H. Rider Haggard.

Dawn online

. (page 22 of 43)
Online LibraryH. Rider HaggardDawn → online text (page 22 of 43)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

but she wouldn't look at one of them. But of course that is gossip -
and here we are at the landing-place. Sit steady, sir; those fellows
will pull the boat up."

Had it not been for the pre-occupied and uncomfortable state of his
mind, that took the flavour out of all that he did, and persistently
thrust a skeleton amidst the flowers of every landscape, Arthur should
by rights have enjoyed himself very much at Madeira.

To live in one of the lofty rooms of "Miles' Hotel," protected by
thick walls and cool, green shutters, to feel that you are enjoying
all the advantages of a warm climate without its drawbacks, and that,
too, however much people in England may be shivering - which they
mostly do all the year round - is in itself a luxury. And so it is, if
the day is hot, to dine chiefly off fish and fruit, and such fruit!
and then to exchange the dining-room for the cool portico, with the
sea-breeze sweeping through it, and, pipe in hand, to sink into a
slumber that even the diabolical shrieks of the parrots, tied by the
leg in a line below, are powerless to disturb. Or, if you be energetic
- I speak of Madeira energy - you may stroll down the little terraced
walk, under the shade of your landlord's vines, and contemplate the
growing mass of greenery that in this heavenly island makes a garden.
You can do more than this even; for, having penetrated through the
brilliant flower-beds, and recruited exhausted nature under a
fig-tree, you can engage, in true English fashion, in a game of lawn-
tennis, which done, you will again seek the shade of the creeping
vines or spreading bananas, and in a springy hammock take your well-
earned repose.

All these things are the quintessence of luxury, so much so that he
who has once enjoyed them will long to turn lotos-eater, forget the
painful and laborious past, and live and die at "Miles' Hotel." Oh,
Madeira! gem of the ocean, land of pine-clad mountains that foolish
men love to climb, valleys where wise ones much prefer to rest, and of
smells that both alike abhor; Madeira of the sunny sky and azure sea,
land flowing with milk and honey, and overflowing with population, if
only you belonged to the country on which you depend for a livelihood,
what a perfect place you would be, and how poetical one could grow
about you! a consummation which, fortunately for my readers, the
recollection of the open drains, the ill-favoured priests, and
Portuguese officials effectually prevents.

On the following morning, at twelve punctually, Arthur was informed
that the conveyance had arrived to fetch him. He went down, and was
quite appalled at its magnificence. It was sledge-like in form, built
to hold four, and mounted on wooden runners that glided over the round
pebbles with which the Madeira streets are paved, with scarcely a
sound, and as smoothly as though they ran on ice. The chariot, as
Arthur always called it afterwards, was built of beautiful woods, and
lined and curtained throughout with satin, whilst the motive power was
supplied by two splendidly harnessed white oxen. Two native servants,
handsome young fellows, dressed in a kind of white uniform,
accompanied the sledge, and saluted Arthur on his appearance with much

It took him, however, some time before he could make up his mind to
embark in a conveyance that reminded him of the description of
Cleopatra's galley, and smelt more sweet; but finally he got in, and
off he started, feeling that he was the observed of all observers, and
followed by at least a score of beggars, each afflicted with some
peculiar and dreadful deformity or disease. And thus, in triumphal
guise, they slid down the quaint and narrow streets, squeezed in for
the sake of shade between a double line of tall, green-shuttered
houses; over the bridges that span the vast open drains; past the
ochre-coloured cathedral; down the promenade edged with great
magnolia-trees, that made the air heavy with their perfume, and where
twice a week the band plays, and the Portuguese officials march up and
down in all the pomp and panoply of office; onward through the dip,
where the town lopes downwards to the sea; then up again through more
streets, and past a stretch of dead wall, after which the chariot
wheels through some iron gates, and he is in fairyland. One each side
of the carriage-way there spreads a garden calculated to make English
horticulturists gnash their teeth with envy, through the bowers of
which he could catch peeps of green turf and of the blue sea beyond.

Here the cabbage palm shot its smooth and lofty trunk high into the
air, there the bamboo waved its leafy ostrich plumes, and all about
and around the soil was spread like an Indian shawl, with many a
gorgeous flower and many a splendid fruit. Arthur thought of the
garden of Eden and the Isles of the Blest, and whilst his eyes,
accustomed to nothing better than our poor English roses, were still
fixed upon the blazing masses of pomegranate flower, and his senses
were filled with the sweet scent of orange and magnolia blooms, the
oxen halted before the portico of a stately building, white-walled and
green-shuttered like all Madeira houses.

Then the slaves of the chariot assisted him to descend, whilst other
slaves of the door bowed him up the steps, and he stood in a great
cool hall, dazzling dark after the brilliancy of the sunlight. And
here no slave awaited him, but the princess of this fair domain, none
other than Mildred Carr herself, clad all in summer white, and with a
smile of welcome in her eyes.

"I am so glad that you have come. How do you like Madeira? Do you find
it very hot?"

"I have not seen much of it yet; but this place is lovely, it is like
fairyland, and, I believe, that you," he added, with a bow, "are the
fairy queen."

"Compliments again, Mr. Heigham. Well, I was the sleeping beauty last
time, so one may as well be a queen for a change. I wonder what you
will call me next?"

"Let me see: shall we say - an angel?"

"Mr. Heigham, stop talking nonsense, and come into the drawing-room."

He followed her, laughing, into an apartment that, from its noble
proportions and beauty, might fairly be called magnificent. Its
ceiling was panelled with worked timber, and its floor beautifully
inlaid with woods of various hue, whilst the walls were thickly
covered with pictures, chiefly sea-pieces, and all by good masters. He
had, however, but little time to look about him, for a door opened at
the further end of the room, and admitted the portly person of Miss
Terry, arrayed in a gigantic sun hat and a pair of green spectacles.
She seemed very hot, and held in her hand a piece of brown paper,
inside of which something was violently scratching.

"I've caught him at last," she said, "though he did avoid me all last
year. I've caught him."

"Good gracious! caught what?" asked Arthur, with great interest.

"What! why him that Mildred wanted," she replied, regardless of
grammar in her excitement. "Just look at him, he's beautiful."

Thus admonished, Arthur carefully undid the brown paper, and next
moment started back with an exclamation, and began to dance about with
an enormous red beetle grinding its jaws into his finger.

"Oh, keep still, do, pray," called Miss Terry, in alarm, "don't shake
him off on any account, or we shall lose him for the want of a little
patience, as I did when he bit my finger last year. If you'll keep him
quite still, he won't leave go, and I'll ring for John to bring the
chloroform bottle."

Arthur, feeling that the interests of science were matters of a higher
importance than the well-being of his finger, obeyed her injunction to
the letter, hanging his arm (and the beetle) over the back of a chair
and looking the picture of silent misery.

"Quite still, if you please, Mr. Heigham, quite still; is not the
animal's tenacity interesting?"

"No doubt to you, but I hope your pet beetle is not poisonous, for he
is gnashing his pincers together inside my finger."

"Never mind, we will treat you with caustic presently. Mildred, don't
laugh so much, but come and look at him; he's lovely. John, please be
quick with that chloroform bottle."

"If this sort of thing happens often, I don't think that I should
collect beetles from choice, at least not large ones," groaned Arthur.

"Oh, dear," laughed Mrs. Carr, "I never saw anything so absurd. I
don't know which looks most savage, you or the beetle."

"Don't make all that noise, Mildred, you will frighten him, and if
once he flies we shall never catch him in this big room."

Here, fortunately for Arthur, the servant arrived with the required
bottle, into which the ferocious insect was triumphantly stoppered by
Miss Terry.

"I am so much obliged to you, Mr. Heigham, you are a true collector."

"For the first and last time," mumbled Arthur, who was sucking his

"I am infinitely obliged to you, too, Mr. Heigham," said Mrs. Carr, as
soon as she had recovered from her fit of laughing; "the beetle is
really very rare; it is not even in the British Museum. But come, let
us go in to luncheon."

After that meal was over, Mrs. Carr asked her guest which he would
like to see, her collection of beetles or of mummies.

"Thank you, Mrs. Carr, I have had enough of beetles for one day, so I
vote for the mummies."

"Very well. Will you come, Agatha?"

"Now, Mildred, you know very well that I won't come. Just think, Mr.
Heigham: I only saw the nasty things once, and then they gave me the
creeps every night for a fortnight. As though those horrid Egyptian
'fellahs' weren't ugly enough when they were alive without going and
making great skin and bone dolls of them - pah!"

"Agatha persists in believing that my mummies are the bodies of people
like she saw in Egypt last year."

"And so they are, Mildred. That last one you got is just like the boy
who used to drive my donkey at Cairo - the one that died, you know - I
believe they just stuffed him, and said that he was an ancient king.
Ancient king, indeed!" And Miss Terry departed, in search for more

"Now, Mr. Heigham, you must follow me. The museum is not in the house.
Wait, I will get a hat."

In a minute she returned, and led the way across a strip of garden to
a detached building, with a broad verandah, facing the sea. Scarcely
ten feet from this verandah, and on the edge of the sheer precipice,
was built a low wall, leaning over which Arthur could hear the
wavelets lapping against the hollow rock two hundred feet beneath him.
Here they stopped for a moment to look at the vast expanse of ocean,
glittering in the sunlight like a sea of molten sapphires and heaving
as gently as an infant's bosom.

"It is very lovely; the sea moves just enough to show that it is only

"Yes; but I like it best when it is awake, when it blows a hurricane -
it is magnificent. The whole cliff shakes with the shock of the waves,
and sometimes the spray drives over in sheets. That is when I like to
sit here; it exhilarates me, and makes me feel as though I belonged to
the storm, and was strong with its strength. Come, let us go in."

The entrance to the verandah was from the end that faced the house,
and to gain it they passed under the boughs of a large magnolia-tree.
Going through glass doors that opened outwards into the verandah, Mrs.
Carr entered a room luxuriously furnished as a boudoir. This had
apparently no other exit, and Arthur was beginning to wonder where the
museum could be, when she took a tiny bramah key from her watch-chain,
and with it opened a door that was papered and painted to match the
wall exactly. He followed her, and found himself in a stone passage,
dimly lighted from above, and sloping downwards, that led to a doorway
graven in the rock, on the model of those to be seen at the entrance
of Egyptian temples.

"Now, Mr. Heigham," she said, flinging open another door, and stepping
forward, "you are about the enter 'The Hall of the Dead.'"

He went in, and a strange sight met his gaze. They were standing in
the centre of one side of a vast cave, that ran right and left at
right angles to the passage. The light poured into it in great rays
from skylights in the roof, and by it he could see that it was
hollowed out of the virgin rock, and measured some sixty feet or more
in length, by about forty wide, and thirty high. Down the length of
each side of the great chamber ran a line of six polished sphinxes,
which had been hewn out of the surrounding granite, on the model of
those at Carnac, whilst the walls were elaborately painted after the
fashion of an Egyptian sepulchre. Here Osiris held his dread tribunal
on the spirit of the departed; here the warrior sped onward in his
charging chariot; here the harper swept his sounding chords; and here,
again, crowned with lotus flowers, those whose corpses lay around held
their joyous festivals.

In the respective centres of each end of the stone chamber a colossus
towered in its silent and unearthly grandeur. That to the right was a
statue of Osiris, judge of the souls of the dead, seated on his
judgment-seat, and holding in his hand the source and the bent-headed
sceptre. Facing him at the other end of the hall was the effigy of the
mighty Ramses, his broad brow encircled by that kingly symbol which
few in the world's history have worn so proudly, and his noble
features impressing those who gaze upon them from age to age with a
sense of scornful power and melancholy calm, such as does not belong
to the countenance of the men of their own time. And all around, under
this solemn guardianship, each upon a polished slab of marble, and
enclosed in a case of thick glass, lay the corpses of the Egyptian
dead, swathed in numberless wrappings, as in their day the true
religion that they held was swathed in symbols and in mummeries.

Here were to be found the high-priest of the mysteries of Isis, the
astronomer whose lore could read the prophecies that are written in
the stars, the dark magician, the renowned warrior, the noble, the
musician with his cymbals by his side, the fair maiden who had - so
said her cedar coffin-boards - died of love and sorrow, and the royal
babe, all sleeping the same sleep, and waiting the same awakening.
This princess must have been well known to Joseph, that may have been
her who rescued Moses from the waters, whilst the babe belongs to a
dynasty of which the history was already merging into tradition when
the great pyramid reared its head on Egypt's fertile plains.

Arthur stood, awed at the wonderful sight.

"Never before," said he, in that whisper which we involuntarily use in
the presence of the dead, "did I realize my own insignificance."

The thought was abruptly put, but the words represented well what was
passing in his mind, what must pass in the mind of any man of culture
and sensibility when he gazes on such a sight. For in such presences
the human mite of to-day, fluttering in the sun and walking on the
earth that these have known and walked four thousand years ago, must
indeed learn how infinitely small is the place that he occupies in the
tale of things created; and yet, if to his culture and sensibility he
adds religion, a word of living hope hovers on those dumb lips. For
where are the spirits of those that lie before him in their eternal
silence! Answer, withered lips, and tell us what judgment has Osiris
given, and what has Thoth written in his awful book? Four thousand
years! Old human husk, if thy dead carcass can last so long, what
limit is there to the life of the soul it held?

"Did you collect all these?" asked Arthur, when he had made a
superficial examination of the almost countless treasures of the

"Oh, no; Mr. Carr spent half his long life, and more money than I can
tell you, in getting this collection together. It was the passion of
his life, and he had this cave hollowed at enormous cost, because he
thought that the air here would be less likely to injure them than the
English fogs. I have added to it, however. I got those papyri and that
beautiful bust of Berenice, the one in black marble. Did you ever see
such hair?"

Arthur thought to himself that he had at that moment some not far from
his heart that must be quite as beautiful, but he did not say so.

"Look, there are some curious things;" and she opened an air-tight
case that contained some discoloured grains and a few lumps of
shrivelled substance.

"What are they?"

"This is wheat taken from the inside of a mummy, and those are
supposed to be hyacinth bulbs. They came from the mummy-case of that
baby prince, and I have been told that they would still grow if

"I can scarcely believe that: the principle of life must be extinct."

"Wise people, say, you know, that the principle of life can never
become extinct in anything that has once lived, though it may change
its form; but I do not pretend to understand these things. However, we
will settle the question, for we will plant one, and, if it grows, I
will give the flower to you. Choose one."

Arthur took the biggest lump from the case, and examined it curiously.

"I have not much faith in your hyacinth; I am sure that it is dead."

"Ah! but many things that seem more dead than that have the strangest
way of suddenly breaking into life," she said, with a little sigh.
"Give it to me; I will have it planted;" and then, with a quick glance
upward, "I wonder if you will be here to see it bloom."

"I don't think that either of us will see it bloom in this world," he
answered, laughing, and took his leave.


Had Arthur been a little less wrapped up in thoughts of Angela, and a
little more alive to the fact that, being engaged or even married to
one woman, does not necessarily prevent complications arising with
another, it might have occurred to him to doubt the prudence of the
course of life that he was pursuing at Madeira. And, as it is, it is
impossible to acquit him of showing a want of knowledge of the world
amounting almost to folly, for he should have known upon general
principles that, for a man in his position, a grizzly bear would have
been a safer daily companion than a young and lovely widow, and the
North Pole a more suitable place of residence than Madeira. But he
simply did not think about the matter, and, as thin ice has a
treacherous way of not cracking till it suddenly breaks, so outward
appearances gave him no indication of his danger.

And yet the facts were full of evil promise, for, as time went on,
Mildred Carr fell headlong in love with him. There was no particular
reason why she should have done so. She might have had scores of men,
handsomer, cleverer, more distinguished, for the asking, or, rather,
for the waiting to be asked. Beyond a certain ability of mind, a
taking manner, and a sympathetic, thoughtful face, with that tinge of
melancholy upon it which women sometimes find dangerously interesting,
there was nothing so remarkable about Arthur that a woman possessing
her manifold attractions and opportunities, should, unsought and
without inquiry, lavish her affection upon him. There is only one
satisfactory explanation of the phenomenon, which, indeed, is a very
common one, and that is, that he was her fate, the one man whom she
was to love in the world, for no woman worth the name ever _loves_
two, however many she may happen to marry. For this curious difference
would appear to exist between the sexes. The man can attach himself,
though in varying degree, to several women in the course of a
lifetime, whilst the woman, the true, pure-hearted woman, cannot so
adapt her best affection. Once given, like the law of the Medes and
Persians, it altereth not.

Mildred felt, when her eyes first met Arthur's in Donald Currie's
office, that this man was for her different from all other men, though
she did not put the thought in words even to herself. And from that
hour till she embarked on board the boat he was continually in her
mind, a fact which so irritated her that she nearly missed the steamer
on purpose, only changing her mind at the last moment. And then, when
she had helped him to carry Miss Terry to her cabin, their hands had
accidentally met, and the contact had sent a thrill through her frame
such as she had never felt before. The next development that she could
trace was her jealousy of the black-eyed girl whom she saw him helping
about the deck, and her consequent rudeness.

Up to her present age, Mildred Carr had never known a single touch of
love: she had not even felt particularly interested in her numerous
admirers, but now this marble Galatea had by some freak of fate found
a woman's heart, awkwardly enough, without the semblance of a
supplication on the part of him whom she destined to play Pygmalion.
And, when she examined herself by the light of the flame thus newly
kindled, she shrank back dismayed, like one who peeps over the crater
of a volcano commencing its fiery work. She had believed her heart to
be callous to all affection of this nature, it had seemed as dead as
the mummied hyacinth; and now it was a living, suffering thing, and
all alight with love. She had tasted of a new wine, and it burnt her,
and was bitter sweet, and yet she longed for more. And thus, by slow
and sad degrees, she learnt that her life, which had for thirty years
flowed on its quiet way unshadowed by love's wing, must henceforth own
his dominion, and be a slave to his sorrows and caprices. No wonder
that she grew afraid!

But Mildred was a woman of keen insight into character, and it did not
require that her powers of observation should be sharpened by the
condition of her affections, to show her that, however deeply she
might be in love with Arthur Heigham, he was not one little bit in
love with her. Knowing the almost irresistible strength of her own
beauty and attractions, she quickly came to the conclusion - and it was
one that sent a cold chill through her - that there must be some other
woman blocking the path to his heart. For some reason or other, Arthur
had never spoken to her of Angela, either because a man very rarely
volunteers information to a woman concerning his existing relationship
with another of her sex, knowing that to do so would be to depreciate
his value in her eyes, or from an instinctive knowledge that the
subject would not be an agreeable one, or perhaps because the whole
matter was too sacred to him. But she, on her part, was determined to
probe his secret to the bottom. So one sleepy afternoon, when they
were sitting on the museum verandah, about six weeks after the date of
their arrival in the island, she took her opportunity.

Mildred was sitting, or rather half lying, in a cane-work chair,
gazing out over the peaceful sea, and Arthur, looking at her, thought
what a lovely woman she was, and wondered what it was that had made
her face and eyes so much softer and more attractive of late. Miss
Terry was also there, complaining of the heat, but presently she moved
off after an imaginary beetle, and they were alone.

"Oh, by-the-by, Mr. Heigham," Mildred said, presently, "I was going to
ask you a question, if only I can remember what it is."

"Try to remember what it is about. 'Shoes, sealing-wax, cabbages, or
kings.' Does it come under any of those heads?"

"Ah, I remember now. If you had added 'queens,' you would not have
been far out. What I wanted to ask you - - " and she turned her large,
brown eyes full upon him, and yawned slightly. "Dear me, Agatha is
right; it _is_ hot!"

"Well, I am waiting to give you any information in my power."

"Oh! to be sure, the question. Well, it is a very simple one. Who are
you engaged to?"

Arthur nearly sprang off his chair with astonishment.

"What makes you think that I am engaged?" he asked.

She broke into a merry peal of laughter. Ah! if he could have known
what that laugh cost her.

"What makes me think that you are engaged!" she answered, in a tone of
raillery. "Why, of course you would have been at my feet long ago, if
it had not been so. Come, don't be reticent. I shall not laugh at you.
What is she like?" (Generally a woman's first question about a rival.)
"Is she as good-looking - well, as I am, say - for, though you may not
think it, I have been thought good-looking."

"She is quite different from you; she is very tall and fair, like an
angel in a picture, you know."

"Oh! then there is a 'she,' and a 'she like an angel.' Very different
_indeed_ from me, I should think. How nicely I caught you out;" and
she laughed again.

"Why did you want to catch me out?" said Arthur, on whose ear Mrs.

Online LibraryH. Rider HaggardDawn → online text (page 22 of 43)