The Incantation





I





"I believe that for at least twelve hours there will be no change

in her state. I believe also that if she recover from it, calm and

refreshed, as from a sleep, the danger of death will have passed

away."



"And for twelve hours my presence would be hurtful?"



"Rather say fatal, if my diagnosis be right."



I wrung my friend's hand, and we parted.



Oh, to lose her now; now that her love and her reason had both

returned, each more vivid than before! Futile, indeed, might be

Margrave's boasted secret; but at least in that secret was hope.

In recognized science I saw only despair.



And at that thought all dread of this mysterious visitor vanished--

all anxiety to question more of his attributes or his history. His

life itself became to me dear and precious. What if it should fail

me in the steps of the process, whatever that was, by which the

life of my Lilian might be saved!



The shades of evening were now closing in. I remembered that I had

left Margrave without even food for many hours. I stole round to

the back of the house, filled a basket with elements more generous

than those of the former day; extracted fresh drugs from my stores,

and, thus laden, hurried back to the hut. I found Margrave in the

room below, seated on his mysterious coffer, leaning his face on

his hand. When I entered, he looked up, and said:



"You have neglected me. My strength is waning. Give me more of

the cordial, for we have work before us tonight, and I need

support."



He took for granted my assent to his wild experiment; and he was

right.



I administered the cordial. I placed food before him, and this

time he did not eat with repugnance. I poured out wine, and he

drank it sparingly, but with ready compliance, saying, "In perfect

health, I looked upon wine as poison; now it is like a foretaste of

the glorious elixir."



After he had thus recruited himself, he seemed to acquire an energy

that startlingly contrasted with his languor the day before; the

effort of breathing was scarcely perceptible; the color came back

to his cheeks; his bended frame rose elastic and erect.



"If I understood you rightly," said I, "the experiment you ask me

to aid can be accomplished in a single night?"



"In a single night--this night."



"Command me. Why not begin at once? What apparatus or chemical

agencies do you need?"



"Ah!" said Margrave. "Formerly, how I was misled! Formerly, how

my conjectures blundered! I thought, when I asked you to give a

month to the experiment I wish to make, that I should need the

subtlest skill of the chemist. I then believed, with Van Helmont,

that the principle of life is a gas, and that the secret was but in

the mode by which the gas might be rightly administered. But now,



all that I need is contained in this coffer, save one very simple

material--fuel sufficient for a steady fire for six hours. I see

even that is at hand, piled up in your outhouse. And now for the

substance itself--to that you must guide me."



"Explain."



"Near this very spot is there not gold--in mines yet undiscovered--

and gold of the purest metal?"



"There is. What then? Do you, with the alchemists, blend in one

discovery, gold and life?"



"No. But it is only where the chemistry of earth or of man

produces gold, that the substance from which the great pabulum of

life is extracted by ferment can be found. Possibly, in the

attempts at that transmutation of metals, which I think your own

great chemist, Sir Humphry Davy, allowed might be possible, but

held not to be worth the cost of the process--possibly, in those

attempts, some scanty grains of this substance were found by the

alchemists, in the crucible, with grains of the metal as niggardly

yielded by pitiful mimicry of Nature's stupendous laboratory; and

from such grains enough of the essence might, perhaps, have been

drawn forth, to add a few years of existence to some feeble

graybeard--granting, what rests on no proofs, that some of the

alchemists reached an age rarely given to man. But it is not in

the miserly crucible, it is in the matrix of Nature herself, that

we must seek in prolific abundance Nature's grand principle--life.

As the loadstone is rife with the magnetic virtue, as amber

contains the electric, so in this substance, to which we yet want a

name, is found the bright life-giving fluid. In the old gold mines

of Asia and Europe the substance exists, but can rarely be met

with. The soil for its nutriment may there be well nigh exhausted.

It is here, where Nature herself is all vital with youth, that the

nutriment of youth must be sought. Near this spot is gold; guide

me to it."



"You cannot come with me. The place which I know as auriferous is

some miles distant, the way rugged. You cannot walk to it. It is

true I have horses, but--"



"Do you think I have come this distance and not foreseen and

forestalled all that I want for my object? Trouble yourself not

with conjectures how I can arrive at the place. I have provided

the means to arrive at and leave it. My litter and its bearers are

in reach of my call. Give me your arm to the rising ground, fifty

yards from your door."



I obeyed mechanically, stifling all surprise. I had made my

resolve, and admitted no thought that could shake it.



When we reached the summit of the grassy hillock, which sloped from

the road that led to the seaport, Margrave, after pausing to

recover breath, lifted up his voice, in a key, not loud, but shrill

and slow and prolonged, half cry and half chant, like the

nighthawk's. Through the air--so limpid and still, bringing near

far objects, far sounds--the voice pierced its way, artfully

pausing, till wave after wave of the atmosphere bore and

transmitted it on.



In a few minutes the call seemed re-echoed, so exactly, so

cheerily, that for the moment I thought that the note was the

mimicry of the shy mocking lyre bird, which mimics so merrily all

that it hears in its coverts, from the whir of the locust to the

howl of the wild dog.



"What king," said the mystical charmer, and as he spoke he

carelessly rested his hand on my shoulder, so that I trembled to

feel that this dread son of Nature, Godless and soulless, who had

been--and, my heart whispered, who still could be--my bane and mind

darkener, leaned upon me for support, as the spoiled younger-born

on his brother--"what king," said this cynical mocker, with his

beautiful boyish face--"what king in your civilized Europe has the

sway of a chief of the East? What link is so strong between mortal

and mortal as that between lord and slave? I transport you poor

fools from the land of their birth; they preserve here their old

habits--obedience and awe. They would wait till they starved in

the solitude--wait to hearken and answer my call. And I, who thus

rule them, or charm them--I use and despise them. They know that,

and yet serve me! Between you and me, my philosopher, there is but

one thing worth living for--life for oneself."



Is it age, is it youth, that thus shocks all my sense, in my solemn

completeness of man? Perhaps, in great capitals, young men of

pleasure will answer, "It is youth; and we think what he says!"

Young friends, I do not believe you.





II





Along the grass track I saw now, under the moon, just risen, a

strange procession--never seen before in Australian pastures. It

moved on, noiselessly but quickly. We descended the hillock, and

met it on the way; a sable litter, borne by four men, in unfamiliar

Eastern garments; two other servitors, more bravely dressed, with

yataghans and silver-hilted pistols in their belts, preceded this

somber equipage. Perhaps Margrave divined the disdainful thought

that passed through my mind, vaguely and half-unconsciously; for he

said with a hollow, bitter laugh that had replaced the lively peal

of his once melodious mirth:



"A little leisure and a little gold, and your raw colonist, too,

will have the tastes of a pasha."



I made no answer. I had ceased to care who and what was my

tempter. To me his whole being was resolved into one problem: had

he a secret by which death could be turned from Lilian?



But now, as the litter halted, from the long, dark shadow which it

cast upon the turf, the figure of a woman emerged and stood before

us. The outlines of her shape were lost in the loose folds of a

black mantle, and the features of her face were hidden by a black

veil, except only the dark-bright, solemn eyes. Her stature was

lofty, her bearing majestic, whether in movement or repose.



Margrave accosted her in some language unknown to me. She replied

in what seemed to me the same tongue. The tones of her voice were

sweet, but inexpressibly mournful. The words that they uttered

appeared intended to warn, or deprecate, or dissuade; but they

called to Margrave's brow a lowering frown, and drew from his lips

a burst of unmistakable anger. The woman rejoined, in the same

melancholy music of voice. And Margrave then, leaning his arm upon

her shoulder, as he had leaned it on mine, drew her away from the

group into a neighboring copse of the flowering eucalypti--mystic

trees, never changing the hues of their pale-green leaves, ever

shifting the tints of their ash-gray, shedding bark. For some

moments I gazed on the two human forms, dimly seen by the glinting

moonlight through the gaps in the foliage. Then turning away my

eyes, I saw, standing close at my side, a man whom I had not

noticed before. His footstep, as it stole to me, had fallen on the

sward without sound. His dress, though Oriental, differed from

that of his companions, both in shape and color--fitting close to

the breast, leaving the arms bare to the elbow, and of a uniform

ghastly white, as are the cerements of the grave. His visage was

even darker than those of the Syrians or Arabs behind him, and his

features were those of a bird of prey: the beak of the eagle, but

the eye of the vulture. His cheeks were hollow; the arms, crossed

on his breast, were long and fleshless. Yet in that skeleton form

there was a something which conveyed the idea of a serpent's

suppleness and strength; and as the hungry, watchful eyes met my

own startled gaze, I recoiled impulsively with that inward warning

of danger which is conveyed to man, as to inferior animals, in the

very aspect of the creatures that sting or devour. At my movement

the man inclined his head in the submissive Eastern salutation, and

spoke in his foreign tongue, softly, humbly, fawningly, to judge by

his tone and his gesture.



I moved yet farther away from him with loathing, and now the human

thought flashed upon me: was I, in truth, exposed to no danger in

trusting myself to the mercy of the weird and remorseless master of

those hirelings from the East--seven men in number, two at least of

them formidably armed, and docile as bloodhounds to the hunter, who

has only to show them their prey? But fear of man like myself is

not my weakness; where fear found its way to my heart, it was

through the doubts or the fancies in which man like myself

disappeared in the attributes, dark and unknown, which we give to a

fiend or a specter. And, perhaps, if I could have paused to

analyze my own sensations, the very presence of this escort--

creatures of flesh and blood--lessened the dread of my

incomprehensible tempter. Rather, a hundred times, front and defy

those seven Eastern slaves--I, haughty son of the Anglo-Saxon who

conquers all races because he fears no odds--than have seen again

on the walls of my threshold the luminous, bodiless shadow!

Besides: Lilian--Lilian! for one chance of saving her life, however

wild and chimerical that chance might be, I would have shrunk not a

foot from the march of an army.



Thus reassured and thus resolved, I advanced, with a smile of

disdain, to meet Margrave and his veiled companion, as they now

came from the moonlit copse.



"Well," I said to him, with an irony that unconsciously mimicked

his own, "have you taken advice with your nurse? I assume that the

dark form by your side is that of Ayesha!"*





* Margrave's former nurse and attendant.





The woman looked at me from her sable veil, with her steadfast,

solemn eyes, and said, in English, though with a foreign accent:

"The nurse born in Asia is but wise through her love; the pale son

of Europe is wise through his art. The nurse says, 'Forbear!' Do

you say, 'Adventure'?"



"Peace!" exclaimed Margrave, stamping his foot on the ground. "I

take no counsel from either; it is for me to resolve, for you to

obey, and for him to aid. Night is come, and we waste it; move

on."



The woman made no reply, nor did I. He took my arm and walked back

to the hut. The barbaric escort followed. When we reached the

door of the building, Margrave said a few words to the woman and to

the litter bearers. They entered the hut with us. Margrave

pointed out to the woman his coffer, to the men the fuel stowed in

the outhouse. Both were borne away and placed within the litter.

Meanwhile I took from the table, on which it was carelessly thrown,

the light hatchet that I habitually carried with me in my rambles.



"Do you think that you need that idle weapon?" said Margrave. "Do

you fear the good faith of my swarthy attendants?"



"Nay, take the hatchet yourself; its use is to sever the gold from

the quartz in which we may find it imbedded, or to clear, as this

shovel, which will also be needed, from the slight soil above it,

the ore that the mine in the mountain flings forth, as the sea

casts its waifs on the sands."



"Give me your hand, fellow laborer!" said Margrave, joyfully. "Ah,

there is no faltering terror in this pulse! I was not mistaken in

the man. What rests, but the place and the hour?--I shall live, I

shall live!"





III





Margrave now entered the litter, and the Veiled Woman drew the

black curtains round him. I walked on, as the guide, some yards in

advance. The air was still, heavy, and parched with the breath of

the Australasian sirocco.



We passed through the meadow lands, studded with slumbering flocks;

we followed the branch of the creek, which was linked to its source

in the mountains by many a trickling waterfall; we threaded the

gloom of stunted, misshapen trees, gnarled with the stringy bark

which makes one of the signs of the strata that nourish gold; and

at length the moon, now in all her pomp of light, mid-heaven among

her subject stars, gleamed through the fissures of the cave, on

whose floor lay the relics of antediluvian races, and rested in one

flood of silvery splendor upon the hollows of the extinct volcano,

with tufts of dank herbage, and wide spaces of paler sward,

covering the gold below--gold, the dumb symbol of organized

Matter's great mystery, storing in itself, according as Mind, the

informer of Matter, can distinguish its uses, evil and good, bane

and blessing.



Hitherto the Veiled Woman had remained in the rear, with the white-

robed, skeletonlike image that had crept to my side unawares with

its noiseless step. Thus, in each winding turn of the difficult

path at which the convoy following behind me came into sight, I had

seen, first, the two gayly dressed, armed men, next the black,

bierlike litter, and last the Black-veiled Woman and the White-

robed Skeleton.



But now, as I halted on the tableland, backed by the mountain and

fronting the valley, the woman left her companion, passed by the

litter and the armed men, and paused by my side, at the mouth of

the moonlit cavern.



There for a moment she stood, silent, the procession below mounting

upward laboriously and slow; then she turned to me, and her veil

was withdrawn.



The face on which I gazed was wondrously beautiful, and severely

awful. There was neither youth nor age, but beauty, mature and

majestic as that of a marble Demeter.



"Do you believe in that which you seek?" she asked in her foreign,

melodious, melancholy accents.



"I have no belief," was my answer. "True science has none. True

science questions all things, takes nothing upon credit. It knows

but three states of the mind--denial, conviction, and that vast

interval between the two which is not belief but suspense of

judgment."



The woman let fall her veil, moved from me, and seated herself on a

crag above that cleft between mountain and creek, to which, when I

had first discovered the gold that the land nourished, the rain

from the clouds had given the rushing life of the cataract; but

which now, in the drought and the hush of the skies, was but a dead

pile of stones.



The litter now ascended the height: its bearers halted; a lean hand

tore the curtains aside, and Margrave descended leaning, this time,

not on the Black-veiled Woman, but on the White-robed Skeleton.



There, as he stood, the moon shone full on his wasted form; on his

face, resolute, cheerful, and proud, despite its hollowed outlines

and sicklied hues. He raised his head, spoke in the language

unknown to me, and the armed men and the litter bearers grouped

round him, bending low, their eyes fixed on the ground. The Veiled

Woman rose slowly and came to his side, motioning away, with a mute

sign, the ghastly form on which he leaned, and passing round him

silently, instead, her own sustaining arm. Margrave spoke again a

few sentences, of which I could not even guess the meaning. When

he had concluded, the armed men and the litter bearers came nearer

to his feet, knelt down, and kissed his hand. They then rose, and

took from the bierlike vehicle the coffer and the fuel. This done,

they lifted again the litter, and again, preceded by the armed men,

the procession descended down the sloping hillside, down into the

valley below.



Margrave now whispered, for some moments, into the ear of the

hideous creature who had made way for the Veiled Woman. The grim

skeleton bowed his head submissively, and strode noiselessly away

through the long grasses--the slender stems, trampled under his

stealthy feet, relifting themselves as after a passing wind. And

thus he, too, sank out of sight down into the valley below. On the

tableland of the hill remained only we three--Margrave, myself, and

the Veiled Woman.



She had reseated herself apart, on the gray crag above the dried

torrent. He stood at the entrance of the cavern, round the sides

of which clustered parasital plants, with flowers of all colors,

some among them opening their petals and exhaling their fragrance

only in the hours of night; so that, as his form filled up the jaws

of the dull arch, obscuring the moonbeam that strove to pierce the

shadows that slept within, it stood now--wan and blighted--as I had

seen it first, radiant and joyous, literally "framed in blooms."





IV





"So," said Margrave, turning to me, "under the soil that spreads

around us lies the gold which to you and to me is at this moment of

no value, except as a guide to its twin-born--the regenerator of

life!"



"You have not yet described to me the nature of the substance which

we are to explore, nor the process by which the virtues you impute

to it are to be extracted."



"Let us first find the gold, and instead of describing the life-

amber, so let me call it, I will point it out to your own eyes. As

to the process, your share in it is so simple that you will ask me

why I seek aid from a chemist. The life-amber, when found, has but

to be subjected to heat and fermentation for six hours; it will be

placed in a small caldron which that coffer contains, over the fire

which that fuel will feed. To give effect to the process, certain

alkalies and other ingredients are required; but these are

prepared, and mine is the task to commingle them. From your

science as chemist I need and ask naught. In you I have sought

only the aid of a man."



"If that be so, why, indeed, seek me at all? Why not confide in

those swarthy attendants, who doubtless are slaves to your orders?"



"Confide in slaves, when the first task enjoined to them would be

to discover, and refrain from purloining gold! Seven such

unscrupulous knaves, or even one such, and I, thus defenseless and

feeble! Such is not the work that wise masters confide to fierce

slaves. But that is the least of the reasons which exclude them

from my choice, and fix my choice of assistant on you. Do you

forget what I told you of the danger which the Dervish declared no

bribe I could offer could tempt him a second time to brave?"



"I remember now; those words had passed away from my mind."



"And because they had passed away from your mind, I chose you for

my comrade. I need a man by whom danger is scorned."



"But in the process of which you tell me I see no possible danger

unless the ingredients you mix in your caldron have poisonous

fumes."



"It is not that. The ingredients I use are not poisons."



"What other danger, except you dread your own Eastern slaves? But,

if so, why lead them to these solitudes; and, if so, why not bid me

be armed?"



"The Eastern slaves, fulfilling my commands, wait for my summons,

where their eyes cannot see what we do. The danger is of a kind in

which the boldest son of the East would be more craven, perhaps,

that the daintiest Sybarite of Europe, who would shrink from a

panther and laugh at a ghost. In the creed of the Dervish, and of

all who adventure into that realm of Nature which is closed to

philosophy and open to magic, there are races in the magnitude of

space unseen as animalcules in the world of a drop. For the tribes

of the drop science has its microscope. Of the host of yon azure

Infinite magic gains sight, and through them gains command over

fluid conductors that link all the parts of creation. Of these

races, some are wholly indifferent to man, some benign to him, and

some deadly hostile. In all the regular and prescribed conditions

of mortal being, this magic realm seems as blank and tenantless as

yon vacant air. But when a seeker of powers beyond the rude

functions by which man plies the clockwork that measures his hours,

and stops when its chain reaches the end of its coil, strives to

pass over those boundaries at which philosophy says, 'Knowledge

ends'--then, he is like all other travelers in regions unknown; he

must propitiate or brave the tribes that are hostile--must depend

for his life on the tribes that are friendly. Though your science

discredits the alchemist's dogmas, your learning informs you that

all alchemists were not ignorant impostors; yet those whose

discoveries prove them to have been the nearest allies to your

practical knowledge, ever hint in their mystical works at the

reality of that realm which is open to magic--ever hint that some

means less familiar than furnace and bellows are essential to him

who explores the elixir of life. He who once quaffs that elixir,

obtains in his very veins the bright fluid by which he transmits

the force of his will to agencies dormant in Nature, to giants

unseen in the space. And here, as he passes the boundary which

divides his allotted and normal mortality from the regions and

races that magic alone can explore, so, here, he breaks down the

safeguard between himself and the tribes that are hostile. Is it

not ever thus between man and man? Let a race the most gentle and

timid and civilized dwell on one side a river or mountain, and

another have home in the region beyond, each, if it pass not the

intervening barrier, may with each live in peace. But if ambitious

adventurers scale the mountain, or cross the river, with design to

subdue and enslave the population they boldly invade, then all the

invaded arise in wrath and defiance--the neighbors are changed into

foes. And therefore this process--by which a simple though rare

material of Nature is made to yield to a mortal the boon of a life

which brings, with its glorious resistance to Time, desires and

faculties to subject to its service beings that dwell in the earth

and the air and the deep--has ever been one of the same peril which

an invader must brave when he crosses the bounds of his nation. By

this key alone you unlock all the cells of the alchemist's lore; by

this alone understand how a labor, which a chemist's crudest

apprentice could perform, has baffled the giant fathers of all your

dwarfed children of science. Nature, that stores this priceless

boon, seems to shrink from conceding it to man--the invisible

tribes that abhor him oppose themselves to the gain that might give

them a master. The duller of those who were the life-seekers of

old would have told you how some chance, trivial, unlooked-for,

foiled their grand hope at the very point of fruition; some doltish

mistake, some improvident oversight, a defect in the sulphur, a

wild overflow in the quicksilver, or a flaw in the bellows, or a

pupil who failed to replenish the fuel, by falling asleep by the

furnace. The invisible foes seldom vouchsafe to make themselves

visible where they can frustrate the bungler as they mock at his

toils from their ambush. But the mightier adventurers, equally

foiled in despite of their patience and skill, would have said,

'Not with us rests the fault; we neglected no caution, we failed

from no oversight. But out from the caldron dread faces arose, and

the specters or demons dismayed and baffled us.' Such, then, is

the danger which seems so appalling to a son of the East, as it

seemed to a seer in the dark age of Europe. But we can deride all

its threats, you and I. For myself, I own frankly I take all the

safety that the charms and resources of magic bestow. You, for

your safety, have the cultured and disciplined reason which reduces

all fantasies to nervous impressions; and I rely on the courage of

one who has questioned, unquailing, the Luminous Shadow, and

wrested from the hand of the magician himself the wand which

concentered the wonders of will!"



To this strange and long discourse I listened without interruption,

and now quietly answered:



"I do not merit the trust you affect in my courage; but I am now on

my guard against the cheats of the fancy, and the fumes of a vapor

can scarcely bewilder the brain in the open air of this mountain

land. I believe in no races like those which you tell me lie

viewless in space, as do gases. I believe not in magic; I ask not

its aids, and I dread not its terrors. For the rest, I am

confident of one mournful courage--the courage that comes from

despair. I submit to your guidance, whatever it be, as a sufferer

whom colleges doom to the grave submits to the quack who says,

'Take my specific and live!' My life is naught in itself; my life

lives in another. You and I are both brave from despair; you would

turn death from yourself--I would turn death from one I love more

than myself. Both know how little aid we can win from the

colleges, and both, therefore, turn to the promises most

audaciously cheering. Dervish or magician, alchemist or phantom,

what care you and I? And if they fail us, what then? They cannot

fail us more than the colleges do!"





V





The gold has been gained with an easy labor. I knew where to seek

for it, whether under the turf or in the bed of the creek. But

Margrave's eyes, hungrily gazing round every spot from which the

ore was disburied, could not detect the substance of which he alone

knew the outward appearance. I had begun to believe that, even in

the description given to him of this material, he had been

credulously duped, and that no such material existed, when, coming

back from the bed of the watercourse, I saw a faint, yellow gleam

amidst the roots of a giant parasite plant, the leaves and blossoms

of which climbed up the sides of the cave with its antediluvian

relics. The gleam was the gleam of gold, and on removing the loose

earth round the roots of the plant, we came on-- No, I will not, I

dare not, describe it. The gold digger would cast it aside; the

naturalist would pause not to heed it; and did I describe it, and

chemistry deign to subject it to analysis, could chemistry alone

detach or discover its boasted virtues?



Its particles, indeed, are very minute, not seeming readily to

crystallize with each other; each in itself of uniform shape and

size, spherical as the egg which contains the germ of life, and

small as the egg from which the life of an insect may quicken.



But Margrave's keen eye caught sight of the atoms upcast by the

light of the moon. He exclaimed to me, "Found! I shall live!"

And then, as he gathered up the grains with tremulous hands, he

called out to the Veiled Woman, hitherto still seated motionless on

the crag. At his word she rose and went to the place hard by,

where the fuel was piled, busying herself there. I had no leisure

to heed her. I continued my search in the soft and yielding soil

that time and the decay of vegetable life had accumulated over the

pre-Adamite strata on which the arch of the cave rested its mighty

keystone.



When we had collected of these particles about thrice as much as a

man might hold in his hand, we seemed to have exhausted their bed.

We continued still to find gold, but no more of the delicate

substance to which, in our sight, gold was as dross.



"Enough," then said Margrave, reluctantly desisting. "What we have

gained already will suffice for a life thrice as long as legend

attributes to Haroun. I shall live--I shall live through the

centuries."



"Forget not that I claim my share."



"Your share--yours! True--your half of my life! It is true." He

paused with a low, ironical, malignant laugh, and then added, as he

rose and turned away, "But the work is yet to be done."





VI





While we had thus labored and found, Ayesha had placed the fuel

where the moonlight fell fullest on the sward of the tableland--a

part of it already piled as for a fire, the rest of it heaped

confusedly close at hand; and by the pile she had placed the

coffer. And, there she stood, her arms folded under her mantle,

her dark image seeming darker still as the moonlight whitened all

the ground from which the image rose motionless. Margrave opened

his coffer, the Veiled Woman did not aid him, and I watched in

silence, while he as silently made his weird and wizard-like

preparations.





VII





On the ground a wide circle was traced by a small rod, tipped

apparently with sponge saturated with some combustible naphtha-like

fluid, so that a pale, lambent flame followed the course of the rod

as Margrave guided it, burning up the herbage over which it played,

and leaving a distinct ring, like that which, in our lovely native

fable talk, we call the "Fairy's ring," but yet more visible

because marked in phosphorescent light. On the ring thus formed

were placed twelve small lamps, fed with the fluid from the same

vessel, and lighted by the same rod. The light emitted by the

lamps was more vivid and brilliant than that which circled round

the ring.



Within the circumference, and immediately round the woodpile,

Margrave traced certain geometrical figures, in which--not without

a shudder, that I overcame at once by a strong effort of will in

murmuring to myself the name of "Lilian"--I recognized the

interlaced triangles which my own hand, in the spell enforced on a

sleepwalker, had described on the floor of the wizard's pavilion.

The figures were traced like the circle, in flame, and at the point

of each triangle (four in number) was placed a lamp, brilliant as

those on the ring. This task performed, the caldron, based on an

iron tripod, was placed on the woodpile. And then the woman,

before inactive and unheeding, slowly advanced, knelt by the pile

and lighted it. The dry wood crackled and the flame burst forth,

licking the rims of the caldron with tongues of fire.



Margrave flung into the caldron the particles we had collected,

poured over them first a liquid, colorless as water, from the

largest of the vessels drawn from his coffer, and then, more

sparingly, drops from small crystal phials, like the phials I had

seen in the hand of Philip Derval.



Having surmounted my first impulse of awe, I watched these

proceedings, curious yet disdainful, as one who watches the

mummeries of an enchanter on the stage.



"If," thought I, "these are but artful devices to inebriate and

fool my own imagination, my imagination is on its guard, and reason

shall not, this time, sleep at her post!"



"And now," said Margrave, "I consign to you the easy task by which

you are to merit your share of the elixir. It is my task to feed

and replenish the caldron; it is Ayesha's to feed the fire, which

must not for a moment relax in its measured and steady heat. Your

task is the lightest of all: it is but to renew from this vessel

the fluid that burns in the lamps, and on the ring. Observe, the

contents of the vessel must be thriftily husbanded; there is

enough, but not more than enough, to sustain the light in the

lamps, on the lines traced round the caldron, and on the farther

ring, for six hours. The compounds dissolved in this fluid are

scarce--only obtainable in the East, and even in the East months

might have passed before I could have increased my supply. I had

no months to waste. Replenish, then, the light only when it begins

to flicker or fade. Take heed, above all, that no part of the

outer ring--no, not an inch--and no lamp of the twelve, that are to

its zodiac like stars, fade for one moment in darkness."



I took the crystal vessel from his hand.



"The vessel is small," said I, "and what is yet left of its

contents is but scanty; whether its drops suffice to replenish the

lights I cannot guess--I can but obey your instructions. But, more

important by far than the light to the lamps and the circle, which

in Asia or Africa might scare away the wild beasts unknown to this

land--more important than light to a lamp is the strength to your

frame, weak magician! What will support you through six weary

hours of night watch?"



"Hope," answered Margrave, with a ray of his old dazzling style.

"Hope! I shall live--I shall live through the centuries!"





VIII





One hour passed away; the fagots under the caldron burned clear in

the sullen, sultry air. The materials within began to seethe, and

their color, at first dull and turbid, changed into a pale-rose

hue; from time to time the Veiled Woman replenished the fire, after

she had done so reseating herself close by the pyre, with her head

bowed over her knees, and her face hid under her veil.



The lights in the lamps and along the ring and the triangles now

began to pale. I resupplied their nutriment from the crystal

vessel. As yet nothing strange startled my eye or my ear beyond

the rim of the circle--nothing audible, save, at a distance, the

musical wheel-like click of the locusts, and, farther still, in the

forest, the howl of the wild dogs that never bark; nothing visible,

but the trees and the mountain range girding the plains silvered by

the moon, and the arch of the cavern, the flush of wild blooms on

its sides, and the gleam of dry bones on its floor, where the

moonlight shot into the gloom.



The second hour passed like the first. I had taken my stand by the

side of Margrave, watching with him the process at work in the

caldron, when I felt the ground slightly vibrate beneath my feet,

and looking up, it seemed as if all the plains beyond the circle

were heaving like the swell of the sea, and as if in the air itself

there was a perceptible tremor.



I placed my hand on Margrave's shoulder and whispered, "To me earth

and air seem to vibrate. Do they seem to vibrate to you?"



"I know not, I care not," he answered impetuously. "The essence is

bursting the shell that confined it. Here are my air and my earth!

Trouble me not. Look to the circle--feed the lamps if they fail!"



I passed by the Veiled Woman as I walked toward a place in the ring

in which the flame was waning dim; and I whispered to her the same

question which I had whispered to Margrave. She looked slowly

around and answered, "So is it before the Invisible make themselves

visible! Did I not bid him forbear?" Her head again drooped on

her breast, and her watch was again fixed on the fire.



I advanced to the circle and stooped to replenish the light where

it waned. As I did so, on my arm, which stretched somewhat beyond

the line of the ring, I felt a shock like that of electricity. The

arm fell to my side numbed and nerveless, and from my hand dropped,

but within the ring, the vessel that contained the fluid.

Recovering my surprise or my stun, hastily with the other hand I

caught up the vessel, but some of the scanty liquid was already

spilled on the sward; and I saw with a thrill of dismay, that

contrasted indeed the tranquil indifference with which I had first

undertaken my charge, how small a supply was now left.



I went back to Margrave, and told him of the shock, and of its

consequence in the waste of the liquid.



"Beware," said he, that not a motion of the arm, not an inch of the

foot, pass the verge of the ring; and if the fluid be thus

unhappily stinted, reserve all that is left for the protecting

circle and the twelve outer lamps! See how the Grand Work

advances, how the hues in the caldron are glowing blood-red through

the film on the surface!



And now four hours of the six were gone; my arm had gradually

recovered its strength. Neither the ring nor the lamps had again

required replenishing; perhaps their light was exhausted less

quickly, as it was no longer to be exposed to the rays of the

intense Australian moon. Clouds had gathered over the sky, and

though the moon gleamed at times in the gaps that they left in blue

air, her beam was more hazy and dulled. The locusts no longer were

heard in the grass, nor the howl of the dogs in the forest. Out of

the circle, the stillness was profound.



And about this time I saw distinctly in the distance a vast Eye.

It drew nearer and nearer, seeming to move from the ground at the

height of some lofty giant. Its gaze riveted mine; my blood

curdled in the blaze from its angry ball; and now as it advanced

larger and larger, other Eyes, as if of giants in its train, grew

out from the space in its rear--numbers on numbers, like the

spearheads of some Eastern army, seen afar by pale warders of

battlements doomed to the dust. My voice long refused an utterance

to my awe; at length it burst forth shrill and loud:



"Look, look! Those terrible Eyes! Legions on legions. And hark!

that tramp of numberless feet; THEY are not seen, but the hollows

of earth echo the sound of their march!"



Margrave, more than ever intent on the caldron, in which, from time

to time, he kept dropping powders or essences drawn forth from his

coffer, looked up, defyingly, fiercely:



"Ye come," he said in a low mutter, his once mighty voice sounding

hollow and laboring, but fearless and firm--"ye come--not to

conquer, vain rebels!--ye whose dark chief I struck down at my feet

in the tomb where my spell had raised up the ghost of your first

human master, the Chaldee! Earth and air have their armies still

faithful to me, and still I remember the war song that summons them

up to confront you! Ayesha, Ayesha! recall the wild troth that we

pledged among the roses; recall the dread bond by which we united

our sway over hosts that yet own thee as queen, though my scepter

is broken, my diadem reft from my brows!"



The Veiled Woman rose at this adjuration. Her veil now was

withdrawn, and the blaze of the fire between Margrave and herself

flushed, as with the rosy bloom of youth, the grand beauty of her

softened face. It was seen, detached, as it were, from her dark-

mantled form; seen through the mist of the vapors which rose from

the caldron, framing it round like the clouds that are yieldingly

pierced by the light of the evening star.



Through the haze of the vapor came her voice, more musical, more

plaintive than I had heard it before, but far softer, more tender:

still in her foreign tongue; the words unknown to me, and yet their

sense, perhaps, made intelligible by the love, which has one common

language and one common look to all who have loved--the love

unmistakably heard in the loving tone, unmistakably seen in the

loving face.



A moment or so more and she had come round from the opposite side

of the fire pile, and bending over Margrave's upturned brow, kissed

it quietly, solemnly; and then her countenance grew fierce, her

crest rose erect: it was the lioness protecting her young. She

stretched forth her arm from the black mantle, athwart the pale

front that now again bent over the caldron--stretched it toward the

haunted and hollow-sounding space beyond, in the gesture of one

whose right hand has the sway of the scepter. And then her voice

stole on the air in the music of a chant, not loud yet far-

reaching; so thrilling, so sweet and yet so solemn that I could at

once comprehend how legend united of old the spell of enchantment

with the power of song. All that I recalled of the effects which,

in the former time, Margrave's strange chants had produced on the

ear that they ravished and the thoughts they confused, was but as

the wild bird's imitative carol, compared to the depth and the art

and the soul of the singer, whose voice seemed endowed with a charm

to inthrall all the tribes of creation, though the language it used

for that charm might to them, as to me, be unknown. As the song

ceased, I heard from behind sounds like those I had heard in the

spaces before me--the tramp of invisible feet, the whir of

invisible wings, as if armies were marching to aid against armies

in march to destroy.



"Look not in front nor around," said Ayesha. "Look, like him, on

the caldron below. The circle and the lamps are yet bright; I will

tell you when the light again fails."



I dropped my eyes on the caldron.



"See," whispered Margrave, "the sparkles at last begin to arise,

and the rose hues to deepen--signs that we near the last process."





IX





The fifth hour had passed away, when Ayesha said to me, "Lo! the

circle is fading; the lamps grow dim. Look now without fear on the

space beyond; the eyes that appalled thee are again lost in air, as

lightnings that fleet back into cloud."



I looked up, and the specters had vanished. The sky was tinged

with sulphurous hues, the red and the black intermixed. I

replenished the lamps and the ring in front, thriftily, heedfully;

but when I came to the sixth lamp, not a drop in the vessel that

fed them was left. In a vague dismay, I now looked round the half

of the wide circle in rear of the two bended figures intent on the

caldron. All along that disk the light was already broken, here

and there flickering up, here and there dying down; the six lamps

in that half of the circle still twinkled, but faintly, as stars

shrinking fast from the dawn of day. But it was not the fading

shine in that half of the magical ring which daunted my eye and

quickened with terror the pulse of my heart; the Bush-land beyond

was on fire. From the background of the forest rose the flame and

the smoke--the smoke, there, still half smothering the flame. But

along the width of the grasses and herbage, between the verge of

the forest and the bed of the water creek just below the raised

platform from which I beheld the dread conflagration, the fire was

advancing--wave upon wave, clear and red against the columns of

rock behind; as the rush of a flood through the mists of some Alp

crowned with lightnings.



Roused from my stun at the first sight of a danger not foreseen by

the mind I had steeled against far rarer portents of Nature, I

cared no more for the lamps and the circle. Hurrying hack to

Ayesha I exclaimed: "The phantoms have gone from the spaces in

front; but what incantation or spell can arrest the red march of

the foe speeding on in the rear! While we gazed on the caldron of

life, behind us, unheeded, behold the Destroyer!"



Ayesha looked and made no reply, but, as by involuntary instinct,

bowed her majestic head, then rearing it erect, placed herself yet

more immediately before the wasted form of the young magician (he

still, bending over the caldron, and hearing me not in the

absorption and hope of his watch)--placed herself before him, as

the bird whose first care is her fledgling.



As we two there stood, fronting the deluge of fire, we heard

Margrave behind us, murmuring low, "See the bubbles of light, how

they sparkle and dance--I shall live, I shall live!" And his words

scarcely died in our ears before, crash upon crash, came the fall

of the age-long trees in the forest, and nearer, all near us,

through the blazing grasses, the hiss of the serpents, the scream

of the birds, and the bellow and tramp of the herds plunging wild

through the billowy red of their pastures.



Ayesha now wound her arms around Margrave, and wrenched him,

reluctant and struggling, from his watch over the seething caldron.

In rebuke of his angry exclamations, she pointed to the march of

the fire, spoke in sorrowful tones a few words in her own language,

and then, appealing to me in English, said:



"I tell him that, here, the Spirits who oppose us have summoned a

foe that is deaf to my voice, and--"



"And," exclaimed Margrave, no longer with gasp and effort, but with

the swell of a voice which drowned all the discords of terror and

of agony sent forth from the Phlegethon burning below--"and this

witch, whom I trusted, is a vile slave and impostor, more desiring

my death than my life. She thinks that in life I should scorn and

forsake her, that in death I should die in her arms! Sorceress,

avaunt! Art thou useless and powerless now when I need thee most?

Go! Let the world be one funeral pyre! What to ME is the world?

My world is my life! Thou knowest that my last hope is here--that

all the strength left me this night will die down, like the lamps

in the circle, unless the elixir restore it. Bold friend, spurn

that sorceress away. Hours yet ere those flames can assail us! A

few minutes more, and life to your Lilian and me!"



Thus having said, Margrave turned from us, and cast into the

caldron the last essence yet left in his empty coffer.



Ayesha silently drew her black veil over her face, and turned, with

the being she loved, from the terror he scorned, to share in the

hope that he cherished.



Thus left alone, with my reason disinthralled, disenchanted, I

surveyed more calmly the extent of the actual peril with which we

were threatened, and the peril seemed less, so surveyed.



It is true all the Bush-land behind, almost up to the bed of the

creek, was on fire; but the grasses, through which the flame spread

so rapidly, ceased at the opposite marge of the creek. Watery

pools were still, at intervals, left in the bed of the creek,

shining tremulous, like waves of fire, in the glare reflected from

the burning land; and even where the water failed, the stony course

of the exhausted rivulet was a barrier against the march of the

conflagration. Thus, unless the wind, now still, should rise, and

waft some sparks to the parched combustible herbage immediately

around us, we were saved from the fire, and our work might yet be

achieved.



I whispered to Ayesha the conclusion to which I came.



"Thinkest thou," she answered without raising her mournful head,

"that the Agencies of Nature are the movements of chance? The

Spirits I invoked to his aid are leagued with the hosts that

assail. A mightier than I am has doomed him!"



Scarcely had she uttered these words before Margrave exclaimed,

"Behold how the Rose of the alchemist's dream enlarges its blooms

from the folds of its petals! I shall live, I shall live!"



I looked, and the liquid which glowed in the caldron had now taken

a splendor that mocked all comparisons borrowed from the luster of

gems. In its prevalent color it had, indeed, the dazzle and flash

of the ruby; but out from the mass of the molten red, broke

coruscations of all prismal hues, shooting, shifting, in a play

that made the wavelets themselves seem living things, sensible of

their joy. No longer was there scum or film upon the surface; only

ever and anon a light, rosy vapor floating up, and quick lost in

the haggard, heavy, sulphurous air, hot with the conflagration

rushing toward us from behind. And these coruscations formed, on

the surface of the molten ruby, literally the shape of a rose, its

leaves made distinct in their outlines by sparks of emerald and

diamond and sapphire.



Even while gazing on this animated liquid luster, a buoyant delight

seemed infused into my senses; all terrors conceived before were

annulled; the phantoms, whose armies had filled the wide spaces in

front, were forgotten; the crash of the forest behind was unheard.

In the reflection of that glory, Margrave's wan cheek seemed

already restored to the radiance it wore when I saw it first in the

framework of blooms.



As I gazed, thus enchanted, a cold hand touched my own.



"Hush!" whispered Ayesha, from the black veil, against which the

rays of the caldron fell blunt, and absorbed into Dark. "Behind

us, the light of the circle is extinct; but there, we are guarded

from all save the brutal and soulless destroyers. But, before!--

but, before!--see, two of the lamps have died out!--see the blank

of the gap in the ring! Guard that breach--there the demons will

enter."



"Not a drop is there left in this vessel by which to replenish the

lamps on the ring."



"Advance, then; thou hast still the light of the soul, and the

demons may recoil before a soul that is dauntless and guiltless.

If not, Three are lost!--as it is, One is doomed."



Thus adjured, silently, involuntarily, I passed from the Veiled

Woman's side, over the sear lines on the turf which had been traced

by the triangles of light long since extinguished, and toward the

verge of the circle. As I advanced, overhead rushed a dark cloud

of wings--birds dislodged from the forest on fire, and screaming,

in dissonant terror, as they flew toward the farthermost mountains;

close by my feet hissed and glided the snakes, driven forth from

their blazing coverts, and glancing through the ring, unscared by

its waning lamps; all undulating by me, bright-eyed, and hissing,

all made innocuous by fear--even the terrible Death-adder, which I

trampled on as I halted at the verge of the circle, did not turn to

bite, but crept harmless away. I halted at the gap between the two

dead lamps, and bowed my head to look again into the crystal

vessel. Were there, indeed, no lingering drops yet left, if but to

recruit the lamps for some priceless minutes more? As I thus

stood, right into the gap between the two dead lamps strode a

gigantic Foot. All the rest of the form was unseen; only, as

volume after volume of smoke poured on from the burning land

behind, it seemed as if one great column of vapor, eddying round,

settled itself aloft from the circle, and that out from that column

strode the giant Foot. And, as strode the Foot, so with it came,

like the sound of its tread, a roll of muttered thunder.



I recoiled, with a cry that rang loud through the lurid air.



"Courage!" said the voice of Ayesha. "Trembling soul, yield not an

inch to the demon!"



At the charm, the wonderful charm, in the tone of the Veiled

Woman's voice, my will seemed to take a force more sublime than its

own. I folded my arms on my breast, and stood as if rooted to the

spot, confronting the column of smoke and the stride of the giant

Foot. And the Foot halted, mute.



Again, in the momentary hush of that suspense, I heard a voice--it

was Margrave's.



"The last hour expires--the work is accomplished! Come! come! Aid

me to take the caldron from the fire; and, quick!--or a drop may be

wasted in vapor--the Elixir of Life from the caldron!"



At that cry I receded, and the Foot advanced.



And at that moment, suddenly, unawares, from behind, I was stricken

down. Over me, as I lay, swept a whirlwind of trampling hoofs and

glancing horns. The herds, in their flight from the burning

pastures, had rushed over the bed of the water course, scaled the

slopes of the banks. Snorting and bellowing, they plunged their

blind way to the mountains. One cry alone, more wild than their

own savage blare, pierced the reek through which the Brute

Hurricane swept. At that cry of wrath and despair I struggled to

rise, again dashed to earth by the hoofs and the horns. But was it

the dreamlike deceit of my reeling senses, or did I see that giant

Foot stride past through the close-serried ranks of the maddening

herds? Did I hear, distinct through all the huge uproar of animal

terror, the roll of low thunder which followed the stride of that

Foot?





X





When my sense had recovered its shock, and my eyes looked dizzily

round, the charge of the beasts had swept by; and of all the wild

tribes which had invaded the magical circle, the only lingerer was

the brown Death-adder, coiled close by the spot where my head had

rested. Beside the extinguished lamps which the hoofs had

confusedly scattered, the fire, arrested by the water course, had

consumed the grasses that fed it, and there the plains stretched

black and desert as the Phlegraean Field of the Poet's Hell. But

the fire still raged in the forest beyond--white flames, soaring up

from the trunks of the tallest trees, and forming, through the

sullen dark of the smoke reck, innumerable pillars of fire, like

the halls in the city of fiends.



Gathering myself up, I turned my eyes from the terrible pomp of the

lurid forest, and looked fearfully down on the hoof-trampled sward

for my two companions.



I saw the dark image of Ayesha still seated, still bending, as I

had seen it last. I saw a pale hand feebly grasping the rim of the

magical caldron, which lay, hurled down from its tripod by the rush

of the beasts, yards away from the dim, fading embers of the

scattered wood pyre. I saw the faint writhings of a frail, wasted

frame, over which the Veiled Woman was bending. I saw, as I moved

with bruised limbs to the place, close by the lips of the dying

magician, the flash of the rubylike essence spilled on the sward,

and, meteor-like, sparkling up from the torn tufts of herbage.



I now reached Margrave's side. Bending over him as the Veiled

Woman bent, and as I sought gently to raise him, he turned his

face, fiercely faltering out, "Touch me not, rob me not! YOU share

with me! Never, never! These glorious drops are all mine! Die

all else! I will live, I will live!" Writhing himself from my

pitying arms, he plunged his face amidst the beautiful, playful

flame of the essence, as if to lap the elixir with lips scorched

away from its intolerable burning. Suddenly, with a low shriek, he

fell back, his face upturned to mine, and on that face unmistakably

reigned Death.



Then Ayesha tenderly, silently, drew the young head to her lap, and

it vanished from my sight behind her black veil.



I knelt beside her, murmuring some trite words of comfort; but she

heeded me not, rocking herself to and fro as the mother who cradles

a child to sleep. Soon the fast-flickering sparkles of the lost

elixir died out on the grass; and with their last sportive diamond-

like tremble of light, up, in all the suddenness of Australian day,

rose the sun, lifting himself royally above the mountain tops, and

fronting the meaner blaze of the forest as a young king fronts his

rebels. And as there, where the bush fires had ravaged, all was a

desert, so there, where their fury had not spread, all was a

garden. Afar, at the foot of the mountains, the fugitive herds

were grazing; the cranes, flocking back to the pools, renewed the

strange grace of their gambols; and the great kingfisher, whose

laugh, half in mirth, half in mockery, leads the choir that welcome

the morn--which in Europe is night--alighted bold on the roof of

the cavern, whose floors were still white with the bones of races,

extinct before--so helpless through instincts, so royal through

Soul--rose MAN!



But there, on the ground where the dazzling elixir had wasted its

virtues--there the herbage already had a freshness of verdure

which, amid the duller sward round it, was like an oasis of green

in a desert. And, there, wild flowers, whose chill hues the eye

would have scarcely distinguished the day before, now glittered

forth in blooms of unfamiliar beauty. Toward that spot were

attracted myriads of happy insects, whose hum of intense joy was

musically loud. But the form of the life-seeking sorcerer lay

rigid and stark; blind to the bloom of the wild flowers, deaf to

the glee of the insects--one hand still resting heavily on the rim

of the emptied caldron, and the face still hid behind the Black

Veil. What! the wondrous elixir, sought with such hope and well-

nigh achieved through such dread, fleeting back to the earth from

which its material was drawn to give bloom, indeed--but to herbs;

joy indeed--but to insects!



And now, in the flash of the sun, slowly wound up the slopes that

led to the circle, the same barbaric procession which had sunk into

the valley under the ray of the moon. The armed men came first,

stalwart and tall, their vests brave with crimson and golden lace,

their weapons gayly gleaming with holiday silver. After them, the

Black Litter. As they came to the place, Ayesha, not raising her

head, spoke to them in her own Eastern tongue. A wail was her

answer. The armed men bounded forward, and the bearers left the

litter.



All gathered round the dead form with the face concealed under the

Black Veil; all knelt, and all wept. Far in the distance, at the

foot of the blue mountains, a crowd of the savage natives had risen

up as if from the earth; they stood motionless leaning on their

clubs and spears, and looking toward the spot on which we were--

strangely thus brought into the landscape, as if they too, the wild

dwellers on the verge which Humanity guards from the Brute, were

among the mourners for the mysterious Child of mysterious Nature!

And still, in the herbage, hummed the small insects, and still,

from the cavern, laughed the great kingfisher. I said to Ayesha,

"Farewell! your love mourns the dead, mine calls me to the living.

You are now with your own people, they may console you--say if I

can assist."



"There is no consolation for me! What mourner can be consoled if

the dead die forever? Nothing for him is left but a grave; that

grave shall be in the land where the song of Ayesha first lulled

him to sleep. Thou assist ME--thou, the wise man of Europe! From

me ask assistance. What road wilt thou take to thy home?"



"There is but one road known to me through the maze of the

solitude--that which we took to this upland."



"On that road Death lurks, and awaits thee! Blind dupe, couldst

thou think that if the grand secret of life had been won, he whose

head rests on my lap would have yielded thee one petty drop of the

essence which had filched from his store of life but a moment? Me,

who so loved and so cherished him--me he would have doomed to the

pitiless cord of my servant, the Strangler, if my death could have

lengthened a hairbreadth the span of his being. But what matters

to me his crime or his madness? I loved him, I loved him!"



She bowed her veiled head lower and lower; perhaps under the veil

her lips kissed the lips of the dead. Then she said whisperingly:



"Juma the Strangler, whose word never failed to his master, whose

prey never slipped from his snare, waits thy step on the road to

thy home! But thy death cannot now profit the dead, the beloved.

And thou hast had pity for him who took but thine aid to design thy

destruction. His life is lost, thine is saved!"



She spoke no more in the tongue that I could interpret. She spoke,

in the language unknown, a few murmured words to her swarthy

attendants; then the armed men, still weeping, rose, and made a

dumb sign to me to go with them. I understood by the sign that

Ayesha had told them to guard me on my way; but she gave no reply

to my parting thanks.





XI





I descended into the valley; the armed men followed. The path, on

that side of the water course not reached by the flames, wound

through meadows still green, or amidst groves still unscathed. As

a turning in the way brought in front of my sight the place I had

left behind, I beheld the black litter creeping down the descent,

with its curtains closed, and the Veiled Woman walking by its side.

But soon the funeral procession was lost to my eyes, and the

thoughts that it roused were erased. The waves in man's brain are

like those of the sea, rushing on, rushing over the wrecks of the

vessels that rode on their surface, to sink, after storm, in their

deeps. One thought cast forth into the future now mastered all in

the past: "Was Lilian living still?" Absorbed in the gloom of that

thought, hurried on by the goad that my heart, in its tortured

impatience, gave to my footstep, I outstripped the slow stride of

the armed men, and, midway between the place I had left and the

home which I sped to, came, far in advance of my guards, into the

thicket in which the Bushmen had started up in my path on the night

that Lilian had watched for my coming. The earth at my feet was

rife with creeping plants and many-colored flowers, the sky

overhead was half hid by motionless pines. Suddenly, whether

crawling out from the herbage or dropping down from the trees, by

my side stood the white-robed and skeleton form--Ayesha's attendant

the Strangler.



I sprang from him shuddering, then halted and faced him. The

hideous creature crept toward me, cringing and fawning, making

signs of humble goodwill and servile obeisance. Again I recoiled--

wrathfully, loathingly, turned my face homeward, and fled on. I

thought I had baffled his chase, when, just at the mouth of the

thicket, he dropped from a bough in my path close behind me.

Before I could turn, some dark muffling substance fell between my

sight and the sun, and I felt a fierce strain at my throat. But

the words of Ayesha had warned me; with one rapid hand I seized the

noose before it could tighten too closely, with the other I tore

the bandage away from my eyes, and, wheeling round on the dastardly

foe, struck him down with one spurn of my foot. His hand, as he

fell, relaxed its hold on the noose; I freed my throat from the

knot, and sprang from the copse into the broad sunlit plain. I saw

no more of the armed men or the Strangler. Panting and breathless,

I paused at last before the fence, fragrant with blossoms, that

divided my home from the solitude.



The windows of Lilian's room were darkened; all within the house

seemed still.



Darkened and silenced home, with the light and sounds of the jocund

day all around it. Was there yet hope in the Universe for me? All

to which I had trusted Hope had broken down; the anchors I had

forged for her hold in the beds of the ocean, her stay from the

drifts of the storm, had snapped like the reeds which pierce the

side that leans on the barb of their points, and confides in the

strength of their stems. No hope in the baffled resources of

recognized knowledge! No hope in the daring adventures of Mind

into regions unknown; vain alike the calm lore of the practiced

physician, and the magical arts of the fated Enchanter! I had fled

from the commonplace teachings of Nature, to explore in her

Shadowland marvels at variance with reason. Made brave by the

grandeur of love, I had opposed without quailing the stride of the

Demon, and my hope, when fruition seemed nearest, had been trodden

into dust by the hoofs of the beast! And yet, all the while, I had

scorned, as a dream, more wild than the word of a sorcerer, the

hope that the old man and the child, the wise and the ignorant,

took from their souls as inborn. Man and fiend had alike failed a

mind, not ignoble, not skill-less, not abjectly craven; alike

failed a heart not feeble and selfish, not dead to the hero's

devotion, willing to shed every drop of its blood for a something

more dear than an animal's life for itself! What remained--what

remained for man's hope?--man's mind and man's heart thus

exhausting their all with no other result but despair! What

remained but the mystery of mysteries, so clear to the sunrise of

childhood, the sunset of age, only dimmed by the clouds which

collect round the noon of our manhood? Where yet was Hope found?

In the soul; in its every-day impulse to supplicate comfort and

light, from the Giver of soul, wherever the heart is afflicted, the

mind is o





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