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Fugitive Anne - Part II

Chapter XXIII - In the Heart of Aak

AT first, the darkness of the tunnel was dense as pitch. They came to the block of stone with the openings on either side, which Hansen rightly conjectured to be a mass of the mountain that had fallen and interrupted the passage. Then, after following one of the forks a short distance, they found themselves in a wider space, broad and high enough for two to walk comfortably abreast, and which was dimly illuminated from an unseen opening. A cool current of air flowed past them, and they could hear the rushing sound of water. As Hansen's eyes grew more accustomed to the dusk, he discovered that there was a small cascade where the other fork of the tunnel also entered this larger space, and that they were now walking along a causeway with a low parapet on one side, and a stream running at the depth of a few feet over a smooth bed of rock below it. No doubt the builders of the tunnel had taken advantage of a subterranean channel bored by a river—perhaps that very one which they had last seen above ground on the other side of the desert; but it was clear also that the greater part of the work was due to the labour of man. Herculean labour it must have been, without blasting powder or modern mechanical contrivances, and Hansen found himself marvelling how the masses of rock had been quarried and disposed of, and speculating, as many another explorer of historic remains has done, whether we are so much ahead of our forefathers as we imagine, and whether they may


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not have possessed secrets of science, lost, and as yet, far from being re-discovered. So excited and interested was he, that he called together all his knowledge of the Mayan vocabulary and grammar, and questioned Naquah as to how and when this extraordinary tunnel had been constructed. But the Elder either could not, or would not, give him any definite information. It had always been there, he said. It had existed since there had been any record of the Aca. The mountain had been a sacred place from the beginning. Hansen gleaned a few facts with difficulty. The Great Builders had chosen it. They had known how to cleave the rock, and to lift stones upright that were beyond the power of many men. The secret of their magic had perished with them. There had been one left from the destroying power of the Serpent. It was he who had gathered into the Heart of Aak the remnant of the Faithful who were saved in that far-off day of terror. He had written the record, and delivered his magic to his son, who in turn had given it to his son, and so on for generations. But in later times, long after he was dead, the Serpent had again waxed furious, and had once more breathed out ashes and blackness. Thus it happened that while digging for certain graven pillars which had been buried in the valley below the temple on the hill, a second cataclysm had taken place, and in it, the last of the Wise Men, the last of the Great Builders, had perished, and had taken his magic with him. This had been many suns back, and from that time the wisdom of the Ancestors had been no more written; there was none to tell it from father to first-born, and again from first-born to first-born. Thus the Aca had built no more, but had been content to dwell in their sure refuge in the Heart of Aak, where never since, had the Serpent assailed them.

It was not from Naquah that all this information was extracted. The Chief Elder grew irritated by Hansen's poor management, as he considered it, of the


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Mayan tongue, which was scarcely surprising, for the speech of the Aca differed somewhat from the language Hansen had learned in Yucatan, and, moreover, he was stiff in the handling of it for want of practice, and, unless spurred by danger or excitement, had some ado in remembering the vocabulary. Thus, Naquah soon relapsed into dignified silence, and Hansen had recourse to Kapoc, who was younger and more communicative. Kapoc went on to say that the natural channel had been widened, and the causeway made by the Builders—the Great Builders, as in a tone of awe he called them—they who had made the city. This, according to tradition, had been a wonder of cities, and had spread to the edge of the water, and along the sides of the hills—a city of temples and palaces, and pyramids and many carvings, all of which had been first swept by the waters, and then swallowed up when the earth had opened. Of the country surrounding the city, only the mountains of the Tortoise, and the Crocodile—or, as the Aca named it, the Four-footed Serpent—had been left unscathed. Also the remains of the great temple, the encasing of rock, and the sacred stones which the flood had not swept away. In the time before the cataclysm, said Kapoc, the Aca had been a prosperous and powerful nation, and their ships had sailed where now was land, eastward to the far seas. “How long ago,” Hansen asked, “had the cataclysm happened?” He knew not, nay, for generations there had never been any wise men of the Aca who could say. The count of time was lost; the sculptured records of the ancient people were buried deep where no man could dig them; and there was nought but a certain sacred record that the first Wise Man, who was saved, had made—that Wise Man who had led the few by secret ways within the bosom of Aak.

All this time they had been following the course of the underground river, now descending by rude steps cut in the rock, or by a gentle incline, now by a level path which yet was anything but straight, for it turned


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and curved, leading through a labyrinth of corridors at right angles, parallel with each other, and branching in different directions so numerous and intricate, that it would have been almost impossible, without a guide, to make a way back to the opening. The place reminded Hansen of a subterranean labyrinth in Central America which he had once visited. The light continued dim, but was sufficient to enable them to pick their steps. Suddenly, however, they were again plunged in darkness for a few minutes; then the glare of torches ahead showed them a lofty circular hall, supported by rude pillars, in the centre of which was a large shallow basin of water, and round it stood a small company of men, holding aloft flaming brands. These men, who had evidently been sent to meet the returning party, were not dressed like the hunters in tunics and hide leggings, but wore a shapeless garment of yellowish white stuff, resembling the under vestments of the Elders, from which Hansen assumed that they belonged to the priestly order, and were no doubt servers or acolytes.

The torches threw flickering gleams on the water in the basin, and over the walls and floor of this place, showing dark objects moving on the ground, of different sizes and uncouth appearance. These turned out to be turtles or tortoises of various sizes crawling about the edge of the basin. Ann gave an involuntary shriek as her feet came in contact with one of these. She now saw that this rock chamber was the home of a number of these creatures, some almost gigantic in size, others still in their infancy. The elder Naquah stopped, scrutinized a family of them, and, pointing to one of the smallest, gave some directions at which the torch-bearers salaamed, and one stooped and turned the creature on his back, while another assisted him to place it in a flat basket in which they carried it away. Kombo was charmed at sight of the tortoises.

“Būjeri fellow turtle, Missa Anne,” he cried, for Kombo had tasted turtle soup, and the prospect of a


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supper of turtle fat would have reconciled him to much devilry. He was beginning to realise that Debil-debils who made corn-cakes and provided roads through mountains which should form a barrier between his beloved Missa Anne and the pursuit of Elias Bedo, could not be such bad Debil-debils after all. He would have caught a tortoise on his own account, had not the torch-bearers rushed upon him and held him back with menacing gestures, nor did they loose their hold till the Hall of Tortoises was left some little way behind. Hansen asked Kapoc for what purpose the young tortoise was destined, and was answered oracularly that by it Aak would signify his inclinations. The Dane had heard of the ancient method of divination by means of the markings on a tortoise's back—a method still practised in parts of the East—and knowing also that the word Aak in Mayan signifies turtle, concluded that the sacred reptile had something to do with that venerable worship.

Daylight now showed through a wide archway before them, and, passing beneath the arch, they stood in what looked like an enormous amphitheatre, partly natural, and partly hollowed artificially in the mountain-side. Day was waning, and it was the rosy light of late afternoon which fell into the arena, through huge openings in an outer shell of rock closing in its south-western side, and through which a stretch of undulating cultivated land was visible. Apparently, they had completely penetrated the great hump of basalt, on the eastern side of which the wanderers had encamped. The top of this vast circle lay open to the sky; and, except in the outer wall and where side passages seemed to have been excavated into the heart of the mountain, enormous precipices towered many hundreds of feet. What gave the appearance of an amphitheatre was, that up to a considerable height the precipices shelved in terraces and balconies, and were honeycombed with large cells, evidently the dwelling-places of the tribe. The inner walls of these cells, in


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the recesses of which lights glimmered, glowed with colours—being painted, or hung with bright-hued tapestry—and stretched far back into impenetrable gloom. On the outside were windows and doors cut in the rock. Steps led up to these abodes, and here and there, a white-clad figure looked down from overhead. The inhabitants of this rock city seemed, for the most part, however, to have gathered in the clear space in the centre. This apparently served as a market-place, there being open stalls set about its sides spread with merchandise, and braziers here and there on which maize cakes, nuts, and plaintains were cooking, giving forth an appetising smell.

The crowd was not a large one—perhaps a hundred in all ; and Hansen reflected that if it represented even a third of the numerical strength of the Aca, Naquah had good reason to complain that the wives did not bear as the fruitful vine, and that the population had dwindled. This no doubt was due to inter-breeding through centuries, of the same stock, for there was no trace of aboriginal admixture. Notwithstanding, the people did not give, as far as physique went, the suggestion of degeneration. They were all of the same type as the hunters who had surprised the wanderers' camp—large, loose-limbed, of the high-cheek-boned, strong-featured, narrow, and somewhat melancholy cast of countenance which Hansen associated with that of the Shawnee and other tribes of American Indians, though when analysed the faces of the Aca were entirely different from theirs. These men were unlike any others that Hansen had ever seen. They wore mostly the tunic and leggings of the hunters, their upper garments of coarse stuff occasionally dyed brown, blue, or dull red. Many wore a sort of mantle knotted at the breast and hanging below the middle, which was usually painted, or worked in startling patterns and brilliant colouring, and fringed with feathers or the tails of small animals. The women were hardly inferior in point of stature to the men. Anne seemed a pigmy in


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comparison with them; and so far as could be seen in the fast fading daylight, they were handsome, with fine eyes, and a quantity of reddish-brown hair that harmonised with their reddish complexions. They were, however, fairer than the men, probably from living more closely in their rock dwelling, and being necessarily less exposed to the air and sun. They were dressed in clinging robes—the poorer ones in coarse, shapeless garments; those who were evidently of a better class, in finer draperies, and these wore mantles much longer and more flowing than the cloaks of the men, dyed also in brilliant and fantastic designs, and fringed with feather trimmings.

The little crowd parted and congregated again in two long lines as Naquah and Kapoc advanced, preceded by the torch-bearers—the torches being, it appeared, a sign of sacerdotal rank. The Elders had Anne and Hansen between them, while Kombo walked behind. Kombo's interest in the rock-city, the booths and braziers, and above all, the Aca women, was uncontrollable and farcical in its expression. He grinned and ogled, and sniffing the roasted nuts, rubbed what he would have called his “binji,” uttering ejaculations indicative of pleasure. But the ladies of the Aca regarded him scornfully as one of the black, outside race, and showed scant curiosity concerning him, so absorbed were they in the white man and woman. Hansen they admired, and he knew sufficient Mayan to understand their outspoken commendation of his fairness and his build. They did not conceal their opinion that the man was both strong and beautiful, but the woman they declared to be of little account, and so small as to be only fit for a child's doll. Whence, they asked, had the strangers come, and how had they gained admission into the Heart of Aak, the Citadel of the Saved—for it was by a name conveying this meaning that the rock town was called? The hunters scattered among their women-folk, and the lines of people broke into knots, while the men recounted their tale. But they were


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recalled by the voice of Naquah, as he and Kapoc stepped forward, commanding silence. Then Naquah spoke, and Hansen without much difficulty seized the gist of his address.

“Children of Aak,” said the Elder,—“In the Hall of Tortoises, Hotan the hunter, returning, found us and told us of the wonder that had befallen. So, following him, we went, and, at the foot of the Great Shell—the roof of Aak's refuge—we found this woman who stood singing in a strange tongue a song of praise to the gods. With her were this man and the black slave who has served them on their way thither. In our ancient language, that of the land of Mayab, whence came our forefathers of old, did the man address us, claiming to be the maiden's protector, and a messenger from our most high gods. True it is that he knows the sacred names, and can speak of the doctrine They have delivered to us. It would appear also that among the inferior race which inhabits the forest, the maiden's divinity is established, since she is hailed by the black slave, who hath guided them across the desert, as Lady of the Clouds, and Sister of the Stars. But whence otherwise she has come, and what her earthly origin, I know not, for she understands not the tongue of the Aca, only—so the white man, her protector, declareth—that of the Spirits of Space. This too, is a thing unaccountable to me. Nevertheless, who shall dare pass judgment on the ways of the gods? And moreover, the man is acquainted with that old-time prophecy which was graven on the fallen stones, and given to us in the writing of our Saviour, the Great Ancestor, so that it hath been handed down in the Temple, from Elder to Elder, ever since there has been knowledge of hidden matters. Ye know the Prophecy—for is it not sung on each returning of the month and the Day of Humiliation and Terror, by the mouth of the Zuhua Kak, at command of the Intercessor, between the people and our Lord the Sun? Ye know how that prophecy tells of a priestess that shall, in the fulness of ages,


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walk dry-shod over the bed of the sea, and lead forth to new life and hope the forsaken Children of Aak. Whether this maiden, who in looks is no more than a child, be in very truth that god-sent priestess, is not for me to declare, though it doth appear to me that strange and small as arc her stature and the fashion of her face, her countenance beareth the stamp of the gods.

“This is my counsel, People of the Aca, to be delivered to the five Elders :—it is, that to-morrow the maiden be presented in the temple, when, by the mouth of the Zuhua Kak, of the Virgins of the Flame, the Elders, and the people, penance shall be said before the Symbol of Xibal, Lord of Death, and afterwards supplication beneath the Disc of Life to Him whose raiment is the Sun, and to Viracocha, the Doer, Lord of Dawn, that our nation and our dwelling-place be no more destroyed by the Bursting Fires and Great Waters. Then shall the maiden stand within the sacred circle and await the Sign of our Lord of the Sun. And if it be so that He Whose Name be not spoken, Whose utterance is the Red Beam, shall shed upon her the light of His Glory, and make manifest in her the Supreme Will—then shall the mantle of the Zuhua Kak be placed upon her, and the sacred Eye be set on her brow, and she shall be taken into the sight of Aak the Intercessor, and shall sing in his ears her wondrous song, heard by me—Naquah, and by Kapoc the Elder and the hunters of our company—which resembles no song of woman that ever before moved the souls of men. And if her song be pleasant in the ears of Aak, and he shall accept her as his priestess, henceforth shall she render service in the temple, making obeisance before the Throne of the Radiant One.”




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Chapter XXIV - Keorah

A BRIEF silence followed, and then came a one-throated cry:

“Keorah, Zuhua Kak! Keorah, Zuhua Kak!” And at that moment there sounded a clear ringing voice, proud and scornful in its intonation.

“I, Keorah, Zuhua Kak, High Virgin of the Flame and the Flood, answer to your call, People of the Aca.”

At the sound of the voice, Anne and Hansen raised their heads in the direction whence it came. On the side of the amphitheatre facing eastward, high above them, was a wide balcony, its base and roof supported by rudely sculptured pillars hewn from the rock. Standing in a statuesque attitude on the balcony was the most beautiful woman either had ever beheld.

Behind, and at the sides of this woman, six other women were grouped, each holding aloft a flaming brand or tall lamp—it was difficult to tell which—all of them robed in white. They were younger and fairer, it seemed, than the women of their race, with long, reddish hair falling unbound, save by a white fillet that was held on the forehead by a jewelled ornament. Hansen took in their presence in a swift, comprehensive glance, which returning, was enchained by the one excelling them all who was in their midst.

The rock city was now almost in darkness. The rosy afterglow that had greeted the strangers had faded. The short Australian twilight was deepening into night, and the lights above and below, and glimmering from the depths of the cave-dwellings, shone redly in the gloom, giving a most weird effect to the vast place.


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Adding to this weirdness, the full moon, now risen, hung like a great electric arc above the circular opening in the mountain, and lent its radiance to the face of the woman on whom the attention of all was centred—Keorah, Zuhua Kak.

Most commanding of mien was the High Priestess of Aak. Young too, of bounteous classic proportions; her bosoms full, her neck rising like a column above her white robes, that were girdled at the waist with a glittering zone. A long mantle, bordered with raised bands of rose, fell round her shoulders, the ends held together at her breast by a jewelled clasp. A band, with plume of pink feathers, circled her forehead, and in front of it was a great opal, which, when the torch rays struck it, sent out answering flames. Her eyes were large, and of a deep blue, and they shone brilliantly beneath level, strongly marked brows, giving out gleams something like the gleams of the opal above them. These eyes, lowered upon the crowd, met the eyes of Hansen, and lingered upon his face. As they did so, the fierce fire in them died, and her look of angry defiance melted. The masses of her red-gold hair fell forward as she stooped over the balcony, making a splendid veil, out of which the opal on her brow and the wonderful eyes glowed softly. Her gaze was seductive, and a feeling of mesmeric attraction overpowered Hansen. For a moment, he seemed to lose the sense of space and time, even of the unwontedness of scene and situation. The High Priestess' eyes drew him against his will ; he became conscious only of her. Anne's voice recalled him to the present, thrilling sharply in his ear.

“Eric,” she said, “I am frightened. Who is that woman, and why does she look at us so strangely? Oh! what do these people want with me? I see them pointing, and I cannot understand what they say. Tell me, for I don't think I shall be able to bear it much longer. I'm obeying you, Eric. You told me not to speak or to rebel, and I have been watching, and trying


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to do as you wished. But, oh! I'd rather almost be with the Maianbars—for I could understand and talk to them—than with this mysterious Red Race.”

Hansen turned from the gaze of the Priestess to meet Anne's pathetic eyes looking appealingly from her little white face, so child-like, and now so weary.

“Dear little comrade,” he whispered, reassuring her with a sudden inborn strength and tenderness, “be brave, as you have been all along. Trust in God—and in me.” He put his hand upon her shoulder, and his touch gave her new confidence. “Believe that I will let nothing harm you while I live to be your protector. I know how to deal with these people, and, by-and-by, I will explain everything that you don't understand. I'll teach you what I know of their language. Be certain, however, that they are a harmless, peaceable race, and mean good to you and not ill. That woman is, I gather, High Priestess of the god Aak—Aak means in the Mayan tongue, tortoise or turtle—a simple, innocent kind of fetish, who, it seems, only requires sacrifices of grass and water, and somebody to sing to him. I learn that to-morrow is the anniversary of some sort of religious festival, having to do with a prophecy about a priestess who was to walk over the desert and bring luck to this queer set of heathens. They have an idea that you are this priestess, and it is to be decided somehow in the temple to-morrow. I assure you there is nothing in it to make you nervous. All that you have to do is to sing, and the worst that can happen will be, that they'll turn us adrift again. But I must say, that I think it would be to the advantage of science if we could stop and study them for a bit. Only go on playing your part as I have told you, and stick to your revolver, whatever happens.”

“But I cannot help their taking it from me, if they want to do so. And if I am to supplant that woman—she frightens me more than all the rest of them! Oh, Eric, I am so tired of being a goddess. I did hope there was an end of that, when we got away from the Maianbars,”




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“It is better to be a goddess than to be eaten,” said Hansen, trying to speak jestingly. “We must make the best of things, my dear—for the present, at any rate. There's always the chance of escape. Stay, the woman is speaking. I will translate for you what she says.”

“Naquah! Kapoc! The five Elders await you in the Council-Chamber,” the High Priestess' voice rang out. “Go, tell them what has come to pass, and consult with each other, if ye will, as to the prophecy of which we have heard much this day. Concerning its fulfilment, neither I, nor thou, Naquah, have aught to declare. Is it for us poor mortals to question the decree of Him whose Name may not be uttered—whose minister is Viracocha the Doer, and His Intercessor Aak—whose is the Red Flame and His Vestment the Sun. Now, touching the prophecy—thrice, as ye all know, on the return of our great day of prayer and abasement, when unveiled are the faces of Death and Life—thrice has our Lord the Sun withheld His holy beam—and this for no fault of ours, but that all might come to pass as was written of old. So it may well be that the priestess fore-ordained, from beyond the water's bed and the far sea, has now, in the fullness of time, come among us. To-morrow, therefore, shall it be seen, in presence of the people, whether she be illumined by the glory of the Red Flame, and singled out by that Holy Sign, and if afterwards the favour of Aak be vouchsafed to her. To-morrow, then, if the sign be given, will I, Keorah, Zuhua Kak, yield to her, who is chosen of the gods, my sacred mantle and the star upon my head, which is the Eye of Viracocha that closeth not in slumber. Then, clad with the emblems of holy office, this maiden messenger from the great Ones will prostrate herself before the Discs of Death and of Life, and sing the wondrous song some of ye have already heard, to delight the Ear of Aak our Lord. Gladly will I, who have served the gods, and have been obeyed by the


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people, do reverence to the Will of the Supreme, and, loosed from my Priestess' vows, will I henceforth take my place among the daughters of men. Faithfully have I striven to fulfil my office, and, peradventure, I shall receive my reward. It may be that as my heart desireth, so shall the gods do unto me. And with the thought of this I am content. Yet there is a word I would say unto ye, Elders and People of the Aca. Forget not the warning that was graven on the ancient stone, and written by him who saved us in the Fire and the Flood. Divide not Beauty and Fair Strength, nor suffer them to be constrained, lest evil befall the Children of Aak, and the Curse of the Serpent be not lifted from you. Therefore entreat the Lord Aak, and supplicate Viracocha—the wise and the far-seeing—for right judgment and clear vision; and abasing yourselves, cry aloud, ‘Guide us, Aak the Intercessor. Give us wisdom, Viracocha, Dweller in radiance, Builder, and Mighty Doer. Thou who hearest and dost perform, Who art stronger than Death, and defiest the Grave, Lord of the Four Winds, and Light of the Dawn!’ ”

The strange chant uprose, Keorah's voice leading, and all the people crying, “Guide us, Aak! Enlighten us, Viracocha, Lord of the Strong Hand, Chief over the Night, Darkness, Death and the Waters. Hear us, Viracocha!”

When the invocation had ceased, there was silence, and all prostrated themselves. Then Naquah stepped a little nearer to the balcony, and desired to know what were the High Priestess' wishes in regard to the lodgment of these strangers.

“Give them to eat, and clothe them,” commanded the High Priestess, “for truly it seems to me they are weary with travel, and their garments are earth-stained in a way unfitting for the messengers of the gods. Let them have of our best. To the child-maiden give robes of linen—this shall be the care of my virgins. And to the man who is Beautiful Strength, do not furnish


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priests' vestments, but manly habiliments such as are worn by the noblest and most valorous among you. Let the maiden be brought at once into the Virgins' House for refreshment and rest until the hour of our vigil be past. Then will I myself see that she is clad and prepared for the Festival of Death and Life on which to-morrow's dawn shall rise, and for presentation to our gods. For the man of Beauty and Strength, thou, Hotan the hunter, art responsible. Lead him to thy dwelling, feast him and do him honour, awaiting the counsel of the Elders, and my pleasure concerning him. And now, peradventure, it is the last time that I, Keorah, Zuhua Kak, charge you in virtue of my office, for before moonrise to-morrow, another may reign in my stead. Nay! I mourn not, nor do ye mourn if it be the Supreme Will that I descent to the level of ordinary womanhood; for bethink ye that the lower life has joys which to the Priestess are forbidden, and it may be that these shall be my recompense. Ill would it beseem me, then, to show ingratitude to the gods if, for the dignity and honour of the priestess-ship, they give me in exchange those simple and yet sweeter joys of which I have not dared to dream. To-morrow, then, our Lord shall make known his will, to which I, with you, will bow. We shall meet in the temple. Till that time, my bidding be done.”

She moved back, and disappeared through the arch behind, the band of virgins parting for her to pass, then with torches uplifted, they followed her within.

A hoarse murmur, partly of dissatisfaction, partly of excitement and surprise, swept through the crowd. It was not clear whether the Aca people regretted or desired the dethronement of Keorah, their present Zuhua Kak.

It seemed strange to them, as it also did to Hansen, that she should herself refer to the prospect with such remarkable equanimity, even giving a suggestion that release from her vows might not be wholly unwelcome. While she was speaking, he felt the spell of her eyes


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still upon him, and as he looked up and met their gaze, the heart of the woman leaping beneath the priestly band that reined it, became evident to him. A thrill of understanding ran like fire through his blood, and flashed upon his face, bringing a glow to Keorah's as she spoke her last words. When she turned, the spell seemed broken, and Hansen steadied his reeling senses, and responded warmly to the pressure of Anne's little cold hand, which slid trustfully into his, while the shouts of the populace were raised to Viracocha and Aak. He hurriedly interpreted to her the speech of the High Priestess, and again bade her be of good courage. But there was little time for talk. The hunter Hotan—he who had been foremost of the band outside the mountain—now approached, and with a deep obeisance pointed to the street, if it could be called so, that opened at a right angle with the balcony on which the Priestess had stood, signifying that Hansen must accompany him thither. At the same time, three of the linen-clad torch-bearers, Naquah's attendants, led poor bewildered Anne to a flight of steps cut in the rock at the right of the Priestess's balcony, and thence through a low arch into the dwelling of the Virgins of the Flame.

Kombo followed his mistress to the small portico at the head of the staircase. He was not permitted to go further in spite of his signs and protestations, and his mistress's dumb entreaties. Men, even black slaves, were not admitted into this nunnery. On the threshold of the inner doorway, the acolytes made reverence, turned, and descended into the street. But Kombo unslung his blanket, put down the tin billy and pint-pots, the tomahawk and pointed stick that he carried, and disposing of his properties in a corner, made it clear that not for all the Virgins nor the acolytes did he intend to budge.

“All right, Missa Anne, mine make it camp like-it this place,” he announced, cheerfully. And in truth, to Kombo, after his recent perils and privations, this


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sheltered porch, with the busy market-place below and all its array of lamps and braziers, with the chance of corn-cakes and roast plantains being handed up to him, presented a most desirable resting-place. He frowned on the acolytes at last when they persisted too long in trying to make him go.

“Ba'al mine yan,” said he. “Mine no go long-a you. Mine sit down close-up Yuro Kateena. You look out. I believe that fellow Cloud-Daughter pialla Mormodelik, suppose you take Kombo.” And he pointed first to Anne, then heavenward, then to himself, at which the acolytes prostrated once more, and hurried down quickly, being more than ever convinced of the divinity of the small stranger.

The Virgins met Anne with more curiosity than reverence, for till Aak and Viracocha confirmed her pretensions, they could not be sure that she was really the priestess who was to bring prosperity to the people of the Aca.

There were three of these maidens waiting to receive her, young, handsome, tall and stately, and curiously attractive with their long peculiarly expressioned faces, their russet hair, and graceful robes. All wore on their breasts what was evidently an insignia of the order, a tortoise in gold set with opals; and Anne noticed in wonder that what she had imagined to be a metal clasp on the left shoulder of each of them, was in reality a small living tortoise fastened by a chain. The little creatures appeared to be semi-comatose, but occasionally a weird wee head protruded itself, and showed two blinking pin-point eyes.

The Virgins led her through two ante-chambers lighted by oil lamps oddly shaped, like frogs and birds, made in earthenware. The walls of these rooms were painted in hieroglyphs or small barbaric-looking designs, and the floor was covered with a sort of matting. There were low stools of wood set about, and projecting from the walls, were several altar-like tables. Beyond was a larger apartment almost circular in shape, with cells


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branching from it. In this, the stone walls were rudely sculptured; opossum rugs and kangaroo skins strewed the floor, and a table in the centre was spread with a linen cloth on which were fruits, cakes, and earthenware bowls, some containing a mess of maize porridge, others a foamy brown liquid, which Anne discovered to be chocolate. In this room stood three more priestesses, making the number six. One of these was evidently more important than the others, and this lady advancing, greeted Anne with the same salutation that the hunters and Elders had made—crossing the left arm over the breast, with the left hand touching the right shoulder. She motioned Anne to a seat at the head of the table next herself, and after a grace incomprehensible to her guest and the pouring of a libation of chocolate into a hollow in the floor, the meal began with a bowl of porridge placed before each. Other dishes followed, simple but palatable. There were hot cakes of different kinds made of Indian corn, dipped in a sauce of chilies and tomatoes, fried beans, and plantains cooked in various fashions, together with chocolate which, though oily and flavoured with spice, seemed to Anne, unaccustomed now to anything but water, a most delicious beverage. The Virgins talked among themselves, but their talk was of course not understood by Anne. She was beginning, however, to pick up already one or two Mayan words, and one of the priestesses found amusement in making her say the English equivalent of the names of the dishes, and in endeavouring to imitate the pronunciation of what they believed to be the language of the gods.

Anne's spirits rose. There was certainly nothing alarming, so far, in the aspect and manners of this simple community of women like herself. She ate and was strengthened, and almost felt herself to be amongst friends. But she was glad that the High Priestess was not present, for Keorah, Zuhua Kak, had inspired her with a superstitious terror. She hoped, however, that it would wear off on closer acquaintance. At any rate,


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it was clear that these under-priestesses were amiably disposed to her. By-and-by, the eldest of the Virgins rose and motioned her to follow through a corridor cut in the rock. This passage appeared to end in a sleeping chamber, for the room they came to, held a raised couch covered with a feather rug; while in a semi-circular recess was a large basin scooped in the rock floor, let into the ground, and filled with bubbling water. The Virgin pointed to this and then to the couch, giving Anne to understand that she might bathe and sleep. Then she left her alone, and drawing a curtain over the doorway, Anne undressed and stepped into the bath, which was tepid, most exhilarating, and evidently a natural spring with some peculiarly invigorating mineral qualities. Afterwards, she wrapped herself in a linen garment placed in readiness on the couch, and, creeping under the feather blanket, was soon enjoying the most luxurious sleep she had known for many days.




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Chapter XXV - “By the Shining Blue Death-Stone”

ANNE was awakened by a sound of monotonous chanting that seemed to come from a curtained arch at the head of her couch. She rose, and peering through an opening in the heavily embroidered mats, discovered that these divided her from a kind of chapel in which the seven Priestesses of the Flame were engaged in praying. She concluded that one, slightly in advance of the rest, was the High Priestess, but it was impossible to distinguish any one in particular, for each was shrouded in a mantle of black, with a deep hood that overshadowed the features. All were kneeling with heads bowed, and the object of their devotion appeared to be a tripod on a slightly raised dais at one end of the chapel, from the basin of which issued a pale blue illumination. This ghastly light could not be described as a flame, for it was perfectly stationary except for a certain intermittency in its degrees of radiance. It waxed and waned like the throbbings of a pulse, and at once, Anne was reminded of a like effect which she and Eric had seen in that triangular patch of phosphorescence on the mountain's side at the spot they had afterwards identified as the Place of Death. The tripod, too, was triangular in shape.

But for this strange blue light, the chapel was in complete darkness; and as far as Anne could see, no other altar, nor any statue, nor picture accounted for the nuns' reverential attitude. They beat their breasts, and grovelled in extreme abasement before the tripod, while their voices were raised in a monotonous chant, meaningless to Anne as Abracadabra, in which she


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could only clearly make out certain phrases that recurred over and over again like the burden of an incantation:—

“Holi! Huqui! Xibal Xibalba!
Holi! Huqui! Xibal Xibalba!”

It was not till some time afterwards that she learned their interpretation:—

“We call thee! We beseech thee!
Xibal, Lord of the Dead!”

Anne crept back to her couch, and waited for an hour or more, as she fancied, while the chant droned on. Then she must have gone to sleep again, for suddenly, without preparation, she knew that the singing had ceased, and became conscious of the glare of lights where darkness had been. Looking towards the curtained doorway by which she had entered from the corridor, Anne now saw Keorah, the High Priestess, standing with two of her Virgins, one on each side of her, holding lighted lamps; while within the chamber, at the head and foot of her couch, were the four other Virgins of the Flame—foremost among them she who had received her at the banquet, bearing robes of white linen. Another held a veil of gossamer material, while the remaining two carried bottles containing unguents and essences.

Anne, dazed with sleep, stared vacantly around her. The High Priestess gave a command in her own tongue to the Virgins, and signed Anne to rise. The girl did so, and stood before Keorah. They made an interesting picture, these two rivals, if that could be called rivalry in which one had declared herself willing to yield, and the other desired not to take.

Unevenly matched they seemed: Anne comparatively diminutive—even insignificant; the insignificance redeemed only by the unconscious dignity of her expression; unformed, childlike, shrinking, with the linen garment provided by the priestesses drawn closely


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round her thin shoulders, her short hair ruffled over her brow, her delicately featured face, worn and pale to the whiteness of milk; her spirit, appealing yet indomitable, shining from the large dark eyes, that seemed as the eyes of another breed of woman, in contrast with the glittering almond-shaped orbs of the Priestess. So she stood, a pathetic yet forceful figure. Keorah towered above Anne, majestic in her proportions, magnificent in colouring and array, her red hair framing the strange, long, fascinating face, with its gleaming blue eyes and crimson mouth. Upon her forehead, the Eye of Viracocha shone dully beneath her pink feather head-dress, and her mantle of office with its curious feather border and designs—an eye and heart, a hand and a cross, embroidered in shades of red and blue—swept in ample folds round her splendid form, and was held in place by the jewelled tortoise at her breast.

Was the High Priestess so willing after all to exchange for human joys the privileges of her exalted position? There was nothing of the womanly submissiveness of her address to the people to be read now in her bearing and expression. It was as the upholder of saccrdotal authority that she came into the presence of this usurper of her rights.

She eyed Anne silently from head to foot. It seemed to the girl that Keorah was appraising her own points of vantage, and measuring weapons with the scanty armoury of her foe. But there was no possibility of words between them. Anne did not understand Keorah's language, and both women were too proud to descend to the common medium of signs. Thus they stood facing each other for a minute or two, neither uttering a sound.

Keorah, addressing her Virgins, broke the silence. It was not till later that Anne understood what she said.

“Time shortens. Dress the maid in fine white robes, as befits a suppliant of the gods. Veil her so that in the hour of abasement Xibal, Lord of Death, may not blight her by his baleful ray. Place upon her the black


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mantle without which none dare approach the Blue Stone. Then lead her last in my following, and let her kneel in the Circle of Virgins beneath the Disc of Death, till the moment when she must stand in the appointed place before the altar of Viracocha, Lord of Dawn, and receive the verdict of the most high god.”

The Chief of the Virgins now came forward, attended by those carrying perfumes, with which Anne was first anointed. Then they combed out and sprayed with essence her short curls; contemptuous, as she clearly saw, of the meagreness of her adornment in this respect, compared with their own masses of red-gold hair—in which, however, all were inferior to the High Priestess herself.

They bound a narrow white fillet upon Anne's forehead, then dressed her in the loose linen robe carried by the eldest Virgin, leaving it ungirdled, save by a thin cord of twisted strands of flax. Then they threw the muslin veil upon her head, letting it fall in front, and fastening it with bone pins at the shoulders; and over all, they put the long black mantle, with a large hood which completely covered her head and form.

After having thus apparelled her, and at a word from Keorah, who led the way, the Virgins conducted Anne into the chapel and left her standing at a little distance from the raised tripod, with its strange basin of phosphorescent light, while, in a sort of robing recess opening off the chapel, each donned a shrouding black cloak and hood similar to that worn by Anne, except that while hers was quite plain, those of the Virgins had a design in the centre of the back, none alike, but varying, doubtless, according to the rank held by its wearer. Keorah's mantle was more elaborately embroidered than those of the others, and she was robed with considerable ceremony by three of her attendants. Finally, she was given a long staff tipped with the same phosphorescent substance as that enclosed by the curved edge of the tripod, which glimmered palely in the half darkness of the chapel. This staff the priestesses


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handled reverently and with great care, presenting it on bended knee, while they chanted the words of the refrain, “Holi! Huqui! Xibal Xibalba!”

Now the nuns moved in procession, singing as they went, Keorah heading the band, alone. Her eyes were fixed on the staff, which she held upright a little way from her; and she led in a clear high-pitched, but somewhat thin, mezzo-soprano, the invocational hymn.

Anne was at first jarred by the strains, with their long monotonous cadences and strange harmonies, composed, it seemed to her, on a different musical scale from that common in Europe. Nevertheless, curious as was the diapason, she found the music affecting her after a few minutes almost to fascination.

After Keorah, the other six priestesses walked in pairs, the last two having Anne between them, and all of them, except the High Priestess, carrying torches. They went along winding passages hewn in the mountain, Keorah's staff shining like a dim star in the darkness at any point where the abutting rock momentarily intercepted the light of the torches. For it seemed a peculiarity of the phosphorescent stone, that it was absolutely dull in sunlight, and only emitted its full radiance in total darkness, though by lamp-light it was not entirely eclipsed.

Anne's dulled senses and exhausted nerves had been quickened and recuperated by food and sleep. She felt more herself again; her spirits had risen, and her brain was alert, taking in everything around her with curiosity, interest, and a feeling of awakening awe. Yet though keenly alive, she had still the sensation of living in an intensely real dream. The nuns walked on, chanting for perhaps ten minutes, then halted before an archway draped with heavy feather-embroidered curtains. Here, the torches were extinguished, only the ghastly blue flame of Keorah's death-stone staff shining in the blackness. The two foremost virgins drew the curtains apart. Keorah passed through, the others followed, and Anne now found herself in a vast


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shadowy hall, standing in a kind of chancel raised several steps above the body of the building, from which it was partly divided by a row of slender pillars. The chancel was illuminated only by a triangular object set in the wall, somewhat higher than a tall man's head, and protected by a stone balustrade reaching from the ground to within a few inches of its lower edge. This triangular object emitted a pale blue light, swelling and diminishing with wave-like regularity—the light which Anne already associated with that of the mysterious Death-Stone of Gunīda Ulàla—the same light as that of the tripod in the Priestess' chapel, and of the staff Keorah bore.

At this end of the temple there was no other illumination; but far away in the blackness beyond, showing the vast extent of this rock-hewn hall, a few torches glimmered feebly. All else was shadow. The gloom seemed even denser within the weird radius of the Death-Stone, where, to right and left, with an empty space between, was gathered a concourse of black shrouded figures, all bowed towards the ground, and wailing the same monotonous chant that Anne had heard in the chapel, with its ever-recurring burden, “Holi! Huqui! Xibal Xibalba!”

The doorway by which the procession of priestesses had entered was near the triangle of the Death-Stone. Before it, forming a line round the protecting balustrade, were the Seven Elders, who called themselves Hu Aca Tehua—Sacred Guardians of the Aca people. Naquah stood in the centre of the line; but as Keorah advanced, it parted, and the Elders re-formed in two rows, one on each side of the triangle, thus giving place in the centre to her and her maidens. Keorah immediately prostrated herself, the others following her example, they kneeling in a semi-circle with Anne in the middle, so that as she knelt in line with them, she was behind the figure of the High Priestess, and in front of the Death-Stone.

Anne dimly perceived that there was now some elaborate ritual in which the Elders assisted, connected with the placing of the staff Keorah had carried inside


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the stone balustrade. There, it glowed like a corpse candle below the witch-like flame aloft. All that Anne could see of Keorah and the Virgins on either side of the High Priestess, was the shapeless outlines of their concealing cloaks and hoods; but of the Elders who who were in profile to her, she could discern, by the blue light of the Death-Stone, cadaverous features, and in four of them, long grey beards, the other three, of whom one was Kapoc, being apparently younger. Of the congregation, Anne could only catch, as her eyes roved sideways over her shoulders, partial glimpses; and in the uniform mass of black, it was impossible for her to conjecture the whereabouts of Hansen. She wondered whether he were present, and what had become of Kombo, who in face of the Death-Stone, must be a prey to the direst terror. But even these speculations regarding her only protectors relaxed their hold upon her attention as the service proceeded in motet and antiphon, Keorah's voice leading, the Elders and Virgins returning the phrase, which again was echoed in muffled tone by the bowed congregation. Anne had not prostrated herself after the manner of the Virgins upon either side of her, each of whom kept upon her arm a warning and detaining hand. She kneeled upright, a small stiff figure, staring about her, at first as best she could, beneath her overhanging hood, then with her gaze becoming gradually fixed in the direction of the Death-Stone in front of her. She tried not to look at it, but a feeling as though she were being mesmerized was gradually overpowering her. For, in the position in which she was placed, the blue light seemed to converge upon her, sweeping over the heads of the Virgins and Elders, and enveloping her head and shoulders as the ray passed and spread, growing wider till it was merged in the further darkness of the temple. And now, as the chant went on, an increasing sense of awe stole over Anne; she became more and more controlled by the pageant and its atmospheric conditions, and by something stronger and more


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compelling—the spirit, perchance, of this barbaric worship at which she was assisting. She felt herself at the feet of Xibal, Ruler of the Shades, and her heart went out in the supplicatory expressions of his ritual. All seemed grimly appropriate, terrifically real —the darkness of the temple, the black shrouds of the devotees, the absence of any altar or propitiatory offering beneath the bare triangular symbol—for what offering short of life itself can be acceptable to the Lord of Death? Everything impressed the novice painfully, and carried her beyond herself. Nothing but a curious upbounding of her heart within her as the thought of her companions crossed her mind, seemed left of the original blithesome Anne. Yet she was not afraid, nor did she even feel herself a lonely stranger in the midst of an adverse crowd, alien to herself though it was, in nature and in faith, but rather the momentary centre of primal elements, for which she had always in her bush wanderings been vaguely conscious. There were powers, she knew, which had in the beginning created order out of chaos, and who presided still over the appointments they had made, and the Faiths which served them. To their mighty aid, Anne trusted, lifting, amid her strange surroundings, her wordless petition for courage and support, with the appealing voices of the Aca. Involuntarily, then, she covered her head and bent her body in reverence, while the Hymn to Xibal rose and fell in ear-piercing cadences. At the time the strange, and, as they seemed to her, uncouth phrases, conveyed no meaning to her mind, but later on, she learned the interpretation of them.

  HYMN TO XIBAL.

  (Lord of Death.)

God of Shadows! Breath of Night!
Wielder of the dreadful might,
Quencher of our life and light,
Hear us, oh! Xibalba.




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We are kneeling at thy throne,
By the shining blue Death-Stone;
List! the Aca make their moan
Unto thee, Xibalba.

Thou who hast so strong a hand,
That the face of all the land
Darkened is at thy command,
Spare us, Lord Xibalba.

Thou who leapest in the waves,
Thou who lurkest in the caves,
Thou who diggest deep our graves,
Slay us not, Xibalba.

Thou who makest ghosts of men;
Who may call, we know not when,
Man or maid from mortal ken,—
Hush thee, Lord Xibalba.

Thou who drawest in the breath,
Who art Lord of every death,
List to what the Aca saith;—
Rest thee now, Xibalba.

Sing we softly unto thee
Prayer and praise on bended knee,
That thy people may go free;
Waken not, Xibalba!

Sleep, Xibalba, sleep in peace!
Here, thy worship shall not cease
If thou lettest us increase;
We are thine, Xibalba.

When thou wakest, men must weep,
Therefore lull thee into sleep,
While thy slaves their vigil keep
Tremblingly, Xibalba.




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We at length shall long for rest,
And creep, thankful, to thy breast,
Knowing that what is, is best;
Life or Death, Xibalba.

Which the greater mystery
Matters not; for we shall see
All that was, or that will be,
When we wake, Xibalba.

Though the night be dark and drear,
Yet the morning shall appear
Which shall make all meanings clear,
Even thine, Xibalba.

When our journeyings are past,
In one vision strange and vast
We shall understand at last
Death and Life, Xibalba.

Therefore sleep, oh ! sleep in peace,
For thy worship shall not cease
Till we win from thee release
Eternally, Xibalba.

Now in the half mesmeric condition in which the blue light of the Death-Stone and the weird music had plunged her, Anne became aware that the final invocation, repeated three times in strains growing gradually fainter, was dying in a last long echo through the vast hall, and with its expiring sigh, absolute silence reigned in the temple. The Virgins and the Elders were mute, with bowed forms, before the Death-Stone; the worshippers remained soundless and prostrate. Not a movement, not a breath fluttered the black, shrouded mass. The silence was deep and profound as the silence of the grave—the grave, no longer empty of life and given over to corruption, but filled with the spirit that is in itself all-being. Thus did the silence which spread through the place seem to Anne. How long it lasted


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she did not know. The awesome stillness, and the sense of an overpowering Presence that pervaded it, were to her the only realities of time and place. She was aroused at last by a faint stir, and a sound as of a long in-drawn sigh, telling her that the tension was relaxed. The priestesses kneeling on either side of her, pressed their hands again upon her arms, and, as they rose swiftly and noiselessly to their feet, she rose also. They turned, and Anne turned with them, facing the opposite end of the temple, where, in the far distance, she perceived a faint glimmering light coming, as she at first fancied, through a round window.

The nuns leading her, she descended the steps into the nave of the temple, which she now traversed along a broad clear space, between the rows of kneeling black-robed worshippers. Immediately after she and her conductors had passed, the people in each row rose and reversed their positions. Now in the rear, she heard music sounding again, not this time that of human voices, but the muffled clash of cymbals, and the rhythmic beat of some peculiar kind of drum, which gave back a curious hollow rumbling, and blended with the subdued tramp of feet upon the stone pavement. Anne dared not look behind her; she was too spell-bound to show curiosity, but she guessed that the Priestesses and Elders and others of the congregation were following her towards the glimmering round, which grew larger as she approached it, while the faint light it shed expanded and became clearer. A beautiful silvery radiance seemed struggling out of moving shadows like that of a full moon lightly veiled by clouds. She now saw that this end of the temple was also a sort of chancel, approached by steps, and partly screened by a row of pillars set at a considerable distance apart. The round window, as she had at first fancied it to be, was placed high—but not so high as the Death-Stone triangle opposite—in what appeared the terminal wall of the temple. But now she saw that it was not a window. It looked more like a disc of burnished metal,


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from the surface of which there leaped up pale little flames and white points of light, among which were brilliant, coloured specks, that shifted and changed like the multi-tinted fires in an opal. It was, in fact, an immense shield encrusted with opals of peculiar brilliancy.




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Chapter XXVI - The Red Ray

PRESENTLY, they mounted the three deep steps leading to this second chancel, which she dimly perceived to be cut longitudinally by two rows of massive pillars showing cavernous recesses on either side. But the light was so faint, and the veil hanging over her eyes so impeded her vision, that Anne could form no definite conception of the place.

Suddenly, she was brought to a standstill upon a circular piece of pavement that showed light upon the dark stone flooring a few feet distant from, and slightly sideways to, the luminous disc. With swift, silent movements the two priestesses divested her of her shrouding mantle and hood, and threw back the veil which had covered her face, and which now hung from her shoulders over the simple robe of white linen in which they had dressed her for the ceremony. She saw that the priestesses had likewise taken off their outer black garments, and wore only the white dress of their order, and the gold tortoise studded with opals which clasped it on the breast.

Now that her veil was lifted, Anne could see more clearly in the milky light, which was like the early radiance of a summer dawn. Lifting her eyes, she was able to trace the moulding and projections in the high vaulted roof of the temple, which, though cut in the solid mountain, was elaborately carved in curious figures and hieroglyphs. A pale shaft of light gleamed down through a deep circular aperture in the ceiling directly over her, and she saw that the little tunnel slanted at such an angle, that the column of light


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issuing from it, struck directly the centre of the disc and accounted for the glimmering radiance which the burnished plate gave out, and which intensified as the dawn lightened. But there was not yet a beam of sunshine to kindle the milky luminosity of the disc. And now Anne saw that these were indeed opal fires, and that the great circular shield was literally a mass of these precious stones closely encrusting it, with one enormous opal of special purity in the exact centre. It seemed to Anne that on this stone the light was focussed.

Full of wonder and admiration, the girl lowered her dazed eyes to the body of the temple. Where, a little while ago, all had been blackness, there now showed a mass of white and colour. The dark coverings were shed, and the whole congregation stood clad in festal array facing the opal disc, and with backs turned to the Death-Stone, the blue light of which grew duller and duller as the dawn-light increased.

The clash and beat of cymbals and drums played in the rear by a band of acolytes, marked the advance up the broad open space of a procession of the Virgins and Elders, who were following Anne from the Triangle of Death to the Disc of Life. Keorah, at its head, walked alone with stately tread, her arms outstretched, bearing no longer the Staff of Death, but the golden Globe of Life, emblem of the Sun. Her russet hair fell over her shoulders upon her gorgeous mantle of office, and the Eye of Viracocha shone upon her forehead.

Very slowly, very solemnly, the procession came, moving to the rhythm of the cymbals and the drum's hollow beat, till, at a distance of three or four yards from the spot where Anne was stationed, Keorah halted. Then drums and cymbals ceased. The Virgins and the Elders stood motionless. The people fell on their knees again in silence. Three times the High Priestess raised and lowered the holy emblem she bore, in salutation to the Lord of Life. Then her shrill, sweet voice rang out in the opening phrases of a chant of which as before, the


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Virgins took up alternate stanzas. This hymn was less monotonous and dismal in character than the one they had sung before the Emblem of Death; but Anne, as she listened, not understanding the words, realized that it was of deep and solemn significance. It was, in fact, the prophecy of which the Priestess and the Elders had already spoken. Roughly translated into rhyme by Hansen later, it ran thus:—

  THE PROPHECY.

When the night of our darkness is over at last,
When the light of the morning shall rise and appear,
When the time of our travail is finished and past,
Then the Daughter of Dawn, our Deliv'rer, draws near.

Viracocha shall send her, and guide her fair feet
Dry shod o'er the plain where the great seas have been;
And the People of Aca her coming shall greet,
Who shall serve as their Priestess, and rule as their Queen.

Fair Strength is her Sceptre, and Beauty her Crown:
By their mystical might, by the Sign that is true,
She shall lead forth the Aca in ancient renown,
From flame and from flood to a land that is new.

Then seek ye her smile; of her frown be afraid,
Lest alone ye are left in bereavement to mourn.
Hail ! Hail to the Priestess, the Wonderful Maid,
To the Chosen of Aak, and the Daughter of Dawn.

Anne listened intently, studying the expression of the chief singer in the hope that she might gain some clue to the meaning of the song.

Keorah's long, oddly attractive face, with its peaked chin and strange eyes, enchained her attention for a time; then her gaze wandered to the shaft of light as it descended in a diagonal course from the opening overhead. Its beams did not touch the Priestess; but as they travelled towards the opal disc, Anne felt that her


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own head fell within their radius, and had the sensation of being bathed in light. It was as though a grey veil had fallen from Heaven upon her, a veil lit up momentarily by a myriad dancing sparks. As the brightness intensified, she became aware that the silvery column had faint flecks of gold, and knew that the sun must have risen, and was travelling in the heavens to a point where it would strike the opening, and pierce to the heart of the great Disc. She watched the column of light as it spread and deepened, with a child-like interest, wondering what it portended, and why it happened that she had been so placed as to directly intercept the blue ray of the Death-Stone and the glorious beam of the Giver of Life.

And now, caught by the phrasing of the chant, she looked again towards the singers, and the scene in the temple becoming gradually more broadly illuminated, she was conscious with a shock of surprise that all eyes were fixed upon her in an interest and anticipation, the sincerity of which was unmistakable. For the first time she realised that she herself was the centre of action and drama, and that upon her, and upon the great irradiated disc with which she was connected by that broad band of silvery light, all the thoughts and desires of the multitude were concentrated. Her mind scarcely took in what it all meant. Hansen had told her of the prophecy, and she had had a vague understanding of important issues at stake, of some ceremony and ordeal upon which her future would depend. But she had not expected that in this barbaric rite, as she had supposed it, there would come to her any deep religious awe, any sense of the working of unseen spiritual agencies. Yet this was what now came over her. The impression of something solemn and super-natural which had for the time overwhelmed her while she knelt before the Death-Stone, and which had passed away during her progress towards the Disc of Life, now returned with double force, and she stood as one in a dream, to whom has been vouch-safed


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a revelation from on high. Again, she was recalled to the scene in the temple by the dying down of the music, as it had been so far rendered in alternate stanzas by the Zuhua Kak and the Virgins of the Flame. The hymn closed with an invocation to the Deity, delivered first in another key by Keorah, and then chorussed by the whole assemblage. It was the Hallelujah to Viracocha, with which later, Anne became fully familiar.

“Uol Viracocha !”  (Hail Viracocha !)
“Oyoya Ku”  (Thou art the Lord)
“Zazil Huaca”  (Thou Breath of Dawn)
“Lahuna Ku”  (Thou Lord of the Universe)
  “Uol Viracocha !”

And with a mighty shout, the congregation thundered once more,

  “Uol Viracocha !”

Following upon the one-throated acclamation came silence—silence profound and all-embracing as that which had come after the Death-Stone chant—silence quick with possibility, a-thrill with long-deferred hope, on the very verge of fulfilment.

Anne's eyes went to the great disc, which now seemed to have become a circle of changing fire. The opal in its middle gleamed with a superb white light, and trembling in its heart was a small deep spark of red. Now she saw that a ray of pure sunlight had been caught and been imprisoned in the opening overhead. Just then the beam flashed down, almost blinding her with its glory. It moved direct to the centre of the disc, and there it kindled into flame the red spark which leaped up to meet it, till that which had been as a drop of rose-red blood became like the heart of a rose. Swiftly, tremulously, as the glow of sunrise spreads in the sky, the effulgence deepened and expanded till the dusky


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head and the pale shining face of Anne was lit up by the heavenly fire. Hushed were the eager people as they gazed, hushed were the Virgins and Elders, while Anne stood motionless amid the roseate light which lingered caressingly about her till the whole of the slender girlish form was bathed in unearthly brilliance. For several seconds did this illumination last, and then the magical rose-red radiance vanished, leaving only the silver light of morning, through which filtered the golden rays of the early sun.

A low murmur broke among the throng, gaining in volume till it seemed to shake the rock out of which the temple was cut. It was no invocation, chant, or acclamation of the gods, but the voicing of a people's emotion.

“Viracocha has spoken. It is the Sign! The prophecy is fulfilled. Behold our Priestess—the heaven-sent one. Daughter of the Dawn! Sister of the Stars. Beloved of the Highest. Server of Aak. Ix Nacan Katuna (May she be exalted). Chaac Zuhua Nakul! (White maiden for ever worshipped!”) they cried, one and another, in many different keys, all stirred completely out of the characteristic apathy of the race. They waved their right arms towards the small erect form of the girl, whose pale face grew paler, and her dark eyes wider, as she realised the meaning of the gesture, and the act of homage which was implied, when simultaneously, each extended right arm was drawn back across the breast to the left shoulder, and everybody was bent in obeisance to her. She felt frightened, and yet an odd thrill of triumph went through her. She was glad that she had so successfully passed the ordeal; glad that she was chosen by the gods and by the people.

The hunter Hotan stepped forward and spoke the High Priestess' name, indicating that she also should do reverence to her newly-elected successor. Keorah's eyes blazed for a moment. She laughed harshly, drawing up her tall form, and rearing her stately head; then


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ignoring Anne, she turned and made a formal act of submission to Naquah, who stood at the group of Elders. The people applauded. There was a shout of “Hu Aca Tehua.” Then Naquah, as spokesman of the Sacred Guardians, addressed Keorah.

“Thou hast seen the Sign, my daughter. Thou hast beheld the Red Ray descend upon the head of this stranger maiden. Thou knowest that the ancient prophecy is now made manifest, and that She for whom we have long waited has come among us. This is by the Will of Him the Unnameable, Who kindled the Eternal Fire, Who set the Wheel of Life revolving, Whose Doer is Viracocha, and His Intercesssor Aak.

“Not in wrath hast thou been set down, my daughter, from thy high place, but perchance in honour, that through thee and thy seed may the nation be blest. Since if thou who art surely Beauty dost mate thee with Fair Strength, from the twain of ye may spring a new race who perchance will give back to the people their ancient renown. I call upon thee, therefore, Keorah, who wast Zuhua Kak, to yield up the Sacred Emblems of thine office to her who has been chosen by the gods to serve in thy stead.”

Again the High Priestess made formal submission.

“I hear thee, Naquah, and most willingly do I obey.”

So saying, she passed out of the half-circle of Virgins and Elders into the vacant space which intervened between it and Anne, but halted half way and turned, facing the crowd with superb disdain.

“Hear me, ye people of the Aca! Did ye think that Our Lord of Dawn, and Aak the Intercessor, have withheld counsel from their servant? Of a surety it was revealed to me before the Flame descended, making known His Will, Who is Ku of the unutterable Name, and Whose vesture is the Sun. Of a surety, I say, was it shown to me that the priestess fore-ordained had come amongst ye. Was it for me to declare before the appointed time that which had been given unto me? Nevertheless, did these eyes behold and this tongue


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bear witness when I said to ye that gladly would I deliver the sacred symbols to her upon whom the sign should rest. For this did I cause the maiden to be placed within the Circle of Life, where, by the decree anciently graved, no woman born of the Aca may set her feet, save the High Priestess only—knowing as I knew full well, that this day should the Red Ray descend, and the Glory of our Lord the Sun be made manifest upon his chosen one. Therefore”—and she turned with outstretched arms towards the Disc of Life, and as she uttered the words of homage, raised and lowered the golden orb she carried as she had done before, in the act of salutation,—“Therefore, I, Keorah, Woman of the Aak, do give thanks to thee, oh! Moulder of Forms, Builder of the Universe, who doest the will of the Supreme, and art for ever to be obeyed by these thy children and thy servants. Worshipping, we beseech thee, Lord Viracocha.”

Now she walked with stately gliding tread across the bare space, and standing before Anne, who was watching her with wondering eyes, she gave into the girl's trembling hands the golden globe, symbol of her own sacerdotal sovereignty. Then, loosening her gorgeous mantle of office, she laid it deftly on Anne's shoulders, whence it fell spreading on the ground, and quite enveloping the slender form. Afterwards, and always with the same quick, rhythmic movements, Keorah took the opal star from her forehead, and fastened it in the linen fillet that bound back Anne's short curls. There, reflecting a fuller ray of sunshine that suddenly struck and flashed back from the central opal of the disc, the Eye of Viracocha, as it was called, gave forth a brilliant beam of ruby fire from Anne's pale brow. Whereat the High Priestess bowed her head, and the Virgins, the Elders, and the congregation prostrated themselves anew, acclaiming yet louder the priestess marked out by the gods.

When the clamour had died down, Keorah, her eyes fixed upon the Disc, continued her prayer:—




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“Oh! Viracocha Zazil, Lord of the Lower Light, thou who wast created in the beginning, and shalt exist unto the end; powerful and pitiful; who preservest our life and strength! Thou who art in the sky and in the earth, in the clouds and in the depths, hear the voice of thy servant, and grant this petition—the last which I shall make in the name of those gathered here.

“We beseech thee, oh Viracocha, on behalf of the maiden whom thou hast sent as thy messenger, to declare thy will to these thy people. Quicken, we pray thee, with thy spirit, the soul of her who is now thy priestess, to whom I have delivered this, the Emblem of thy greatness.” She touched the golden ball as she spoke. “Clothe her in the garment of thy wisdom, even as I, thy server, have covered her with the vestment of my holy office. Lighten her eyes by the flame of thy glory, and kindle in her heart thy heavenly fire, even as thou hast kindled it in this jewel which thou didst fashion in the deeps of the earth, to be while the universe endures as an emblem of That which is unspeakable. Hear us, Viracocha!”

And the Hosanna echoed once more through the temple:—

“Uol Viracocha!
Oyoya Ku;
Zazil Huraca,
Lahuna Ku:
Uol Viracocha!”




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Chapter XXVII - The Judgment of Aak

DEEPLY impressed by the solemnity of the scene, grasping imperfectly the meaning of Keorah's gestures, and her own investiture with the priestess' dignities, though of her words she understood scarcely anything, Anne stood dazed, wishful to comport herself befittingly, but wholly uncertain of what might now be expected of her.

From the people she heard a cry of “Aak!”—a vague tumultuous murmur, the exact drift of which was of course unintelligible to her. It was rendered by Naquah the Elder in a short address to Keorah, who bowed her head, and made a sign to Anne, which the girl interpreted as a command to her to move into the presence of the god. Horrible thoughts of something she had read concerning the Aztec rites occurred to her. She wondered if it could be possible that she was to be led out for sacrifice to the god Aak. A frightened cry escaped her, but was stifled. At least, whatever destiny might be in store for her, she would confront it bravely.

She looked round and down the temple, like a trapped and helpless child, who yet will not show that it is afraid. Oh! she thought anxiously, if only Eric were near to give her courage and to tell her what it all meant. There was a rift in the half circle of Virgins and Elders. The nuns were advancing up the chancel, the Elders following them. And now she saw that in the crowd below some stir was taking place—a break in the ranks, and a man pressing forward, while those behind tried to hold him back. This was a man dressed richly in the Aca costume, with a short feather-trimmed


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cloak and a head-dress of feathers. Anne did not realise till their eyes met, that the man was Hansen, whom Hotan had apparelled, according to the orders of Keorah, in the best his wardrobe furnished.

Anne's alarm changed to gladness. She stretched out her hands with the golden ball between them, signing him to approach. The men who were holding him back desisted from their efforts, but still kept their hold upon him, evidently considering that he had no right to advance beyond the line of pillars, into the space reserved for the priestly officials. Yet, according to the law of the order, when the High Priestess commanded she must be obeyed, and Anne was now practically speaking, High Priestess. For the ratification of her appointment, there remained only that she should be presented to and approved by Aak. For this the multitude waited, but there was little doubt in their minds as to the issue. The difficulty was settled by Keorah, who, becoming aware of the commotion, and also seeing Hansen, beckoned to him and bade him approach alone. As he did so, she motioned to him to stand at the rear of the Virgins, slightly before the Elders who had formed themselves into two lines between which he passed.

“Our Priestess needs instruction in the Aca tongue,” said Keorah. “Till she has learned sufficient for the duties our Law requires of her, thy services as interpreter will be welcome. Wait and follow us in the order in which thou standest.”

So saying, she stepped to Anne's left side, and, laying her hand on the girl's arm, pointed to a wide archway, elaborately sculptured, between the pillars, on the left of the Disc. Within, was a recess that seemed to be less dark and to stretch much further back than the corresponding ones nearer to her on the right. Anne saw, too, that the opening had a stone fretwork screen, and she wondered if this could be the sanctuary of Aak.

The small procession re-formed, while the populace in


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the body of the temple remained, pressing as closely as possible to the chancel steps with heads craned forward, so as to get as advantageous a view as possible of the presentation to Aak. The two Virgins who had conducted Anne walked in front, carrying lighted tapers which had been brought to them by one of the acolytes in waiting at the side of the Chancel. Next came Keorah leading Anne, and followed by the other four Virgins; next, Hansen, prepared to act as interpreter, and watching Anne with deep interest and anxiety as she walked very erect, an imposing little figure, with the golden globe in her hands and her mantle sweeping the pavement. Last, came the seven Elders.

Thus, they crossed the Chancel, all bending low before the Disc of Life as they passed, till Keorah stopped about a couple of yards from the screen of fretwork. Anne now saw that it had wide apertures, and that the tracery was entirely covered with raised hieroglyphic figures; also that the frame of the arch was extremely massive, and was elaborately sculptured in bold relief.

Keorah motioned to Anne that she must kneel, and she herself and all her following, devoutly bent the knee, except the two foremost priestesses, who advanced with their tapers close to the screen, and proceeded to light a series of earthenware lamps placed in niches at different heights behind the arch. At first, Anne's attention was entirely occupied with the carvings—some grotesque in design, some of great beauty, which showed strikingly against the softly diffused light of the oil-lamps. Then she became aware of a monstrous shape behind the screen—something huge, dark, indefinable of outline, which made her forget everything else, so that she would have risen from her knees had not Keorah's firm hand held her down, and she could only stare wonder-stricken through the wide apertures of the fretwork into the further dimness of the cavern. The enormous shape seemed to shake slightly, as, one by one, the lamps flickered and


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flamed, but it did not rise. Very slowly it stirred, and when the light became clearer, Anne descried an immense and ponderous oval, and fancied that she saw something like a head bend from side to side at one end of the great mass, which she now made out to be a gigantic, land turtle.

Hansen, peering between the kneeling Virgins—who, joined by the taper-bearers, had ranged themselves behind Keorah and Anne in two segments of a half circle with a space between—could hardly repress an exclamation of astonishment and delight. Here he beheld a living specimen of one of the antediluvian turtles, the fossil remains of which are to be found with those of the Icthyosarus and the Plesiosaurus in the great cretacean graveyard of Central Australia, that mighty ocean of the Mesozoic age. He longed for the Thing to come closer, but the monster remained motionless. Now Keorah pressed Anne's wrist, and said something in her ear, which the girl did not understand, nor the imperative gesture which accompanied the words. Keorah impatiently looked over her shoulder, and signed Hansen to approach.

As he came up between the kneeling maidens, Keorah spoke to him in low rapid tones, desiring that he would convey her directions to Anne. Kneeling on one knee behind the two, he whispered to his comrade rather more lengthily than Keorah's communication demanded.

“She says that you must sing to the great god Aak. Don't be frightened; he's quite harmless. Mercy on us—what a monster! From the look of his shell I should think he was born before the Flood. Little friend, you've done magnificently, and you're safe now. This is the end of the ordeal. Aak will accept you. Turtles are extremely sensitive to music.” Anne's eyes spoke her gratitude and her joy at the sound of Hansen's voice again. But voice of her own she had none: it died in her throat. Keorah spoke again in authoritative tones. Hansen translated.




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“She says that you are to hail the great god Aak as your Lord and Master, and to beseech him to signify his approval of you as his new priestess. You can't do better than copy her manner when she gave that prayer to Viracocha. It was very fine. I never expected that we should come across anything like this when I told you that we should find wonders at the other end of the tunnel.”

Somehow, Hansen's exhortation, and his praise of Keorah's declamatory powers did not inspirit Anne as he had intended. She felt out of tune with the situation, and at her wits' end to know what she should sing that would be pleasing to Aak, the Tortoise-god.

“The Ave Baiamè,” Hansen suggested. “Only—stay, let me think of a Mayan word that will scan, and give the right meaning. Ah! I have one! Itzàla. It means supporter of the earth. Ave Itzàla.”

“Itzàla!” Keorah repeated the word suspiciously. He had to explain.

Evidently, Itzàla had no place in the Pantheon of the Red Men. She nodded acquiescently. Seeing her comrade's anxiety, and conscious of Keorah's cold bright eyes reading her face and darting glances first at her and then at Hansen, Anne found voice. Her notes were tremulous at starting, the “Itzàla” quavered, but as she went on, her voice gained volume and dramatic force. Notwithstanding, it was a spiritless performance, and neither Keorah, nor apparently Aak, as satisfied. The monstrous shape was scarcely agitated. Undoubtedly, the god gave no significant sign of approbation.

Keorah bent backward, and remonstrated in low sharp accents with the interpreter. He nodded, and again whispered to Anne.

“She says that is not enough. Aak is accustomed to loud singing and to violent gesticulation. You should raise your arms and act the suppliant. Screech. Do anything to pierce the Pachyderm senses. I know the creatures. They are vulnerable especially to sound, and


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they are curiously capable of attachment to humans. Little friend, throw yourself into the business. So much depends—for all of us—for science—on your success.”

His words fired the girl to enthusiasm. Her dramatic instinct came to her help. She lifted her arms and swayed her lithe body in harmonious gesticulations. Her voice leaped to a higher key, to more ear-rending intonations. “Ave Itzàla,” in the latest of its time-worn invocatory changes, would have melted the traditional rock. Anne's eyes grew larger and brighter as they strained into the cavernous depths of Aak's sanctuary.

She succeeded in making an impression. The great curved back of Leviathan shook like a world in convulsion. Slowy, slowly, the Thing upheaved itself. The ponderous mass rose higher, and gradually higher. Elephantine projections revealed themselves beneath, showing clubbed feet on short limbs uncouthly bent, which balanced the bulk with difficulty. Anne sang on as one inspired. She straightened her throat, letting her voice out to its full compass. She threw herself thoroughly into the part, forgetting that it was but a tortoise which she was straining every nerve to captivate.

Now the reptile's head, which had been partially indrawn, was protruded, thrust well out from under the mountain of shell, the slender horns, like those of an enormous snail, protruding; the face grotesque, yet strangely human, like that of a shrivelled old man in his dotage, with its sunken nostrils, its deep-set beady eyes, and heavy wrinkled lids. The thick creases of the throat smoothed as the telescopic neck lengthened itself. With restless movements the head darted blunderingly from side to side as the huge mass swayed, while the great feet slithered through the sand with which the floor of the cavern was thickly strewed.

So with its head facing the screen, its brilliant eyes flashing, as it seemed to the girl, answering glances to her own gaze, its small nostrils emitting a thin vapour, the Tortoise-god approached his new priestess. Placing


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one great foot heavily and carefully before the other, it came till it was within a few inches of the fret-work. Here it sank again, an inert mass, upon the sand, only its head moving, a smile of senile satisfaction upon its face. The eyes blinked ecstatically; the neck was thrust still further forward in Anne's direction.

With her heart beating high against the linen garment she wore, Anne sang on. In her soul was a strange blend of loathing, yet of fascination for the creature before her, and of pity for the ignorance of its worshippers. Was it possible that Keorah could believe this thing to be a god? She glanced sideways at the beautiful face with the inscrutable eyes that told her nothing. The High Priestess' gaze was fixed upon her, and Keorah's lips made a faint sound of approval. It seemed wonderful to Anne that Keorah should be glad to resign her place and power among the Aca people, though not so wonderful, perhaps, that she should be willing for another to supplant her in the favour of the beast. It must become monotonous, thought Anne, this singing to Aak—this travesty of worship. For a moment, Anne's soul quaked within her. Was she doomed to be hence-forth cooped up with the Tortoise, while Keorah enjoyed life, light, and freedom? If so, no wonder that Keorah was glad to escape. But she remembered Keorah's appearance on the balcony, how her word had been law, and how the people and the Elders had treated her almost as a queen. Then she—Anne—who was now Priestess, was to rule in Keorah's stead, and a burning desire came over her to master the situation, to show herself no mere puppet of circumstance, but a keenwitted ruler able to dominate events, and to turn her sovereignty to her own and Eric Hansen's advantage.

While these thoughts passed through her mind, her voice swelled louder in the concluding bars of her song; and the Tortoise, charmed by the melody, stretched his neck still further, and placed his nose upon the ledge of a piece of carving on the screen so near to Anne that his breath, rising in a little cloud from the dilated nostrils,


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stirred the feather trimmings of her cloak. The glittering eyes gazed into her face; then slowly, the creased lids closed over them, and the Tortoise remained motionless in a rapture of enjoyment. Horrible as was the shrivelled face on its snaky neck coming out of the great body, there was something even pathetic in the monster's abject subjugation by the voice of this small, proud, frightened girl.

As the last strains of the Ave died away, the breathless suspense of the crowd which waited below in the temple, found vent in a long low murmur, gathering in sound like the break of a wave on the shore. It was now for Keorah to inform the people that Aak had unmistakably signified his approval of the new priestess. She had drawn slightly to the rear, and was kneeling beside Hansen, watching him from between her narrowed eyelids. He seemed unaware of the scrutiny, so intently was his attention fixed upon the Tortoise and upon the result of the ordeal. Yet he felt in a subconscious way the magnetic influence she exercised over him and chafed against it, sensing emotional disturbance in her which must work for ill. In truth, Keorah's heart had been beating as wildly as that of Anne, though for a different reason. The nerve tension in her had been extreme. For her, too, the issue was momentous, although not in the manner that might have been supposed. She had been rejected, set aside in favour of a stranger, but she was by no means crestfallen. Rather did she seem the victor than vanquished.

She rose to her feet, and the other worshippers did so likewise. All made an obeisance to the Tortoise, which, at the conclusion of the song, had drawn in its head and was again lying, an inert mass, upon the floor of the cavern.

Naquah, at a few rapid words spoken by Keorah, motioned to Anne to come forward in the procession which now began to move. Keorah swept in advance of it to the edge of the chancel steps, and stood for a moment or two without speaking—a most striking figure


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in her plain linen robes with no mantle but her splendid hair; no jewels but those on the zone which clasped her waist. Nevertheless, she seemed more beautiful in her simple attire than in all her former panoply. And, unaccountable though it appeared, Keorah's face wore an irrepressible look of elation, and there was a ring of triumph in her voice, as she cried out three times:—“Manel! Manel! It is done. At the Will of Viracocha, the Flame burned. Aak beheld the Sign, and bowed before it. The gods have chosen their Priestess. Behold the Zuhua Kak!”




  ― 255 ―

Chapter XXVIII - Ix Naacan Katuna

THE new Priestess of Aak had, for the present at least, done all that was required of her in regard of the Tortoise-god, and for the remainder of the day was released from duty. She had been initiated in her office by Keorah, who afterwards, formally renounced her sacerdotal functions. Then the late High Priestess quitted the temple by the public entrance and went to her own house inherited from her father, there to retire into private life so far as might be possible in the case of one who was secularly, the richest and most important lady in the Aca community. For it had till now been the custom that she who was chosen among the Virgins of the Flame to be High Priestess, should be an orphan belonging to the wealthy and ruling class. Keorah, therefore, was a woman of distinction and property, and her apartments in the nunnery, where Anne was now to be installed, had been occupied merely officially, her actual residence being one of the largest of the cave dwellings which looked out upon the market-place, and was connected by a private corridor with that in which other six Virgins lived.

Thus Anne, some little time after her presentation as the Zuhua Kak, was returning from the temple, escorted by the maidens bearing their lighted torches, along the passage she had traversed a few hours before, behind Keorah and the Staff of Death. Neither this mysterious symbol nor the golden Globe of Life was carried in the returning procession. Each was laid in its appointed place beneath the triangular Death-Stone and the opal Disc. Anne was now parted from


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Hansen. He had tried to remain near her on plea of acting as interpreter, but Keorah, in a last exercise of authority, had dismissed him under charge of Hotan, when the crowd dispersed on conclusion of the religious ceremony, to prepare for the games and banquet which were always part of this annual festival of the Aca.

Anne felt very much the loneliness of her position, but she was still eager and interested. She greatly regretted that she had not Hansen's knowledge of Mayan, so as to be able to talk with the nuns and understand what was going on around her. Her only friend seemed the young priestess who, on the previous evening, had taught her a few Mayan words, and laughed over their English equivalents. There was a natural sympathy between herself and this girl, who was bright and attractive. Her name, Anne learned, was Semaara—signifying arrow—and she was very pretty, with merry grey eyes and a dimple at the corner of her rosy lips. She reminded Anne a little of her own sister Etta.

The procession halted before a wide stone archway hung with feather-embroidered curtains. Two of the maidens drew these apart, and all six ranging themselves, made obeisance, and indicated that the Zuhua Kak should pass between them into the abode which was now her own. Anne found herself in a large, low room, hollowed out of the rock, and with a great opening in front which gave upon a balcony—the same balcony whence Keorah had spoken to the people on the previous afternoon. She at once grasped the fact that these were the High Priestess' quarters, and was not ill-pleased with their aspect. From the larger room, opened an inner one, evidently a sleeping chamber, the curtains of which were also drawn aside by the Virgins. This appeared to be sumptuously furnished in barbaric fashion; so, too, the room in which she stood. The stone floor was strewn with rugs of skin and feathers, the walls were partly painted in bold designs, partly hung with feather tapestry.


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There were divans with fine skins and handsome cushions; sideboards jutting from the rock walls, and sculptured and adorned with lamps and utensils in a metal Anne imagined to be gold; some stools there were, too, and small tables, on one of which to Anne's delight, stood a large earthenware bowl filled with tastefully arranged flowers. Dishes of fruit and cakes were laid upon a side table; and when she saw them, Anne realised that she was hungry, and might have echoed Kombo's formula “Niai Kandu,” invariably uttered at the end of a march. Semaara saw her glance and laughed, saying something to one of the other nuns, who clapped her hands loudly. Whereat, a tall maiden clad in a scanty gown of rough linen, appeared, and after receiving her orders, went out again, returning presently with a dish of pasties which were made of some kind of meat—kid, Anne thought—wrapped in maize dough, fried and flavoured with chilies—exceedingly appetizing, as the new High Priestess found when she tasted them. Meanwhile, with much ceremony, Semaara had divested Anne of the Zuhua Kak's gorgeous mantle, had brought water in a pottery basin, and a fringed towel, and washed the Priestess' feet, shoeing them with delicate sandals. The novelty of being so waited on delighted poor Anne after her long wanderings and rough sojournings among the blacks; while to be clad in cool fresh garments of linen in contrast with her cast-off fibre petticoats and shreds of underclothing, was joy beyond compare. It was extremely pleasant to have a meal set before her that had not been cooked over a camp fire, and to which she had the seasoning of pounded rock salt. She found the various condiments in which the Acans seemed to indulge, as well as their culinary methods, excellent, and she greatly enjoyed a drink which Semaara poured from a metal jug—an effervescing mixture that was slightly alcoholic. On the whole, Anne began to think that her lot as High Priestess of the Aca would prove fairly endurable.




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The other priestesses did not eat with her, but attended to her wants, busying themselves otherwise in the arrangement of her chamber. Anne found them stiff and silent, till she discovered that it was not etiquette for them to speak till addressed by her. She then tried by signs to encourage them to talk, but without much success. The eldest Virgin, who had received Anne on her arrival in the house, and whose name was Ishtal, seemed rather a formidable person, much more sedate than the rest. Anne had the impression that this woman resented the deposition of Keorah, and was scandalized at her own unavoidable outrages of Acan decorum. Semaara was certainly the one whom Anne liked best, and who, she proposed to herself, should teach her the Acan language. Already she was learning the names of different objects in the room.

Presently the maidens all retired, leaving Anne alone to rest for an hour. Coming back about noon, they re-robed her in the gorgeous mantle which the poor Priestess would gladly have left behind, it was so cumbersome, and ill-suited to her little figure. But Ishtal was aghast at the suggestion, and Anne gathered that the mantle was an outward sign of the dignity she had to maintain. She was also decked in a head-dress of rose-coloured feathers, in the front of which was fastened the sacred opal.

Now they passed through the outer room, and descended the rock-hewn staircase. Down in the market-place a well-dressed crowd was gathered, and hilarity of a subdued kind prevailed—the Aca were not apparently a frolicsome race. At sight of the new High Priestess all became on the alert, but there was less curiosity than might have been supposed. The procession of Virgins crossed the space, Anne as Zuhua Kak, according to etiquette, walking alone, with the other maidens immediately behind. She was uncertain what to do or where to go, and violated custom again by calling Semaara to her side.

From Semaara she gleaned by means of signs something


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of what was going on, and what was expected of her. Thus she dimly ascertained that outside the temple and the nunnery—from which abode men were excluded—the High Priestess was more or less her own mistress, and by no means debarred from secular amusements, though compelled always to keep up a certain state and dignity. Now she discovered that games and feats of skill were to be performed beyond the walls of the city, and that to this entertainment she and her maidens, as well as the crowd were bound. Anne, though a little bewildered, was pleased at the prospect, for now she saw an opportunity of talking to Hansen, and getting him to explain to her the exact significance of the temple rites, and the extent of her power, which she was beginning to think might be considerable. She also wanted to know what had become of Kombo.

The black boy himself answered that question. At the corner of the temple street he darted from beside a booth, where he had been regaling himself on maize cakes and fried plantains, given him at the expense of a small crowd which was amused at his antics. The Priestess' procession had now been joined by the seven Elders and their attendant acolytes, who formed a sort of guard round the Virgins of the Flame. Bursting through them, Kombo, a ragged Bacchanalian figure—for it had not been considered necessary to provide him with fresh garments—accosted his mistress.

“Yai! Yai! Missa Anne!” he cried out. “Where you been sit down all night? What for you no look out for Kombo? Mine been stop long-a verandah. Ba'al mine sleep. Plenty tugra (cold) this fellow. Ba'al mine been have-im supper—ba'al breakfast. Ba'al mine find-im Massa Hansen. Mine want-im go long-a church, like-it Red Man, but that fellow make Kombo yan (go away). Cobbon woolla (much talk). Plenty angry long-a Kombo. Ba'al me pidney. Mine no understand. Missa Anne, you tell Red Man that Kombo brother belonging to you.”

Then a sudden sense of incongruity seemed to strike


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Kombo. He stopped, uttered long-drawn ejaculations, and stared in wonder and delight at Anne's magnificent array.

“My word! Būjeri you, Yuro Kateena! Būjeri dress belonging to you! Where you got-im that fellow? Tsck! Tsck! What that big stone with fire inside, like-it crown? I b'lieve you Queen same as big Missus long-a water. Yai! Būjeri feather! Būjeri blanket!” and Kombo stretched out a black sacriligious hand and stroked Anne's mantle of office. Whereat the Priestesses exclaimed, but tittered the while, and the Elders, frowning, spoke angrily in their own language.

Anne mollified them by a gentle smile and a bar or two of recitative—which produced obeisances from the seven Guardians and the acolytes—then waved Kombo a little to one side. But as she did so, she murmured—

“You been see Massa Hansen, Kombo?”

“Yoai,” (yes), replied the black boy. “You look out, Missa Anne. I b'lieve big Red Mary want-im that fellow for Benjamin belonging to her.” Which was Kombo's manner of reporting that Keorah had begun the wooing of Hansen.

“My word! He got-im bujeri blanket too! Poor fellow me!” went on Kombo discontentedly. “Ba'al mine got-im blanket—ba'al coat—ba'al trouser!” He gazed down ruefully at his naked legs over which hung the tattered remains of his grey flannel shirt. “Mine want-im blanket; mine want-im Red Mary like-it, Massa Hansen.”

Kombo's gestures were eloquent; his need of clothes evident.

Anne signed to Semaara, who gave an order in which Anne recognised the words Zuhua Kak, and knew that it purported to come from herself. A booth-keeper, dressed in the dun coloured linen and short cloak worn by middle-class Acans, ran forward with a bundle of garments from his stall, such as were supplied to the common folk. Kombo speedily grasped the situation, and chose the brightest coloured of the tunics—a dull


  ― 261 ―
red one, which he put on forthwith amid the amused comments of the Acans. The tunic descended to Kombo's knees, and pleased him vastly, but the short cloak was not to his liking. He wanted a mantle like those worn by Anne and the Elders; and when one made of coarse linen with a feather fringe was at last provided for him, he donned it with supreme satisfaction, folding it round him, and strutting proudly as the camp blacks used to do when they were presented with red and blue blankets on the Queen's birthday. The booth-keeper brought him a bowl of water to wash himself in, and a flat red cap, like those worn by the huntsmen. He then took his place calmly in the High Priestess's procession, Anne signifying by commanding gestures that he was her slave and must attend her. She now saw that her word would be considered law, though it was clear that the Elders did not approve of Kombo as her body servant, and that the Virgins were a little shocked. Ishtal looked severe, but Semaara laughed as Kombo openly ogled the young priestesses, and made diffident overtures to one whom he specially admired, but who rebuffed him with haughty astonishment. Presently, the great natural portals in the rock wall of the city were passed, and the country on the north-western side of the Tortoise Hump opened out before Anne's view. It seemed to her like an immense garden enclosed by walls of basalt, which must have been a thousand feet in height. Nothing could be imagined more different than this cultivated earth-basin; from the barren fastnesses, the desert tract, and the valley of desolation which they had traversed on the other side of the Acan territory. For some way beyond the overhanging rock carapace of the Tortoise, the ground spread in a broad level terrace, part of which was artificially raised. Then the land dipped gradually to a round plain, like the bottom of a platter, which was covered with fields and farms. The inaccessible precipice walled it on all sides, except for a narrow gap, that seemed to have been cut by Nature's


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hand to admit the passage of a river which watered the plain, and here boiling up in impassable rapids flowed between the cleft barrier out into the country beyond. It was the same river that had forced its subterranean way beneath the desert sands, and had reappeared in the heart of Aak. Now it emerged into daylight a little way from the great head of the Tortoise, where, falling down miniature precipices and over beds of water-worn stones, it wandered through fields of Indian corn, hemp, flax, and vegetables, and irrigated plantations of cocoa, bananas, palms, and many other tropical products, including a species of aloe, from which the wanderers learned later that fibre cloth and a spirituous liquor, similar to the Mexican mescal, were obtained. On the downs, and where the land was uncultivated, it was covered with the natural Australian forest. Yet even this seemed unlike ordinary bush; the gum-trees were larger and more spreading, and among them were palms and other varieties of vegetation. Along the river banks were belts of scrub, and in the clearings nestled wooden homesteads, the dwellings of goatherds and farmers, for Anne distinguished many flocks of the same species of chamois that had lured Hansen to the Place of Death. These animals appeared to be the only ones domesticated among the Aca, for of horses and cattle there were none to be seen.

But such characteristic features of the place were not then fully borne in upon Anne, as in truth she had no time for more than a sweeping survey of this fertile champaign. Before and behind her own procession, the crowd was pressing onward to a point on the terrace where the mountain hollowed inward, and again gave the effect of an amphitheatre. In the semi-circular curve banked up by the precipice, seats had been hewn in stages up to a certain height in the rock, while at the other end, only a low wall and abutting platform interfered with the splendid view of plain and distant hills to the horizon line. No more perfect situation could have been chosen for an out-of-door theatre.




  ― 263 ―

The arena was level, and strewn with fine sand. At one point in the circle was an erection which appeared to be a judges' stand. Here, amid a group of Acans, the chief of which was Hotan, Anne saw Hansen seated. He looked extremely well, she thought, in his Acan dress, and was conversing cheerfully with Hotan. It was a relief to her, though she would hardly have confessed this to herself, that at least he was not a captive in the train of Keorah. She expected that he would at once descend and take his place beside her, but etiquette evidently forbade such a proceeding, and he merely followed the example of Hotan and his friends, who all rose and made a ceremonious obeisance, standing while she passed.

A burst of strange music from a row of performers beneath the stand greeted the priestesses on their entrance. It was scarcely harmonious, and Anne eyed curiously the instruments of the musicians. These seemed mostly of the nature of drums; some huge, and made of skin stretched over the hollowed segment of a tree trunk, which stood between the knees of the players, and when beaten, gave out a wild reverberating note; others were smaller and tinkling in sound. There were also flutes, and an instrument like the Egyptian sistrum, as well as a very primitive kind of violin, also made from a hollow stem of a tree, with catgut strings, the wail of which was uncanny, but not unpleasant. To the accompaniment of this strange orchestra, an anthem was sung by the populace all standing—a hymn specially dedicated, it seemed, to the Zuhua Kak, this title recurring continually in the refrain with the phrase, “Ix naacan katuna!” (May she be for ever exalted!).

The spectators spread themselves in two rows round the upper end of the amphitheatre, the empty rock seats rising in tiers behind them, showing that the place had been originally constructed for the accommodation of a much greater number. In the very centre of the half circle, a wide deep space seemed to be reserved for the people of highest rank and importance. Here was a


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raised dais, approached by rock steps, carpeted with skins and having cushioned seats. About fifty smiling well-dressed men and women occupied the dais—the rank and fashion, no doubt, of the Acans—who all rose and formally saluted the Zuhua Kak and her train. From this dais, three or four more steps led to a higher platform, in the middle of which was a stone arm-chair projecting from the other seats—the throne of the High Priestess—and into this Anne was inducted with considerable pomp. The Virgins ranged themselves behind her; the Elders had their places at the sides immediately below; and Kombo, who would have stationed himself among the ladies beside his mistress, was sternly motioned by Naquah to squat on the lowest step at her feet.

Anne's eyes, wandering on either side of the lower dais, were not long in discovering Keorah. The late High Priestess was seated in a private compartment which had its own approach by a small flight of steps, and was surrounded by a goodly company of attendant men and maidens. She was certainly, with the exception of Anne herself, the most important lady present; and though she had resigned the fenced-in state of the Zuhua Kak, it was in favour of a splendid and probably more enjoyable dignity.

Her appearance was magnificent. Though the Eye of Viracocha no longer blazed on her forehead, she wore a coronet of very fine opals, and the pale yellow and bright orange plumes above it were even more becoming than those of the sacred rose. Her mantle was a gorgeous work of art, being like her linen robes—these not now of the virginal white—richly embroidered in a design of variously coloured feathers, which gave the suggestion of some wonderful tropical flower. Her hair, unbound, rippled over her shoulder in waves of ruddy gold; her waist was girdled with opals; and to protect her face from the sun's rays she carried a large fan of lyre birds' feathers, set in a golden handle.

She smiled at Anne, but there was nothing cordial


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about the smile. There seemed, indeed, to be mockery in her salutation; and to Anne, who had been amused and interested at the whole spectacle, and was enjoying the honour paid her, this reminder of her rival's presence came disagreeably.

Though Keorah had yielded the sacerdotal palm, it was plain that she intended rivalry in more mundane matters, and her look seemed to say that Anne should pay dearly for the dignities thrust upon her. Momentarily dismayed, her girlish pleasure sharply checked, Anne stood without movement, gazing gravely at Keorah's taunting loveliness; then the Marley blood reasserted itself, her natural pride arose, and with a sufficiently gracious, but decidedly condescending bend of the head, she signified her acceptance of and response to Keorah's salute.




  ― 266 ―

Chapter XXIX - Zaac Tepal

BUT now a clangour of the drums announced the commencement of the games. The first of these was very pretty, a sort of Queen of the May dance round a tall pole ornamented with many garlands of differently coloured flowers, the object of the dancers, who were men and girls fancifully attired, being to entwine and disentangle the garlands in so deft a manner that in the last figure all remained in the hands of one performer, to whom was adjudged the prize. After this, came games of ball in which the women also joined. But Anne was less interested than she might have been in the exhibition of their skill, for she was wondering all the time when Eric would come and speak to her; and though she scarcely liked to send for him, she had a doubt lest, because of her semi-royal position, he would wait for her to summon him. She made surreptitious signs to Semaara, anxious to ascertain whether the social conventions of the Acans would permit her to do so. But Kombo's agile wits had already jumped to the situation, and before he could be restrained, the black boy had dashed down the rock stairway and along the arena to the judges' stand, shouting as he went:

“Yai! Yai! Massa Hansen! Yuro Kateena want to pialla white brother belonging to her. You come along, Massa Hansen. You tell Missa Anne what Red Men say. Kombo plenty stupid. Ba'al me pidney— me no understand. My word! Plenty coola (angry) that old man Naquah long-a me. Ba'al that fellow brother belonging to Kombo.”

Kombo in his trailing blanket and Acan cap, in which


  ― 267 ―
he had contrived to stick an emu's straggling feather, the expression of his face a blend of cunning, vanity, and consternation, was a sufficiently comical figure to draw some exclamations of amusement from the Acans; and when he pointed to Naquah and mimicked the Sacred Guardian's wrathful demeanour, the people laughed outright, though they lowered their heads immediately afterwards, shocked at their own temerity. Hansen, choking with merriment, came down from beside Hotan, and made his way to where Anne sat enthroned. But he was not prepared for her adroit wielding of the reins. He had expected to find her bewildered and uncertain how to act, and he was surprised to see the winning yet authoritative gesture by which she soothed Naquah's wounded pride, and while rebuking Kombo, made it evident that, as her personal attendant, she required that consideration should be shown to him.

Hansen realised with a start that this splendidly arrayed and extremely regal little person was a different Anne from his brave but draggled “Chummy,” in fibre petticoats and opossum-skin mocassins, who, tired, hungry, and sometimes despondent, had trudged by his side over the ranges and across the desert. Again he told himself that the Marley stuff was showing in her; and it pleased him to observe how her western polish and air of stately courtesy were, unconsciously to themselves, impressing the people among whom she had dropped so strangely.

He uncovered and bowed, standing in a respectful attitude before her. She motioned to Semaara to bring forward a stool, upon which he placed himself, and they talked in low tones while the games went on, their voices drowned by the roll of the drums and the shrieks of the flutes and stringed instruments. Hansen was intensely interested in the sports and manners of the people.

“Not so very far behind us, are they,” he said, “for the remains of a civilisation that was started here, perhaps, about the time that the Phœnicians discovered


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tin in Cornwall, and which has never moved out of this corner since? It's wonderful, Anne. They haven't the remotest idea of any other country in the world beyond the traditions of an earthly paradise from which their first progenitors were expelled about the Adam and Eve period. I wonder if Le Plongeon is right, and if this is the origin of the story of Cain and Abel? They keep asking me whether you have come from that Eden, and if you are going to lead them back there.”

“I should encourage that idea,” said Anne, calmly. “It will further our chances of escape. By all means study the Children of Aak as much as you please, Eric. Personally, I should like to find the mine from which these opals were dug.”

“I've been talking to Hotan,” rejoined Hansen, “and getting him to tell me everything he can about the history of the race. Hotan is not a bad chap, but he has got the hump, because when we were coming along here, Keorah—your predecessor in the priestly line—snubbed him finely.”

“Ah!” said Anne, softly.

Hansen might have augured a good deal from the tone of her voice, but on this occasion he was singularly lacking in perception.

“That's a queer study of a woman, Chummy,” he went on, “considering that she has been evolved from what one might call barbarism. She is a consummate woman of the world, and I don't think that Europe would have much to teach her in the art of flirtation.”

“And so you find her attractive, Eric!” laughed Anne.

“Don't you?” he counter-queried.

Anne laughed again in a way that puzzled him.

“I imagine that as a study, the lady would naturally prove more interesting to you,” she answered. “I am not a man, and so I have not the masculine admiration of a flirtatious woman. Besides, you forget, I don't understand the language.”

“Do you mean the language of flirtation, Chummy? No; you're a deal too simple and sincere for that!”


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Anne flushed.

“I meant the language of the Acan people, of course,” she replied.

“That's not so difficult. I can teach you that, at all events. We must find a way of meeting that is not in public. Unfortunately, Hotan gives me to understand that no men are allowed in the house of the Virgins of the Flame.”

“Virgins of the Flame!” repeated Anne. “Is that what they are called? It is a pretty title.”

“That is the meaning of Zuhua Kak,” he answered.

Anne crimsoned again. “But I—” she began.

“You are the chief of the Zuhua Kak, but you are a married woman—is that what you are thinking? Well, we needn't announce the fact; it might upset things. And we must have time to learn everything we can about this delightfully odd race. Think of the lecture I shall give before my college! We shall be the most famous persons in the world, Anne, when we get back.”

“We have got to get back first,” she said, philosophically. “Tell me, Eric—I want to know the exact meaning of the prophecy that relates to me, and which evidently induced them to choose me as priestess to that horrible tortoise.”

“Horrible! It is a living specimen of the fossil Mewlania—the great horned turtle now extinct but for this monster. Aak may not be beautiful, but he is a stupendous fact in natural history. I have been questioning Hotan, but there is no record of the age of Aak. They say, ‘He has always been, and there is no other of his kind.’ Oh! If I could transport him bodily to Europe!”

Anne smiled at the idea of Aak dragging his gigantic bulk across the desert and over the ranges through the scrub.

“If I am to lead the people to a new land,” she said, “what is to become of Aak?”

“I don't know. I am afraid the prophecy doesn't mention how we are to deal with such a difficulty.”




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“Tell me what the prophecy says,” she asked again.

“I'll translate it roughly. I've been jotting it down, and amusing myself by trying to turn it into verse. Here it is,” and he gave her his version of Keorah's song. Anne repeated some of the lines after him.

“Fair Strength is her sceptre, and Beauty her crown.” She thought to herself that in both these things Keorah greatly excelled her. Like most small dark women, Anne admired the blonde Junoesque type, and placed no store upon the fashion of her own comeliness.

“I am not beautiful,” she said, and glanced involuntarily towards Keorah, whose eyes were watching her and Hansen. An idea struck her.

“Are you ‘Fair Strength?” she exclaimed, suddenly.

He smiled in a slightly embarrassed manner.

“Do you know that is what they already call me. I have been christened Zaac Tepal, meaning literally, the white, strong man.”

Anne was silent, pondering his words. In her mind, she went over the prophecy. The phrase, “She shall serve as their priestess, and rule as their queen,” gave her pause.

“Since they have made me queen,” she said to herself, “I must rule as one—if we are ever to get away from here.” Aloud she repeated, “Zaac Tepal! They give curious names, these people. Do you not hear, Eric—they are calling it down there—they are calling for you. We ought to have been watching the games; it is rude to talk. What is it they want?”

Hansen listened to the hoarse roar of the crowd. Above it, shouts arose of “Zaac Tepal!” A spokesman, standing in the arena just below Keorah's box, was making a little speech in Mayan.

The spokesman was Hotan. He appeared defiant and excited. When he had finished his speech, he looked towards Anne's dais, and called also upon Zaac Tepal. Hansen rose. Then Keorah's shrill, sweet


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voice sounded high, hushing the clamour. She stood in front of her box, and addressed Hansen by his new name, evidently putting forth a proposition that brooked no denial. Hansen made a courtly salutation, and replied as fluently as he was able.

“They have delivered a challenge,” he hurriedly explained to Anne. “This is the High Priestess' prize, to be competed for by the two strongest men chosen by the people. They've selected Hotan and me as the combatants. It is a wrestling match.”

“But can you wrestle, Eric?” asked Anne, anxiously. “It won't do for you to be defeated.”

“I think I may be a match for Hotan,” he replied, grimly. “I know something about it, at all events. Of course, I must accept the challenge. Wish me well, Chummy.”

He went down the steps into the arena, and Anne watched him stop on the way and speak to Keorah. No doubt he was receiving directions from the donor of the prize. Presently, he and Hotan disappeared. Anne supposed that preliminaries of the contest were being arranged. The drums blared once more. Two acolytes meanwhile approached her, bearing banners worked in feathers, and some small metal boxes. To her surprise she saw that they contained a kind of bean of a bright crimson, speckled with black, which she knew very well, though every year it is growing rarer in the Australian scrub. These beans are hard, and bright as precious stones, and are much esteemed as ornaments among the blacks. Semaara tried to convey to her that the Acans used them instead of money; but Anne only understood that the boxes containing them, also the banners, were to be presented as prizes to the winners in the maypole dance and the game of ball. She realised that she was to give the prizes, and presently the recipients appeared.

Two were youths, and two, women, of the Aca, wearing the fanciful attire of the performers in the dance and games—a combination of feathers and flowers adorning


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the tunics of the men and the linen drapery of the women. They prostrated themselves upon the steps of the dais, and then kneeled before Anne in a reverential attitude, with hands outstretched, the palms open. Semaara took the gifts from the acolytes, and handed them to the High Priestess, signifying their destination. It was an awkward moment for the poor untrained High Priestess, who did not know the Acan formula for such occasions, and who saw that the spectators were gazing expectant, at once curious and dissatisfied. It flashed into Anne's mind that Keorah would have acquitted herself admirably, and she was suddenly stimulated by the desire to emulate her rival. She determined to resort once more to melody, the charm of which never failed her. She sat very erect upon her throne, a small but stately stage-queen, and as she waved each banner over the head of its winner, and laid the box of beans on each extended palm with slow impressive gestures, she sang a few lines of such operatic airs as, on the spur of the emergency, occurred to her. Her voice was strong and clear, and the music was so unlike that to which the Acans were accustomed, that the crowd was at first startled and then enthralled. Hansen too was startled as he listened and watched, standing by Keorah's box. But his surprise was at this fresh exhibition of Anne's readiness and power. He had not even an impulse to laugh at the incongruity of many of the operatic words with the scene, so soul-stirring was Anne's delivery of them. He caught the infection of the multitude, and joined heartily in the “Uol, Zuhua Kak!” (Hail! Great Virgin of the Flame!) which echoed from the rock walls of the amphitheatre, as the winners of the prizes retired backward from the dais, and the brief ceremony was concluded.

His own turn had now come, and, throwing off his mantle, he stood, clad in the tight-fitting Acan jerkin, facing his opponent Hotan, in the sand-strewn space of the arena.

It was an exciting contest; horrible, Anne thought,


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to witness, as the two powerful bodies writhed and struggled, closing upon and entwining each other like two pythons in deadly embrace. Nevertheless, she could not turn away her eyes for a second, though her face went white as chalk. Keorah, on the contrary, flushed with excitement and pleasure, was watching with the fierce zest of some old-time Roman lady who had staked her jewels on her pet gladiator.

The men were evenly matched in point of muscle, but Eric was the better skilled of the two. So it came about that Hotan was overthrown, and that Hansen advanced amid the shouts of the populace to receive his guerdon from Keorah. The Acans were not wholly pleased. Hotan was a favourite, and had been their acknowledged champion. For several years past Keorah had clasped on his arm the golden bracelet which, by Acan custom, was the High Priestess' prize at this special annual festival. Therefore there was some feeling of resentment that it had been won by a stranger, repressed only on account of the general belief that the new Priestess and her interpreter were favoured by the gods. Keorah, however, was scarcely applauded when her fingers placed the armlet below Hansen's elbow.

With one knee on the ground, the Dane bent his head and kissed the hand that had decked him. This courtesy, so common in Europe, was quite unknown among the Acans, as it is among many so-called savage nations to-day. Its effect upon Keorah was sudden and unexpected. As Hansen's lips pressed her skin, he instantly felt the nerve-thrill that ran through her. The blood rushed to her face; her wild nature was set aflame. With difficulty she commanded herself. Looking up, he saw the blush, and his eyes met hers. Again he was affected by their odd fascination. She said some words in a low voice.

“It is well that we speak the same tongue, Zaac Tepal—white lord of the strong arm. By right of this token, I may claim thy fair strength in my service if I require it. Say, then, that we are friends.”




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“I am deeply honoured, Priestess,” replied Hansen. “Since thou accordest me thy friendship, the strength of my arm is assuredly thine, though in this peaceful community, and seeing in how great esteem thou art held, it seems to me that there will be small need of such service.”

Keorah smiled slowly, her eyes narrowing between their thick-fringed lids, which, with the slight uplifting of her pointed chin, gave a most attractive and yet malign expression to her long face.

“How know we what may come, Zaac Tepal?” she answered. “Since yesterday even the order of things has greatly changed amongst the Acan people. And thou art wrong to call me ‘Priestess.’ Yonder sits thy Priestess. I am no longer Zuhua Kak, but a simple woman with no claim to honour but that of woman-hood.”

“To the most beautiful of women, then, I tender my homage,” said Hansen, with thoughtless gallantry, but he almost repented the words when he saw the flush mount anew to Keorah's cheeks. Yet he was a man, and he felt flattered. Besides, as he looked at her, he could not help feeling that the compliment was not an exaggeration. She was beautiful; he really had never seen a woman with so strange a power of fascination. And he liked her thin sweet voice, which resembled certain high-pitched notes of a stringed instrument, and seemed to suit so well the language she spoke.

“I thank thee, my lord stranger,” she said. “It is well that thy heart inclines thee, for according to custom of my people, the winner of this prize,”—and she touched the bracelet on his arm,—“is specially bound to do the giver's bidding until the Festival of the Sun returns again. For some time past it has been Hotan's part to render me such small services as a woman may need, but now the office is transferred to thee. Tonight, therefore, thou shalt sit by my side, and in our converse together we will become better friends. I would learn somewhat of the land thou hast left, and if


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it irk thee not, I would have thee talk to me of the world beyond the seas, and of the men and women who dwell therein. For I am weary, oh! Zaac Tepal, of the shut-in homes and the narrow thoughts of my people of the Aca. Fain would I hear what earth holds beyond the walls of our City of Refuge, wherein, ages back, the Great Builders imprisoned our race, for fear of Kàn, the venomous serpent; though it seems to me,” and she laughed derisively, “that the venom of that rock monster hath long since departed. I confess to thee that my body craves and my soul yearns for that which it is not in the power of the Aca people to bestow. Perchance it hath been reserved for thee to supply my need for knowledge, and truly with rejoicing will I feed my hungry heart upon thy wisdom.”

The charmer charmed deftly, appealing to the immemorial sense of supremacy in the animal man. Hansen, moreover, reasoned subtly that intercourse with Keorah would further all his scientific aims, since through her he could acquaint himself with Acan customs and history, and thus be enabled to shape his course to advantage, besides, all the better qualifying himself as Anne's instructor. He therefore took the seat to which Keorah waved him, and the two were soon absorbed in conversation, while they viewed together some feats of tumbling and spear throwing, and an archery contest among the huntsmen.

Anne, throned in lonely state, had seen Hansen kiss Keorah's hand, and now watched the pair as they conversed in obvious enjoyment of each other's society. At sight of that kiss, a sharp stab had pierced Anne. It was not caused by envy nor by wounded pride. She shrank from analysing the feeling; she only knew that it was pain. Nevertheless, Hansen's conduct gave her strength, for it lashed her spirit, always daring and quick to respond. She saw how necessary it was that she should become mistress of the situation, and determined to lose no time in learning to speak Acan. On the spot, she began to take lessons from Semaara,


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and was rapidly enlarging her vocabulary. Ishtal scowled upon her preference for the younger Priestess, and talked aside to Naquah and another of the more ancient Elders who was named Zel-Zie. Anne began to suspect that Ishtal had designs upon the Priestess-ship for herself. It seemed clear, however, that the new Zuhua Kak was establishing herself in the favour of the people, probably because of the strangeness of her appearance and ways. Anne was quick-witted enough to realise that as she knew no precedents, it would be wiser to start innovations. She resolved therefore to keep eyes and ears open, and to strike out a line of her own; and failing Hansen's assistance, she thought that it would be well to turn Kombo to account.

She looked round for the black boy, but he too had deserted her. As a matter of fact, Kombo's amorous inclinations having been severely checked by the Virgins of the Flame, he had been busy casting his eyes over the ladies of humbler degree in search of a suitable “Red Mary.” Among Keorah's servants, he had found one who condescended to smile upon his antics, and now he was perched like a monkey upon the edge of the lower platform behind Keorah and Hansen, and, taking example by his master, he was to the best of his ability paying court to the maid.

Anne smiled, not without bitterness, but reflected philosophically that to be lonely is the penalty of greatness. She was not sorry when the games ended, and when, after she had presented the last banners and boxes of red beans, the crowd began to circulate among the booths set about the terrace on the east side of the amphitheatre, and the Zuhua Kak's procession was reformed for an adjournment to the great banqueting hall.




  ― 277 ―

Chapter XXX - The Banquet

THE scene of the banquet was an enormous rock hall facing due west.

It was a natural cavern, as, indeed, were many of the dwellings and passages that made the Heart of Aak a huge human burrow. This one had been greatly enlarged by the prehistoric builders. To them were due the sculptures and vaultings of the ceilings, and the carving into symmetry of the great archway—the width of the cave itself which gave upon the terrace and the plain.

By prescribed rule, the banquet began two hours before sunset: and as the orb dipped westward, his rays filled the vast place, illuminating dark recesses, showing up barbaric paintings and reliefs, and bathing in a flood of yellow light the seven massive tables, which extended inward from the great opening. The tables were placed in slightly converging lines, and with such regard to astronomic conditions that at this particular season of the year the person seated at the head of the central one would exactly face the setting sun as it sank below the horizon. This person was always the Zuhua Kak.

The banqueting hall had no doubt, in the days of Acan prosperity, been exclusively for the priestly and aristocratic members of the community. Now three tables at most sufficed to accommodate these, and the remaining four tables, as well as a space on the terrace outside, were given up to the common folk who scrambled for the leavings of their betters. Wooden benches, with at stated distances a chair or stool of honour, were ranged


  ― 278 ―
along the three centre tables, which were covered with bright coloured cloths, and loaded with fruits, cakes, and cold viands—the hot meats being brought in separately, smoking from the fire.

The banqueting hall was already filled when the Zuhua Kak and her attendants came in to the peculiar orchestral accompaniment of the Acans, which sounded at their appearance, Anne and her maidens marching up the cleared gangway on one side of the chief table; the Elders and acolytes along the other.

All present rose as she entered, and she perceived that about fifteen paces down the middle table, Hansen was stationed at the side of Keorah. Now Anne's spirit arose—for she had plenty of grit in her—and though she knew nothing of the customs of the Aca at this religious feast, she determined to make her influence felt by the people and by Keorah. She had not lived among the Australian blacks for nothing, and was a quick judge of persons, and keen to perceive points of vantage.

She was ushered by Naquah to the place reserved for her; her Virgins of the Flame ranged themselves on either hand below her, and the Elders seated themselves, according to seniority, in places of dignity. The rest of the company, eager to attack their food, then settled down without regard to precedence. No great ceremony, it appeared, was observed at the Acan feasts, which were distinctly barbaric in kind. Anne's advent occasioned a slight displacement of the order of things, but of this she was not aware. Usually, a master of the ceremonies was appointed, who regulated proceedings, calling the guests' attention by striking a small drum placed before him, with a gold baton provided for the purpose. This office had, of late, been held by Hotan as winner of the “High Priestess' prize,” and he had always sat by Keorah's side. Now it devolved upon Hansen. Hotan, sitting opposite, somewhat lower down the table, scowled at his successful rival, and tried to carry off his discomfiture by an air of bravado, and a


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violent flirtation with a pretty Acan woman. Attendants, scantily clad, were bearing along great dishes of meat, bowls of chocolate, and jugs of pulque and other intoxicating drinks made from the pressed juice of the agave, and from certain roots and berries extremely potent in quality. A kind of beer made from crushed maize was being freely distributed among the common crowd, who were jostling each other at the outer tables. Even in the more select company, disorder prevailed, as corn-cakes, condiments provocative of appetite, and cooked birds, were handed rudely from one to another, and torn between the guests' fingers.

Anne's natural refinement revolted against the coarse prodigality of the feast, and the free and easy manners of those present. It was as though primitive instincts, excited by the games, and the suggestion of new-given vitality conveyed in the morning's religious rites, were unleashed, entirely altering the character and demeanour of the people. Even the grave, dignified cast of the Acan countenances had changed to an expression of almost brutal hilarity. For the first time, Anne realised, that in spite of the wonderful civilisation of the Aca, in some respects she might still be among savages.

It had been supposed that the Zuhua Kak, who had received her due meed of honour, would now seat herself and fall in with the general tone of license. No doubt this had been Keorah's way. Anne resolved that it should not be hers. Therefore the guests were surprised, when, after a noisy interval of several minutes, they perceived that she was still standing. Very upright was the small form of their new High Priestess, her head thrown back, her eyes sending a strongly disapproving gaze down the long table, while the Eye of Viracocha, on her forehead, leaped in answering flame to the reddening sun. Hansen caught Anne's look, and was even more surprised than the rest. Keorah saw it too, and smiled in sartirical courtesy while affecting consideration for the stranger's ignorance of Acan customs. She motioned Anne to seat herself


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and join in the banquet. But Anne took no notice of Keorah's hint. She, on the contrary, signed commandingly to her maidens, who, amid glances of astonishment, rose to their feet; and then Anne, turning, beckoned to Kombo, who, though he eyed longingly the feasting at the further tables, had not dared to disobey his mistress's orders, that he should be at hand in case she wanted him. She spoke sharply to him now, bidding him go and tell Hansen that it was her intention to sing a grace before the feast proceeded, and that she desired silence. All the company looked taken aback, not knowing what was about to happen. There was a lull, above which Keorah's shrill tones might be heard ordering that wine should be brought her.

Kombo leaned over Hansen's shoulder, a grin on his face, but faint awe in his voice.

“Massa Hansen! Missa Anne want to say grace—you know, like-it white man with shirt outside of trouser —clergyman belonging to you. Missa Anne say Red Man ba'al woolla (must not talk). Mine tell you, Massa Hansen, you look out. I b'lieve Missa Anne no like that fellow Red Mary long-a you.”

Hansen laughed, but the reproach struck home. Yet he thought Anne ought to know that it was not his fault if Keorah insisted upon monopolising him. He got up, slightly confused, and striking the gong before him, according to the directions he had received, made known the High Priestess' wishes.

Keorah looked angry.

“My successor is over zealous,” she remarked, contemptuously. “At dawn we supplicate the gods. But when noon is over, we play and feast till the setting of the Sun, when we again offer our Lord praise. Do thou inform the new Zuhua Kak that this is the Acan custom, and bid her deliver herself now to mirth.”

But something in Anne's look told Hansen that Acan custom or no, Anne meant to assert her dignity. He again gave the announcement, but in his effort to collect himself, his Mayan faltered—he, too, had tasted


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pulque, and the laughter and unseemly movement of the company were not altogether stilled. Hotan came to the rescue, crying “Uol, Zuhua Kak!” at which all eyes turned towards Anne, and noise was hushed.

Then out burst the glorious voice, in what the Acans believed was the language of the gods. Was ever operatic Italian set to nobler use? The grace was sung —its literal meaning small matter, yet dramatically appropriate, as Hansen gladly owned. His heart filled with admiration of the girl, and he joined enthusiastically in the renewed shouts led by Hotan of “Uol, Zuhua Kak!” Anne majestically acknowledged the salute, and took her place, the rest of the people who had risen now reseating themselves.

Keorah's hand, oddly magnetic, touched Hansen's bare arm where her golden bracelet clasped it. She was pledging him in her own cup—a goblet of gold set with opals, and most curiously wrought in shape of two serpents intertwined, their open jaws forming a double mouth.

“It is thine,” she said, handing it to him, with a gracious smile, after her lips had touched the brim. “Keep it in remembrance of thy championship this day.” He sipped. The wine was sweet and strong. “Drink with me, Zaac Tepal,” said she, “and renew the vow of service thou hast made me. Nay! Start not. I exact no heavy dues. It is the Zuhua Kak who binds with chains of gold. Keorah, the woman, weaves only ropes of flowers.”

As she spoke she drew from across her bosom, where it lightly hung, a garland of orchids—pink, spotted with red and brown—shaped like some strange insect, a species Hansen had never seen, most uncanny but very beautiful. Lifting her finely moulded arms, rosily tawny, she threw the wreath over his head.

“Pledge me,” she said, her eyes gleaming on him intoxicatingly, and they drank, he clinking the cups to her amusement and delight.

“It is a way of my people,” he explained.




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“And its meaning, white lord?”

“Friendship and fealty,” he answered. The Mayan words rendered the signification poorly, and she affected to misunderstand it, and made him explain more elaborately, clinking and drinking again. He now saw that the lady next to Hotan had taken off her garland also, and placed it over the shoulders of her cavalier, and that many of the Acan men were so decorated, by which he concluded that Keorah was merely following an Acan custom, thus robbing her act of special significance. Nevertheless, a guilty pang shot through Hansen. He felt vaguely that something was not as it should be, but the strong wine was coursing through his veins, and Keorah's voice sounded wooingly.

“What thinkest thou of the blossoms?” she interrogated, coquettishly. “They are grown with much care, for we love flowers—we women of Aca. Tell me, Zaac Tepal—in the feasts of thine own land have thy women a delight in thus honouring the men who please their fancy?”

“Do I please thy fancy, Keorah?” asked Hansen, recklessly.

“That will I tell thee later, when thou hast satisfied my desire for knowledge,” answered she. “Have I not said to thee that body and brain and soul of me yearn alike for the life and the wisdom beyond that which is closed in the heart of Aak? But thou shalt visit me in thy house, Zaac Tepal. There will we talk at ease, and thou shalt say wherein I am different from the women of thine own kind. Perchance we have each something to learn from the other, for if thou hast knowledge of the outer world, I have power in the present. Now eat and drink, and disport thyself contentedly. Dost thou approve of our Acan dainties? This is boar, spiced and prepared after a fashion taught by the Builders of old; and this—nay, thou surely knowest Iguana flesh? But let me tell thee that since the sun last set on our Feast of Life, these great lizards have been kept and fed on plants of special properties


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under favour of the gods to whom the festival is dedicated. Thou wilt find the meat tasty. Wilt thou not pledge me again, Zaac Tepal? The wine is soft and mellow, and of a certainty cannot hurt thee, seeing that it is kept apart for the Virgins of the Flame.”

Keorah drank freely, and Hansen reckoned that it would be rudeness to refuse her. And she was right in saying that the wine was soft and mellow. Yet, in spite of her assurance, Hansen was compelled to think that the Virgins of the Flame must possess strong heads. He felt his own brain getting confused. He knew that his laughter was vacuous, and had a dim consciousness that there was pain—perhaps contempt—in Anne's grave eyes which regarded him from the end of the table. Yet Keorah's gaze had a witch-like effect upon him. So, too, the strange beauty of her long narrow face, and the splendour of her amber hair, the threads of which thrilled him with an electric charm as she bent towards him, almost leaning at times against his bare arms and shoulder.

The hall and the assemblage swayed before him, and the revelry rang to its height. Anne's face became a blur. The din of talk, and the unfamiliar sound of the Mayan syllables which differed somewhat from the language he had studied, increased the sense of bedazzlement. Most of the people were chattering shrilly, the men and women lolling in pairs. At the great table only the Zuhua Kak and her Virgins had chosen no swains.

More than once, when the revelry was passing the bounds of decorum, Anne sent some message by Kombo, a request that Hansen would make known her wishes on certain matters—the manner of serving, a demand for information—anything that she thought might create a diversion, or curtail the banquet. Occasionally, one of the Elders, who maintained their priestly dignity throughout, in quaint contrast to the license permitted the revellers—would remind Hansen of his duties as Master of the Ceremonies. Then the young man would


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spring uncertainly to his feet, and, striking feebly with his baton, give out a stammering announcement.

At this part of the table a little drama was going on, and though Hansen did not seize its full import, he knew himself to be a chief actor in it. Hotan, opposite to him, was another. The Acan was drinking deeply, but unlike Hansen, accustomed to the beverages, he was enabled to keep a clearer head. Hopeless of piquing Keorah, he took no more notice of the lady seated beside him, who was forced to content herself with her other neighbour, while Hotan directed all his attention to the late High Priestess and her companion. The muscles of his bare arm, on which were four of Keorah's golden armlets—signs of championship—stood out as he clenched his hands stormily, while his copper-red skin took a tinge of vermilion. Mad with jealousy, he threw taunts at the white stranger, and, but for Keorah's interposition, there must have been a quarrel between the two men. But this Acan woman—semi-savage though she might be—was well versed in feminine wiles. She made herself a buffer between the antagonists, turning a thrust with the rapier edge of her wit; amusing herself now by leading on Hotan, then by laughing at him; provoking Hotan's jealousy by her open favour of Hansen, and again spurring Hansen to fresh demonstrations of gallantry by pitting him against his rival.

“Is thy fair strength so great a thing after all?” she murmured. “Lies it in thy wits, or in thine arm alone? It has been enough, I know, to bring thee hither, and to serve thee, with the black slave's aid, in guiding our Priestess yonder, over mountain and sea-bed to her destined place in the Temple of Aak. By it, too, thou hast robbed Hotan of his prize, but will it suffice thee against such woman's weapons as I may choose to wield for one of my race against a stranger?”

“I challenge thy weapons, Priestess,” he cried, inflamed by the mockery of her voice. “But to thee only will I yield back Hotan's prize, since thou dost desire him again for thy champion. Test my strength,


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then, in warfare of wit or muscle as seemeth good to thee.”

“Said I that I desired Hotan again for my champion?” She laughed softly. “To all women change is pleasant. But wilt thou never forget that I am no longer Priestess? Perchance, Zaac Tepal, the contest will be between thee and me alone, and mayhap I am testing thee already. Drink to my success!” And again she filled the goblet she had given him.

The banquet lasted more than an hour. As it proceeded, noise and license increased, so that the feast seemed likely to end in an orgie. Anne sat, stately and pale, eating little, and drinking only chocolate. A feeling of illusion came over her. The whole scene was like a dream, and the one thing in it that seemed real was the sun. Now the great orb was shining a fiery ball low in heaven and right in front of the cave. It drew Anne's eyes insensibly, seeming to lift her soul from her body, and rekindling in her the religious enthusiasm she had felt at the flaming forth of the Red Ray in the temple. She might have been a Pagan stirred to Nature worship, and put back by Time to the infancy of the world. Truly the sun appeared to her as the very outward emblem of Deity—the immortal visible symbol of Supreme Creative Force. Beams of glory streamed from him, which penetrated the place, and, in the half obscurity of the cavern, deepening to a luminous purple, filled with moving motes of brilliant light.

The rays swept down along the great tables—impalpable golden bars that were cut short, Anne fancied, at the Zuhua Kak's chair of state. It seemed to her that the sun was stretching forth the welcoming arms, and thus ratifying the choice of herself as his Priestess. At this moment there came a beating of the hollow-sounding drums, and a slow shrieking from the primitive fiddles.

The Elders rose to their feet, and the band of acolytes filed up from the lower part of the hall to the upper end, where the priestesses and guardians had their places.


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Semaara leaned towards Anne, and, pointing to the setting sun, crossed her right arm on her breast in the Acan act of homage. Anne quickly understood that a parting salutation was to be delivered to the Lord of Light. The crowd of feasters had risen; a hush had fallen upon their merriment. Naquah and Zel-Zie, who were heading the tables on either side of the High Priestess, signed to her that she should lead the song of praise. Anne saw Keorah looking at her, and signalling in a patronizing manner. Then an inspiration came to the girl. She would conduct the rite in a fashion that she guessed was unprecedented—breaking up the feast, and leading out the people for a valediction in the open.

She rose from her chair, commanded pause by an authoritative gesture, and summoning Kombo, bade him deliver a message to Hansen. The Dane, muddled by wine, and supporting himself by a hand on the table, only vaguely took in its import.

“Missa Anne—you know, Yuro Kateena”—for Kombo made a distinction between Anne the wanderer, and Anne in official capacity as a goddess—“that fellow say everybody go outside see sun lie down. Yure Kateena go first long-a Red Maries belonging to Tortoise; then old men, and by'm-by Massa Hansen and big fellow Red Mary. Missa Anne want to pialla sun before he go to bed. Missa Anne say you makeim Red Man pidney (understand).”

Hansen blinked amiably, and gave a vacuous smile. Kombo, who recollected his own past experience, uttered a grunt of deep commiseration.

“Poor fellow you, Massa Hansen! I b'lieve you drunk. Ba'al mine like grog belonging to Red Mary. I b'lieve that make white man plenty sick. You no drink any more, Massa. All right now—Kombo look out long-a you. Mine no tell Missa Anne you drunk.”

Kombo's plain speaking sobered his master. Hansen assured himself that he was certainly not the worse for liquor. It was that red witch Keorah who had confused


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his faculties by her mad talk. But he saw that Hotan was jeering. He straightened himself, struck the gong with his baton, and made the announcement, but it was only half audible. Keorah took the words from his mouth, and repeated them in sweet high-pitched tones. The Zuhua Kak was about to introduce a new custom among the Acans. She desired that the feast should end, and that all should follow her outside the banqueting hall, where she would sing to his rest, our Lord the Sun. Keorah's manner was scornful. She ostentatiously quaffed the last drops of her goblet, and bade Hansen and Hotan do likewise. Now all eyes were turned on Anne. The little form reared itself regally, shoulders back, head raised, arms lifted at first as in adoration, then folded upon the breast, not in the Acan mode, but as in the picture of Murillo's Madonna.

So Anne stood till all sound, save the music, was stilled. Then, with her gorgeous mantle floating behind her, and followed closely by her Virgins, she swept slowly down the hall between the rows of feasters who had turned, and remained standing for her to pass. She looked neither to right nor left, but with rapt eyes fixed upon the dying sun, moved out through the great arch of the cave, and took her station upon the terrace facing the orb, which sank slowly to the level gap in the ramparts of hills closing in the plain. All before her, steeped in evening light, spread the wide garden-land of the Aca with its natural fortifications and river gateway, over which the sun hung poised, a blood-red ball, resting on a sea of molten gold. Above it, lines of fire faded into an expanse of purplish pink, which was flecked by tiny cloudlets, like the rosy finger of a babe.

Anne stood motionless for several minutes as the Elders, the acolytes, the musicians, and the throng following them, passed out through the arch, and made two semi-circular bands from the cavern's mouth to the edge of the terrace. Now, as the red globe neared the horizon line, Anne stretched out her arms in an attitude of invocation. The drums ceased their rhythmic beat.


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There was no shout. Not for the common multitude was it to cry. “Uol!” to the Lord of the Universe. But all the people bowed themselves, and there was silence in which every ear was strained. Then, as the sun sank behind the earth, Anne began her chant.

Rocked in the Cradle of the Deep” was the lullaby she chose for its magnificent melody. Poured forth from her lips, it rose and swelled, to fall and rise again in sound waves of wonderful grandeur and sweetness, over the wide expanse of sky and plain, throbbing through the listening air in exquisite cadences from above the bowed heads of the worshippers, right away into the golden west. Never, surely, had the Sun-god of the Acans been hymned in strains so majestic.




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Chapter XXXI - The Lighting of the Lamp

SILENCE followed Anne's song. The sun had disappeared; the red and gold of the heavens were being slowly veiled by the star-spangled purple of night, for twilight was short in these regions.

The ceremony was over. With the Acans, there always seemed an abrupt transition from religious to mundane interests, and a cross murmuring had arisen among the revellers, who were displeased that their feast had been curtailed even a little. Anne turned, not knowing what might happen. She had expected to be acclaimed, but evidently her share in the day's pleasure was considered to be over, and none seemed inclined to trouble themselves about her. They were a queer people, she thought, these Acans; even their enthusiasm was doled according to rule. The poor little High Priestess was glad at least that nothing more was required of her, and signified to Semaara that she would go back to the nun's house. She saw that the young priestess' eyes were wandering, and that her attention was distracted by some conversation near. Anne fancied that she recognised the voice of Keorah, as well as certain masculine inflexions at once familiar and strange. She followed the direction of Semaara's eyes. Hansen was leaning against a rock column roughly carved in the shape of two entwined snakes. Keorah, beside him, thrust forward her oddly fascinating face from between her somewhat disordered locks of waving amber. “Sabul kak yutz?” she pouted, and


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Semaara gave a slight meaning laugh. Anne knew that Kak meant flame in Mayan, and determined to ask later for a further translation. Hansen smiled indulgently. “Mà,” he said, shaking his head.

“Yalcab u kak!” pleaded Keorah. She touched the armlet on his arm, as though claiming by it his acquiescence to her wishes.

A look, half of flattered vanity, half of puzzlement, came over Hansen's face. He spoke some faltering words in Acan. He seemed to yield. He nodded. Keorah pressed her point. He nodded again. She laughed triumphantly. “Chichan u cha kak,” she said, impressively. “Chichan yacol ahtoc!” Anne heard an odd little exclamation from Semaara, and the young priestess' eyes gleamed curiously. It was clear to Anne that the words had a signification out of the ordinary.

“Chichan—u—cha—kak,” Hansen repeated, slowly, as though he were doubtful of the meaning of the phrase, and were trying to fix it in his mind. “Chichan yacol ahtoc,” added Keorah with marked emphasis. She pointed towards the wall of the city, and then to the sky.

“Chichan u cha kak,” Hansen said again. Keorah moved away, her tinkling laugh pealing back like an invitation to follow, but Hansen still supported himself against the column, and stared vacantly into the dusk. He might easily have distinguished Anne, but the dizziness of his brain made him unconscious of her presence. As she, too, moved along the terrace by Semaara's side, with her Virgins closing in behind her, she heard him muttering to himself “Chichan u cha kak!”

The High Priestess' apartments seemed wonderfully attractive and even home-like to tired Anne as she entered the rooms. They were lighted by barbaric-looking, yet graceful, lamps of coloured earthenware, the flax wicks burning in oil of a particular purity, so that the light was soft and pleasant as any which


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modern civilisation could have furnished. It threw up the designs of the feather tapestry, and the glint of metal upon the furniture in the front room; while in her bed-chamber the young priestesses made a special illumination that pleased Anne, for it gave her a grateful sense of importance. At each corner of the couch was a metal stand supporting a golden lamp in the shape of a tortoise, evidently emblematic of the Zuhua Kak's high calling, the light of these being more brilliant and of an even greater purity than those in the other room. Nothing more dainty in its way could be imagined than the sleeping chamber, the luxury of which was due, no doubt, to Keorah's taste, though she had but rarely occupied her official residence. Anne eyed longingly the low soft bed that seemed wholly modern, with its downy pillows and linen sheets spread by Semaara's deft hands.

The Virgins would have disrobed their High Priestess with ceremony, but Anne courteously dismissed all except Semaara. They retired, making the formal Acan salutation—Ishtal stiffly disapproving—and the two girls—for they were no more—were left together. Semaara at once took off the state mantle, the feather head-dress, and the out-door sandals. She would have proceeded to comb Anne's short curls with an implement made of a hard kind of wood, somewhat in the shape of a curry comb, but Anne bade her desist, conveying that she preferred to wait upon herself.

Semaara, interpreting this as a dismissal, was about to follow her sister nuns, performing the ceremonious Acan obeisance. But a freakish impulse seized her. She laughed like a child who wants to show off a new trick. Returning, she kneeled before Anne, took the High Priestess' hand and kissed it, reproducing Hansen's air and gestures as he had kissed the hand of Keorah. The manner of the girl, her mischievous laugh, and the significant gleam in her eyes, suggested to Anne that she might then and there take another lesson from Semaara in the Acan language. So she signed to the


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girl to remain, and began touching one by one the things around her, giving the Acan form of interrogation, which she had already learned. Whereat Semaara told her the name of each object, and Anne repeating it, wrote down phonetically in one of Hansen's note-books that he had given her, with a worn piece of lead pencil preserved during their wanderings. Seeing this, Semaara gleefully fetched a brush and pigments, with a yard or two of the bark paper used in long narrow sheets by the Acans. This she folded into the shape of a book, and being smooth and shiny, it made an excellent surface for picture-writing—an accomplishment Semaara was eager to display, making Anne understand that it formed part of the education of the Virgins of the Flame, and was not common among the laity, who employed the hieroglyphic alphabet.

Semaara was no mean draughtswoman, and put considerable realistic expression into her pictures. Anne saw her own opportunity. It was but a step from the concrete fact to the abstract idea. She repeated with distinctness, as well as she could remember it, the conversation they had overheard between Keorah and Hansen, indicating that she desired a translation. Again the meaning look came into Semaara's eyes. She laughed, blushed, put her hands modestly over her face; then pointing to Anne and to herself, exclaimed “Zuhua Kak?—Mà!—Mà!” shaking her head, and showing clearly enough that as Virgins of the Flame they had, neither of them, any concern with such matters. There was no doubt that she meant by this all that pertained to love-making.

“But Keorah——” objected Anne; “she also was a Virgin of the Flame.”

Semaara negatived the assumption animatedly. There could not be two Zuhua Kaks. Anne herself was Zuhua Kak—Aak had chosen her. Therefore Keorah was released from her vows. Keorah might marry—Keorah was losing no time in taking advantage of her freedom; she had already, according to Acan


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custom, chosen her spouse. This in a series of rough but expressive sketches, perhaps not quite in conformity with western notions of propriety, but clearly indicating the life-long union of man and woman. The Acans, if crude in their forms, had evidently jealously preserved from their first teachers, the Great Builders, conventional principles of morality and monogamy. One of the drawings represented Hansen—Zaac Tepal—in the act of setting alight a lamp of peculiar form. It resembled the Greek caduceus, two serpents intertwined, a flame bursting from between their mouths. Anne recollected the column in front of the banqueting cave; the embracing serpents had appeared elsewhere in the frescoes on the rock walls. She had noticed, too, with wonder at the feast, that some of the men and women had drunk to each other in a cup with two mouths thus shaped, and she had felt jarred by the coarse laughter which she now guessed to have been ribald allusion accompanying the pledge. Semaara confirmed her instinctive understanding that the intertwined serpents were the Acan symbol for marriage. The priestess held up her drawing of Hansen lighting a lamp—equivalent, as she pantomimically explained, to the declaring of himself as a suitor, and roguishly reiterated, “Chichan u cha kak. Yacol ahtoc.”

So this had been the meaning of Keorah's words! Thus had the former High Priestess boldly wooed Eric as her lover! But had he really consented? Did he know what the formula implied? …. How dared she? Shameless woman! Anne's small frame shook with indignation. Her eyes blazed upon innocent Semaara. She signed abruptly to the girl to leave her, and the young priestess, puzzled and a little frightened, gathered up her picture writings and departed.

Anne threw herself upon her couch in the middle of the four emblematic lamps. Their light worried her. She buried her head in the pillows, half angry, half disconsolate, and a few dry sobs shook her, the outcome of fatigue, and lack of courage to face this new and


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most difficult of all contingencies. She was honest enough not to hide from herself that Hansen's defalcation was the real cause of her distress and emotion, which, she felt, was totally unbefitting her position as Elias Bedo's wife; and she had a comical realisation that her present attitude was still more unbefitting her dignity as Zuhua Kak, High Virgin of the Flame, Daughter of Dawn, and Priestess of the Sun.

Something of the afterglow of that Pagan glory of a few hours back now lightened her gloom, and made her almost ashamed of giving way in this manner. She got up impatiently, and opening the closed curtain of her bed-chamber, passed into the outer room, which was in darkness, for the Virgins, before leaving, had extinguished the lamps. The heavy curtains dropped behind her, and the darkness, as she stepped slowly through it, felt like a living oppression. It seemed to envelope and choke her. Here, the curtains were drawn too across the opening to the balcony, making the gloom denser. She groped her way along the chamber. Never had she felt so lonely in the bush nights, when Hansen, wrapped in his blanket, and the faithful Kombo were slumbering near her. She wondered what had become of the black boy, whom she had lost sight of after the banquet, whether he was still camping at the head of the steps leading to the nuns' house, or whether the seductions of the Acan city had proved too great a strain upon his fidelity.

Anne drew aside the hangings and went out into the balcony. It was a relief to escape from the oppression of her rock chamber. Outside, the darkness had, if the term may be used, a sort of pale luminosity. In the circular space overhead, the sky was gemmed with stars, but she could not tell whether the moon, now on the wane, had risen behind the cloven mass of the mountain which towered eastward, riddled with the burrowings of the rock streets. Only the feeble glimmer of a lamp or two in the cave dwellings relieved the blackness of the precipice. In the market-place below all was


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quiet: the booths were empty and silent, and every sign of business had disappeared. Occasionally from a distance came the sound of some belated traveller. But the Acans seemed to take even their amusements as decreed by Fate, and subject to certain limitations of time and circumstance, and were doubtless already sleeping off the effects of pulque and other such potent intoxicants.

Anne leaned over the rock balustrade in front of her window, whence she had a glimpse both of her own stairway and of the winding steps leading to the adjoining balcony. She was pleased to see that on the little square platform outside the nuns' entrance door, and in its most sheltered corner, Kombo had stretched himself—a blanket-wrapped mummy, indistinguishable as a thing human, save for his stertorous breathing. The sight of Kombo gave her a sense of stay and comfort, though, as a matter of fact, the drums of the Aca would scarcely have awakened him from his heavy sleep.

To left of the nuns' house, and in a more protruding line, there jutted another balcony, separated from hers by a rough-hewn partition, and approached at the furthest end by a flight of steps cut slantwise in the cliff. This stairway forked at the top, a small flight leading to the door of an entrance into the cave dwelling, while two or three steps branched outward to a ledge skirting the stone balustrade of the balcony. Anne had already been told that this dwelling, adjoining that of the Virgins of the Flame, was Keorah's ancestral property, her private residence, connected by a back tunnel in the rock with the official quarters of the Zuhua Kak.

Now Anne became aware of a faint rustling near her, of the drawing of curtains, a shadow projected upon the balustrade, and a stealthy step upon the adjoining balcony. The girl drew back sharply into the shelter of a pillar, but was still able to see what went on. A figure bent close to the balustrade—a female figure, either closely veiled, or with the upper part of her form


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concealed by falling hair. Anne fancied that the form was that of Keorah. The woman was adjusting some fixture, a metal abutment—for the object gave a faint glint of starlight—to the stone coping of the balcony. The fixture, whatever it was, stood out a vague convoluted blur against the emptiness beyond. Having done her work, the woman retreated, moving across the balcony within range of the watcher's vision, into the deeper shadow of the adjacent window—an opening corresponding with that through which Anne, on her side, had passed. There the woman withdrew behind a curtain, but Anne felt confident that she had not moved altogether away.

Just then came a sound upon the rock pavement of the market-place,—the heavy and slightly uncertain pad-pad of two sandal-shod feet. It was one person walking alone. The steps slackened. They halted immediately below; then shuffled on for a moment or two, and stopped again, as though the pedestrian was not sure of his destination. Anne peered from behind her sheltering pillar, and in the dimness discerned the figure of a man in Acan costume. She almost laughed under her breath as she found herself noting the details of his dress. Of course! What else should anyone wear here among the people of Aca? The whole world, for all practical purposes, as far as concerned Hansen and herself, was narrowed down just now to the kingdom of the Aca. Even Eric was apparelled as an Acan. Her heart beast faster at the thought. Could it be that this man was Eric?—that he was keeping a tryst?

The darkness was too dense for her to distinguish the man's face, and besides, the stairway curved, and his back was towards her. He mounted stumblingly. The long Acan cloak concealed his figure, and was bunched up at the throat, hiding his hair. He did not go in at the door of the house, but turned sideways along the ledge below the balustrade, stopping at the object which had been fastened by the woman to the coping of the


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balcony. Anne waited in suspense. Presently she heard the scrape of a lucifer match. That told her that it was Eric, for the Acans used flint and tinder. She crept closer to the rock partition between the two balconies, and bent cautiously forward. He was fumbling still with his back to her, but the lighted match showed her his hand, which was certainly the hand of Eric. The lighted match revealed also the shape of the twisted thing standing up above the rim of the balustrade. There could be no manner of doubt as to its meaning in Anne's mind. The metal gleamed in the spluttering light, and now she had no difficulty in recognising the hand-wrought convolutions of two snakes' bodies coiled round the stem of an earthenware bowl, upon the brim of which twin snakes' heads rested. The match went out as it touched the wick floating in the bowl—the lighter's hand was unsteady. Another match was struck, and the second attempt proved more successful. The lamp now burned up brilliantly, and, as Hansen moved a little, it shone full upon his face. He was leaning over the narrow ledge, holding the balustrade with his left hand, and staring across it at the curtained doorway into Keorah's house as though he expected the curtains to part, and some acknowledgment of his presence, and of the act which he was evidently rather proud of, to be vouchsafed. His face still wore a vacuous look, but it was also marked by an air of complacency, the appearance of one who has accomplished under difficult conditions an unusual and only half comprehended feat. He gave a chuckle of somnolent satisfaction, and gurgled out half audibly, “Chichah u cha kak!” But there came no response. Hansen waited a minute or two, and then, gravely regarding the beacon lamp as though it had failed in the result expected of it, he crept along the ledge again, and unsteadily descended the stairway. Anne saw him look up at the emblematic lamp as he passed, with a glance of such comical dissatisfaction that she would have laughed outright at any other time; but


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now she held her breath and remained silent, her soul filled with an odd mixture of revulsion and pity, while he went on his way across the deserted market-place, and up the narrow rock street leading into the heart of Aak. She could hear the pad-pad of his feet as he went, and had a sudden impulse to call after him, and bid him return and extinguish the lamp, for she felt quite sure that he had not fully grasped the significance of what he had done. The maternal instinct that lurks in every woman's breast moved her to defend him against himself, but she could not forget how readily he seemed to succumb to Keorah's fascinations, and pride kept her from speaking. Thus the appeal she longed to utter died on her lips, and she was turning back to her own chamber, when a soft, indescribable sound of mirth caught her attention, and she saw on Keorah's balcony, framed within the now parted hangings, the figure of Keorah herself. Her opal coronet and feather plumes, her glittering belt and resplendent robes had been removed; and the woman now stood, clad in simple linen draperies like those of Anne herself, with no touch of colour about her save in the masses of her red-gold hair, upon which the lamp-light leaped. In her long, clever face, her brilliant eyes shone like fire, and kindled to an expression of intense satisfaction. It was to Anne, who had thought she knew Keorah, as though a strange and sumptuous animal was gazing through these windows of the red woman's soul. The elementary instincts of that sex so long held in unnatural subjection, had arisen triumphantly and were wantoning in their emancipation.

Keorah looked at Anne and smiled, but it was not a smile of animosity, nor even of derision. At the moment, Keorah felt neither one nor the other. She was too secure in her own sense of possession and of gratification —in the knowledge that not for a small thing had she bartered the barren dignity of Zuhua Kak. The two women faced each other, in a silence more significant than speech, a minute. Then Anne, never lowering


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her eyes, passed like a shadow into the darkness of her own room.

Amid her luxurious surroundings, the poor little High Priestess lay down, feeling more hopeless and desolate than she had ever been during her sojourn among the Maianbars, and gave her bitter thoughts rein. They were very broken and disjointed, most of them, for she was too tired to think clearly. She only fancied that the web of a cruel fate was closing round her, and that she was friendless indeed. The camp of the Maianbars appeared as freedom in comparison; though her only friends there had been savages and cannibals, they had somehow made her conscious of a certain sympathy which—at all events latterly—they had frankly extended to her. Even old Būli had been kind to her in his primitive fashion, and had there been need, they would all have fought for her—unless, indeed, they had been commanded to eat her by Multuggerah the King. In any case, they would have been true to their own code of loyalty, which she understood as she could not understand the code of this Aca people.

The Maianbars had revered her as divine, but befriended her humanity. To these people, from Keorah downwards, Anne began to realise that she was nothing more than a symbol, the embodiment of a prophecy, and even in that not greatly to their taste, being built on a different, and in their eyes, less attractive mould from their own. On the other hand, there was about them, Anne felt, something essentially alien to her instinctively modern ideas—the very type of countenance, with its fatalistic expression, the mingling amongst them of civilisation and barbarism, the beauty and coarseness, the ignorance and yet culture of a primitive sort, the superstition which for ages had dominated the nation, confining it within the narrow precincts of this rock refuge—all revolted her. Anne knew that she had successfully impressed the Acans, but she knew too that the threads of government lay loosely in her hand, and that it would require effort to


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hold them. She saw that she must contrive by bold dealing to establish her supremacy, for it was her only hope of escape. But whatever she might succeed in bringing about, there would be Keorah to reckon with. To mollify Keorah would mean giving up Eric. And how could she escape without Eric? How, too, could she leave him in Keorah's power?

The scene in the balcony had created a tumult in her mind. She felt again the woman's pity and the woman's contempt for man's weakness. The Eric to-night had revealed to her was a new Eric—not the chivalrous, self-contained companion of her wanderings, whose chief characteristics had seemed brotherly consideration for her, and scientific enthusiasm in his explorations—but a man like any other man, easily turned off his balance by the wiles of a designing woman, and the vulgar temptation of strong drink. She judged unfairly, as women do, but her pain was deeper than she dared acknowledge. The suggestion of Eric Hansen as another woman's lover—half savage though she were—showed Anne a chamber in her own heart which, while Elias Bedo lived, she might not enter. But as brother and friend she bewailed her chum, for had she not had his companionship in the interval between the present time and her departure from Maianbar's camp, her solitary position would not have appeared so overwhelming. She could have called forth her natural courage with a lighter heart, and might have tackled her fate as she had done before, bravely, with only the aid of Kombo.

True, Kombo still remained to her. But had not Unda, the black gin, lured him into the camp of the Maianbars; and was it not extremely likely that some yet more bewitching “Red Mary” would make him unwilling to quit this land of women and maize cakes? Whether white or black, men were all alike, thought poor Anne. The excitement of the day, which so far had buoyed her up, was followed by reaction in which she saw everything darkly, and presently the tension of


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her tired spirit gave way, and she buried her face among the pillows, and wept like a weary child.

Never had she felt so desolate, not even in those nights under the stars, near Cooktown, or in the cave at Kooloola, when she had known that all her relations in Australia were murdered; and when she had been frightened even of Kombo, and had sung her evening hymn in trembling faith, casting herself upon the protection of unseen powers before closing her eyes in sleep. She would have liked to sing the simple hymn again, but was afraid to raise her voice lest some of the Virgins might break in upon her. She could only lift her heart in dumb supplication, and, as she did so, a curtain of peace seemed to fall upon her. She crossed her hands upon her breast as she had done in her invocation of the Sun Spirit whom the Aca adored. Perhaps the great Pagan deity would overshadow her, and draw her within his protection. This was her last waking thought. The rays of the four lamps at the corners of the Zuhua Kak's bed seemed to blend into a shining disc—the symbol of eternal life and love, and with a long, soft sigh she fell asleep.




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Chapter XXXII - Aak Breakfasts

DAWN peered feebly into Anne's rock chamber, for she had left her curtains apart, and the morning light paled that of the lamps which still burned at the four corners of her bed. These lamps, emblematic of her lonely priestess-ship, brought back sharply to her mind the remembrance of last night's events, and she wondered whether Eric's torch of love shone yet upon Keorah's balcony. Half dazed she sat up, the veils of sleep falling from her eyes and brain, and the thought of the serpent-lamp uppermost in her mind. She sprang out of bed, her bare feet scarcely touching the skins and feather mats which strewed the floor, as she ran to the front opening, and, just as she was, stepped out upon the balcony.

She peeped round the partition. Yes, there in the pearly light, Anne saw the metal snakes rearing their open jaws, with the flax wick flaming brightly between them. The sun was not yet risen, but a faint pinkish radiance showed above the great back of the Tortoise hump, shedding a pale glow down upon the market-place, where already were some signs of life. Anne noticed that she was not the only person whose attention was attracted by the lamp on Keorah's balcony. Several booth-keepers had paused in the business of setting out their wares, and were standing with eyes upraised; while some herdsmen and labourers, evidently on their way to the fields, had halted too, and were laughing together and talking with jocose gestures, not altogether seemly, as they pointed to the emblematic serpents and the little flame they guarded. Anne


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hastily drew back, afraid lest these people had seen her, but she soon satisfied herself that it was the lamp and not she herself which had provoked their mirth. The girl blushed hotly. If she had been a little uncertain before as to the meaning of the lamp, she could no longer have the least doubt on the subject.

She went back to her bedroom, wide awake, her faculties brisk and alert. For so long had she been accustomed to wake in the small hours, and under curious conditions, that now her senses quickened naturally to activity, as they might have done aroused in an emergency by starlight, to continue her march through the bush.

Tucking her naked feet under her, she sat down on the edge of the bed. Near her was a miniature drum, like that put before Hansen at the feast, which she concluded was for the summoning of her maidens. But she determined not to call Semaara yet. She wanted to think out things in relation to her morning discovery. On a small table by her bed, the Virgins had placed, before leaving her the night before, a bowl of goats' milk, and some fruit and cakes. Anne drank the milk, and ate a little, glad of the early breakfast. It stimulated her brain, and helped her in forming a plan of action by which she resolved to guide herself. On the whole, Anne was a level-headed young woman, and, having once made up her mind what she would do, was not given to sentiment or vain regret.

After her little meal she dressed herself. Then her first care was to write up her vocabulary, committing to memory the words she had already put down, and practising herself in elementary phrases that she had picked up from Semaara. Next, she took stock of everything around her, with a view to further lessons. From her balcony she watched the Acans setting about their day's employments, and, bethinking herself of Kombo, looked to see if he were astir. But Kombo's blanket lay in an untidy heap, and it was not till she had peered about for some minutes that she espied him in


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the street that wound round the temple, apparently receiving hard usage at the hands of an Acan woman. He was vociferating loudly, and calling upon Yuro Kateena to pialla Mormodelik for his protection. Anne reflected that his thieving, or possibly his amorous propensities, had got him into trouble, and that a lesson might do him good. In any case, he escaped the clutches of the Red Mary, and disappeared in the dimness of the rock street. Anne looked up at the precipice with its many caves, and the wall closing in the market-place, and realised afresh with a shudder that she was a prisoner. The delicious morning air streaming down through the opening above the market-place came to her like a breath of liberty, and made her long for the old Bush days of hardship when she and Hansen and Kombo had tramped together, and at least had been free; when, too, there had been no other woman to come between Eric and herself. But that last thought she resolutely quelled. She had no time nor strength to spare for repining. Action was what was needed, and that of the wisest.

Before long the Virgins entered to pay their morning respects, and were surprised to find their High Priestess sitting dressed, calm and ready for whatever official duty she might be called on to perform. It was made clear to her that she would shortly have to go in procession to the temple, and by-and-by the stage mantle and the roseate head-dress, with the Eye of Viracocha, were brought forth. Ishtal performed the ceremony of robing. Poor Semaara hung back shy, and evidently frightened after her abrupt dismissal the previous evening. But Anne called her to her side, and found a few moments to talk to her alone, playfully chiding her in such phrases as she could put together, and re-winning the girl's confidence by her graciousness. She even commanded herself sufficiently to show Semaara the lamp on Keorah's balcony—now extinguished—and to try to ascertain what would be the order of proceedings in the wooing of Eric.


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Semaara hung her head and laughed, conveying that it would be as Keorah pleased. She also volunteered the information—signified by signs and more picture-writing—that Keorah was organising a pleasure party outside the city in honour of Zaac Tepal. Oh! dear no, she added; the Virgins of the Flame did not go hunting, though Keorah, when Zuhua Kak, had sometimes indulged herself in this manner. Naquah and Zel-Zie, however, had not approved of her passion for out-door amusements. And, as for the rest of the nuns, after the service to Aak was over, they mostly remained indoors weaving linen for the sacred robes, and preparing certain beverages used at festivals. Only occasionally did they walk, accompanied by the Elders and Acolytes, in the garden domain below the great terrace.

Semaara's pantomimic confidences were pathetic. She too would have liked to amuse herself. For her own part, Anne was much too proud to suggest forcing herself upon Keorah's party, but she privately resolved that if the privilege had been accorded to the last Zuhua Kak, she would claim it forthwith, and organise a hunting party to which Keorah should not be invited. Furthermore, she registered a mental vow to command Zaac Tepal's attendance upon herself as interpreter, whenever this was conformable with the dignity she intended to assume.

Before long, the procession of Virgins went again by the passage in the mountain to the temple, there to do service to Aak. The great place was now lighted by openings in the roof that had been closed at the celebration of the Feast of Life and Death. The Life Disc shone dazzingly with prismatic colours, but the Death Stone triangle showed, in the presence of the sun, only a sinister blueness.

The Virgins passed up the huge aisle to the Chapel of Aak, and, at one side of the fretwork screen, paused before a small postern door wide enough to admit one at a time, which turned upon a pivot in the centre and


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gave admission to the sanctuary of Aak. Ishtal signed to the High Priestess to enter; and Anne, scarcely able to control her terror of the creature, went in, and found herself in the presence of the Tortoise-god.

It was a large cave strewn with fine sand, and lighted from the top as well as by a great archway that led out of the mountain itself into a space enclosed by a low wall—the pleasure-ground of Aak. This Anne saw but vaguely, for at first she was conscious of nothing but the monster who reposed his enormous bulk in the middle of the cave. He stirred slightly, and the round head, with its two horns erect, protruded sideways from beneath the mighty shell. Anne was relieved to find that the creature was sufficiently far from her to make it a matter of time before the unwieldy mass could be dragged in her direction. But at this moment the beat of the Acan drums sounded in the distance. There was a confused murmur of steps and voices, as a crowd came into the temple to attend the daily worship of their god. Aak stirred again as if expectantly; and now in the archway Anne saw a band of acolytes bearing large stoups of water, and open baskets containing green vegetables and herbage of different kinds. They did not enter the sanctuary, but stood waiting, while two of the priestesses went past the Tortoise, ranging themselves one on each side of the arch, as though to guard the sanctuary from profane intruders on that side. Two others stood at the temple entrance, and the remaining two began in a methodical manner certain operations for the comfort of Aak, such as scooping out the liquid left in a large flat dish shaped like a tortoise's shell—possibly the shell of some departed antediluvian monster—with scoops made of the backs of young tortoises, then wiping the water vessel with linen cloths ready for refilling. They also raked the sand of the cave, removing shreds of green stuff and strewing the ground afresh with fine sand that emitted a pleasant odour. This was taken, as well as the implements with which they performed their offices, from the acolytes in the outer court.




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All the time the drums beat, and the great creature showed elephantine signs of agitation. But Anne took heart of grace from the unconcerned manner in which the Virgins did their work, approaching their deity with formal reverence, but certainly without fear. Each time they passed the beast, the two ministering Virgins made a quick obeisance, and the other four, as well as those acolytes whose hands were not employed in the bearing of water and herbage, stood with their right arm folded across the breast in the Acan act of homage.

Now, their homely services rendered, the two Virgins came to Anne and conducted her with much ceremony towards the Tortoise, signing to her that she should make a genuflexion as they themselves did. Anxious to omit no necessary and harmless formula, Anne complied, though with difficulty repressing nervous laughter the while. Then the maidens brought forward a basket of lettuce, from which Anne understood it was her duty to feed the monster. Anne took the basket, staggering slightly in her nervousness under its weight, for it was a large one and well filled. Aak evidently possessed a healthy appetite. With head eagerly protruding, Aak was awaiting his meal in the full relish of anticipation. Inwardly quaking, Anne went nearer. The calm demeanour of the attendant Virgins made her feel ashamed of her own terror, and summoning all her courage, she broke the lettuce leaf by leaf, and held it towards Aak. The god stretched himself enjoyably; his snake-like neck swayed; the creases of his throat straightened; his nostrils dilated as he delicately smelt at the herbage; then the slit-like mouth opened, and in a mumbling fashion Aak chewed his lettuce. He was a deliberate feeder, and took time over his breakfast, but presently the contents of the basket were swallowed, and another was handed to Anne, who went on feeding the monster till he began to show signs of satisfaction. Then she proceeded to fill the water vessel from the stoups handed her by the acolytes, but there was an un-priestesslike celerity in her movements as she


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stepped gingerly to and fro past the monster. Aak seemed to be conscious of her personality, and extended his head each time as she went by, elevating his horns, which twinkled at the tips like little eyes watching her. He had obviously some remembrance of the fascination she had exercised over him on the previous day, and was ruminating upon it,

At last the Great Aak's appetite was appeased. He had eaten and drunk, and the telescopic lids drooped over the small glittering eyes, and the odd wrinkled face, so like that of an aged man, wore an expression of senile complacency. The acolytes withdrew by the outer gateway, Anne having deposited several baskets of green stuff within the cave for Aak to regale himself with when he felt so disposed.

Now the Virgins led Anne out through the archway in the rear of the cave into a sanded court bounded by a low wall outside which a number of spectators had gathered in the hope of seeing their god take his morning exercise. In the middle of the enclosure, which was of great extent, was a large tank hollowed in the rock, artificially shelved at the sides, so that Aak might have less difficulty in dragging his unwieldy bulk up and down, when he chose to lie in the water or to bask near it in the sun. Beneath the wall, all round the court, was a carefully tended wide border of grass with beds of the vegetation that Aak specially enjoyed. In places, the rock ground showed; in others, there were drifts of sand in which the reptile might almost bury himself if he desired. It was a paradise for tortoises, though it had but one gigantic occupant. Anne found herself wondering whether Aak sometimes felt lonely, and sighed for an antediluvian spouse.

Having been conducted round the god's domain, she was taken back to the temple, and quitted Aak's sanctuary with no small feeling of thankfulness that her personal ministrations were over for that day at least. She had still to sing to the monster, and this constituted part of the morning worship for which the people in the


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temple were assembled. They were anxious to hear whether the new Zuhua Kak would continue to acquit herself creditably, but they were soon satisfied on that point. The procession passed through the revolving door, and the Virgins, all kneeling, ranged themselves in a semicircle behind Anne before the fretwork screen, after the order of the previous day, only that the Elders did not come up to the chapel of Aak, but remained in the nave of the temple.

As before, at the sound of Anne's voice, the Tortoise awoke from his stupor of repletion, and the same process of fascination went on. The great thing stirred and heaved; then, putting one foot slowly before the other, advanced towards the opening with its carved partition. There he again rested his head upon the stone work; the strange old man's face reared itself; the diminutive nostrils puffed breath in agitated clouds; and the shining eyes, like enormous beads, blinked repeatedly, and at last closed in an ecstasy of delight.

Anne sang on while the congregation listened. The influences of the temple again enveloped her, so that to herself her voice came forth as in a dream. Turbulent emotions filled her; loathing of the whole ceremonial and of the monster whom she had fed and served, yet with this a curious pity both for the huge helpless creature, and for the ignorant people who worshipped it as a god. Then, too, the trapped feeling of being a captive in the heart of a mountain among a strange race which seemed a survival of some forgotten phase of evolution, alien to her in every ordinary bond of human sympathy, and revolt against being compelled to join in such a travesty of religion, while underlying the disgust, was some subtle recognition of primal godhead, caged and dwarfed since the beginning of the world, nevertheless asserting itself in these dumb symbols of a barbaric worship.

The service in the temple over, Anne had scarcely reentered the nuns' house, when a message reached her, sent through one of the acolytes and rendered intelligible


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by Semaara, to the effect that a deputation of the Elders desired to wait upon the Zuhua Kak in the audience chamber to confer with her upon a matter of importance.

As soon as she had grasped what was required of her, Anne realised instinctively that the occasion was a crucial one, so ceremoniously was the message delivered, and with such evident awe on Semaara's part, that she felt sure it had some definite purport, and resolved to commit herself to nothing without being fully aware of what she was doing. She saw here, too, an opportunity of asserting herself in regard to Hansen, and, woman-like, made the most of it. So after a minute's rapid thought she signified her gracious assent to the Elders' wishes, but demanded the presence of Zaac Tepal at the interview to act as interpreter. Her request was a perfectly natural one; but Semaara's diffident manner, and the glance of amused consternation on some of the maidens' faces as they glanced in the direction of Keorah's balcony, showed that it was likely to clash with the arrangements of the former Zuhua Kak. Anne let it be seen that she divined their thoughts, and loftily dismissed the question of Keorah's pleasure by commanding that a messenger should be sent at once to find Zaac Tepal. She also desired that Kombo should be found, and bidden attend her in the audience chamber, which she learned from Semaara was immediately below the nuns' dwelling, with an entrance from the market-place, a sort of neutral ground where the High Priestess might hold state receptions of both sexes, which it was contrary to Acan usage that she should do in the nunnery itself.

In a short time the messenger—an acolyte—returned, and Semaara brought the information that Zaac Tepal was below, awaiting the pleasure of the High Priestess. Anne scribbled a few brief lines on a page of her notebook, saying that she expected shortly to receive certain of the Sacred Guardians in the audience hall below the nuns' house, and required his presence as interpreter. The note puzzled Hansen a little as he read it, for he


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scarcely recognised in this autocratic High Priestess his little friend Anne. She seemed to have doffed with her fibre petticoats her old charming simplicity. Moreover, he found himself in a predicament: he was now on his way to join the hunting party, and had been looking forward with some amusement to astonishing the Acans by his use of firearms. And then he knew that Keorah was not the sort of woman who tamely submits to interference with her plans by other people.

Hansen had vague, uncomfortable recollections of his sayings and doings the previous evening, though no one had told him plainly the meaning of that mystic lamp that he had lighted. He made a good guess, from the hints and suggestive looks of the Acans, as well as from Hotan's scowling dejection, that it was something compromising, and he had trusted to smoothing matters with Keorah on this day's excursion. There was no help for it, however. Anne was High Priestess, and Anne seemed to have discovered that the High Priestess'word was law. He thought it odd, and unlike Anne, that she had not come out herself to explain things, but supposed that this would be contrary to Acan etiquette, and with a shrug he turned to go back to Hotan's house, in which he lodged, to leave his gun and get ready for the audience. The sound of voices, and sight of a gay crowd issuing from Keorah's house made him pause. His enchantress greeted him with an arch air of appropriation, the men in her train pointedly made way for him, and the women looked shyly up at the lamp attached to the balcony, and made him significant salutations. Hotan, in full hunter's garb, appeared just then from another direction, and tauntingly challenged the stranger to show his skill in the chase. Here Hotan felt sure of excelling his rival, and had dreamed wild dreams of reinstating himself again in the favour of Keorah.

The sorceress laughingly chided her new lover.

“Hast thou forgotten thy vow of service, Zaac Tepal, that thou dost not offer to carry my bow, which in truth is heavy for a woman's arm. Where, too, are thy


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weapons? For thee, Hotan, before challenging thy foe, it would have been generous to give him choice of thy bow and spear. Thou hast but ill obeyed my directions to show hospitality to the White Lord. Perchance thou didst remember that I am no longer Zuhua Kak, and have not now the power to enforce obedience.”

Hotan insolently threw down his bow and quiver and the short spear he carried on the pavement at Hansen's feet.

“At Keorah's command my best is thine, Stranger, but it shall advantage thee nothing,” he said rudely. “Yesterday thou didst conquer me. To-day I have my turn. And to-morrow, mayhap, thou, Keorah, wilt claim my service again for the chastisement of this impostor who has publicly insulted thee by making a jest of that which among the people of Aca is held sacred. 'Twas in jest, not in earnest, as I know well, that the lamp on thy balcony was lighted last evening.”

Keorah's face paled with anger, and she thrust out her arm as though she would have struck Hotan, but recollecting herself, she made a feint of misunderstanding his speech. Turning a strange smile upon Hansen, she said with acid sweetness: “Nay, it is not I who am now in charge of the sacred symbols of Aak. I rob not our new Priestess of her office. Let me pray thee, White Lord, to pardon the unmannerliness of one who hath overvaunted his prowess, and is angered at the victory of another. Do not, in thy turn, mistake jest for insult.”

“Willingly do I excuse my host, to whom I owe hearty thanks for his generous entertainment,” replied Hansen courteously. “Yet, since I but did thy bidding, Lady, I would gladly understand wherein lies the difference, according to Acan prejudices, between jest and insult.”

A little titter went round the group, and Hotan gave a triumphant jeer.

“Said I not the truth?” he cried. “And may it not happen that, to-morrow or later, vengeance will be taken upon these impostors? Were they true messengers of


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the gods—this Zaac Tepal, as thou callest him, and the small white woman in rags whom he brought hither, and whom, thou, Keorah, for thine own purposes, hast suffered to usurp thy place—were they messengers of the gods, I say, would they need instruction concerning a time-honoured custom among the children of Aak?”

Keorah's eyes flashed fire.

“Silence!” she cried, the sonorous Mayan word dropping like a bomb from her lips. “No more of thy jealous gibes, Hotan, if thou would'st keep my favour and be my guest to-day. Zaac Tepal, look to thy weapons. We start at once.”

Hansen bowed, and stammered his apologies.

“A thousand regrets, Lady. I had hoped to show thee a more potent weapon than these that mine host has obligingly thrown at me. But I have received a counter command, which forbids me to accompany thy party in the chase.”

“There can be no counter command to outweigh mine,” said Keorah, haughtily. “Whence comes it, fair Lord? 'Twill be easily set aside.”

Kombo, in tow of the acolyte who had been sent to find him, burst just then upon the scene, and immediately began pouring forth his woes.

“Massa Hansen! Massa Hansen! Ba'al you go out long-a big fellow Red Mary,” he cried, his sharp wits at once comprehending Hansen's dilemma. “I believe Missa Anne plenty coola (angry) like-it that fellow,” he went on. “Mine go look out Missa Anne. Mine tell Missa Anne red man take waddy (stick) long-a Kombo. Poor fellow me! Red man been hit Kombo—Red Mary been hit Kombo. What for? Ba'al me pidney. Mine no like-it this place. Mine want to go back long-a bush. Mine want-im brother belonging to me. Ba'al mine got-im brother—ba'al mine got-im gin. I b'lieve mine go back and find-im Unda.”

At the remembrance of his deserted wife, whose worst fault had been her devotion to him, Kombo wept. He


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looked a pitiful object; and indeed it would appear that not only had the Red Mary, but the Red Mary's brothers and cousins, punished him for his presumption. There was a weal across his face; he had lost his emu's feather; his cloak was torn, and his arms and legs were bleeding.

Keorah was exceeding wroth at the interruption.

“Let the black slave be driven back into the forest,” she cried. “He belongs to the barbarians, and his presence among us is forbidden by law. Beat him, and lead him out into the desert.” She signed to the acolyte who was in charge of Kombo.

The youth, accustomed of old to render her strict obedience, hesitated, torn by contending fears.

“The Zuhua Kak claims him as her slave, and bids him attend her in the audience room,” stammered the acolyte. Keorah laughed in angry scorn.

“The Zuhua Kak, it seems, hath small respect for Acan dignity to choose a black barbarian for her body-servant,” she said. “And thee——?” She turned imperiously to Hansen. “Perhaps thou too, wilt tell me that it is the Zuhua Kak who orders thy presence. Art thou also the slave of this strange woman?”

“Not so, Lady; I am the friend and interpreter of her whom the gods have sent,” replied Hansen, again bowing courteously, but already somewhat disenamoured of his enchantress, whose primitive instincts were getting the better of her, and whose want of self-control compared unfavourably with Anne's quiet dignity. “The Zuhua Kak, who, I have been given to understand, is sovereign among the Aca, has bidden me be present to make known her will to the Sacred Guardians when she receives them. They have demanded an audience of her. Already I see them approaching. In my country, the Queen's invitation is a command superseding all others. Therefore, craving thy pardon, I may not consult my own wishes, but must obey those of the High Priestess, to whom thou hast resigned thy throne.”

This was indeed an unwelcome way of putting things


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to Keorah, but Hansen saw that the situation necessitated plain speech.

At that moment the deputation of Elders, arrayed in ceremonial mantles, halted close by on their road to the audience chamber. Naquah, Kapoc, and Zil-Zie represented the Sacred Guardians. Zil-Zie, with his long white beard and fatherly expression, seemed to Hansen a more prepossessing person than crusty Naquah, and he at once addressed him, making known the difficulty, and commending Kombo to his protection.

Zil-Zie gave the black boy into charge of the acolytes, bidding them dress Kombo's wounds before taking him to the audience room, then diplomatically attempted to soothe Keorah's wrath.

“'Tis no common barbarian,” he said, “but the guide who led our Priestess's feet across the sand where once was sea, and who may perchance have received commission from the gods to aid her when she again leads forth the people. Remember, too, that the maiden does not yet speak our tongue, and needs both her interpreter and the slave. But if thou desire it, thou shalt enter with us, my daughter, by virtue of thy recent office. So shalt thou hear what passes between us and the Chosen of Viracocha, and give thy counsel thereon. Thou wilt not need long to defer thy chase.”

But this invitation Keorah proudly and sullenly declined, much to Hansen's relief. He felt it would be extremely difficult to act as he should do in Anne's service, before those keenly flashing eyes. Keorah vouchsafed him no farewell, but, making a scant courtesy to the Elders, swept round and back to her own house, her guests following her with some diffidence. Evidently her wrath was acknowledged a dreaded thing. Hansen smiled grimly to himself, recognising that he had but temporarily escaped it.

Meanwhile, in the audience chamber, Anne and her maidens were gathered, awaiting their august visitors. It was a long, low hall, hollowed, like all the rest, in the heart of the mountain, open in front, and adorned


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with frescoes and anaglyphs of curious design. It was lighted up by lamps placed upon ledges in the walls. A dais at the end of the room was raised by one step; it was spread with skins, and upon it a great carved chair was set for the Zuhua Kak. Other seats were placed about the room. All was in readiness before Anne appeared, descending the short flight of stairs leading from the nuns' apartments, and followed at equal distances by her Virgins. She had of set purpose insisted upon all the accessories of her new rank, and looked quite a queenly little person, with her long mantle sweeping behind her, the rose-coloured plumes, and the Eye of Viracocha upon her forehead.

She rose at the entrance of the Sacred Guardians, and with much graciousness bowed separately to the three. Kombo somewhat spoilt the effect of this reception by rushing forward with an irrepressible cry, “Missa Anne! Plenty mine want-im you. My word! Cobbon būjeri fellow you! Altogether like-it big Missus long-a water. You tell Red Mary Kombo brother belonging to you.”

He would have precipitated himself on the platform and seized her hand, but Anne restrained him with a gesture, seeing the necessity of inculcating in Kombo a proper sense of her dignity.

“Ba'al you come alongside of me,” she said. “You pidney. Now mine like-it queen. Outside, ba'al mine brother belonging to black fellow. Inside, plenty mine brother to Kombo. But when Red Men look out, Kombo sit down close-up floor, and make-it bow to Yuro Kateena like-it Red Men.” This injunction Anne delivered with a grandiloquent air, in measured tones which impressed alike Kombo and the Acans. Hansen was deeply amused, but his respect for his little comrade's cleverness and resource was rapidly increasing. Kombo's eyes twinkled; he jumped to the situation. There was nothing Kombo enjoyed more than acting a part, and to “take in” the Red Men was indeed a salve to his wounded pride and his bruised


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limbs. He promptly squatted on the step of the dais, and first looking to see that the eyes of the assembly were upon him, made a half somersault at Anne's feet, knocking his head with great solemnity three times on the ground.

Anne with difficulty restrained a smile. She dared not meet Hansen's eyes, lest she should break into a laugh, but she had the comforting reflection that, at a pinch, she might safely rely upon Kombo's native intelligence.




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Chapter XXXIII - The Audience Chamber

KNOWING nothing of Acan precedents, Anne had thought it best to model her demeanour on what she supposed to be the usages of European courts, though her acquaintance with these was limited to the operatic boards. She condescendingly motioned the Elders to three chairs which had been set in front of the dais, and, as she re-seated herself, she signed Hansen to stand near her, a little to one side. Her maidens were ranged behind her.

“I must congratulate you upon the manner in which you have risen to circumstances,” murmured Hansen. “It's perfectly splendid. But have you any idea of the part you've just now got to play?”

“I've been trying to study it as well as I could without the words,” she answered composedly, “and I think I know what to do. Will you please translate for the old men everything I say, and give me back their answer?” Then turning at once to the Sacred Guardians, she smiled winningly, and addressed them in English, pointedly keeping her attention upon them, as Hansen translated her words.

“I am very glad to receive you, and to thank you for the welcome you have given me. I trust that the favour of the gods by which I am honoured seems to you worthily bestowed.”

She spoke with a sweet superiority, and again made them a charming salutation. The Elders bowed their right arms across their breasts in response. Kombo, his ears strained to catch the speeches, and his eyes alert, did likewise in solemn mimicry. The Elders


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looked slightly disconcerted. Zil-Zie smiled, Naquah scowled, and Kapoc made an angry movement, but they were propitiated by the black boy's ingenious pride in his own performance.

“I believe, Missa Anne, that all right now,” he remarked, squatting in his place once more. The corners of Anne's mouth twitched, and Hansen stifled a guffaw in an elaborate cough before he took up the Elders' reply. Said Naquah surlily—

“The gods distribute their favours as seemeth good to them, and though we hold it somewhat strange that the Daughter of Dawn should not speak our ancient language, nor be acquainted with our ancient customs, we have no will but the will of Viracocha, and of the intercessor Aak.”

“And thou, Daughter of Dawn, and Deliverer, hast made that will clear to us,” gently put in old Zilzie. “For in thee is the fulfilment of our old-time prophecy which tells of one, fair as thou art, who should walk across the sea-sands as thou hast walked, to bring tidings of joy to the Children of Aak.”

“Well do I know thy prophecy, Hu Aca Tehua,” answered Anne proudly, “for am I not verily she of whom it was said that she shall serve as your Priestess, and reign as your queen?”

Hansen duly rendered the emphasis of these words, though the extraordinary aplomb with which Anne made the amazing statement somewhat staggered him.

Kombo, the irrepressible, resentful of Naquah's tone to his beloved mistress, struck in—

“Yoai! Būjeri queen! Yuro Kateena! Suppose old fellow Red Man saucy, I b'lieve queen make-im altogether bong.”

Kapoc could not this time restrain his wrath.

“Was it the Zuhua Kak's pleasure that her black slave should thus break in with unseemly chatter?”

“Kombo, be quiet, or I'll tell Debil-debil to come down long-a you, and stop that ridiculous bowing,” murmured Hansen, chokingly.




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Kombo subsided with meekness.

“All right, Massa Hansen. Mine no make a noise.”

And Anne loftily craved indulgence for the zeal of her servant, who had not any wish to offend. He was no slave, she said, but had been especially commissioned by the gods to lead her and the interpreter hither; and to that end had the gods endowed him with knowledge of the land, while resembling that of the savages around, so that he had been enabled to preserve them through many dangers. Whereat, when Anne's speech had been interpreted, Zilzie's old eyes gleamed kindly, and he assured the High Priestess that no ill should happen one so wise and faithful.

“Perchance,” he added, “the gods have yet work in store for him, in the mission which thou, oh Daughter of Dawn, art called here to accomplish, and of which we would now speak with thee.”

“Speak on, my fathers,” said Anne sweetly, concealing beneath her mask of condescension the sudden sense she had of something brooding in the minds of the Guardians, and which might present a difficulty not quite easy to overcome on the spur of the moment. “Say what thou wilt. Doubtless the Spirit of great Aak will enable me to answer thee to thy satisfaction. But thou hast need, oh Zilzie, to remember that it is but a few hours since I came here, and that I have scarce seen thy land and thy city. It were well, perhaps, to wait before asking my opinion of the country and habits of the Acans till I have a better knowledge concerning them.”

Zilzie nodded considerately, but Naquah gruffly rejoined—

“Thy opinion of our country and its customs, Priestess, is not what we dost desire from thee, since in truth, as thou sayest, there is much for thee to learn concerning them. We would speak with thee of the mission which it is foretold thou shalt perform—that of which the prophecy telleth. Thou knowest that it


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is for thee to lead forth the people of the Aca to a land made ready for them beyond the Flame and the Flood, where they shall increase and once more become mighty, as in the days of their ancient renown. We would ask thee where that land lies, and the road, along which thou wilt guide us. For in this matter, no doubt, the gods have fully instructed thee.”

Hansen's heart quailed as he interpreted Naquah's address. How would Anne reply to it? How get out of the dilemma without losing the Elders' confidence, and bringing about disaster to them both? He thought uneasily of Hotan's insinuation that the new Zuhua Kak and Keorah's “White Lord” were no better than ragged impostors. For his own part, he had a shrewd suspicion that unless he gave himself up entirely to Keorah's wishes, she would prove a ruthless enemy. It would be bad enough to be chased out of the mountain before he had an opportunity of deciphering the hieroglyphics on the monuments, and of learning something more about this wonderful pre-Adamite survival, but who could say what worse might not befall them? He longed to make some sign to Anne, warning her of a danger she perhaps had not foreseen, but all through the audience she had kept her eyes steadily away from him. Now, however, he was reassured by her manner of grappling with the situation, and led to wonder anew at the powers of strategy she had so unexpectedly developed.

Anne turned on Naquah a surprised look, that with her readiness—for she did not hesitate a moment—contrived to check any suspicion that had arisen in the Elders' mind, and to make Hansen admire even more fervently her courage and adroitness. She threw evident astonishment into her voice as she answered the old man, in plain and simple words, which Hansen duly elaborated into more flowery but none the less decided Mayan terms.

“Nay, sacred fathers, methinks 'tis not I alone who


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am unversed in Acan lore. For in truth the manner of thy questioning would show that ye of the temple have become rusty in thy prison of stone, and being long unused to converse with thy Great Ones, canst not tell the way of working when they stoop to arrange the affairs of men. Shall I, then, who, though ignorant may be of the customs that have grown up among ye Acans, have learned something of the wisdom of the gods, instruct ye therein, Hu Aca Tehua? Know that now, as in olden time, the High God decrees; the Doer rough-shapes; the Instrument carves the lines. Know, too, that in their dealings is neither haste nor impatience, but all cometh to pass in its due time. Yonder, to the west, in the House of our Lord the Sun, lieth that place of delight to which the gods of their favour call ye. There shall the Flame devour not, nor the Flood drown. There doth everlasting Life reign, and the Red Ray eternally shine. There are palaces got ready for ye, and temples with which those of the Great Builders' fashioning may not compare. But the first steps from thy prison must needs be arduous, and the magic of the Four-footed Serpent Kàn may, even in slumber, be vigilant. Therefore counsel and fore-thought are needed, that the way chosen may be smoothest to thy feet, and that ye escape the vengeance which for many ages hath slept, but that may awaken at sound of alarm. To me, the Instrument, has been given this task, and I have been bidden by the light of my own understanding, and by the aid of Zaac Tepal, Lord of Fair Strength, and of the black guide whom the gods have specially endowed with knowledge of the wilderness stretching around ye, to choose and prepare the road by which ye shall travel, so that ye faint not, and that no mischance happen to obstruct the purpose of Viracocha, delivered through me, his servant.”

Anne paused, waiting with an appearance of lofty unconcern while Hansen translated her speech, to see the effect it produced on the Elders. Zilzie smiled benignantly. Naquah gazed dourly from his heavy


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brows, and seemed to be pondering her words, while Kapoc looked puzzled but pleased. It was Zilzie who replied.

“Thou speakest wisely, Daughter of Dawn. And I, who am old, and leap not quickly to adventurous enterprise, agree with thy holy counsel to do naught in haste. Moreover, hast thou considered that Aak himself hath a voice in this matter, for surely unless the gods aid in his transport, he would find it difficult to drag the great burden of his sacred flesh over the rocks and through the forest we must needs traverse to seek safety from the Four-footed Serpent?”

“Am I not, oh! Zilzie, chosen Priestess of Aak? And thinkest thou that his wisdom is hidden from me? Knowest thou not that it is the spirit of a god that is immortal, and that the outward form is but the prison-house which may be burst at will of the All Great? In countless returnings of the Sun, hath Aak worn impatiently his fetters of flesh. What if for him, too, the hour of deliverance is nigh? And is it for us to question the power of the Supreme? Be ye certain that, in spirit or in form, Aak will go with his children.”

Kapoc, intent on practical considerations, broke in almost before Hansen had rendered Anne's haughty utterance.

“I would gladly know, Priestess, by what means thou wilt set about choosing the road over which we are to travel.”

Anne laughed lightly, and made a gesture, conveying, that having dismissed the weightier subject, this point was easy to deal with, and indeed a reason for terminating the interview.

“Surely, good father, there is but one answer to thy question. The gods do not waste time and strength in providing supernatural means, when there are those at hand for which ordinary limbs and intelligence suffice. Does one choose a way out of a mountain by remaining closed up within it? Mine eyes of this body do not see through stone, and I would gladly take a survey in the


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open of thy country and the cliffs that surround it. I propose then that thou dost take me forth at once—thou, and such of the Sacred Guardians as will pleasure me with their company. My black friend shall go with us, and of my Virgins, Semaara must attend me during our walk.”

Anne turned, and with a graceful and gracious hand, drew the girl, blushing, to her side.

“I find this maiden hath an exceeding aptitude in reading my wishes, and interpreting them into the Acan language,” she said, “so that by converse with her, my knowledge of thy tongue is like to increase the more quickly. Therefore do I now dispense with the further service of my interpreter, who is free to join the hunting party from which I regret to have detained him. I wish thee good sport, Zaac Tepal.”

Thus, with a courteous gesture, Anne dismissed Hansen, who, greatly surprised, and by no means wholly pleased, left the audience-chamber. Then the High Priestess, after affable bows to the three Elders—each of which was solemnly reproduced by Kombo—told the black boy to wait for her outside, and departed with her Virgins to the mid-day repast, before starting out to explore the neighbourhood, an excursion which she promised herself should prove both useful and interesting.

Anne, and her little party of Virgins and Elders passed outside the natural wall of rock, and descending the terrace by rough-hewn steps, entered the cultivated basin which was at once garden, granary and live-stock farm to the people of Aca. It almost seemed that the earth depression had been, in some far back period, a volcanic lake—drained perhaps in the great cataclysm; or else a stupendous crater. This last theory was somewhat corroborated by the formation of the cliffs, which rounded the hollow from each side of the Tortoise Mountain and closed the basin, except for the abrupt break, through which the river flowed outward to empty itself no doubt into the Gulf of Carpentaria.




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The surface of the ground was irregular. Here and there small hillocks stood up, and there were also enormous boulders of stone, some of which had been hewn into obelisks, and were rudely sculptured into hieroglyphics.

Passing a row of these, Anne questioned Semaara after her fashion, and gleaned that they had a religious significance, and were in some way connected with the computation of time. Would Eric, thought Anne, succeed in getting tracings of the hieroglyphics, and if so, how should they carry them away? She thought, too, what interest Eric would have found in this tour of inspection she was making. She wondered in which direction he had gone hunting, and concluded, as she could see no signs of the party, that it must be on the other side of the encircling ridges. Looking towards these, she perceived large goat-yards divided by walls of loose stones from the cornfields and cacao and other plantations. A great number of these animals appeared to be kept by the Acans, and no doubt it was one more adventurous than the rest, which, clearing the ridge, had strayed down towards the Valley of Death. Anne, whose instinct of locality had been considerably sharpened during her wanderings, tried to place that grim gorge, and decided that it must lie almost at an angle with the market-place, south of the great rock forming the head of the Tortoise. She longed to get the bearings of the whole place with a view to ultimate escape, and inwardly determined to explore it on every opportunity that offered, and, if possible, alone with Kombo. That, she feared, would not be permitted, but at any rate she could impress upon the black boy to keep his eyes and his ears open. He had already, she discovered, learned a few words of Acan, and now she bade him “look out plenty sharp,” and tell her by-and-by all that he noticed. Her great desire was to ascertain what the country was like beyond the river outlet—whether desert or wooded, and if it offered facilities for escape. It might be that there was a gap


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in the high mountains which stretched northward up Cape York Peninsula, and if so, they might still gain the Port of Somerset, according to her original intention. She knew that on the Gulf side of the Peninsula there was no settlement nearer than Port Darwin, and to reach that without horses would be an impossibility, even if they escaped being murdered by savage blacks. These thoughts ran as an undercurrent in Anne's mind, while outwardly she gave her attention to everything about her, finding indeed much to interest her on all sides.

Conversation, unfortunately, was limited, and she half regretted not having made Hansen come with them. She wanted to ask questions, but could only do so by signs, which the Elders were slow in understanding. Naquah was still morose, but Zilzie and Kapoc pointed out the objects they fancied would please her. She would have liked to linger at the farms where scrub-turkeys and jungle-hens seemed to take the place of barn-door fowls, and where, in enormous aviaries, closed in by wide-meshed netting of an agave fibre, were hundreds of tame birds, some with very beautiful plumage. Specially did she notice one compartment devoted to those furnishing feathers of the sacred pink. Emus here seemed to resemble the ostrich, and there was a large bird with snowy breast, the skin of which Anne recognised as that supplying the bed coverings of the nunnery.

Of animals she saw none of those—if the striped goats could be excepted—which are domesticated in other countries. Horses and cattle seemed unknown; the Acans had, however, a dog of the dingo breed used by the goat-herds. They kept wild hogs penned, to be fattened for the table. The kangaroo tribe was no doubt considered worthless, but a kind of marsupial platypus appeared to be regarded with favour, either for cooking purposes, or for the sake of its soft fur. Anne wondered if this was the creature that Eric had been so anxious to find. Various small animals cooped, or


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running in yards, were preserved for eating, and to this use also were put certain reptiles and insects; while some delicacies indicated by Semaara, such as frog spawn, a species of fly and a worm infesting the aloe, made Anne feel that the Blacks' feasts of larvæ, snakes, and grubs, were clean and wholesome by comparison.

One farm was devoted entirely to the rearing of iguanas, which, after having been fed on an aromatic diet, were much esteemed as food by the Aca.

In the maize fields, husbandmen were busy, for it was the time of threshing the golden grain upon a primitive floor of crossed saplings. The pods on cacao trees hung ripe; so too the pepper berries and fruits and spices were ready for gathering. The great millstones crushed roots and nuts. Flour was being ground from the yucca plant, and young shoots of agave and bamboo were being prepared into a vegetable pickle. All seemed prosperous, though on the faces of the labourers—men and women—was the same look of stolid resignation, which brightened, however, into a gleam of curiosity as the High Priestess passed. Anne wondered how the Acans could bear to think of leaving so well-ordered and fertilised an abode, to wander through desert and forest in search of the new land promised them in the prophecy. Then she reflected that the dwindling race imprisoned during untold centuries within rock walls, and watching its own decay, might welcome at any cost the chance of infusing new life into its sluggish veins, and might indeed long to enlarge its activities. Perhaps she ought rather to feel surprise that there was any energy left in the Acans, and that their intellects and wills had not atrophied under the conditions of an existence which, however interesting to a stranger, must to them by this time have become exceedingly monotonous. The greater marvel was that a character like that of Keorah should have been produced from such a stock.

There was no time to-day, Semaara explained, to see the sheds where flax was got ready for the weavers, or


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the work of the tanners, or the pottery manufacturers and workers in metal. The mines from which gold and opals were procured lay some distance away in the mountains, she replied, when Anne questioned her on that subject, pointing to the stones on her forehead and at her breast. The opal was considered sacred, and Anne learned that only the priestly class was permitted to wear it; but gold, except for the manufacturer of implements or ornaments, seemed to be of as little account among the Acans as it was in the day of Solomon. The money currency was represented by certain kinds of beans, of which the little red ones with black spots were the rarest and most valuable. If only, Anne thought, Hansen could find and take away gold and opals sufficient to make him rich for life! But that she plainly foresaw would be difficult.

The path which they took back led near the wall of the earth-basin, where the cliff dipped down from the rock head of the Tortoise. This reared itself, a gigantic monolith, above them. There were two ways of returning—the other being a road through a garden tract, where grew many brilliant flowers and blossom-bearing trees and shrubs. The atmosphere there was laden with perfume, and after the free air of the country outside Anne felt it heady and enervating. The Elders chose the low road, but Kombo had darted up a track towards the cliffs, calling out “Būjeri look-out, Missa Anne!” and Anne, imagining that he was directing her attention to some feature of the place likely to serve her own purposes, insisted upon following him. The fact was, however, that Kombo had espied a rude stairway going up the monolith, from which he knew there would be a fine view, and an opportunity, perhaps, for finding out what was going on in the world they had left. The fear of Massa Bedo and the black troopers was always before Kombo's eyes, and he would have been glad to assure himself that Anne had not been tracked to her refuge. But his intention of climbing the Head was frustrated by the acolytes, who raised


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their voices warningly, and made menacing movements with their arms; and Kombo, having received one severe drubbing at the hands of the red-folk, had no desire for another, so slunk back to the protection of his mistress.

Anne noticed that there was surprise and dissatisfaction on the Elders' faces when she pointed to the raised road below the precipice, which, extending like a rampart round the monolith, finally descended by a short flight of steps to the broad terrace outside the market-place and theatre. It was clear that they did not like the suggestion, and she soon saw that this was a path not greatly frequented, and suspected that there must be some reason, of course inexplicable to her, for her companions' hesitation to accede to this simple desire of hers. But she had already discovered that it was the High Priestess' prerogative to do as she pleased in such matters, and the line of conduct she had resolved upon was to assert that prerogative on all possible occasions.

Therefore she signed imperiously that her wish was to be obeyed, and moved on, following the black boy. She saw that Ishtal and Naquah exchanged sinister glances, that Zilzie's face was sad as at an ill omen, and that Kapoc's expression was craftily exultant. Semaara walked dejectedly by the High Priestess' side, and made no attempt, as before, to enlighten her upon points of interest. An ominous hush fell upon the party, and there seemed indeed something unusually forbidding in the aspect of the precipice, black from ancient volcanic fires, and that of the grass and lichen-covered pavement upon which they trod. Great holes, like burst bubbles, showed in the face of the cliff, and Anne fancied that a subterranean tunnel was hollowed in the ridge, in which certain borings, that appeared at intervals above their heads, might be supposed to admit air and light. Kombo eyed these curiously, and only terror of the Red Men kept him from scaling the rocks and exploring them. Occasionally, a bat or a flying fox flew out of one of them; and once an eagle hawk swooped down


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with an angry screech, and circled above their heads. Looking aloft towards the summit of the monolith, the rough stairway led to one side of the similitude of a mouth, and on to the caves which were hollowed into the shape of eyes. Protruding from the open mouth of the rock monster, appeared a little platform. It seemed a regular conning-tower, from which one might well watch the approach of any foe. The same thought which disturbed Kombo was also in Anne's mind. Instinctively, her thoughts flew to her husband. Had Elias Bedo got across the strip of desert, and was he even now lying in wait outside this mountain prison? What if he should discover a means of entering, and denounce her as an impostor—his wife, masquerading as a Virgin Priestess! In such case, how would the people of the Aca punish her for what they might justly consider an act of sacrilege? She had no reason to suppose that a terrible fate would await her at the hands of this people who were apparently gentle, and not addicated to bloody ritual. Nevertheless she shuddered, and for the moment the whole aspect of life seemed to become grim and terrifying. The gloomy visages of Naquah and Ishtal frightened her; in Kapoc, too, she scented distrust and dislike. It was as though she was walking in a nightmare. The grimness of the situation oppressed her as it had not done since her entrance into the Heart of Aak.

Suddenly, after rounding a slight projection in the precipice, and just before gaining the stairway to the Tortoise's mouth, the procession halted, and all, with the exception of Anne and the black boy, drew a corner of their mantles over their faces, while muttering a few words in their own language—a prayer or an incantation; then made a deep obeisance, and passed on in trembling and fear. Anne alone remained upright and unmoved, for even Kombo, catching the infection, called “Debil-debil,” gabbled the aboriginal form of exorcism, “Ibbi-ri-bita Wanga!” and went by crouchingly like the rest.




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Anne perceived in the face of the precipice a patch of deeper blackness, a triangular opening, perhaps into the tunnel of which she suspected the existence, perhaps into a cavern, associated it might be with some deadly and mysterious rite in the Acan religion. The triangle, she knew, was for some occult reason among them connected with the Death Stone, and she saw round the doorway—which resembled an inverted V—a narrow border of that uncanny-looking blue marble of which the symbol of death in the temple was composed. On each side of the blue line were rows of hieroglyphics, which would probably, she thought, give Eric the clue to the mystery, were he able to decipher them.

When they had gone on a few steps, the Virgins, Elders, and acolytes uncovered their faces, and Anne saw all eyes fixed upon her with, she fancied, amazement and horror. It flashed upon her mind, that as Zuhua Kak, she too, should have been overcome with awe before the triangle instead of exhibiting unconcern. The angry suspicion in the eyes of Ishtal and Naquah, and the vague pity in those of Zilzie, made her conscious of her mistake, but she tried to retrieve it by holding her head high and returning fearlessly the gaze of her companions. She was guilty, however, of the weakness of asking Semaara by a sign the meaning of the triangular doorway. Semaara shrank and would not answer, throwing a timid glance backward at the Elders, which seemed to warn Anne against indiscreet questioning. The girl looked troubled, and also a little suspicious, but Anne knew intuitively that the affection she had inspired in Semaara's heart would outweigh distrust, and so she merely kept silence for the present, waiting till a favourable opportunity should occur for gaining the information she desired. But notwithstanding her high spirit, the poor little fate-decreed Priestess felt her heart sink within her, and the nightmare oppression deepened.

She had recovered herself somewhat before reaching


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the nunnery, where she graciously saluted the Elders, dismissing them with an appropriate gesture towards the setting sun, and chanting a few bars of recitative, which she was glad to see had some effect in removing the impression her ignorance had made.




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Chapter XXXIV - The Conning Tower

THINGS went on for about a week much in the order of the first day. The early part of the forenoon was invariably devoted to the service of Aak, the remainder to secular occupations, and to studying the language, with which Anne made such quick progress that she could soon talk to Semaara, ungrammatically it was true, for the Mayan is one of the most complicated as well as the richest of tongues, but still fairly intelligibly. The lessons were a source of considerable amusement, and lightened the solemn decorum of the nuns' house, for Semaara in her turn attacked English with avidity, and playfully made a point of knowing the equivalent of the words she taught Anne, in what she called the speech of the gods. The other Virgins caught Semaara's spirit, and even Ishtal seized every opportunity of making herself acquainted with English words. Anne unsuspectingly took a pleasure in gratifying the elder Virgin's sudden thirst for knowledge, glad that anything should relax her stiff, unfriendly demeanour. It was not till one day when conversing with Hansen in the audience chamber, that, glancing towards the group of Virgins attending her, the High Priestess was struck by a peculiar expression, a look of crafty alertness on Ishtal's face, which, when she found herself observed, changed to its usual stolid calm. An uncomfortable feeling came over Anne. Was it possible that Ishtal had been picking up English for the purpose of playing the spy upon Anne and Hansen, and reporting to the enemy Naquah? For Anne, Eric, and even Kombo in his elementary fashion, were conscious of warring


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forces and divided sympathies among the Elders and more important Acans of the aristocratic and sacerdotal classes. Hotan made no secret of his animosity, especially since Hansen, at the instance of Keorah, had removed his quarters from Hotan's house, and established himself in a cave dwelling with an Acan attendant of Keorah's providing. Anne wondered within herself whether this man might not be a spy too, and her misgivings were not lessened when she heard Keorah address Hansen, on some occasion when the High Priestess was within hearing, in a curious but captivating medley of English and Mayan. It was a pretty jest, thought Anne bitterly, but might have unpleasant consequences, and after this she was wary in her manner of imparting information. But the mischief, alas, was done.

Kapoc, too, was inimical to the strangers, and there were many others of the wealthy Acans who were not altogether inclined to abandon their gardens and granaries and rock palaces on the strength of an ancient prophecy, and at the bidding of a little white girl, of whom it was already whispered that she was an impostor.

In the meantime, Anne took care to impress upon the people that she was diligently considering the question of the Exodus, conferring on the subject with Aak, and searching out the most convenient path. She cleverly played upon the hesitation of the citizens, knowing that they were ashamed to confess unwillingness to obey the gods, and would not venture, lest the people should judge them harshly, to put hindrances in her way. She boldly proposed exploring excursions in company of Kombo, with Semaara, who was agile and useful in the way of giving information, as the only Virgin in attendance. In this manner she searched the garden basin for a convenient outlet, finding none but the river, truly a water-gate, for it foamed in impassable rapids between high cliffs. The subterranean passage by which they had entered the mountain Anne did not


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care to attempt, nor would it have been possible without surer guidance than that of Semaara, so intricate was the labyrinth of tunnels. Hansen had passed out of it upon his hunting expedition with Keorah, but to find his way again would be beyond even his power. Moreover, it was only by a ruse that he contrived one day to meet and accompany the others. Keorah frowned upon any desire that he showed for Anne's society, and Keorah's wishes had, he felt, to be considered. Partly from politic motives, partly from a man's natural weakness, he feared to oppose the handsome red woman, who in truth attracted him. Anne did not believe in the motives of policy when he explained them to her. Hansen's enslavement to the red enchantress seemed to her too evident. She avoided the subject of Keorah; and a certain restraint crept up between the two, so that Hansen sometimes fancied that Anne was a little spoiled by the homage paid her as Zuhua Kak, and Anne, her heart sore within her, told herself that a strange woman had come between them, and that the old familiar friendship could never be again.

There was another very powerful charm to Hansen in the Acan city, and this was the tantalising study of the hieroglyphics. Some were totally unintelligible to him; others he could translate very imperfectly from the studies he had made at Copan and Palenque; but here memory failed him; he had no notes, no means of comparing signs, and all he could do was to draw the figures laboriously and clumsily with Acan brushes and pigments on the long strips of prepared bark which served the Acans as paper, in the hope of one day carrying his treasure away with him. But that dream he had of reading a paper before the scientists of his country, or the Royal Geographical Society of London, seemed every hour to become more distant.

It was one day, when Anne had started forth with the unacknowledged object of discovering the secret of the upper tunnel and the triangular doorway, that he


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joined her, and they mounted the rude stairway to the rock head of the Tortoise.

They found it a more difficult climb than they had anticipated. The steps were broken away, and here and there were yawning gaps in the rock itself, across which Hansen had to leap first, and then, with the help of a staff, assist Anne to pass. These very crevasses gave food for speculation. Clearly, they were due to the forces of nature, and the rock must have been riven after the building of the staircase. This either put the making of the stair back to the cataclysm that had swallowed up the city of the Aca, or it showed that there had been volcanic convulsions since that epoch. Hansen was of opinion that the clefts were of comparatively recent formation. In that case, there must have been an earthquake, perhaps an eruption, probably several of them in the intervening time; and no doubt it was the sense of insecurity continually present which had kept alive in the people's minds their ancient dread of the Four-footed Serpent Kàn.

“Otherwise,” said Hansen, “I can't see why they should always have stopped, shut up inside the Tortoise, so to speak, for they don't seem, within the memory of man, to have ventured even as far as the bit of desert on that side, or more than a few miles of the other. It must have been a pretty powerful superstition to make them so deadly afraid of a stone crocodile, that had been quiet and harmless for a thousand years or so. I should say that he had given them frequent frights to account for it. I wish I could find out when the last eruption happened.” But there was no one whom he or Anne could question concerning the records of the Aca, for Semaara had positively declined to ascend the monolith. She had not liked coming that way at all, and when Anne left her she asked permission to retrace her steps and return to the city by the lower route. Anne knew that this was in order to avoid passing the triangular opening


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in the face of the precipice, and spoke of the matter now to Hansen while they were resting after jumping one of the rifts, and climbing a steep bit where the stairway had been broken away. She asked if, in his talks with the Acans, he had heard anything to throw light on the subject. But it had never been mentioned, and the mystery of the doorway remained unsolved.

The sun was getting low, and they mounted as quickly as possible, considering the difficulties of the climb. The broken stairway—hardly now to be called a stairway, with the chasms that yawned between many of the steps—went up on the Acan side of the mountain, so that no view could be obtained of the outside country till, near the top, the staircase divided; one rude flight almost unscaleable, mounting to the extreme summit of the monolith, the other branching through a small cleft in the rock into a round cave that gave upon the Valley of Desolation through which they had approached the Tortoise region.

Kombo chose the more difficult ascent to the crown of the Head, creeping on hands and knees when he reached it, for he was afraid lest the Elders should see him from below, and resent with violence his ascent into a holy place. But whatever had been the use of this natural tower, clearly no foot, profane or other, now trod the sacred stair, and probably the Acans would have considered it a proof of divinity that the small white woman had accomplished the feat.

The mouth of the Tortoise was a long narrow cave, looking less like a mouth, now that they stood within it, than it had done from a little distance.

Round the cave into which Anne and Hansen entered was an inner rim, serving as parapet at the bottom edge, but cunningly designed to represent from the outside part of the eye-ball of the tortoise, for now Hansen realised that they must be in the eye-socket of the stone monster; and looking across over the parapet he perceived that to his left was a similar opening, making the other eye of the image. Glancing


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downward, he could see below the cavern mouth, of which the under lip projected in a triangular curve, over a deep gulley below. A glint of bluish stone caught his eye; he could see, also, beneath the abutting lip on the floor of the gully, flecks of white, spreading outward. He recognised the gruesome spot. It was Gunida Ulalà—the Place of Death.

He did not call Anne's attention to the fact, fearing to alarm her, and seeing that she was occupied in examining the rough sculptures and frescoes on the walls of the cavern. These were emblematical and in a fair state of preservation, and Hansen determined to come again and examine them at his leisure. It was clear that there was a connecting passage between this and the other eye-socket—probably with the mouth as well—indeed, the presumption was that the whole interior of the Tortoise's head was, like its body, burrowed by secret passages. Presently, Anne came forward to the parapet, and in a puzzled way located the gorge. She thought, but was not quite sure, that this was the fateful spot of the Blacks' traditions, and he only vaguely enlightened her. Gazing beyond, he made her look at the strange landscape, illuminated by the reflection of the lowering sun, and with an unnatural stillness upon its every feature. Still, there was not a trace of animal or human life in the valley or upon the ridges surrounding it. All was utterly wild and desolate.

Now Hansen saw that they might have considerably shortened the journey up the gorge could they have come in a straight line, instead of having to take curves, to ascend and descend in order to avoid ravines and precipices. The sulphurous patch he had likened to the Big Hell of Japan seemed quite close; so, too, the strange Druidic circle where they had found the Tortoise Altar. The Place of Death, he concluded, must be immediately below, as he could not trace its where-abouts. The red reflection of the lowering sun gave an effect of nearness, and he might have imagined the Crocodile Mountain, bathed in a red glow, standing


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sentinal at the opening to the gorge, and to be but at the distance of half-an hour's walk. It stood out against a glimmering span of desert and a brassy sky, the veritable image of a gigantic petrified saurian, with long scaly back, distended jaws, and even the grotesque similitude of a clawed foot, formed by a projecting ridge of rock cloven in three places. Small wonder was it that fearsome myths had woven themselves around a freak of nature so extraordinary. Within the crater mouth of the monster were jagged points like teeth; and as Hansen looked a sudden fancy struck him, and he bent eagerly forward, straining his eyes through the field-glasses he still carried with him. Had a drifting cloud been caught and imprisoned, or could it be that the monster's lips emitted a thin trail of smoke? He altered the focus of his glasses, and looked again. Did imagination deceive him? Could it be that the volcano was once more showing signs of activity? Was the Four-footed Serpent, mysteriously warned of the contemplated Acan exodus, gathering up his dormant energies for a last outburst of wrath, whereby he might annihilate the remaining handful of victims whom he had held in abject terror for so long?

Hansen handed the glasses to Anne.

“Look!” he said excitedly. “I can't make this out. Is it cloud or smoke?”

Anne had been watching him. Now she too, scanned the mountain.

“I don't know,” she answered doubtfully. “There's something—but the sun is shining on the rock, and I can't tell properly. Eric, do you think—can it be that there's going to be an eruption?”

At that moment Kombo scuttled down from the Tortoise's forehead, full of alarm. “Massa Hansen,” he cried, “I believe Munduala, Fire Debil-debil, sit down and make-im smoke inside Kelan Yamina—old man Crocodile. Mine plenty frightened. Mine want-im run away other side of Mirrein.”

“You one fellow big fool,” said Hansen unceremoniously,


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for it did not fall in with his plans that Kombo should make a commotion among the Aca people. “Ba'al that smoke long-a Crocodile. That cloud like-it sky. Suppose you say that fire-debil, Red Man plenty coola, and take it waddy long-a Kombo. Then Kombo altogether sore—plenty sick like-it kobra,” and Hansen feelingly stroked his own head at a spot where the black boy's woolly pate had suffered recent damage. “You pidney—no fire long-a Kelan Yamina. Suppose you think it fire, no say. Keep-it mouth shut.”

“All right, Massa Hansen,” returned Kombo, demurely. “Mine no want-im waddy. But mine lookout sharp. Suppose mine see Fire Debil-debil sit down long-a Crocodile, then mine run quick, tell Massa Hansen and Missa Anne. Then we burra-burra quick yan. I b'lieve mine find-im road inside of mountain long-a river. Then Red Man no catch Kombo. My word!” The black boy heaved a deep sigh. “Plenty mine sorry me no been catch-im yarraman (horses) belonging to Massa Bedo and black policeman, when that fellow close-up camp. Suppose mine catch-im yarraman, mine plant him long-a cave. Then altogether we been run away. I b'lieve afterwards lose-im Massa Bedo—lose-im Red Man—lose-im Red Mary!” Kombo brought out the last words sadly, his face puckered into a grotesque mask of melancholy. He did not like to give up his dream of replacing black Unda with a handsome red woman, though so far his amorous pursuit had brought him nothing but contumely. And it needed another drubbing yet to complete the disillusionment. Anne wondered if Hansen was in like case, and whether for him the spell of the Red Mary was still unbroken. The thought brought its own bitterness. Hansen gave an odd little laugh, as though he followed what was passing in her mind.

“Come, Anne,” he said, “it is getting late, and we've got to climb down. In a double sense, may be. I don't know that we shall be able to live up to this god and goddess-ship much longer. Some of them are


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beginning to suspect us of being ordinary mortals. We must be humble and diplomatic, and humour the children of Aak—bearing in mind that there are still several hieroglyphics to be copied somehow, and the opal mine to be found.”

“I am not thinking of either the hieroglyphics or the opals,” said Anne gravely. “I am thinking of the best way to escape.”

“Well, we've discovered to-day that there's no chance of doing so by the river, unless we shoot the rapids in a barrel, as they do at Niagara. But Kombo swears to the tunnel going right round inside the cliff, and maybe there's an opening outside, beyond the river mouth. I wonder if that mysterious grating leads to the passage.”

“I don't know. I've tried several times to find out from Semaara what it means, but nobody will speak of the Death-Stone door.”

“The Death-Stone door!” he repeated. “Queer, isn't it? I'd like to chip off a bit of that blue marble from the gorge where our goat was killed, but when the red men go out hunting, they carefully avoid that direction. I've a notion that the Place of Death is a store-house of electricity. The other day I got round here by myself, and took a look at the triangular opening. I put my hand on the narrow line of blue round it, and each time I did so, had the sensation of a strong electric shock.”

“Did you go in?” exclaimed Anne.

“Yes, but there's a grating of stone a few paces up, quite immovable, though clearly it must be meant to move. I tried to find out how, and came to the conclusion that it must be worked on the ancient method by counterweights.”

There was silence for a minute; then Hansen went on—

“If it were not for the distrust of these people, which may prove dangerous, and the uncertainty about getting away from them, I'd like immensely to spend six


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months in the place. It's enormously interesting. But you're right, we must secure a line of retreat. I wish it might be a straight one, and not a labyrinth to which we have no clue. Kombo,”—he turned to the black boy,—“You say plenty cave sit down all about?”

“Yoai, Massa,” returned Kombo. “Yesterday mine find-im big fellow cave over there.” He pointed to the lower end of the earth-basin in a south-westerly direction. “I believe that hole go long-a mountain all the way, come out other side close-up where I find-im mogra (fish) when Red Man look out first time.”

“That's the way we came,” said Anne, shrinking at the suggestion. “I should not dare to go back by it—now.”

She was thinking of her pursuer. Hansen was thinking, too, of the possibility of a route round the back of the southern range, which Bedo and the black troopers on good horses might have taken instead of crossing the desert in their quest of Anne. This would mean that after tracking Kombo, when the black boy had dragged himself back to give warning of her husband's nearness, Bedo and the troopers would have had to retrace their road in part before taking the longer and circular route, which, although much easier for mounted men, would occasion considerable delay in their pursuit.

“It's a choice of evils,” said Hansen, gloomily. “East—the desert, the scrubs, the Maianbars, and Elias Bedo; West—the Gulf, wild Blacks, and the very remote possibility of striking some explorers' camp, and of finally getting to Burketown. On the other hand, the almost certainty, without horses, of being captured by the natives. North—South, the same rocks! And there are my priceless specimens buried at the edge of the desert! Well, we must trust to time and chance. Meanwhile, as I said, let us humour the Acans, and watch the Crocodile. An eruption just now, provided it wasn't a dangerous one, might serve us well. I believe that's smoke, and I shall come up here again and keep a look out. But it would be fatal to upset


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either Kombo or the Elders, who would want to fly at once; and what would become of my investigations? Bear up, Chummy. Keep a brave heart, and the Providence aloft, which has guided us so far, will lead us safely back again.” So saying, he took Anne's hand in his, and guided her out of the Eye-cavern, to where the stairway with its yawning crevasses descended to the terrace.

That night, when the other Virgins had left her, Anne succeeded at last in drawing from Semaara, in part at least, the information she wanted about the mysterious doorway. Semaara appeared greatly depressed. On returning from the walk, Anne had found her in converse with Ishtal, and there were tears in the younger Virgin's eyes, a display of emotion rare among the Acans. Indeed, Anne sometimes wondered to herself whether this strange impassive people knew what love was—whether that fatalistic calm was ever broken by the deeper human feelings.

She questioned Semaara as to the cause of her disquietude. Semaara only shook her head; but suddenly, drooping upon her knees, she kissed Anne's hand with almost impassioned fervour. Then Anne put her arm round the girl, and, drawing her close, the two wept together. Anne, touched to weakness and to the momentary forgetting of her sovereign part, confessed her own sense of loneliness, her dread lest evil should befall Hansen and herself, her suspicions of emnity against them on the part of Keorah, Naquah, Hotan and others of the ruling persons. Motives of policy kept her from including Ishtal in the list of her enemies.

Tears were at first Semaara's sole answer, confirming Anne's guess that there was a plot against her. Semaara faintly shook her head when Zaac Tepal was mentioned, indicating clearly enough that Keorah had no grudge against him. The plot was against Anne. So much she admitted. Keorah was the instigator, Hotan and Ishtal willing accomplices. For the wily Keorah, though bent on subjugating Hansen, was at the same


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time coquetting with Hotan, and in fact playing a double part all round. This Anne knew from instinct as well as from Semaara's hesitating confidences. She had already realised that they were surrounded with spies, and that this was the reason of Ishtal's assiduity in learning the language of the gods. Now she knew that Keorah had not wasted her opportunities either. Semaara ingenuously related how that lady had been taking lessons from Zaac Tepal, doubtless with the object of understanding any conversation between the Zuhua Kak, Zaac Tepal, and even the black slave. Semaara, her tongue loosened under Anne's influence, confessed that she had unwittingly lent herself to these aims. She, who was more frequently with her mistress, had better opportunities for learning English words and phrases, and had in playful pride taught these back again to Ishtal. Only this afternoon had Ishtal aroused the younger girl's suspicions by becoming vaguely confidential, hinting that Keorah had some deep-laid scheme, though what that was Semaara could not guess, though she had cudgelled her brains severely over the matter. All she knew was that Keorah and Ishtal had been in close consultation that very afternoon. Was the Daughter of Dawn aware that a passage connected the nuns' house with that of the former High Priestess, which had been invariably used by Keorah during her reign of office, and was so still whenever she chose to take advantage of it? Semaara feared that some talk between Anne and Hansen in the audience chamber had been overheard. At all events, it was suspected that the two were not, as they alleged, messengers of the gods, but merely strayed wanderers who had imposed upon the credulity of the Children of Aak. Oh! If by any machinations the Elders and the people were to be induced to believe this——! Semaara had no words wherewith to continue. She shuddered and wept.

“And if the people believed me false,” Anne asked calmly, “what then, Semaara?”




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The Virgin gazed at her aghast, and trembled anew.

“Dost thou not know?” she cried: “Thou, Daughter of Dawn, to whom the gods have revealed their wisdom, thou who art in the counsel of Aak! Art thou then ignorant of the ancient custom which has been from the beginning?”

Anne, pulling herself together, was silent a moment or two. At last she said:

“Am I then so ignorant, Semaara, as thou seemest ready to believe? May it not be the will of Viracocha, that through me, his chosen one, the cunning of Keorah, Ishtal, and Naquah, unworthy servants of the gods, be brought to naught, and turned to their own undoing?”

During her service in the temple and her official intercourse with the Elders and Virgins, Anne had acquired many of the Mayan turns of speech, and the lofty-sounding phrases peculiar to that ancient tongue were beginning to fall gibly from her lips. Even in speaking English she sometimes found herself unconsciously fashioning her language upon the ancient Mayan model, which the people of the Aca followed. There was about it a rhythm that pleased her musical ear. Now she spoke with the solemnity of one inspired; and in truth the part she was called upon to fulfil was, by sheer force of the conditions surrounding her, rendered painfully real. Only by upholding their verisimilitude could she hope to escape from them.

“Hast thou so little faith in me, Semaara,” she proceeded, “and not in me alone, but in the divine Red Ray by which That of the Unutterable Name did show me to the assembled people as their fore-ordained Priestess and Deliverer?”

Semaara flung her arm across her breast, and bowed herself after the Acan manner of rendering homage.

“Thou art indeed the Priestess chosen by the gods,” she cried. “That I well know. I could not doubt thee. And yet,” — the girl stammered, — “Naquah said, in truth thou didst appear to be ignorant——”




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“Of what, Semaara?” asked Anne, softly caressing the bent head. “Nay, I can read thy mind; and this would I say to thee:—Has thou not heard that a decree delivered by the gods is sometimes ill-translated by men, so that in the passing of ages, by reason of man's lust and cruelty and self-seeking wile, They who are all-wise and merciful would scarce recognise their own again? Then is it that They seeing from above appoint a deliverer to undo the evil. To this end am I come, and for this purpose have I beheld and made no sign. Nevertheless, for the searching of hearts, would I hear from thy lips of that ancient custom among the Acans—of the doom of sacrilege, and of the opening of the Door of Death.”

She spoke at a venture, her thoughts instinctively turning to the mystery of the triangular opening, and the perils of her own situation, should she—Priestess of Prophecy, and elected Zuhua Kak—be denounced as an impostor. The effect of her words upon Semaara was surprising. The girl lifted her face, wet from weeping, but radiant with relief.

“Ah! Thou dost know! Thou canst save thyself. It was but to try our faith that thou didst pretend to be ignorant. Oh! Forgive me. Never again will I doubt thee!”

Anne kissed Semaara, deeply moved. She felt that she could trust this one of the Virgins at least, even though all the others and the whole Acan tribe were treacherous.

“Thou art brave and true, Semaara, and I love thee,” she said. “Speak, and fear not. Tell me when last the Death Door was opened.”

Semaara shook her head.

“When? I know not. I am not learned, nor can I read the records. I am but the youngest of the Virgins, to whom has not yet been committed the hidden knowledge of the Elders. It was a long time back—before my mother was born—before the last time when the Serpent arose and shook the earth. But I have


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heard Ishtal tell that in those days the black barbarians were suffered to enter our land, and that with one of them—a mighty chief—the Zuhua Kak was in league that she might flee from our City of Refuge to where the hills rise beyond that sand which once was sea.”

“And was it for this that she suffered the doom?”

“For this, and because through her the black barbarians caused our land to become corrupt, and evil to enter the holy place. Then did the Chief Elder give forth a decree made in old times by one of the Great Builders and …” Semaara's voice fell to a whisper. “And the Door was opened.”

Instinctively Semaara drew a corner of her mantle across her face as in the act of worship before the death symbol.

“And then?” asked Anne, eagerly, not having wholly followed the sonorous Mayan words, which, as the Virgin's awe deepened in approaching a sacred subject, fell undiluted from Semaara's lips, instead of the medley of English and more colloquial Acan in which the two had begun to talk.

“Did the High Priestess go through it? What happened to her? What was there—beyond the Door?”

Anne shook Semaara in her anxiety as she bent forward, her two hands upon the girl's shoulders. But Semaara drooped her head lower, and covered her face more closely still. Anne had to stoop down to catch her faltering accents.

“Beyond it … was the end. The Lord Xibalba … awoke.”




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Chapter XXXV - Kombo's Discovery.

THE High Priestess was alone with Aak in his garden. The western sun was shining full upon the Tortoise-god's domain, reddening the water in his bath, and making the ground round it glow with warmth. The monster had scooped a hole in the mass of heated sand, and lay basking luxuriously, his head indrawn, showing only the enormous bulk of his shell, which, as the light struck it, gave out fiery glints somewhat dulled by the age and opaqueness of the great carapace.

Usually, a little crowd collected in the afternoon outside the wall to see the god take his exercise; but to-day Aak was lazy, and the people, tired of waiting, had gone away some time since.

Anne was seated in an angle of an upstanding mass of rock, one of many huge boulders that had fallen from the cliff and been utilised in the construction of the wall, and which consequently was irregular both in height and shape. Her head leaned, supported by her two hands; her elbows rested on her knees, which were drawn up with her feet upon a stone which poked up out of the sand. She was half crouching on a ledge of the boulder, and from the outside of the enclosure would not have been easily seen. Any chance passer-by observing her would have supposed that she was absorbed in religious meditation. It had become her habit, now that her dread of the Tortoise-god was wearing-off, to seek the seclusion of Aak's pleasure-ground while the monster slept in the afternoon sun, ostensibly that she might commune with the god on matters relating to the Acan exodus, in reality to have some time to


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herself for quiet thought over the one question that filled her mind—how to escape from this rock prison. Daily did it seem more oppressive. Even the hours she spent out of doors could not reconcile her to the cave dwellings, the dark rock streets, and worse than all, the constant espionage to which she was subjected. Since her last walk with Hansen, when they ascended the monolith, she had been condemned in her excursions to the company of Kapoc and Ishtal, and had never again found an opportunity for any private conversation with Eric. In those days she scarcely saw him except when he crossed the market-place in the train of Keorah, bent upon a hunting expedition, or at the public banquets seated beside that enchantress. No doubt he was improving his knowledge of Acan customs and records, and he was apparently not ill-pleased with the present conditions of his lot. Keorah certainly seemed happy and triumphant, and was too evidently learning how to flirt in English.

A once familiar sound broke the thread of Anne's sorrowful meditations. It was the aboriginal note of warning.

“Wirra! Wirra! Kolle mal. Missa Anne—Missa Anne!”

Anne lifted her head, and peered cautiously round the boulder, looking to right and left. No one was in sight upon the terrace, but close to her, in the breach where a stone had been broken out of the wall, she saw Kombo's black face and glittering eyes. The boy was trembling with excitement. There was an ominous note in his voice; and indeed the ejaculation “Wirra! Wirra!” which is “Bad! Bad” in the native tongue, meant ill-tidings.

“Tsch'k! Tsch'k! Mine look out plenty long time for you. Mine frightened long-a red man. Ee-oogh!” Kombo cast an apprehensive glance at Aak. “Ibbui-bita-wanga! Ba'al mine see Mirrein (the Tortoise) sit down there. You believe that one big Debil-debil no hurt Kombo?”




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“That one have big fellow sleep—no look out long-a Kombo,” replied Anne re-assuringly. “You come sit down close-up long-a me, and tell me what you got to say.”

Kombo glanced rapidly round to make sure that he was unobserved, and vaulted like lightning over the wall, precipitating himself in the shadow at Anne's feet.

“Plenty mine frightened long-a Red Man,” said he. “That fellow always take waddy to Kombo. Ba'al mine want-im stop long-a Red Man. Nalla yan burra burri (Let us go away quickly), Missa Anne. To-day I go look out road inside of mountain. I find-im hole close-up river where that fellow make big noise, and fight long-a rocks. Big fellow rock go up, big fellow water go down.” Such was Kombo's description of the rapids and impassable water-way. “I find-im road—all dark—būjeri road, come out other side of mountain; plenty big for yarraman to come through. Missa Anne! …” Kombo dropped his voice mysteriously, his eyes and his whole countenance teeming with news—evidently great news, which his dramatic instinct bade him work up to a climax. “Missa Anne!” he whispered, “Mine been go long-a road. Mine been come out other side of mountain. Mine been look about; mine been see—yarraman!” (horses).

“Yarraman!” Anne exclaimed, fully alive to the importance of the information. “Do you mean white man's yarraman, Kombo? Not brumby?” (wild horse).

“Ba'al that one brumby, Missa Anne,” replied Kombo. “That one yarraman belonging to white man; yarraman belonging to Murnian (black trooper). Plenty mine want-im marra (steal) that fellow yarraman, and plant-im long-a cave. Mine think by-'m-by, Kombo, Missa Anne, Massa Hansen—suppose that fellow no want-im stop long-a Red Mary—man-im yarraman; make-im track and altogether yan. Yai! You pidney!” And Kombo gave the black's expressive gesture that signifies “Do you understand?”

Anne was deeply disturbed.




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“What for you no man-im yarraman to-day, and plant-im long-a cave?” she asked, restraining her impatience so that Kombo might tell his tale in his own way, by which she knew that she would get at particulars all the sooner.

“Murnian been look out,” replied Kombo laconically. “I been see two fellow Murnian in camp belonging to white man.”

“You been see white man?” queried Anne, her heart bounding against her chest in the anxiety she felt.

“Yo-ai (yes). Mine been see white man. Mine been see Massa Bedo.”

The bolt had fallen. It seemed to Anne that she had known all along what Kombo had now come to tell her. Elias Bedo was encamped outside the Tortoise Mountain. Sooner or later he would be discovered by the red men, and brought into the Heart of Aak, where he would most assuredly be confronted with his runaway wife.

“You been see Massa Bedo?” she repeated dully.

“Yo-ai,” returned the black, and Anne added—

“You been let Massa Bedo see you?”

“Bal!” retorted Kombo contemptuously. “Ba'al mine let-im Massa Bedo know where Kombo sit down. Massa Hansen, he say, ‘Kombo, you one big dam fool.’ Ba'al mine one big dam fool. Plenty mine look out inside kobra (head) belonging to me. Mine think inside kobra.” Kombo tapped his forehead. “By-'m-by, when Massa Bedo go to sleep, Murnian lie down and go to sleep too. Then mine marra (steal) yarraman, mine swim across river and plant-im long-a cave. Yai! You pidney!”

“Yo-ai,” assented Anne, but there was a hopeless note in her voice. It would not be so easy, she thought, to catch black troopers asleep, and to steal horses and conceal them in a cave. “Oh! Kombo,” she cried, “Mine plenty frightened. What are we to do?”

“Yan!” promptly answered Kombo. “Mine see


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about that. What for you jerrun?” (afraid). The boy roughly tried to console his mistress, seeing that she was discouraged, heartsore, and well-nigh broken in spirit. He stroked her sandalled feet with his black hands. “Missa Anne, I b'lieve Kombo one good fellow boy. Mine no one big fool. I believe that big fellow Red Mary make fool of Massa Hansen.”

Anne winced at Kombo's blunt summing up of the situation, but she said nothing. It might indeed be true that Keorah was making a fool of Hansen. Kombo went on, his face brightening—

“You see—mine no let Massa Bedo catch Missa Anne. What for run away from steamer? What for stop long-a Maianbars, suppose all no good, and Massa Bedo catch Missa Anne? I b'lieve that fellow cobbon woolla (very angry) long-a Missa Anne. I b'lieve that fellow take waddy, mumkull (kill) Missa Anne, and put Kombo long-a gaol. Ba'al mine let him do that.”

Anne nodded sadly. She felt it was not unlikely that Elias Bedo would beat her and perhaps kill her if he got her into his power, especially if it happened that he was plied with the strong drink of the Acans. He had beaten her before when he was drunk, and several times on board the steamer he had threatened to shoot her if he could only get her alone in the bush. Here, far from the law's jurisdiction, there would be nothing to prevent him from working his will upon her.

“Kombo,” she said desperately, “Ba'al mine know what to do. How can you? No time—no horses. Suppose to-morrow Red Man find Massa Bedo, that fellow say, ‘this wife belonging to me.’ Then Red Man plenty coolla. Red Man no believe any more that Yuro Kateena one big queen,—sister belonging to Mormodelik. No believe any more that Yuro Kateena pialla big debil-debil Mirrein,—Aak.” She pointed to the Tortoise-god which lay immovable in the sand. “Red Man take away this”—she lifted a fold of her Zuhua Kak's mantle; “take away fire-stone,”—she touched the opal on her forehead,—“and send away


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poor fellow me, outside of mountain long-a Massa Bedo.”

Kombo knocked his head upon the sand, and muttered mournfully, “Wirra-wirra! (bad! bad!) Red Men altogether like-it Būli. Mine want-im run away from red men, same as run away from Būli. Mine know what to do,” he went on more cheerfully. “You no fear. You believe mine look after you. Mine know how to get yarraman—you see. Suppose Massa Hansen want to stop long-a big Red Mary, all right. Me brother belonging to Missa Anne. Me no one big dam fool.”

Kombo chuckled malignly. He had his human weaknesses. Never in his inner consciousness—his kobra, as he would have put it—had he quite reconciled himself to Hansen's domination. There was always in him a lurking notion that he himself would have managed much better for Anne than to lead her into this devil-haunted region. Only weariness of Unda's savage charms, and dread lest he should be eaten by Multuggerah the king had caused him to fly from the Maianbars' camp. Often since, it had seemed to him that he was fallen between the devil and the deep sea. The Crocodile, Mirrein—or Aak—and the Red Men representing debil-debil, and Multuggerah the deep sea. His hide was sore from flagellations administered by Acan men, and his self love wounded by the snubbings he had received from Acan women. That a Red Mary would ever permit him to make love to her he had proved an illusive hope. And, man-like, he resented the fact that Hansen had secured to himself the biggest, the most beautiful, and the wealthiest of the Red Maries, while he, Kombo, was scornfully denied the favour of her waiting maid. Not only, too, was he flouted by Red Maries and beaten by their men-kind, but the booth-keepers, having suffered from his thieving propensities, had also risen up against him, so that in the entire Heart of Aak there was now small joy for Kombo beyond the legitimate satisfaction of his appetite


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by the food provided for him, and this was thrown at him as though he had been a pariah dog. The red race had a rooted prejudice against the barbarians of the bush, founded upon ancient dealings with the Maianbar tribe; and although Kombo was the specially commissioned servant of the High-Priestess, he had not succeeded in making himself popular with the Acans. Consequently, he had already determined to quit the place as soon as he possibly could, and was delighted at the prospect of having Anne to himself again, shrewdly suspecting that Hansen would be loth to leave either Keorah, or the hieroglyphics that entranced him, at a moment's notice.

Kombo was nothing if not dramatic. He did not immediately unfold his scheme, but point by point told the story of that day's doings in his queer mixture of pidgin-English and blacks' language, which would have been almost unintelligible to an outsider.

First he had essayed a passage that in his wanderings he had discovered through the wall of rock encircling the earth-basin wherein the Acans had their farms and gardens. This was a tunnel piercing the cliff diagonally and giving upon the alluvial tract beyond the rapids and the breach in the wall where the river widened and shallowed on its way westward. But Kombo found that this alluvial belt was bounded on one side by a continuation of the ridge-wall, on the other, where he stood, by, as it were, a second line of fortification—another mighty wall of rock cutting down from the higher level at the head of the Valley of Desolation by which the wanderers had entered the Heart of Aak. As may often be seen in Australia, an enormous slice seemed to have been cut out of the land below the Tortoise hump, leaving a V-shaped, flat-bottomed gorge like the end of a long flat trough with unscaleable sides and no visible end. That was how Anne pictured the place from Kombo's description, after its own queer fashion, sufficiently graphic.

The black boy's idea had been that he would round


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the Tortoise mountain and see what possibilities for escape the country offered by heading the range and striking southward. So he had clambered up in the angle of the gorge, and had finally come upon an opening in the rock at the head of a slanting fissure encumbered with stones, but still practicable for a man, and even for a sure-footed beast. He had gone into the hole, which was high enough for him to stand upright inside, and there found another tunnel. Indeed, this whole mountainous region seemed burrowed with caverns and passages, and Anne wondered, as she listened, whether the Great Builders of Acan tradition had made them all, or if some, at least, were due to the action of internal forces. Kombo could not enlighten her on this point. He could only describe how he had walked along the tunnel, which inclined upward, and in parts was cut in steps making a subterranean stairway. He explained that he had been “plenty frightened lest he should altogether lose-im road,” but this underground way seemed to be both shorter and straighter than that by which the Red Men had led the travellers into the City of Refuge, and Kombo had eventually found daylight beneath the stone carapace of the Tortoise mountain, not very far from the original entrance. A desire for mogra (fish) had now seized Kombo, as he remembered the muddy pool in which he had caught the craw-fish of that delicious repast which had been followed by the arrival of the Red Men. He was making for the bit of scrub and the stream meandering through it, when he heard the clank of hobbles, and saw at a little distance, three horses grazing. He recognised the brands of the horses, and knew that they belonged to the company of native police commanded by Captain Cunninghame. At this point, Kombo squirmed on the ground at Anne's feet, speaking in a hoarse whisper, and illustrating his tale with appropriate gestures, as he told how in breathless excitement he had crawled noiselessly, “like-it snake,” among the rocks and undergrowth, and had presently


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sighted a white man's camp. There, engaged on their mid-day meal, he had seen two of the black troopers and Elias Bedo.

“Massa Bedo smoke and talk long-a Murnian. One fellow policeman very good tracker, and that one tell Massa Bedo he find track long-side of mountain. Mine think ba'al that fellow been see hole where Red Men come out. I believe only make camp yesterday. That one policeman find fire-stick and shell belonging to crab. He find, too, one billy that mine been forget when Red Man made me plenty frightened. That one Murnian tell Massa Bedo white man make-it camp like-it that place. He say very soon track white Missus. Then Massa Bedo jump up, and go look out camp. My word! He plenty swear! Mine stop little while till camp altogether quiet. S'st! S'st! Ba'al mine make a noise. Mine crawl close-up fire; mine see billy where tea sit down. My word! That būjeri tea! Mine been think, suppose pituri long-a tea, then Massa Bedo and Murnian drink when come back and sleep—altogether like-it that fellow bong. Massa Hansen no say Kombo one big fool that time!” The boy laughed impishly. “Mine been take out bag, and put pituri long-a tea. Then mine jump up and yan quick long-a hole. Mine want to tell Missa Anne to look out,—Massa Bedo close-up. No time to lose. I believe one day—two day—that fellow find out where Red Man sit down.”

Yes, there was no doubt that Elias Bedo had tracked his quarry to the lair. Anne sat overwhelmed, staring in a dazed manner at the huge shell of Aak, as he lay in the sand. She had not taken in the import of Kombo's operations at the camp fire, and even felt a dull irritation at the triumphant gleam in the black boy's eyes, as, his first terror gone, he went back in thought to what he had achieved. Anne could not realise that the native's quick wits had already conceived and partly executed a plan of escape. She herself could see nothing but disaster hemming them on every side. For a day or two, as Kombo pointed out,


  ― 357 ―
Elias Bedo would certainly be discovered by the Red Men. It remained a question how the Acans would receive the stranger; but from their peaceful proclivities it might be supposed that they would greet him without enmity, and listen to his story, which would now be more easy of comprehension by the Acans from the knowledge of English acquired by Keorah and Ishtal. Alas! what in this case would be her own and Hansen's fate? Anne shudderingly recollected Semaara's dark hints concerning the Door of Death.

“Kombo! Oh, what shall we do?” she said again in hapless consternation. The black boy gave the same answer as before.

“Man-im horse and yan. Look here, Missa Anne, mine been tell you, mine been put-in pituri long-a tea!”

“Pituri!” said Anne vaguely. It was the first she had heard of Kombo's find among the ridges near Gunīda Ulāla.

“Yo-ai,” said Kombo. “Mine been find-im close-up Tortoise Mountain. Ba'al mine been eat-im pituri, because that fellow make black-fellow plenty sleep—altogether stupid.

It argued force of character on Kombo's part that he had understood the temptation. No doubt, he had feared the consequences of giving himself up in a drugged condition to the tender mercies of the Acans; probably also in this land of cakes and ale the desire for that potent drug—a stimulant in small quantities, a powerful narcotic when freely taken—had been less insistant than when he had been enduring the hardships of the bush. Seeing that still she did not quite understand, the black boy opened his Acan jerkin and showed her lying upon his chest, which was most hideously wealed, a little bag that he had made himself out of opossum fur,—the kind of bag that is recognised at once among aboriginal tribes as containing the precious pituri, and the possession of which ensures safety to its bearer, no matter how hostile the people among whom he travels. He loosened the string of plaited grass by which the bag hung from his


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neck, and showed her a small lump of greyish-black dough,—pituri which had been prepared with ashes of the gidya tree, and chewed into a thick paste after the manner of the blacks.

Anne knew that the plant, extremely rare, for it grows only in a certain soil, is so highly prized among Australian natives, that sometimes messengers carry it for hundreds of miles, bartering it for food, weapons, and various valuable commodities. She began to understand Kombo's scheme. Now she grasped the black boy's hand, and patted it, saying—

“Būjeri you, Kombo! Plenty you brother belonging to me.”

“You see, Missa Anne, that all right now,” the boy cried, exultingly. “No fear! Pituri like-it debil-debil—no can wake up. You pidney? Mine go quick now long-a camp. While Massa Bedo and Murnian fast asleep, mine take saddle, bridle, swag. Mine put-im long-a yarraman. Mine drive three fellow yarraman inside mountain. Mine plant-im long-a cave—put plenty stone outside door—make-im fence, so no can run away. That take long time. I believe then sun jump up. Mine come back—look-out a ration and hide long-a cave. When Red Man no see, I catch little fellow iguana. Mine want-im take plenty cake; plenty corn; plenty tucker. By-'m-by, moon look out of sky—little fellow moon; mine come up long-a verandah; Missa Anne look out all ready. Missa Anne bring baby gun, and suppose Red Man saucy, Missa shoot. But I believe Red Man all sleep like Massa Bedo. Mine show Missa Anne where cave sit down; then man-im yarraman and make track long-a big water, where Red Man no can find.”

Such was Kombo's plan of campaign. It seemed practical, and was certainly ingenious. Once on horse-back, they might consider themselves free; the great difficulty in the enterprise had been got over by Kombo's cunning use of the pituri—that was, if Elias Bedo and the troopers had drunk of the drugged tea,


  ― 359 ―
and if the drug had duly taken effect, so that they were in a sleep deep for a time as that of death—as Kombo had put it, “altogether like-it bong.” But there was a chance that they might not drink the drugged tea—that the pituri might not act as was intended. Then—what if a rifle shot should act as was not intended—put an end to Kombo's daring scheme—perhaps to himself?

“Kombo,” said Anne, “ba'al you frightened that Massa Bedo wake up?”

“Yo-ai, Missa Anne. Plenty mine frightened suppose Massa Bedo wake up. I believe that fellow shoot Kombo. But mine no frightened when Massa Bedo drunk long-a pituri. Mine look out first. I believe Massa no wake up till sun walk long way. Then he feel bad like-it kobra; he no want to get up. By-'m-by he look out yarraman. No find! Suppose no yarraman, no can ride. Missa Anne get good start. Kombo and Missa Anne long way in the bush. Red Mary no good; mine no like-it Red Man; mine no like-it that one big god. Mine think debil-debil sit down inside. Mine like best Missa Anne pialla Mormodelik; sing song to Baiamè; and say prayer like-it white man.” Kombo rose from his crouching posture, stretched himself against the boulder, while after one apprehensive glance at the slumbering Aak, he gazed yearningly out over the wall of their mountain prison. Anne's breast throbbed too with the passion for liberty. Oh! to think that in two days they might be riding through gum-forest along the banks of the river, down towards the Gulf and Burke-town and ships and civilisation. She could scarcely believe in the possibility of such joy. Yet if Kombo could only contrive to secrete the horses and all went well with their scheme, it was more than possible.

She was longing to see Hansen and to tell him the news, and her mind was working with the thought of how she could manage to get some words with him in private. There was not in her mind, as in Kombo's, any idea of


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leaving Hansen behind. She got up, telling Kombo that she must go back to the nuns' house at once, and bade him be off and do his work well, giving him some parting injunctions as to the need for caution. The boy vaulted like a kangaroo over the low wall, and she retraced her steps to the temple, where Ishtal and another of the priestesses were waiting.

Anne desired that the Virgins would remain until Aak saw fit to bestir himself, saying that she would walk back by the market-place alone. Ishtal remonstrated. “It was not well that the Zuhua Kak should be seen in the city unattended,” and she was preparing to follow, but Anne haughtily waved her back in a way that brooked no denial, and passing through the door of Aak's sanctuary went down the long aisle of the temple and out into the rock street.

It was in this street, a little higher up, that Hansen had his lodging. In Anne's mind during all the latter part of her interview with Kombo there had been one dominant thought—how should she inform Eric of what had happened, and of their proposed flight? Kombo had suggested that he should not be told, had more than suggested that he would desire to remain with Keorah. Anne's heart sank like lead as she realised the possibility of this. Well, if he preferred what she considered slavery with Keorah to freedom with herself, so let it be, but at least he should have the chance of making a choice, and she resolved at all risks to give it him. Whatever might be his personal inclination in the matter, she knew that he would never betray them, and that he would help them to the best of his power. See him, therefore, she must without delay. So close was Keorah's watch upon him that there was danger as well as difficulty in the attempt, but she determined to make it, and that at once. She could not sleep knowing that he was in ignorance of the events of the day.

So, emerging from the temple, Anne mounted the narrow way, which at this hour was unfrequented and dim in the gathering dusk. She had a faint hope that


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chance might befriend her, and give her a sight of Eric. In this she was not disappointed. Her quick eyes perceived him before he saw her, standing on the rock steps which led to his cave dwelling. He was alone, and had evidently just returned from the chase, for his gun was in his hand—that wondrous weapon which was the envy of Hotan, and the terror and delight of the Acan huntsman. He started at the sound of Anne's low ‘Coo-ee’ uttered timorously, scarcely above her breath, and seeing the small figure in its feather-trimmed mantle of deep rose, that looked almost black in the evening light, he stepped briskly forward and saluted her. But she made a movement enjoining reticence, and walking quickly past, gave him a furtive sign to follow her.

The street was a cul de sac, and at the end of it shelved inward, making a recess, in the dimness of which they might exchange a few words secure, comparatively speaking, from observation. Anne went towards this spot, and drawing close into the shadow of the cliff, waited for him to join her. He sauntered leisurely along, making a feint of turning up a narrow alley which connected the street with one parallel to it, then gliding swiftly beneath the rock, was at her side.

Her mantle was partly drawn over her face; he could only see her dark eyes shining with excitement.

“What is it?” he whispered. “Do you want to speak to me?”

“Yes,” she answered shortly; “I have something very important to tell you, but I can't say it here. I am afraid that I may be watched. I left Ishtal in the temple behind, but she will certainly follow me if she dares. She is always at my elbow. I want to say that you must—.” She stopped suddenly, and her dark eyes avoided his. He was not sure whether the rosy red that flashed upon her cheeks where the mantle was drawn aside, was due to the reflection of the rose-coloured garment, or to a red gleam of the dying sun piercing the narrow opening of the street; or—could


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it be—to some hesitation in herself? But it was not like his little comrade to be deterred by conventional considerations. “I will do anything you wish,” he said hastily. “Only tell me what it is.”

She went on with an effort. “You must come to my rooms this evening—when it is quite dark, and the nuns have left me. I can't ask you to come openly, for that is against the rules, as you know, and there would be a fuss. I think you could climb the balcony. You—” She was going to say, “You have climbed the adjoining one,” remembering the occasion when he had lighted Keorah's lamp; but she hesitated again. He caught her up, perhaps reading her thoughts.

“Yes, yes, it is quite easy. I will manage it,—about ten o'clock. Will that do?”

“Thank you. I will be waiting. Now I mustn't stop. As it is, I am breaking rules by walking alone. But I must see you, and that's the only plan I can think of. Don't let anything prevent it. Every chance of escape—every hope—at least for me—hinges upon it. Be sure that you come.”

She clasped tightly on her breast the slight nervous hands which held together the folds of her mantle, and looked up at him, her large eyes bright with—he could hardly tell what. Never had he seen fear in Anne's eyes, yet now something like it seemed to look out from them, and appealed to his heart.

“Of course I will come, Chummy,” he said, and a sudden longing came over him to put his own hand upon those nervously clasped ones, but she made a warning sign. A stealthy footfall sounded in the street a few paces from them, and a dark shrouded form disappeared up the side alley.

“I must go,” she said. “To-night I shall expect you. Take care you are not followed. Look behind you; watch your own footsteps. Eric! We have been through a good deal of danger together—though in some ways it has seemed to us like a holiday trip—but we have never been in so great danger as now.”




  ― 363 ―

She turned. One upward flash of her eyes, and she was gone, the small form in its heavy mantle vanishing silently into the darkness of the rock street, for the afterglow was wiped out, and night had set in.

Hansen stood still, troubled and anxious. He already knew two Annes—the cheery comrade of his adventurous journey, the queenly and resourceful priestess, but this was a new Anne whom he did not know. She had sometimes seemed to him tantalisingly devoid of womanly weakness, and its consequent charm. Now, though loyal, courageous and enduring as ever, there was that about her that, while thrilling his pulses in human fashion, deeply stirred his inner being. He made a movement to follow her, but checked himself. She had bidden him be cautious. He peered out of the recess, making sure that the upper part of the street was empty, then he walked down the intervening space, and quietly entered his cave-lodging.




  ― 364 ―

Chapter XXXV - The Tryst

IT was now the Acan supper hour, and the thorough-fares were deserted. Later, business would be in swing at the booths in the market-place; and Hansen hoped, under cover of the throng of people who would be making their purchases for the next day, and the noise of their talk, to gain unnoticed the stairway to Anne's balcony, and swing himself up into the shelter of a pillar where he might wait quietly the hour of the tryst. There would be less likelihood of detection then than if he waited till the city was still, with the chance that his movements might attract attention from some windows looking on the market-place, or from some belated passer-by.

Meanwhile he occupied himself with his own evening meal, served by the impassive Acan whom Keorah had provided for him. The man stood gravely as Hansen poured himself a bowl of chocolate and attacked the roast kid and maize cakes, for which in truth he had now small appetite.

He felt shaken by his meeting with Anne, though he could not tell what her hurried words portended. Her small pale face and shining eyes seemed to meet his gaze wherever he looked about the room. She was very dear to him, this little Chummy, dearer than he had before realised, and he knew that strange and strong as had been Keorah's power of fascination, it needed but a word from Anne to break the spell of that enchantress. And yet, though he felt Anne's uneasiness and distrust of his loyalty—he dared not even to himself call it jealousy—he could not lay bare his heart to her. For


  ― 365 ―
was she not alone, and committed to his care, and was she not still Elias Bedo's wife? His code of honour was a strenuous one, and to speak one word of love to Anne in these conditions would be to violate it.

His food choked him, but he forced himself to eat, knowing that he might need all his strength. He was irked by the presence of the serving-man and bade him go and amuse himself for the rest of the evening, as he required him no more. The man departed, and Hansen, looking at his watch, saw that it still wanted an hour to the time Anne had named. He leaned his head on his hands, and gave rein to his thoughts, frankly wishing Keorah, in company with Elias Bedo, and the whole Acan community, at a safe distance—in the maw of the Crocodile for all he cared—so long as he were left alone with Anne and the prehistoric records. This reminded him that only that day he had fancied out hunting, that there was a certain lurid reddening of that spiral cloud which hung as far as he could make out—for the mountain had not come prominently in view—over the open jaws of the Crocodile, and he made a mental note that upon the morrow he would, if circumstances permitted, ascend the monolith and take an observation from that vantage point.

He pulled himself together, and now ate vigorously, discovering that, apart from sentiment, his long day in the Acan hunting-ground had left him hungry. After all, man is nothing but a piece of machinery. Oil him, and he runs easily. Five minutes after he had swallowed his mess of kid, and drunk a glass or two of Acan liqueur — a special concoction from certain berries cultivated for the purpose—Hansen, who had badly needed his supper, felt a different being. He got up from the table, shaking back his shoulders, and his fair head with its untrimmed locks like those of a great shaggy dog; and humming unmelodiously enough a few bars of one of Anne's songs, he went into the adjoining cavern, which was lighted by one of the curious Acan lamps, and performed some sort of toilet,


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putting on the darkest cloak he could find in the wardrobe with which the forethought of Keorah or Hotan had furnished him during his residence in the huntsman's house. He then considered how he should arm himself in view of possible emergencies, and perhaps sudden flight, but decided that his gun being cumbersome, he had better leave it behind, and content himself with the revolver which he stuck in his belt.

He pulled the curtains of his rock doorway together behind—nearly all the cave houses opened thus on to a ledge and a stairway—and stood on the threshold, peering from side to side before he passed into the street.

A good deal of business of a kind was done after nightfall in the city of the Aca, but it mostly concentrated in the market-place. Here the great precipices, faintly dotted with specks and streaks of light from the windows of the cave dwellings, loomed darkly. Down below were ghostly grey patches, around which the torches flared upon the booths, making the blackness deeper beneath the projecting balconies and in places not given up to stall-keepers and their wares. In the market, the crowd was busy huckstering and packing up and carrying away their purchases before the booths closed and the Acan population took itself off to bed.

Nobody seemed to take any notice of Hansen, though every now and then he threw a glance over his shoulder to make sure that he was not being followed. All went well so far, and presently he found himself beneath Anne's balcony. He looked for Kombo on the small platform outside the entrance to the Priestess' house, but there was no sign of the black boy. From this platform Hansen, watching his opportunity, swung himself up to the ledge outside the stone railing, and then waited, crouching in the angle where it joined an abutting pillar—one of those which had framed Keorah and her Virgins when she had for the first time exercised upon him the magic of her beauty. The Zuhua Kak's rooms were curtained close, and all in darkness, but from Keorah's house next door there came gleams


  ― 367 ―
of light through the window hangings, a sound of laughter, and the secular music of the Acans. Hansen wondered, if she were giving an entertainment, why he had not been invited. He was thankful, however, that he had not, and before long the music ceased, and a figure went down the stairway, that he recognised as that of Hotan — apparently Keorah's only guest. Hansen crouched lower, afraid lest his presence should be noticed, but Hotan went on his way without looking up. Peering round the pillar and the partition wall, Hansen could see the staircase by which he had mounted that memorable night when he had lighted the mystic lamp on Keorah's balcony. The two serpents were still there intertwined, but there was no flame in the vessel between their jaws. Hansen had often since that night thought of his action, but he did not yet fully realise its meaning, though he suspected that it was some pledge of betrothal. Keorah, however, had not directly alluded to it, and Hansen did not care to run the risk of questioning her. He was aware that Keorah was not a woman whom it was safe to thwart, and he could only hope that she was not like the four-footed serpent, nursing wrath in order to pour it forth later upon himself and hapless Anne. He could never understand why Keorah had so willingly allowed a stranger to supplant her in the important office of Zuhua Kak. He shrank from explaining it on the theory that Keorah had ulterior motives and passionate yearnings which had found their centre in himself, and in which as Virgin High Priestess she was not permitted to indulge. And yet this would have been plainly apparent to a less interested observer.

Gradually the lights below were extinguished, the bustle subsided, and the market-place became silent and deserted. Hansen watched anxiously. The hour of the tryst was passed; the curtains at the back of the balcony remained unstirred. At last from behind them a faint voice whispered, “Eric!” He moved nearer at the call.




  ― 368 ―

“Hush! Step softly. I am here. Give me your hand,” and as the hangings parted, he felt Anne's fingers quiver within his own. She drew him into the rock chamber. No lover could have found more romantic prospect of adventure. But the business of to-night was not love-making. Hansen felt instinctively that nothing was further from Anne's mind. The room was in darkness, except for a pale radiance cast through the curtained doorway of the inner chamber by the four emblematic lamps that the Virgins had lighted round Zuhua Kak's bed, and by the red glow of one or two torches still burning in the market-place. The other doorway, leading into the entrance corridor, was draped with feathered tapestry, and through the meshes of the foundation in the interstices of the pattern, there showed also a feeble glimmer from a lamp placed some way down the passage. The small form of the girl in her white linen robe seemed like a wraith in the gloom. He could see her face dimly, and knew that it was agitated. She trembled from head to foot, and he also saw that she had not control over the muscles of her throat. Anne hysterical! That was strange indeed.

“Chummy!” he said tenderly, “what is the matter? Were you afraid I shouldn't come?”

She took no notice of the question beyond drawing back when he put out his hands as though to place them upon her shoulders.

“Well,” he said, “what is it?”

“My husband is here,” she exclaimed bluntly.

“Here!” he cried, starting, and looking round. “Impossible!”

“Oh! I don't mean in this room—though I daresay it won't be long before he is down there,” and she pointed towards the market-place. “He is outside the mountain. Kombo saw him to-day.”

“You poor little soul! So that's the trouble.” His voice broke, but it was in pity for her. And his pity seemed just the thing Anne could not bear. She shook again, and a dry sob choked her.




  ― 369 ―

“They will find him; they will bring him in—and then—”

“Then you who are Zuhua Kak, and queen among the Aca, will order him to be driven out again. Where's the use of wearing a magnificent High Priestess' mantle, and what Kombo calls a ‘fire-stone’ on your forehead, if it doesn't mean that your orders are to be obeyed? Have no fear, Chummy! You and I together can deal with this business. After all, it is only what we expected.”

His tone jarred upon her rasped nerves. She could not realise that its lightness was affected as a cover to his real feeling.

“That is easy to say,” she answered; “but if you had”—she paused, commanding herself with an effort—“if you had had opportunities for weighing the responsibilities of my position,”—she laughed hysterically at her own stilted way of putting things.—“I mean, if you were me, you would know that the office of Zuhua Kak is not without its dangers.”

“Its dangers!” he echoed; “do you suppose I haven't thought of that? But I'm in the dark, Anne. Tell me exactly what you are thinking.”

“I am thinking,” she returned slowly, “that if it were proved I was Elias Bedo's wife, and not the messenger of the gods, not the daughter of Viracocha, my influence over the Acans would be gone. I should no longer be Zuhua Kak, and there would be some terrible punishment in store for me. Not that it would matter much,” she added bitterly. “The worst penalty would be that I should be given back to my lawful protector. I would risk anything to avoid that. I would try to escape, even if it meant death in the trying.”

His mouth twitched; he bit his lip. For a moment or two he did not speak, but her eyes were turned away. She had them fixed at the end of the room, near the entrance door to the corridor, upon a piece of feather tapestry, the pattern of which—a barbaric medley—seemed to stand out upon the lighter ground as though there were a light behind it.




  ― 370 ―

“Anne!” he said, earnestly, “I see that you have some plan in your mind. Now will you tell me exactly what it is—all that Kombo has given you to understand about your husband's movements—and let me have a voice in the matter? If it's an idea of escaping at once, nothing rash must be ventured. I shall not allow you to do anything by which you run any risk of your life.”

She was unreasonably exasperated by his words, which seemed to her to indicate unwillingness to leave the city of the Acans.

“You have no power to prevent me,” she answered, “unless you were to betray my plan to the Elders and to Keorah.”

“What! You can think that of me!” he exclaimed, surprise and pain in his face and in his voice. “How have I deserved this of you, Anne? If you had had any thought of that kind, why did you tell me to come here this evening? Give me your confidence freely, or else let me leave you.” He turned as if to go. He was wounded to the heart, and intuitively she felt this, yet with a woman's perversity would not acknowledge that she had wronged him.

“No, don't go,” she said, but with no great warmth in her tone. “I'll tell you what Kombo said to me, and the plan he has worked out. It is your right to hear it, and to choose what you will do. Of course, I know that even if you don't care to follow it, you will keep silence and help us as far as you can. I spoke hastily. I do not distrust you in that sense.”

“In what sense, then?” he asked, resentfully, but she did not seem to hear him. A sudden look of apprehension had come over her face; he could tell that by the way she strained forward, her eyes fixed intently upon a piece of feather tapestry that hid a portion of the rock wall. His tone changed. “What is the matter? Has anything startled you?”

She did not answer at once; then her gaze turned slowly from the feather-wrought monsters on the wall.




  ― 371 ―

“No. I thought I saw that bit of embroidery move. I fancied there was a gleam of light behind it, and I was afraid.”

His eyes followed the direction of hers.

“I don't think it's anything. That's only one of their feather pictures. Here's another survival of the ancient Mexicans—another corroboration of my theory, if I wanted one. It's an Aztec art. I'll strike a match and look if you like whether there's a door behind it. But matches are precious in these days.”

“No, don't waste one. That's not a doorway. The entrance to these rooms is over there.” She pointed to the heavily draped archway. “But it seems to me that the whole of the rock is undermined with secret caves and passages, and I'm always fancying that I'm being spied upon. Never mind. I must have been mistaken. You shall hear now all that Kombo told me this afternoon.”

So, unaware that, hidden behind the feather monster, Keorah was listening eagerly, and piecing together as far as she was able the English words of which she understood the meaning, Anne related the substance of her interview with Kombo in Aak's garden. She told Eric how the black boy had discovered a passage in the double wall of rock, how he had seen Elias Bedo, her husband—Keorah knew the word husband—encamped close to the spot where the Red Men had first found them; how Kombo's sharp wits had grasped the whole situation; how the black boy had put pituri in the white man's and the troopers' tea, and how he had planned returning that night, and while the men slept a drugged sleep, stealing the horses and concealing them in the cave, ready for flight upon the following evening. All this she set before Hansen quietly and distinctly—the very calmness to which she forced herself, though every nerve in her was tingling, and the clearness of her enunciation making the eavesdropper's task easier. Hansen deliberated gravely, pointing out dangers, weighing possibilities,—the risks of taking that route


  ― 372 ―
through unknown country where the explorer Burke had met his death, and where a similar fate might befall them at the hands of cannibal blacks—the unlikelihood of their reaching Burketown—that one point of civilisation in the middle of the Bight of Carpentaria—the doubt whether it would not be wiser to trust to the chances of the Acan Exodus, and the question of being able thus to secure valuable spoils which would materially aid scientific investigation, and be a benefit to the world at large.

Anne chafed. His arguments seemed cold-blooded. In them she read the desire to remain, the disinclination to abandon Keorah, and with her the opportunity for study of the Acan hieroglyphics. In comparison with these delights she thought that her peace of mind, her deliverance from the clutches of Elias Bedo, counted as nothing. At last she cried passionately—

“What do I care for all that? What does it matter to me whether you can find a key or not to the hieroglyphics? That is nothing in comparison with chances of safety, it seems to me. All I know is this—I cannot stay to face my husband. Kombo and I are of one mind about our escape. He is only a black boy, but I have trusted him before, and I shall trust him again. Poor Kombo! He has his own reasons for wanting to be quit of the Red Men. His experience has been less fortunate than yours.” She laughed unsteadily. “Anyhow I have made up my mind that if Kombo can get hold of the horses, I should be foolish to delay. It remains to be seen, Eric, what you desire to do.”

“Since you have made up your mind, there is only one thing for me to do,” he replied, and to her sensitive fancy there was something very uncompromising in his voice. “You came to this place under my protection, and under my protection, if you so choose, you shall leave it. I am at your service absolutely. All I wish is, that you should realise the risks you may be running. For the rest”—he faltered, and his eyes sought hers in the dimness pleadingly, but Anne's look was averted—“you


  ― 373 ―
seem to me to have changed, Anne, since you became Zuhua Kak. A sort of barrier has arisen between us. I don't quite understand you.”

“Nor I you,” she returned impetuously, now turning to him, her voice and mien showing a lofty disregard of convention—if, indeed, as he grimly thought, there could be any idea of the conventionalities in their present situation. The man and woman stood facing each other, each seeing the face of the other as a glimmering white patch in the dusk.

“From what I have observed,” she went on, “I can only infer that you would prefer to remain here, where there is, I am sure, much to interest you, and where you are very welcome among the chief of the people, until it suits you to go back to Europe, with the result of your investigation. For me, of course, things are different.”

Hansen stared at her bewilderedly. Man is an obtuse animal, and he was only beginning to understand the workings of the feminine mind.

“You thought I cared about deciphering the hieroglyphics and the rest of that scientific rubbish more than I care for your safety!” he said. “Anne! Anne! I can only say again, how have I deserved this?

He put out his hands once more and took hers. But though their strong grasp was a denial to her feeble asseveration, she shook them off and drew back as before.

“No, Eric, I did not think it was the hieroglyphics and the scientific rubbish, as you call it, that you cared for more than my safety,” she answered, her voice cutting like a diamond edge. “I thought you cared more for that other woman than for anything which concerned me.”

There was something very childlike and very feminine about Anne as she said these words, which a little while before she would have thought it impossible she could utter. But something stronger than pride had leaped in her bosom, and turned the stately little priestess into a mere ordinary woman with a woman's


  ― 374 ―
weaknesses, a woman's inconsistency; and through his anger and his hurt, Hansen felt a sudden joy, though he stood stiffly, making no sign.

“It is quite natural,” Anne went on, borne away by the flood of feeling. “You and I have been good friends, but at best I have been but a burden to you. You have been very chivalrous in not letting me see it, and I thank you for all your kindness. I was foolish not to realise that I must be a hindrance in your plans when I almost asked you to take me with you. But it's not too late now for you to carry them out without me, for you will have that woman's help, and you need be in no anxiety on my behalf. Kombo and I got on very well before, and you can trust him to take care of me again. We went through a good deal, you know, before we met you. Once free of this people, we can fight our way to the coast. That is the plan we propose.”

“And may I ask,” said Hansen huskily, “what plan you propose for me?”

“I should not presume to make plans for you,” answered Anne. “I conclude that you want to go on with your scientific discoveries, and I don't imagine that now you will find any lack of advantages in that respect.”

“Chief of these being Keorah,” he said; and she might have seen in the twilight of the room, had she been watching his face, the flicker of a smile, but she kept her eyes steadily away from him. Now he had regained something of his composure.

“Anne! Anne!” he said, “it rejoices me to see that you are after all, but yet a woman. You have tried to be cold and judicial, and in spite of everything your heart has spoken.”

He was close to her. She could feel his breath upon her cheek. She could see the flame of passion scintil-late in his eyes. Her nerves thrilled, and her body shook with suppressed emotion. She made a valiant but ineffectual stand.

“How could you—how dare you think that I'm


  ― 375 ―
jealous of Keorah? What right have you? You know it is not that. How could it be that?”

“I should never dare to suppose such a thing,” he replied humbly. “As you say, what right have I—and how could it be that? But, my child, nevertheless, I think you are a little mistaken in your thoughts of me, and that's where you prove yourself a woman after all. You fancied that I cared more for Keorah and for science than for you. I could not show you—how was it possible?—what you are to me. You must know how I am tied and bound by the conditions under which we have been thrown together. But the old friendship was very precious. And now this strange red woman has stepped in and spoiled it all.”

“But has she spoiled it?” Anne cried, proving herself even more a woman by her anxiety to retrieve that which a few minutes back she had been so ready to cast away. “Has she come between us in that? I don't think, Eric, that the old friendship is ‘altogether bong,’ as Kombo would say.” She laughed a soft laugh that was music in his ears, for there was a ring of happiness in it, and when Hansen's fingers again closed on hers, she did not draw herself away.

“Chummy!”—and the man's voice deepened and faltered—“it is not only friendship that I want of you. Only, it's all that I dare ask of you as things are, my dear. You must know—you must understand. Won't you trust me, child—even though——”

“Even though Keorah may appear singularly attractive in your eyes, and no matter how freely she lavishes her blandishments upon you, or how pleased you may seem to be at them! Is that how it is, Eric?” returned Anne lightly, with the old cheery note he had known so well in the bush. “I suppose that I must trust you, for, indeed, to tell you the truth——” She hung her head and hesitated for a moment, but then went on bravely, “To tell you the truth, Eric, I think something in me would have gone ‘altogether bong’ if you had said that you meant to stay behind.”




  ― 376 ―

He crushed the little hands in his; then raised one passionately to his lips. But he did not stoop to kiss her face, nor would he even put his arm around her. Anne realised in that moment, perhaps more fully than ever before, the loyalty of the man—in spite of his many manly imperfections—with whom she had to deal.




  ― 377 ―

Chapter XXXVI - My Lover and my Lord!

AS they stood thus, hands clasped in hands, eyes meeting eyes through the gloom of the chamber, a low laugh sounded behind them,—a silvery laugh, high pitched, sweet but soulless, so empty of human feeling, unless it were malignant feeling, that it would have been difficult to believe the laugh was uttered by a woman. But Anne and Hansen both knew the voice; both dreaded it. They started and turned, and he made a movement of recoil—afterwards she remembered that he had done so—but she instinctively drew nearer to him, her heart warm yet with the glow of his tenderness, his presence giving her courage so that she felt strong enough to do battle even with Keorah.

For it was indeed Keorah who had laughed that tinkling scornful laugh, and who stood now framed in the entrance arch between the drawn curtains—a splendid figure illuminated by the torches that a pair of women held upraised behind her, and which drew glints of coloured light from the opal ornaments she still wore in right of her past priestess-ship, and which made her ruddy hair seem likewise a flame.

“Thou art all in the dark, oh! Zuhua Kak,” said the mocking voice, “in darkness of earth only, since through virtue of thine office, thine inner eyes must ever be lighted by that lamp of the Spirit which illumines not the ways of common humanity. Thou art in truth High Virgin of the Flame, and I who, at the will of the Eternal didst in outward seeming resign my privileges to thee, may not presume to question thy spiritual illumination. Nevertheless, I bring thee light, oh! Holy


  ― 378 ―
Virgin of the Flame. For where I am, there Light must follow me.”

She laughed again with shrill sweetness, and sailed into the room, her heavily embroidered draperies sweeping round her, while at a sign her women placed their torches in niches provided for the purpose at either side of the doorway, and disappeared into the darkness of the corridor. “We do not want listeners to our talk,” went on Keorah, affecting not to observe Hansen, who had relinquished Anne's hand and withdrawn towards the window. “I, who but a short time since was Zuhua Kak, come to thee, who art installed by decree of Viracocha in the place I held, to take counsel with thee in distress that is a penalty of ordinary womanhood. I know that as Daughter of the Gods, and foreordained messenger to the people of Aca, thou art skilled in deep lore, and in knowledge of the mind of man transcending that of a mere child of earth, and so I come to thee, oh! Zuhua Kak, in the hope that thou mayest be able to ease the heart of thy suffering sister. For was not I Zuhua Kak before thee, and am I not therefore thy sister? And in truth my heart is heavy to-night and my spirit sore within me.”

She paused and seemed to wait for Anne's reply, but the girl only bowed her head coldly, saying nothing. Keorah resumed.

“Thou who art set so high above thy kind, doubtless knowest naught by experience of the temptations which assail weaker women. Nevertheless, it seems to me that by the light of thy inner wisdom thou mayest see more clearly than thy humbler sister in what manner it were best to deal with human heart-burnings and perplexities, and mayest guide me, perchance, to those calm heights above the surges of passion in which thou thyself dost dwell. Well do I, who was ever faithful to my vows, know in what royal peace, by aid of power divinely vouchsafed, the High Priestess may maintain herself. But I—when in obedience to the Sign of the Red Ray, I delivered to thee the Symbols of my holy office—ceased


  ― 379 ―
to be thus mysteriously immune from the glamour of love and the strivings of my womanhood. Unlike to thee, oh! Child of Dawn, to whom men can never have seemed other than flitting shadows, I acknowledge my thraldom to him who by tender wooing has gained my heart, and I plead with thee, who dost so nobly hold thyself, for guidance, that in stooping to love I may comport myself as befits one who but a few weeks ago was as thou art, Zuhua Kak.”

Anne stood motionless, save for a slight heaving of her bosom and a nervous twitch of the muscles of her throat, listening to Keorah's words. She understood their drift, for in these weeks she had studied the Mayan language with success, and was sufficiently versed in its ornate phraseology to follow Keorah's clearly enunciated speech. As was its wont, her brain worked quickly, and she was rapidly weighing arguments that should decide for her the best course to pursue. Turning deliberately to where Hansen stood in the shadow of the window curtains, she motioned him forward towards the light.

“I have heard thee, Keorah, and I gather from thy words that thou dost desire advice from me upon some weighty matter that troubleth thee. But clearly, conversation is difficult between thee and me, since thou hast not been instructed in any language which is familiar to me, and I, though I understand somewhat of the Acan tongue, am not learned in its subtleties. First, then, I would say to thee that, as thou seest, I am not alone. Here is Zaac Tepal—as thou dost name him—the Interpreter commissioned by the gods. He will assist my imperfect understanding of thy tongue by translating to me what thou dost wish to say.”

Keorah gave a well-feigned start of surprise and virtuous dismay.

“Zaac Tepal—here! At this hour—and in the private apartment of the Zuhua Kak! Nay, I learn with astonishment, messenger of Viracocha, that thou


  ― 380 ―
dost hold thyself superior to the rules of the Acan Priestess-ship, decreed by our gods, and from the foundation of our community kept sacred. It is the law of our order that this chamber be held secure from masculine intrusion.”

Hansen broke in ill-advisedly—

“For this intrusion I would crave pardon. I would explain that my mistress, the Zuhua Kak, required my presence in view of the transporting of the great Aak.”

Keorah's lip curled disdainfully.

“Methinks,” she said, “that the great Aak, who is himself interpreter between gods and men, should be able to give his own counsel to his high priestess. I spoke not to thee, Zaac Tepal. No doubt thou art here, as thou sayest, at thy mistress' orders, and it is the Zuhua Kak who is accountable for thy presence. The great Aak supplies but a badly needed excuse.”

Anne looked confusedly at Hansen. She had not quite followed the rapid interchange of Mayan, for Keorah spoke excitedly, and at her request he was forced to give a clumsy translation of what had passed. Anne's lips grew white, and she stood very erect as she answered him steadily: “Repeat to the woman that you are here by my orders, and for the reason that I required to consult with my interpreter. Say to her, also, that since I gave no permission for the admittance of a visitor into my private rooms, I enquire by what right she has forced her way here.”

Hansen hesitated. He felt himself between two opposing forces, and though he did not greatly care what happened to him individually, he feared that serious damage might result from the clash against each other of these two floods of feminine passion. Then, too, though Anne had certainly proved herself capable of holding her own among the Acans in any ordinary emergency, she had not yet been pitted in actual personal combat against Keorah. The beautiful red woman was a formidable enemy, and one whom


  ― 381 ―
it would be wiser to tranquillize rather than exasperate. Therefore he gave Keorah a somewhat modified version of Anne's remarks. Both women watched him closely; neither was deceived. Keorah sneered contemptuously and glared at her rival; the savage suddenly unveiled. Anne reared herself in yet more stately fashion, and summoning all her resources in the Mayan tongue, addressed the red woman with a frigid courtesy that would have done credit to a great lady in some European drawing-room.

“I have asked by what right you confer upon me the honour of your presence unannounced?”

Keorah scented a refinement of social warfare in which she must be worsted, and completely dropped her mask of civilisation. She made a threatening gesture; her eyes sent out lightnings of rage. Her sinuous form quivered like that of a panther gathering strength before it springs. Then she suddenly swerved to Hansen's side. The furious look changed to one of cunning. “Reply for me to the Zuhua Kak, oh! Zaac Tepal. Tell her that Keorah will stoop no more to dissimulate, and that she shall know of a truth why I forced my way hither. Tell her that an Acan woman has the right to follow her future lord even into the chamber of the Zuhua Kak, and that it is to claim thee, my lover and my betrothed husband, that I am come. Nay, feign not surprise like some coy maiden, Zaac Tepal, for by thine own lips have the binding words been said, and thou art surely mine, White Strength, my lover and my lord, since the night when thou didst first pledge me in the betrothal cup, and when according to ancient usage among the Acans thou didst light the marriage lamp upon my balcony.”

She stopped, her glittering eyes fixed upon his face with that odd magnetic power in them which, when she chose to exert it in its full force, affected him against his reason and his will. It was like the spell of a witch, he often thought to himself. There were times when he had the power to struggle against it,


  ― 382 ―
and there had been other times when she had taken him in his weaker moments, and he had yielded to its seductive attraction. To-night he had no mind to yield, yet a certain native chivalry in him, the presence of Anne, the remembrance of past weakness and something in the woman herself, made it impossible for him to give her the lie direct. He reddened, and stirred awkwardly. His embarrassment appeared to the indignant Anne almost a confession. Keorah saw her advantage. There had been a note of appeal in her voice, but it was the appeal of one who holds a yet stronger weapon hidden.

Hansen at length stammered out, “That's all a mistake, Keorah—a foolish prank performed in ignorance.”

The savage element in Keorah blazed forth at once. She cut short his excuse with an indignant wave of her hand.

“Thou dost call thyself a lord of men and wouldst deny thine own deed and speech! Thinkest thou that the meanest Acan hind would play double to a woman? I command thee by thy manhood to interpret to her the words I have said.”

“How can I interpret them, oh! Keorah?” he answered, totally at a loss before her. “Let that matter remain between thee and me. The Zuhua Kak knows nothing of what thou art pleased to call our betrothal.”

Keorah smiled in malicious triumph.

“Then is it the more needful that she should learn the truth, Zaac Tepal. Tell her, oh! husband of my choice, whom the gods have sent to reward me for loss of greatness given to her in my stead—tell her of the bond of union between us, soon to be confirmed by the marriage rite. Bid her be glad with our gladness, and rejoice with us that her hand hath led thee to me. For had not the gods ordained her to that high loneliness in which I must have dwelt for ever unmated, never should I have known thee, my beloved; never should I have tasted of the fulness of life.”




  ― 383 ―

Her accents had regained their silveriness, and there was in them a deeper note of genuine emotion. She extended her arms in a movement extraordinarily graceful and enticing. It was the passionate woman pleading for and with her lover. And Anne could not have doubted that Hansen was indeed Keorah's lover, but for that which had passed between herself and him a few minutes back. Even then, in those moments of exquisite assurance, the dagger of distrust was only just withdrawn from her breast. Now the wound reopened. She gazed at Hansen, a whole world of anxious tenderness, of enquiring reproach in her brown eyes; then withdrawing them, for his were lowered, she met Keorah's exultant gaze. The red woman went closer to him and laid her outstretched hands upon his arm.

“Speak, Zaac Tepal,—my conqueror, my lord!”

“Thou dost ask too much,” he muttered. “I have said—this thing, if it were true, is not one with which to trouble the Zuhua Kak.”

If it were true? Perjurer! Thou art but jesting with me to try my faith. Was it not only last night that thou didst solemnly pledge me in my wine-cup—that thou didst whisper sweet vows to me both in thy tongue and in mine? Didst thou not call me most beautiful of all the women thou hast ever known? Didst thou not salute me after the manner of lovers in thine own land? Didst thou not kiss me, Zaac Tepal?”

Keorah uttered the English syllable archly and with dulcet sweetness.

Anne heard and understood. It was evident that Keorah had been an apt pupil to a willing instructor. Hansen's laugh—harsh, contemptuous, but truth-telling —dispelled all doubt in Anne's mind. She turned away and stared vacantly at the wall beyond; but there she still seemed to see Keorah, clinging now unrebuked to Hansen's side, her fingers stroking proudly the gold trophy he had carried off at the games, and which she had then clasped below his elbow, and which


  ― 384 ―
he had worn ever since. Her round rosy arm stole up slowly, with a suggestion of delicious enjoyment, till it circled his shoulder. Anne saw it all, even though her eyes were turned away—saw his shame-faced acceptance of the caress; knew that Keorah had not lied; made no allowance for the fact that wine is a potent factor, and that man thinks little of snatching a proffered kiss. She turned suddenly upon him, able to bear no more.

“Zaac Tepal, I dismiss thee! To-night I have no further need of thy services,” she said, retaining sufficient possession of her faculties to speak in her studiously acquired Mayan, so that Keorah might also understand. Her own voice sounded to Anne far away, and the shadowy room seemed to rock around her, and become dimmer still, only those two figures standing out stationary and distant.

“Zaac Tepal!” she cried, her voice in Hansen's ears sounding like the voice of an animal in pain. “Dost thou not hear me? I have no further need of thee. Go!”

He started as if from a dream, and roughly shook himself free from Keorah's hold.

“Come,” he said to her gruffly. “Our presence is an insult to the Zuhua Kak.”

Keorah cringed mockingly, and made as though she would plead with Anne.

“I pray thee, grant us grace, oh! Zuhua Kak. Fain would I stand in thy favour, for as thou knowest, it will be thy office to hold forth to us the holy orb which, kneeling' before thee on our marriage day, we shall solemnly touch with our right hands, making to each other the vows that are binding, till Xibal, Lord of Death, calls us to the Place of Sleep. And seeing that by the will of the gods thou must join us in union, I know not wherein we have deserved thine anger, nor what insult there can be in the humble suing of a highborn Acan woman and of him who is to be her husband.”

Keorah spoke in her own language, but paused a


  ― 385 ―
moment, and then bending backward with a swaying movement of her lithe form, she took Hansen's right hand in hers, and drawing him to her side, said in English, with halting but exquisite intonation, “My husband!”

Anne knew that Eric must have taught her the words. She waved the two imperiously aside.

“Begone, woman! Mr Hansen, take her away.”

For a moment of tragic issue, the three stood, Keorah's and Hansen's eyes fixed upon Anne; the red woman's full of elation, his deeply sorrowful as they searched Anne's face for some sign of relenting. But there was none; the small features were rigid, and her right arm, motionless as marble, was extended, pointing to the doorway.

Keorah gave her cruel laugh.

“I obey thee, Zuhua Kak, but ere long it may be, thou wilt repent this ungracious dismissal. Come, Zaac Tepal, we will depart.”

She drew his arm within her own, and he allowed her to lead him. She covered his grim acquiescence by her proud complacency, her rapt eyes dwelling on his moody face, her every movement towards him as she walked, a caress. Thus the two passed through the archway, and were swallowed up in the gloom of the rock corridor.

Now, forgetting everything but her pain, Anne gave a long shuddering moan. Her tense form collapsed, and she sank in a heap on the floor, her face hidden in her linen robe, her curly head resting upon her drawn up knees. There, Keorah's women saw her, as with silent footsteps they came back to remove their torches. They were obeying their mistress's orders, and like well-drilled servants exchanged no word. They only glanced from the bowed form of the High Priestess meaningly at each other, and went out, leaving the room in darkness.




  ― 386 ―

Chapter XXXVIII - The Subjugation of Elias Bedo

IT was the next morning, and the sun was not yet high in the east. Outside the Tortoise Mountain, his rays poured upon the great grey precipice with its natural buttresses, its clefts and caverns beneath the jagged edge of the rock carapace, near to where the wanderers had camped upon the day of their entrance into the Heart of Aak.

The tunnel Hansen had then discovered, and by which the red men had emerged, showed a dusky patch, half concealed by bushes and scarcely distinguishable on the face of the cliff from many another hole made by time and weather. Outside the opening, her back to the mountain, Keorah stood enveloped in her Acan mantle, pale yellow in colour, and bordered and patterned with feathers of a contrasting orange. Her russet hair, even more brilliant in tint than her cloak, flowed down her back, flaming where the sun touched it, and thinning into feathery strands as the wind, which swept in small gusts up from the valley below, caught it playfully, spreading it on each side of her face.

The air was curiously oppressive for that time of year, even in this tropical region; and above the intersecting hills on the south coast, there hung a roll of lurid-looking clouds seeming to tell of a gathering storm. But overhead, the sky was of a brilliant blue, and here the breeze, though warm at mid-day, beating against the mountain through the moist belt of scrub which sloped down below the untimbered space at the foot of the precipice, was laden with pleasant odours. Whiffs from eucalyptus


  ― 387 ―
forests, and from the resinous Australian pine, the scent of scrub flowers and aromatic shrubs, and through all, as seemed to the red woman, whose nostrils savoured these perfumes, a breath of wide expanses and untrodden wastes from the distant sea and the world of men.

Both Keorah and Anne, though women of different types and conditions, were consumed by the same desire to escape from their luxurious Acan prison, even though it might be to risk death among the blacks. In Anne, it was the yearning for freedom; in Keorah, an unconquerable craving, inbred in her, for pleasure and power, and for a fuller and more magnificent world which she had learned at last from her talks with Hansen really existed beyond these fastnesses. Hitherto, her knowledge had been limited to the vague traditions preserved among the people of Aca, of a mighty civilisation in the far-back past, from which the race had sprung. Now she knew there were other grand civilisations, other countries and other peoples who were not all red like her own. To gain experience of these, and possession of the strangerman who had captivated her fancy, was the end and aim of Keorah's intrigues.

In pursuance of these, Keorah had risen with the dawn, and made her way to the outskirts of the mountain. All night her busy brain had worked, connecting and translating the shreds of talk she had overheard from behind the tapestry in Anne's chamber, and which, though imperfectly understood, had furnished her with a sufficiently direct clue to the terror dogging her rival and the means by which matters might be hurried to a crisis, the flight prevented, the High Priestess disgraced, and the White Lord secured for herself as a lover, and guide to the outer world. She knew the power of her wonderful eyes, the fascination of her long narrow face, and had no fear of not being able to mould Hansen to her purposes. And, in truth, seldom had the sun looked upon a woman more beautiful than Keorah as she lifted her face to his, and throwing back her mantle from her shoulder, drew into her chest through the red


  ― 388 ―
parted lips long inhalations of the morning fragrance. She had, with her craving for subtle and sophisticated experience, an almost animal delight in air and sunshine, the free indulgence of her senses and exercise of her body which her cramped life as Zuhua Kak had only inflamed. At this moment her heart was throbbing and her pulses tingling with wild hope at the prospect, however uncertain, of accomplishing her desire, and satisfying the passionate impulses within herself which clamoured to be in harmony with the common laws of nature. At last, at last, she might do this, and in her fancy, the radiance of the sun, and all the fresh scents of the bush which she was taking into her being, seemed harbingers of success.

But Keorah was not one to waste time in romantic imaginings, though the warm flutter of the wind as it crept up her bare arm and played upon her face seemed to her like a lover's fervid kisses and intoxicated her with the foretaste of future joy. Drawing her mantle again about her shoulders, she stepped carefully among the rocks and shrubs, and rounded the natural buttresses of the cliff in the direction where she expected to find signs of a stranger's camp.

“E-li-as Be-do!” She pronounced the syllables slowly to herself as she had heard Anne and Hansen speak them; for that there was a strange man in pursuit of the High Priestess she was quite sure, and also that this was his name. Of his whereabouts she had learnt sufficient from Anne's account of Kombo's discovery to guide her in her quest. Hansen, in the few minutes she had spent alone with him after leaving Anne's presence upon the previous night, had sternly declined to gratify her curiosity, had indeed done all he could to refute her suspicions, but Keorah was too clever to doubt that something very serious and prejudicial to Anne lay behind the appearance on the scene of this new actor in the drama—something which would greatly simplify her own procedure for the ruin of the High Priestess. It was not Keorah's habit to dally in her workings, nor


  ― 389 ―
to take counsel with anybody. She knew that she must first satisfy herself of the truth of what she suspected, and till she had done this—a task she would not entrust to another—not one of her allies could be of much use to her. Once assured of Elias Bedo's relations with Anne, it would be time enough to instruct Naquah, Kapoc, Ishtal and the rest in the parts they were to play. Hotan was like a dog ready to do her bidding; she already had him in leash. He was at hand awaiting her further commands.

Keorah went on, her head bent towards the ground like a black tracker, though every now and then, she would give a quick glance in front and to the side, her eyes shining with the gleam in those of a panther in search of prey. And yet she meant no direct ill to Elias Bedo should she find him. Had it been her intention to secure him by force she would not have ventured thus, a woman alone, within his reach. She dealt in woman's weapons, fully alive to their efficacy. Meanwhile, below her breath, she practised herself in the English phrases she had picked up. They were mostly of an amatory character.

Suddenly, as she went round a projection of rock, she came upon the man she sought. He was lying half wrapped in his blanket, his head propped against his tilted saddle, and his face exposed to the full rays of the sun, which beat down and were reflected back from the shining surface of the precipice, focussing upon a locket that hung open from his pouch, and sending glints from the mounting of his rifle, which lay a little way from him, flung carelessly against a stone. He would have been an easy target for a black's spear or a red man's javelin, so profound was his slumber. Evidently Kombo's trick had succeeded, and the pituri had done its work. Beside him, in the ashes of the dead fire, with a half-consumed damper and a piece of roasted bandicoot, stood the empty billy which had held the drugged tea. He must have been asleep a long time, for there was not a spark among the ashes, and the piece of meat was


  ― 390 ―
covered with soldier ants. Were he to remain so till after noonday he would undoubtedly get sunstroke, and death would free Anne from his pursuit.

Keorah's eyes roved about, and lighted upon another camp a few paces off, where, stretched in the same heavy stupor, were the two native policemen who had accompanied Bedo. She stepped across, and looked with disgust at the black barbarians, kicking a pinch or two of gravel upon the out-stretched hand of one of them to see if he would stir, but he and his mate had drunk freely; possibly they had, like Kombo, gathered some pituri on their won account among the hills. Anyhow, it appeared as though nothing short of the last trump would waken them, and Keorah, peering round first to satisfy herself that there were no other human beings about, went back to the side of Bedo.

He was not a prepossessing object, and Keorah thought it was not surprising that Anne should run away from him; but she wondered that he, having come so far to regain her, and being within the precincts of possible enemies, should be content to lie there in a lethargy like that of a gorged python. She spurned him scornfully with the toe of her arched foot, and noticing that he stirred slightly, reminded herself that she had come to captivate and not to flout this singularly repulsive person. Her heart felt no temptation to swerve from its allegiance to Eric, however, as she compared the only two white men of her acquaintance. Very different from Hansen's clean-limbed, clear-skinned, and wholly attractive personality, was this corpulent, brutalised man, with his bull-throat, bulky trunk, and dark heavy face on which was a stubbly growth of black hair streaked with grey. Keorah did not like men who were black or red either, and Hansen's chief claim to her admiration lay in his Viking-like fairness.

Keorah felt a supreme contempt for Bedo. Yet she bent closer over him, so that her long hair swept his shoulder, and fluttered against his cheek while she pulled the little locket away from the pouch, and without


  ― 391 ―
much difficulty, detached it from a chain to which it was fastened. As she turned the open side upward, she started, and gave a low exultant laugh, for here was full confirmation of her suspicions. The locket held a coloured photograph of a woman's face, and Keorah instantly recognised the face as that of Anne, the reigning Zuhua Kak—Anne in her girlish days before the shadow of Elias Bedo had clouded her youth—a brighter, younger Anne, yet nevertheless bearing a likeness incontestable.

But how should the Daughter of Dawn, the messenger of the gods, the immaculate Virgin of the Flame, come to be pictured here in an amulet that this coarse son of earth carried about his person?

It was clear to Keorah's quick understanding that the owner of the locket must consider Anne in some sort of way his property; that undoubtedly he must stand to her in the position of either lover or husband—probably the latter, for had he been merely her lover, why should she not have discarded him without taking the trouble to put so great a distance between them? And the garments of these white people gave on arrival evidence that they had travelled far. Why, too, should she be in so great trepidation at the mere thought of his finding and claiming her? As Keorah stood with the trinket in her hand, gazing at the portrait, her senses all on the alert, her heart thrilling with the thought that success in her schemes was now almost a certainty, she did not consider the risk she might be running in thus exposing herself unprotected to the power of such a man as now lay before her. She looked down from Anne's portrait to the recumbent form, and her wonderful eyes seemed to gather in and emit force as she fixed them intently upon the face of the sleeper. Whether consciously or otherwise, she certainly sent forth a magnetic current which had the effect of rousing him from his stupor. His eyelids flickered and slowly lifted, his lips moved, the sound of a muttered oath came from between them. His limbs stirred; he partly raised himself


  ― 392 ―
and stared bewilderedly at the unexpected vision before him, his drugged brain not yet clear enough to decide whether it were reality or hallucination.

Like many materially-minded men Bedo was strongly given to superstition, and though he would have knocked any one down who called him a coward, he had a horror of anything bordering on the supernatural. Consequently, his first thought, when he beheld Keorah, was that she had come from another world. A howl of terror burst from him, that in other conditions must have immediately awakened the troopers and called them to arms, but they slept on undisturbed. Bedo gathered up his thick limbs and crouched back of a sudden upon his haunches, drawing himself away from her, while he looked up at her with an expression of fear and astonishment so comically blended, that Keorah laughed aloud.

“Damn you! What are you?” cried Elias Bedo, still shaking, but slightly reassured by the sound of her laughter.

Keorah smiled bewitchingly, and stretched out her arms, her mantle falling back so that the bare throat and part of her soft rounded neck showed above the generous curves of her bosom, draped in her close-fitting linen robe. Bedo's oath might have been a term of endearment for all she knew, for Hansen was not given to swearing at women. Eager to learn a new phrase, in her sweet high-pitched voice, with the most fascinating foreign accent, and an air of coquetry, she repeated the objurgation after him. “D—damn—you!” said she, making a little cooing sound, and stroking his rough, hairy hands clasped round his knees with her pretty pink fingers. The touch convinced Bedo that she was at least flesh and blood. His look of terror relaxed. His jaws broadened into a grin. He stared at her excitedly.

“What the dickens are you?” he exclaimed. Keorah did not understand, but, satisfied with the result of the newly-acquired phrase, cooed it again. “D—damn—you!”




  ― 393 ―

“The devil!” ejaculated Bedo.

Keorah seized upon the word. She had heard Kombo talk of debil-debil: she knew what that meant.

“Debil-debil? Ma (No).” She shook her head and pointed to herself. “Keorah,” she said.

“Keorah!” repeated Bedo, recovering himself. “A very pretty name, and you're an uncommonly pretty woman, my dear, though you aren't quite white. I suppose you're one of those famous red people the blacks talk about—eh?”

Keorah laughed and showed her white teeth and a dimple on one side of her narrow attractive face. She could not comprehend him much so far, but she felt that matters were progressing satisfactorily.

“You mustn't damn people,” Bedo went on. “That's not pretty for a woman.”

“Pretty woman,” she repeated with her slow captivating smile, having previously learned the appropriateness of the words as applied to herself. Seeing that she did not altogether follow him, he tried black talk.

“Look here, Keorah, where camp belonging to you? You got him brother? Cobbon būjeri chief this fellow. Mine sit down long-a you.”

Keorah laughed on, but he could not feel sure that she understood black talk.

“Pretty wo-man,” irrelevantly pronounced Keorah. “Pret-ty man—Ma!” Her lip curled in coquettish disdain. She laughed meaningly into his face. “Husband—E-li-as—Be-do!”

“By Jove! How the dickens does she know my name?” He jumped to his feet and came close, leering at her.

“Husband—eh? You want-im husband belonging to you? All right, my dear. Būjeri gin you belonging to me,” and he made as though to kiss her. But with a quick movement Keorah evaded him. Lightnings flashed from her eyes. All the majesty of the late unapproachable Zuhua Kak sat upon her brow. Perhaps it was well for Elias Bedo at that moment


  ― 394 ―
that she was not in her own city as Zuhua Kak, among her guarding acolytes, or his shrift would have been a short one.

Bedo stood, checked and appalled.

“The deuce! What a spitfire! I've a good mind to force a kiss, you handsome demon.”

Keorah saw her danger. She leaned towards him deprecatingly, and smiled in her seductive way, subduing him by the magic of her eyes. She really understood a good deal of his speech by this time, but wished him to believe that she did not do so. Now she pointed to the mountain behind her, and along the unwooded space beneath it.

“Keorah … be-au-ti-ful … wo-man!” she stammered with dulcet expression. She did not know quite what to say in the emergency, but she remembered that when Hansen had been most kind and pleasant to her, he had called her a beautiful woman, and she thought the phrase might re-establish safe and friendly relations with this too familiar stranger. Bedo chuckled coarsely.

“Beautiful woman! I believe you—a doosid sight better looking, though you are red, than most white ones. And I don't know that I like you any the worse for putting a good value on yourself. You aren't going to let yourself be caught by chaff, eh, my fine bird?”

Steadying himself against a boulder, for the drug had left him not quite master of either his limbs or his brain, he gazed at her in open-mouthed admiration, taking in confusedly the details of her attire, from the cream-coloured, fine-woven underdress, to the feathered mantle and sandalled feet. His cupidity was aroused at sight of the gold and opal belt round her shapely waist.

“Hullo!” he cried, “what's that? Have you more of the same kind where that came from?” and he would have snatched at the cincture, had not Keorah's compelling gaze kept him at a distance. She still pointed to the mountain, and her gesture seemed to him to signify that there the treasure lay.




  ― 395 ―

“Inside there, my pretty? But how are we to get at 'em? You'll show me the road—eh? But I must make sure of that. No killings and roastings and eatings—being eaten it would be—for me! Not if I know it! No hanky panky, Miss Keorah. We'll see first how you came to know my name—whether it was Anne that told you. By Jingo! I see it now. It must have been Anne that told it you. And if you haven't eaten Anne, the odds are you won't want to eat me.” He swayed himself to and fro, chuckling still, and again leering at her. Keorah caught at the name.

“Anne!” she said, and his eyes, following hers, fell upon the open locket which she had let drop on the ground when he had tried to kiss her. He lurched forward, and stooping picked it up.

“So you've been robbing me? You're a nice baggage! And you know who it is—do you? Now I'm seeing daylight. Yes, that's Anne, sure enough; and the devil take her—after I've done with her. You—you devilish fine woman—d'you know where she is? Here—” and he tapped the locket. “White Mary like-it this. You pidney where that fellow sit down?”

“Yo-ai!” Keorah laughed again like a pleased child. In the course of her assiduous attention to the white people's talk she had picked up even a smattering of Kombo's queer jumble of English and Aboriginese. She tossed her head now, with its wealth of red hair, back towards the mountain. “Come,” she said again, “E-lias—Be-do—Hus-band. … Anne—Wife. … Keorah—be-au-ti-ful woman. … Anne—be-au-ti-ful—wife.”

“By the Lord Harry, you're wrong there, Miss Keorah,” exclaimed Bedo, with a harsh guffaw. “She don't hold a candle to you. And I'm sick of her—damned sick of her and the chase she's led me.”

The infuriated husband fired forth a volley of profanity which irritated even Keorah's uncomprehending ears, and she gave an angry frown, which changed, as


  ― 396 ―
she recollected herself, to a brilliant smile, the piquancy of the transformation completing Bedo's enslavement.

“Well, you are——!” he began, and words failed for the moment. “Stunning,” he added, as Keorah's tinkling laugh echoed among the rocks. “You'd keep a chap alive—you would. Now if you were only Baroness Marley, with a fortune at your back, and I'd married you for it, and run you up half way through Australia, and got you yarded and roped at last, and the flashness whipped out of you, why, we'd have a high old time of it, Miss Keorah. We'd make tracks for the old country, and go on the burst, that we would. And I ain't so sure that I shan't do it. I'll yard in and rope the two of you. And I ain't so sure that I won't chuck the other by-and-by—if you can put me on to where those opals and the gold comes from.”

Keorah did not make much out of this tirade. It was uttered too rapidly, and the ex-bullock driver's vernacular was not the language employed by Hansen when, after the banquets at which he had sat by her side, the White Lord had indulged his hostess' fancy for learning the “speech of the gods.” But she wanted to humour him, and to secure beyond a shadow of doubt the incriminating testimony against Anne. So she still cooed in his face, and stroked his sleeve with one hand, while with the other, she touched the picture in the locket.

“Anne—wife—belonging to you?” she queried insinuatingly. “Tell Keorah.”

“Yes, bad luck to her! Yo-ai, Keorah, that wife belonging to me.”

“You—hus-band?” There was a whole volume of questioning in her shrill sweet voice.

Bedo snarled assent. The fact was clear. Keorah had gained her point. He began to regret having been so explicit; possibly a stringent code of morals might be in force among the red people. At once he endeavoured to convey, partly in words, partly by pantomimic


  ― 397 ―
expression, that though Anne was his wife, though he desired above all things to know her where-abouts, it was only with a view to punishing and repudiating her, and that henceforward, Keorah should reign alone in his affections.

She nodded as if she understood, and smiled on, poking forward her chin and throwing aslant at him through her narrowed eyelids, a gleam of daring between the red lashes that entirely captivated him. With snake-like grace she sidled closer, laying one hand upon his arm as she began to lead him away from his camp towards the opening in the mountain. He moved on obediently; her half closed eyes were magnets drawing him. He had thought a moment before that he would take his gun and wake up the troopers, but now the gun and the troopers were alike forgotten. Suddenly, when they had gone several paces, she opened her eyes to their fullest extent, and turned her head round to him as she walked, while she softly pulled him by the hand. The effect was mesmeric. Bedo was like a man bewitched. He followed stupidly where she led him, forgetting everything but that fascinating face. Only before the dark hole in the mountain side did he draw back, refusing with an oath to go further.

But Keorah's touch was electric. Her voice lured him, her voice, purring caressingly in that enchanting foreign accent, “Come … Come.” Her eyes were like stars shining before him till he was well within the tunnel. There the darkness swallowed them; but what did it matter, thought he. She held his hand, and what danger could there be in a woman alone and unarmed?

Suddenly her soft clasp relaxed. The hands she had held were seized by stronger ones, and prisoned behind. He heard Keorah speak in a strange tongue,—she was addressing someone as Hotan. She had glided ahead, and a great burly man taller than Bedo, was by his side, gripping his arm, while two other men behind him tied


  ― 398 ―
a linen cloth over his mouth effectually gagging him, and stifling the oaths which came from his throat. Then a glimmer of light showed through an aperture overhead, and Elias Bedo heard the rush of the river over its subterranean bed. He was being led into the Heart of Aak.




  ― 399 ―

Chapter XXXIX - The Death-Door

HANSEN awoke late that morning. He had passed a troubled night. Visions of Keorah, scornful, cajoling, triumphant, disturbed his slumbers, and Anne's pale, pained face rose repeatedly before him in his waking moments. Rivalry between these two had now become a terribly serious matter, and Hansen saw plainly that the only way out of the dilemma was by prompt escape, if that were possible. To-day would show how Kombo's plan had prospered, and if they could avail themselves of it. Should that fail, nothing short of a cataclysm would be likely to help them. And a cataclysm, if it came, might engulf them also. Reflecting upon the events of the previous day, Hansen remembered the heavy redness of the sky, which he had noticed in the direction of the Crocodile Mountain, and the lurid-looking clouds which had gathered towards sunset. He determined to climb the monolith as he had planned, and to take observations. True, it was considerably later than he usually rose, a heavy sleep into which, after much tossing and tumbling, he had at length fallen towards dawn, having lasted some hours, but there would still be sufficient time for him to make the excursion and return by mid-day. It was unlikely that Kombo would seek him out to report matters before then. The boy would need sleep himself after being up all night, and he had told Anne that he meant to pilfer from the booths in order to stock their saddle-bags—a process that would certainly require time and care. Hansen shrank from this deliberate despoiling of the Acans, but felt that Kombo in his generation was wiser


  ― 400 ―
than he. At all events, Anne must not be permitted to suffer more than was necessary; and in order to make sure of their liabilities as far as the Crocodile was concerned, Hansen hurried on his clothes, and prepared to climb the monolith.

Anne meanwhile was singularly irritable and restless. She no longer exhibited the serene calm of the High Priestess which had become her so well, and had sustained her in the difficult part she had to play. Her faculty for dramatic personation seemed to have deserted her, and with it, she knew too surely, her influence over the people of Aca would depart. But she had no spirit to pull herself together in so far as concerned her demeanour as Zuhua Kak. It did not seem worth while. In a few hours' time, provided all went well with Kombo's schemes, she would be quit of Aak and his children for ever. That hope inspired her with courage, and even secret joy of a tempered sort.

Among the Virgins, Ishtal was not slow to observe Anne's attitude, and to attribute it, in part at least, to its true cause. Her orders in regard to the supervision of her chief were strict, and she scarcely for a moment left Anne's presence—an intense aggravation of the girl's distress. Yet in Ishtal she felt that she had an almost acknowledged enemy, and such antagonism was, in her present mood, less painful than the sweet friendliness of Semaara which she found less easy to deal with.

Already Ishtal saw herself in fancy the successor of this little white usurper, and a worthy wearer of the Zuhua Kak's insignia of office. All her life she had coveted the position, and was in truth much better fitted to hold it than either Keorah or Anne. Her ascetic temperament found nothing to irk it in the restrictions of a priestess' life, and her flawless dignity of manner secured her respect from all classes.

Poor little Anne, cowed by the calm, steely gaze of Ishtal's grey eyes, tried to repress the eager anticipation of liberty which in spite of all would bubble up within her, lest the elder Virgin should suspect and frustrate.


  ― 401 ―
It was true that Anne's sweetest hope in the thought of escape—friendly reunion with Eric—was miserably clouded by what had passed the previous evening,—the hope that had flamed on high for a minute or two under the restrained tenderness of his avowal and had been unduly dashed away by Keorah's intrusion and triumphant claiming of—as she had put it—her betrothed husband.

Could that be true, Anne thought? Had Eric ever really made love to Keorah? Was it possible, in such case, that he could have so spoken, so looked at Anne herself, as to make her feel certain that his whole loyal devotion was hers, though while she remained Elias Bedo's wife honour forbade him to own it? In spite of appearances, in spite of his own damaging half admission, Anne's trust in him burned up again and would not be quenched.

She could not believe that he had been altogether false. Weak certainly he was in allowing himself to be swayed by Keorah's undoubted powers of fascination; culpable even towards her after the manner of men towards women whom they hold lightly—but not altogether inexcusable.

Young as she was, this small Anne had long cast her childhood behind her. She had not been married to Elias Bedo for nothing; nor had she drifted from her original home in the Australian wilds through the experiences of a musical student in London and back again to the Bush, without learning something of the world and its ways. She had seen a good deal of men and of their vices and follies during her short, varied existence, and had stored up the knowledge in her astute little brain. On sober reflection she was therefore able to make some allowance for her errant friend, and to realise that as man is constituted, the temptation to flirt with a woman of Keorah's character and charms, who advanced more than half the way herself, would have been difficult for a stronger male nature than Eric Hansen's to resist. Last night Anne had been indignant, outraged, her heart wounded to the quick.


  ― 402 ―
This morning, the solemn tender words that Eric had spoken just before Keorah's entrance came back to Anne, and now in the depth of her soul, she knew that he loved her. She felt that, notwithstanding all, she could put her hand in his again and renew her faith to him. That he would join her and Kombo in their escape she did not doubt, and escape seemed breathlessly near. As Anne stood at the wide window of what she called her prison-house and watched the first rays of the eastern sun glint over the frowning face of the mountain across the market-place, she felt almost in her nostrils the wild breath of the Bush, for which she, like Kombo, so ardently longed.

The scent of eucalyptus seemed wafted to her through the multifarious odours from the stalls beneath, where the vendors of cooked meat and fruit were displaying their goods. She, too, here in the shadow of the Tortoise rock, sensed as her rival was sensing the burning wastes of desert, the tangled stretches of scrub, the distant sea, and the world beyond. It was at this very moment that Keorah, standing outside the fortress of Aak, lifted her face to the sky and savoured love and freedom—another of Nature's children, though of so different a mould, clamouring for the mother-gifts she felt were her right.

Little did Anne dream, keenly alive though she was to the perils that beset her, how close would be the race between Keorah and herself. If she thought of Keorah at all at this moment, it was as a treacherous enemy, plotting in the darkness of the caves against her, to rob her of her lover and her life—not as one whose foot was even now placed upon the road leading to the outer world, whose one desire was like her own to leave the prison walls of Aak behind. Her thoughts, just then, were chiefly of the possibilities of Kombo's success; of her own chances of avoiding detection when it became time to answer the black boy's signal for flight; and of how Hansen would contrive to meet them. She thought, too, of the joy


  ― 403 ―
of being on horseback again, and of the wild ride down the gorge and along by the river to the unknown country at the head of the great gulf. It was from this picture that she was recalled by the voice of Ishtal, who demanded rather than requested that the High Priestess should prepare for attendance in the temple. Anne had, amid her preoccupation, forgotten that this was a day of religious ceremony among the Acans upon which she, as Zuhua Kak, had to go with the Virgins, Elders, and Acolytes, first in state to the temple, and thence to bless, in presence of the people, the storage of threshed corn and the harvesting of certain berries used for the compounding of that potent sacred beverage that had wrought Hansen's undoing. She had excused herself on plea of indisposition from the early offering of food and water to Aak, and had instructed Semaara to tend the god in her stead. This she had done partly to avoid the company of the girl, for her heart had been touched by Semaara's affection, and smote her at the thought that she was soon about to leave her only friend among the Acans without a farewell. If Semaara were occupied with the various duties that the High Priestess planned to delegate to her subordinate, she would, Anne hoped, have but little opportunity for noticing anything out of the common in the manner of her chief. Perhaps the fuss and the ceremonial of the festival, upon which Ishtal expatiated, would serve this purpose, thought Anne; and though her spirits sank upon hearing that as was usual on these occasions, there was going to be a banquet when the blessing of the corn was over, she reflected that, as the population of Aca would probably be heavy with drink, she and Hansen and Kombo might more easily get away unseen.

So she allowed herself to be dressed in her most gorgeous robe of office with the plume of rose-coloured feathers on her head and the sacred opal glittering on her brow, and prepared to descend, with her retinue, the rock stairs that led down to the market-place.




  ― 404 ―

It was now about noon. High in the sky, the sun hung just over the City of Refuge like a blinding, metallic disk, pouring hot rays down even into the usually cool recesses of the rock streets. In the Heart of Aak the atmosphere indeed was stifling. It had been strangely hot all that morning, a heaviness that increased hour by hour, varied only by occasional gusts of warm wind that circled round the subterranean spaces and died down as suddenly as it arose. In the intervening stillness, the heat grew more intense. Nevertheless, all was activity here amongst the people. The whole population of Aca had turned out of their rock dwellings, and were thronging the thoroughfares, while the goat-herds and husbandmen had all come up from the fertile earth-basin in which the fruit and corn were grown. It was customary on these agricultural festivals for the Zuhua Kak and her train to walk in procession round the public places and along the outer terrace by a more circuitous route to the temple. Presently, therefore, the semi-circular space where the great wall of the mountain riddled with caverns curved towards the garden hollow was filled with spectators dressed in grey feathered garments with plumes on their heads, who awaited the passing of the High Priestess.

The oppression of the atmosphere made Anne feel faint and dizzy, and the weight of her magnificent mantle trailing behind her was almost more than she could bear. But she managed to look quite regal at the head of her train of Virgins, though each one overtopped her by several inches. This was the last time, she thought to herself, that she would ever appear in this splendid panoply; and, woman-like, she regretted somewhat that she could not take with her these gorgeous robes with their rose-coloured trimmings, her opal clasps and girdle, and the specially perfect stone which held the feathers above her forehead. She looked round for some sign of Kombo that might assure her of the success of his venture, and at least


  ― 405 ―
of his safety, but could catch no glimpse of the black boy among that multi-hued throng. How grotesque and strange it all was! She felt like a woman in a dream; and in dream fashion, among various trivial incidents and objects stood out the animated face of a child held up in the arms of a goat-herd, which contrasted with the usual impassive Acan countenance; the ludicrous solemnity of a money-changer giving red beans for gold dust, and the antics of a tame emu which thrust its long neck from side to side among the booths. Then as she turned at the foot of the stairway from the nuns' house, and thus caught a direct view of the Virgins descending in pairs above her, Anne was struck by a peculiar alertness in the tiny live tortoises that the Virgins always wore on their breasts attached to a chain. The queer little things were moving restlessly over the shoulders and bosoms of their guardians, drawing sharply in and out their wee snakish heads and darting gleams from pin-point eyes. They seemed to feel something unusual and alarming in the air, which was in truth full of electrical disturbance. Always sensitive to the magnetism of a number of people, Anne was conscious of a spirit of unrest in the crowd, of lightly leashed emotion that might break forth at a touch, and transform these ordinarily phlegmatic folk into a very rabble of avengers, should they learn the truth about her whom they now hailed as half divine. The wild strains of the Acan orchestra, the hollow reverberations of the drums, the shrieking of the uncouth fiddles, and clashing of sistra, now preluded the uplifted voices of the choir in the hymn to the Zuhua Kak. Anne herself was more impressed than ever by this strange music, remembering that never again should she hear that song of praise ring out, the refrain echoing clearly back from the rock walls:—

Ix nacan katuna
Uol Zubua Kak!

A vague regret swelled in Anne's breast. It was


  ― 406 ―
so nearly over—the Priestess life, the Pagan worship. And in that worship, how much there was which appealed to certain religious instincts born in her, that had grown with her growth, and were interlinked by every fibre of her being with the primeval mysticism of the Australian Bush. So real to Anne was this nature faith, that often as she had kneeled before the sun's effigy—the shining disc of life—it had seemed to her that here was the purest and most expressive symbol of That which is unutterable—according to the Acan formula—ever given to man. And when by right of her office as Head Virgin of the Flame, she sang in the temple service the anthem

Uol Viracocha!
Oyoya KU
Zazil Huraca
Lahuna KU
Uol Viracocha!

she did verily feel herself in some inexplicable bond of unity with the Ancient Spirit of Earth, Herald of the Greater Light; and at such moments she was in truth Priestess—Child of Viracocha, Daughter of the Dawn. As these thoughts passed through Anne's mind, Semaara, walking with Ishtal behind, was puzzled by the expression of her chief's face, for it seemed incongruous with the High Priestess' depression, even irritability of the morning. Ishtal, too, could not understand the change. The elder Virgin's crafty eyes turned from right to left scanning the approaches into the market-place as though she were on the watch for something that she expected to happen. She also had noticed Keorah's absence from the scene, though not aware of its cause. Keorah had not taken Ishtal wholly into her confidence, for Keorah was too wary to confide wholly in anyone, at all events, in any other woman. But Ishtal knew enough to be sure that Keorah would strike home when the fitting opportunity occurred, and that at any moment, chance might bring the opportunity, Ishtal fully realised.




  ― 407 ―

She was right. The moment came, and with it Keorah and Elias Bedo.

Keorah and Hotan had led the man down by the intricate, subterranean passage, and through the hall of tortoises and along the short rock corridor to the top of the flight of steps leading into the market-place.

Keorah had soothed Bedo's alarms as best she could, by smiles and such reassuring English words as she had at command; and, when they got into the light—dim though it was in the clearer part of the tunnel—had caused the gag to be removed and his arms unbound. The two serving-men, Acans of huge stature and girth, walked on each side of him, holding his hands; and behind, stepped Hotan, whose eyes continually followed Keorah as she moved in front, the pride of possession lighting them, for she had cleverly beguiled him, and he hoped now to gain the reward of his service.

Bedo's brain was still confused with the unaccustomed drug, and he made no attempt to escape, useless though it would have been. Besides, Keorah's eyes turning back continually in his direction were like magnets drawing him, and her tinkling laugh like the ghost-bell which, according to Indian superstition, lures the willing listener to his doom. His wife's name, too, was part of the spell. Pointing onward, Keorah said many times “Anne. … wife. … hus-band,” so that one idea impressed itself upon Bedo's dulled understanding—his chase had not been in vain; at the end of the passage he would find his prey.

The strains of the Acan hymn reached Keorah's ears, and told her that her operations had been well calculated. This was the time at which the Zuhua Kak and her Virgins were marching in procession to the temple.

The platform at the top of the little flight of steps looked down upon the market-place, and peeping round the archway that gave upon it, Keorah saw that on one side, the train of Virgins was approaching, while descending a narrow street on the other, came the


  ― 408 ―
seven Elders in full canonical array, Naquah, the chief, at their head, Zilzie and Kapoc following, the others in twos bringing up the rear. The platform on to which Keorah was about to advance, stood at an intersecting angle so that here, the three lines converged, making a central point of action in the drama.

An open roadway round the edge of the amphitheatre was reserved for the procession, the rest of the space being filled with the Acan crowd which a little while before buzzing like a swarm of bees, was now waiting in respectful silence for the Zuhua Kak to pass.

Keorah beckoned to Bedo, pointing with his other hand to the small figure of Anne nearing them with slow, stately tread. Bewildered by the sound of the music, the maze of colour and the whole novel scene that was presented to his astonished gaze, he did not at first recognise his runaway wife, and sent his eyes roving over the heads of the people in search of her whom he had been given to understand that he should see. Keorah spoke a few hurried words to Hotan, bidding him watch but not bind their prisoner; then, as the two streams of Elders and Virgins approached each other, she went forward and stood in view of the multitude at the front of the platform.

Looking up, Kapoc first caught sight of her with Hotan, and the stranger, craning forward between his two guards, a foot or two behind. Then Kapoc felt sure that serious business was in train and whispered to Naquah, who halted, and gazed up also at the newcomers.

Meanwhile, Anne proceeded unthinkingly, wrapped in her own musings, and almost a mechanical actor in the scene. She had not noticed the gestures of Kapoc and Naquah; she had not seen Keorah nor the dreaded figure of Bedo, nor did she notice the suspicious glances started by Ishtal, that from all sides were directed towards herself. She might have gone on past the platform, observing nothing and giving the lie to all those accusing glances by the simple indifference and


  ― 409 ―
unconsciousness of her manner, had not one of those freakish impulses made her look up at the critical moment when she came opposite the platform.

Keorah she saw standing with one arm outstretched towards her, the other pointing to Bedo, an embodiment of remorseless fate. But her eyes went past Keorah and were transfixed by that ungainly form in bushman's garb, which had now moved, pressing forward from the rear, the eager unkempt head thrust out, the furious blood-shot eyes meeting hers in a stare of triumphant recognition.

The man gave a malignant shout of “Anne! Anne!” He shook his clenched fist at her, and would have cleared the steps and burst down among the crowd to confront her, but for Keorah's warning exclamation to Hotan, and the restraining hold of the Acan keepers.

“Just wait till I can get at you!” Bedo cried furiously. “I shall not let you escape me now. You've led me a pretty chase, and by—I don't mean to let you go again. You're my wife, Anne, remember, whatever you may call yourself here, dressed up in that toggery. I'll unmask you. I'll have the law on you. I'll force you to come back with me.” He raved at her. His very utterance of her name was condemnation in the ears of the Elders and Virgins, for they had heard Hansen call her Anne. Indeed, the looks of husband and wife gave too sure evidence that they were closely connected with each other. Stern words of reprobation broke from Naquah, and all through the crowd, went a hoarse murmur like the growl of an angry beast. Keorah alone stood scornful and unmoved. It was part of her scheme to pose as champion of the outraged gods, showing no personal animus against the impostor.

All Anne's customary presence of mind forsook her. She had never been brave in presence of this man. Probably she would not have married Bedo, had he not physically cowed her. There are women upon whom certain men have such an effect. A sharp


  ― 410 ―
moan broke from her lips. She stared back at him, her eyes wide with horror, her face going white as chalk. She had stopped dead, her form rigid for a moment or two. Then, seized with a great trembling, she swayed dizzily, and might have fallen, but for Semaara's sustaining arm. Not expecting this sudden pause, Anne's maidens, pressed by the crowd, broke their line, separating on either side of her while she, shorn already of the pomp of procession, stood like some helpless, hapless creature caught in a snare. She looked wildly round in search of Hansen or Kombo, but there was no sign of either.

Now there rose a tumult among the people. She heard cries in which the words “Zuhua Kak” sounded above a shrill confusion of Mayan. It seemed to her that they were demanding an explanation. Then old Naquah's voice uprose, she supposed in arraignment, and above the noise, came Bedo's wrathful asseverations while he pointed at her, at himself, and at Keorah, who only smiled, biding her time to speak, but by her darting gaze, her cold and scornful attitude inflaming the crowd to fiercer imprecations.

By uncouth pantomimic gestures, Bedo appeared to be conveying the fact that the High Priestess was his wife; and it was clear that the Acans fully grasped his meaning, and that they believed him, and were madly exasperated at the imposture practised upon them, and the sacrilege against their ancient traditions. The deep-mouthed roar swelled louder. This people, which a short time before had acclaimed their High Priestess as a divinity, now wanted to rush upon her and destroy her. In the tumult of speech that followed, Anne lost all hold upon the language she had acquired so laboriously. She did not know what was said. She only knew that her fate rested with Keorah and that Keorah was pitiless. For now as by common consent, and under the sway of old habitude, the populace called upon their former High Priestess.

“Keorah, Zuhua Kak! Keorah, Zuhua Kak!” as


  ― 411 ―
they had done upon that evening of the wanderer's entrance into the Heart of Aak—so long ago, it seemed—when in the paling afterglow the flaming torches of the Virgins had illumined Keorah's statuesque form and oddly beautiful face, above which the Eye of Viracocha gleamed, and the then High Priestess had replied as she did now, though in slightly varying terms:

“I, Keorah, who may not again be Zuhua Kak, High Virgin of the Flame, do nevertheless answer to your call, oh! People of the Aca.”




  ― 412 ―

Chapter XL - The Wrath of Kan

IT was over. The trial, such as it was, had been gone through then and there in the market-place, hurried on by the vindictive jealousy of Keorah, and the fanatic rage of Naquah, who saw the altars of his gods desecrated and the holy traditions of his race violated, and who, refusing to listen to the deprecatory plea for delay from Zilzie, demanded loudly summary retribution for the insult.

The people seconded him in their hoarse-throated cries for vengeance on the impostor. The honour of their religion was the strongest passion of which they were capable, and the sin of sacrilege was consequently rare in their annals. According to their understanding this quondam priestess was judged, and found guilty of it, and she must die. Their elementary minds could grasp no possible middle course. Desire for bloodshed once awakened within them, so changed these mild-mannered Acans as to seemingly revolutionise their whole nature. And Anne stood, the butt of their fury, self-convicted, white with inward terror, but once more outwardly composed, her native courage feebly re-asserting itself, and struggling to meet her fate unshrinkingly, whatever it might be. Hansen was still absent, and so was Kombo, and there was not one person to say a word in her behalf, except indeed Semaara, who incoherently remonstrated and entreated, in her efforts to shield her mistress from the wrath of the mob. A strange trial it was, in which the prisoner had no defending counsel, in which the accuser—her husband—did not understand the language of pleaders and judges, or


  ― 413 ―
anything but the vaguest outline of the situation; and in which the accused, found guilty on evidence that was practically unprovable, since there could be no examination of witnesses, was unable to follow the words of her condemnation. But Anne knew well, if only by the awe-stricken and pitiful looks of Semaara, that a doom had been pronounced against her; and she knew also that it must have to do with the symbol of death and the triangular door, for at certain phrases uttered with great solemnity by Naquah, every man and woman in the assemblage, with the exception of herself and Elias Bedo, bent their bodies and drew the corners of their mantles over their faces, as the Elders and Virgins had done on passing the mysterious opening below the Tortoise's Head.

Oh! If Eric were but here to tell her what it all meant, thought poor Anne, to speak for her to the people in their own tongue, and to rescue her from the frightful penalty of a Zuhua Kak's transgression, at which Semaara had darkly hinted. Had Keorah planned that he should be away when she struck the blow? Would she—Anne—be killed before there was time for her to see Eric again, even to bid him farewell?

It seemed that this was to be. Evidently, no respite would be granted. At command of Naquah, the Virgins stripped her of her splendid mantle, and outer embroidered robe. They took away the rose-coloured head-dress, and the glittering Eye of Viracocha, and left her, a forlorn figure clad only in the plain white linen dress that, except for its fineness, had no distinctive mark of dignity. There was a movement to offer to Keorah the insignia of Zuhua Kak, and to re-instal her in her former office. But Keorah waved the emblems aside, and pointed to Ishtal as their rightful wearer. Not upon a woman who, by grace of the gods, had resigned the Priestess-ship, and betrothed herself in marriage, might the mantle of the Zuhua Kak again descend. To Zaac Tepal was she vowed—Zaac Tepal, whom yonder usurper had, by lying words, enticed into


  ― 414 ―
her service, but who was guiltless of wilful outrage upon the Acan sanctities. As wife of Zaac Tepal would Keorah give counsel to her people, even instructing in the closer mysteries Ishtal, her lawful successor. But as Zuhua Kak could she reign no more.

Thus it happened that Ishtal attained her long-cherished ambition, and they put upon her tall angular form the gorgeous mantle Anne had worn so regally, and set upon her head the rose-coloured plumes, and the sacred opal upon her brow. Now the people clamoured that their eyes should be no longer offended at sight of the impostor, and that the ancient decree made by the Great Builders should be forthwith put into execution.

The mob divided, and reclosed in more orderly file. The Virgins ranged themselves in pairs behind Ishtal—all but Semaara, who had to be forcibly separated from her former mistress, and, weeping bitterly, took her place last in the train. The Elders followed at a little distance; and at Naquah's order the musicians recommenced, and the choir raised their voices again, but this time it was not the anthem to the Zuhua Kak that they sang, but the hymn to Xibal, Lord of Death. Immediately behind the band of Virgins, and a little in front of the Elders, was led the small, white figure of Anne between two stalwart acolytes, her hands bound by a linen cord; while further back, Keorah, who with her following had come down from the platform, walked in company of Hotan, still keeping watch over Elias Bedo. Hotan, enlightened at last by Keorah's open declaration of her betrothal to Zaac Tepal, and realising that notwithstanding all he had done for her, his own cause was hopeless, was too disappointed to care much what happened next. He had become moody and silent, and walked along, his gaze fixed on the ground, paying small attention to Bedo. Amused and scornful, but not caring to press his services still further, Keorah kept a keen look-out over the prisoner herself.




  ― 415 ―

Sharply as Hotan was suffering, his feelings were slight in comparison with those of the unhappy Bedo. Though he was now perfectly sure that he had done a very bad thing for himself in denouncing Anne as his wife, Bedo did not yet fully realise the depths of the disaster into which he was plunged. He had not, of course, understood a word of the speeches made by the Sacred Guardians, Keorah, and the rest, but he had observed the angry looks of the populace, had seen Anne stripped of her fine robes and outward marks of sovereignty, and had already come to the conclusion that he had better have held his tongue. He did not at all like the attitude of Keorah, who, from the moment upon which they had entered upon this scene of magnificence, had bestowed upon him no more smiles or blandishments. His uneasiness became abject terror when he found himself dragged down from the platform, surrounded by an increased guard of burly Acans, and, at command of Keorah, again gagged and bound, while he was forced into the procession and so surrounded by these big, red men that he could see nothing of what was going on. He had heard some short, sharp sentences in what he thought a very queer language, interchanged between his enchantress—no longer, it seemed, inclined to enchant—and the strange old bearded men whom he perceived to be persons of authority. These remarks, it was quite apparent to him, related to himself; and he had not at all liked the gesture of Keorah and the expression of her face as she closed the discussion, having, he inferred, made her will clear concerning him. It was very evident that her intentions were not benevolent, and he sought in vain to propitiate her by vociferations of gallantry. It was then that she had bidden her serving-men gag him, and he was now led along in the wake of this relentless Circe, who remained impervious to his distress, while a horrible uncertainty was coming over him as to what might be in store.

The procession passed out of the city through one of


  ― 416 ―
the openings in the rock-shell, and turned along the terrace in the direction of the Tortoise's Head. As it advanced, a faint trembling shook the ground beneath. It lasted but a moment, and the multitude moved on unheeding. Following this, came a low rumbling, like the roar of distant thunder, which reverberated from one side to the other of the cultivated basin lying below. The rock walls enclosing the great hollow looked strangely forbidding. They were of a livid greyness; every fissure and projection showed on the steep escarpments; and their jagged tops, with old gnarled gum trees, some lightning-blasted, stretching eldritch arms over the precipices, stood out portentously distinct against a brassy sky. It was the sort of sky that may be seen when bush fires are raging. Behind the Tortoise's Head a thick cloud was rising, spreading upward to the sun, an oddly-shaped cloud with branching arms of vapour and a dull redness at the base. Everywhere, brooding hush prevailed. All nature seemed awaiting the march of death.

Keorah murmured to Hotan that a storm was nigh, but he, occupied with his own thoughts, did not hear her, and for the most part, the people were too absorbed with the business in hand to pay attention to atmospheric warnings.

Along the broad terrace the procession filed, while the crowd pressed behind and beside it, and scattered forward down the slope and into the fields and gardens where men climbed the dividing walls, and even the roofs of goat-herds' dwellings, to obtain a better view of what was passing. But all halted at one particular point, above which the monolith towered. They went no further, but waited, crouching slightly, and drawing partly over their faces the folds of their mantles, behind which eager eyes peered upward.

Anne, who was walking as in a dream, not having yet realised her impending fate, was straining her eyes this way and that, in the wild hope that Hansen might appear. But at sight of that ominous shrouding movement


  ― 417 ―
she remembered the spot, and now knew whither she was being led.. Cold horror clutched her heart. She tried to speak, but all the words she had known of Mayan forsook her; and of what use to appeal in English since none could understand her? It suddenly occurred to her that she might try her hitherto unfailing resource in moments of danger. She straightened herself, reared her head, bravely struggled to get the pitch of her voice, brought up a few quavering notes, and then sent forth, pathetically rich and clear, the opening bars of her Ave. But the high rock on one side of her, the human wall on the other, seemed to force her voice back, and stifle it in her throat. Still she might have struggled on, but Keorah laughed shrilly in the rear, and that laugh killed poor Anne's pitiful endeavour. And now the Acan drums, which had stopped during a short interval, beat again in hollow clangour. The fiddles shricked in direful strain, and above the instruments, rose a solemn swell of sound as Ishtal and her Virgins led the choir, and all the people joining in, there was poured forth the invocation before the Death Stone which had first broken Anne's slumbers in the nuns' house,—“Holi, Huqui, Xibal Xibalba!” The slow rhythm was awesome, and the peculiar harmony of the anthem made it seem truly a dirge of death.

While this chant was being sung, the Virgins and the Elders who had wheeled and divided, were standing in rows of four—two Virgins in the centre, and an Elder on either side of them,—their shrouded faces turned to the cliff. Then—with the ending of the chant came an impressive silence, in which all remained standing, but with heads bowed on their breasts. Anne alone continued upright, her face uncovered, her eyes lifted to the precipice frowning in front of her above the tall forms which, placed as she was, a little distance behind, hid the base of the rock from her view. An irony it was that this small white woman, so frail and helpless in her bonds, should be thus closely guarded by the band of lusty acolytes; for she was literally hemmed in beyond


  ― 418 ―
hope of deliverance by the multitude of her enemies. The people were massed around her at the back and upon either side, spreading over the wide terrace, every soul of them keenly on the alert and breathless with anticipation, though they now preserved an extraordinary quietude. Through the stillness Anne could hear Semaara's sobs, which went to her heart. Then another sound broke the silence. It was Keorah's high voice giving an order, which a slight scuffle and movement in the throng showed was being immediately obeyed.

Two vigorous Acans in Keorah's livery of yellow and brown pushed their way forward, dragging with them a human bundle—no other than Elias Bedo, flaccid from terror, gagged by a coarse linen cloth stuffed into his mouth and secured at the back of his head, his arms tied to his sides, and even his legs hobbled to prevent any chance of his escaping, so that he could only limp in maimed fashion after his warders. They placed him in a line with Anne, an acolyte and a warder between. And so at last, husband and wife, pursuer and prey, came almost within touch of each other. Anne turned upon him a glance of horrified pity, quickly averting her eyes, and saying nothing. But Bedo, with cold sweat upon his forehead, his features convulsed in rage and fear, his black eyes starting from their sockets, writhed in his bonds, and made ineffectual efforts to speak.

At a long, deep-drawn note from the musicians, the Virgins and Elders prostrated themselves for a moment or two and rose again. In those moments, on a level with the kneeling forms, Anne had seen herself confronted by the mysterious triangular opening in the mountain which was rimmed with the blue Death Stone. As they rose, Ishtal and Naquah went forward together—Kapoc, Zilzie, and the other Virgins following—Semaara's agonized gaze shooting back at the condemned High Priestess. Then Anne felt herself being pushed forward by the acolytes guarding her,


  ― 419 ―
and knew that Elias Bedo was being brought after her. She heard the grating on its rock pivot of a ponderous door within the entrance. She heard Keorah's mocking laugh at her shoulder; and turning her head, saw the long narrow face in its frame of red hair with the pointed chin tilted upward, close to her, and the cruel eyes gleaming upon her with exultant hatred. Then a darkness spread before Anne; it was the darkness of the dungeon into which she was being thrust. Her imagination leaped to the picture of a more horrible fate even than that designed for her. Was she to be buried alive in the mountain?

There was a crepitating sound, a fizzle of flints striking fire, and a tiny forest of torches flared, illuminating the dark recesses of a wide vaulted corridor hewn in the rock, the walls of which were frescoed and sculptured. At the further end of the passage, showed a three-cornered glimmer that widened gradually, as, chanting the death hymn, the procession moved on with solemn tread nearer and nearer to the aperture.

The patch of light soon grew into a great triangular mouth of which the lips curled down at the edges. The lower lip curved outward, making a platform that abutted at the height of perhaps a hundred feet upon a sinister-looking gorge below.

Beyond, the landscape was formed of barren hills where gaunt, almost naked eucalyptus trees of an immense age reared their twisted limbs among boulders of basalt. The lines of these hills seemed to intersect each other in the zig-zags of a widening valley—that valley of desolation into which the wanderers had entered from the desert. North-eastwards on the horizon, above the down-sloping spaces, appeared the ends of two monstrous fangs, the open jaws of Kelan Yamina—the old-man Crocodile Mountain of the Blacks. Resting upon the petrified snout, and caught in the jagged teeth, was a lurid cloud, flame-coloured at its base, and raising aloft dusky branching arms menacingly to the darkened


  ― 420 ―
face of the sky. The whole sweep of the heavens seemed to have suddenly lowered. Grim shadows, caused by the straying vapour, flitted among the distant hills. High in mid-heaven, the luminous disc of the sun, paled to a strange whiteness amid its inky setting, hung majestic and remote, as though unwilling to look upon the dreadful scene. A purple mist shrouded the ravine below the Tortoise mouth, but through this, at the bottom of the gorge, could be discerned white patches like streaks of gypsum.

Anne knew the spot. Twice had she been close to it. It was the gorge strewn with bones into which the chamois had leaped on the day when they had entered into the Heart of Aak. And she and Hansen had looked down upon it from the cave Eye-Socket in the Tortoise's Head. It was Gunīda Ulàla of the Blacks' tradition—the Place of Death. Well, if her doom was to be that of the hunted chamois, Anne felt glad to think that she would be killed outright.

The two prisoners were at once brought forward to the edge of the platform, the Virgins and Elders with Keorah and Hotan and others of the chief personages in the Acan community, ranging themselves in a half-circle, while the multitude pressed up the corridor at the back. Looking down shudderingly Anne saw beneath her a space of the shining blue floor of the gorge unencumbered with bones, and guessed that death would be instantaneous at contact with the life-destroying stone. She turned her eyes compassionately on the huddled form of Bedo, bound hand and foot, with the gag covering his mouth, and shivering in the most abject terror, though he had no idea of what was to come.

“It will not hurt, Elias,” she said. “Very soon all will be over. Try to be brave, and make all the delay you can. God may save us yet. But at least, let us forgive each other if we are to die together.”

The beating of the drums drowned her words. Bedo strained to make out the syllables, and his features were contorted with the wild effort to speak, while his eyes


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sought hers in dumb, frenzied appeal. Then at a sign from Keorah the men in charge removed him to the further end of the platform, placing themselves between him and Anne so that she should hold no communication with him.

Her thoughts, however, it must be confessed, were chiefly of Eric. She had hoped till the last that he might come and save her, and now gazed desperately up the sides of the gorge where the precipice shelved towards the great head, in the mouth of which she knew she must be standing. The eye-sockets were above her. Oh! If by some blessed chance he had gone up there and could look down and see the horrible thing impending, and descend—she knew not how—to her deliverance! But there was no glimpse nor sound of him. How could there be in this awful death-trap? She was alone, helpless, at the mercy of her enemies, with not even Kombo nigh to give her aid. Why, on this day of all days, should it happen that the two were away from her? It was as though the insulted gods of Aca had carefully planned her destruction, and were offering her up as a propitiatory victim to the dread Four-Footed Serpent, whose hideous presence seemed to dominate this scene of sacrifice. As though in answer to her thought, there came the sound of a sharp concussion somewhere in the bowels of the earth. It seemed to shake the entire panorama, and cause even the monstrous mouth of the Tortoise to tremble. It was followed by a lengthened rumbling which, echoing among the hills, could be distinctly heard above the noise of the instruments. The red and brown vapour shot up, a denser volume, enveloping the Crocodile in cloud, amid which apparently forked lightning played. A faint sulphurous odour was borne across the valley. The leviathan seemed to be vomiting fire and smoke. It was a sight to make men grow pale. Those in the hinder part of the throng had no opportunity for observing the phenomenon, save for the trembling of the earth, which passed almost unheeded by them in the


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excitement of the moment. But those who stood on the lip of the Tortoise exchanged startled glances. Even Hotan lifted his sullen face, and pointed to the Crocodile warningly. The musicians stopped playing. A murmur was heard of “Ximal yani!” (Death is in the day), and there was a movement among the people to hurry proceedings, and depart.

As Anne stood patiently waiting for the end, she felt the touch of warm lips, and of a face wet with tears, upon her bound hands, and saw Semaara kneeling at her feet. The poor girl poured forth incoherent protestations of affection and loyalty, till Ishtal's stern voice bade her cease, and the other Virgins dragged her back to her place among them. Anne felt all the bitterness of death in that farewell, though her mind was growing confused. The clutch of the acolytes was on her shoulders, and, realising that the time was becoming short, she strove to compose her thoughts and lift them to heaven, but her brain was in a whirl. She seemed to see Eric's face in the black cloud that was sweeping up over the valley. Several times she fancied that she heard his voice in the thunderous rumblings. She could remember only that they had parted in pain and anger, and a passionate regret filled her, not that she was about to be flung down on the Death Stone, and cut off in her bloom from the joys of living, but that Eric would never know how dearly she loved him. And then, amid Semaara's sobs, and the mutterings of the wrathful sky, Anne did indeed hear a sound that sent the blood, well-nigh congealed with terror, rushing anew through her body, and caused her heart to leap wildly in her throat. It was in very truth the voice of Hansen speaking in Mayan, but with accents so strange, so stern and menacing, that it seemed like that of some inspired prophet of old calling down vengeance upon a sinning people. The next moment Anne thought that imagination must be deceiving her, for there was no sign of his presence; yet his voice, thundering above the roar of the elements, issued from the dense cloud


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that now clothed the monolith above her. But with all her senses quickened by this new hope, Anne grasped the meaning of the ringing Mayan words sufficiently to understand that a tremendous denunciation was being hurled at her would-be murderers.

“Hu Aca Tehua! Oh! Virgins of the Flame! Oh! Rebellious Children of Aak! Hear the wrath of the Gods, which I, their Interpreter, proclaim unto you, if ye will slay the Daughter of Dawn, the Chosen of our Lord the Sun.”

And thus, Eric Hansen from his post of observation, whence he had suddenly realised what was about to happen, gathering up all the power of which he was capable, strove to strike awe into the superstitious souls of the Acans, and gain if it might be only a brief respite in which to save the woman he loved. Thus he cursed the people—in the names of the Nine Lords of Night, of the Grim Lords of the One Death, and the Seven Deaths; in the names of Tohil and Huracan, Wielder of Thunderbolts, and Ruler of Winds; in the names of Aak the Intercessor, of Viracocha Zazil, and of KU the Unutterable.

He cursed them in their waking, and in their sleeping; in their marrying and in their begetting; in their living and in their dying; in the gardens where they planted, and in the caves wherein they dwelt; in their City of Refuge, and in the Promise of that Land to which no Deliverer should lead them; in the trackless valley of oblivion, and in Ximokasan, realm of shades. So he cursed the Children of Aak.

And the people were swept back like a mighty wave before an opposing wind. They cowered against the rock, veiling their faces, and for the space of a few seconds fear paralysed them. Then the mocking laugh of Keorah, who cared little for her country's gods, echoed, silvery and clear. She had recognised the ring of apprehension in Hansen's voice, and had her own reasons for desiring that there should be no unnecessary delay. At the tinkle of her laugh, Bedo,


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struggling with his keepers, contrived to turn his fettered body, and bent towards her, frenzied appeal in his staring eyes, and inarticulate jabberings coming from behind the linen cloth over his mouth. Pointing to him, Keorah spoke rapidly to Naquah, who addressed to the unhappy man a few curt phrases. They were wholly unintelligible to Bedo, who believed that Keorah had interceded for him and would once more take him into favour. When at a command from her, the two men drew him round again with his face to the platform, he submitted quietly under the impression that they were about to loose his bonds. But instead of that, they prodded him in the back with the butt end of their javelins, and pushed him to the brink of the death gulf. He gave a gurgling sound that died in his throat as he rolled over, a helpless inert mass. There came a dull thud, and in this manner, without a moment to prepare his soul, Elias Bedo was hurled into eternity.

At the sound of the scuffle, Anne, who had been eagerly gazing upward, glanced down again. She was just in time to see her husband's body disappear over the brink, and shrank back, appalled. It was too late, then! Hope was vain. The moment had come. She shrieked aloud one piercing cry of “Eric! save me!” as she felt her own warders push her forward. Then a great black wall rose suddenly before the ledge of the precipice, blotting out the valley and the mountains. The startled warders relaxed their hold and uttered guttural cries of the vengeance of the gods. Anne, feeling herself free, save for her bound hands, rushed sideways, and cowered in a recess of the cavern. In the confusion that ensued, it was not difficult to hide. Superstitious terror, fairly let loose among the Acans, rendered them almost mad. Faces convulsed with fear showed in the gloom, their starting eyes that saw nothing but the horror that had come upon them, gleaming fiercely in the flare of a few torches. A thrill of dreadful expectancy ran through the crowd; it could be felt


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like the quiver of a tense wire. Out of the darkness that menacing voice spoke again:—

“Behold! Children of Aak! Our Lord the Sun hideth His face from you. He changeth His glorious vesture for the raiment of mourning and woe. Out of the Place of Death will He of a surety gather His own, but upon you, and upon your children, and your city, shall His vengeance fall. Even now destruction cometh. The four-footed Serpent awaketh. Kan upriseth! See! Ye are delivered over unto the Ancient Enemy.”

Hansen's voice trembled with the agony of apprehension that racked him, but his words bore full weight. While he spoke, a terrific flame shot up out of the cloud that enveloped the Crocodile Mountain, and a shower of immense sparks rose and fell, covering the entire heaven. The Tortoise Mountain shook like some great palsied monster. A stench of sulphurous vapour poisoned the air, and through the din of crashing boulders, sounded heart-breaking shrieks, as men and women trampled upon each other in frantic efforts to escape from the death-trap into which they had thronged.

Now above the wailing voices and the roar of elements Anne heard a strange shout—the corroboree whoop of the Moongars, then Kombo's frenzied yell.

“Tulumi Mirrein! Tulumi Mirrein! Debil debil Kelan Yamina! Missa Anne! Missa Anne! Where you sit down? Mine been plenty busy, but mine lookout after you. Mine got-im yarraman. Massa Hansen close-up. Murra—make haste. Ba'al stop! Mine find-im road outside Tortoise. Nalla Yan! Nalla Yan!”

The girl gave a faint cry of relief—she was almost spent—at sound of the familiar tones. She put out her roped hands and touched Kombo's wealed chest. He was close to her—closer than he had known. She felt herself drawn along in his arms, and borne so swiftly that her feet scarcely brushed the ground. Through


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the darkness they sped, the black boy's unerring instinct leading them right—far along a winding passage, in an opposite direction from the Tortoise's Head, the mountain meanwhile seeming to upheave in a manner something like the living Aak when preparing to rise. Anne laughed hysterically, and shook in the black boy's arms like a terrified child. He tried to cheer her as he ran.

“All right, Missa Anne. Būjeri you! Good boy Kombo! Mine no one fellow dam fool. Mine got him fire-stone—you feel, inside shirt. Mine take-im when big Red Mary tumble down. What for that fellow put on frock belonging to you?”

But Anne's sobbing laugh quavered on. Nevertheless her world was getting a little steadier. She could walk now, and the ground felt firmer, though the mountain trembled still, and the thunder of the Tortoise with the groans of the Acans, and the crash of falling stones came to her muffled by the masses of intervening rock. Livid light flashed through the air-holes of the passage. They were in the tunnel which ran round inside the encircling walls of the great garden of Aak, the passage which led to liberty. Echoing footsteps followed them at a distance, but Anne felt no fear. Her heart told her it was Eric's tread, but Kombo would not let her stop. A joyful grin overspread the black boy's countenance. He brought Anne to a standstill at length, where the passage terminated in a wide-mouthed cave, beyond which a stretch of open, level country could be seen. Fresh winds swept it; the sky in front shone blue and clear; and here, close at hand, were tethered the stolen horses, with well-stocked saddle-bags beside them.

Anne's happy eyes ran over, but she could not speak till Hansen, hurrying after them, pale and eager, entered the cave. He went straight to Anne, and seeing she was still in bonds, drew out an Acan knife he carried, and cut the rope that bound her hands asunder. Then he took them both in his.




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Epilogue

ABOUT a year later a good many extracts such as the following might have been culled from the London daily papers:—

“At the Albert Hall last evening, in the presence of Royalty, and of an immense and appreciative audience, Mr Eric Hansen delivered his very remarkable lecture on the prehistoric antiquities of Northern Australia. This was the Danish explorer's first appearance as a public lecturer in England, though in his own country, and in Germany, he has related before several learned societies the tale of his marvellous exploits, and those of his wife the Baroness Marley, whose recent accession to that old title—so long in abeyance—adds a fresh flavour of romance to the exciting story. Indeed, nothing more thrilling has ever been imagined in fiction than the wanderings, the escapes, and the subsequent marriage of this adventurous pair. It is an open secret that Lady Marley and Mr Eric Hansen have been received with favour in high places, and are in fact the lion and lioness of an exceptionally brilliant season. So that, apart from the enormous scientific value of their discoveries, as demonstrating a connection in past ages between the almost extinct civilisations of the ancient Americas and Australia, it was to be fully expected that the young explorer—himself a fascinating personality—should form a centre of attraction for the representatives of fashion, science, and culture, who crowded the Albert Hall last evening.”

There is no need to continue the report verbatim. It may be read by any one who chooses to look through the files of the Daily Recorder, and who may there see the list of celebrities present, including Lady Marley and her mother and sister to whom several descriptive lines were devoted. The personal appearance, style, and characteristics of the lecturer took up a whole paragraph, and following a summary of the chief points of the address, was an enumeration of the few exhibits


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which the wanderers had been able to bring away with them in their hurried flight from the cataclysm that had almost overwhelmed them—the Acan costumes they had worn, an obsidian knife, and a huntsman's javelin; specimens of the picture-writing; an ancient MS., together with his own drawings of certain of the hieroglyphics and carvings which Hansen had kept secreted about his person; and—most important relic of all—the great opal worn by the Acan High Priestess. Deeply was it regretted that no fragment had been preserved of the interesting but terrible Death Stone. There were, however, distant allusions to the likelihood of an exploration fund being started, and the foundation of a syndicate to test the wonderful mineral resources of the Land of the Tortoise—unless, indeed, as was darkly hinted, all traces of it had been destroyed by the volcanic eruption which had closed that chapter of adventure.

Then, to use the somewhat elaborate phraseology of the Daily Recorder, we are further informed that “the highly intelligent and humourous aboriginal, Kombo, whose occasional ejaculations in the native tongue were a source of diversion to the audience, was seated during the lecture on the platform behind his master, and afterwards received a special share of attention.” We are indeed led to imagine that for some time later Kombo was the delight and despair of interviewers!

So much for the newspapers. But for a full and scientific exposition of the results of Eric Hansen's and Anne Marley's explorations, the reader is referred to the work they are about to publish entitled, “With Cannibals and Acans in Unknown Australia.”

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