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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesShe - Chapter XXVIII - OVER THE MOUNTAIN
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She - Chapter XXVIII - OVER THE MOUNTAIN Post by :Laurie Category :Long Stories Author :H. Rider Haggard Date :May 2011 Read :2218

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She - Chapter XXVIII - OVER THE MOUNTAIN

The next thing I recollect is a feeling of the most dreadful
stiffness, and a sort of vague idea passing through my half-awakened
brain that I was a carpet that had just been beaten. I opened my eyes,
and the first thing they fell on was the venerable countenance of our
old friend Billali, who was seated by the side of the improvised bed
upon which I was sleeping, and thoughtfully stroking his long beard.
The sight of him at once brought back to my mind a recollection of all
that we had recently passed through, which was accentuated by the
vision of poor Leo lying opposite to me, his face knocked almost to a
jelly, and his beautiful crowd of curls turned from yellow to
white,(*) and I shut my eyes again and groaned.

(*) Curiously enough, Leo's hair has lately been to some extent
regaining its colour--that is to say, it is now a yellowish grey,
and I am not without hopes that it will in time come quite
right.--L. H. H.

"Thou hast slept long, my Baboon," said old Billali.

"How long, my father?" I asked.

"A round of the sun and a round of the moon, a day and a night hast
thou slept, and the Lion also. See, he sleepeth yet."

"Blessed is sleep," I answered, "for it swallows up recollection."

"Tell me," he said, "what hath befallen you, and what is this strange
story of the death of Her who dieth not. Bethink thee, my son: if this
be true, then is thy danger and the danger of the Lion very great--
nay, almost is the pot red wherewith ye shall be potted, and the
stomachs of those who shall eat ye are already hungry for the feast.
Knowest thou not that these Amahagger, my children, these dwellers in
the caves, hate ye? They hate ye as strangers, they hate ye more
because of their brethren whom /She/ put to the torment for your sake.
Assuredly, if once they learn that there is naught to fear from Hiya,
from the terrible One-who-must-be-obeyed, they will slay ye by the
pot. But let me hear thy tale, my poor Baboon."

This adjured, I set to work and told him--not everything, indeed, for
I did not think it desirable to do so, but sufficient for my purpose,
which was to make him understand that /She/ was really no more, having
fallen into some fire, and, as I put it--for the real thing would have
been incomprehensible to him--been burnt up. I also told him some of
the horrors we had undergone in effecting our escape, and these
produced a great impression on him. But I clearly saw that he did not
believe in the report of Ayesha's death. He believed indeed that we
thought that she was dead, but his explanation was that it had suited
her to disappear for a while. Once, he said, in his father's time, she
had done so for twelve years, and there was a tradition in the country
that many centuries back no one had seen her for a whole generation,
when she suddenly reappeared, and destroyed a woman who had assumed
the position of Queen. I said nothing to this, but only shook my head
sadly. Alas! I knew too well that Ayesha would appear no more, or at
any rate that Billali would never see her again.

"And now," concluded Billali, "what wouldst thou do, my Baboon?"

"Nay," I said, "I know not, my father. Can we not escape from this
country?"

He shook his head.

"It is very difficult. By Kôr ye cannot pass, for ye would be seen,
and as soon as those fierce ones found that ye were alone, well," and
he smiled significantly, and made a movement as though he were placing
a hat on his head. "But there is a way over the cliff whereof I once
spake to thee, where they drive the cattle out to pasture. Then beyond
the pastures are three days' journey through the marshes, and after
that I know not, but I have heard that seven days' journey from thence
is a mighty river, which floweth to the black water. If ye could come
thither, perchance ye might escape, but how can ye come thither?"

"Billali," I said, "once, thou knowest, I did save thy life. Now pay
back the debt, my father, and save me mine and my friend's, the
Lion's. It shall be a pleasant thing for thee to think of when thine
hour comes, and something to set in the scale against the evil doing
of thy days, if perchance thou hast done any evil. Also, if thou be
right, and if /She/ doth but hide herself, surely when she comes again
she shall reward thee."

"My son the Baboon," answered the old man, "think not that I have an
ungrateful heart. Well do I remember how thou didst rescue me when
those dogs stood by to see me drown. Measure for measure will I give
thee, and if thou canst be saved, surely I will save thee. Listen: by
dawn to-morrow be prepared, for litters shall be here to bear ye away
across the mountains, and through the marshes beyond. This will I do,
saying that it is the word of /She/ that it be done, and he who
obeyeth not the word of /She/ food is he for the hyænas. Then when ye
have crossed the marshes, ye must strike with your own hands, so that
perchance, if good fortune go with you, ye may live to come to that
black water whereof ye told me. And now, see, the Lion wakes, and ye
must eat the food I have made ready for you."

Leo's condition when once he was fairly aroused proved not to be so
bad as might have been expected from his appearance, and we both of us
managed to eat a hearty meal, which indeed we needed sadly enough.
After this we limped down to the spring and bathed, and then came back
and slept again till evening, when we once more ate enough for five.
Billali was away all that day, no doubt making arrangements about
litters and bearers, for we were awakened in the middle of the night
by the arrival of a considerable number of men in the little camp.

At dawn the old man himself appeared, and told us that he had by using
/She's/ dreadful name, though with some difficulty, succeeded in
getting the necessary men and two guides to conduct us across the
swamps, and that he urged us to start at once, at the same time
announcing his intention of accompanying us so as to protect us
against treachery. I was much touched by this act of kindness on the
part of that wily old barbarian towards two utterly defenceless
strangers. A three--or in his case, for he would have to return, six--
days' journey through those deadly swamps was no light undertaking for
a man of his age, but he consented to do it cheerfully in order to
promote our safety. It shows that even among those dreadful Amahagger
--who are certainly with their gloom and their devilish and ferocious
rites by far the most terrible savages that I ever heard of--there are
people with kindly hearts. Of course, self-interest may have had
something to do with it. He may have thought that /She/ would suddenly
reappear and demand an account of us at his hands, but still, allowing
for all deductions, it was a great deal more than we could expect
under the circumstances, and I can only say that I shall for as long
as I live cherish a most affectionate remembrance of my nominal
parent, old Billali.

Accordingly, after swallowing some food, we started in the litters,
feeling, so far as our bodies went, wonderfully like our old selves
after our long rest and sleep. I must leave the condition of our minds
to the imagination.

Then came a terrible pull up the cliff. Sometimes the ascent was more
natural, more often it was a zig-zag roadway cut, no doubt, in the
first instance by the old inhabitants of Kôr. The Amahagger say they
drive their spare cattle over it once a year to pasture outside; all I
know is that those cattle must be uncommonly active on their feet. Of
course the litters were useless here, so we had to walk.

By midday, however, we reached the great flat top of that mighty wall
of rock, and grand enough the view was from it, with the plain of Kôr,
in the centre of which we could clearly make out the pillared ruins of
the Temple of Truth to the one side, and the boundless and melancholy
marsh on the other. This wall of rock, which had no doubt once formed
the lip of the crater, was about a mile and a half thick, and still
covered with clinker. Nothing grew there, and the only thing to
relieve our eyes were occasional pools of rain-water (for rain had
lately fallen) wherever there was a little hollow. Over the flat crest
of this mighty rampart we went, and then came the descent, which, if
not so difficult a matter as the getting up, was still sufficiently
break-neck, and took us till sunset. That night, however, we camped in
safety upon the mighty slopes that rolled away to the marsh beneath.

On the following morning, about eleven o'clock, began our dreary
journey across those awful seas of swamps which I have already
described.

For three whole days, through stench and mire, and the all-prevailing
flavour of fear, did our bearers struggle along, till at length we
came to open rolling ground quite uncultivated, and mostly treeless,
but covered with game of all sorts, which lies beyond that most
desolate, and without guides utterly impracticable, district. And here
on the following morning we bade farewell, not without some regret, to
old Billali, who stroked his white beard and solemnly blessed us.

"Farewell, my son the Baboon," he said, "and farewell to thee too, oh
Lion. I can do no more to help you. But if ever ye come to your
country, be advised, and venture no more into lands that ye know not,
lest ye come back no more, but leave your white bones to mark the
limit of your journeyings. Farewell once more; often shall I think of
you, nor wilt thou forget me, my Baboon, for though thy face is ugly
thy heart is true." And then he turned and went, and with him went the
tall and sullen-looking bearers, and that was the last that we saw of
the Amahagger. We watched them winding away with the empty litters
like a procession bearing dead men from a battle, till the mists from
the marsh gathered round them and hid them, and then, left utterly
desolate in the vast wilderness, we turned and gazed round us and at
each other.

Three weeks or so before four men had entered the marshes of Kôr, and
now two of us were dead, and the other two had gone through adventures
and experiences so strange and terrible that death himself hath not a
more fearful countenance. Three weeks--and only three weeks! Truly
time should be measured by events, and not by the lapse of hours. It
seemed like thirty years since we saw the last of our whale-boat.

"We must strike out for the Zambesi, Leo," I said, "but God knows if
we shall ever get there."

Leo nodded. He had become very silent of late, and we started with
nothing but the clothes we stood in, a compass, our revolvers and
express rifles, and about two hundred rounds of ammunition, and so
ended the history of our visit to the ancient ruins of mighty and
imperial Kôr.

As for the adventures that subsequently befell us, strange and varied
as they were, I have, after deliberation, determined not to record
them here. In these pages I have only tried to give a short and clear
account of an occurrence which I believe to be unprecedented, and this
I have done, not with a view to immediate publication, but merely to
put on paper while they are yet fresh in our memories the details of
our journey and its result, which will, I believe, prove interesting
to the world if ever we determine to make them public. This, as at
present advised, we do not intend should be done during our joint
lives.

For the rest, it is of no public interest, resembling as it does the
experience of more than one Central African traveller. Suffice it to
say, that we did, after incredible hardships and privations, reach the
Zambesi, which proved to be about a hundred and seventy miles south of
where Billali left us. There we were for six months imprisoned by a
savage tribe, who believed us to be supernatural beings, chiefly on
account of Leo's youthful face and snow-white hair. From these people
we ultimately escaped, and, crossing the Zambesi, wandered off
southwards, where, when on the point of starvation, we were
sufficiently fortunate to fall in with a half-cast Portuguese
elephant-hunter who had followed a troop of elephants farther inland
than he had ever been before. This man treated us most hospitably, and
ultimately through his assistance we, after innumerable sufferings and
adventures, reached Delagoa Bay, more than eighteen months from the
time when we emerged from the marshes of Kôr, and the very next day
managed to catch one of the steamboats that run round the Cape to
England. Our journey home was a prosperous one, and we set our foot on
the quay at Southampton exactly two years from the date of our
departure upon our wild and seemingly ridiculous quest, and I now
write these last words with Leo leaning over my shoulder in my old
room in my college, the very same into which some two-and-twenty years
ago my poor friend Vincey came stumbling on the memorable night of his
death, bearing the iron chest with him.

 

And that is the end of this history so far as it concerns science and
the outside world. What its end will be as regards Leo and myself is
more than I can guess at. But we feel that is not reached yet. A story
that began more than two thousand years ago may stretch a long way
into the dim and distant future.

Is Leo really a reincarnation of the ancient Kallikrates of whom the
inscription tells? Or was Ayesha deceived by some strange hereditary
resemblance? The reader must form his own opinion on this as on many
other matters. I have mine, which is that she made no such mistake.

Often I sit alone at night, staring with the eyes of the mind into the
blackness of unborn time, and wondering in what shape and form the
great drama will be finally developed, and where the scene of its next
act will be laid. And when that /final/ development ultimately occurs,
as I have no doubt it must and will occur, in obedience to a fate that
never swerves and a purpose that cannot be altered, what will be the
part played therein by that beautiful Egyptian Amenartas, the Princess
of the royal race of the Pharaohs, for the love of whom the Priest
Kallikrates broke his vows to Isis, and, pursued by the inexorable
vengeance of the outraged Goddess, fled down the coast of Libya to
meet his doom at Kôr?


_________
The End
H. Rider Haggard's novel: she

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