Had I the slightest qualification for the task, I, Allan
Quatermain, would like to write an essay on Temptation.
This, of course, comes to all, in one shape or another, or at
any rate to most, for there are some people so colourless, so
invertebrate that they cannot be tempted—or perhaps the subtle
powers which surround and direct, or misdirect, us do not think
them worth an effort. These cling to any conditions, moral or
material, in which they may find themselves, like limpets to a
rock; or perhaps float along the stream of circumstance like
jellyfish, making no effort to find a path for themselves in either
case, and therefore die as they have lived—quite good because
nothing has ever moved them to be otherwise—the objects of the
approbation of the world, and, let us hope, of Heaven also.
The majority are not so fortunate; something is always egging
their living personalities along this or that road of mischief.
Materialists will explain to us that this something is but the
passions inherited from a thousand generations of unknown
progenitors who, departing, left the curse of their blood behind
them. I, who am but a simple old fellow, take another view, which,
at any rate, is hallowed by many centuries of human opinion. Yes,
in this matter, as in sundry others, I put aside all the modern
talk and theories and am plumb for the good, old-fashioned, and
most efficient Devil as the author of our woes. No one else could
suit the lure so exactly to the appetite as that old fisherman in
the waters of the human soul, who knows so well how to bait his
hooks and change his flies so that they may be attractive not only
to all fish but to every mood of each of them.
Well, without going further with the argument, rightly or
wrongly, that is my opinion.
Thus, to take a very minor matter—for if the reader thinks that
these words are the prelude to telling a tale of murder or other
great sins he is mistaken—I believe that it was Satan himself, or,
at any rate, one of his agents, who caused my late friend, Lady
Ragnall, to bequeath to me the casket of the magical herb called
Taduki, in connection with which already we had shared
certain remarkable adventures.
Now, it may be argued that to make use of this Taduki
and on its wings to be transported, in fact or in imagination, to
some far-away state in which one appears for a while to live and
move and have one's being is no crime, however rash the proceeding.
Nor is it, since, if we can find new roads to knowledge, or even to
interesting imaginings, why should we not take them? But to break
one's word is a crime, and because of the temptation of
this stuff, which, I confess, for me has more allurement than
anything else on earth, at any rate, in these latter days, I have
broken my word.
For, after a certain experience at Ragnall Castle, did I not
swear to myself and before Heaven that no power in the world, not
even that of Lady Ragnall herself, would induce me again to inhale
those time- dissolving fumes and look upon that which, perhaps
designedly, is hidden from the eyes of man; namely, revealments of
his buried past, or mayhap of his yet unacted future? What do I
say? This business is one of dreams—no more; though I think that
those dreams are best left unexplored, because they suggest too
much and yet leave the soul unsatisfied. Better the ignorance in
which we are doomed to wander than these liftings of corners of the
veil; than these revelations which excite delirious hopes that,
after all, may be but marsh lights which, when they vanish, will
leave us in completer blackness.
Now I will get on to the story of my fall; of how it came about
and the revelations to which it led, and which I found interesting
enough, whatever others may think of them.
Elsewhere I have told how, years after our joint adventure into
Central Africa, once again I came into touch with the widowed Lady
Ragnall and allowed myself to be persuaded in her company to inhale
the charmed smoke of the Taduki herb, with which she
became familiar when, in a state of mental collapse, she fell into
the hands of the priests of some strange African faith. Under its
influence, the curtain of time seemed to swing aside, and she and I
saw ourselves playing great parts as inhabitants of Egypt in the
days of the Persian domination. In that life, if the tale were
true, we had been very intimate, but before this intimacy
culminated in actual union, the curtain fell and we reawoke to our
Next morning, I went away, much confused and very frightened,
nor did I ever again set eyes upon the stately and beautiful Lady
Ragnall. After all that we had learned or dreamed, I felt that
further meetings would be awkward. Also, to tell the truth, I did
not like the story of the curse which was said to hang over the man
who had to do with her who, in it, was named Amada and filled the
role of priestess of Isis, the goddess whom she betrayed, in
whatever generation might be born, or perchance reborn. Of course,
such ancient maledictions are the merest nonsense. And yet—well,
the truth is that in our separate fashions we are all
superstitious, and really the fate of Lord Ragnall, who had married
this lady, was most unpleasant and suggestive; too much so to
encourage anyone else to follow his example. Further, I had come to
a time of life when I did not wish for more adventures in which
women were mixed up, even in dreams; since such, I have observed,
however entrancing at the moment, lead to trouble as surely as
sparks fly upward.
Thus it came about that when Lady Ragnall wrote asking me to
stay with her—as she did on two subsequent occasions—I put her off
with excuses which were perfectly valid, although at this moment I
forget what they may have been, it being my firm intention never
again to place myself within reach of her beauteous and commanding
personality. You see, in that dream we dreamed together, the story
came to an end just as I was about to marry the Princess and High
Priestess Amada, who was, or appeared to be, Lady Ragnall's
prototype. Indeed, on regaining her senses, she, whose vision
lasted a second or two longer than did mine, let it slip that we
actually had been married in some primitive Egyptian fashion, and I
could see clearly enough, although I knew it to be nonsense, she
believed that this event had happened.
Now, even when the scene was laid a long while ago, it is
extremely awkward to foregather with an imperial woman who is
firmly convinced that she was once your wife, so awkward that, in
the end, it might have proved necessary to resume what she
considered to be an established, if an interrupted,
This, for sundry reasons, I was determined not to do, not the
least of them being that certainly I should have been set down as a
fortune hunter; also, as I have said, there was always the curse in
the background, which I hoped fondly would recognize my self-denial
and not operate in my direction. And yet—although to think of it
makes me feel cold down the back—if perchance that dream were true,
already it was incurred. Already I, Allan, the Shabaka of former
days, am doomed "to die by violence far from my own country where
first I had looked upon the sun," as its terms, recorded in the
papyrus from Kandah-land, of which I read a translation at the
Castle, provide, with antique directness and simplicity, as the lot
of all and sundry who have ever ventured to lay hands or lips upon
the person of Amada, High Priestess of Isis.
To return. In reply to my second letter of excuse, I received a
quaint little epistle from the lady to whom it had been written. It
Shabaka, why do you seek to escape the net of Fate when already
you are enveloped in its meshes? You think that never more, seated
side by side, shall we see the blue Taduki smoke rise up
toward us, or feel its subtle strength waft our souls afar.
Perhaps this is so, though assuredly even here you are doomed to
acknowledge its dominion, how often I do not know, and will you
find it less to be feared alone than in my company? Moreover, from
that company you never can escape, since it has been with you from
time immemorial, if not continuously, and will be with you when
there is no more sun.
Yet, as it is your wish, until we meet again in the past or in
the future, farewell, O Shabaka.
When I had finished reading this very peculiar note, of which
the envelope, by the way, was sealed with the ancient Egyptian ring
that my late friend Lord Ragnall had found and given to his wife
just before his terrible fate overtook him, literally I felt faint
and lay back in my chair to recover myself. Really, she was an
ominous and, in her way, rather creepy woman, one unlike all
others, one who seemed to be in touch with that which, doubtless by
intention, is hidden from mankind. Now it came back to me that,
when first I met her as the Hon. Luna Holmes and was so interested
in her at the Ragnall Castle dinner party before her marriage, I
was impressed with this ominous quality which seemed to flow from
her, as, had he been more sensitive, her future husband would have
During our subsequent association in Africa, too, it had always
been with me, and, of course, it was in full force through our
joint experience with the Taduki herb. Now again it flowed
up in me like an unsealed fountain and drowned my judgment, washing
the ordered reason on which I prided myself from its foundations.
Also, in this confusion, another truth emerged, namely, that from
the first moment I set my eyes on her I had always been attracted
by and, in a kind of hidden way, "in love" with her. It was not a
violent and passionate sort of affection, but then the same man can
love sundry women in different ways, all of which are real
Yet I knew that it was permanent. For a little while her
phantasies got a hold upon me, and I began to believe that we
always had been and always should be mixed up together; also that,
in some undeclared fashion, I was under deep obligations to her,
that she had stood my friend, not once but often, and so would
stand while our personalities continued to endure. True, she had
been Ragnall's wife, yet—and this through no personal vanity, since
Heaven knows that this vice is lacking in me—of a sudden I became
convinced that it was to me that her nature really turned and not
to Ragnall. I did not seek it, I did not even hope that it was so,
for surely she was his possession, not mine, and I wanted to rob no
man. Yet in that moment there the fact loomed before me large and
solid as a mountain, a calm, immovable mountain, a snow-capped
volcano, apparently extinct, that still, one day, might break into
flames and overwhelm me, taking me as its possession upon wings of
Such were my reflections during the moments of weakness which
followed the shock I had received from that remarkable letter,
outwardly and visibly so final, yet inwardly and spiritually
opening up vast avenues of unexpected possibilities. Presently,
they passed with the faintness and I was my own man again. Whatever
she might or might not be, so far as I was concerned, there was an
end to my active association with Lady Ragnall—at any rate, until I
was certain that she was rid of her store of Taduki. As
she admitted in her curiously worded communication, that book was
closed for our lives, and any speculations concerning the past and
the future, when we were not in being, remained so futile that
about them it was unnecessary to trouble.
A little while later, I read in a newspaper, under the head of
"Fashionable Intelligence," that Lady Ragnall had left England to
spend the winter in Egypt, and, knowing all her associations with
that country, I marvelled at her courage. What had taken her there,
I wondered; then shrugged my shoulders and let the matter be.
Six weeks or so afterward, I was out shooting driven partridges.
A covey came over me, of which I got two. As I thrust new
cartridges into my gun, I saw approaching me, flying very fast and
high, a couple of wild duck that I suppose had been disturbed from
some pond by the distant beaters. I closed the gun and lifted it,
being particularly anxious to bag those wild duck, which were
somewhat rare in the neighbourhood, especially at that season of
the year. At that moment I was smitten by a most extraordinary
series of impressions that had to do with Egypt and Lady Ragnall,
the last things I had been thinking of a minute before.
I seemed to see a desert and ruins that I knew to be those of a
temple, and Lady Ragnall herself seated among them, holding up a
sunshade which suddenly fell onto the sand. This illusion passed,
to be followed by another; namely, that she was with me, talking to
me very earnestly but in a joyful, vigorous voice, only in a
language of which I could not understand one word. Yet the burden
of her speech seemed to reach my mind; it was to the effect that
now we should always be near to each other, as we had been in the
Then all was gone, nor can those impressions have endured for
long, seeing that, when they began, I was pointing my gun at the
wild duck, and they left me before the dead birds touched the
ground for, automatically, I went on with the business at hand, nor
did my accustomed skill desert me.
Setting down the fancy as once of those queer mental pranks that
cannot be explained—unless, in this instance, it was due to
something I had eaten at lunch—I thought no more about it for two
whole days. Then I thought a great deal, for, on opening my
newspaper, which reached the Grange about three o'clock, that is
exactly forty-eight hours after my telepathic experience, or
whatever it may have been, the first thing that my eye fell on
among the foreign telegrams was the following from Cairo:
A message has been received here conveying the sad intelligence
of the sudden death yesterday of Lady Ragnall, the widow of the
late Lord Ragnall, who, as a famous Egyptologist, was very well
known in Egypt, where he came to a tragic end some years ago. Lady
Ragnall, who was noted for her wealth and beauty, was visiting the
ruins of a temple of Isis which stands a little way back from the
east bank of the Nile between Luxor and Assouan, where her husband
met with his fatal accident while engaged in its excavation.
Indeed, she was seated by the monument erected on the sand which
entombed him so deeply that his body was never recovered, when
suddenly she sank back and expired. The English medical officer
from Luxor certified heart disease as the cause of death and she
has been buried where she died, this ground having been consecrated
at the time of the decease of Lord Ragnall.
If I had felt queer when I received Lady Ragnall's mystical
letter before she left for Egypt, now I felt much queerer. Then I
was perplexed; now I was terrified, and, what is more, greatly
moved. Again that conviction came to me that, deep down in my
being, I was attached, unchangeably attached, to this strange and
charming woman, and that with hers my destiny was intertwined. If
this were not so, indeed, why had her passing become known to me,
of all people and in so incongruous a fashion, for, although the
hour of her death was not stated, I had little doubt that it
occurred at the very moment when I shot the wild duck.
Now I wished that I had not refused to visit her, and even that
I had given her some proof of my regard by asking her to marry me,
notwithstanding her great wealth, the fact that I had been her
husband's friend, and all the rest. No doubt, she would have
refused; still, the quiet devotion of even so humble an individual
as myself might have pleased her. However, regrets came too late;
she was dead and all between us at an end.
A few weeks later, I discovered that here I was mistaken, for,
after a preliminary telegram inquiring whether I was in residence
at the Grange, which I answered on a prepaid form to the address of
some unknown lawyers in London, there arrived at lunch time on the
following day a gentleman of the name of Mellis, evidently one of
the firm of Mellis & Mellis who had sent me the telegram. He
was shown in and, without waiting for luncheon, said:
"I believe I am addressing Mr. Allan Quatermain."
I bowed and he went on:
"I come upon a strange errand, Mr. Quatermain, so strange that I
doubt whether, in the course of your life, which as I have heard
has been full of adventure, you have ever known its equal. You
were, I believe, well acquainted with our late client, Lord
Ragnall, also with his wife, Lady Ragnall, formerly the Hon. Luna
Holmes, of whose recent sad death you may perhaps have heard."
I said that this was so, and the lawyer went on in his dry
precise way, watching my face as he spoke:
"It would appear, Mr. Quatermain, that Lady Ragnall must have
been much attached to you, since, a while ago, after a visit that
you paid to her at Ragnall Castle, she came to our office and made
a will, a thing I may add that we had never been able to persuade
her to do. Under that will—as you will see presently, for I have
brought a copy with me—she left everything she possessed, that is,
all the great Ragnall property and accumulated personalty of which
she had the power to dispose at her unfettered discretion,
"Great heavens!" I exclaimed, and sank back into a chair.
"As I do not sail under false colours," went on Mr. Mellis with
a dry smile, "I may as well tell you at once that both I and my
partner protested vehemently against the execution of such a will,
for reasons that seemed good to us but which I need not set out.
She remained firm as a rock.
"'You think I am mad,' she said. 'Foreseeing this, I have taken
the precaution of visiting two eminent London specialists to whom I
told all my history, including that of the mental obscuration from
which I suffered for a while as the result of shock. Each of these
examined me carefully and subjected me to tests with the result—but
here are their certificates and you can judge for yourselves.'
"I, or rather we, read the certificates, which, of course, we
have preserved. To be brief, they stated that her ladyship was of
absolutely sound and normal mind, although certain of her theories
might be thought unusual, but not more so than those of thousands
of others, some of them eminent in various walks of life. In face
of these documents, which were entirely endorsed by our own
observation, there was but one thing to do, namely, to prepare the
will in accordance with our client's clear and definite
instructions. While we were writing these down, she said
"'Something has occurred to me. I shall never change my mind,
nor shall I remarry, but, from my knowledge of Mr. Quatermain, I
think it possible and even probable that he will refuse this great
inheritance' —a statement, sir, which struck us as so incredible
that we made no comment.
"'In that event,' she continued, 'I wish all the real property
to be realized and together with the personalty, except certain
legacies, to be divided among the societies, institutions, and
charities that are written down upon this list,' and she handed us
a document, 'unless indeed Mr. Quatermain, whom, should he survive
me, I leave my sole executor, should disapprove of any of
"Do you now understand the situation, sir?"
"Quite," I answered. "That is, no doubt I shall when I have read
the will. Meanwhile, I suggest that you must be hungry after your
journey and that we should have lunch."
So we lunched, talking of indifferent matters while the servants
were in the room, and afterward returned to my study, where the
documents were read and expounded to me by Mr. Mellis. To cut the
story short, it seemed that my inheritance was enormous; I am
afraid to state from memory at what figure it was provisionally
valued. Subject to certain reservations, such as an injection that
no part of the total, either in land or in money, was to be
alienated in favour of Mr. Atterby- Smith, a relative of Lord
Ragnall whom the testatrix held in great dislike, or any member of
his family, and that, for part of the year, I must inhabit Ragnall
Castle, which might not be sold during my lifetime, or even let.
All this vast fortune was left at my absolute disposal, both during
my life and after my death. Failure to observe these trusts might,
it seemed, invalidate the will. In the event of my renouncing the
inheritance, however, Ragnall Castle, with a suitable endowment,
was to become a county hospital, and the rest of the estate was to
be divided in accordance with the list that I have mentioned—a very
admirable list, but one which excluded any society or institution
of a sectarian nature.
"Now I think that I have explained everything," said Mr. Mellis
at length, "except a minor and rather peculiar provision as to your
acceptance of certain relics, particularly described by the
testatrix in a sealed letter which I will hand to you presently. So
it only remains for me, Mr. Quatermain, to ask you to sign a
document which I have already prepared and brought with me, to
enable me to deal with these great matters on your behalf. That
is," he added with a bow, "should you propose to continue that
confidence in our firm with which the family of the late Lord
Ragnall has honoured it for several generations."
While he was hunting in his bag for this paper, explaining, as
he did so, that I must be prepared to face an action brought by Mr.
Atterby- Smith, who had been raging round his office "like a wild
animal," suddenly I made up my mind.
"Don't bother about that paper, Mr. Mellis," I said, "because
Lady Ragnall was right in her supposition. I have no intention of
accepting this inheritance. The estate must go for division to the
charities, etcetera, set down in her list."
The lawyer heard, and stared at me.
"In my life," he gasped at last, "I have known mad testators and
mad heirs, but never before have I come across a case where both
the testator and the heir were mad. Perhaps, sir, you will be
pleased to explain."
"With pleasure," I said when I had finished lighting my pipe.
"In the first place, I am already what is called a rich man and I
do not want to be bothered with more money and property."
"But, Mr. Quatermain," he interrupted, "you have a son who, with
such wealth behind him, might rise to anything—yes, anything."
(This was true, for, at that time, my boy Harry was living.)
"Yes, but, as it chances, Mr. Mellis, I have ideas upon this
matter which you may think peculiar. I do not wish my son to begin
life with enormous resources, or even the prospect of them. I wish
him to fight his own way in the world. He is going to be a doctor.
When he has succeeded in his profession and learned what it means
to earn one's own bread, it will be time for him to come into other
people's money. Already I have explained this to him with reference
to my own, and being a sensible youth, he agrees with me."
"I daresay," groaned the lawyer. "Such—well, failings—as yours,
are often hereditary."
"Another thing is," I went on, "that I do not wish to be
bothered by a lawsuit with Mr. Atterby-Smith. Further, I cannot
bind myself to live half the year in Ragnall Castle in a kind of
ducal state. Very likely, before all is done, I might want to
return to Africa, which then I could not do. In short, it comes to
this: I accept the executorship and my out-of-pocket expenses, and
shall ask your firm to act for me in the matter. The fortune I
positively and finally refuse, as you observe Lady Ragnall thought
it probable I should do."
Mr. Mellis rose and looked at the clock. "If you will allow me
to order the dogcart," he said, "I think there is just time for me
to catch the afternoon train up to town. Meanwhile, I propose to
leave you a copy of the will and of the other documents to study at
your leisure, including the sealed letter which you have not yet
read. Perhaps after taking independent advice, from your own
solicitors and friends, you will write me your views in a few days'
time. Until then, this conversation of ours goes for nothing. I
consider it entirely preliminary and without prejudice."
The dogcart came round—indeed, it was already waiting—and thus
this remarkable interview ended. From the doorstep I watched the
departure of Mr. Mellis and saw him turn, look at me, and shake his
head solemnly. Evidently he thought that the right place for me was
a lunatic asylum.
"Thank goodness, that's done with!" I said to myself. "Now I'll
order a trap and go and tell Curtis and Good about all the
business. No, I won't; they'll only think me mad as that lawyer
does, and argue with me. I'll take a walk and mark those oaks that
have to come down next spring. But first I had better put away
Thus I reflected and began to collect the documents. Lifting the
copy of the will, I saw lying beneath it the sealed letter of which
Mr. Mellis had spoken, addressed to me and marked
To be delivered after my death, or in the event of Mr.
Quatermain pre-deceasing me, to be burned unread.
The sight of that well-known writing and the thought that she
who penned it was now departed from the world and that nevermore
would my eyes behold her, moved me. I laid the letter down, then
took it up again, broke the seal, seated myself, and read as
My dear friend, my dearest friend, for so I may call you,
knowing as I do that if ever you see these words we shall no longer
be fellow citizens of the world. They are true words, because
between you and me there is a closer tie than you imagine, at any
rate, at present. You thought our Egyptian vision to be a dream—no
more; I believe it, on the other hand, at least in essentials, to
be a record of facts that have happened in bygone ages. Moreover, I
will tell you now that my revelation went further than your own.
Shabaka and Amada were married and I saw them as man and wife
leading a host southward to found a new empire somewhere in Central
Africa, of which perchance the Kendah tribe were the last remnant.
Then the darkness fell.
Moreover, I am certain that this was not the first time that we
had been associated upon the earth, as I am almost certain that it
will not be the last. This mystery I cannot understand or explain,
yet it is so. In some of our manifold existences we have been bound
together by the bonds of destiny, as in some we may have been bound
to others, and so, I suppose, it will continue to happen, perhaps
for ever and ever.
Now, as I know that you hate long letters, I will tell you why I
write. I am going to make a will, leaving you practically
everything I possess—which is a great deal. As there is no
relationship or other tie between us, this may seem a strange thing
to do, but after all, why not? I am alone in the world, without a
relative of any kind. Nor had my late husband any except some
distant cousins, those Atterby-Smiths whom you may remember, and
these he detested even more than I do, which is saying much. On one
point I am determined—that they shall never inherit, and that is
why I make this will in such a hurry, having just received a
warning that my own life may not be much prolonged.
Now, I do not deceive myself. I know you to be no money-hunter
and I think it highly probable that you will shrink from the
responsibilities of this fortune which, if it came to you, you
would feel it your duty to administer it for the good of many to
the weariness of your own flesh and spirit. Nor would you like the
gossip in which it would involve you, or the worry of the actions-
at-law which the Atterby-Smiths, and perhaps others unknown, would
certainly bring against you. Therefore, it seems possible that you
will refuse my gift, a contingency for which I have provided by
alternative depositions. If a widowed lady without connections
chooses to dispose of her goods in charity or for the advancement
of science, etc., no one can complain. But even in this event I
warn you that you will not altogether escape, since I am making you
my soul executor, and although I have jotted down a list of the
institutions which I propose to benefit, you will be given an
absolute discretion concerning them with power to vary the amounts,
and add to, or lessen, their number. In return for this trouble,
should you yourself renounce the inheritance, I am leaving you an
executor's fee of 5,000 pounds, which I beg that you will not
renounce, as the mere thought of your doing so offends me. Also, as
a personal gift, I ask you to accept all that famous set of
Caroline silver which was used on grand occasions at Ragnall, that
I remember you admired so much, and any other objects of art that
you may choose.
Lastly—and this is the really important thing—together with the
Egyptian collection, I pass on to you the chest of Taduki
herb with the Kendah brazier, etc., enjoining you most strictly, if
ever you held me in any friendship, to take it, and above all to
keep it sacred.
In this, Friend, you will not fail me. Observe, I do not direct
you to make further experiments with the Taduki. To begin
with, it is unnecessary, since, although you have recently refused
to do so in my company—perhaps because you were afraid of
complications —sooner or later you will certainly breathe it by
yourself, knowing that it would please me much, and, perhaps, when
I am dead, hoping that through it you may see more of me than you
did when I was alive. You know the dead often increase in value at
compound interest, and I am vain enough to hope that this may be so
in my case.
I have no more to say. Farewell—for a little while.
P.S. You can burn this letter if you like; it does not in the
least matter, as you will never forget its contents. How
interesting it will be to talk it over with you one day.