H. Rider (Henry Rider) Haggard.

She : a history of adventure online

. (page 19 of 26)
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And then I think I saw the most tremendous exhibi-
tion of 'moral courage and intrepidity that it is possible to
conceive. For the poor doomed girl, knowing what she
had to expect at the hands of her terrible Queen, knowing,
too, from bitter experience how great was her adversary's
power, yet gathered herself together, and out of the very
depths of her despair drew materials to defy her.

' I did it, oh She,' she answered, drawing herself up
to the full of her stately height, and throwing back the
panther skin from her head, ' because my love is stronger
than the grave. I did it because my life without this
man whom my heart chose would be but a living death.
Therefore did I risk my life, and now that I Imow that
it is forfeit to thine anger, yet am I glad that I did risk it,
and pay it away in the risking, ay, because he embraced
me once, and told me that he loved me yet.'

Here Ayesi^a half rose from her couch, and then sank
down again. .

' I have %Q magic j' went on UstanOj her rich voice
ringing stror^^ and full, ' and I am 'not a Queen, nor
do I live for ever, but a woman's heart is heavy to
sink through waters, however deep, oh Queen! and a
woman's eyes are quick to see, even through thy veil, oh
Queen !

' Listen : I know it, thou dost love this man thyself,
and therefore wouldst thou destroy me who stand across
thy path. Ay, I die — I die, and go into the darkness,
nor know I whither I go. But this I know. There is a
light shining in my breast, and by that light, as by a lamp,



TRIUMPH 227

I see the trutli, and the future that I shall not share unroll
■ itself before me like a scroll. When first I knew my lord,'
and she pointed to Leo, ' I knew also that death would be
the bridal gift he gave me — it rushed upon nie of a sudden,
but I turned not back, being ready to pay the price, and,
behold, death is here ! And now, even as I knew that, so
do I, standing on the steps of doom, know that thou shalt
not reap the profits of thy crime. Mine he is, and, though
thy beauty shine like a sun among the stars, mine shall
he remain for thee. Never here in this hfe shall he look
thee in the eyes and call thee spouse. Thou too art
doomed, I see ' — and her voice rang like the cry of an
inspired prophetess ; ' ah, I see '

Then came an answering cry of mingled rage and
terror. I turned my head. Ayesha had risen, and was
standing with her outstretched hand pointing at Ustane,
who had suddenly stopped speaking. I gazed at the poor
woman, and as I gazed there came upoA her face that
same woful, fixed expression of terror that I had seen
once before when she had broken out into her wUd chant.
Her eyes grew large, her nostrils dilated, and her lips
blanched.

Ayesha said nothing, she made no sound, she only
drew herself up, stretched out her arm, and, her tall
veUed frame quivering like an aspen leaf, appeared to
look fixedly at her victim. Even as she did so Ustane
put her hands to her head, uttered one piercing scream,
turned round twice, and then fell backwar4s with a thud
— prone upon the floor. Both Leo and myself rushed to
her — she was stone dead — blasted into death by some
mysterious electric agency or overwhelming will-force
whereof the dread She had command.

For a moment Leo did not quite reahse what had
happened. But when he did, his face was awful to see.
With a savage oath he rose from beside the corpse,
and, turning, literally sprang at Ayesha. But she was
watching, and, seeing him come, stretched out her hand
again, and he went staggering back towards me, and

2



228 SHE

would have fallen, had I not caught him. Afterwards he
told me that he felt as though he had suddenly received a
violent blow in the chest, and, what is more, utterly cowed,
as if all the manhood had been taken out of him.

Then Ayesha spoke. ' Forgive me, my guest,' she said
softly, addressing him, ' if I have shocked thee with my
justice.'

' Forgive thee, thou fiend,' roared poor Leo, wringing
his hands in his rage and grief. ' Forgive thee, thou
murdress ! By Heaven I will kill thee if I can ! '

' Nay, nay,' she answered, in the same soft voice,
' thou dost not understand — the time has come for thee to
learn. Thou art my love, my Eallikrates, my Beautiful,
my Strong I For two thousand years, Eallikrates, have
I waited for thee, and now at length thou hast come
back to me ; and as for this woman,' pointing to the corpse,
' she stood between me and thee, and therefore have I
removed her, KaUikrates.'

' It is an accursed lie ! ' said Leo. ' My name is not
Eallikrates ! I am Leo Vincey ; my ancestor was Ealli-
krates — at least, I believe he was.'

' Ah," thou sayest it — thine ancestor was Eallikrates,
and thou, even thou, art Eallikrates reborn, come back —
and mine own dear lord ! ' - .;

' I am not Eallikrates, and as for being thy lord, or
having aught to do with thee, I had sooner be the lord of
a fiend from hell, for she would be better than thou.'

' Sayest thou so — sayest thou so, Eallikrates ? Nay,
but thou hast not seen me for so long a time that no
memory remains. Yet am I very fair, Eallikrates ! '

'I hate thee, murdress, and I have no wish to see
thee. What is it to me how fair thou art ? I hate thee,
I say.'

' Yet within a very Uttle space shalt thou creep to my
knee, and swear that thou dost love me,' answered Ayesha,
with a sweet, mocking laugh. ' Come, there is no time
like the present time, here before this dead girl who lovecl
thee, let us put it to the proof,



TRIUMPH 229

' Look now on me, Kallikrates ! ' and vsdth a sudden
motion she shook her gauzy covering from her, and stood
forth in her low kirtle and her snaky zone, in her glorious
radiant beauty and her imperial grace, rising from her
wrappings, as it were, like Venus from the wave, or
Galatea from her marble, or a beatified spirit from the
tomb. She stood forth, and fixed her deep and glow-
ing eyes upon Leo's eyes, and I saw his clenched fists
unclasp, and his set and quivering features relax beneath
her gaze. I saw his wonder and astonishment grow into
admiration, and then into fascination, and the more he
struggled the more I saw the power of her dread beauty
fasten on him and take possession of his senses, drugging
them, and drawing the heart out of him. Did I not
know the process ? Had not I, who was twice his age,
gone through it myseK? Was I not going through it
afresh even then, although her sweet and passionate gaze
was not for me ? Yes, alas, I was 1 Alas, that I should
have to confess that at that very moment I was rent
by mad and furio.us jealousy. I could have flown at
him, shame upon me 1 The woman had confounded and
almost destroyed my moral sense, as she was bound to
confound all who looked upon her superhuman loveli-
ness. But— I do not quite know how — I got the better
of myself, and once more turned to see the climax of the
tragedy.

' Oh, great Heaven 1 ' gasped Leo, ' art thou a woman ? '

' A woman in truth — in very truth— and thine own
spouse, Kallikrates 1 ' she answered, stretching out her
rounded ivory arms towards him, and smiling, ah, so
sweetly I

He looked and looked, and slowly I perceived that he
was drawing nearer to her. Suddenly his eye fell upon the
corpse of poor Ustane, and he shuddered and stopped.

' How can I ? ' he said hoarsely. ' Thou art a mur-
dress ; she loved me.'

Observe, he was already forgetting that he had loved
her.



230 SHE

' It is nauglit,' slie murmured, and her voice sounded
sweet as the night-wind passing through the trees. ' It
is naught at all. If I have sinned, let my beauty answer
for my sin. If I have sinned, it is for love of thee : let my
sin, therefore, be put away and forgotten ; ' and once more
she stretched out her arms and whispered ' Gome,' and
then in another few seconds it was over. I saw him
struggle — I saw him even turn to fly ; but her eyes drew
him more strongly than iron bonds, and the magic of her
beauty and concentrated wiU and passion entered into him
and overpowered him — ay, even there, in the presence of the
body of the woman who had loved him well enough to die
for him. It sounds horrible and wicked enough, but he
cannot be blamed too much, and be sure his sin will find
him out.- The temptress who drew him into evil was
more than human, and her beauty was greater than the
loveliness of the daughters of men,

I looked up again, and now her perfect form lay in his
arms, and her lips were pressed against his own; and
thus, with the corpse of his dead love for an altar, did Leo
Vincey plight his troth to her red-handed murdress —
plight it for ever and a day. For those who sell them-
selves into a like dominion, paying down the price of their
own honour, and throwing their soul into the balance to
sink the scale to the level of their lusts, can hope for no
deliverance here or hereafter. As they have sown, so
shall they reap and reap, even when the poppy flowers
of passion have withered in their hands, and their harvest
is but bitter tares, garnered in satiety.

Suddenly, with a snake-like motion, she seemed to slip
from his embrace, and then again broke out into her low
laugh of triumphant mockery.

' Did I not tell thee that within a little space thou
wouldst creep to my knee, oh Kallikrates ? And surely the
space has not been a great one ! '

Leo groaned in shame and misery ; for though he was
overcome and stricken do^vn, he was not so lost as to bo
unaware of the depth of the degradation to which he had



TRIUMPH 231

sunk. On the contrary, liis better nature rose up in
arms against his fallen self, as I saw clearly enough
later on.

Ayesha laughed again, and then quickly veiled herself,
and made a sign to the girl mute, who had been watching
the whole scene with curious startled eyes. The girl
left, and presently returned, followed by two male mutes,
to whom the Queen made another sign. Thereon they
all three seized the body of poor Ustane by the arms,
and dragged it heavily down the cavern and away
through the curtains at the end. Leo watched it for a
little while, and then covered his eyes with his hand,
and it too, to my excited fancy, seemed to watch us as it
went.

' There passes the dead past,' said Ayesha, solenmly,
as the curtains shook and fell back into their places, when
the ghastly procession had vanished behind them. And
then, with one of those extraordinary transitions of which
I have already spoken, she again threw off her veil, and
broke out, after the ancient and poetic fashion of the dwel-
lers in Arabia,' into a paean of triumph or epithalamium,
which, wild and beautiful as it was, is exceedingly difficult
to render iato English, and ought by rights to be sung to
the music of a cantata, rather than written and read. It
was divided into two parts — one descriptive or definitive,
and the other personal ; and, as nearly as I can remember,
ran as follows : —

Tiove is like a flower in the desert.

It is like the aloe of Arabia that blooms but once and

' Among the ancient Arabians the power of poetic declamation,
either in verse or prose, was held in the highest honour and esteem,
and he who excelled in it was known.as 'IQi^teb,' or Orator. Every
year a general assembly was held at which the rival poets repeated
their compositions, when those poems which were judged to be the
best were, so soon as the knowledge of the art of writing became
general, inscribed on silk in letters of gold, and pubUcly exhibited,
being known as ' Al Modhahab^t,' or golden verses. In the poem
given above by Mr. HoUy, Ayesha evidently followed the traditional
poetic manner of her people, which was to embody their thoughts in
a series of somewhat disconnected sentences, each remarkable for
its beauty and the grace of its expression. — Editob.



232 SHE

dies; it blooms in the salt emptiness of Life, and the
brightness of its beauty is set upon the waste as a star
is set upon a storm.

It hath the sun above that is the spirit, and above it
blows the air of its d/ivirdty.

At the echoing of a step. Love blooms, I say ; I say
Love blooms, and bends her beauty d-cnon to him who
passeth by.

HephioTceth it, yea, hepluclceth the red cup that is full
of honey, and beareth it away ; awa/y across th-e desert,
away till the flower be withered, a/wa/y till the desert be
done.

There is only one perfect flower in the wilderness of
Life.

That flower is Love !

There is only one fixed star in the mists of our wan-
dering.

That star is Love I

There is only one hope in our despairing night.

That hope is Love !

All else is false. All else is shadow moving upon water.
All else is wind and vanity.

Who shall say what is the weight or the measure of
Love ?

It is born of tiie flesh, it dwelleth in the spirit. From
each doth it dram its comfort.

For beauty it is as a star.

Many a/re its shapes, but all are beautiful, and none
know where the star rose, or the horizon where it shall set.

Then, turning to Leo, and laying her hand upon his
shoulder, she went on in a fuller and more triumphant
tone, speaking in balanced sentences that gradually grew
and swelled from idealised prose into pure and majestic
verse : —

Long have I loved thee, oh, my love ; yet has my love
not lessened.

Long have I waited for thee, and behold my reward is
at hand — is here!



TRIUMPH 2.33

Far away I saw thee once, and thou wast taken from
me.

Then in a grave sowed I the seed of patience, and shone
upon it with the sun of hope, and watered it with tears of
repentance, and breathed on it with the breath of my know-
ledge. And now, lof it hath sprung up, and borne fruit.
Lo 1 out of the grave hath it sprung. Yea, from among
the d/ry hones and ashes of the dead.

I have waited and my reward is with me.

I have overcome Death, and Death brought hack to v:e
him that was dead.

Therefore do I rejoice, for fair is the future.

Green are the paths that we shall tread across the ever-
lasting meadows.

Tlie Iwur is at hand. Night hath fled away into the
valleys.

The dawn kisseth the mountain tops.

Soft shall we lie, my love, and easy shall we go.

Crowned shall we be with the diadem of Kings.

Worshipping and wonder struck all peoples of the world.

Blinded shall fall before our beauty and our might.

From time unto times shall our greatness thunder on,

Boiling like a chariot through the du^t of endless days.

Laughing shall we speed in our victory and pomp.

Laughing like the Daylight as he leaps along the hills.

Onward, still triumphant to a triumph ever new 1

Onward, in our power to a power unattained!

Onward, never weary, clad ivith splendour for a robe !

Till accomplished be our fate, and the night is rushing
doivn.

She paused in her strange and most thrilling allegorical
chant, of which I am, unfortunately^ only able to give the
burden, and that feebly enough, and then said —

' Perchance thou dost not believe my word, Kallikrates
— perchance thou thinkest that I do delude thee, and that
I have not lived these many years, and that thou hast not
been born again to me. Nay, look not so — put away that
pale cast of doubt, for oh be sure herein can error find no



234 . SHE ■ -

foothold ! Sooner shall the suns forget their course and
the swallow miss her nest, than my soul shall swear a lie
and he led astray from thee, Kallikrates. Blind me, tal:e
away mine eyes, and let the darkness utterly fence me in,
and still mine ears would catch the tone of thine mifor-
gotten voice, striking more loud against the portals of my
sense than can the call of brazen-throated clarions : —
stop up mine hearing also, and let a thousand touch me
on the brow, and I would name thee out of all : — yea, rob
me of every sense, and see me stand deaf and "blind, and
dumb, and with nerves that cannot weigh the value of a
touch, yet would my spirit leap within me like a quickening
child and cry unto my heart, behold Kallikrates ! behold,
thou watcher, the watches of thy night are ended ! behold
thou who seekest in the night season, thy morning Star
ariseth.'

She paused awhile and then continued, ' But stay, if
thy heart is yet hardened against the mighty truth and
thou dost require a further pledge of that which thou dost
find too deep to understand, even now shall it be given to
thee, and to thee also, oh my Holly. Bear each one of
you a lamp, and follow after me whither I shall lead you.'

Without stopping to thint — ^indeed, speaMngfor myself,
I had almost abandoned the function in circumstances
under which to think seemed to be absolutely useless,
since thought fell hourly helpless against a black wall of
wonder — ^we took the lamps and followed her. Going to
the end of her ' boudoir,' she raised a curtain and revealed
a little stair of the sort that was so common in these dim
caves of Kor. As we hurried down the stair I observed
that the steps were worn in the centre to such an extent
that some of them had been reduced from seven and a
half inches, at which I guessed their original height, to
about three and a half. Now, all the other steps that
I had seen in the caves had been practically unworn, as
was to ' 3 expected, seeing that the only traffic which ever
passed upon them was that of those who bore a fresh
burden to the tomb.' Therefore this fact struct my notice



TRIUMPH 235

with that curious force with which httle things do strike us
when our minds are absolutely overwhelmed by a sudden
rush of powerful sensations ; beaten flat, as it were, like a
sea beneath the first burst of a hurricane, so that every
little object on the surface starts into an unnatural pro-
minence.

At the bottom of the staircase I stood and stared at the
worn steps, and Ayesha, turning, saw me.

'Wonderest thou whose are the feet that have worn
away the rock, my Holly ? ' she asked. ' They are mine —
even mine own light feet ! I can remember when these
stairs were fresh and level, but for two thousand years and
more have I gone down hither day by day, and see, my
sandals have worn out the solid rock ! '

I made no answer, but I do not think that anything
that I had heard or seen brought home to my limited
understanding so clear a sense of this being's overwhelming
antiquity asihat hard rock hollowed out by her soft white
feet. How many millions of times must she have passed
up and down that stair to bring about such a result ?

The stair led to a tunnel, and a few paces down the
tunnel was one of the usual curtain-hung doorways, a
glance at which told me that it was the same where I had
been a witness of that terrible scene by the leaping flame.
I recognised the pattern of the curtain, and the sight of it
brought the whole event vividly before my eyes, and made
me tremble even at its memory. Ayesha entered the
tomb (for it was a tomb), and we followed her — I, for one,
rejoicing that the mystery of the place was about to be
cleared up, and yet afraid to face its solution.



#



235 SHE



XXI.

THE DEAD AND LIVINO MEET.

' See now the place where I have slept for these two thou-
sand years,' said Ayesha, taking the lamp from Leo's hand
and holdiQg it above her head. Its rays fell upon a little
hollow in the floor, where I had seen the leaping flame,
but the fire was out now. They fell upon the white form
stretched there beneath its wrappings upon its bed of
stone, upon the fretted carving of the tomb, and upon
another shelf of stone opposite the one on which the body
lay, and separated from it by the breadth of the cave.

' Here,' went on Ayesha, laying her hand upon the
rock — ' here have I slept night by night for all these gene-
rations, with but a cloak to cover me. It did not become
me that I should he soft when my spouse yonder,' and she
pointed to the rigid form, ' lay stiff in death. Here night
by night have I slept in his cold company — till, thou seest,
this thick slab, like the stairs down which we passed, has
worn thin with the tossing of my form — so faithful have I
been to thee even in thy space of sleep, KaUikrates. And
now, mine own, thou shalt see a wonderful thing — hving,
thou shalt behold thyself dead — for well have I tended
thee during all these years, KaUikrates. Art thou pre-
pared ? '

We made no answer, but gazed at each other with
frightened eyes, the whole scene was so dreadful and so
solemn. A.yesha advanced, and laid her hand upon the
comer of the shroud, and once more spokcL

' Be not affrighted,' she said ; ' though the thing seem
wonderful to thee — all we who live have thus lived before ;
nor is the very shape that holds us a stranger to the sun I



THE DEAD AND LIVING MEET 237

Only we know it not, because memory writes no record,
and earth hath gathered ia the earth she lent us, for none
have saved our glory from the grave. But I, by my arts
and by the arts of those dead men of K6r which I have
learned, have held thee back, oh Kallikrates, from the
dust, that the waxen stamp of beauty on thy face should
ever rest before mine eye. 'Twas a mask that memory
might fill, serving to fashion out thy presence from the
past, and give it strength to wander in the habitations of
my thought, clad in a mummery of life that stayed my
appetite with visions of dead days.

' Behold now, let the Dead and Living meet ! Across
the gulf of Time they still are one. Time hath no power
against Identity, though sleep the merciful hath blotted
out the tablets of our mind, and with oblivion sealed
the sorrows that else would hound us from life to life,
stuffing the brain with gathered griefs till it burst in the
madness of uttermost despair. Still are they one, for the
wrappings of our sleep shall roll away as thunder clouds
before the wind ; the frozen voices of the past shall melt
in music like mountain snows beneath the sun ; and the
weeping and the laughter of the lost hours shall be heard
once more most sweetly echoing up the cliffs of immeasur-
able time.

• Ay, the sleep shall roll away, and the voices shall be
heard, when down the completed chain, whereof our each
existence is a link, the lightning of the Spirit hath passed
to work out the purpose of our being ; quickening and
fusing those separated days of life, and shaping them to,
a staff whereon we may safely lean as we wend to our
appointed fate.

' Therefore, have no fear, Kallikrates, when thou —
living, and but lately born — shalt look upon thine own
departed self, who breathed- and died so long ago. I do
but turn one page in thy Book of Being, and show thee
what is writ thereon.

'Behold!' ' '

With a sudden motion she drew the shroud from the



233 SHE

cold form, and let the lampUght play upon it, I looked,
and then shrank back terrified ; since, say what she might
in explanation, the sight was an Tineanny one — ^for her
explanations were beyond the grasp of our finite minds,
and when they were stripped from the mists of vague
esoteric, philosophy, and brought into conflict with the
cold and horrifying fact, did not do much to break its
force. For there, stretched upon the stone bier before us,
robed in white and perfectly preserved, was what appeared
to be the body of Leo Vincey. I stared from Leo, stand-
ing there alive, to Leo lying there dead, and could see
no difference ; except, perhaps, that the body on the bier
looked older. Feature for feature they were the same,
even down to the crop of little golden curls, which was
Leo's most uncommon beauty. It even seemed to me, as
I looked, that the expression on the dead man's face
resembled that which I had sometimes seen upon Leo's
when he was plunged into profound sleep. I can only sum
up the closeness of the resemblance by sajdng that I never
saw twins so exactly similar as that dead and living pair.

I turned to see what effect was produced, upon Leo by
this sight of his dead self, and found it to be one of partial
stupefaction. He stood for two or three minutes staring
and said nothing, and when at last he spoke it was only to
ejaculate —

' Cover it up and take me away.'

' Nay, wait, KaUikrates,' said Ayesha, who, standing
with the lamp raised above her head, flooding with its
light her own rich beauty and the cold wonder of the
death-clothed form upon the bier, resembled an inspired
Sibyl rather than a woman, as she rolled out her majestic
sentences with a grandeur and a freedom of utterance
which I am, alas ! quite unable to reproduce.

' Wait ; I would show thee something, that no tittle of
my crime may be hidden from thee. Do thou, oh Holly,
open the garment on the breast of the dead KaUikrates,
for perchance my lord may fear to touch himseK.'


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Online LibraryH. Rider (Henry Rider) HaggardShe : a history of adventure → online text (page 19 of 26)