Read CHAPTER XIII. of HE , free online book, by Andrew Lang., on ReadCentral.com.

THE PERILOUS PATH.

Forth we rushed into the darkness, through the streaming deluge of that tropic clime.  For the seraphic frenzy had now come upon the mage in good earnest, and all the Thought-reader burned in his dusky eyes.

We presented, indeed, a strange spectacle, for the mage, in his silvery swathings, held Leonora by the hands, and Leonora held me, as we raced through the gloom.

In any other city our aspect and demeanour had excited attention and claimed the interference of the authorities.

In Berlin Uhlans would have charged us, in Paris grape-shot would have ploughed through our ranks. Here they deemed we were but of the sacred race of Thought-readers, who, by a custom of the strange people, are permitted to run at random through the streets and even to enter private houses.

We were not even followed, in our headlong career, by a crowd, for the public had ceased to interest itself in frenzied research for hidden pins or concealed cigarettes.

After a frantic chase Jambres (late ‘the Mage’) paused, breathless, in front of a building of portentous proportions.

How it chanced I have never been able to understand, but, as I am a living and honourable woman, this hall had the characteristics of ancient Egyptian architecture, and that (miraculous as it may appear) in perfect preservation.

There are the hypostyle halls, the two Osirid pillars ­colossal figures of strange gods, in coloured relief ­there is the great blue scarab, the cartouche, the pschent, the pschutt, and all that we admire in the Rameseum of the Ancient Empire.

But all was silent, all was deserted; the vast adamantine portals were closed.

Jambres paused in dismay.

‘Since I last gave an exhibition of mine art in those halls,’ said he, ’(’twas in old forgotten days, in Bosco’s palmy time), much is altered.  OPEN SESAME!’ he cried; but, curious to say, nothing opened!

At that moment a dark figure crawled submissively to our feet.  It was old Pellmelli.

His instinct for ‘copy’ had brought him on our track, and he began ­

‘As our representative, I am commissioned ­’

Jambres (late ‘Asher’) turned from him, and he fell (still making notes) prone on his face, where we left him, as the pace was too good to inquire.

The mage now reconnoitred carefully the vast façade of the Hall of Egypt, and finally fixed his gaze on a perpendicular leaden column, adorned with strange symbols, through which (for it was a rainy night) raging torrents of water were distinctly heard flowing downwards to who knows what abysmal and unfathomable depths?

In this weird climate it was the familiar yet dreaded waterspout!

Jambres, with the feline agility of a catapult of the mountain, began to climb the perpendicular leaden channel to which he had called our attention, and of course we had to follow him.  It was perfectly marvellous to see the ease and grace with which he skipped and hopped up the seemingly naked face of the wall.  There were places indeed where our position was perilous enough, and it did not add to our cheerfulness to hear the horrid roaring and gurgling of the unseen and imprisoned waters that poured down the channel with a violence which seemed as if they might at any moment burst their bonds.  Helped, however, by certain ledges which projected from the wall beneath square openings filled with some transparent substance, on which ledges from time to time we rested, we arrived at the steep crest, and paused for repose beneath the leafy shade of the roof-tree, Jambres lightly leading the way.

‘Now,’ said Jambres, ‘comes the most delicate part of our journey.’

So indeed it proved, for the mage began rapidly to divest himself of his mysterious swathings.  Wrapper by wrapper he undid, cerement on cerement, till both Leonora and I wondered when he would stop.

Stop he did, however, and, with a practised hand, shot his linen into one long rope, which he carefully attached to an erect and smoking pillar, perhaps of basaltic formation, perhaps an ancient altar of St. Simeon Skylites.  When all was taut, Jambres approached a slanting slope, smooth and transparent, perhaps of glacial origin.  On this he stamped, and the fragments tinkled as they fell into unknown deeps.  Then he seized the rope, let himself down, and from far below we heard his voice calling to us to follow him.

Leonora and I descended with agility to some monstrous basin in the abyss ­the Pit, Jambres called it.  Here Jambres met us, and bade us light the railway reading-lamps which, as I forgot to mention, we had brought with us.  Then, jumping off with the lead, he advanced along the floor, picking his way with great care, as indeed it was most necessary to do, for the floor was strewn with strange forms, stumbling over the legs and backs of which it would have been easy to break one’s own.  When we halted, brought up by a barrier, of which I did not at first discern the nature, our lamps (as is sometimes the way of some such patent lamps) suddenly went out.  Jambres whispered hoarsely, ’Wot are yer waitin’ for?  Come on; [Greek:  all’ age]. Nunc est scandendum.’ We saw before us a vast expanse, of which it was impossible to gauge the extent, so impenetrable, so overpowering was the gloom of its blackness.  ‘It is the abode,’ said Jambres, mysteriously, ’of my rival De Kolta!’ He himself, owing to his use of his swathings, was sufficiently decollete

      We shall see. ­PUBLISHER.

On the hither side was a row of lumières a pied which seemed afloat on the darkness, and in their centre a sudden chasm which looked as if it had been made by human agency.  The fitful moonbeams showed us a most curious and accurately shaped spur, or run-down as it is called in the native dialect, which connected the floor on which we stood with the darkness beyond.

      That’s why I do now. ­ED.

What mortal, however hardy, dared cross this quivering wavering bridge in the total darkness?  Beneath our feet it swayed and leaped like rotten ice on the magic Serpentine.

‘Hush,’ cried Jambres, ‘it comes, it comes!  Be still!’

Even as he spoke, we saw a long shaft of yellow light streaming from an unknown centre, and searching out the recesses of the cavern.

‘Be still, as you value your liberty,’ whispered Jambres.  ’The Bobi is on his beat.’

Then, as the long shaft smote the swaying bridge, he lightly crossed it, and beckoned us to follow.  We obeyed, and in another instant all was again darkness.

‘He has gone his round,’ said Jambres.  ‘Won’t be back for hours!’