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Once more Quatermain takes the hallucinogenic taduki drug, as he did in previous novels, and he relives a previous incarnation. He finds himself in pre-historic time, "cave-men" times, and enjoys a variety of adventures.
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Copyright © 2016 by H. Rider Haggard
Interior design by Pronoun
Distribution by Pronoun
A fire mist and a planet,
A crystal and a cell,
A jellyfish and a saurian
And caves where the cave men dwell;
Then a sense of law and beauty,
And a face turned from the clod—
Some call it Evolution
And others call it God.
—From “Each In His Own Tongue” by William Herbert Carruth
ALLAN REFUSES A FORTUNE
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.[*]
[*] See the books The Ivory Child and The Ancient Allan.
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 modern world.
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, relationship.
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 ran thus:
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 been also.
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 enough.
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 fire.
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 ofTaduki. 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 past.
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, to—ahem—to you.”
“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 suddenly:
“‘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 them.’
“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 these papers.”
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 follows:
“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 ofTaduki 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.”
BACK TO THE PAST
It is unnecessary that I should set out the history of the disposal of the great Ragnall fortune in any detail. I adhered to my decision which at last was recorded with much formality; though, as I was a totally unknown individual, few took any interest in the matter. Those who came to hear of it for the most part set me down as mad; indeed, I could see that even my friends and neighbours, Sir Henry Curtis and Captain Good, with whom I declined to discuss the business, more or less shared this view, while a society journal of the lower sort printed a paragraph headed:
THE HUNTER HERMIT -
WHO MOCKED AT MILLIONS!
Then followed a distorted version of the facts. Also I received anonymous letters written, I do not doubt, by members of the Atterby-Smith family, which set down my self-denial to “the workings of a guilty conscience” and “to fears of exposure.”
Of all these things I took no heed, and notwithstanding wild threats of action by Mr. Atterby-Smith, in due course the alternative clauses of the will came into operation, under which, with only a rough list to guide me, I found myself the practical dispenser of vast sums. Then indeed I “endured hardness.” Not only had collieries and other properties to be sold to the best advantage, not only was I afflicted by constant interviews with Messrs. Mellis & Mellis and troubles too numerous to mention. In addition to these, I think that every society and charity in the United Kingdom and quite eighty per cent. of its beggars must have written or sought interviews with me to urge their public or private claims, so that, in the end, I was obliged to fly away and hide myself, leaving the lawyers to deal with the correspondence and the mendicants.
At length I completed my list, allotting the bulk of the money to learned societies, especially such of them as dealt with archaeological matters in which the testatrix and her husband had been interested; to those who laboured among the poor; to the restoration of an abbey in which I had heard Lady Ragnall express great interest, and to the endowment of the castle as a local hospital in accordance with her wish.
This division having been approved and ratified by an order in Court, my duties came to an end. Further, my fee as executor was paid me, which I took without scruple, for seldom has money been harder earned, and the magnificent service of ancient plate was handed over to me—or rather to the custody of my bank—with the result that I have never set eyes upon it from that day to this, and probably never shall.
Also, I selected certain souvenirs, including a beautiful portrait of Lady Ragnall by a noted artist, painted before her marriage, concerning which there was a tragic story whereof I have written elsewhere. This picture I hung in my dining room where I can see it as I sit at table, so that never a day passes that I do not think twice or thrice of her whose young loveliness it represents. Indeed, I think of her so much that often I wish I had placed it somewhere else.
The Egyptian collection I gave to a museum which I will not name; only the chest of Taduki and the other articles connected with it I kept, as I was bound to do, hiding them away in a bookcase in my study and hoping that I should forget where I had put them, an effort wherein I failed entirely. Indeed, that chest might have been alive to judge from the persistence with which it inflicted itself upon my mind, just as if someone were imprisoned in the bookcase. It was stowed away in the bottom part of an old Chippendale bookcase which stood exactly behind my writing chair and which I had taken over as a fixture when I bought the Grange. Now this chair, that I am using at the moment of writing, is one of the sort that revolves, and, heedless of the work I had to do, continually I found myself turning it round so that I sat staring at the bookcase instead of at my desk.
This went on for some days, until I began to wonder whether there was anything wrong; whether, for instance, I had placed the articles so that they could fall over and my subconscious self was reminding me of the fact. At length, one evening after dinner, this idea fidgeted me so much that I could bear it no more. Going to my bedroom, I opened the little safe that stands there and took out the key of the bookcase which I had stowed away so that I could not get at it without some trouble. Returning, I unlocked the faded mahogany door of the Eighteenth Century bookcase and was surprised when it opened itself very quickly, as if something were pushing at it.
Next moment, I saw the reason. My subconscious self had been right. Owing, I suppose, to insufficient light when I put them away, I had set the ebony tripod upon which rested the black stone bowl that formerly was used in the Taduki ceremonies in the sanctuary of the temple in Kendah-land, whence Lady Ragnall had brought it, so that one of its feet projected over the edge of the shelf. Thus it pressed against the door, and when it was opened, of course fell forward. I caught it, rather smartly, I flattered myself, or rather I caught the bowl, which was very heavy, and the tripod fell to the floor. Setting down the bowl on the hearthrug which was near, I picked up its stand and made a hasty examination, fearing lest the brittle, short-grained wood should have broken. It had not; its condition was as perfect as when it was first used, perhaps thousands of years before.
Next, that I might examine this curiosity with more care than I had ever yet done, I placed the bowl upon its stand to consider its shape and ornamentation. Though so massive, I saw that in its way it was a beautiful thing, and the heads of the women carved upon the handles were so full of life that I think they must have been modelled from a living person. Perhaps that model was the priestess who had first used it in her sacred rites of offering or of divination, or perhaps Amada herself, to whom, now that I thought of it, the resemblance was great, as I had seen her in my Taduki dream.
The eyes (for both handles were identical) seemed fixed on me in a solemn and mystical stare; the parted lips looked as though they were uttering words of invitation. To what did they invite? Alas! I knew too well: it was that I should burn Taduki in the bowl so that they might be opened by its magic and tell me of hidden things.
Nonsense! I thought to myself. Moreover, I remembered that one must never take Taduki after drinking wine. Then I remembered something else; namely, that, as it happened, at dinner that night I had drunk nothing but water, having for some reason or other preferred it to claret or port. Also, I had eaten precious little—I suppose because I was not hungry. Or could it be that I was a humbug and had done these things, or rather left them undone, so that should temptation overtake me its results might not prove fatal? Upon my word, I did not know, for on such occasions it is difficult to disentangle the exact motives of the heart.
Moreover, this speculation was forgotten in a new and convincing idea that suddenly I conceived. Doubtless, the virtues, or the vices, of Taduki were all humbug, or rather nonexistent. What caused the illusions was the magnetic personalities of the ministrants, that is to say, of Lady Ragnall herself and, on my first acquaintance with it, here in England, of that remarkable old medicine man, Harut. Without these personalities, and especially the first who was now departed from the earth, it would be as harmless as tobacco and as ineffectual as hay. So delighted was I with this discovery that almost I determined to prove it by immediate demonstration.
I opened the carved chest of rich-coloured wood and drew out the age- blackened silver box within which now I observed for the first time had engraved upon it several times a picture of the goddess Isis in her accustomed ceremonial dress, and a god, Osiris or Ptah, I think, making incantations with their hands, holding lotus flowers and the Cross of Life stretched out over a little altar. This I opened also, whereon a well-remembered aroma arose and for a moment clouded my senses. When these cleared again, I perceived, lying on the top of the bundles of Taduki leaves, of which there seemed to be a large quantity remaining, a half sheet of letter paper bearing a few lines in Lady Ragnall’s handwriting.
I lifted it and read as follows:
“When you are moved to inhale this Taduki, as certainly you will do, be careful not to use too much lest you should wander so far that you can return no more. One of the little bundles, of which I think there are thirteen remaining in the box, should be sufficient, though perhaps as you grow accustomed to the drug you may require a larger dose. Another thing —for a hidden reason with which I will not trouble you, it is desirable, though not necessary, that you should have a companion in the adventure. By preference, this companion should be a woman, but a man will serve if he be one in whom you have confidence and who is sympathetic to you. L.R.”
“That settles it,” I thought. “I am not going to take Taduki with one of the housemaids, and there is no other woman about here,” and I rose from my chair, preparing to put the stuff away.
At that moment, the door opened and in walked Captain Good.
“Hullo, old fellow,” he said. “Curtis says a farmer tells him that a lot of snipe have come in onto the Brathal marshes, and he wants to know if you will come over to-morrow morning and have a go at them—I say, what is this smell in the room? Have you taken to scented cigarettes or hashish?”
“Not quite, but, to tell you the truth, I was thinking of it,” I answered, and I pointed to the open silver box.
Good, who is a person of alert mind and one very full of curiosity, advanced, sniffed at the Taduki, and examined the brazier and the box, which in his ignorance he supposed to be of Grecian workmanship. Finally, he overwhelmed me with so many questions that, at length, in self-defence, I told him something of its story and how it had been bequeathed to me with its contents by Lady Ragnall.
“Indeed!” said Good. “She who left you the fortune which you wouldn’t take, being the lineal descendant of Don Quixote, or rather of Sancho Panza’s donkey. Well, this is much more exciting than money. What happened to you when you went into that trance?”
“Oh!” I answered wearily, “I seemed to foregather with a very pretty lady who lived some thousands of years ago, and after many adventures, was just about to marry her when I woke up.”
“How jolly! though I suppose you have been suffering from blighted affections ever since. Perhaps, if you took some more, you might pull it off next time.”
I shook my head and handed him the note of instructions that I had found with the Taduki, which he read with attention, and said:
“I see, Allan, that a partner is required and that failing a lady, a man in whom you have confidence and who is sympathetic to you, will serve. Obviously that’s me, for in whom could you have greater confidence, and who is more sympathetic to you? Well, my boy, if there’s any hope of adventures, real or imaginary, I’ll take the risk and sacrifice myself upon the altar of friendship. Light up your stuff—I’m ready. What do you say? That I can’t because I have been dining and drinking wine or whisky? Well, as a matter of fact, I haven’t. I’ve only had some tea and a boiled egg—I won’t stop to explain why—and intended to raise something more substantial out of you. So fire away and let’s go to meet your lovely lady in ancient Egypt or anywhere else.”
“Look here, Good,” I explained, “I think there is a certain amount of risk about this stuff, and really you had better reflect—”
“Before I rush in where angels fear to tread, eh? Well, you’ve done it and you ain’t even an angel. Also I like risks or anything that makes a change in this mill round of a life. Come on. What have we got to do?”
Then, feeling that Fate was at work, under a return of the impulse of which the strength had been broken for a moment by the reading of Lady Ragnall’s note of instructions, I gave way. To tell the truth, Good’s unexpected arrival when such a companion was essential, and his strange willingness, and even desire, to share in this unusual enterprise, brought on one of the fits of fatalism from which I suffer at times. I became convinced that the whole business was arranged by something or somebody beyond my ken —that I must take this drug with Good as my companion. So, as I have said, I gave way and made the necessary preparations, explaining everything to Good as I did so.
“I say!” he said at last, just as I was fishing for an ember from the wood fire to lay upon the Taduki in the bowl, “I thought this job was a joke, but you seem jolly solemn about it, Allan. Do you really think it dangerous?”
“Yes, I do, but more to the spirit than to the body. I think, to judge from my own experience, that anyone who has once breathed Taduki will wish to do so again. Shall we give it up? It isn’t too late.”
“No,” answered Good. “I never funked anything yet, and I won’t begin now. ‘Lay on, Macduff’!”
“So be it, Good. But first of all, listen to me. Move that armchair of yours close to mine, but not quite up against it. I am going to place the brazier just between and a little in front of us. When the stuff catches a blue flame will burn for about thirty seconds—at least, this happened on a previous occasion. So soon as it dies away and you see the smoke begin to rise, bend your head forward and a little sideways so that it strikes you full in the face, but in such a fashion that, when you become insensible, the weight of your body will cause you to fall back into the chair, not outward to the floor. It is quite easy if you are careful. Then open your mouth and draw the vapour down into your lungs. Two or three breaths will suffice, as it works very quickly.”
“Just like laughing gas,” remarked Good. “I only hope I shan’t wake with all my teeth out. The last time I took it I felt—”
“Stop joking,” I said, “for this is a serious matter.”
“A jolly sight too serious! Is there anything else?”
“No. That is, if there is anybody you particularly wish to see, you might concentrate your thoughts on him—”
“Him! I can’t think of any him, unless it is the navigating lieutenant of my first ship, with whom I always want to have it out in the next world, as he is gone from this, the brute.”
“On her, then; I meant her.”
“Then why didn’t you say so instead of indulging in pharisaical humbug? Who would breathe poison just to meet another man?”
“I would,” I replied firmly.
“That’s a lie,” muttered Good. “Hullo! don’t be in such a hurry with that coal, I ain’t ready. Ought I to say any hocus-pocus? Dash it all! it is like a nightmare about being hanged.”
“No,” I replied, as I dropped the ember onto the Taduki just as Lady Ragnall had done. “Now, play fair, Good,” I added, “for I don’t know what the effect of half a dose would be; it might drive you mad. Look, the flame is burning! Open your mouth and arrange your weight as I said, and when your head begins to whirl, lean back at the end of the third deep breath.”
The mysterious, billowy vapour arose as the pale blue flame died away, and spread itself out fanwise.
“Aye, aye, my hearty,” said Good, and thrust his face into it with such vigour that he brought his head into violent contact with mine, as I leant forward from the other side.
I heard him mutter some words that were better left unsaid, for often enough Good’s language would have borne editing. Then I heard no more and forgot that he existed.
My mind became wonderfully clear and I found myself arguing in a fashion that would have done credit to the greatest of the Greek philosophers upon all sorts of fundamental problems. All I can remember about that argument or lecture is that, in part at any rate, it dealt with the possibility of reincarnation, setting out the pros and cons in a most vivid manner.
Even if I had not forgotten them, these may be passed over, as they are familiar to students of such subjects. The end of the exposition, however, was to the effect that, accepted as it is by a quarter of the inhabitants of the earth, this doctrine should not lightly be set aside, seeing that in it there is hope for man; that it is at least worthy of consideration. If the sages who have preached it, from Plato down—and indeed for countless ages before his time, since without doubt he borrowed it from the East —are right, then at least we pure human creatures do not appear and die like gnats upon a summer’s eve, but in that seeming day pass on to life eternally renewed, climbing a kind of Jacob’s ladder to the skies.
It is true that as our foot leaves it, each rung of that ladder vanishes. Below is darkness and all the gulf of Time. Above is darkness and we know not what. Yet our hands cling to the uprights and our feet stand firm upon a rung, and we know that we do not fall, but mount; also that, in the nature of things, a ladder must lean against some support and lead somewhere. A melancholy business, this tread mill doctrine, it may be said, where one rung is so like another and there are so many of them. And yet, and yet—is it not better than that of the bubble which bursts and is gone? Aye, because life is better than death, especially if it be progressive life, and if at last it may lead to some joy undreamed, to some supernal light in which we shall see all the path that we have trodden, and with it the deep foundations of the Rock of Being upon which our ladder stands and the gates of Eternal Calm whereon it leans.
Thus, in the beginning of my dream state, I, the lecturer, argued to an unknown audience, or perhaps I was the audience and the lecturer argued to me, I am not sure, pointing out that otherwise we are but as those unhappy victims of the Revolution in the prisons of Paris, who for a little while bow and talk and play our part, waiting till the door opens and the jailer Death appears to lead us to the tumbril and the knife.
The argument, I should point out, was purely rational; it did not deal with faith, or any revealed religion, perhaps because these are too personal and too holy. It dealt only with the possible development of a mighty law, under the workings of which man, through much tribulation, might accomplish his own weal and at last come to look upon the source of that law and understand its purpose.
Obviously these imperfectly reported reflections, and many others that I cannot remember at all, were induced by the feeling that I might be about to plunge into some seeming state of former existence, as I had done once before under the influence of this herb. My late friend, Lady Ragnall, believed that state to be not seeming but real; while I, on the other hand, could not accept this as a fact. I set it down, as I am still inclined to do, to the workings of imagination, superexcited by a strange and powerful drug and drawing, perhaps, from some fount of knowledge of past events that is hidden deep in the being of every one of us.
However these things may be, this rhetorical summing up of the case, of which I can only recollect the last part, was but a kind of introductory speech such as is sometimes made by a master of ceremonies before the curtain rises upon the play. Its echoes died away into a deep silence. All the living part of me went down into darkness, dense darkness that seemed to endure for ages. Then, with strugglings and effort, I awoke again—reborn. A hand was holding my own, leading me forward; a voice I knew whispered in my ear, saying:
“Look upon one record of the past, O Doubter. Look and believe.” Now there happened to me, or seemed to happen, that which I had experienced before in the museum at Ragnall Castle; namely, that I, Allan, the living man of to- day, beheld myself another man, and yet the same; and whilst remaining myself, could enter into and live the life of that other man, knowing his thoughts, appreciating his motives and his efforts, his hopes and his fears, his loves and his hates, and yet standing outside of them, reading him like a book and weighing everything in the scales of my modern judgment.
The voice—surely it was that of Lady Ragnall, though I could not see her face—died away; the hand was loosed. I saw a man in the cold, glimmering light of dawn. He was a very sturdy man, thick-limbed, deep-chested, and somewhat hairy, whose age I judged to be about thirty years. I knew at once that he was not a modern man, although his weather-tanned skin was white where the furs he wore had slipped away from his shoulder, for there was something unusual about his aspect. Few modern men are so massive of body, and never have I seen one with a neck so short and large in circumference, although the feet and hands were not large. His frame was extraordinarily solid; being not more than five feet seven inches in height and by no means fat, yet he must have weighed quite fifteen stone, if not more. His dark hair was long and parted in the middle; it hung down to his shoulders.
He turned his head, looking behind him as though to make sure that he was alone, or that no wild beast stalked him, and I saw his face. The forehead was wide and not high, for the hair grew low upon it; his eyebrows were beetling and the eyes beneath them deep set. They were remarkable eyes, large and gray, quick-glancing also, yet when at rest somewhat sombre and very thoughtful. The nose was straight with wide and sensitive nostrils, suggesting that its owner used them as a dog or a deer does, to scent with. The mouth was thick-lipped but not large, and within it were splendid and regular white teeth, broader than those we have; the chin was very massive, and on it grew two little tufts of beard, though the cheeks were bare.
For the rest, this man was long armed, for the tip of his middle finger came down almost to the kneecap. He had a sort of kilt about his middle and a heavy fur robe upon his shoulder which looked as though it were made of bearskin. In his left hand he held a short spear, the blade of which seemed to be fashioned of chipped flint, or some other hard and shining stone, and in the girdle of his kilt was thrust a wooden-handled instrument or axe, made by setting a great, sharp-edged stone that must have weighed two pounds or so into the cleft end of the handle which was lashed with sinews both above and below the axhead.
I, Allan, the man of to-day, looked upon this mighty savage, for mighty I could see he was—both in his body and, after a fashion, in his mind also—and in my trance knew that the spirit which had dwelt in him hundreds of thousands of years ago, mayhap, or at least in the far, far, past, was the same that animated me, the living creature whose body for aught I knew descended from his, thus linking us in flesh as well as soul. Indeed, the thought came to me—I know not whence—that here stood my remote forefather whose forgotten existence was my cause of life, without whom my body could not have been.
Now, I, Allan Quatermain, fade from the story. No longer am I he. I am Wi the Hunter, the future chief of a little tribe which had no name, since, believing itself to be the only people on the earth, it needed none. Yet remember that my modern intelligence and individuality never went to sleep, that always it was able to watch this prototype, this primeval one, to enter into his thoughts, to appreciate his motives, hopes, and fears, and to compare them with those that actuate us to-day. Therefore, the tale I tell is the substance of that which the heart of Wi told to my heart, set out in my own modern tongue and interpreted by my modern intellect.
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