Ayesha, the Return of Sheby H. Rider Haggard / Fantasy
Produced by David Moynihan; Dagny; John Bickers
THE RETURN OF SHE
By H. Rider Haggard
Here ends this history so far as it concerns science and the outside world. What its end will be as regards Leo and myself is more than I can guess. But we feel that it is not reached. . . . Often I sit alone at night, staring with the eyes of my mind into the blackness of unborn time, and wondering in what shape and form the great drama will be finally developed, and where the scene of its next act will be laid. And when, ultimately, that _final_ development occurs, as I have no doubt it must and will occur, in obedience to a fate that never swerves and a purpose which cannot be altered, what will be the part played therein by that beautiful Egyptian Amenar-tas, the Princess of the royal house of the Pharaohs, for the love of whom the priest Kallikrates broke his vows to Isis, and, pursued by the vengeance of the outraged goddess, fled down the coast of Lybia to meet his doom at Kor?-- _She_, Silver Library Edition, p. 277.
My dear Lang,
The appointed years--alas! how many of them--are gone by, leaving Ayeshalovely and loving and ourselves alive. As it was promised in the Cavesof Kor _She_ has returned again.
To you therefore who accepted the first, I offer this further history ofone of the various incarnations of that Immortal.
My hope is that after you have read her record, notwithstanding hersubtleties and sins and the shortcomings of her chronicler (no easyoffice!) you may continue to wear your chain of loyalty to our ladyAyesha. Such, I confess, is still the fate of your old friend
H. RIDER HAGGARD.
Not with a view of conciliating those readers who on principle object tosequels, but as a matter of fact, the Author wishes to say that he doesnot so regard this book.
Rather does he venture to ask that it should be considered as theconclusion of an imaginative tragedy (if he may so call it) whereof onehalf has been already published.
This conclusion it was always his desire to write should he be destinedto live through those many years which, in obedience to his originaldesign, must be allowed to lapse between the events of the first andsecond parts of the romance.
In response to many enquiries he may add that the name Ayesha, whichsince the days of the prophet Mahomet, who had a wife so called, andperhaps before them, has been common in the East, should be pronounced_Assha_.
Verily and indeed it is the unexpected that happens! Probably if therewas one person upon the earth from whom the Editor of this, and of acertain previous history, did not expect to hear again, that person wasLudwig Horace Holly. This, too, for a good reason; he believed him tohave taken his departure from the earth.
When Mr. Holly last wrote, many, many years ago, it was to transmit themanuscript of _She_, and to announce that he and his ward, Leo Vincey,the beloved of the divine Ayesha, were about to travel to Central Asiain the hope, I suppose, that there she would fulfil her promise andappear to them again.
Often I have wondered, idly enough, what happened to them there; whetherthey were dead, or perhaps droning their lives away as monks in someThibetan Lamasery, or studying magic and practising asceticism underthe tuition of the Eastern Masters trusting that thus they would build abridge by which they might pass to the side of their adored Immortal.
Now at length, when I had not thought of them for months, without asingle warning sign, out of the blue as it were, comes the answer tothese wonderings!
To think--only to think--that I, the Editor aforesaid, from itsappearance suspecting something quite familiar and without interest,pushed aside that dingy, unregistered, brown-paper parcel directed in anunknown hand, and for two whole days let it lie forgotten. Indeed thereit might be lying now, had not another person been moved to curiosity,and opening it, found within a bundle of manuscript badly burned uponthe back, and with this two letters addressed to myself.
Although so great a time had passed since I saw it, and it was shakynow because of the author's age or sickness, I knew the writing atonce--nobody ever made an H with that peculiar twirl under it exceptMr. Holly. I tore open the sealed envelope, and sure enough the firstthing my eye fell upon was the signature, _L. H. Holly_. It is longsince I read anything so eagerly as I did that letter. Here it is:--
My dear sir,--I have ascertained that you still live, and strange tosay I still live also--for a little while.
As soon as I came into touch with civilization again I found a copy ofyour book _She_, or rather of my book, and read it--first of all in aHindostani translation. My host--he was a minister of some religiousbody, a man of worthy but prosaic mind--expressed surprise that a 'wildromance' should absorb me so much. I answered that those who have wideexperience of the hard facts of life often find interest in romance. Hadhe known what were the hard facts to which I alluded, I wonder what thatexcellent person would have said?
I see that you carried out your part of the business well andfaithfully. Every instruction has been obeyed, nothing has been added ortaken away. Therefore, to you, to whom some twenty years ago I entrustedthe beginning of the history, I wish to entrust its end also. You werethe first to learn of _She-Who-Must-Be-Obeyed_, who from century tocentury sat alone, clothed with unchanging loveliness in the sepulchresof Kor, waiting till her lost love was born again, and Destiny broughthim back to her.
It is right, therefore, that you should be the first to learn also ofAyesha, Hesea and Spirit of the Mountain, the priestess of that Oraclewhich since the time of Alexander the Great has reigned between theflaming pillars in the Sanctuary, the last holder of the sceptre of Hesor Isis upon the earth. It is right also that to you first among menI should reveal the mystic consummation of the wondrous tragedy whichbegan at Kor, or perchance far earlier in Egypt and elsewhere.
I am very ill; I have struggled back to this old house of mine to die,and my end is at hand. I have asked the doctor here, after all is over,to send you the Record, that is unless I change my mind and burn itfirst. You will also receive, if you receive anything at all, a casecontaining several rough sketches which may be of use to you, and a_sistrum_, the instrument that has been always used in the worship ofthe Nature goddesses of the old Egyptians, Isis and Hathor, which youwill see is as beautiful as it is ancient. I give it to you for tworeasons; as a token of my gratitude and regard, and as the only piece ofevidence that is left to me of the literal truth of what I have writtenin the accompanying manuscript, where you will find it often mentioned.Perhaps also you will value it as a souvenir of, I suppose, thestrangest and loveliest being who ever was, or rather, is. It was hersceptre, the rod of her power, with which I saw her salute the Shadowsin the Sanctuary, and her gift to me.
It has virtues also; some part of Ayesha's might yet haunts the symbolto which even spirits bowed, but if you should discover them, beware howthey are used.
I have neither the strength nor the will to write more. The Record mustspeak for itself. Do with it what you like, and believe it or not as youlike. I care nothing who know that it is true.
Who and what was Ayesha, nay, what _is_ Ayesha? An incarnate essence,a materialised spirit of Nature the unforeseeing, the lovely, the crueland the immortal; ensouled alone, redeemable only by Humanity and itspiteous sacrifice? Say you! I have done with speculations who depart tosolve these mysteries.
_I_ wish you happiness and good fortune. Farewell to you and to all.
L. Horace Holly.
I laid the letter down, and, filled with sensations that it is uselessto attempt to analyse or describe, opened the second envelope, of whichI also print the contents, omitting only certain irrelevant portions,and the name of the writer as, it will be noted, he requests me to do.
This epistle, that was dated from a remote place upon the shores ofCumberland, ran as follows:--
Dear sir,--As the doctor who attended Mr. Holly in his last illness Iam obliged, in obedience to a promise that I made to him, to become anintermediary in a some what strange business, although in truth it isone of which I know very little, however much it may have interested me.Still I do so only on the strict understanding that no mention is tobe made of my name in connexion with the matter, or of the locality inwhich I practise.
About ten days ago I was called in to see Mr. Holly at an old houseupon the Cliff that for many years remained untenanted except by thecaretakers, which house was his property, and had been in his family forgenerations. The housekeeper who summoned me told me that her master hadbut just returned from abroad, somewhere in Asia, she said, and thathe was very ill with his heart--dying, she believed; both of whichsuppositions proved to be accurate.
I found the patient sitting up in bed (to ease his heart), and astrange-looking old man he was. He had dark eyes, small but full of fireand intelligence, a magnificent and snowy-white beard that covered achest of extraordinary breadth, and hair also white, which encroachedupon his forehead and face so much that it met the whiskers upon hischeeks. His arms were remarkable for their length and strength, thoughone of them seemed to have been much torn by some animal. He told methat a dog had done this, but if so it must have been a dog of unusualpower. He was a very ugly man, and yet, forgive the bull, beautiful. Icannot describe what I mean better than by saying that his face wasnot like the face of any ordinary mortal whom I have met in mylimited experience. Were I an artist who wished to portray a wise andbenevolent, but rather grotesque spirit, I should take that countenanceas a model.
Mr. Holly was somewhat vexed at my being called in, which had been donewithout his knowledge. Soon we became friendly enough, however, and heexpressed gratitude for the relief that I was able to give him, thoughI could not hope to do more. At different times he talked a good dealof the various countries in which he had travelled, apparently for verymany years, upon some strange quest that he never clearly denned tome. Twice also he became light-headed, and spoke, for the most part inlanguages that I identified as Greek and Arabic; occasionally in Englishalso, when he appeared to be addressing himself to a being who was theobject of his veneration, I might almost say of his worship. Whathe said then, however, I prefer not to repeat, for I heard it in myprofessional capacity.
One day he pointed to a rough box made of some foreign wood (the samethat I have now duly despatched to you by train), and, giving me yourname and address, said that without fail it was to be forwarded to youafter his death. Also he asked me to do up a manuscript, which, like thebox, was to be sent to you.
He saw me looking at the last sheets, which had been burned away, andsaid (I repeat his exact words)--
'Yes, yes, that can't be helped now, it must go as it is. You see Imade up my mind to destroy it after all, and it was already on the firewhen the command came--the clear, unmistakable command--and I snatchedit off again.'
What Mr. Holly meant by this 'command' I do not know, for he wouldspeak no more of the matter.
I pass on to the last scene. One night about eleven o'clock, knowingthat my patient's end was near, I went up to see him, proposing toinject some strychnine to keep the heart going a little longer. BeforeI reached the house I met the caretaker coming to seek me in a greatfright, and asked her if her master was dead. She answered No; but hewas _gone_--had got out of bed and, just as he was, barefooted, leftthe house, and was last seen by her grandson among the very Scotch firswhere we were talking. The lad, who was terrified out of his wits, forhe thought that he beheld a ghost, had told her so.
The moonlight was very brilliant that night, especially as fresh snowhad fallen, which reflected its rays. I was on foot, and began to searchamong the firs, till presently just outside of them I found the track ofnaked feet in the snow. Of course I followed, calling to the housekeeperto go and wake her husband, for no one else lives near by. The spoorproved very easy to trace across the clean sheet of snow. It ran up theslope of a hill behind the house.
Now, on the crest of this hill is an ancient monument of uprightmonoliths set there by some primeval people, known locally as theDevil's Ring--a sort of miniature Stonehenge in fact. I had seen itseveral times, and happened to have been present not long ago at ameeting of an archaeological society when its origin and purpose werediscussed. I remember that one learned but somewhat eccentric gentlemanread a short paper upon a rude, hooded bust and head that are cut withinthe chamber of a tall, flat-topped cromlech, or dolmen, which standsalone in the centre of the ring.
He said that it was a representation of the Egyptian goddess, Isis, andthat this place had once been sacred to some form of her worship, or atany rate to that of a Nature goddess with like attributes, a suggestionwhich the other learned gentlemen treated as absurd. They declared thatIsis had never travelled into Britain, though for my part I do not seewhy the Phoenicians, or even the Romans, who adopted her cult, moreor less, should not have brought it here. But I know nothing of suchmatters and will not discuss them.
I remembered also that Mr. Holly was acquainted with this place, forhe had mentioned it to me on the previous day, asking if the stones werestill uninjured as they used to be when he was young. He added also, andthe remark struck me, that yonder was where he would wish to die. When Ianswered that I feared he would never take so long a walk again, I notedthat he smiled a little.
Well, this conversation gave me a clue, and without troubling moreabout the footprints I went on as fast as I could to the Ring, half amile or so away. Presently I reached it, and there--yes, there--standingby the cromlech, bareheaded, and clothed in his night-things only,stood Mr. Holly in the snow, the strangest figure, I think, that ever Ibeheld.
Indeed never shall I forget that wild scene. The circle of rough,single stones pointing upwards to the star-strewn sky, intensely lonelyand intensely solemn: the tall trilithon towering above them in thecentre, its shadow, thrown by the bright moon behind it, lying longand black upon the dazzling sheet of snow, and, standing clear of thisshadow so that I could distinguish his every motion, and even the raptlook upon his dying face, the white-draped figure of Mr. Holly. Heappeared to be uttering some invocation--in Arabic, I think--for longbefore I reached him I could catch the tones of his full, sonorousvoice, and see his waving, outstretched arms. In his right hand he heldthe looped sceptre which, by his express wish I send to you with thedrawings. I could see the flash of the jewels strung upon the wires, andin the great stillness, hear the tinkling of its golden bells.
Presently, too, I seemed to become aware of another presence, and nowyou will understand why I desire and must ask that my identity shouldbe suppressed. Naturally enough I do not wish to be mixed up with asuperstitious tale which is, on the face of it, impossible and absurd.Yet under all the circumstances I think it right to tell you that I saw,or thought I saw, something gather in the shadow of the central dolmen,or emerge from its rude chamber--I know not which for certain--somethingbright and glorious which gradually took the form of a woman upon whoseforehead burned a star-like fire.
At any rate the vision or reflection, or whatever it was, startled meso much that I came to a halt under the lee of one of the monoliths, andfound myself unable even to call to the distraught man whom I pursued.
Whilst I stood thus it became clear to me that Mr. Holly also sawsomething. At least he turned towards the Radiance in the shadow,uttered one cry; a wild, glad cry, and stepped forward; then seemed tofall _through it_ on to his face.
When I reached the spot the light had vanished, and all I found was Mr.Holly, his arms still outstretched, and the sceptre gripped tightly inhis hand, lying quite dead in the shadow of the trilithon.
The rest of the doctor's letter need not be quoted as it deals only withcertain very improbable explanations of the origin of this figure oflight, the details of the removal of Holly's body, and of how he managedto satisfy the coroner that no inquest was necessary.
The box of which he speaks arrived safely. Of the drawings in it I needsay nothing, and of the _sistrum_ or sceptre only a few words. It wasfashioned of crystal to the well-known shape of the _Crux-ansata_, orthe emblem of life of the Egyptians; the rod, the cross and the loopcombined in one. From side to side of this loop ran golden wires, and onthese were strung gems of three colours, glittering diamonds, sea-bluesapphires, and blood-red rubies, while to the fourth wire, that at thetop, hung four little golden bells.
When I took hold of it first my arm shook slightly with excitement, andthose bells began to sound; a sweet, faint music like to that of chimesheard far away at night in the silence of the sea. I thought too, butperhaps this was fancy, that a thrill passed from the hallowed andbeautiful thing into my body.
On the mystery itself, as it is recorded in the manuscript, I make nocomment. Of it and its inner significations every reader must form hisor her own judgment. One thing alone is clear to me--on the hypothesisthat Mr. Holly tells the truth as to what he and Leo Vincey sawand experienced, which I at least believe--that though sundryinterpretations of this mystery were advanced by Ayesha and others, noneof them are quite satisfactory.
Indeed, like Mr. Holly, I incline to the theory that She, if I may stillcall her by that name although it is seldom given to her in these pages,put forward some of them, such as the vague Isis-myth, and the wondrouspicture-story of the Mountain-fire, as mere veils to hide the truthwhich it was her purpose to reveal at last in that song she never sang.
The Further History of She-Who-Must-Be-Obeyed