Produced by David Moynihan; Dagny; John Bickers
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, that _final_
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.
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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, notwithstanding 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.
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 considered as the
conclusion of an imaginative tragedy (if he may so call it) whereof one
half has been already published.
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 Mahomet, who had a wife so called, and
perhaps before them, has been common in the East, should be pronounced
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 history, 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 droning 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
To think - only to think - that I, the Editor aforesaid, from its
appearance suspecting something quite familiar and without interest,
pushed aside that dingy, unregistered, 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 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 unchanging 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 Alexander 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 speculations who depart to
solve these mysteries.
"_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, omitting 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 remained untenanted except by the
caretakers, which house was his property, and had been in his family for
generations. 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 magnificent and snowy-white beard that covered a
chest of extraordinary breadth, and hair also white, which encroached
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 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
limited 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 in, 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 denned 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
"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.'
"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
that 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 housekeeper
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 somewhat 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 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
matters 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 cromlech, bareheaded, and clothed in his night-things only,
stood Mr. Holly in the snow, the strangest figure, I think, that ever I
"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.
"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. Naturally enough I do not wish to be mixed up with a
superstitious tale which is, on the face of it, impossible and absurd.
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 removal 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 emblem 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 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 the manuscript, I make no
comment. Of it and its inner significations every reader must form his
or her own judgment. 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 Further History of She-Who-Must-Be-Obeyed
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 hardship 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 carried 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
other man had long since perished, but Destiny kept my breath in me,
perhaps that a record might remain. I, 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 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 recover 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 belonged 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 beloved 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, travelled to the Caves
of Kor in Central Africa, and there discovered 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 goddess. 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, because its burden
is undying, with the will and soul which animate a man throughout the
countless eons 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 oneness - 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? 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 immortal 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 Cumberland, we dwelt a
year, mourning the lost, seeking an avenue 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 purified and saddened.
Well I remember that night - and the hour of illumination. We were
heart-broken, we were in despair. We sought signs and could find none.
The dead remained dead to us and no answer came to all our crying.
It was a sullen August evening, and after we had dined we walked upon
the shore, listening to the slow surge of the waves and watching the
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
"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, tonight."
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?"