H. Rider Haggard
Part 7 out of 7
"Therefore see! like lost Atene I take the dice and cast them, not
knowing how they shall fall. Not knowing how they shall fall, for good
or ill I cast," and she made a wild motion as of some desperate
gamester throwing his last throw.
"So," Ayesha went on, "the thing is done and the number summed for
aye, though it be hidden from my sight. I have made an end of doubts
and fears, and come death, come life, I'll meet it bravely.
"Say, how shall we be wed? I have it. Holly here must join our hands;
who else? He that ever was our guide shall give me unto thee, and thee
to me. This burning city is our altar, the dead and living are our
witnesses on earth and heaven. In place of rites and ceremonials for
this first time I lay my lips on thine, and when 'tis done, for music
I'll sing thee a nuptial chant of love such as mortal poet has not
written nor have mortal lovers heard.
"Come, Holly, do now thy part and give this maiden to this man."
Like one in a dream I obeyed her and took Ayesha's outstretched hand
and Leo's. As I held them thus, I tell the truth:--it was as though
some fire rushed through my veins from her to him, shaking and
shattering me with swift waves of burning and unearthly Bliss. With
the fire too came glorious visions and sounds of mighty music, and a
sense as though my brain, filled with over-flowing life, must burst
asunder beneath its weight.
I joined their hands; I know not how; I blessed them, I know not in
what words. Then I reeled back against the wall and watched.
This is what I saw.
With an abandonment and a passion so splendid and intense that it
seemed more than human, with a murmured cry of "Husband!" Ayesha cast
her arms about her lover's neck and drawing down his head to hers so
that the gold hair was mingled with her raven locks, she kissed him on
Thus they clung a little while, and as they clung the gentle diadem of
light from her brow spread to his brow also, and through the white
wrappings of her robe became visible her perfect shape shining with
faint fire. With a little happy laugh she left him, saying,
"Thus, Leo Vincey, oh! thus for the second time do I give myself to
thee, and with this flesh and spirit all I swore to thee, there in the
dim Caves of Kor and here in the palace of Kaloon. Know thou this,
come what may, never, never more shall we be separate who are ordained
one. Whilst thou livest I live at thy side, and when thou diest, if
die thy must, I'll follow thee through worlds and firmaments, nor
shall all the doors of heaven or hell avail against my love. Where
thou goest, thither I will go. When thou sleepest, with thee will I
sleep and it is my voice that thou shalt hear murmuring through the
dreams of life and death; my voice that shall summon thee to awaken in
the last hour of everlasting dawn, when all this night of misery hath
furled her wings for aye.
"Listen now while I sing to thee and hear that song aright, for in its
melody at length thou shalt learn the truth, which unwed I might not
tell to thee. Thou shalt learn who and what /I/ am, and who and what
/thou/ art, and of the high purposes of our love, and this dead
woman's hate, and of all that I have hid from thee in veiled,
bewildering words and visions.
"Listen then, my love and lord, to the burden of the Song of Fate."
She ceased speaking and gazed heavenwards with a rapt look as though
she waited for some inspiration to fall upon her, and never, never--
not even in the fires of Kor had Ayesha seemed so divine as she did
now in this moment of the ripe harvest of her love.
My eyes wandered from her to Leo, who stood before her pale and still,
still as the death-like figure of the Shaman, still as the Khania's
icy shape which stared upwards from the ground. What was passing in
his mind, I wondered, that he could remain thus insensible while in
all her might and awful beauty this proud being worshipped him.
Hark! she began to sing in a voice so rich and perfect that its honied
notes seemed to cloy my blood and stop my breath.
"The world was not, was not, and in the womb of Silence
Slept the souls of men. Yet I was and thou----"
Suddenly Ayesha stopped, and I felt rather than saw the horror on her
Look! Leo swayed to and fro as though the stones beneath him were but
a rocking boat. To and fro he swayed, stretched out his blind arms to
clasp her--then suddenly fell backwards, and lay still.
Oh! what a shriek was that she gave! Surely it must have wakened the
very corpses upon the plain. Surely it must have echoed in the stars.
One shriek only--then throbbing silence.
I sprang to him, and there, withered in Ayesha's kiss, slain by the
fire of her love, Leo lay dead--lay dead upon the breast of dead
THE PASSING OF AYESHA
I heard Ayesha say presently, and the words struck me as dreadful in
their hopeless acceptance of a doom against which even she had no
strength to struggle.
"It seems that my lord has left me for awhile; I must hasten to my
After that I do not quite know what happened. I had lost the man who
was all in all to me, friend and child in one, and I was crushed as I
had never been before. It seemed so sad that I, old and outworn,
should still live on whilst he in the flower of his age, snatched from
joy and greatness such as no man hath known, lay thus asleep.
I think that by an afterthought, Ayesha and Oros tried to restore him,
tried without result, for here her powers were of no avail. Indeed my
conviction is that although some lingering life still kept him on his
feet, Leo had really died at the moment of her embrace, since when I
looked at him before he fell, his face was that of a dead man.
Yes, I believe that last speech of hers, although she knew it not, was
addressed to his spirit, for in her burning kiss his flesh had
When at length I recovered myself a little, it was to hear Ayesha in a
cold, calm voice--her face I could not see for she had veiled herself
--commanding certain priests who had been summoned to "bear away the
body of that accursed woman and bury her as befits her rank." Even
then I bethought me, I remember, of the tale of Jehu and Jezebel.
Leo, looking strangely calm and happy, lay now upon a couch, the arms
folded on his breast. When the priests had tramped away carrying their
royal burden, Ayesha, who sat by his body brooding, seemed to awake,
for she rose and said--
"I need a messenger, and for no common journey, since he must search
out the habitations of the Shades," and she turned herself towards
Oros and appeared to look at him.
Now for the first time I saw that priest change countenance a little,
for the eternal smile, of which even this scene had not quite rid it,
left his face and he grew pale and trembled.
"Thou art afraid," she said contemptuously. "Be at rest, Oros, I will
not send one who is afraid. Holly, wilt thou go for me--and him?"
"Aye," I answered. "I am weary of life and desire no other end. Only
let it be swift and painless."
She mused a while, then said--
"Nay, thy time is not yet, thou still hast work to do. Endure, my
Holly, 'tis only for a breath."
Then she looked at the Shaman, the man turned to stone who all this
while had stood there as a statue stands, and cried--
Instantly he seemed to thaw into life, his limbs relaxed, his breast
heaved, he was as he had always been: ancient, gnarled, malevolent.
"I hear thee, mistress," he said, bowing as a man bows to the power
that he hates.
"Thou seest, Simbri," and she waved her hand.
"I see. Things have befallen as Atene and I foretold, have they not?
'Ere long the corpse of a new-crowned Khan of Kaloon,'" and he pointed
to the gold circlet that Ayesha had set on Leo's brow, "'will lie upon
the brink of the Pit of Flame'--as I foretold." An evil smile crept
into his eyes and he went on--
"Hadst thou not smote me dumb, I who watched could have warned thee
that they would so befall; but, great mistress, it pleased thee to
smite me dumb. And so it seems, O Hes, that thou hast overshot thyself
and liest broken at the foot of that pinnacle which step by step thou
hast climbed for more than two thousand weary years. See what thou
hast bought at the price of countless lives that now before the throne
of Judgment bring accusations against thy powers misused, and cry out
for justice on thy head," and he looked at the dead form of Leo.
"I sorrow for them, yet, Simbri, they were well spent," Ayesha
answered reflectively, "who by their forewritten doom, as it was
decreed, held thy knife from falling and thus won me my husband. Aye
and I am happy--happier than such blind bats as thou can see or guess.
For know that now with him I have re-wed my wandering soul divorced by
sin from me, and that of our marriage kiss which burned his life away
there shall still be born to us children of Forgiveness and eternal
Grace and all things that are pure and fair.
"Look thou, Simbri, I will honour thee. Thou shalt be my messenger,
and beware! beware I say how thou dost fulfil thine office, since of
every syllable thou must render an account.
"Go thou down the dark paths of Death, and, since even my thought may
not reach to where he sleeps tonight, search out my lord and say to
him that the feet of his spouse Ayesha are following fast. Bid him
have no fear for me who by this last sorrow have atoned my crimes and
am in his embrace regenerate. Tell him that thus it was appointed, and
thus is best, since now he is dipped indeed in the eternal Flame of
Life; now for him the mortal night is done and the everlasting day
arises. Command him that he await me in the Gate of Death where it is
granted that I greet him presently. Thou hearest?"
"I hear, O Queen, Mighty-from-of-Old."
"One message more. Say to Atene that I forgive her. Her heart was high
and greatly did she play her part. There in the Gates we will balance
our account. Thou hearest?"
"I hear, O Eternal Star that hath conquered Night."
"Then, man, /begone!/"
As the word left Ayesha's lips Simbri leapt from the floor, grasping
at the air as though he would clutch his own departing soul, staggered
back against the board where Leo and I had eaten, overthrowing it, and
amid a ruin of gold and silver vessels, fell down and died.
She looked at him, then said to me--
"See, though he ever hated me, this magician who has known Ayesha from
the first, did homage to my ancient majesty at last, when lies and
defiance would serve his end no more. No longer now do I hear the name
that his dead mistress gave to me. The 'Star-that-hath-fallen' in his
lips and in very truth is become the 'Star-which-hath-burst-the-bonds-
of-Night,' and, re-arisen, shines for ever--shines with its twin
immortal to set no more--my Holly. Well, he is gone, and ere now,
those that serve me in the Under-world--dost remember?--thou sawest
their captains in the Sanctuary--bend the head at great Ayesha's word
and make her place ready near her spouse.
"But oh, what folly has been mine. When even here my wrath can show
such power, how could I hope that my lord would outlive the fires of
my love? Still it was better so, for he sought not the pomp I would
have given him, nor desired the death of men. Yet such pomp must have
been his portion in this poor shadow of a world, and the steps that
encircle an usurper's throne are ever slippery with blood.
"Thou art weary, my Holly, go rest thee. To-morrow night we journey to
the Mountain, there to celebrate these obsequies."
I crept into the room adjoining--it had been Simbri's--and laid me
down upon his bed, but to sleep I was not able. Its door was open, and
in the light of the burning city that shone through the casements I
could see Ayesha watching by her dead. Hour after hour she watched,
her head resting on her hand, silent, stirless. She wept not, no sigh
escaped her; only watched as a tender woman watches a slumbering babe
that she knows will awake at dawn.
Her face was unveiled and I perceived that it had greatly changed. All
pride and anger were departed from it; it was grown soft, wistful, yet
full of confidence and quietness. For a while I could not think of
what it reminded me, till suddenly I remembered. Now it was like,
indeed the counterpart almost, of the holy and majestic semblance of
the statue of the Mother in the Sanctuary. Yes, with just such a look
of love and power as that mother cast upon her frightened child new-
risen from its dream of death, did Ayesha gaze upon her dead, while
her parted lips also seemed to whisper "some tale of hope, sure and
At length she rose and came into my chamber.
"Thou thinkest me fallen and dost grieve for me, my Holly," she said
in a gentle voice, "knowing my fears lest some such fate should
overtake my lord."
"Ay, Ayesha, I grieve for thee as for myself."
"Spare then thy pity, Holly, since although the human part of me would
have kept him on the earth, now my spirit doth rejoice that for a
while he has burst his mortal bonds. For many an age, although I knew
it not, in my proud defiance of the Universal Law, I have fought
against his true weal and mine. Thrice have I and the angel wrestled,
matching strength with strength, and thrice has he conquered me. Yet
as he bore away his prize this night he whispered wisdom in my ear.
This was his message: That in death is love's home, in death its
strength; that from the charnel-house of life this love springs again
glorified and pure, to reign a conqueror forever. Therefore I wipe
away my tears and, crowned once more a queen of peace, I go to join
him whom we have lost, there where he awaits us, as it is granted to
me that I shall do.
"But I am selfish, and forgot. Thou needest rest. Sleep, friend, I bid
And I slept wondering as my eyes closed whence Ayesha drew this
strange confidence and comfort. I know not but it was there, real and
not assumed. I can only suppose therefore that some illumination had
fallen on her soul, and that, as she stated, the love and end of Leo
in a way unknown, did suffice to satisfy her court of sins.
At the least those sins and all the load of death that lay at her door
never seemed to trouble her at all. She appeared to look upon them
merely as events which were destined to occur, as inevitable fruits of
a seed sowed long ago by the hand of Fate for whose workings she was
not responsible. The fears and considerations which weigh with mortals
did not affect or oppress her. In this as in other matters, Ayesha was
a law unto herself.
When I awoke it was day, and through the window-place I saw the rain
that the people of Kaloon had so long desired falling in one straight
sheet. I saw also that Ayesha, seated by the shrouded form of Leo, was
giving orders to her priests and captains and to some nobles, who had
survived the slaughter of Kaloon, as to the new government of the
land. Then I slept again.
It was evening, and Ayesha stood at my bedside.
"All is prepared," she said. "Awake and ride with me."
So we went, escorted by a thousand cavalry, for the rest stayed to
occupy, or perchance to plunder, the land of Kaloon. In front the body
of Leo was borne by relays of priests, and behind it rode the veiled
Ayesha, I at her side.
Strange was the contrast between this departure, and our arrival.
Then the rushing squadrons, the elements that raved, the perpetual
sheen of lightnings seen through the swinging curtains of the hail;
the voices of despair from an army rolled in blood beneath the chariot
wheels of thunder.
Now the white-draped corpse, the slow-pacing horses, the riders with
their spears reversed, and on either side, seen in that melancholy
moonlight, the women of Kaloon burying their innumerable dead.
And Ayesha herself, yesterday a Valkyrie crested with the star of
flame, to-day but a bereaved woman humbly following her husband to the
Yet how they feared her! Some widow standing on the grave mould she
had dug, pointed as we passed to the body of Leo, uttering bitter
words which I could not catch. Thereon her companions flung themselves
upon her and felling her with fist and spade, prostrated themselves
upon the ground, throwing dust on their hair in token of their
submission to the priestess of Death.
Ayesha saw them, and said to me with something of her ancient fire and
"I tread the plain of Kaloon no more, yet as a parting gift have I
read this high-stomached people a lesson that they needed long. Not
for many a generation, O Holly, will they dare to lift spear against
the College of Hes and its subject Tribes."
Again it was night, and where once lay that of the Khan, the man whom
he had killed, flanked by the burning pillars, the bier of Leo stood
in the inmost Sanctuary before the statue of the Mother whose gentle,
unchanging eyes seemed to search his quiet face.
On her throne sat the veiled Hesea, giving commands to her priests and
"I am weary," she said, "and it may be that I leave you for a while to
rest--beyond the mountains. A year, or a thousand years--I cannot say.
If so, let Papave, with Oros as her counsellor and husband and their
seed, hold my place till I return again.
"Priests and priestesses of the College of Hes, over new territories
have I held my hand; take them as an heritage from me, and rule them
well and gently. Henceforth let the Hesea of the Mountain be also the
Khania of Kaloon.
"Priests and priestesses of our ancient faith, learn to look through
its rites and tokens, outward and visible, to the in-forming Spirit.
If Hes the goddess never ruled on earth, still pitying Nature rules.
If the name of Isis never rang through the courts of heaven, still in
heaven, with all love fulfilled, nursing her human children on her
breast, dwells the mighty Motherhood where of this statue is the
symbol, that Motherhood which bore us, and, unforgetting, faithful,
will receive us at the end.
"For of the bread of bitterness we shall not always eat, of the water
of tears we shall not always drink. Beyond the night the royal suns
ride on; ever the rainbow shines around the rain. Though they slip
from our clutching hands like melted snow, the lives we lose shall yet
be found immortal, and from the burnt-out fires of our human hopes
will spring a heavenly star."
She paused and waved her hand as though to dismiss them, then added by
an after-thought, pointing to myself--
"This man is my beloved friend and guest. Let him be yours also. It is
my will that you tend and guard him here, and when the snows have
melted and summer is at hand, that you fashion a way for him through
the gulf and bring him across the mountains by which he came, till you
leave him in safety. Hear and forget not, for be sure that to me you
shall give account of him."
The night drew towards the dawn, and we stood upon the peak above the
gulf of fire, four of us only--Ayesha and I, and Oros and Papave. For
the bearers had laid down the body of Leo upon its edge and gone their
way. The curtain of flame flared in front of us, its crest bent over
like a billow in the gale, and to leeward, one by one, floated the
torn-off clouds and pinnacles of fire. By the dead Leo knelt Ayesha,
gazing at that icy, smiling face, but speaking no single word. At
length she rose, and said,--
"Darkness draws near, my Holly, that deep darkness which foreruns the
glory of the dawn. Now fare thee well for one little hour. When thou
art about to die, but not before, call me, and I will come to thee.
Stir not and speak not till all be done, lest when I am no longer here
to be thy guard some Presence should pass on and slay thee.
"Think not that I am conquered, for now my name is Victory! Think not
that Ayesha's strength is spent or her tale is done, for of it thou
readest but a single page. Think not even that I am today that thing
of sin and pride, the Ayesha thou didst adore and fear, I who in my
lord's love and sacrifice have again conceived my soul. For know that
now once more as at the beginning, his soul and mine are /one/."
She thought awhile and added,
"Friend take this sceptre in memory of me, but beware how thou usest
it save at the last to summon me, for it has virtues," and she gave me
the jewelled Sistrum that she bore--then said,
"So kiss his brow, stand back, and be still."
Now as once before the darkness gathered on the pit, and presently,
although I heard no prayer, though now no mighty music broke upon the
silence, through that darkness, beating up the gale, came the two-
winged flame and hovered where Ayesha stood.
It appeared, it vanished, and one by one the long minutes crept away
until the first spear of dawn lit upon the point of rock.
Lo! it was empty, utterly empty and lonesome. Gone was the corpse of
Leo, and gone too was Ayesha the imperial, the divine.
Whither had she gone? I know not. But this I know, that as the light
returned and the broad sheet of flame flared out to meet it, I seemed
to see two glorious shapes sweeping upward on its bosom, and the faces
that they wore were those of Leo and of Ayesha.
Often and often during the weary months that followed, whilst I
wandered through the temple or amid the winter snows upon the Mountain
side, did I seek to solve this question--Whither had She gone? I asked
it of my heart; I asked it of the skies; I asked it of the spirit of
Leo which often was so near to me.
But no sure answer ever came, nor will I hazard one. As mystery
wrapped Ayesha's origin and lives--for the truth of these things I
never learned--so did mystery wrap her deaths, or rather her
departings, for I cannot think her dead. Surely she still is, if not
on earth, then in some other sphere?
So I believe; and when my own hour comes, and it draws near swiftly, I
shall know whether I believe in vain, or whether she will appear to be
my guide as, with her last words, she swore that she would do. Then,
too, I shall learn what she was about to reveal to Leo when he died,
the purposes of their being and of their love.
So I can wait in patience who must not wait for long, though my heart
is broken and I am desolate.
Oros and all the priests were very good to me. Indeed, even had it
been their wish, they would have feared to be otherwise, who
remembered and were sure that in some time to come they must render an
account of this matter to their dread queen. By way of return, I
helped them as I was best able to draw up a scheme for the government
of the conquered country of Kaloon, and with my advice upon many other
And so at length the long months wore away, till at the approach of
summer the snows melted. Then I said that I must be gone. They gave me
of their treasures in precious stones, lest I should need money for my
faring, since the gold of which I had such plenty was too heavy to be
carried by one man alone. They led me across the plains of Kaloon,
where now the husbandmen, those that were left of them, ploughed the
land and scattered seed, and so on to its city. But amidst those
blackened ruins over which Atene's palace still frowned unharmed, I
would not enter, for to me it was, and always must remain, a home of
death. So I camped outside the walls by the river just where Leo and I
had landed after that poor mad Khan set us free, or rather loosed us
to be hunted by his death-hounds.
Next day we took boat and rowed up the river, past the place where we
had seen Atene's cousin murdered, till we came to the Gate-house. Here
once again I slept, or rather did not sleep.
On the following morning I went down into the ravine and found to my
surprise that the rapid torrent--shallow enough now--had been roughly
bridged, and that in preparation for my coming rude but sufficient
ladders were built on the face of the opposing precipice. At the foot
of these I bade farewell to Oros, who at our parting smiled
benignantly as on the day we met.
"We have seen strange things together," I said to him, not knowing
what else to say.
"Very strange," he answered.
"At least, friend Oros," I went on awkwardly enough, "events have
shaped themselves to your advantage, for you inherit a royal mantle."
"I wrap myself in a mantle of borrowed royalty," he answered with
precision, "of which doubtless one day I shall be stripped."
"You mean that the great Ayesha is not dead?"
"I mean that She never dies. She changes, that is all. As the wind
blows now hence, now hither, so she comes and goes, and who can tell
at what spot upon the earth, or beyond it, for a while that wind lies
sleeping? But at sunset or at dawn, at noon or at midnight, it will
begin to blow again, and then woe to those who stand across its path.
"Remember the dead heaped upon the plains of Kaloon. Remember the
departing of the Shaman Simbri with his message and the words that she
spoke then. Remember the passing of the Hesea from the Mountain point.
Stranger from the West, surely as to-morrow's sun must rise, as she
went, so she will return again, and in my borrowed garment I await her
"I also await her advent," I answered, and thus we parted.
Accompanied by twenty picked men bearing provisions and arms, I
climbed the ladders easily enough, and now that I had food and
shelter, crossed the mountains without mishap. They even escorted me
through the desert beyond, till one night we camped within sight of
the gigantic Buddha that sits before the monastery, gazing eternally
across the sands and snows.
When I awoke next morning the priests were gone. So I took up my pack
and pursued my journey alone, and walking slowly came at sunset to the
distant lamasery. At its door an ancient figure, wrapped in a tattered
cloak, was sitting, engaged apparently in contemplation of the skies.
It was our old friend Kou-en. Adjusting his horn spectacles on his
nose he looked at me.
"I was awaiting you, brother of the Monastery called 'the World,'" he
said in a voice, measured, very ineffectually, to conceal his evident
delight. "Have you grown hungry there that you return to this poor
"Aye, most excellent Kou-en," I answered, "hungry for rest."
"It shall be yours for all the days of this incarnation. But say,
where is the other brother?"
"Dead," I answered.
"And therefore re-born elsewhere or perhaps, dreaming in Devachan for
a while. Well, doubtless we shall meet him later on. Come, eat, and
afterwards tell me your story."
So I ate, and that night I told him all. Kou-en listened with
respectful attention, but the tale, strange as it might seem to most
people, excited no particular wonder in his mind. Indeed, he explained
it to me at such length by aid of some marvellous theory of
re-incarnations, that at last I began to doze.
"At least," I said sleepily, "it would seem that we are all winning
merit on the Everlasting Plane," for I thought that favourite
catchword would please him.
"Yes, brother of the Monastery called the World," Kou-en answered in a
severe voice, "doubtless you are all winning merit, but, if I may
venture to say so, you are winning it very slowly, especially the
woman--or the sorceress--or the mighty evil spirit--whose names I
understand you to tell me are She, Hes, and Ayesha upon earth and in
/(Here Mr. Holly's manuscript ends, its outer sheets having been
burnt when he threw it on to the fire at his house in Cumberland.)/
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