The Gates of Kamt/Chapter 8
THE IDOL OF THE PEOPLE
When I look back, dispassionately now, upon the awful moment when Hugh Tankerville so suddenly thrust himself into the political turmoil of this strange land, I quite see that he then seized, with characteristic presence of mind and boldness, the only opportunity there was of saving both our lives. Knowing the priests of Ra as I did subsequently, with their almost maniacal hatred and terror of the unknown, their dread of the stranger, whose existence, after five thousand years of isolation, the most learned amongst them only dimly guessed, I feel convinced that, had Hugh then not assumed the daring rôle, which he kept up afterwards with such marvellous histrionic powers, our lives would, at that moment, not have been worth two minutes' purchase. But at the time I was literally staggered by the sublime insolence of his proceeding. To have hoodwinked a dying maniac in the wilderness was one thing, but to think of leading an entire population—of the size of which we had not the faintest conception—by the nose, including the somewhat aggressive feminine ruler thereof and a host of priests, was quite another matter.
Breathlessly I waited when Hugh had formulated his modest request. The high priest, with one trembling hand still holding back the gossamer veil, was staring at the intruder with great, wondering eyes, while in the Queen's face a look of superstitious dread and one of slowly-awakening hope struggled for mastery. The Pharaoh's thin sallow face was inscrutable as a waxen image. He, too, stared at Hugh for a moment, then presently he yawned audibly, as if the advent of any celestial emissary was a matter of complete indifference to him, and turned to the more congenial companionship of his bald-faced chattering apes.
A few minutes—an eternity I thought them then—elapsed in this breathless silence, while to my excited fancy it seemed as if I could hear the beating of my own heart; then Hugh, beckoning to me to follow him, walked down the metal steps and stood at the foot of the sanctuary, framed in by the clouds of the gossamer veil, himself the most impressive thing in this strangely impressive place. His great height, his fine erect carriage, his air of indomitable will and masterfulness, his handsome head, rendered almost spiritual-looking by the long fast and enforced asceticism, seemed all to tower over this land, which was still unknown to him, and over its few awestruck representatives.
He took no heed of the priest, but looked straight at the woman, throwing into his gaze that strange, almost mystic attraction which I myself had so often felt. After a while we heard like a soft sigh, an appealing whisper, a woman's voice repeating:
"Who art thou?"
"The wandering soul of Khefren, come back to Kamt to claim his own again."
"Far out, oh, Queen, beyond the valley of death, where flows the sacred river, by whose shores thy ancestors were born and were great, Khefren left a record of his glory and his might, and to-day, after five thousand times the seasons of the year have been and have gone again, Osiris sent his soul back into my body that I, too, might bring glory and might to the beloved land."
"And this?" she asked, pointing to where I, puzzled, amused and humble, stood waiting to know what my share in this wonderful drama was to be.
"He is my second self," said Hugh, "placed by my side by Ra himself, to love, to counsel and to protect."
The Queen raised herself from her litter, and placing her tiny sandalled feet upon the marble floor she walked slowly but unhesitatingly towards Hugh. She certainly was exceedingly beautiful, tall above the average, with queenly bearing, magnificent eyes, and rich, voluptuous figure: but somehow, as she walked, with the shimmering folds of her black gown clinging tightly round her, she reminded me of the two grim guardians at the gates of Kamt, up there beyond the granite halls, and I did not envy Hugh his luck. Immediately in front of us stood the sacrificial altar, on which the lamb had been offered up to Ra with such astonishing results, and on it was the casket with which the Queen had tried to win over the high priest to her views. She skirted the altar, and coming close to Hugh, she knelt down at his feet, and looking up at him, she said:
"The will of Ra be accomplished upon thy servant;" and she added, turning to the high priest: "The sacrifice thou hast offered for me to the gods has brought me peace and happiness. Command the slaves of the temple to bring forth the oxen, laden with the gifts which I, in my gratitude, do offer thee."
It was impossible to conjecture what the thoughts of the solemn and learned Ur-tasen were during this brief scene. Superstition struggled vigorously with reason beneath that shaven crown of his; greed too, I thought, played an important part in the workings of his conscience. He certainly was more than puzzled as to how we had got into the inner sanctuary, while our fair skins obviously disclaimed any idea that we were natives of his own country. How much he knew of the existence of a great world beyond the wilderness and outside the gates of Kamt, I only found out afterwards; for the moment superstition, after a brief struggle, obtained the upper hand, and after a few seconds of terribly anxious suspense, I saw that the high priest of Ra was prepared, at any rate outwardly, to accept the stranger as the emissary of the gods, which he had proclaimed himself to be. Silently he dropped the gossamer curtain, which closed in with a soft rustle behind us, making a shimmering background for Hugh's tall figure, with the beautiful woman kneeling at his feet.
Then Ur-tasen walked up to the middle of the temple, where on a tall pedestal there stood a gigantic gong: he took the mighty clapper, and with vigorous arm thrice struck the metal, till the sound went echoing in deafening clamour, like continued claps of thunder, through the vastness of the building. And, as he struck, from everywhere doors were opened, and curtains pushed aside, letting in floods of light into the gloom. The shorn priests, in their robes, and those with marks of beasts, returned, followed by the blind priestesses, who chanted in monotonous tones their invocation to the god. And from everywhere crowds of people poured in, men and women, tall and slenderly built, with dark, almond-shaped eyes, and warm olive complexions. They filed in, in hundreds and thousands, some in gorgeous garments, others with but a loin-cloth round their waists, rich and poor, evidently, humble and mighty, but all stood still as they caught sight of Hugh at the foot of the altar of their god, standing erect, while their Queen knelt humbly at his feet.
Then the high priest, who was on the left of the altar surrounded by his priests, began to speak in loud and solemn tones:
"Oh, people of Kamt, ye specially citizens of Men-ne-fer, behold the great and glorious mysteries of Ra! Lo! Osiris has given you the great privilege of being the first to set eyes on him who is beloved of the gods! The Most High has not willed that the great house of Memmoun-ra be erased from the face of the earth, and from the foot of his throne Osiris has sent us his well-beloved. Khefren, who ruled over the land when the sacred river, of which your forefathers spoke, flowed from the north to the south, hath come back from the regions where dwelleth Anubis, to sit upon the throne of Kamt once more. It is the will of Osiris, of Ra himself, transmitted to you by my mouth, that you should honour and obey his beloved as you would himself. People of Kamt, behold your future king!"
The blind priestesses intoned a sort of triumphal hymn. The people had prostrated themselves face downwards and kissed the granite floor. I looked across to where, in the midst of rose-tinted draperies, the sick Pharaoh leaned back against the cushions toying with his two bald-faced apes. Then, once again in this region of dreamland, among these people who had seemed so strangely unreal, I saw that I had before me a bit of genuine human nature. On the pale face of the invalid, as he looked up at Hugh from under his heavy lids, a look of absolutely deadly hatred and of contempt appeared. He had seemingly taken not the slightest notice or interest in the proceedings, since the first moment of astonishment when we arrived upon the scene; he seemed entirely engrossed in the difficult task of slipping a diamond ring over the foot of one of the little apes. The look had been momentary, and no one, I think, saw it but I. The next instant he had again yawned audibly and laughed his wonted sarcastic, dry laugh, as the ugly little beast bit him savagely in the hand.
A complicated and solemn ritual ensued, with much chanting and beating of the sistrum and drum. The people, I could see, looked at Hugh and at my humble self with the same superstitious reverence and awe with which the Queen had accepted our mystical appearance. I wondered what passed in the high priest's mind. The ten oxen, laden with emeralds, pigeons and other treasures, had evidently outwardly silenced his doubts, for, at a given moment, he and all his priests knelt at Hugh's feet and in turn kissed the ground immediately in front of him. Then two priests led a sweet little lion cub by a chain and put it upon the altar, and to my horror I saw the high priest place a large dagger-like knife into Hugh's hand. Poor old Hugh! When he was a boy he could not bear to see me crush a beetle, and obviously, in virtue of his self-assumed role, he was expected to murder that pretty little creature which, playful as a kitten, was running round after its own tail, in the very middle of the sacred altar. I saw he had become very white, and that the sick youth opposite him was viewing him with a malicious and sarcastic look, while the high priest and all the people waited. It was a very palpitating moment, for I was terrified lest Hugh, who must have been very weak for want of food and the strain of the excitement of the past few hours, should faint ignominiously at the very foot of the throne of the god whose beloved he was. What would ensue was pretty evident. The "casting-out" process of the two defrauding evil-doers would be swift and sure.
"Shut your eyes, Girlie, it must be done," I whispered.
And Hugh did shut his eyes and pulled himself together with an almost superhuman effort. I followed him to the altar, and held the little creature for him, ready to guide the knife, so that death might be instantaneous. But though he was as pale as death, Hugh's hand was quite firm; only when the blood flowed freely from the cub's throat on to his hand, he tottered and his lips became livid. Fortunately I was near him, and imperceptibly was able to support him, while everyone was engrossed in listening to the solemn invocation, or rather commands, which the high priest spoke over the accomplished sacrifice.
"People of Kamt, in the name of Osiris I enjoin you to reverence his beloved!
"In the name of Isis, the goddess whose image illumines the nights of Kamt, and makes them beautiful above all, I enjoin you to look upon him as your future lord and king!
"And in the name of Ra, the great and awesome mystery, who buildeth up every throne and maketh every empire, I enjoin you to swear fealty to him, to his children and to his children's children as the ages roll away!"
Then he raised his hands aloft and pronounced a solemn blessing over the assembled multitude.
"May Osiris make your land fruitful and rich!
"May Isis give you grace and wisdom, and to your daughters beauty above all the children of men!
"And at your death may Horns intercede for you before the awesome judgment seat of the forty-two judges!"Whilst the hand of Anubis guides your souls to eternal rest and peace!"
The blind priestesses swung their golden censers towards us, and very soon Hugh stood enveloped in a sweet-scented cloud, through which his tall figure appeared swathed in the white drapery, and dimly lighted from behind by the sanctuary lamps, which threw flickering blue rays round his head, like some ghostly halo.
After a few moments of absolute silence in the vast and crowded building, the Queen rose to her feet and said to Hugh:
"Will my lord honour the dwelling of his servant by his presence?"
And she led him to her litter, where she invited him to sit beside her. I followed and stood close to Hugh, for he had contrived to whisper, as he brushed past me:
"Keep near me, old chap. Don't let them divide us whatever happens!"
The eight black giants had already raised the Pharaoh's litter aloft, and he was being borne away among a crowd of prostrate figures, across the vast aisle of the temple. He took no notice, however, of his adoring subjects; contemptuously he passed them by, and as his litter disappeared through the wide portals beyond, I could still hear his audible yawns and his loud, sharp, sarcastic laugh.
The Queen and Hugh were also hoisted upon the shoulders of the bearers, and I was allowed to walk by his side, while a crowd of gorgeous personages, with wands of office, of attendants and of slaves, closed in behind us and followed in solemn procession.
If the picture of the temple of Ra, with its ante-chamber of black granite, its mysterious vastness, its blind priestesses and solemn priests, had been impressive and majestic, certainly that which lay before us, as we emerged through the open portals, was radiant and bright and beautiful above all: the air was sweet and balmy as an English June, and filled with the penetrating and pungent odour of thousands of mimosa trees and acacia blossoms, and with the sounds of innumerable songs from myriads of bird throats. The sky was cloudless and blue, and from the top of the gigantic marble steps where we stood we could see the city nestling at the foot of the range of frowning hills which divided it from the arid desert waste. The houses were tall and square, with flat roofs supported on massive columns, which glittered with quaint arabesques and devices in tones of exquisite enamel, and between them, forming the streets, broad canals were cut, the waters of which, clear and blue, scintillated as with myriads of gems; on the canals innumerable boats, with tall prow and poop high above the water's edge, in shape like a crescent moon, flitted busily along. Some were laden with piles of orange and scarlet fruit, and mountains of flowers, all of which threw vivid patches of colour on the canvas as they glided swiftly by. The granite of the houses was a soft-toned pink, and over some of the ponderous gateways huge carvings, covered with enamel, towered between clumps of date palms and acacia trees; and far ahead before us, sharply outlined against the dome of the sky, there rose, awesome, mysterious, majestic, the great and wonderful pyramids, the tombs of the kings of Egypt.
Ay! the picture was truly gorgeous, a realisation of all the beauties, the art, the colours of which scientists tell us, in words which, as I recalled them then, seemed hollow and tame. A picture such as dear old Mr. Tankerville alone knew how to paint before our delighted schoolboy eyes, when he spoke of the temples of Khefren, the sphinxes of Kheops, of the mysterious Neit-akrit, and the beautiful land over which a pall of oblivion had lain for so long. Here it was new and fresh, alive as ever, and we two prosy Britishers were here to enjoy its beauties. The crescent-shaped boats, with bright-coloured sails, the naked boatmen, whose skins shone beneath the sun like pieces of yellow marble, their scarlet tight-fitting caps, their metal collars, the life, the movement, the beauty, the colour, intoxicated me and made me feel as if this were, at last, life and beauty indeed.
I looked at Hugh : he had thrown back his head, and, raised on his elbow, was looking out upon the land he had so daringly decided to rule and which he found so fair. As for the Queen, there was in the midst of all this beauty, this gorgeousness, but one sight which to her eyes was worth the seeing, and which gave a singular softness to her fine voluptuous face, and that was the sight of the mystic stranger who had demanded to share her throne with her, the envoy of Osiris and of Ra, the beloved of the gods.
The invalid Pharaoh had been taken onto one of the boats, and was already being rowed along the canal, followed by his gorgeous retinue; the Queen's litter had also stopped at the foot of the temple steps, and Hugh helped her to alight and to step into her own boat. She seemed very unwilling to part from him, and prolonged her "sweet sorrow" with many whisperings, which my imperfect knowledge of the language prevented me from catching. At last she waved us a last adieu, the eight oarsmen dropped their sculls into the water, and with slow and rhythmic movement the royal craft, draped in the Queen's favourite black hangings, and glittering with ornaments of gold, disappeared down the canal, and I at last was, comparatively speaking, alone with Hugh.
A boat was evidently waiting for us, for, prostrate on the ground, eight swarthy-looking men seemed to be waiting for us and to be requesting us to step into it, which we did. From the temple the stream of people had poured out, and stood in dense and picturesque masses on the tall steps, watching from a respectful distance every movement of the beloved of the gods.
"Perhaps you will tell me, old man, how all this is going to end," I remarked as soon as we, in our turn, were being rowed down the canal some half a dozen lengths behind the Queen's boat, and I felt that, at last, I was alone with Hugh.
He turned round to me, and the sunniest of smiles drove all the solemnity from his face.
"I don't know, old chap, and I don't care," he said with a merry laugh. "Tell me if this isn't the most glorious, the most beautiful thing mortal man can conceive?"
"It certainly is the most magnificent picture I have ever set eyes on, Girlie; but tell me what on earth you propose to do."
"Do? old chap!" he said, in his quiet, convinced way. "Why! rule over this gorgeous country, with you as my prime minister."
"I know your wants are modest, old man," I laughed, "but I should like to know how you propose to accomplish this laudable object, and whether the fund of deception from which you drew the wondrous history of your origin is inexhaustible, for you will need plenty of it."
"That was a capital idea of mine? now, wasn't it, old fellow? Another moment and we were bound to be found out, and you can guess as well as I what would have been the summary proceeding by which we should have made our forcible exit from this beautiful land."
"It was a bold stroke, Girlie; worthy of you. But I want to know where it will all lead to."
"To the most glorious discoveries the world of antiquity has ever dreamed of," he replied enthusiastically, his eyes literally glowing with buoyancy of spirit. "Discoveries of which my dear father used to dream, over which he broke his heart when he realised that they would be made by other eyes, other hands than his. I mean to rule over these people, Mark, study them, know them, love them, conquer them; then, having learned all their secrets, go back to England and set the world gaping with the treasures which I shall place before its wondering eyes."
"Go back to England, Girlie," I said with a laugh; "that sounds feasible, doesn't it? You forget that Hammersmith lies some considerable distance from this picturesque Elysium, that the last 'bus to the Broadway has gone, and the tramway service is interrupted for the present. There is only one exit from this fairyland, and that is the one through which malefactors are cast out, without food or water, into the desert wilderness; unless you propose to cross those hills over there in a balloon."
"Propose? I propose nothing at present, old Mark, but to enjoy ourselves to our hearts' content. I as king-regent of this land, and you as my guide, philosopher, etc. After that—presently—a long time ahead, I hope, when you and I are tired of this place, and are ready to let the world know some of these wondrous secrets, then …"
"Yes? then?" I said, for he had paused a while, letting his gaze roam over the distant pyramids far away.
"Oh, well, then, old chap," he said with his sublime self-reliance, "then something will happen, I am sure—something wonderful—stupendous—I don't yet know what. The upheaval of those rocks, perhaps—a general chaos somewhere—to allow me to pass. What does it matter? Is not the present glorious enough that you want already to think of a future?"
How could I help admiring him, with his grand belief in himself and all the world, his enthusiasm, his faith, ready to kick aside a mountain if it happened to stand in his way, his set purpose, which defied alike earth and sky, atmosphere, sun and universe?
"In any case," I said with a smile, "the present for you has one additional charm: you are already provided with a very beautiful bride."
"Yes, she is beautiful," he said quietly, "though I should say she was somewhat unpleasant at times."
"A genuine Cleopatra, Girlie; in looks at any rate."
"And probably in character. Think of it, Mark! Cleopatra alive to-day! The Cleopatra we all read of, all fell in love with, when we were in our teens, actually alive! and the Pharaoh, Kheops! Khefren! Mena himself! and these people still building to-day tombs which rival the pyramids of Ghizeh, and carve sphinxes and mammoth gods beside which the figures at Abu-Simnel are mere students' work!"
"And think of a real Pharaoh, Girlie, who is a real direct enemy."
Hugh frowned a little, then he laughed.
"Yes; he is no friend. He was the only one who did not believe the story of my interesting origin."
"He may be scientifically inclined, or perhaps his illness has made him more sharp-witted than his fellow-men. I wonder what the high priest thought of it all?"
"It is difficult to say. We shall find it out by-and-by; but in any case he has burned his boats, since he solemnly declared at the foot of his own god, to a very large crowd of people, that I was indeed the envoy and beloved of the gods. He cannot go back on that now without proclaiming himself a liar."
"I wonder what his position is in the government of the country?"
"Paramount, I should say. If you remember he practically forbade Queen Maat-kha to wed one of her own subjects, and she was quite prepared to obey, when I, the beloved of Osiris, appeared upon the scene."
His eyes twinkled with the humour of the situation, and he added:
"What do you think Aunt Charlotte would say, old Mark, if she saw you in your new character as a defunct Egyptian come to life again, to gladden the hearts of the great people of Kamt? How do you feel, eh?"
"About the same as you do, Girlie, in your character of usurper of some one else's property. Now you can't get away from the fact that by your assumption of a semi-divine rôle you have helped to defraud a lady of her just rights, and she, to judge from the enthusiastic eulogies of that old rip, the high priest, is young and beautiful."
"And moreover is called Neit-akrit," added Hugh, musingly, "a name which to you and me is associated with the most cherished memories of childhood, with the dear old Chestnuts, the museum, where the shade of the mysterious queen used to wander before our excited fancy, conjured into life by the picturesque story told by my father, and rendered glowing by the fitful light of the great log fire as it flickered on the old-fashioned hearth. Perhaps, after all, old Mark, this is all a dream; you and I are not really here, and presently I for one shall wake up and find myself sitting beside that hearth, trying to decipher by those dying embers the last few lines of a sneering article vilifying the memory of mad Tankerville and his hobby."
We had left the temple of Ra far behind us now, and our boat, as Hugh was talking, turned into a wider canal, on each side of which the houses were more imposing, more luxurious than heretofore. Beneath the peristyles of massive columns, and in the gateways, we caught sight of groups of people, richly dressed, who followed our boat with eager gaze as it glided swiftly by. Evidently the great and mystic news had spread throughout the city, and in the houses of rich and poor alike all were anxious to be among the first to set eyes on the emissary of Ra.
We passed an island which was evidently a market-place, for gigantic piles of pomegranates, melons and dates stood everywhere, together with mountains of golden mimosa, snow-white acacia, spotted orange and flame-coloured lilies and pink aloes, behind which sat enthroned women in gay draperies, and striped kerchiefs floating over their dark hair; while between this wealth of fruit and blossom busy figures flitted to and fro. But at sight of the royal boats pomegranates and dates, aloes and palms were abandoned and an excited throng rushed to the water's edge. Presently one little maiden, more venturesome than her elders, took up a bunch of mimosa, and, with wonderful dexterity, flung it with all her might towards our boat, where it alighted right on Hugh's shoulder, deluging us both with a sweet-scented shower of golden dust. Then a loud shout of delight rent the air, and in a moment we, the boat and the boatmen, nearly came to grief beneath a veritable avalanche of blossoms—lotus flowers and honeysuckle, branches of papyrus and bouquets of iris, penetrating tuberoses and sprays of orange blossom—till we had much to do to keep up a dignified appearance under this persistent and uncomfortable shower.
"No doubt, Girlie, that this is no dream," I said as soon as we had left the enthusiastic market-square behind, "and no doubt that you won't find it difficult to exact veneration and obedience from these excitable people. They look upon you already as one of their deity."
"They fascinate me, Mark. They are so intensely picturesque. But it strikes me there is a terrible vein of cold-blooded cruelty in those that rule them."
"Perfect monsters, I should say, remembering the awful doom they mete out to criminals."
"I am going to try my hand at that amount of civilisation, anyhow. Civilising!" he added, with a laugh. "A strange word indeed to use in connection with people who build such cities and carve such temples. But they have yet one thing to learn."
"Christianity? " I said. "You are bold."
"Christianity?—No, old chap, you and I are not cut out for missionary work. I suppose there is a something wanting in our education for that, something out of tune—perhaps our sense of humour—but we can pave the way for worthier men than we are, whose prosy minds will be above the petty scruples which I confess would stay my hand from destroying these pagan yet gorgeous temples, these false, yet oh! such picturesque deities. Then, presently, when the world, guided by us, will have revelled long enough in the picturesqueness of this great and unknown land, the Western nations can begin their endless fight as to who shall best desecrate it."
There was no time to prolong our chat, for the boat was slowing towards an island which lay in the middle of the stream. On it, amidst shady groves of giant fuchsias and drooping clematis, we saw glistening the gilt and copper roofs of a vast palace, half-hidden in the bower of many-coloured blooms. Gradually, as we approached, we saw its noble proportions, its walls and columns of alabaster-like marble, covered with arabesques and tracings of several tones of gold. It stood close to the water's edge, above a flight of marble steps, up and down which there stalked in stately majesty a number of pink flamingoes. In the branches of acacias and palms many apes chattered shrilly, and beneath the shadows of overhanging leaves we caught sight of a herd of snow-white cows with tall slender horns. A crowd of tiny girls, in turquoise-blue dresses, lined the long flight of steps, and as the Queen's boat was moored below, they all began to sing a sweet-sounding greeting.
"It seems that we are to be the royal lady's guests," I remarked as our boat also drew to the side. "I don't know what you feel, old Girlie, but I, for my part, am ready to collapse if I don't get some food within the next hour."
As soon as we had landed the Queen came up to Hugh and said some pretty words of welcome to him; then, at last, she deigned to take notice of me.
"Wilt thou accompany my lord beneath the humble roof which he will honour with his presence?" she asked. Now I felt that in reply to this invitation it would have been ill-mannered to nod, and again, at that moment, I could not for the life of me recollect a single word of my Egyptian vocabulary. Innate British shyness, when placed face to face with foreign modes of speech, had completely paralysed my tongue and my memory, and all I could do to save appearances was to bow silently and somewhat clumsily before the lady.
"Is thy counsellor dumb?" she asked, turning to Hugh with astonishment.
"He speaks but seldom," he replied with characteristic presence of mind—impudence I called it, "for his words are pearls of wisdom, treasures given to him by Horus, the most learned, and as such most precious."
She seemed satisfied, for she smiled very sweetly at me as we all began to mount the steps to the palace, but she did not address her words directly to me afterwards.
In the inner hall of her palace she parted from us, but not before she had placed herself and her house, her advisers, ministers and slaves unreservedly at Hugh's command. One portion of the palace was evidently to be given over exclusively for us. A gorgeous personage, carrying a wand of office and wearing a belt emblazoned with writing, led us through many rooms, at the threshold of each of which he solemnly knelt down in front of Hugh, and kissing the ground before him, bade him welcome. Not the least attractive among the grand halls we traversed was one in which the marble floor was sunk some six feet below the level and the basin filled with sweet-smelling, slightly-steaming water. It suggested the most delicious vision of a swimming-bath my excited fancy could conceive, and only the sense of my dignity, as chief counsellor of the gods, prevented my giving way to the overwhelming temptation of then and there plunging into that inviting basin. However, the gorgeous official having welcomed us a few times more, and shown us our sleeping-apartments, which led one into the other, where he salaamed again, until I was ready to kick him out of our godly presence, we were at last left in the hands of some dark-complexioned attendants, face to face with the sweet-smelling, steaming water!—and the rest is silence! save for the splash and the groans of content—silence and infinite bliss!
Then, afterwards, arrayed in wonderful garments, which seemed to have dropped down from heaven, and the fit of which was apparently of no consequence, for they consisted mostly of cloaks, we were solemnly led to another earthly paradise. In the centre of one of the halls, where a number of solemn personages welcomed us in various fantastic ways, there stood a low table covered with everything that could delight nostril and palate of two starving creatures whose last meal, partaken of some eight hours ago, had consisted of a piece of raw vulture's leg. Great baskets of fruit and olives, bread and cakes of different kinds, and above all, occupying the centre of the table—a happiness to the eye, a joy to the heart—a gigantic roast goose, with brown, crisp skin, and a delicious odour of aromatic, sweet herb stuffing.
And didn't we enjoy that goose, in spite of the fact that we had to carve it with blunt bronze knives, and to convey the pieces to our mouths with a spoon? I should not like to have to state how much of it there was left by the time we really considered that we had finished with it. The gorgeous personages had fortunately most discreetly retired when we began our repast, and our attendants consisted of the sweetest little army of dark-eyed waitresses I personally have ever known to hand sauces and fruits. They were very picturesquely but, I blush to say, very scantily attired in a collar of leather studded with turquoise, and a deep blue kerchief held round their tiny heads with a circlet of dull metal; but I am bound to confess that this unconventional uniform by no means took away our appetites—even, I thought that it added a very special, piquant flavouring to that roast goose—and when the pretty maidens poured the wine into our cups, out of great stone jars, I thought that never had juice of grape tasted half so sweet.