She, p.1
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She


  Produced by John Bickers; Dagny; William Kyngesburye; David Widger

  SHE

  By H. Rider Haggard

  First Published 1886.

  IN EARTH AND SKIE AND SEA

  STRANGE THYNGS THER BE

  Doggerel couplet from the

  Sherd of Amenartas

  I inscribe this history to

  ANDREW LANG

  in token of personal regard

  and of

  my sincere admiration for his learning and his works

  ORIGINAL PREPARER'S NOTE

  This text was prepared from an 1888 edition published by Longmans, Green, and Co., London. A number of fragments of Greek text, and sketches, have been omitted due to the difficulty of representing them as plain text. However, small fragments of Greek have been transcribed in brackets "{}" using an Oxford English Dictionary alphabet table, without diacritical marks.

  PREPARER'S NOTE--UNICODE EDITION

  A number of fragments of Greek and other text, omitted from the original posting, have been restored in this Unicode text. Sketches, however, have not yet been restored.

  SHE

  INTRODUCTION

  In giving to the world the record of what, looked at as an adventureonly, is I suppose one of the most wonderful and mysterious experiencesever undergone by mortal men, I feel it incumbent on me to explain whatmy exact connection with it is. And so I may as well say at once that Iam not the narrator but only the editor of this extraordinary history,and then go on to tell how it found its way into my hands.

  Some years ago I, the editor, was stopping with a friend, "_virdoctissimus et amicus neus_," at a certain University, which for thepurposes of this history we will call Cambridge, and was one day muchstruck with the appearance of two persons whom I saw going arm-in-armdown the street. One of these gentlemen was I think, without exception,the handsomest young fellow I have ever seen. He was very tall, verybroad, and had a look of power and a grace of bearing that seemed asnative to him as it is to a wild stag. In addition his face was almostwithout flaw--a good face as well as a beautiful one, and when he liftedhis hat, which he did just then to a passing lady, I saw that his headwas covered with little golden curls growing close to the scalp.

  "Good gracious!" I said to my friend, with whom I was walking, "why,that fellow looks like a statue of Apollo come to life. What a splendidman he is!"

  "Yes," he answered, "he is the handsomest man in the University, and oneof the nicest too. They call him 'the Greek god'; but look at the otherone, he's Vincey's (that's the god's name) guardian, and supposed to befull of every kind of information. They call him 'Charon.'" I looked,and found the older man quite as interesting in his way as the glorifiedspecimen of humanity at his side. He appeared to be about forty yearsof age, and was I think as ugly as his companion was handsome. To beginwith, he was shortish, rather bow-legged, very deep chested, and withunusually long arms. He had dark hair and small eyes, and the hair grewright down on his forehead, and his whiskers grew right up to his hair,so that there was uncommonly little of his countenance to be seen.Altogether he reminded me forcibly of a gorilla, and yet there wassomething very pleasing and genial about the man's eye. I remembersaying that I should like to know him.

  "All right," answered my friend, "nothing easier. I know Vincey;I'll introduce you," and he did, and for some minutes we stoodchatting--about the Zulu people, I think, for I had just returned fromthe Cape at the time. Presently, however, a stoutish lady, whose nameI do not remember, came along the pavement, accompanied by a prettyfair-haired girl, and these two Mr. Vincey, who clearly knew them well,at once joined, walking off in their company. I remember being ratheramused because of the change in the expression of the elder man, whosename I discovered was Holly, when he saw the ladies advancing. Hesuddenly stopped short in his talk, cast a reproachful look at hiscompanion, and, with an abrupt nod to myself, turned and marched offalone across the street. I heard afterwards that he was popularlysupposed to be as much afraid of a woman as most people are of a maddog, which accounted for his precipitate retreat. I cannot say, however,that young Vincey showed much aversion to feminine society on thisoccasion. Indeed I remember laughing, and remarking to my friend atthe time that he was not the sort of man whom it would be desirable tointroduce to the lady one was going to marry, since it was exceedinglyprobable that the acquaintance would end in a transfer of heraffections. He was altogether too good-looking, and, what is more,he had none of that consciousness and conceit about him which usuallyafflicts handsome men, and makes them deservedly disliked by theirfellows.

  That same evening my visit came to an end, and this was the last I sawor heard of "Charon" and "the Greek god" for many a long day. Indeed, Ihave never seen either of them from that hour to this, and do not thinkit probable that I shall. But a month ago I received a letter and twopackets, one of manuscript, and on opening the first found that it wassigned by "Horace Holly," a name that at the moment was not familiar tome. It ran as follows:--

  "---- College, Cambridge, May 1, 18--

  "My dear Sir,--You will be surprised, considering the very slight natureof our acquaintance, to get a letter from me. Indeed, I think I hadbetter begin by reminding you that we once met, now some five years ago,when I and my ward Leo Vincey were introduced to you in the street atCambridge. To be brief and come to my business. I have recentlyread with much interest a book of yours describing a Central Africanadventure. I take it that this book is partly true, and partly an effortof the imagination. However this may be, it has given me an idea. Ithappens, how you will see in the accompanying manuscript (which togetherwith the Scarab, the 'Royal Son of the Sun,' and the original sherd, Iam sending to you by hand), that my ward, or rather my adopted son LeoVincey and myself have recently passed through a real African adventure,of a nature so much more marvellous than the one which you describe,that to tell the truth I am almost ashamed to submit it to you lest youshould disbelieve my tale. You will see it stated in this manuscriptthat I, or rather we, had made up our minds not to make this historypublic during our joint lives. Nor should we alter our determinationwere it not for a circumstance which has recently arisen. We are forreasons that, after perusing this manuscript, you may be able to guess,going away again this time to Central Asia where, if anywhere upon thisearth, wisdom is to be found, and we anticipate that our sojourn therewill be a long one. Possibly we shall not return. Under these alteredconditions it has become a question whether we are justified inwithholding from the world an account of a phenomenon which we believeto be of unparalleled interest, merely because our private life isinvolved, or because we are afraid of ridicule and doubt being castupon our statements. I hold one view about this matter, and Leoholds another, and finally, after much discussion, we have come to acompromise, namely, to send the history to you, giving you full leave topublish it if you think fit, the only stipulation being that you shalldisguise our real names, and as much concerning our personal identity asis consistent with the maintenance of the _bona fides_ of the narrative.

  "And now what am I to say further? I really do not know beyond once morerepeating that everything is described in the accompanying manuscriptexactly as it happened. As regards _She_ herself I have nothing to add.Day by day we gave greater occasion to regret that we did not betteravail ourselves of our opportunities to obtain more information fromthat marvellous woman. Who was she? How did she first come to the Cavesof Kôr, and what was her real religion? We never ascertained, and now,alas! we never shall, at least not yet. These and many other questionsarise in my mind, but what is the good of asking them now?

  "Will you undertake the task? We give you complete freedom, and as areward you will, we believe, have the credit of presenting to the worldthe most wonderful history, as distinguished from romance, that itsrecords can show. Read the manuscript (which I have copied out fairlyfor your benefit), and let me know.

  "Believe me, very truly yours, "L. Horace Holly.[*]

  "P.S.--Of course, if any profit results from the sale of the writingshould you care to undertake its publication, you can do what youlike with it, but if there is a loss I will leave instructions with mylawyers, Messrs. Geoffrey and Jordan, to meet it. We entrust the sherd,the scarab, and the parchments to your keeping, till such time as wedemand them back again. --L. H. H."

  [*] This name is varied throughout in accordance with the writer's request.--Editor.

  This letter, as may be imagined, astonished me considerably, but when Icame to look at the MS., which the pressure of other work prevented mefrom doing for a fortnight, I was still more astonished, as I think thereader will be also, and at once made up my mind to press on with thematter. I wrote to this effect to Mr. Holly, but a week afterwardsreceived a letter from that gentleman's lawyers, returning my own, withthe information that their client and Mr. Leo Vincey had already leftthis country for Thibet, and they did not at present know their address.

  Well, that is all I have to say. Of the history itself the reader mustjudge. I give it him, with the exception of a very few alterations,made with the object of concealing the identity of the actors from thegeneral public, exactly as it came to me. Personally I have made up mymind to refrain from comments. At first I was inclined to believe thatthis history of a woman on whom, clothed in the majesty of her almostendless years, the shadow of Eternity itself lay like the dark wingof Night, was some gigantic allegory of which I could not catch themeaning. Then I thought that it might be a bold attempt to portray thepossible results of practical immortality, informing the substance ofa mortal who yet drew her strength from Earth, and in whose human bosompassions yet rose and fell and beat as in the undying world around herthe winds and the tides rise and fall and beat unceasingly. But as Iwent on I abandoned that idea also. To me the story seems to bear thestamp of truth upon its face. Its explanation I must leave to others,and with this slight preface, which circumstances make necessary, Iintroduce the world to Ayesha and the Caves of Kôr.--The Editor.

  P.S.--There is on consideration one circumstance that, after a reperusalof this history, struck me with so much force that I cannot resistcalling the attention of the reader to it. He will observe that so faras we are made acquainted with him there appears to be nothing in thecharacter of Leo Vincey which in the opinion of most people would havebeen likely to attract an intellect so powerful as that of Ayesha. He isnot even, at any rate to my view, particularly interesting. Indeed, onemight imagine that Mr. Holly would under ordinary circumstances haveeasily outstripped him in the favour of _She_. Can it be that extremesmeet, and that the very excess and splendour of her mind led her bymeans of some strange physical reaction to worship at the shrine ofmatter? Was that ancient Kallikrates nothing but a splendid animalloved for his hereditary Greek beauty? Or is the true explanation whatI believe it to be--namely, that Ayesha, seeing further than we cansee, perceived the germ and smouldering spark of greatness which lay hidwithin her lover's soul, and well knew that under the influence of hergift of life, watered by her wisdom, and shone upon with the sunshineof her presence, it would bloom like a flower and flash out like a star,filling the world with light and fragrance?

  Here also I am not able to answer, but must leave the reader to form hisown judgment on the facts before him, as detailed by Mr. Holly in thefollowing pages.

 
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