laughed till she also wept, then said 

" Why, what ingratitude is this ? Thou, my Leo, didst 
wish to see the wonders that I work, and thou, O Holly, 
didst come unbidden after I bade thee stay behind, and 
now both of you are rude and angry, aye, and weeping 
like a child with a burnt finger. Here take this," and she 
gave us some salve that stood upon a shelf, " and rub it on 
your eyes and the smart will pass away." 

So we did, and the pain went from them, though, for 
hours afterwards, mine remained red as blood. 

" And what are these wonders? " I asked her presently. 
" If thou meanest that unbearable flame 

" Nay, I mean what is born of the flame, as, in thine 



AYESHA S ALCHEMY 297 

ignorance thou dost call that mighty agent. Look now ; " 
and she pointed to the metallic lump she had brought 
with her, which, still gleaming faintly, lay upon the floor. 
" Nay, it has no heat. Thinkest thou that I would wish 
to burn my tender hands and so make them unsightly? 
Touch it, Holly." 

But I would not, who thought to myself that Ayesha 
might be well accustomed to the hottest fires, and feared 
her impish mischief. I looked, however, long and ear 
nestly. 

"Well, what is it, Holly?" 

" Gold," I said, then corrected myself and added, " Cop 
per," for the dull, red glow might have been that of either 
metal. 

" Nay, nay," she answered, " it is gold, pure gold." 

" The ore in this place must be rich," said Leo, incred 
ulously, for I would not speak any more. 

" Yes, my Leo, the iron ore is rich." 

" Iron ore ? " and he looked at her. 

" Surely," she answered, " for from what mine do men 
dig out gold in such great masses ? Iron ore, beloved, that 
by my alchemy I change to gold, which soon shall serve us 
in our need." 

Now Leo stared and I groaned, for I did not believe 
that it was gold, and still less that she could make that 
metal. Then, reading my thought, with one of those sud 
den changes of mood that were common to her, Ayesha 
grew very angry. 

" By Nature s self ! " she cried ; " wert thou not my 
friend, Holly, the fool whom it pleases me to cherish, I 
would bind that right hand of thine in those secret rays 
till the very bones within it were turned to gold. Nay, 
why should I be vexed with thee, who art both blind and 
deaf ? Yet thou shall be persuaded," and leaving us, she 
passed down the passages, called something to the priests 
who were labouring in the workshop, then returned to us. 

Presently they followed her, carrying on a kind of 



298 AYESHA 

stretcher between them an ingot of iron ore that seemed 
to be as much as they could lift. 

" Now," she said, " how wilt thou that I mark this 
mass which as thou must admit is only iron? With the 
sign of Life ? Good," and at her bidding the priests took 
cold-chisels and hammers and roughly cut upon its sur 
face the symbol of the looped cross the crux ansata. 

" It is not enough," she said when they had finished. 
" Holly, lend me that knife of thine, to-morrow I will re 
turn it to thee, and of more value." 

So I drew my hunting knife, an Indian-made thing, 
that had a handle of plated iron, and gave it her. 

" Thou knowest the marks on it," and she pointed to 
various dents and to the maker s name upon the blade ; 
for though the hilt was Indian work the steel was of Shef 
field manufacture. 

I nodded. Then she bade the priests put on the ray- 
proof armour that we had discarded, and told us to go 
without the chamber and lie in the darkness of the pas 
sage with our faces against the floor. 

This we did, and remained so until, a few minutes 
later, she called us again. We rose and returned into 
the chamber to find the priests, who had removed the pro 
tecting garments, gasping and rubbing the salve upon 
their eyes; to find also that the lump of iron ore and my 
knife were gone. Next she commanded them to place 
the block of gold-coloured metal upon their stretcher and 
to bring it with them. They obeyed, and we noted that, 
although those priests were both of them strong men 
they groaned beneath its weight. 

" How came it," said Leo, " that thou, a woman, 
couldst carry what these men find so heavy ? " 

" It is one of the properties of that force which thou 
callest fire," she answered sweetly, " to make what has 
been exposed to it, if for a little while only, as light as 
thistle-down. Else, how could I, who am so frail, have 
borne yonder block of gold ? " 



AYESHA S ALCHEMY 299 

" Quite so 1 I understand now," answered Leo. 

Well, that was the end of it. The lump of metal was 
hid away in a kind of rock pit, with an iron cover, and we 
returned to Ayesha s apartments. 

" So all wealth is thine, as well as all power," said 
Leo, presently, for remembering Ayesha s awful threat 
I scarcely dared to open my mouth. 

" It seems so," she answered wearily, " since centuries 
ago I discovered that great secret, though until ye came 
I had put it to no use. Holly here, after his common 
fashion, believes that this is magic, but I tell thee again 
that there is no magic, only knowledge which I have 
chanced to win." 

" Of course," said Leo, " looked at in the right way, 
that is in thy way, the thing is simple." I think he would 
have liked to add, " as lying," but as the phrase would 
have involved explanations, did not. " Yet, Ayesha," he 
went on, " hast thou thought that this discovery of thine 
will wreck the world ? " 

" Leo," she answered, " is there then nothing that I 
can do which will not wreck this world, for which thou 
hast such tender care, who shouldst keep all thy care 
forme?" 

I smiled, but remembering in time, turned the smile 
into a frown at Leo, then fearing lest that also might 
anger her, made my countenance as blank as possible. 

" If so," she continued, " well, let the world be 
wrecked. But what meanest thou ? Oh ! my lord, Leo, 
forgive me if I am so dull that I cannot always follow 
thy quick thought I who have lived these many years 
alone, without converse with nobler minds, or even those 
to which mine own is equal." 

" It pleases -thee to mock me," said Leo, in a vexed 
voice, " and that is not too brave." 

Now Ayesha turned on him- fiercely, and I looked 
towards the door. But he did not shrink, only folded his 



AYESHA 

arms and stared her straight in the face. She contem 
plated him a little, then said 

" After that great ordained reason which thoti dost not 
know, I think, Leo, that why I love thee so madly is 
that thou alone art not afraid of me. Not like Holly 
there, who, ever since I threatened to turn his bones to 
gold which, indeed, I was minded to do," and she 
laughed " trembles at my footsteps and cowers beneath 
my softest glance. 

" Oh ! my lord, how good thou art to me, how patient 
with my moods and woman s weaknesses," and she made 
as though she were about to embrace him. Then sud 
denly remembering herself, with a little start that some 
how conveyed more than the most tragic gesture, she 
pointed to the couch in token that he should seat him 
self. When he had done so she drew a footstool to his 
feet and sank upon it, looking up into his face with at 
tentive eyes, like a child who listens for a story. 

" Thy reasons, Leo, give me thy reasons. Doubtless 
they are good, and, oh ! be sure I ll weigh them well." 

" Here they are in brief," he answered. " The world, 
as thou knewest in thy " and he stopped. 

" Thy earlier wanderings there," she suggested. 

" Yes thy earlier wanderings there, has set up gold 
as the standard of its wealth. On it all civilizations are 
founded. Make it as common as it seems thou canst, and 
these must fall to pieces. Credit will fail and, like their 
savage forefathers, men must once more take to barter to 
supply their needs as they do in Kaloon to-day." 

"Why not?" she asked. "It would be more simple 
and bring them closer to the time when they were good 
and knew not luxury and greed." 

" And smashed in each other s heads with stone axes," 
added Leo. 

" Who now pierce each other s hearts with steel, or 
those leaden missiles of which thou hast told me. Oh! 
Leo, when the nations are beggarded and their golden 



AYESHA S ALCHEMY 301 

god is down ; when the usurer and the fat merchant trem 
ble and turn white as chalk because their hoards are but 
useless dross ; when I have made the bankrupt Exchanges 
of the world my mock, and laugh across the ruin of its 
richest markets, why, then, will not true worth come to 
its heritage again? 

" What of it if I do discomfort those who think more 
of pelf than of courage and of virtue ; those who, as that 
Hebrew prophet wrote, lay field to field and house to 
house, until the wretched whom they have robbed find 
no place left whereon to dwell ? What if I proved your 
sagest chapmen fools, and gorge your greedy money 
changers with the gold that they desire until they loathe 
its very sight and touch? What if I uphold the cause 
of the poor and the oppressed against the ravening lusts 
of Mammon? Why, will not this world of yours be 
happier then ? " 

" I do not know," answered Leo. " All that I know is 
that it would be a different world, one shaped upon a 
new plan, governed by untried laws and seeking other 
ends. In so strange a place who can say what might or 
might not chance ? " 

" That we shall learn in its season, Leo. Or, rather, if 
it be against thy wish, we will not turn this hidden page. 
Since thou dost desire it, that old evil, the love of lucre, 
shall still hold its mastery upon the earth. Let the 
peoples keep their yellow king, I ll not crown another in 
his place, as I was minded such as that living Strength 
thou sawest burning eternally but now; that Power 
whereof I am the mistress, which can give health to 
men, or even change the character of metals, and in truth, 
if I so desire, obedient to my word, destroy a city or rend 
this Mountain from its roots. 

" But see, Holly is wearied with much wondering and 
needs his rest. Oh, Holly ! thou wast born a critic of 
things done, not a doer of them. I know thy tribe for 
even in my day the colleges of Alexandria echoed with 



302 AYESHA 

their wranglings and already the winds blew thick witH 
the dust of their forgotten bones. Holly, I tell thee that 
at times those who create and act are impatient of. such 
petty doubts and cavillings. Yet fear not, old friend, nor 
take my anger ill. Already thy heart is gold without 
alloy, so what need have I to gild thy bones ? " 

I thanked Ayesha for her compliment, and went to my 
bed wondering which was real, her kindness or her wrath, 
or if both were but assumed. Also I wondered in what 
way she had fallen foul of the critics of Alexandria. Per 
haps once she had published a poem or a system of phi 
losophy and been roughly handled by them! It is quite 
possible, only if Ayesha had ever written poetry I think 
that it would have endured, like Sappho s. 

In the morning I discovered that whatever else about 
her might be false, Ayesha was a true chemist, the very 
greatest, I suppose, who ever lived. For as I dressed my 
self, those priests whom we had seen in the laboratory, 
staggered into the room carrying between them a heavy 
burden, that was covered with a cloth, and, directed by 
Oros, placed it upon the floor. 

" What is that ? " I asked of Oros. 

" A peace-offering sent by the Hesea," he said, " with 
whom, as I am told, you dared to quarrel yesterday." 

Then he withdrew the cloth, and there beneath it shone 
that great lump of metal which, in the presence of my 
self and Leo, had been marked with the Symbol of Life, 
that still appeared upon its surface. Only now it was 
gold, not iron, gold so good and soft that I could write 
my name upon it with a nail. My knife lay with it also, 
and of that too the handle, though not the blade, had 
been changed from iron into gold. 

Ayesha asked to see this afterwards and was but ill- 
pleased with the result of her experiment. She pointed 
out to me that lines and blotches of gold ran for an inch 
or more down the substance of the steel, which she feared 



AYESHAS ALCHEMY 303 

that they might weaken or distemper, whereas it had been 
her purpose that the hilt only should be altered. 1 

Often since that time I have marvelled how Ayesha 
performed this miracle, and from what substances she 
gathered or compounded the lightning-like material, 
which was her servant in the work ; also, whether or no it 
had been impregnated with the immortalizing fire of Life 
that burned in the caves of Kor. 2 Yet to this hour I 
have found no answer to the problem, for it is beyond my 
guessing. 

I suppose that, in preparation for her conquest of the 
inhabitants of this globe to which, indeed, it would 
have sufficed unaided by any other power the manufac 
ture of gold from iron went on in the cave unceasingly. 

However this may be, during the few days that we re 
mained together Ayesha never so much as spoke of it 
again. It seemed to have served her purpose for the 
while, or in the press of other and more urgent matters 

1 I proved in after days how real were Ayesha s alchemy, and the 
knowledge which enabled her to solve the secret that chemists have 
hunted for in vain, and, like Nature s self, to transmute the commonest 
into the most precious of the metals. At the first town that I reached 
on the frontiers of India, I took this knife to a jeweller, a native, who- 
was as clever as he proved dishonest, and asked him to test the handle. 
He did so with acids and by other means, and told me that it was cf 
very pure gold, twenty-four carats, I think he said. Also he pointed 
out that this gold became gradually merged into the steel of the blade 
in a way which was quite inexplicable to him, and asked me to clear up 
the matter. Of course I could not, but at his request I left the knife 
in his shop to give him an opportunity of examining it further. The 
next day I was taken ill with one of the heart-attacks to which I have 
been liable of late, and when I became able to move about again a 
while afterwards, I found that this jeweller had gone, none knew 
whither. So had my knife. L. H. H. 

2 Recent discoveries would appear to suggest that this mysterious 
" Fire of Life," which, whatever else it may have been, was evidently a 
force and no true fire, since it did not burn, owed its origin to the 
emanations from radium, or some kindred substance. Although in the 
year 1885, Mr. "Holly would have known nothing of the properties 
of these marvellous rays or emanations, doubtless Ayesha was familiar 
with them and their enormous possibilities, of which our chemists and 
scientific men have, at present, but explored the fringe. EDITOR. 



3 o 4 AYESHA 

to have been forgotten or thrust from her mind. Still, 
amongst others, of which I have said nothing, since it is 
necessary to select, I record this strange incident, and our 
conversations concerning it at length, for the reason that 
it made a great impression upon me and furnishes a 
striking example of Ayesha s dominion over the hidden 
forces of Nature whereof we were soon to experience a 
more fearful instance. 



CHAPTER XXI 

THE PROPHECY OF ATENE 

ON the day following this strange experience of the iron 
that was turned to gold some great service was held in 
the Sanctuary, as we understood, " to consecrate the war." 
We did not attend it, but that night we ate together as 
usual. Ayesha was moody at the meal, that is, she varied 
from sullenness to laughter. 

" Know you," she said, " that to-day I was an Oracle, 
and those fools of the Mountain sent their medicine-men 
to ask of the Hesea how the battle would go and which 
of them would be slain, and which gain honour. And I 
I could not tell them, but juggled with my words, so 
that they might take them as they would. How the battle 
will go I know well, for I shall direct it, but the future 
ah ! that I cannot read better than thou canst, my Holly, 
and that is ill indeed. For me the past and all the pres 
ent lie bathed in light reflected from that black wall 
the future." 

Then she fell to brooding, and looking up at length 
v/ith an air of entreaty, said to Leo 

* Wilt thou not hear my prayer and bide where thou 
art for some few days, or even go a-hunting? Do so, 
and I will stay with thee, and send Holly and Oros to 
command the Tribes in this petty fray." 

" I will not," answered Leo, trembling with indignation, 
for this plan of hers that I should be sent out to war, 
while he bided in safety in a temple, moved him, a man 
brave to rashness, who, although he disapproved of it in 
theory, loved fighting for its own sake also, to absolute 
rage. 

305 



3 o6 AYESHA 

" I say, Ayesha, that I will not," he repeated ; " more 
over, that if thou leavest me here I will find my way down 
the mountain alone, and join the battle." 

" Then come," she answered, " and on thine own head 
be it. Nay, not on thine beloved, on mine, on mine." 

After this, by some strange re-action, she became like 
a merry girl, laughing more than I have ever seen her do, 
and telling us many tales of the far, far past, but none 
that were sad or tragic. It was very strange to sit and 
listen to her while she spoke of people, one or two of 
them known as names in history and many others who 
never have been heard of, that had trod this earth and 
with whom she was familiar over two thousand years 
ago. Yet she told us anecdotes of their loves and hates, 
their strength or weaknesses, all of them touched w r ith 
some tinge of humorous satire, or illustrating the comic 
vanity of human aims and aspirations. 

At length her talk took a deeper and more personal 
note. She spoke of her searchings after truth ; of how, 
aching for wisdom, she had explored the religions of her 
day and refused them one by one; of how she had 
preached in Jerusalem and been stoned by the Doctors 
of the Law. Of how also she had wandered back to 
Arabia and, being rejected by her own people as a re 
former, had travelled on to Egypt, and at the court of the 
Pharaoh of that time met a famous magician, half char 
latan and half seer who, because she was far-seeing, 
clairvoyante we should call it, instructed her in his art 
so well that soon she became his master and forced him 
to obey her. 

Then, as though she were unwilling to reveal too 
much, suddenly Ayesha s history passed from Egypt to 
Kor. She spoke to Leo of his arrival there, a wanderer 
who was named Kallikrates, hunted by savages and ac 
companied by the Egyptian Amenartas, whom she ap 
peared to have known and hated in her own country, and 
of how she entertained them. Yes, she even told of a 



THE PROPHECY OF ATENE 307 

supper that the three of them had eaten together on the 
evening before they started to discover the Place of Life, 
and of an evil prophecy that this royal Amenartas had 
made as to the issue of their journey. 

" Aye," Ayesha said, " it was such a silent night as 
this and such a meal as this we ate, and Leo, not so 
greatly changed, save that he was beardless then and 
younger, was at my side. Where thou sittest, Holly, sat 
the royal Amenartas, a very fair woman ; yes, even more 
beautiful than I before I dipped me in the Essence, fore- 
sighted also, though not so learned as I had grown. 
From the first we hated each other, and more than ever 
now, when she guessed how I had learned to look upon 
thee, her lover, Leo ; for her husband thou never wast, 
who didst flee too fast for marriage. She knew also 
that the struggle between us which had begun of old and 
afar was for centuries and generations, and that until the 
end should declare itself neither of us could harm the 
other, who both had sinned to win thee, that wast ap 
pointed by fate to be the lodestone of our souls. Then 
Amenartas spoke and said 

" Lo ! to my sight, Kallikrates, the wine in thy cup 
is turned to blood, and that knife in thy hand, O daughter 
of Yarab for so she named me drips red blood. 
Aye, and this place is a sepulchre, and thou, O Kalli 
krates, sleepest here, nor can she, thy murderess, kiss 
back the breath of life into those cold lips of thine. 

" So indeed it came about as was ordained," added 
Ayesha reflectively, " for I slew thee in yonder Place of 
Life, yes, in my madness I slew thee because thou wouldst 
not or couldst not understand the change that had come 
over me, and shrankest from my loveliness like a blind 
bat from the splendour of flame, hiding thy face in the 
tresses of her dusky hair Why, what is it now, thou 
Oros ? Can I never be rid of thee for an hour ? " 

" O Hes, a writing from the Khania Atene," the priest 
said with his deprecating bow. 



3 o8 AYES HA 

" Break the seal and read," she answered carelessly. 
" Perchance she has repented of her folly and makes 
submission." 

So he read 

" To the Hesea of the College on the Mountain, known 
as Ayesha upon earth, and in the household of the 
Over-world whence she has been permitted to wander, as 
Star-that-hath-fallen " 

" A pretty sounding name, forsooth," broke in Ayesha ; 
" ah ! but, Atene, set stars rise again even from the Un 
der-world. Read on, thou Oros." 

" Greetings, O Ayesha. Thou who art very old, hast 
gathered much wisdom in the passing of the centuries, 
and with other powers, that of making thyself seem fair 
in the eyes of men blinded by thine arts. Yet one thing 
thou lackest that I have vision of those happenings 
which are not yet. Know, O Ayesha, that I and my 
uncle, the great seer, have searched the heavenly books 
to learn what is written there of the issue of this war. 

" This is written : For me, death, whereat I rejoice. 
For thee a spear cast by thine own hand. For the land 
of Kaloon blood and ruin bred of thee ! 

" ATENE, 

" Khania of Kaloon." 

Ayesha listened in silence, but her lips did not tremble, 
nor her cheek pale. To Oros she said proudly 

" Say to the messenger of Atene that I have received 
her message, and ere long will answer it, face to face 
with her in her palace of Kaloon. Go, priest, and disturb 
me no more." 

When Oros had departed she turned to us and said 

" That tale of mine of long ago was well fitted to this 
hour, for as Amenartas prophesied of ill, so does Atene 



THE PROPHECY OF ATENE 309 

prophesy of ill, and Amenartas and Atene are one. Well, 
let the spear fall, if fall it must, and I will not flinch 
from it who know that I shall surely triumph at the last. 
Perhaps the Khania does but think to frighten me with 
a cunning lie, but if she has read aright, then be sure, 
beloved, that it is still well with us, since none can escape 
their destiny, nor can our bond of union which was 
fashioned with the universe that bears us, ever be 
undone." 

She paused awhile then went on with a sudden out 
burst of poetic thought and imagery. 

" I tell thee, Leo, that out of the confusions of our 
lives and deaths order shall yet be born. Behind the 
mask of cruelty shine Mercy s tender eyes; and the 
wrongs of this rough and twisted world are but hot, 
blinding sparks which stream from the all-righting sword 
of pure, eternal Justice. The heavy lives we see and 
know are only links in a golden chain that shall draw 
us safe to the haven of our rest ; steep and painful steps 
are they whereby we climb to the alloted palace of our 
joy. Henceforth I fear no more, and fight no more 
against that which must befall. For I say we are but 
winged seeds blown down the gales of fate and change 
to the appointed garden where we shall grow, filling its 
blest air with the immortal fragrance of our bloom. 

" Leave me now, Leo, and sleep awhile, for we ride at 
dawn." 

It was midday on the morrow when we moved down 
the mountain-side with the army of the Tribes, fierce 
and savage-looking men. The scouts were out before us, 
then came the great body of their cavalry mounted on 
wiry horses, while to right and left and behind, the foot 
soldiers marched in regiments, each under the command 
of its own chief. 

Ayesha, veiled now for she would not show her 
beauty to these wild folk rode in the midst of the horse- 



310 A YES HA 

men on a white mare of matchless speed and shape. With 
her went Leo and myself, Leo on the Khan s black horse, 
and I on another not unlike it, though thicker built. 
About us were a bodyguard of armed priests and a regi 
ment of chosen soldiers, among them those hunters that 
Leo had saved from Ayesha s wrath, and who were now 
attached to his person. 

We were merry, all of us, for in the crisp air of late 
autumn flooded with sunlight, the fears and forebodings 
that had haunted us in those gloomy, firelit caves were 
forgotten. Moreover, the tramp of thousands of armed 
men and the excitement of coming battle thrilled our 
nerves. 

Not for many a day had I seen Leo look so vigorous 
and happy. Of late he had grown somewhat thin and 
pale, probably from causes that I have suggested, but 
now his cheeks were red and his eyes shone bright again. 
Ayesha also seemed joyous, for the moods of this strange 
woman were as fickle as those of Nature s self, and va 
ried as a landscape varies under the sunshine or the 
shadow. Now she was noon and now dark night; now 
dawn, now evening, and now thoughts came and went 
in the blue depths of her eyes like vapours wafted across 
the summer sky, and in the press of them her sweet face 
changed and shimmered as broken water shimmers be 
neath the beaming stars. 

" Too long," she said, with a little thrilling laugh, 
" have I been shut in the bowels of sombre mountains, 
cpmpanied only by mutes and savages or by melancholy, 
chanting priests, and now I am glad to look upon the 
world again. How beautiful are the snows above, and 
the brown slopes below, and the broad plains beyond 
that roll away to those bordering hills ! How glorious is 
the sun, eternal as myself; how sweet the keen air of 
heaven. 

" Believe me, Leo, more than twenty centuries have 
.gone by since I was seated on a steed, and yet thou seest 



THE PROPHECY OF ATENE 311 

I have not forgot my horsemanship, though this beast 
cannot match those arabs that I rode in the wide deserts 
of Arabia. Oh ! I remember how at my father s side I 
galloped down to war against the marauding Bedouins, 
and how with my own hand I speared their chieftain and 
made him cry for mercy. One day I will tell thee of 
that father of mine, for I was his darling, and though we 
have been long apart, I hold his memory dear and look 
forward to our meeting. 

" See, yonder is the mouth of that gorge where lived 
the cat-worshipping sorcerer, who would have murdered 
both of you because thou, Leo, didst throw his familiar 
to the fire. It is strange, but several of the tribes of this 
Mountain and of the lands behind it make cats their 
gods or divine by means of them. I think that the first 
Rassen, the general of Alexander, must have brought 
the practice here from Egypt. Of this Macedonian Alex 
ander I could tell thee much, for he was almost a con 
temporary of mine, and when I last was born the world 
still rang with the fame of his great deeds. 

" It was Rassen who on the Mountain supplanted the 
primeval fire-worship whereof the flaming pillars which 
light its Sanctuary remain as monuments, by that of Hes, 
or Isis, or rather blended the two in one. Doubtless 
among the priests in his army were some of Pasht or 
Sekket the Cat-headed, and these brought with them their 
secret cult, that to-day has dwindled down to the vulgar 
divinations of savage sorcerers. Indeed I remember 
dimly that it was so, for I was the first Hesea of this 
Temple, and journeyed hither with that same general 
Rassen, a relative of mine." 

Now both Leo and I looked at her wonderingly, and I 
could see that she was watching us through her veil. 
As usual, hc-wever, it was I whom she reproved, since 
Leo might think and do what he willed and still escape 
her anger. 

" Thou, Holly," she said quickly, " who art ever of a 



3 i2 A YES HA 

cavilling and suspicious mind, remembering what I said 
but now, believest that I lie to thee." 

I protested that I was only reflecting upon an apparent 
variation between two statements. 

" Play not with words," she answered ; " in thy heart 
thou didst write me down a liar, and I take that ill. 
Know, foolish man, that when I said that the Macedonian 
Alexander lived before me, I meant before this present 
life of mine. In the existence that preceded it, though 
I outlasted him by thirty years, we were born in the 
same summer, and I knew him well, for I was the Oracle 
whom he consulted most upon his wars, and to my wis 
dom he owed his victories. Afterwards we quarrelled, 
and I left him and pushed forward with Rassen. From 
that day the bright star of Alexander began to wane." 

At this Leo made a sound that resembled a whistle. 
In a very agony of apprehension, beating back the criti 
cism s and certain recollections of the strange tale of the 
old abbot, Kou-en, which would rise within me, I asked 
quickly 

" And dost thou, Ayesha, remember well all that befel 
thee in this former life ? " 

" Nay, not well," she answered, meditatively, " only 
the greater facts, and those I have for the most part re 
covered by that study of secret things which thou callest 
vision or magic. For instance, my Holly, I recall that 
thou wast living in that life. Indeed I seem to see an 
ugly philosopher clad in a dirty robe and filled both with 
wine and the learning of others, who disputed with Alex 
ander till he grew wroth with him and caused him to be 
banished, or drowned : I forget which." 

" I suppose that I was not called Diogenes ? " I asked 
tartly, suspecting, perhaps not without cause, that Aye 
sha was amusing herself by fooling me. 

" No," she replied gravely, " I do not think that was 
thy name. The Diogenes thou speakest of was a much 
more famous man, one of real if crabbed wisdom ; more- 



THE PROPHECY OF ATENE 313 

over, he did not indulge in wine. I am mindful of very 
little of that life, however, not of more indeed than are 
many of the followers of the prophet Buddha, whose 
doctrines I have studied and of whom thou, Holly, 
hast spoken to me so much. Maybe we did not meet 
while it endured. Still I recollect that the Valley of 
Bones, where I found thee, my Leo, was the place where 
a great battle was fought between the Fire-priests with 
their vassals, the Tribes of the Mountain and the army 
of Rassen aided by the people of Kaloon. For between 
these and the Mountain, in old days as now, there was 
enmity, since in this present war history does but re 
write itself." 

" So thou thyself wast our guide," said Leo, looking at 
her sharply. 

" Aye, Leo, who else ? though it is not wonderful that 
thou didst not know me beneath those deathly wrappings. 
I was minded to wait and receive thee in the Sanctuary, 
yet when I learned that at length both of you had escaped 
Atene and drew near, I eould restrain myself no more, 
but came forth thus hideously disguised. Yes, I was 
with you even at the river s bank, and though you saw 
me not, there sheltered you from harm. 

" Leo, I yearned to look upon thee and to be certain 
that thy heart had not changed, although until the al- 
loted time thou mightest not hear my voice or see my 
face who wert doomed to undergo that sore trial of thy 
faith. Of Holly also I desired to learn whether his wis 
dom could pierce through my disguise, and how near he 
stood to truth. It was for this reason that I suffered 
him to see me draw the lock from the satchel on thy 
breast and to hear me wail over thee yonder in the Rest- 
house. Well he did not guess so ill, but thou, thou knew- 
est me in thy sleep knewest me as I am, and not as 
I seemed to be, yes," she added softly, " and didst say 
certain sweet words which I remember well." 

" Then beneath that shroud was thine own face," asked 



314 A YES HA 

Leo again, for he was very curious on this point, " the 
same lovely face I see to-day ? " 

" Mayhap as thou wilt," she answered coldly ; " also 
it is the spirit that matters, not the outward seeming, 
though men in their blindness think otherwise. Per 
chance my face is but as thy heart fashions it, or as my 
will presents it to the sight and fancy of its beholders. 
But hark ! The scouts have touched." 

As Ayesha spoke a sound of distant shouting was borne 
upon the wind, and presently we saw a fringe of horse 
men falling back slowly upon our foremost line. It was 
only to report, however, that the skirmishers of Atene 
were in full retreat. Indeed, a prisoner whom they 
brought with them, on being questioned by the priests, 
confessed at once that the Khania had no mind to meet 
us upon the holy Mountain. She proposed to give battle 
on the river s farther bank, having for a defence its wa 
ters which we must ford, a decision that showed good 
military judgment. 

So it happened that on this day there was no fighting. 

All that afternoon we descended the slopes of the 
Mountain, more swiftly by far than we had climbed 
them after our long flight from the city of Kaloon. Be 
fore sunset we came to our prepared camping ground, a 
wide and sloping plain that ended at the crest of the 
Valley of Dead Bones, where in past days we had met 
our mysterious guide. This, however, we did not reach 
through the secret mountain tunnel along which she had 
led us, the shortest way by miles, as Ayesha told us now, 
since it was unsuited to the passage of an army. 

Bending to the left, we circled round a number of un- 
climbable koppies, beneath which that tunnel passed, and 
so at length arrived upon the brow of the dark ravine 
where we could sleep safe from attack by night. 

Here a tent was pitched for Ayesha, but as it was the 
only one, Leo and I with our guard bivouacked among 
some rocks at a distance of a few hundred yards. When 



THE PROPHECY OF ATENE 315 

she found that this must be so, Ayesha was very angry 
and spoke bitter words to the chief who had charge of 
the food and baggage, although, he, poor man, knew 
nothing of tents. 

Also she blamed Oros, who replied meekly that he had 
thought us captains accustomed to war and its hardships. 
But most of all she was angry with herself, who had for 
gotten this detail, and until Leo stopped her with a laugh 
of vexation, went on to suggest that we should sleep in 
the tent, since she had no fear of the rigours of the moun 
tain cold. 

The end of it was that we supped together outside, or 
rather Leo and I supped, for as there were guards around 
us Ayesha did not even lift her veil. 

That evening Ayesha was disturbed and ill at ease, as 
though new fears which she could not overcome assailed 
her. At length she seemed to conquer them by some 
effort of her will and announced that she was minded to 
sleep and thus refresh her soul; the only part of her, I 
think, which ever needed rest. Her last words to us 
were 

" Sleep you also, sleep sound, but be not astonished, 
my Leo, if I send to summon both of you during the 
night, since in my slumbers I may find new counsels and 
need to speak of them to thee ere we break camp at 
dawn." 

Thus we parted, but ah! little did we guess how and 
where the three of us would meet again. 

We were weary and soon fell fast asleep beside our 
camp-fire, for, knowing that the whole army guarded us, 
we had no fear. I remember watching the bright stars 
which shone in the immense vault above me until they 
paled in the pure light of the risen moon, now somewhat 
past her full, and hearing Leo mutter drowsily from be 
neath his fur rug that Ayesha was quite right, and that 
it was pleasant to be in the open air again, as he was tired 
of caves. 



316 A YES HA 

After that I knew no more until I was awakened by 
the challenge of a sentry in the distance; then after a 
pause, a second challenge from the officer of our own 
guard. Another pause, and a priest stood bowing before 
us, the flickering light from the fire playing upon his 
shaven head and face, which I seemed to recognize. 

" I " and he gave a name that was familiar to me, but 
which I forget " am sent, my lords, by Oros, who com 
mands me to say that the Hesea would speak with you 
both and at once." 

Now Leo sat up yawning and asked what was the 
matter. I told him, whereon he said he wished that Aye- 
sha could have waited till daylight, then added 

" Well, there is no help for it. Come on, Horace," and 
he rose to follow the messenger. 

The priest bowed again and said 

" The commands of the Hesea are that my lords should 
bring their weapons and their guard." 

" What," grumbled Leo, " to protect us for a walk of a 
hundred yards through the heart of an army ? " 

"The Hesea," explained the man, "has left her tent; 
she is in the gorge yonder, studying the line of advance." 

" How do you know that ? " I asked. 

" I do not know it," he replied. " Oros told me so, 
that is all, and therefore the Hesea bade my lords bring 
their guard, for she is alone." 

"Is she mad," ejaculated Leo, "to wander about in 
such a place at midnight ? Well, it is like her." 

I too thought it was like her, who did nothing that 
others would have done, and yet I hesitated. Then I re 
membered that Ayesha had said she might send for us; 
also I was sure that if any trick had been intended we 
should not have been warned to bring an escort. So we 
called the guard there were twelve of them took our 
spears and swords and started. 

We were challenged by both the first and second lines 
of sentries, and I noticed that as we gave them the pass- 



THE PROPHECY OF ATENE 317 

word the last picket, who of course recognized us, looked 
astonished. Still, if they had doubts they did not dare to 
express them. So we went on. 

Now we began to descend the sides of the ravine by a 
very steep path, with which the priest, our guide, seemed 
to be curiously familiar, for he went down it as though 
it were the stairway of his own house. 

" A strange place to take us to at night," said Leo 
doubtfully, when we were near the bottom and the chief 
of the bodyguard, that great red-bearded hunter who 
had been mixed up in the matter of the snow-leopard 
also muttered some words of remonstrance. Whilst I 
was trying to catch what he said, of a sudden something 
white walked into the patch of moonlight at the foot of the 
ravine, and we saw that it was the veiled figure of Aye- 
sha herself. The chief saw her also and said content 
edly 

"HeslHes!" 

" Look at her," grumbled Leo, " strolling about in that 
haunted hole as though it were Hyde Park ; " and on he 
went at a run. 

The figure turned and beckoned to us to follow her as 
she glided forward, picking her way through the skele 
tons which were scattered about upon the lava bed of the 
cleft. Thus she went on into the shadow of the oppos 
ing cliff that the moonlight did not reach. Here in the 
wet season a stream trickled down a path which it 
had cut through the rock in the course of centuries, and 
the grit that it had brought with it was spread about the 
lava floor of the ravine, so that many of the bones were 
almost completely buried in the sand. 

These, I noticed, as we stepped into the shadow, were 
more numerous than usual just here, for on all sides I 
saw the white crowns of skulls, or the projecting ends of 
ribs and thigh bones. Doubtless, I thought to myself, 
that streamway made a road to the plain above, and in 
some past battle, the fighting around it was very fierce 
and the slaughter great. 



3 i 8 AYES HA 

Here Ayesha had halted and was engaged in the con 
templation of this boulder-strewn path, as though she 
meditated making use of it that day. Now we drew 
near to her, and the priest who guided us fell back with 
our guard, leaving us to go forward alone, since they 
dared not approach the Hesea unbidden. Leo was some 
what in advance of me, seven or eight yards perhaps, and 
I heard him say 

" Why dost thou venture into such places at night, 
Ayesha, unless indeed it is not possible for any harm to 
come to thee ? " 

She made no answer, only turned and opened her arms 
wide, then let them fall to her side again. Whilst I 
wondered what this signal of hers might mean, from 
the shadows about us came a strange, rustling sound. 

I looked, and lo! everywhere the skeletons were rising 
from their sandy beds. I saw their white skulls, their 
gleaming arm and leg bones, their hollow ribs. The long- 
slain army had come to life again, and look! in their 
hands were the ghosts of spears. 

Of course I knew at once that this was but another 
manifestation of , Ayesha s magic powers, which some 
whim of hers had drawn us from our beds to witness. 
Yet I confess that I felt frightened. Even the boldest 
of men, however free from superstition, might be excused 
should their nerve fail them if, when standing in a 
churchyard at midnight, suddenly on every side they saw 
the dead arising from their graves. Also our surround 
ings were wilder and more eerie than those of any civil 
ized burying-place. 

" What new devilment of thine is this ? " cried Leo in 
a scared and angry voice. But Ayesha made no answer. 

I heard a noise behind me and looked round. The 
skeletons were springing upon our body-guard, who for 
their part, poor men, paralysed with terror, had thrown 
down their weapons and fallen, some of them, to their 
knees. Now the ghosts began to stab at them with their 



THE PROPHECY. OF ATENE 319 

phantom spears, and I saw that beneath the blows they 
rolled over. The veiled figure above me pointed with 
her hand at Leo and said 

" Seize him, but I charge you, harm him not." 

I knew the voice ; it was that of Atene! 

Then too late I understood the trap into which we had 
fallen. 

" Treachery ! " I began to cry, and before the word was 
out of my lips, a particularly able-bodied skeleton silenced 
me with a violent blow upon the head. But though I 
could not speak, my senses still stayed with me for a little. 
I saw Leo fighting furiously with a number of men who 
strove to pull him down,, so furiously, indeed that his 
frightful efforts caused the blood to gush out of his 
mouth from some burst vessel in the lungs. 

Then sight and hearing failed me, and thinking that 
this was death, I fell and remembered no more. 

Why I was not killed outright I do not know, unless in 
their hurry the disguised soldiers thought me already 
dead, or perhaps that my life was to be spared also. At 
least, beyond the knock upon the head I received no in 
jury. 



CHAPTER XXII 

THE LOOSING OF THE POWERS 

WHEN I came to myself again, it was daylight. I saw 
the calm, gentle face of Oros bending over me as he 
poured some strong fluid down my throat that seemed 
to shoot through all my body, and melt a curtain in my 
mind. I saw also that beside him stood Ayesha. 

" Speak, man, speak," she said in a terrible voice. 
" What hast chanced here ? Thou livest, then where is 
my lord? Where hast thou hid my lord? Tell me or 
die." 

It was the vision that I saw when my senses left me 
in the snow of the avalanche, fulfilled to the last detail ! 

" Atene has taken him," I answered. 

" Atene has taken him and thou art left alive ? " 

" Do not be wrath with me," I answered, " it is no 
fault of mine. Little wonder we were deceived after 
thou hadst said that thou mightest summon us ere dawn." 

Then as briefly as I could I told the story. 

She listened, went to where our murdered guards lay 
with unstained spears, and looked at them. 

" Well for these that they are dead," she exclaimed. 
" Now, Holly, thou seest what is the fruit of mercy. The 
men whose lives I gave my lord have failed him at his 
need." 

Then she passed forward to the spot where Leo was 
captured. Here lay a broken sword Leo s that had 
been the Khan Rassen s, and two dead men. Both of 
these were clothed in some tight-fitting black garments, 
having their heads and faces whitened with chalk and 

320 



THE LOOSING OF THE POWERS 321 

upon their vests a rude imitation of a human skeleton, 
also daubed in chalk. 

" A trick fit to frighten fools with," she said contemp 
tuously. " But oh ! that Atene should have dared to play 
the part of Ayesha, that she should have dared ! " and she 
clenched her little hand. " See, surprised and over 
whelmed, yet he fought well. Say ! was he hurt, Holly ? 
It comes upon me no, tell me that I see amiss." 

" Not much, I think," I answered doubtfully, " a little 
blood was running from his mouth, no more. Look, there 
go the stains of it upon that rock." 

" For every drop I ll take a hundred lives. By my 
self I swear it," Ayesha muttered with a groan. Then 
she cried in a ringing voice, 

" Back and to horse, for I have deeds to do this day. 
Nay, bide thou here, Holly; we go a shorter path while 
the army skirts the gorge. Oros, give him food and 
drink and bathe that hurt upon his head. It is but a 
bruise, for his hood and hair are thick." 

So w r hile Oros rubbed some stinging lotion on my 
scalp, I ate and drank as best I could till my brain ceased 
to swim, for the blow, though heavy, had not fractured 
the bone. When I was ready they brought the horses to 
us, and mounting them, slowly we scrambled up the steep 
bed of the water-course. 

" See," Ayesha said, pointing to tracks and hoof-prints 
on the plain at its head, " there was a chariot awaiting 
him, and harnessed to it were four swift horses. Atene s 
scheme was clever and well laid, and I, grown oversure 
and careless, slept through it all ! " 

On this plain the army of the Tribes that had broken 
camp before the dawn was already gathering fast ; indeed, 
;the cavalry, if I may call them so, were assembled there to 
the number^ of about five thousand men, each of whom 
had a led horse. Ayesha summoned the chiefs and cap 
tains, and addressed them. 

" Servants of Hes," she said, " the stranger lord, my 



322 "A YES HA 

betrothed and guest, has been tricked by a false priest 
and, falling into a cunning snare, captured as a hostage. 
It is necessary that I follow him fast, before harm comes 
to him. We move down to attack the army of the Khania 
beyond the river. When its passage is forced I pass on 
with the horsemen, for I must sleep in the city of Kaloon 
to-nighL What sayest thou, Oros? That a second and 
greater army defends its walls? Man, I know it, and if 
there is need, that army I will destroy. Nay, stare not at 
me. Already they are as dead. Horsemen, you accom 
pany me. 

" Captains of the Tribes, you follow, and woe be to that 
man who hangs back in the hour of battle, for death and 
eternal shame shall be his portion, but wealth and honour 
to those who bear them bravely. Yes, I tell you, theirs 
shall be the fair land of Kaloon, You have your orders 
for the passing of yonder river. I, with the horsemen, 
take the central ford. Let the wings advance." 

The chiefs answered with a cheer, for they were fierce 
men whose ancestors had loved war for generations. 
Moreover, mad as seemed the enterprise, they trusted in 
.their Oracle, the Hesea, and, like all hill peoples, were 
easily fired by the promise of rich plunder. 

An hour s steady march down the slopes brought the 
army to the edge of the marsh lands. These, as it chanced, 
proved no obstacle to our progress, for in that season of 
great drought they were quite dry, and for the same 
reason the shrunken river was not so impassable a de 
fence as I feared that it would be. Still, because of its 
rocky bottom and steep, opposing banks, it looked formid 
able enough, while on the crests of those banks, in squad 
rons and companies of horse and foot, were gathered the 
regiments of Atene. 

W T hile the wings of footmen deployed to right and left, 
the cavalry halted in the marshes and let their horses fill 
themselves with the long grass, now a little browned by 
frost, that grew on this boggy soil, and afterwards drink 
some water. 



THE LOOSING OF THE POWERS 323 

All this time Ayesha stood silent, for she also had dis 
mounted, that the mare she rode and her two led horses 
might graze with the others. Indeed, she spoke but once, 
saying 

" Thou thinkest this adventure mad, my Holly? Say, 
art afraid ? " 

" Not with thee for captain," I answered. " Still, that 
second army " 

" Shall melt before me like mist before the gale," she 
replied in a low and thrilling voice. " Holly, I tell thee 
thou shalt see things such as no man upon the earth has 
ever seen. Remember my words when I loose the Powers 
and thou followest the rent veil of Ayesha through the 
smitten squadrons of Kaloon. Only what if Atene 
should dare to murder him ? Oh, if she should dare ! " 

" Be comforted," I replied, wondering what she might 
mean by this loosing of the Powers. " I think that she 
loves him too well." 

" I bless thee for the words, Holly, yet I know he will 
refuse her, and then her hate for me and her jealous rage 
may overcome her love for him. Should this be so, what 
will avail my vengeance? Eat and drink again, Holly 
nay, I touch no food until I sit in the palace of Kaloon 
and look well to girth and bridle, for thou ridest far and 
on a wild errand. Mount thee on Leo s horse, which is 
swift and sure ; if it dies the guards will bring thee 
others." 

I obeyed her as best I could, and once more bathed my 
head in a pool, and with the help of Oros tied a rag 
soaked in the liniment on the bruise, after which I felt 
sound enough. Indeed, the mad excitement of those min 
utes of waiting, and some foreshadowing of the terrible 
wonders that were about to befall, made me forget my 
hurts. 

Now, Ayesha was standing staring upwards, so that al 
though I could not see her veiled face, I guessed that her 
eyes must be fixed on the sky above the mountain top. I 



324 r AYESHA 

was certain, also, that she was concentrating her fearful 
will upon an unknown object, for her whole frame quiv 
ered like a reed shaken in the wind. 

It was a very strange morning cold and clear, yet 
curiously still, and with a heaviness in the air such as pre 
cedes a great fall of snow, although for much snow the 
season was yet too early. Once or twice, too, in that utter 
calm, I thought that I felt everything shudder; not the 
ordinary trembling of earthquake, however, for the shud 
dering seemed to be of the atmosphere quite as much as 
of the land. It was as though all Nature around us were 
a living creature which is very much afraid. 

Following Ayesha s earnest gaze, I perceived that thick, 
smoky clouds were gathering one by one in the clear sky 
above the peak, and that they were edged, each of them, 
with a fiery rim. Watching these fantastic and ominous 
clouds, I ventured to say to her that it looked as though 
the weather would change not a very original remark, 
but one which the circumstances suggested. 

" Aye," she aswered, " ere night the weather will be 
wilder even than my heart. No longer shall they cry for 
water in Kaloon ! Mount, Holly, mount ! The advance 
begins ! " and unaided she sprang to the saddle of the 
mare that Oros brought her. 

Then, in the midst of the five thousand horsemen, we 
moved down upon the ford. As we reached its brink I 
noted that the two divisions of tribesmen were already 
entering the stream half a mile to the right and left of us. 
Of what befell them I can tell nothing from observation, 
although I learned later that they forced it after great 
slaughter on both sides. 

In front of us was gathered the main body of the Kha- 
nia s army, massed by regiments upon the further bank, 
while hundreds of picked men stood up to their middles 
in the water, waiting to spear or hamstring our horses as 
we advanced. 



THE LOOSING OF THE POWERS 325 

Now, uttering their wild, whistling cry, our leading 
companies dashed into the river, leaving us upon the 
bank, arid soon were engaged hotly with the footmen in 
midstream. While this fray went on, Oros came to Aye- 
sha and told her a spy had reported that Leo, bound in a 
two-wheeled carriage and accompanied by Atene, Simbri 
and a guard, had passed through the enemy s camp at 
night, galloping furiously towards Kaloon. 

" Spare thy words, I know it," she answered, and he 
fell back behind her. 

Our squadrons gained the bank, having destroyed most 
of the men in the water, but as they set foot upon it the 
enemy charged them and drove them back with loss. 
Thrice they returned to the attack, and thrice were re 
pulsed in this fashion. At length Ayesha grew impatient. 

They need a leader, and I will give them one," she 
said. " Come with me, my Holly," and, followed by the 
main body of the horsemen, she rode a little way into the 
river, and there waited until the shattered troops had 
fallen back upon us. Oros whispered to me 

" It is madness, the Hesea will be slain." 

* Thinkest thou so? " I answered. " More like that we 
shall be slain," a saying at which he smiled a little more 
than usual and shrugged his shoulders, since for all his 
soft ways, Oros was a brave man. Also I believe that he 
spoke to try me, knowing that his mistress would take no 
harm. 

Ayesha held up her hand, in which there was no 
weapon, and waved it forwards. A great cheer answered 
that signal to advance, and in the midst of it this frail, 
white-robed woman spoke to her horse, so that it plunged 
deep into the water. 

Two minutes later, and spears and arrows were flying 
about us p thickly that they seemed to darken the sky. 
I saw men and horses fall to right and left, but noth 
ing touched me or the white robes that floated a yard or 
two ahead. Five minutes and we were gaining the further 
bank, and there the worst fight began. 



326 A YES HA 

It was fierce indeed, yet never an inch did the white 
robes give back, and where they went men would follow 
them or fall. We were up the bank and the enemy was 
packed about us, but through them we passed slowly, like 
a boat through an adverse sea that buffets but cannot 
stay it. Yes, further and further, till at last the lines 
ahead grew thin as the living wedge of horsemen forced 
its path between them grew thin, broke and vanished. 

We had passed through the heart of the host, and leav 
ing the tribesmen who followed to deal with its flying 
fragments, rode on half a mile or so and mustered. Many 
were dead and more were hurt, but the command was is 
sued that all sore-wounded men should fall out and give 
their horses to replace those that had been killed. 

This was done, and presently we moved on, three thou 
sand of us now, not more, heading for Kaloon. The trot 
grew to a canter, and the canter to a gallop, as we rushed 
forward across that endless plain, till at midday, or a little 
after for this route was far shorter than that taken by 
Leo and myself in our devious flight from Rassen and his 
death-hounds we dimly saw the city of Kaloon set upon 
its hill. 

Now a halt was ordered, for here was a reservoir in 
which was still some water, whereof the horses drank, 
while the men ate of the food they carried with them; 
dried meat and barley meal. Here, too, more spies met 
us, who said that the great army of Atene was posted 
guarding the city bridges, and that to attack it with our 
little force would mean destruction. But Ayesha took no 
heed of their words ; indeed, she scarcely seemed to hear 
them. Only she ordered that all wearied horses shoul d 
be abandoned and fresh ones mounted. 

Forward again for hour after hour, in perfect silence 
save for the thunder of our horses hoofs. No word 
spoke Ayesha, nor did her wild escort speak, only from 
time to time they looked over their shoulders and pointed 
with their red spears at the red sky behind. 



THE LOOSING OF THE POWERS 327 

I looked also, nor shall I forget its aspect. The dread 
ful, fire-edged clouds had grown and gathered so that 
beneath their shadows the plain lay almost black. They 
marched above us like an army in the heavens, while from 
time to time vaporous points shot forward, thin like 
swords, or massed like charging horse. 

Under them a vast stillness reigned. It was as though 
the earth lay dead beneath their pall. 

Kaloon, lit in a lurid light, grew nearer. The pickets 
of the foe flew homeward before us, shaking their jave 
lins, and their mocking laughter reached us in hollow 
echoes. Now we saw the vast array, posted rank on rank 
with silken banners drooping in that stirless air, flanked 
and screened by glittering regiments of horse. 

An embassy approached us, and at the signal of Aye- 
sha s uplifted arm we halted. It was headed by a lord of 
the court whose face I knew. He pulled rein and spoke 
boldly. 

" Listen, Hes, to the words of Atene. Ere now the 
stranger lord, thy darling, is prisoner in her palace. Ad 
vance, and we destroy thee and thy little band; but if 
by any miracle thou shouldst conquer, then he dies. Get 
thee gone to thy Mountain fastness and the Khania gives 
thee peace, and thy people their lives. What answer to 
the words of the Khania ? " 

Ayesha whispered to Oros, who called aloud 
There is no answer. Go, if ye love life, for death 
draws near to you." 

So they went fast as their swift steeds would carry 
them, but for a little while Ayesha still sat lost in thought. 

Presently she turned and through her thin veil I saw 
that her face was white and terrible and that the eyes in 
it glowed like those of a lioness at night. She said to 
me hissing the words between her clenched teeth 

" Holly/ prepare thyself to look into the mouth of hell. 
I desired to spare them if I could, I swear it, but my heart 
bids me be bold, to put off human pity, and use all my 



328 r AYESHA 

secret might if I would see Leo living. Holly, I tell thee 
they are about to murder him! " 

Then she cried aloud, " Fear nothing, Captains. Ye 
are but few, yet with you goes the strength of ten 
thousand thousand. Now follow the Hesea, and whate er 
ye meet, be not dismayed. Repeat it to the soldiers, that 
fearing nothing they follow the Hesea through yonder 
host and across the bridge and into the city of Kaloon." 

So the chiefs rode hither and thither, crying out her 
words, and the savage tribesmen answered 

" Aye, we who followed through the water, will follow 
across the plain. Onward, Hes, for darkness swallows 
us." 

Now some orders were given, and the companies fell into 
a formation that resembled a great wedge, Ayesha her 
self being its very point and apex, for though Oros and 
I rode on either side of her, spur as we would, our horses 
heads never passed her saddle bow. In front of that dark 
mass she shone a single spot of white one snowy feather 
on a black torrent s breast. 

A screaming bugle note and, like giant arms, from the 
shelter of some groves of poplar trees, curved horns of 
cavalry shot out to surround us, while the broad bosom of 
the opposing army, shimmering with spears, rolled for 
ward as a wave rolls crowned with sunlit foam, and 
behind it, line upon line, uncountable, lay a surging sea of 
men. 

Our end was near. We were lost, or so it seemed. 

Ayesha tore off her veil and held it on high, flowing 
from her like a pennon, and lo! upon her brow blazed 
that wide and mystic diadem of light which once only I 
had seen before. 

Denser and denser grew the rushing clouds above ; 
brighter and brighter gleamed the unearthly star of light 
beneath. Louder and louder beat the sound of the falling 
hoofs of ten thousand horses. From the Mountain peak 
behind us went up sudden sheets of flame ; it spouted fire 
as a whale spouts foam. 



THE LOOSING OF THE POWERS 329 

The scene was dreadful. In front, the towers of Kaloon 
lurid in a monstrous sunset. Above, a gloom as of an 
eclipse. Around the darkling, sunburnt plain. On it 
Atene s advancing army, and our rushing wedge of horse 
men destined, it would appear, to inevitable doom. 

Ayesha let fall her rein. She tossed her arms, waving 
the torn, white veil as though it were a signal cast to 
heaven. 

Instantly from the churning jaws of the unholy night 
above belched a blaze of answering flame, that also wa 
vered like a rent and shaken veil in the grasp of a black 
hand of cloud. 

Then did Ayesha roll the thunder of her might upon 
the Children of Kaloon. Then she called, and the Terror 
came, such as men had never seen and perchance never 
more will see. Awful bursts of wind tore past us, lifting 
the very stones and soil before them, and with the wind 
went hail and level, hissing rain, made visible by the ar 
rows of perpetual lightnings that leapt downwards from 
the sky and upwards from the earth. 

It was as she had warned me. It was as though hell had 
broken loose upon the world, yet through that hell we 
rushed on unharmed. For always these furies passed her 
fore us. No arrow flew, no javelin was stained. The 
jagged hail was a herald of our coming; the levens that 
smote and stabbed were our sword and spear, while ever 
the hurricane roared and screamed with a million separate 
voices which blended to one yell of sound, hideous and in 
describable. 

As for the hosts about us they melted and were gone. 

Now the darkness was dense, like to that of thickest 
night ; yet in the fierce flares of the lightnings I saw them 
run this way and that, and amidst the volleying, elemental 
voices I heard their shouts of horror and of agony. I 
saw horses and riders roll confused upon the ground ; like 
storm-drifted leaves I saw their footmen piled in high 



330 AYES HA 

and whirling heaps, while the brands of heaven struck and 
struck them till they sank together and grew still. 

I saw the groves of trees bend, shrivel up and vanish. 
I saw the high walls of Kaloon blown in and flee away, 
while the houses within the walls took fire, to go out be 
neath the torrents of the driving rain, and again take fire. 
I saw blackness sweep over us with great wings, and 
when I looked, lo ! those wide wings were flame, floods of 
pulsing flame that flew upon the tormented air. 

Blackness, utter blackness ; turmoil, doom, dismay ! Be 
neath me the labouring horse ; at my side the steady crest 
of light which sat on Ayesha s brow, and through the tu 
mult a clear, exultant voice that sang 

" I promised thee wild weather ! Now, Holly, dost 
thou believe that I can loose the prisoned Powers of the 
world?" 

Lo! all was past and gone, and above us shone the 
quiet evening sky, and before us lay the empty bridge, 
and beyond it the flaming city of Kaloon. But the armies 
of Atene, where were they ? Go, ask of those great cairns 
that hide their bones. Go, ask it of her widowed land. 

Yet of our wild company of horsemen not one was lost. 
After us they galloped trembling, white-lipped, like men 
who face to face had fought and conquered Death, but 
triumphant ah, triumphant ! 

On the high head of the bridge Ayesha wheeled her 
horse, and so for one proud moment stood to welcome 
them. At the sight of her glorious, star-crowned counte 
nance, which now her Tribes beheld for the first time and 
the last, there went up such a shout as men have seldom 
heard. 

" The Goddess! " that shout thundered. " Worship the 
Goddess ! " 

Then she turned her horse s head again, and they fol 
lowed on through the long straight street of the burning 
city, up to the palace on its crest. 




tossed her arms, waving the torn, white veil as though it 
were a signal cast to heaven. 



THE LOOSING OF THE POWERS 331 

As the sun set we sped beneath its gateway. Silence 
in the courtyard, silence everywhere, save for the distant 
roar of fire and the scared howlings of the death-hounds 
in their kennel. 

Ayesha sprang from her horse, and waving back all 
save Oros and myself, swept through the open doors into 
the halls beyond. 

They were empty, every one all were fled or dead. Yet 
she never paused or doubted, but so swiftly that we scarce 
could follow her, flitted up the wide stone stair that led 
to the topmost tower. Up, still up, until we reached the 
chamber where had dwelt Simbri the Shaman, that same 
chamber whence he was wont to watch his stars, in which 
Atene had threatened us with death. 

Its door was shut and barred; still, at Ayesha s com 
ing, yes, before the mere breath of her presence, the iron 
bolts snapped like twigs, the locks flew back, and inward 
burst that massive portal. 

Now we were within the lamp-lit chamber, and this is 
what we saw. Seated in a chair, pale-faced, bound, yet 
proud and defiant-looking, was Leo. Over him, a dag 
ger in his withered hand yes, about to strike, in the very 
act stood the old Shaman, and on the floor hard by, 
gazing upward with wide- set eyes, dead and still majestic 
in her death, lay Atene, Khania of Kaloon. 

Ayesha waved her arm and the knife fell from Sim- 
bri s hand, clattering on the marble, while in an instant 
he who had held it was smitten to stillness and became 
like a man turned to stone. 

She stooped, lifted the dagger, and with a swift stroke 
severed Leo s bonds ; then, as though overcome at last, 
sank on to a bench in silence. Leo rose, looking about 
him bewildered, and said in the strained voice of one who 
is weak with much suffering 

" But just in time, Ayesha. Another second, and that 
murderous dog " and he pointed to the Shaman " well, 
it was in time. But how went the battle, and how earnest 



r AYESHA 

thou here through that awful hurricane ? And, oh, Hor 
ace, thank heaven they did not kill you after all ! " 
- " The battle went ill for some/ Ayesha answered, " and 
I came not through the hurricane, but on its wings. Tell 
me now, what has befallen thee since we parted ? " 

" Trapped, overpowered, bound, brought here, told that 
I must write to thee and stop thy advance, or die re 
fused, of course, and then " and he glanced at the 

dead body on the floor. 

" And then ? " repeated Ayesha. 

" Then that fearful tempest, which seemed to drive me 
mad. Oh ! if thou couldst have heard the wind howling 
round these battlements, tearing off their stones as though 
they were dry leaves ; if thou hadst seen the lightnings 
falling thick and fast as rain " 

" They were my messengers. I sent them to save thee," 
said Ayesha simply. 

Leo stared at her, making no comment, but after a 
pause, as though he were thinking the matter over, he 
went on 

" Atene said as much, but I did not believe her. I 
thought the end of the world had come, that was all. 
Well, she returned just now more mad even than I was, 
and told me that her people were destroyed and that she 
could not fight against the strength of hell, but that she 
could send me thither, and took a knife to kill me. 

" I said, Kill on/ for I knew that wherever I went 
thou wouldst follow, and I was sick with the loss of blood 
from some hurt I had in that struggle, and weary of it all. 
So I shut my eyes waiting for the stroke, but instead I 
felt her lips pressed upon my forehead, and heard her 
say 

; Nay, I will not do it. Fare thee well ; fulfil thou 
thine own destiny, as I fulfil mine. For this cast the dice 
have fallen against me ; elsewhere it may be otherwise. 
I go to load them if I may/ 

" I opened my eyes and looked. There Atene stood, a 
glass in her hand see, it lies beside her. 



THE LOOSING OF THE POWERS 333 

" Defeated, yet I win/ she cried, for I do but pass 
before thee to prepare the path that thou shalt tread, and 
to make ready thy place in the Under-world. Till we 
meet again I pledge thee, for I am destroyed. Ayesha s 
horsemen are in my streets, and, clothed in lightnings at 
their head, rides Ayesha s avenging self. 

" So she drank, and fell dead but now. Look, her 
breast still quivers. Afterwards, that old man would 
have murdered me, for, being roped, I could not resist 
him, but the door burst in and thou earnest. Spare him, 
he is of her blood, and he loved her." 

Then Leo sank back into the chair where we had dis 
covered him bound, and seemed to fall into a kind of tor 
por, for of a sudden he grew to look like an old man. 

" Thou art sick," said Ayesha anxiously. " Oros, thy 
medicine, the draught I bade thee bring! Be swift, I 
say." 

The priest bowed, and from some pocket in his ample 
robe produced a phial which he opened and gave to Leo, 
saying 

" Drink, my lord ; this stuff will give thee back thy 
health, for it is strong." 

" The stronger the better," answered Leo, rousing him 
self, and with something like his old, cheerful laugh. " I 
am thirsty who have touched nothing since last night, 
and have fought hard and been carried far, yes and lived 
through that hellish storm." 

Then he took the draught and emptied it. 

There must have been virtue in that potion ; at least, 
the change which it produced in him was w r onderful. 
Within a minute his eyes grew bright again, and the col 
our returned into his cheeks. 

" Thy medicines are very good, as I have learned of 
old," he said to Ayesha ; " but the best of all of them is 
to see thee safe and victorious before me, and to know 
that I, who looked for death, yet live to greet thee, my be 
loved. There is food," and he pointed to a board upon 



334 



A YES HA 



which were meats, " say, may I eat of them, for I 
starve ? " 

" Aye," she answered softly, " eat, and, my Holly, eat 
thou also." 

So we fell to, yes, we fell to and ate even in the pres 
ence of .that dead woman who looked so royal in her 
death; of the old magician who stood there powerless, 
like a man petrified, and of Ayesha, the wondrous being 
that could destroy an army with the fearful weapons 
which were servant to her will. 

Only Oros ate nothing, but remained where he was, 
smiling at us benignantly, nor did Ayesha touch any 
food. 



CHAPTER XXIII 

THE YIELDING OF AYESHA 

WHEN I had satisfied myself, Leo was still at his meal, 
for loss of blood or the effects of the tremendous nerve 
tonic which Ayesha ordered to be administered to him, 
had made him ravenous. 

I watched his face and became aware of a curious 
change in it, no immediate change indeed, but one, I 
think, that had come upon him gradually, although I only 
fully appreciated it now, after our short separation. In 
addition to the thinness of which I have spoken, his hand 
some countenance had grown more ethereal ; his eyes were 
full of the shadows of things that were to come. 

His aspect pained me, I knew not why. It was no 
longer that of the Leo with whom I was familiar, the 
deep-chested, mighty-limbed, jovial, upright traveller, 
hunter and fighting-man who had chanced to love and be 
loved of a spiritual power incarnated in a mould of per 
fect womanhood and armed with all the might of Na 
ture s self. These things were still present indeed, but the 
man was changed, and I felt sure that this change came 
from Ayesha, since the look upon his face had become 
exceeding like to that which often hovered upon hers at 
rest. 

She also was watching him, with speculative, dreamy 
eyes, till presently, as some thought swept through her, I 
saw those eyes blaze up, and the red blood pour to cheek 
and brow. Yes, the mighty Ayesha whose dead, slain for 
him, lay strewn by the thousand on yonder plain, blushed 
and trembled like a maiden at her first lover s kiss. 

335 



336 UYESHA 

Leo rose from the table. " I would that I had been 
with thee in the fray," he said. 

" At the drift there was fighting," she answered, " after 
wards none. My ministers of Fire, Earth and Air smote, 
no more ; I waked them from their sleep and at my com 
mand they smote for thee and saved thee." 

" Many lives to take for one man s safety," Leo said 
solemnly, as though the thought pained him. 

" Had they been millions and not thousands, I would 
liave spent them every one. On my head be their deaths, 
not on thine. Or rather on hers," and she pointed to the 
dead Atene. " Yes, on hers who made this war. At 
least she should thank me who have sent so royal a host 
to guard her through the darkness." 

" Yet it is terrible," said Leo, " to think of thee, beloved, 
red to the hair with slaughter." 

" What reck I ? " she answered with a splendid pride. 
" Let their blood suffice to wash the stain of thy blood 
from off these cruel hands that once did murder thee." 

" Who am I that I should blame thee ? " Leo went on 
as though arguing with himself, " I who but yesterday 
killed two men to save myself from treachery." 

" Speak not of it," she exclaimed in cold rage. " I saw 
the place and, Holly, thou knowest how I swore that a 
hundred lives should pay for every drop of that dear blood 
of thine, and I, who lie not, have kept the oath. Look 
now on that man who stands yonder struck by my will 
to stone, dead yet living, and say again what was he 
about to do to thee when I entered here ? " 

" To take vengeance on me for the doom of his queen 
and of her armies," answered Leo, and Ayesha, " how 
knowest thou that a Power higher than thine own will 
not demand it yet ? " 

As he spoke a pale shadow flickered on Leo s face, such 
a shadow as might fall from Death s advancing wing, and 
in the fixed eyes of the Shaman there shone a stony smile. 

For a moment terror seemed to take Ayesha, then it 
was gone as quickly as it came. 



THE YIELDING OF AYES HA 337 

" Nay," she said. " I ordain that it shall not be, and 
save One who listeth not, what power reigns in this wide 
earth that dare defy my will ? " 

So she spoke, and as her words of awful pride for 
they were very awful rang round that stone-built cham 
ber, a vision came to me Holly. 

I saw illimitable space peopled with shining suns, and 
sunk in the infinite void above them one vast Countenance 
clad in a calm so terrific that at its aspect my spirit sank 
to nothingness. Yes, and I knew that this was Destiny- 
enthroned above the spheres. Those lips moved and obe 
dient worlds rushed upon their course. They moved 
again and these rolling chariots of the heavens were 
turned or stayed, appeared or disappeared. I knew also 
that against this calm Majesty the being, woman or spirit, 
at my side had dared to hurl her passion and her strength. 
My soul reeled. I was afraid. 

The dread phantasm passed, and when my mind cleared 
again Ayesha was speaking in new, triumphant tones. 

" Nay, nay," she cried. " Past is the night of dread ; 
dawns the day of victory! Look!" and she pointed 
through the window-places shattered by the hurricane, to 
the flaming town beneath, whence rose one continual wail 
of misery, the wail of women mourning their countless 
slain while the fire roared through their homes like 
some unchained and rejoicing demon. " Look Leo on 
the smoke of the first sacrifice that I offer to thy royal 
state and listen to its music. Perchance thou deemst it 
naught. Why then I ll give thee others. Thou lovest 
war. Good ! we will go down to war and the rebellious 
cities of the earth shall be the torches of our march." 

She paused a moment, her delicate nostrils quivering, 
and her face alight with the prescience of ungarnered 
splendours ;.ihen like a swooping swallow flitted to where, 
by dead Atene, the gold circlet fallen from the Khania s 
hair lay upon the floor. 

She stooped, lifted it, and coming to Leo held it high 



338 AYESHA 

above his head. Slowly she let her hand fall until the 
glittering coronet rested for an instant on his brow. Then 
she spoke, in her glorious voice that rolled out rich and 
low, a very paean of triumph and of power. 

" By this poor, earthly symbol I create thee King of 
Earth ; yea in its round for thee is gathered all her rule. 
Be thou its king, and mine ! " 

Again the coronet was held aloft, again it sank, and 
again she said or rather chanted 

" With this unbroken ring, token of eternity, I swear 
to thee the boon of endless days. Endure thou while the 
world endures, and be its lord, and mine." 

A third time the coronet touched his brow. 

" By this golden round I do endow thee with Wisdom s 
perfect gold uncountable, that is the talisman whereat 
all nature s secret paths shall open to thy feet. Victori 
ous, victorious, tread thou her wondrous ways with me, 
till from her topmost peak at last she wafts us to our im 
mortal throne whereof the columns twain are Life and 
Death." 

Then Ayesha cast away the crown and lo ! it fell upon 
the breast of the lost Atene and rested there. 

" Art content with these gifts of mine, my lord? " she 
cried. 

Leo looked at her sadly and shook his head. 

" What more wilt thou then ? Ask and I swear it shall 
be thine." 

" Thou swearest ; but wilt thou keep the oath ? " 

"Aye, by myself I swear; by myself and by the 
Strength that bred me. If it be ought that I can grant 
then if I refuse it to thee, may such destruction fall upon 
me as will satisfy even Atene s watching soul." 

I heard and I think that another heard also, at least 
once more the stony smile shone in the eyes of the Sha 
man. 

" I ask of thee nothing that thou canst not give. Aye 
sha, I ask of thee thyself not at some distant time when 



THE YIELDING OF AYESHA 339 

I have been bathed in a mysterious fire, but now, now this 
night." 

She shrank back from him a little, as though dismayed. 

" Surely," she said slowly, " I am like that foolish phi 
losopher who, walking abroad to read the destinies of na 
tions in the stars, fell down a pitfall dug by idle children 
and broke his bones and perished there. Never did I 
guess that with all these glories stretched before thee like 
mountain top on glittering mountain top, making a stair 
way for thy mortal feet to the very dome of heaven, thou 
wouldst still clutch at thy native earth and seek of it but 
the common boon of woman s love. 

" Oh ! Leo, I thought that thy soul was set upon nobler 
aims, that thou wouldst pray me for wider powers, for a 
more vast dominion ; that as though they were but yonder 
fallen door of wood and iron, I should break for thee the 
bars of Hades, and like the Eurydice of old fable draw 
thee. living down the steeps of Death, or throne thee midst 
the fires of the furthest sun to watch its subject worlds at 
play. 

" Or I thought that thou wouldst bid me reveal what 
no woman ever told, the bitter, naked truth all my sins 
and sorrows, all the wandering fancies of my fickle 
thought ; even what thou knowest not and perchance ne er 
shalt know, who I am and whence I came, and how to 
thy charmed eyes I seemed to change from foul to fair, 
and what is the purpose of my love for thee, and what the 
meaning of that tale of an angry goddess who never 
was except in dreams. 

" I thought nay, no matter what I thought, save that 
thou wert for other than thou art, my Leo, and in 
so high a moment that thou wouldst seek to pass the 
mystic gates my glory can throw wide and with me tread 
an air supernal to the hidden heart of things. Yet thy 
prayer is but the same that the whole world whispers be 
neath the silent moon, in the palace and the cottage, 
among the snows and on the burning desert s waste. Oh ! 



340 "AYESHA 

my love, thy lips, thy lips. Oh ! my love, be mine, now, 
now, beneath the moon, beneath the moon ! 

" Leo, I thought better, higher, of thee." 

" Mayhap, Ayesha, thou wouldest have thought worse 
of me had I been content with thy suns and constella 
tions and spiritual gifts and dominations that I neither de 
sire nor understand. 

" If I had said to thee : Be thou my angel, not my 
wife ; divide the ocean that I may walk its bed ; pierce the 
firmament and show me how grow the stars ; tell me the 
origins of being and of death and instruct me in their is 
sues ; give up the races of mankind to my sword, and the 
wealth of all the earth to fill my treasuries. Teach me 
afso how to drive the hurricane as thou canst do, and to 
bend the laws of nature to my purpose : on earth make me 
half a god as thou art. 

" But Ayesha, I am no god ; I am a man, and as a man 
I seek the woman whom I love. Oh! divest thyself of all 
these wrappings of thy power that power which strews 
thy path with dead and keeps me apart from thee. If only 
for one short night forget the ambition that gnaws un 
ceasingly at thy soul ; I say forget they greatness and be 
a woman and -my wife." 

She made no answer, only looked at him and shook her 
head, causing her glorious hair to ripple like water be 
neath a gentle breeze. 

" Thou deniest me," he went on with gathering 
strength, " and that thou canst not do, that thou mayest 
not do, for Ayesha, thou hast sworn, and I demand the 
fulfilment of thine oath. 

" Hark thou. I refuse thy gifts ; I will have none of 
thy rule who ask no Pharaoh s throne and wish to do 
good to men and not to kill them that the world may 
profit. I will not go with thee to Kor, nor be bathed in 
the breath of Life. I will leave thee and cross the moun 
tains, or perish on them, nor with all thy strength canst 
thou hold me to thy side, who indeed needest me not. No 



THE YIELDING OF AYESHA 341 

longer will I endure this daily torment, the torment of 
thy presence and thy sweet words ; thy loving looks, thy 
promises for next year, next year next year. So keep 
thine oath or let me begone." 

Still Ayesha stood silent, only now her head drooped and 
her breast began to heave. Then Leo stepped forward ; 
he seized her in his arms and kissed her. She broke from 
his embrace, I know not how, for though unreturned it 
was close enough, and again stood before him but at a 
little distance. 

" Did I not warn Holly," she whispered with a sigh, 
" to bid thee beware lest I should catch thy human fire ? 
Man, I say to thee, it begins to smoulder in my heart, and 
should it grow to flame " 

" Why then," he answered laughing, " we will be happy 
for a little while." 

" Aye, Leo, but how long ? Why wert thou sole lord 
of this loveliness of mine and not set above their harm 
ing, night and day a hundred jealous daggers would seek 
thy heart and find it." 

" How long, Ayesha ? A lifetime, a year, a month, a 
minute I neither know nor care, and while thou art true 
to me I fear no stabs of envy." 

"Is it so? Wilt take the risk? I can promise thee 
nothing. Thou mightest yes, in this way or in that, thou 
mightest die." 

" And if I die, what then? Shall we be separated? " 

" Nay, nay, Leo, that is not possible. We never can 
be severed, of this I am sure; it is sworn to me. But 
then through other lives and other spheres, higher lives 
and higher spheres mayhap, our fates must force a painful 
path to their last goal of union." 

" Why then I take the hazard, Ayesha. Shall the life 
that I can risk to slay a leopard or a lion in the sport f an 
idle hour, be too great a price to offer for the splendours 
of thy breast? Thine oath { Ayesha, I claim thine oath." 



342 AYES HA 

Then it was that in Ayesha there began the most myste 
rious and thrilling of her many changes. Yet how to 
describe it I know not unless it be by simile. 

Once in Thibet we were imprisoned for months by 
snows that stretched down from the mountain slopes into 
the valleys and oh ! how weary did we grow of those arid, 
aching fields of purest white. At length rain set in, and 
blinding mists in which it was not safe to wander, that 
made the dark nights darker yet. 

So it was, until there came a morning when seeing the 
sun shine, we went to our door and looked out. Behold 
a miracle ! Gone were the snows that choked the valley 
and in the place of them appeared vivid springing grass, 
starred everywhere with flowers, and murmuring brooks 
and birds that sang and nested in the willows. Gone was 
the frowning sky and all the blue firmament seemed one 
tender smile. Gone were the austerities of winter with his 
harsh winds, and in their place spring, companioned by 
her zephyrs, glided down the vale singing her song of love 
and life. 

There in this high chamber, in the presence of the living 
and the dead, while the last act of the great tragedy un 
rolled itself before me, looking on Ayesha that forgotten 
scene sprang into my mind. For on her face just such a 
change had come. Hitherto, with all her loveliness, the 
heart of Ayesha had seemed like that winter mountain 
wrapped in its unapproachable snow and before her pure 
brow and icy self-command, aspirations sank abashed and 
desires died. 

She swore she loved and her love fulfilled itself in death 
and many a mysterious way. Yet it was hard to believe 
that this passion of hers was more than a spoken part, 
for how can the star seek the moth although the moth may 
seek the star? Though the man may worship the god 
dess, for all her smiles divine, how can the goddess love 
the man ? 



THE YIELDING OF AYESHA 343 

But now everything was altered ! Look ! Ayesha grew 
human ; I could see her heart beat beneath her robes and 
hear her breath come in soft, sweet sobs, while o er her 
upturned face and in her alluring eyes there spread itself 
that look which is born of love alone. Radiant and more 
radiant did she seem to grow, sweeter and more sweet, 
no longer the veiled Hermit of the Caves, no longer the 
Oracle of the Sanctuary, no longer the Valkyrie of the 
battle-plain, but only the loveliest and most happy bride 
that ever gladdened a husband s eyes. 

She spoke, and it was of little things, for thus Ayesha 
proclaimed the conquest of herself. 

" Fie ! " she said, showing her white robes torn with 
spears and stained by the dust and dew of war ; " Fie, 
my lord, what marriage garments are these in which at 
last I come to thee, who would have been adorned in 
regal gems and raiment befitting to my state and thine ? " 

" I seek the woman riot her garment," said Leo, his 
burning eyes fixed upon her face. 

" Thou seekest the woman. Ah ! there it lies. Tell 
me, Leo, am I woman or spirit? Say that I am woman, 
for now the prophecy of this dead Atene lies heavy on 
my soul, Atene who said that mortal and immortal may 
not mate." 

* Thou must be woman, or thou wouldst not have tor 
mented me as thou hast done these many weeks." 

" I thank thee for the comfort of thy words. Yet, was 
it woman whose breath wrought destruction upon yonder 
plain? Was it to a woman that Blast and Lightning 
bowed and said, We are here : Command us, we obey ? 
Did that dead thing (and she pointed to the shattered 
door) break inw r ard at a woman s will? Or could a 
woman charm this man to stone ? 

" Oh! Leo, would that I were woman! I tell thee that 
I d lay all my grandeur down, a wedding offering at thy 
feet, could I be sure that for one short year I should be 
naught but woman and thy happy wife. 



344 AYESHA 

" Thou sayest that I did torment thee, but it is I who 
have known, torment, I who desired to yield and dared 
not. Aye, I tell thee, Leo, were I not sure that thy little 
stream of life is draining dry into the great ocean of my 
life, drawn thither as the sea draws its rivers, or as the 
sun draws mists, e en now I would not yield. But I know, 
for my wisdom tells it me, ere ever we could reach the 
shores of Libya, the ill work would be done, and thou 
dead of thine own longing, thou dead and I widowed who 
never was a wife. 

"Therefore see! like lost Atene I take the dice and 
cast them, not knowing how they shall fall. Not know 
ing how they shall fall, for good or ill I cast," and she 
made a wild motion as of some desperate gamester throw 
ing his last throw. 

" So," Ayesha went on, " the thing is done and the 
number summed for aye, though it be hidden from my 
sight. I have made an end of doubts and fears, and 
come death, come life, I ll meet it tsravely. 

" Say, how shall we be wed? I have it. Holly here 
must join our hands; who else? He that ever was our 
guide shall give me unto thee, and thee to me. This 
burning city is our altar, the dead and living are our wit 
nesses on earth and heaven. In place of rites and cere 
monials for this first time I lay my lips on thine, and 
when tis done, for music I ll sing thee a nuptial chant of 
love such as mortal poet has not written nor have mortal 
lovers heard. 

" Come, Holly, do now thy part and give this maiden to 
this man." 

Like one in a dream I obeyed her and took Ayesha s 
outstretched hand and Leo s. As I held them thus, I tell 
the truth it was as though some fire rushed through my 
veins from her to him, shaking and shattering me with 
swift waves o.f burning and unearthly bliss. With the 
fire too came glorious visions and sounds of mighty rrfusic, 



THE YIELDING OF AYESHA 345 

and a sense as though my brain, filled with over-flowing 
life, must burst asunder beneath its weight. 

I joined their hands; I know not how; I blessed them, 
I know not in what words. Then I reeled back against the 
wall and watched. 

This is what I saw. 

With an abandonment and a passion so splendid and 
intense that it seemed more than human, with a murmured 
cry of " Husband ! " Ayesha cast her arms about her 
lover s neck and drawing down his head to hers so that 
the gold hair was mingled with her raven locks, she kissed 
him OH the lips. 

Thus they clung a little while, and as they clung the 
gentle diadem of light from her brow spread to his brow 
also, and through the white wrappings of her robe be 
came visible her perfect shape shining with faint fire. 
With a little happy laugh she left him, saying, 

" Thus, Leo Vincey, oh ! thus for the second time do I 
give myself to thee, and with this flesh and spirit all I 
swore to thee, there in the dim Caves of Kor and here 
in the palace of Kaloon. Know thou this, come what may, 
never, never more shall we be separate who are ordained 
one. Whilst thou livest I live at thy side, and when thou 
diest, if die thy must, I ll follow thee through worlds and 
firmaments, nor shall all the doors of heaven or hell avail 
against my love. Where thou goest, thither I will go. 
When thou sleepest, with thee will I sleep and it is my 
voice that thou shalt hear murmuring through the dreams 
of life and death; my voice that shall summon thee to 
awaken in the last hour of everlasting dawn, when all 
this night of misery hath furled her wings for aye. 

" Listen now while I sing to thee and hear that song 
aright, for in its melody at length thou shalt learn the 
truth, which unwed I might not tell to thee. Thou shalt 
learn who "and what / am, and who and what thou art, 
and of the high purposes of our love, and this dead 
woman s hate, and of all that I have hid from thee in 
veiled, bewildering words and visions. 



346 AYESHA 

" Listen then, my love and lord, to the burden of the 
Song of Fate." 

She ceased speaking and gazed heavenwards with a 
rapt look as though she waited for some inspiration to 
fall upon her, and never, never not even in the fires of 
Kor had Ayesha seemed so divine as she did now in this 
moment of the ripe harvest of her love. 

My eyes wandered from her to Leo, who stood before 
her pale and still, still as the death-like figure of the Sha 
man, still as the Khania s icy shape which stared up 
wards from the ground. What was passing in his mind, 
I wondered, that he could remain thus insensible while in 
all her might and awful beauty this proud being wor 
shipped him. 

Hark ! she began to sing in a voice so rich and perfect 
that its honied notes seemed to cloy my blood and stop my 
breath. 

The world was not, was not, and in the womb of Silence 

Slept the souls of men. 
Yet I was and thou 

Suddenly Ayesha stopped, and I felt rather than saw 
the horror on her face. 

Look ! Leo swayed to and fro as though the stones be 
neath him were but a rocking boat. To and fro he swayed, 
stretched out his blind arms to clasp her then suddenly 
fell backwards, and lay still. 

Oh ! what a shriek was that she gave ! Surely it must 
have wakened the very corpses upon the plain. Surely 
it must have echoed in the stars. One shriek only then 
throbbing silence. 

I sprang to him, and there, withered in Ayesha s kiss, 
slain by the fire of her love, Leo lay dead lay dead upon 
the breast of dead Atene ! 



CHAPTER XXIV 

THE PASSING OF AYESHA 

I HEARD Ayesha say presently, and the words struck me 
as dreadful in their hopeless acceptance of a doom against 
which even she had no strength to struggle. 

" It seems that my lord has left me for awhile ; I must 
hasten to my lord afar." 

After that I do not quite know what happened. I had 
lost the man who was all in all to me, friend and child in 
one, and I was crushed as I had never been before. It 
seemed so sad that I, old and outworn, should still live on 
whilst he in the flower of his age, snatched from joy and 
greatness such as no man hath known, lay thus asleep. 

I think that by an afterthought, Ayesha and Oros tried 
to restore him, tried without result, for here her powers 
were of no avail. Indeed my conviction is that although 
some lingering life still kept him on his feet, Leo had 
really died at the moment of her embrace, since when I 
looked at him before he fell, his face was that of a dead 
man. 

Yes, I believe that last speech of hers, although she 
knew it not, was addressed to his spirit, for in her burn 
ing kiss his flesh had perished. 

When at length I recovered myself a little, it was to 
hear Ayesha in a cold, calm voice her face I could not see 
for she had veiled herself commanding certain priests 
who had been summoned to " bear away the body of that 
accursed woman and bury her as befits her rank." Even 
then I bethought me, I remember, of the tale of Jehu and 
Jezebel. 

347 



348 AYESHA 

Leo, looking strangely calm and happy, lay now upon 
a couch, the arms folded on his breast. When the priests 
had tramped away carrying their royal burden, Ayesha, 
who sat by his body brooding, seemed to awake, for she 
rose and said 

" I need a messenger, and for no common journey, 
since he must search out the habitations of the Shades," 
and she turned herself towards Oros and appeared to look 
at him. 

Now for the first time I saw that priest change counte 
nance a little, for the eternal smile, of which even this 
scene had not quite rid it, left his face and he grew pale 
and trembled. 

" Thou art afraid," she said contemptuously. " Be at 
rest, Oros, I will not send one who is afraid. Holly, wilt 
thou go for me and him ? " 

" Aye," I answered. " I am weary of life and desire no 
other end. Only let it be swift and painless." 

She mused a while, then said 

" Nay, thy time is not yet, thou still hast work to do. 
Endure, my Holly, tis only for a breath." 

Then she looked at the Shaman, the man turned to 
stone who all this while had stood there as a statue stands, 
and cried 

"Awake!" 

Instantly he seemed to thaw into life, his limbs relaxed, 
his breast heaved, he was as he had always been : ancient, 
gnarled, malevolent. 

" I hear thee, mistress," he said, bowing as a man bows 
to the power that he hates. 

" Thou seest, Simbri," and she waved her hand. 

" I see. Things have befallen as Atene and I fore 
told, have they not ? Ere long the corpse of a new- 
crowned Khan of Kaloon, " and he pointed to the gold 
circlet that Ayesha had set on Leo s brow, " will lie upon 
the brink of the Pit of Flame as I foretold." An evil 
smile crept into his eyes and he went on 



THE PASSING OF AYESHA 349 

" Hadst thou not smote me dumb, I who watched could 
have warned thee that they would sd befall ; but, great mis 
tress, it pleased thee to smite me dumb. And so it seems, 
O Hes, that thou hast overshot thyself and liest broken at 
the foot of that pinnacle which step by step thou hast 
climbed for more than two thousand weary years. See 
what thou hast bought at the price of countless lives that 
now before the throne of Judgment bring accusations 
against thy powers misused, and cry out for justice on thy 
head," -and he looked at the dead form of Leo. 

4 k I sorrow for them, yet, Simbri, they were well spent," 
Ayesha answered reflectively, " who by their fore written 
doom, as it was decreed, held thy knife from falling and 
thus won me my husband. Aye and I am happy hap 
pier than such blind bats as thou can see or guess. For 
know that now with him I have re-wed my wandering 
soul divorced by sin from me, and that of our marriage 
kiss which burned his life away there shall still be born 
to us children of Forgiveness and eternal Grace and all 
things that are pure and fair. 

" Look thou, Simbri, I will honour thee. Thou shalt 
be my messenger, and beware! beware I say how thou 
dost fulfil thine office, since of every syllable thou must 
render an account. 

" Go thou down the dark paths of Death, and, since 
even my thought may not reach to where he sleeps to 
night, search out my lord and say to him that the feet of 
his spouse Ayesha are following fast. Bid him have no 
fear for me who by this last sorrow have atoned my 
crimes and am in his embrace regenerate. Tell him that 
thus it was appointed, and thus is best, since now he is 
dipped indeed in the eternal Flame of Life ; now for him 
the mortal night is done and the everlasting day arises. 
Command him that he await me in the Gate of Death 
where it is granted that I greet him presently. Thou 
nearest?" 

" I hear, O Queen, Mighty-from-of-Old." 



350 AYESHA 

" One message more. Say to Atene that I forgive her. 
Her heart was high and greatly did she play her part. 
There in the Gates we will balance our account. Thou 
nearest?" 

" I hear, O Eternal Star that hath conquered Night." 

" Then, man, begone! " 

As the word left Ayesha s lips Simbri leapt from the 
floor, grasping at the air as though he would clutch his 
own departing soul, staggered back against the board 
where Leo and I had eaten, overthrowing it, and amid a 
ruin of gold and silver vessels, fell down and died. 

She looked at him, then said to me 

" See, though he ever hated me, this magician who has 
known Ayesha from the first, did homage to my ancient 
majesty at last, when lies and defiance would serve his 
end no more. No longer now do I hear the name that 
his dead mistress gave to me. The Star-that-hath- 
fallen in his lips and in very truth is become the Star- 
which-hath-burst-the-bonds-of-Night, and, re-arisen, 
shines for ever shines with its twin immortal to set no 
more my Holly. Well, he is gone, and ere now, those 
that serve me in the Under-world dost remember? 
thou sawest their captains in the Sanctuary bend the 
head at great Ayesha s word and make her place ready 
near her spouse. 

" But oh, what folly has been mine. When even here 
my wrath can show such power, how could I hope that 
my lord would outlive the fires of my love ? Still it was 
better so, for he sought not the pomp I would have given 
him, nor desired the death of men. Yet such pomp must 
have been his portion in this poor shadow of a world, and 
the steps that encircle an usurper s throne are ever slip- 
pery with blood. 

" Thou art weary, my Holly, go rest thee. To-morrow 
night we journey to the Mountain, there to celebrate these 
obsequies." 

I crept into the room adjoining it had been Simbri s, 



THE PASSING OF AYES HA 351 

and laid me down upon his bed, but to sleep I was not 
able. Its door was open, and in the light of the burning 
city that shone through the casements I could see Ayesha 
watching by her dead. Hour after hour she watched, her 
head resting on her hand, silent, stirless. She wept not, 
no sigh escaped her; only watched as a tender woman 
watches a slumbering babe that she knows will awake at 
dawn. 

Her face was unveiled and I perceived that it had 
greatly changed. All pride and anger were departed from 
it ; it was grown soft, wistful, yet full of confidence and 
quietness. For a while I could not think of what it re 
minded me, till suddenly I remembered. Now it was 
like, indeed the counterpart almost, of the holy and ma 
jestic semblance of the statue of the Mother in the Sanc 
tuary. Yes, with just such a look of love and power as 
that mother cast upon her frightened child new-risen from 
its dream of death, did Ayesha gaze upon her dead, while 
her parted lips also seemed to whisper " some tale of hope, 
sure and immortal." 

At length she rose and came into my chamber. 

" Thou thinkest me fallen and dost grieve for me, my 
Holly," she said in a gentle voice, " knowing my fears 
lest some such fate should overtake my lord." 

<( Ay, Ayesha, I grieve for thee as for myself." 

" Spare then thy pity, Holly, since although the human 
part of me would have kept him on the earth, now my 
spirit doth rejoice that for a while he has burst his mortal 
bonds. For many an age, although I knew it not, in my 
proud defiance of the Universal Law, I have fought 
against his true weal and mine. Thrice have I and the 
angel wrestled, matching strength with strength, and 
thrice has he conquered me. Yet as he bore away his 
prize this night he whispered wisdom in my ear. This 
was his message : That in death is love s home, in death 
its strength ; that from the charnel-house of life this love 
springs again glorified and pure, to reign a conqueror for 



352 AYES HA 

ever. Therefore I wipe away my tears and, crowned once 
more a queen of peace, I go to join him whom we have 
lost, there where he awaits us, as it is granted to me that 
I shall do, 

" But I am selfish, and forgot. Thou needest rest. 
vSleep, friend, I bid thee sleep." 

And I slept wondering as my eyes closed whence Aye- 
sha drew this strange confidence and comfort. I know 
not but it was there, real and not assumed. I can only 
suppose therefore that some illumination had fallen on her 
soul, and that, as she stated, the love and end of Leo in a 
way unknown, did suffice to satisfy her court of sins. 

At the least those sins and all the load of death that lay 
at her door never seemed to trouble her at all. She ap 
peared to look upon them merely as events which were 
destined to occur, as inevitable fruits of a seed sowed 
long ago by the hand of Fate for whose workings she was 
not responsible. The fears and considerations which 
weigh with mortals did not affect or oppress her. In this 
as in other matters, Ayesha was a law unto herself. 

When I awoke it was day, and through the window- 
place I saw the rain that the people of Kaloon had so 
long desired falling in one straight sheet. I saw also that 
Ayesha, seated by the shrouded form of Leo, was giving 
orders to her priests and captains and to some nobles, who 
had survived the slaughter of Kaloon, as to the new gov 
ernment of the land. .Then I slept again. 



It was evening, and Ayesha stood at my bedside. 

" All is prepared/ she said. " Awake and ride with 
me." 

So we went, escorted by a thousand cavalry, for the 
rest stayed to occupy, or perchance to plunder, the land 
of Kaloon. In front the body of Leo was borne by relays 
of priests, and behind it rode the veiled Ayesha, I at her 
side. 



THE PASSING OF AYESHA 353 

Strange was the contrast between this departure, and 
our arrival. 

Then the rushing squadrons, the elements that raved, 
the perpetual sheen of lightnings seen through the swing 
ing curtains of the hail; the voices of despair from an 
army rolled in blood beneath the chariot wheels of thun 
der. 

Now the white-draped corpse, the slow-pacing horses, 
the riders with their spears reversed, and on either side, 
seen in that melancholy moonlight, the women of Kaloon 
burying their innumerable dead. 

And Ayesha herself, yesterday a Valkyrie crested with 
the star of flame, to-day but a bereaved woman humbly 
following her husband to the tomb. 

Yet how they feared her! Some widow standing on 
the grave mould she had dug, pointed as we passed to the 
body of Leo, uttering bitter words which I could not 
catch. Thereon her companions flung themselves upon 
her and felling her with fist and spade, prostrated them 
selves upon the ground, throwing dust on their hair in 
token of their submission to the priestess of Death. 

Ayesha saw them, and said to me with something of 
her ancient fire and pride 

" I tread the plain of Kaloon no more, yet as a parting 
gift have I read this high-stomached people a lesson that 
they needed long. Not for many a generation, O Holly, 
will they dare to lift spear against the College of Hes and 
its subject Tribes." 

Again it was night, and where once lay that of the 
Khan, the man whom he had killed, flanked by the burn 
ing pillars, the bier of Leo stood in the inmost Sanctuary 
before the statue of the Mother whose gentle, unchanging 
eyes seemed to search his quiet face. 

On her throne sat the veiled Hesea, giving commands 
to her priests and priestesses. 

" I am weary," she said, " and it may be that I leave 



354 AYESHA 

you for a while to rest beyond the mountains. A year, 
or a thousand years I cannot say. If so, let Papave, with 
Oros as her counsellor and husband and their seed, hold 
my place till I return again. 

" Priests and priestesses of the College of Hes, over 
new territories have I held my hand; take them as an 
heritage from me, and rule them well and gently. Hence 
forth let the Hesea of the Mountain be also the Khania of 
Kaloon. 

" Priests and priestesses of our ancient faith, learn to 
look through its rites and tokens, outward and visible, to 
the in-forming Spirit. If Hes the goddess never ruled 
on earth, still pitying Nature rules. If the name of Isis 
never rang through the courts of heaven, still in heaven, 
with all love fulfilled, nursing her human children on her 
breast, dwells the mighty Motherhood 1 where of this statue 
is the symbol, that Motherhood which bore us, and, un- 
forgetting, faithful, will receive us at the end. 

" For of the bread of bitterness we shall not always eat, 
of the water of tears we shall not always drink. Beyond 
the night the royal suns ride on ; ever the rainbow shines 
around the rain. Though they slip from our clutching 
hands like melted snow, the lives we lose shall yet be 
found immortal, and from the burnt-out fires of our hu 
man hopes will spring a heavenly star." 

She paused and waved her hand as though to dismiss 
them, then added by an after-thought, pointing to my 
self 

" This man is my beloved friend and guest. Let him 
be yours also. It is my will that you tend and guard him 
here, and when the snows have melted and summer is at 
hand, that you fashion a way for him through the gulf 
and bring him across the mountains by which he came, 
till you leave him in safety. Hear and forget not, for be 
sure that to me you shall give account of him." 

The night drew towards the dawn, and we stood upon 



THE PASSING OF AYES HA 355 

the peak above the gulf or fire, four of us only Ayesha 
and I, and Oros and Papave. For the bearers had laid 
down the body of Leo upon its edge and gone their way. 
The curtain of flame flared in front of us, its crest bent 
over like a billow in the gale, and to leeward, one by one, 
floated the torn-off clouds and pinnacles of fire. By the 
dead Leo knelt Ayesha, gazing at that icy, smiling face, 
but speaking no single word. At length she rose, and 
said, 

" Darkness draws near, my Holly, that deep darkness 
which foreruns the glory of the dawn. Now fare thee 
well for one little hour. When thou art about to die, 
but not before, call me, and I will come to thee. Stir not 
and speak not till all be done, lest when I am no longer 
here to be thy guard some Presence should pass on and 
slay thee. 

" Think not that I am conquered, for now my name is 
Victory ! Think not that Ayesha s strength is spent or her 
tale is done, for of it thou readest but a single page. 
Think not even that I am to-day that thing of sin and 
pride, the Ayesha thou didst adore and fear, I who in 
my lord s love and sacrifice have again conceived my 
soul. For know that now once more as at the beginning, 
his soul and mine are one" 

She thought awhile and added, 

" Friend take this sceptre in memory of me, but beware 
how thou usest it save at the last to summon me, for it 
has virtues," and she gave me the jewelled Sistrum that 
she bore then said, 

" So kiss his brow, stand back, and be still." 

Now as once before the darkness gathered on the pit, 
and presently, although I heard no prayer, though now 
no mighty music broke upon the silence, through that 
darkness, beating up the gale, came the two-winged flame 
and hovered where Ayesha stood. 

It appeared, it vanished, and one by one the long niin- 



356 A YES HA 

utes crept away until the first spear of dawn lit upon the 
point of rock. 

Lo ! it was empty, utterly empty and lonesome. Gone 
was the corse of Leo, and gone too was Ayesha the im 
perial, the divine. 

Whither had she gone ? I know not. But this I know, 
that as the light returned and the broad sheet of flame 
flared out to meet it, I seemed to see two glorious shapes 
sweeping upward on its bosom, and the faces that they 
wore were those of Leo and of Ayesha. 

Often and often during the weary months that followed, 
whilst I wandered through the temple or amid the winter 
snows upon the Mountain side, did I seek to solve this 
question Whither had She gone? I asked it of my 
heart; I asked it of the skies; I asked it of the spirit of 
Leo which often was so near to me. 

But no sure answer ever came, nor will I hazard one. 
As mystery wrapped Ayesha s origin and lives for the 
truth of these things I never learned so did mystery 
wrap her deaths, or rather her departings, for I cannot 
think her dead. Surely she still is, if not on earth, then 
in some other sphere? 

So I believe; and when my own hour comes, and it 
draws near swiftly, I shall know whether I believe in 
vain, or whether she will appear to be my guide as, with 
her last words, she swore that she would do.. Then, too, 
I shall learn what she was about to reveal to Leo when 
he died, the purposes of their being and of their love. 

So I can wait in patience who must not wait for long, 
though my heart is broken and I am desolate. 

Oros and all the priests were very good to me. Indeed, 
even had it been their wish, they would have feared to 
be otherwise, who remembered and were sure that in 
some time to come they must render an account of this 
matter to their dread queen. By way of return, I helped 
them as I was best able to draw up a scheme for the 



THE PASSING OF AYES HA 357 

government of the conquered country of Kaloon, and with 
my advice upon many other questions. 

And so at length the long months wore away, till at 
the approach of summer the snows melted. Then I said 
that I must be gone. They gave me of their treasures in 
precious stones, lest I should need money for my faring, 
since the gold of which I had such plenty was too 
heavy to be carried by one man alone. They led me 
across the plains of Kaloon, where now the husbandmen, 
those that were left of them, ploughed the land and 
scattered seed, and so on to its city. But amidst those 
blackened ruins over which Atene s palace still frowned 
unharmed, I would not enter, for to me it was, and al 
ways must remain, a home of death. So I camped out 
side the walls by the river just where Leo and I had 
landed after that poor mad Khan set us free, or rather 
loosed us to be hunted by his death-hounds. 

Next day we took boat and rowed up the river, past 
the place where we had seen Atene s cousin murdered, till 
we came to the Gate-house. Here once again I slept, or 
rather did not sleep. 

On the following morning I went down into the ravine 
and found to my surprise that the rapid torrent shallow 
enough now had been roughly bridged, and that in 
preparation for my coming rude but sufficient ladders 
were built on the face of the opposing precipice. At the 
foot of these I bade farewell to Oros, who at our part 
ing smiled benignantly as on the day we met. 

" We have seen strange things together," I said to 
him, not knowing what else to say. 

" Very strange," he answered. 

" At least, friend Oros," I went on awkwardly enough, 
" events have shaped themselves to your advantage, for 
you inherit a royal mantle." 

" I wrap myself in a mantle of borrowed royalty," he 
answered with precision, " of which doubtless one day I 
shall be stripped." 



358 A YES HA 

" You mean that the great Hesea is not dead ? " 

" I mean that Hes never dies. She changes, that is 
all. As the wind blows now hence, now hither, so she 
comes and goes, and who can tell at what spot upon the 
earth, or beyond it, for a while that wind lies sleeping? 
But at sunset or at dawn, at noon or at midnight, it will 
begin to blow again, and then woe to those who stand 
across its path. 

" Remember the dead heaped upon the plains of Ka- 
loon. Remember the departing of the Shaman Simbri 
with his message and the words that she spoke then. 
Remember the passing of the Hesea from the Mountain 
point. Stranger from the West, surely as to-morrow s 
sun must rise, as she went, so she will return again, and 
in my borrowed garment I await her advent." 

" I also await her advent," I answered, and thus we 
parted. 

Accompanied by twenty picked men bearing provisions 
and arms, I climbed the ladders easily enough, and now 
that I had food and shelter, cross the mountains without 
mishap. They even escorted me through the desert be 
yond, till one night we camped within sight of the gigan 
tic Buddha that sits before the monastery, gazing eter 
nally across the sands and snows. 

When I awoke next morning the priests were gone. 
So I took up my pack and pursued my journey alone, 
and walking slowly came at sunset to the distant lama 
sery. At its door an ancient figure, wrapped in a tattered 
cloak, was sitting, engaged apparently in contemplation 
of the skies. It was our old friend Kou-en. Adjusting 
his horn spectacles on his nose he looked at me. 

" I was awaiting you, brother of the Monastery called 
the World," he said in a voice, measured, very ineffectu 
ally, to conceal his evident delight. " Have you grown 
hungry there that you return to this poor place ? " 

" Aye, most excellent Kou-en," I answered, " hungry 
for rest." 



THE PASSING OF AYES HA 359 

" It shall be yours for all the days of this incarnation. 
But say, where is the other brother ? " 

" Dead/ I answered. 

" And therefore re-born elsewhere or perhaps, dreaming 
in Devachan for a while. Well, doubtless we shall meet 
him later on. Come, eat, and afterwards tell me your 
story." 

So I ate, and that night I told him all. Kou-en listened 
with respectful attention, but the tale, strange as it might 
seem to most people, excited no particular wonder in his 
rnind. Indeed, he explained it to me at such length by aid 
of some marvellous theory of re-incarnations, that at last 
I began to doze. 

" At least," I said sleepily, " it would seem that we are 
all winning merit on the Everlasting Plane," for I 
thought that favourite catchword would please him. 

"Yes, brother of the Monastery called the World," 
Kou-en answered in a severe voice, " doubtless you are 
all winning merit, but, if I may venture to say so, you are 
winning it very slowly, especially the woman or the 
sorceress or the mighty evil spirit whose names I un 
derstand you to tell me are She, Hes, and Ayesha upon 
earth and in Avitchi, Star-that-hath- Fallen " 

(Here Mr. Holly s manuscript ends, its outer sheets 
having been burnt when he threw it on to the fire at his 
house in Cumberland.) 



FINIS 



PRINCESS MARITZA 

A NOVEL OF RAPID ROMANCE. 

BY PERCY BREBNER 
With Harrison Fisher Illustrations in Color. 

Offers more real entertainment and keen enjoyment than 
any book since " Graustark." Full of picturesque life and 
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