"Draw!" I said briefly as I unsheathed my sword.
"Why should I fight with a base, trading usurer?" he asked, still mocking me, though I thought that there was doubt in his voice.
"Answer your own question, thief. Fight if you will, or die without fighting if you will not. For know that until I am dead you do not leave this room living."
"Until I dead too, O Lord," broke in Kari in his gentle voice, bowing in his courteous foreign fashion.
As he did so with a sudden motion Kari shook the cloak back from his body and for the first time I saw that thrust through his leathern belt was a long weapon, half sword and half dagger, also that its sharpened steel was bare.
"Oh!" exclaimed Deleroy, "now I understand that I am trapped and that when you told me, Blanche, that this man would not return to-night and that therefore we were safe together, you lied. Well, my Lady Blanche, you shall pay for this trick later."
Whilst he spoke thus, slowly, as though to gain time, he was looking about him, and as the last word left his lips, knowing that the door was locked, he dashed for the window, hoping, I suppose, to leap through the casement, or if that failed, to shout for help. But Kari, who had set the candles he bore on a side table, that where the writing lay, read his mind. With a movement more swift than that of a polecat leaping on its prey, the swiftest indeed that ever I saw, he sprang between him and the casement, so that Deleroy scarce escaped pinning himself upon the steel that he held in his long, outstretched arm. Indeed, I think it pricked his throat, for he checked himself with an oath and drew his sword, a double-edged weapon with a sharp point, as long as mine perhaps, but not so heavy.
"I see that I must finish the pair of you. Perchance, Blanche, you will protect my back as a loving wife should do, until this lout is done with," he said, swaggering to the last.
"Kari," I commanded, "hold the candles aloft that the light may be good, and leave this man to me."
Kari bowed and took the copper taper stands, one in either hand, and held them aloft. But first he placed his long dagger, not back in his belt, but between his teeth with the handle towards his right hand. Even then in some strange fashion I noted how terrible looked this grim dark man holding the candles high with the knife gripped between his white teeth.
Deleroy and I faced each other in the open space between the fire and the door. Blanche turned round upon her stool and watched, uttering no sound. But I laughed aloud for of the end I had no doubt. Had there been ten Deleroys I would have slain them all. Still presently I found there was cause to doubt, for when, parrying his first thrust, I drove at him with all my strength, instead of piercing him through and through the ancient sword, Wave-Flame, bent in my hand like a bow as it is strung, telling me that beneath his Joseph's coat of silk Deleroy wore a shirt of mail.
Then I cried: "A-hoi!" as Thorgrimmer my ancestor may have done when he wielded this same sword, and while Deleroy still staggered beneath my thrust I grasped Wave-Flame with both hands, wheeled it aloft, and smote. He lifted his arm round which he had wound his cloak, to protect his head, but the sword shore through cloak and arm, so that his hand with the glittering rings upon it fell to the floor.
Again I smote for, as both of us knew, this business was to the death, and Deleroy fell down dead, smitten through the brain.
Kari smiled gently, and lifting the cloak, shook it out and threw it over what had been Deleroy. Then he took my sword and while I watched him idly, cleansed it with rushes from the floor.
Next I heard a sound from the neighbourhood of the fire, and bethinking me of Blanche turned to speak to her, though what I was going to say God knows for I do not.
A terrible sight met my eyes and burned itself into my very soul so that it could never be forgot. Blanche was leaning back in the oak chair over which flowed her long, fair locks, and the front of her robe was red. I remembered how she had spilt the wine at the feast and thought I saw its stain, till presently, still staring, I noted that it grew and knew it to be caused by another wine, that of her blood. Also I noted that from the midst of it seen in the lamplight, just beneath the snake-encircled ruby heart, appeared the little handle of a dagger.
I sprang to her, but she lifted her hand and waved me back.
"Touch me not," she whispered, "I am not fit, also the thrust is mortal. If you draw the knife I shall die at once, and first I would speak. I would have you know that I love you and hoped to be a good wife to you. What I said was true. That dead man tricked me with a false marriage when I was scarcely more than a child, and afterwards he would not mend it with an honest. Perchance he himself was wed, or he had other reasons, I do not know. My father guessed much but not all. I tried to warn you when you offered yourself, but you were deaf and blind and would not see or listen. Then I gave way, liking you well and thinking that I should find rest, as indeed I do; thinking also that I should be wealthy and able to shut that villain's mouth with gold. I never knew he was coming here or even that he had sailed home from France, but he broke in upon me, having learned that you were away, and was about to leave when you returned. He came for money for which he believed that I had wed, and thinking to win me back from one doomed by his lies to a traitor's death. You know the rest, and for me there was but one thing to do. Be glad that you are no longer burdened with me and go find happiness in the arms of a more fortunate or a better woman. Fly, and swiftly, for Deleroy had many friends and the King himself loved him as a brother—as well he may. Fly, I say, and forgive—forgive! Hubert, farewell!"
Thus she spoke, ever more slowly and lower, till with the last word her life left her lips.
Thus ended the story of my marriage with Blanche Aleys.
THE NEW WORLD
They were forever silent now, who, but a breath before, had been so full of life and the stir of mortal passion; Deleroy dead beneath the cloak upon the floor, Blanche dead in the oaken chair. We who remained alive were silent also. I glanced at Kari's face; it was as that of a stone statue on a tomb, only in it his large eyes shone, noting all things and, as I imagined in my distraught fancy, filled with triumph and foreknowledge. Considering it in that strange calm of the spirit which sometimes supervenes on great and terrible events that for a while crush its mortality from the soul and set it free to marvel at the temporal pettiness of all we consider immediate and mighty, I wondered what was the aspect of my own.
At the moment, I, who on this day had passed the portals of so many emotions: that of the lover's longing for his bride won at last, only to be lost again, that of acute and necessary business, that of the ancient joy of battle and vengeance wreaked upon an evil man; that of the unshuttering of my own eyes to the flame of a hellish truth, that of the self-murder and turning to cold clay before those same eyes of her whom I had hoped to clasp in honest love—I, I say, felt as though I, too, were dead. Indeed all within was dead, only the shell of flesh remained alive, and in my heart I echoed the words of my old uncle and of a wiser than he who went before him—"Vanity of vanities! All is vanity!"
It was Kari who spoke first, Kari as ever calm and even-voiced, saying in his broken English of which but the substance is recorded:
"Things have happened, good things I hold, though you, Master, may think otherwise for a little while. Yet in this rough land of savages and small justice these things may bring trouble. That lord brought a writing," and he nodded towards the document on the table, "and talked of death for you, Master—not for himself. And the lady, while she still lived, she say—'Fly, fly or die!' And now?" and he glanced at the two bodies.
I looked at him vacantly for the numbness following the first shock was passing away and all the eating agony of my loss began to fix its fangs upon my heart.
"Whither can I fly?" I asked. "And why should I fly? I am an innocent man and for the rest, the sooner I am dead the better."
"My Master must fly," answered Kari in swift, broken words, "because he still live and is free. Also sorrow behind, joy before. Kari, who hate women and read heart, Kari who drink this same bitter water long ago, guess these things coming and think and think. No need that Master trouble, Kari settle all and tell Master that if he do what he say, everything come right."
"What am I to do?" I asked with a groan.
"Ship Blanche on great river ready for sea. Master and Kari sail in her before daybreak. Here leave everything: much land, much wealth—what matter? Life more than these things which can get again. Come. No, one minute, wait."
Then he went to the body of Deleroy and with wonderful swiftness took off it the chain coat he wore beneath his tunic, which he put on his own body. Also he took his sword and buckled it about him, while the parchment writ he threw upon the fire. Then he extinguished the hanging lamp and gave me one of the candles, taking the other himself.
At the door I held up my candle and by the light of it looked my last upon the ashen face of Blanche, which face I knew must go with me through all my life's days.
Kari locked the stout oaken door of the solar from the outside and took me into my chamber, where was the armour of the knight whom I had killed on Hastings Hill, which armour I had caused to be altered to fit myself. Swiftly he buckled it on to me, throwing over all a long, dark robe such as merchants wear. From the cupboard, too, he brought the big black bow and a sheath of arrows, also a purseful of gold pieces from where they were kept, and with them the leathern bag which he had worn when I found him on the quay.
We went into the room where the feast had been held and there drank some wine, though eat I could not. The cup from which I drank was, as it chanced, the same in which I had pledged Blanche at the bride feast. Now I pledged her spirit whereon I prayed God's mercy.
We left the house and in the stable saddled two horses, strong, quiet beasts. Then by way of the back yard we rode out into the night, none seeing us, for by now all were asleep, and in that weather the streets were empty, even of such as walked them in darkness.
We reached the quay I know not how long afterwards whose mind was full of thoughts that blotted out all else. How strange had been my life—that was one of them. Within a few years I had risen to great wealth, and won the woman I desired. And now where was the wealth and where was the woman, and what was I? One flying his native land by night with blood upon his hands, the blood of a King's favourite that, if he were taken, would bring him to the noose. Oh! how great was the contrast between the morn and the midnight of that day for me! "Vanity of vanities. All is vanity!"
I think that my mind must have wandered, for when my soul was swallowed in this deepest pit of hell, it seemed to me that he whom I had worshipped as a heavenly patron, St. Hubert, appeared striding by my horse with a shining countenance and said to me:
"Have good courage, Godson, and remember your mother's words—a wanderer shall you be, but where'er you go the good bow and the good sword shall keep you safe and I wander with you. Nor does all love die with one woman's passing breath."
This phantasy, as it were, lanced the abscess of my pain and for a while I was easier. Also something of hope came back to me. I no longer desired to die but rather to live and in life, not in the tomb, to find forgetfulness.
We reached the quay and placed the horses in a shed that served as stables there, ridding them of their bits and saddles that they might eat of the hay in the racks. The thought to do this came to me, which showed that my mind was working again since still I could attend to the wants of other creatures. Then we went to the quayside where was made fast that boat in which I had come ashore some hours gone. There was a moon which now and again showed between the drifting clouds, and by the light of it I saw that the Blanche lay safe at her anchors not a bowshot away. The gale had fallen much with the rising of the moon, as it often does, and so it came about that although the boat was over-large for two men to handle rightly, Kari and I, by watching our chance, were able to row it to the ship, on to which we climbed by the ladder.
Here we found a sailor on watch who was amazed to see us, and with his help, made the boat fast by the tow rope to the stern of the ship.
This done I caused the captain to be awakened and told him briefly that as the gale had abated and tide and wind served, I desired to sail at once. He stared at me, thinking me mad, whom he knew to have been married but that day.
Surely, he said, I should wait for the light and to gather up those of the ship's company who were still ashore. I answered that I would wait for nothing, and when he asked why, was inspired to tell him that it was because I went about the King's business, having letters from his Grace to deliver to his Envoys in the South Seas that brooked of no delay, since on them hung peace or war.
"Beware," I said to him, "how you, or any of you, dare to disobey the King's orders, for you know that the fate of such is a short shrift and a long rope."
Then that captain grew frightened and summoned the sailors, who by now had slept off their drink, and to them he told my commands. They murmured, pointing to the sky, but when they saw me standing there, wearing a knight's armour and looking very stern with my hand upon my sword, when also through Kari I promised them double pay for the voyage, they, too, grew frightened, and having set some small sails, got up the anchors.
So it came about that within little more than an hour of our boarding of that ship she was running out towards the sea as fast as tide and wind could drive her. I think that it was not too soon, for as the quay vanished in the gloom I saw men with lanterns moving on it, and thought to myself that perhaps an alarm had been given and they were come to take me.
This captain was one who knew the river well, and with the help of another sailor he steered us down its reaches safely. By dawn we had passed Tilbury and at full light were off Gravesend racing for the open sea. Now it was that behind us we perceived from the rushing clouds that the gale, which had lulled during the night, was coming up more strongly than ever and still easterly. The sailors grew afraid again and together with the captain vowed that it was madness to face the sea in such weather, and that we must anchor, or make the shore if we could.
I refused to listen to them, whereat they seemed to give way.
At that moment Kari, who had gone forward, called to me. I went to him and he pointed out to me men galloping along the bank and waving kerchiefs, as though to signal to us to stop.
"I think, Master," said Kari, "that some have entered the sun-room at your house."
I nodded and watched the men who galloped and waved. For some minutes I watched them till suddenly I saw that the ship was altering her course so that her bow pointed first one way and then another, as though she were no longer being steered. We ran aft to learn the cause, and found this.
That crew of dastards, every man of them and the captain with them, had drawn up the boat in which Kari and I came aboard, that was still tied to the ship's stern, and slid down the rope into her, purposing to win ashore before it was too late. Kari smiled as though he were not astonished, but in my rage I shouted at them, calling them curs and traitors. I think that the captain heard my words for I saw him turn his head and look away as though in shame, but not the others. They were engaged in hunting for the oars, only to find them gone, for it would seem that they had been washed or had fallen overboard.
Then they tried to set some kind of sail by aid of a boathook, but while they were doing this, the boat, which had drifted side on to the great waves raised by the gale upon the face of the broad river, overturned. I saw some of the men clinging to the boat and one or two scrambling on to her keel, but what chanced to them and the others I do not know, who had rushed to the steering gear to set the ship upon her course again, lest her fate should be that of the boat, or we should go ashore and be captured by those who galloped on the bank, or be drowned. This was the last I ever saw or heard of the crew of the Blanche.
The ship's bow came round and, driven by the ever-increasing gale, she rushed on her course towards the sea, bearing us with her, two weak and lonely men.
"Kari," I said, "what shall we do? Try to run ashore, or sail on?"
He thought awhile then answered, pointing to those who galloped, now but tiny figures on the distant bank:
"Master, yonder is death, sure death; and yonder," here he pointed to the sea, "is death—perhaps. Master, you have a God, and I, Kari, have another God, mayhap same God with different name. I say—Trust our Gods and sail on, for Gods better than men. If we die in water, what matter? Water softer than rope, but I think not die."
I nodded, for the reasoning seemed good. Rather would I be drowned than fall into the hands of those who were galloping on the shore, to be dragged back to London and a felon's doom.
So I pressed upon the tiller to bring the Blanche more into mid-channel, and headed for the sea. Wider and wider grew the estuary and farther and farther away the shores as the Blanche scudded on beneath her small sails with the weight of the gale behind her, till at last there was the open sea.
Within a few feet of the tiller was a deck-house, in which the crew ate, built of solid oak and clamped with iron. Here was food in plenty, ale, too, and with these we filled ourselves. Also, leaving Kari to hold the tiller, I took off my armour and in place of it clothed myself in the rough sea garments that lay about with tall greased boots, and then sent him to do likewise.
Soon we lost sight of land and were climbing the great ocean billows, whose foamy crests rolled and spurted wherever the eye fell. We could set no course but must go where the gale drove us, away, away we knew not whither. As I have said, the Blanche was new and strong and the best ship that ever I had sailed in upon a heavy sea. Moreover, her hatches were closed down, for this the sailors had done after we weighed, so she rode the waters like a duck, taking no harm. Oh! well it was for me that from my childhood I had had to do with ships and the sailing of them, and flying from the following waves thus was able to steer and keep the Blanche's poop right in the wind, which seemed to blow first from one quarter and then from that.
Now over my memory of these events there comes a great confusion and sense of amazement. All became fragmentary and disjointed, separated also by what seemed to be considerable periods of time—days or weeks perhaps. There was a sense of endless roaring seas before which the ship fled on and on, driven by a screaming gale that I noted dimly seemed to blow first from the northwest and then steadily from the east.
I see myself, very distinctly, lashing the tiller to iron rings that were screwed in the deck beams, and know that I did this because I was too weak to hold it any longer and desired to set it so that the Blanche should continue to drive straight before the gale. I see myself lying in the deck-house of which I have spoken, while Kari fed me with food and water and sometimes thrust into my mouth little pellets of I knew not what, which he took from the leathern bag he wore about him. I remembered that bag. It had been on his person when I rescued him at the quay, for I had seen it first as he washed himself afterwards, half full of something, and wondered what it contained. Later, I had seen it in his hand again when we left my house after the death of Blanche. I noted that whenever he gave me one of these pellets I seemed to grow strong for a while, and then to fall into sleep, deep and prolonged.
After more days—or weeks, I began to behold marvels and to hear strange voices. I thought that I was talking with my mother and with my patron, St. Hubert; also that Blanche came to me and explained everything, showing how little she had been to blame for all that had happened to me and her. These things made me certain that I was dead and I was glad to be dead, since now I knew there would be no more pain or strivings; that the endeavours which make up life from hour to hour had ceased and that rest was won. Only then appeared my uncle, John Grimmer, who kept quoting his favourite text at me—"Vanity of vanities. All is vanity," he said, adding: "Did I not tell you that it was thus years ago? Now you have learned it for yourself. Only, Nephew Hubert, don't think that you have finished with vanities yet, as I have, for I say that there are plenty more to come for you."
Thus he seemed to talk on about this and other matters, such as what would happen to his wealth and whether the hospitals would be quick to seize the lands to which he had given it the reversion, till I grew quite tired of him and wished that he would go away.
Then at length there was a great crash that I think disturbed him, for he did go, saying that it was only another "vanity," after which I seemed to fall asleep for weeks and weeks.
I woke up again for a warmth and brightness on my face caused me to open my eyes. I lifted my hand to shield them from the brightness and noted with a kind of wonder that it was so thin that the light shone through it as it does through parchment, and that the bones were visible beneath the skin. I let it fall from weakness, and it dropped on to hair which I knew must be that of a beard, which set me wondering, for it had been my fashion to go clean-shaven. How, then, did I come by a beard? I looked about me and saw that I was lying on the deck of a ship, yes, of the Blanche itself, for I knew the shape of her stern, also certain knots in one of the uprights of the deck-house that formed a rude resemblance to a human face. Nothing of this deck-house was left now, except the corner posts between which I lay, and to the tops of these was lashed a piece of canvas as though to keep off the sun and the weather.
With difficulty I lifted my head a little and looked about me. The bulwarks of the ship had gone, but some of the uprights to which the planks had been nailed remained, and between them I perceived tall-stemmed trees with tufts of great leaves at the top of them, which trees seemed to be within a few yards of me. Bright-winged birds flew about them and in their crowns I saw apes such as the sailors used to bring home from Barbary. It would seem, then, that I must be in a river (in fact, it was a little bay or creek, on either side of which these trees appeared).
Noting these and the creeping plants with beautiful flowers, such as I had never seen, that climbed up them, and the sweet scents that floated on the air, and the clear light, now I grew sure that I was dead and had reached Paradise. Only then how came it that I still lay on the ship, for never had I heard that such things also went to Paradise? Nay, I must dream; it was nothing but a dream that I wished were true, remembering as I did the terrors of that gale-tossed sea. Or, if I did not dream, then I was in some new world.
While I mused thus I heard a sound of soft footsteps and presently saw a figure bending over me. It was Kari, very thin and hollow-eyed, much, indeed, as he had been when I found him on the quay in London, but still Kari without doubt. He looked at me in his grave fashion, then said softly:
"Yes, Kari," I said, "but tell me, where am I?"
He did not answer at once but went away and returned presently with a bowl from which he bade me drink, holding it to my lips. I did so, swallowing what seemed to be broth though I thought it strangely flavoured, after which I felt much stronger, for whatever was in that broth ran through my veins like wine. At last he spoke in his queer English.
"Master," he said, "when we still in Thames River, you ask me whether we should run ashore into the hands of the hunters who try to catch us, or sail on. I answer, 'You have God and I have God and better fall into hands of gods than into hands of men.' So we sail on into the big storm. For long we sail, and though once it turn, always the great wind blew, behind us. You grow weak and your mind leave you, but I keep you alive with medicine that I have and for many days I stay awake and steer. Then at last my mind leave me, too, and I know no more. Three days ago I wake up and find the ship in this place. Then I eat more medicine and get strength, also food from people on the shore who think us gods. That all the story, except that you live, not die. Your God and my God bring us here safe."
"Yes, Kari, but where are we?"
"Master, I think in that country from which I come; not in my own land which is still far away, but still in that country. You remember," he added with a flash of his dark eyes, "I always say that you and I go there together one day."
"But what is the country, Kari?"
"Master, not know its name. It big and have many names, but you first white man who ever come here, that why people think you God. Now you go sleep again; to-morrow we talk."
I shut my eyes, being so very tired, and as I learned afterwards, slept for twelve hours or more, to awake on the morning of the following day, feeling wonderfully stronger and able to eat with appetite. Also Kari brought me water and washed me, and clean clothes which he had found in the ship that I put on.
Thus it went on for a long while and day by day I recovered strength till at length I was almost as I had been when I married Blanche Aleys in the church of St. Margaret at Westminster. Only now sorrow had changed me within and without my face had grown more serious, while to it hung a short yellow beard which, when I looked at my reflection, seemed to become me well enough. That beard puzzled me much, since such are not grown in a day, although it is true that as yet it was not over-long. Weeks must have passed since it began to sprout upon my chin and as we had been but three days in this place when I woke up, those weeks without doubt were spent upon the sea.
Whither, then, had we come? Driving all the while before a great gale, that for most of our voyage had blown from the east, as, if Kari were right, we had done, this country must be very far away from England. That it was so, indeed there could be no doubt, since here everything was different. For example, having been a mariner from my childhood, I had been taught and observed something of the stars, and noted that the constellations had changed their places in the heavens, also that some with which I was familiar were missing, while other new ones had appeared. Further, the heat was great and constant, even at night being more than that of our hottest summer day, and the air was full of stinging insects, which at first troubled me much, though afterwards I grew hardened to them. In short, everything was changed, and I was indeed in a new world that was not told of in Europe, but what world? What world? At least the sea joined it to the old, for beneath me was still the Blanche, which timber by timber I had seen built up upon the shores of Thames from oaks cut in my own woods.
As soon as I was strong enough, I went over the ship, or what was left of her. It was a marvel that she had floated for so long, since her hull was shattered. Indeed, I do not think she could have done so, save for the fine wool that was packed into the lower part of her, which wool seemed to have swollen when it grew wet and to have kept the water out. For the rest she was but a hulk, since both her masts were gone, and much of the deck with them. Still she had kept afloat and driving into this creek, had beached herself upon the mud as though it were the harbour that she sought.
How had we lived through such a journey? The answer seemed to be, after we were too weak to find or take food, by means of the drug that Kari cherished in his skin bag, and water of which there was plenty left at hand in barrels, since the Blanche had been provisioned for a long voyage to Italy and farther. At least we had lived for weeks, and weeks, being still young and very strong, and not having been called upon to suffer great cold, since it would appear that although the gale continued after the first few days of our flight before it, the weather had turned warm.
During this time of my recovery, every morning Kari would go ashore, which he did by means of planks set upon the mud, since we were within a few feet of the bank of the creek into which a streamlet ran. Later he would return, bringing with him fish and wildfowl, and corn of a sort that I did not know, for its grains were a dozen times the size of wheat, flat-sided, and if ripe, of a yellow colour, which he said he had purchased from those who dwelt upon the land. On this good food I feasted, washing it down with ale and wine from the ship's stores; indeed never before did I eat so much, not even when I was a boy.
At length, one morning Kari made me put on my armour, the same which I had taken from the French knight, and fled in from London, that he had burnished till it shone like silver, and seat myself in a chair upon what remained of the poop of the ship. When I asked him why, he answered in order that he might show me to the inhabitants of that land. In this chair he bade me sit and wait, holding the shield upon my arm and the bare sword in my right hand.
As I had come to know that Kari never did anything without a reason and remembered that I was in a strange country where, lacking him, I should not have lived or could continue to do so, I fell into his humour. Moreover, I promised that I would remain still and neither speak, nor smile, nor rise from my chair unless he bade me. So there I sat glittering in the hot sunshine which burned me through the armour.
Then Kari went ashore and was absent for some time. At length among the trees and undergrowth I heard the sound of people talking in a strange tongue. Presently they appeared on the bank of the creek, a great number of them, very curious people, brown-skinned with long, lank black hair and large eyes, but not over-tall in stature; men, women and children together.
Among them were some who wore white robes whom I took to be their gentlefolk, but the most of them had only cloths or girdles about their middles. Leading the throng was Kari, who, as it appeared from the bushes, waved his hand and pointed me out seated in the shining armour on the ship, the visor up to show my face and the long sword in my hand. They stared, then, with a low, sighing exclamation, one and all fell upon their faces and rubbed their brows upon the ground.
As they lay there Kari addressed them, waving his arms and pointing towards me from time to time. Afterwards I learned that he was telling them I was a god, for which lie may his soul be forgiven.
The end of it was that he bade them rise and led certain of them who wore the white robes across the planks to the ship. Here, while they hung back, he advanced towards me, bowing and kissing the air till he drew near, then he went upon his knees and laid his hands upon my steel-clad feet. More, from the bosom of his robe he drew out flowers which he placed upon my knees as though in offering.
"Now, Master," he whispered to me, "rise and wave your sword and shout aloud, to show that you are alive and not an image."
So up I sprang, circling Wave-Flame about my head and roaring like any bull of Bashan, for my voice was always loud and carried far. When they saw the bright sword whirling through the air and heard these bellowings, uttering cries of fear, those poor folk fled. Indeed most of them fell from the plank into the mud, where one stuck fast and was like to drown, had not Kari rescued him, which his brethren were in too great haste to do.
After they had gone Kari came and said that everything went well and that henceforward I was not a man but the Spirit of the Sea come to earth, such a spirit as had never been dreamed of even by the wizards.
Thus then did Hubert of Hastings become a god among those simple people, who had never before so much as heard of a white man, or seen armour or a sword of steel.
THE ROCKY ISLE
For another week or more I remained upon the Blanche waiting till my full strength returned, also because Kari said I must do so. When I asked him why, he replied for the reason that he wished news of my coming to spread far and wide throughout the land from one tribe to another, which it would do with great swiftness, flying, as he put it, like a bird. Meanwhile, every day I sat upon the poop in the armour for an hour or more, and both these people and others from afar came to look at me, bringing me presents in such quantity that we knew not what to do with them. Indeed, they built an altar and sacrificed wild creatures to me, and birds, burning them with fire. Both those that I had seen and the other folk from a long way off made this offering.
At last one night, when, having eaten, Kari and I were seated together in the moonshine before we slept, I turned on him suddenly, hoping thus to surprise the truth out of his secret heart, and said:
"What is your plan, Kari? For, know, I weary of this life."
"I was waiting for the Master to ask that question," he replied with his gentle smile. (Again, I give not the very words he spoke in his bad English, but the substance of them.) "Now will the Master be pleased to listen? As I have told the Master, I believe that the gods, his God and my God, have brought me back to that part of the world which is unknown to the Master, where I was born. I believed this from the first hour that my eyes opened on it after our swoon, for I knew the trees and the flowers and the smell of the earth, and saw that the stars in the heavens stood where I used to see them. When I went ashore and mingled with the natives, I discovered that this belief was right, since I could understand something of their talk and they could understand something of mine. Moreover, among them was a man who came from far away, who said that he had seen me in past years, wandering like one mad, only that this man whom he had seen wore the image of a certain god about his neck, whose name was too high for him to mention. Then I opened my robe and showed him that which I wear about my neck, and he fell down and worshipped it, crying out that I was the very man."
"If so, it is marvellous," I said. "But what shall we do?"
"The Master can do one of two things. He can stop here, where these simple people will make him their king and give him wives and all that he desires, and so live out his life, since of return to the land whence he came there is no hope."
"And if there were I would not go," I interrupted.
"Or," went on Kari, "he can try to travel to my country. But that is very far away. Something of the journey which I made when I was mad comes back and tells me that it is very, very far away. First, yonder mountains must be crossed till another sea is reached, which is no great journey, though rough. Then the coast of that sea must be followed southward, for I know not how far, but, as I think, for months or years of journeying, till at length the country of my people is reached. Moreover, that journeying is hard and terrible, since the road runs through forests and deserts where dwell savage tribes and huge snakes and wild beasts, like those planted on the flag of your country, and where famine and sicknesses are common. Therefore my counsel to the Master is that he should leave it unattempted."
Now I thought awhile, and asked what he meant to do if I took this counsel of his. To which he replied:
"I shall wait here awhile till I see the Master made a king among these people and established in his rule. Then I shall start on that journey alone, hoping that what I could do when I was mad I shall be able to do again when I am not mad."
"I thought it," I said. "But tell me, Kari, if we were to make this journey and perchance live to reach your people, how would they welcome us?"
"I do not know, Master; but I think that of the master they would make a god, as will all the other people of this country. Perhaps, too, they will sacrifice this god that his strength and beauty may enter into them. As for me, some of them will try to kill me and others will cling to me. Who will conquer I do not know, and to me it matters little. I go to take my own and to be avenged, and if in seeking vengeance I die—well, I die in honour."
"I understand," I said. "And now, Kari, let us start as soon as possible before I become as mad from staring at those trees and flowers and those big-eyed natives, that you say would make me a king, as you tell me you were when you left your country. Whether we shall ever find that country I cannot say. But at least we shall have done our best and, if we fail, shall perish seeking, as in this way or in that it is the lot of all brave men to do."
"The Master has spoken," said Kari, even more quietly than usual, though as he spoke I saw his dark eyes flash and a trembling as of joy run down his body. "Knowing all, he has made his choice, and whatever happens, being what it is, he will not blame me. Yet because the Master has thus chosen, I say this—that if we reach my country, and if, perchance, I become a king there, even more than before I shall be the Master's servant."
"That is easy to promise now, Kari, but it will be time to talk of it when we do reach your land," I said, laughing, and asked him when we were to start.
He replied not yet awhile, as he must make plans, and that in the meantime I must walk upon the shore so that my legs might grow strong again. So there every day I walked in the cool of the morning and in the evening, not going out of sight of the wreck. I went armed and carrying my big bow, but saw no one, since the natives had been warned that I should walk and must not be looked upon while I did so. Therefore, even when I passed through one of their villages of huts built of mud and thatched with leaves, it seemed to be deserted.
Still, in the end the bow did not come amiss, for one evening, hearing a little noise in a big tree under which I was about to pass that reminded me of the purring of a cat, I looked up and saw a great beast of the tiger sort lying on the bough of the tree and watching me. Then I drew the bow and sent an arrow through that beast, piercing it from side to side, and down it came roaring and writhing, and biting at the arrow till it died.
After this I returned to the ship and told Kari what had happened. He said it was fortunate I had killed the beast, which was of a very fierce kind, and if I had not seen it, would have leapt on me as I passed under the tree. Also he sent natives to skin it who when they saw that it was pierced through and through by the arrow, were amazed and thought me an even greater god than before, their own bows being but feeble and their arrows tipped with bone.
Three days after the killing of this beast we started on our journey into a land unknown. For a long while before Kari and I had been engaged in collecting all the knives we could find in the ship, also arrows, nails, axes, tools of carpentering, clothes, and I know not what else besides, which goods we tied up in bundles wrapped in sailcloth, each bundle weighing from thirty to forty pounds, to serve as presents to natives or to trade away with them. When I asked who would carry them, Kari answered that I should see. This I did at dawn on the following morning when there arrived upon the shore a great number of men, quite a hundred indeed, who brought with them two litters made of light wood jointed like reeds, only harder, in which Kari said he and I were to be carried. Among these men he parcelled out the loads which they were to bear upon their heads, and then said that it was time for us to start in the litters.
So we started, but first I went down into a cabin and kneeling on my knees, thanked God for having brought me safe so far, and prayed Him and St. Hubert to protect me on my further wanderings, and if I died, to receive my soul. This done I left the ship and while the natives bowed themselves about me, entered my litter, which was comfortable enough, having grass mats to lie on and other mats for curtains, very finely woven, so that they would turn even the heaviest rain.
Then away we went, eight men bearing the pole to which each litter was slung on their shoulders, while others carried the bundles upon their heads. Our road ran through forest uphill, and on the crest of the first hill I descended from the litter and looked back.
There in the creek below lay the wreck of the Blanche, now but a small black blot showing against the water, and beyond it the great sea over which we had travelled. Yonder broken hulk was the last link which bound me to my distant home thousands of miles across the ocean, that home, which my heart told me I should never see again, for how could I win back from a land that no white foot had ever trod?
On the deck of this ship Blanche herself had stood and smiled and talked, for once we visited it together shortly before our marriage, and I remembered how I had kissed her in its cabin. Now Blanche was dead by her own hand and I, the great London merchant, was an outcast among savages in a country of which I did not even know the name, where everything was new and different. And there the ship with her rich cargo, after bearing us so bravely through weeks of tempest, must lie until she rotted in the sun and rain and never again would my eyes behold her. Oh! then it was that a sense of all my misery and loneliness gripped my heart as it had not done before since I rode away after killing Deleroy with the sword Wave-Flame, and I wondered why I had been born, and almost hoped that soon I might die and go to seek the reason.
Back into the litter I crept and there hid my face and wept like a child. Truly I, the prosperous merchant of London town who might have lived to become its mayor and magistrate and win nobility, was now an outcast adventurer of the humblest. Well, so God had decreed, and there was no more to say.
That night we encamped upon a hilltop past which rushed a river in the vale below and were troubled with heat and insects that hummed and bit, for to these as yet I was not accustomed, and ate of the food that we had brought with us, dried flesh and corn.
Next morning with the light we started on again, up and down mountains and through more forests, following the course of the river and the shores of a lake. So it went on until on the third evening from high land we saw the sea beneath us, a different sea from that which we had left, for it seemed that we had been crossing an isthmus, not so wide but that if any had the skill, a canal might be cut across it joining those two great seas.
Now it was that our real travels began, for here, after staring at the stars and brooding apart for a long while, Kari turned southwards. With this I had nothing to do who did not greatly care which way he turned. Nor did he speak to me of the matter, except to say that his god and such memory as remained to him through his time of madness told him that the land of his people lay towards the south, though very far away.
So southwards we went, following paths through the forests with the ocean on our right hand. After a week of this wearisome marching we came to another tribe of natives of whose talk those with us could understand enough to tell them our story. Indeed the rumour that a white god had appeared in the land out of the sea had already reached them, and therefore they were prepared to worship me. Here our people left us, saying that they dared not go further from their own country.
The scene of the departure was strange, since every one of them came and rubbed his forehead in the dust before me and then went away, walking backwards and bowing. Still their going did not make a great difference to us, since the new tribe was much as the old one, though if anything, rather less clothed and more dirty. Also it accepted me as a god without question and gave us all the food we needed. Moreover, when we left their land men were provided to carry the litters and the loads.
Thus, then, passing from tribe to tribe, we travelled on southward, ever southwards, finding always that the rumour of the coming of "the god" had gone before us. So gentle were all these people, that not once did we meet with any who tried to harm us or to steal our goods, or who refused us the best of what they had. Our adventures, it is true, were many. Thus, twice we came to tribes that were at war with other tribes, though on my appearance they laid down their arms, at any rate, for a time, and bore our litters forward.
Again, sometimes we met tribes who were cannibals and then we suffered much from want of meat, since we dared not touch their food unless it were grain. In the town of the first of these cannibal people, being moved with fury, I killed a man whom I found about to murder a child and eat her, sweeping off his head with my sword. For this deed I expected that they would murder us, but they did not. They only shrugged their shoulders and saying that a god can do as he pleases, took away the slain man and ate him.
Sometimes our road ran through terrible forests where the great trees shut out the light of day, and a path must be hacked through the undergrowth. Sometimes it was haunted by tigers or tree lions such as I have spoken of, against which we must watch continuously, especially at night, keeping the brutes off by means of fires. Sometimes we were forced to wade great rivers, or worse still, to walk over them on swaying bridges made of cables of twisted reeds that until I grew accustomed to them caused my head to swim, though never did I permit myself to show fear before the natives. Again, once we came to swampy lands that were full of snakes which terrified me much, especially after I had seen some natives whom they bit, die within a few minutes.
Other snakes there were also, as thick as a man's body, and four or five paces in length, which lived in trees and killed their food by coiling round it and pressing it to death. These snakes, it was said, would take men in this fashion, though I never saw one of them do so. At any rate, they were terrible to look on, and reminded me of their forefather through whose mouth Satan talked with Mother Eve in the Garden of Eden, and thus brought us all to woe.
Once, too, on the bank of a great river, I saw such a snake that at the sight of it my knees knocked together. By St. Hubert, the beast was sixty feet or more in length; its head was of the bigness of a barrel, and its skin was of all the colours of the rainbow. Moreover, it seemed to hold me with its eyes, for till it slipped away into the river I could not move a foot.
Month after month we travelled thus, covering a matter of perhaps five miles a day, since sometimes the country was open and we crossed it with speed. Yet although our dangers were so many, strangely enough, during all this time, even in that heat neither of us fell sick, as I think because of the herb which Kari carried in his bag, that I found was named Coca, whereof we obtained more as we went and ate from time to time. Nor did we ever really suffer from starvation, since when we were hungry we took more of this herb which supported us until we could find food. These mercies I set down to the good offices of St. Hubert watching from Heaven over me, his poor namesake and godson, though perhaps the skill and courage of Kari which provided against everything had something to do with them.
At length, in the ninth month of our travelling, as Kari reckoned it by means of knots which he tied on pieces of native string, for I had long lost count of time, we came to the borders of a great desert that the natives said stretched southwards for a hundred leagues and more and was without water. Moreover, to the east of this desert rose a chain of mountains bordered by precipices up which no man could climb. Here, therefore, it seemed as though our journey must end, since Kari had no knowledge of how he crossed or went round this desert in his madness of bygone years, if indeed he ever travelled that road at all, a matter of which I was not certain.
For a week or more we remained among the tribe that lived in a beautiful watered valley upon the borders of this desert, wondering what we should do. For my part I was by now so tired of travelling upon an endless quest that I should have been glad to stay among that tribe, a very gentle and friendly people, who like all the rest believed me to be a god, and make my home there till I died. But this was not Kari's mind, which was set fiercely upon winning back to his own country that he believed to lie towards the south.
Day by day we sat there regaining our strength upon the good food of that valley, and staring first at the desert to the south, then at the precipices on our left hand, and lastly at the ocean upon our right. Now this people, I should say, drew their wealth from the sea as well as from the land, since they were great fishermen and went out upon it in rude boats or rafts made of a wooden frame to which were lashed blown-up skins and bundles of dried reeds. Upon these boats, frail as they seemed, such as further south were called balsas, they made considerable journeys to distant islands where they caught vast quantities of fish, some of which they used to manure their land. Moreover, besides the oars, they rigged a square cotton sail upon the balsas which enabled them to run before the wind without labour, steering the craft by means of a paddle at the stern.
While we were there I observed that on the springing up of a wind from the north, although it was of no great strength, the balsas all came to shore and were drawn up out of reach of the waves. When I inquired why through Kari, the answer given was because the fishing season was over, since that wind from the north would blow for a long time without changing and those who went out in it upon the sea might be driven southwards to return no more. They stated, indeed, that often this had happened to venturesome men who had vanished away and been lost.
"If you wish to travel south, there is a way of doing so," I said to Kari.
At the time he made no answer, but on the following day asked me suddenly if I dared attempt such a journey.
"Why not?" I answered. "It is as easy to die in the water as on land and I weary of journeying through endless swamps and forests or of crossing torrents and climbing mountain ridges."
The end of it was that for a knife and a few nails Kari purchased the largest balsa that these people had, provisioning it with as much dried fish, corn and water in earthenware jars as it would carry together with ourselves, and such of our remaining goods as we wished to take with us. Then we announced that I, the god who had come out of the sea, desired to return into the sea with himself, my servant.
So on a certain fine morning when the wind was blowing steadily but not too strongly from the north, we embarked upon that balsa while the simple savages made obeisance with wonder in their eyes, hoisted the square canvas, and sailed away upon what I suppose was one of the maddest voyages ever made by man.
Although it was so clumsy the balsa moved through the water at a good rate, covering quite two leagues the hour, I should say, before that strong and steady wind. Soon the village that we had left vanished; then the mountains behind it grew dim and in time vanished also, and there remained nothing but the great wilderness upon our left and the vast sea around. Steering clear of the land so as to avoid sunken rocks, we sailed on all that day and all the night that followed, and when the light came again perceived that we were running past a coastline that was backed by high mountains on some of which lay snow. By the second evening these mountains had become tremendous, and between them I saw valleys down which ran streams of water.
Thus we went on for three days and nights, the wind from the north blowing all the while and the balsa taking no hurt, by the end of which time I reckon that we had travelled as far along the coast as we had done in six months when we journeyed over land, at which I rejoiced. Kari rejoiced also, because he said that the shape and greatness of the mountains we were passing reminded him of those of his own country, to which he believed that we were drawing near.
On the fourth morning, however, our troubles began, since the friendly wind from the north grew steadily stronger, till at length it rose to a gale. Soon our little rag of canvas was torn away, but still we rushed on before the following seas at a very great speed.
Now I thought of trying to make the land, but found that we could not do so with the oars, because of the current that set out towards the ocean against which it was impossible to urge our clumsy craft. Therefore we must content ourselves with trying to keep her head straight with the steering oar, but even then we were often whirled round and round.
About two hours after noon the sky clouded over, and there burst upon us a great thunder-storm with torrents of rain; also the wind grew stronger and stronger.
Now we could no longer steer or do anything except lie flat upon the bottom of the balsa, gripping the cords with which it was tied together, to save ourselves from being washed overboard, since often the foaming crests of the waves broke upon us. Indeed, it was marvellous that this frail craft should hang together at all, but owing to the lightness of the reeds and the blown-up skins that were tied in them, still she floated and, whirling round and round, sped upon her southward path. Yet I knew that this could not endure for very long, and committed my soul to God as well as I was able in my half-drowned state, wishing that my miseries were ended.
The darkness came down, but still the thunder roared and the lightning blazed, and by the flare of it I caught sight of snow-capped mountains far away upon the coast, also of Kari clinging to the reeds of the balsa at my side, and from time to time kissing the golden image of Pachacamac which hung about his neck. Presently he set his lips against my ear and shouted:
"Be bold! Our gods are still with us in storm."
"Yes," I answered, "and soon we shall be with our gods—in peace."
After this I heard no more of him, and fell to thinking with such wits as were left to me of how many perils we had passed since we saw the shores of Thames, and that it seemed sad that all should have been for nothing, since it would have been better to die at the beginning than now at the end, after so much misery. Then the glare of the lightning shone upon the handle of the sword Wave-Flame, which was still strapped about me, and I remembered the rune written upon it which my mother had rendered to me upon the morning of the fight against the Frenchmen. How did it run?
He who lifts Wave-Flame on high In love shall live and in battle die. Storm-tossed o'er wide seas shall roam And in strange lands shall make his home. Conquering, conquered shall he be And far away shall sleep with me.
It fitted well, though of the love I had known little and that most unhappy, and the battle in which I must die was one with water. Also, I had conquered nothing who myself was conquered by Fate. In short, the thing could be read two ways, like all prophecies, and only one line of it was true beyond a doubt—namely, that Wave-Flame and I should sleep together.
Awhile later the lightning shone awesomely, like to the swords of a whole army of destroying angels, so that the sky became alive with fire. In its light for an instant I saw ahead of us great breakers, and beyond them what looked like a dark mass of land. Now we were in them, for the first of those hungry, curling waves got a hold of the balsa and tossed it up dizzily, then flung it down into a deep valley of water. Another came and another, till my senses reeled and went. I cried to St. Hubert, but he was a land saint and could not help me; so I cried to Another greater than he.
My last vision was of myself riding a huge breaker as though it were a horse. Then there came a crash and darkness.
Lo! it seemed to me as though one were calling me back from the depths of sleep. With trouble I opened my eyes only to shut them again because of the glare of the light. Then after a while I sat up, which gave me pain, for I felt as if I had been beaten all over, and looked once more. Above me shone the sun in a sky of deepest blue; before me was the sea almost calm, while around were rocks and sand, among which crawled great reptiles that I knew for turtles, as I had seen many of them in our wanderings. Moreover, kneeling at my side, with the sword that he had taken from the body of Deleroy still strapped about him, was Kari, who bled from some wound and was almost white with encrusted salt, but otherwise seemed unharmed. I stared at him, unable to open my mouth from amazement, so it was he who spoke the first, saying, in a voice that had a note of triumph in it:
"Did I not tell you that the gods were with us? Where is your faith, O White Man! Look! They have brought me back to the land of which I am Prince."
Now there was that in Kari's tone which in my weak state angered me. Why did he scold me about faith? Why did he address me as "White Man" instead of "Master"? Was it because he had reached a country where he was great and I was nothing? I supposed so, and answered;
"And are these your subjects, O noble Kari?" and I pointed to the crawling turtles. "And is this the rich and wondrous land where gold and silver are as mud?" and I pointed to the barren rocks and sand around.
He smiled at my jest, and answered more humbly:
"Nay, Master, yonder is my land."
Then I looked, following his glance, and saw many leagues way across the water two snowclad peaks rising above a bank of clouds.
"I know those mountains," he went on; "without doubt they are one of the gateways of my land."
"Then we might as well be in London for all the hope we have of passing that gate, Kari. But tell me what has chanced."
"This, I think. A very great wave caught us and threw us right over those rocks on to the shore. Look—there is the balsa," and he pointed to a broken heap of reeds and pierced skins.
With his help I rose and went to it. Now none could know that it had been a boat. Still, the balsa it was and nothing else, and tied in its tangled mass still remained those things which we had brought with us, such as my black bow and armour, though all the jars were broken.
"It has borne us well, but will never bear us again," I said.
"That is so, Master. But if we were in my own country yonder I would set its fragments in a case of gold and place them in the Temple of the Sun as a memorial."
Then we went to a pool of rainwater that lay in a hollow rock near by, and drank our fill, for we were very thirsty. Also among the ruins of the balsa we found some of the dried fish that was left to us, and having washed it, filled ourselves. After this we limped to the crest of the land behind and perceived that we were on a little island, perhaps two hundred English acres in extent, whereon nothing grew except some coarse grass. This island, however, was the haunt of great numbers of seafowl which nested there, also of the turtles that I have mentioned, and of certain beasts like seals or otters.
"At least we shall not starve," I said, "though in the dry season we may die of thirst."
Now there on that island we remained for four long months. For food we ate the turtles, which we cooked over fires that Kari made by cunningly twirling a pointed piece of driftwood in the hollow of another piece that he filled with the dust of dried grass. Had he lacked that knowledge we must have starved or lived on raw flesh. As it was, we had plenty with this meat and that of birds and their eggs, also of fish that we caught in the pools when the tide was down. From the shells of the turtles, by the help of stones, we built us a kind of hut to keep off the sun and the rain, which in that hot place was sufficient shelter; also, when the stench was out of them, we used other shells in which to catch rainwater that we stored as best we could against seasons of drought. Lastly, with my big bow which was saved with the armour, I shot sea-otters, and from their pelts we made us garments after rubbing the skins with turtle fat and handling them to make them soft.
Thus, then, we lived from moon to moon upon that desert place, till I thought I should go mad with loneliness and despair, for no help came near us. There were the mountains of the mainland far away, but between them and us stretched leagues of sea that we could not swim, nor had we anything of which to make a boat.
"Here we must remain until we die!" at last I cried in my wretchedness.
"Nay," answered Kari, "our gods are still with us and will save us in their season."
This, indeed, they did in a strange fashion.
THE DAUGHTER OF THE MOON
For the fourth time since we were cast away on this island the huge full moon shone in a sky of wondrous blue. Kari and I watched it rise between the two snow-clad peaks far away that he had called a gateway to his land, which was so near to us and yet it would seem more distant than Heaven itself. Heaven we might hope to reach upon the wings of spirit when we died, but to that country how could we come?
We watched that great moon climb higher and higher up a ladder of little bar-like clouds, till wearying we let our eyes fall upon the glittering pathway which its light made upon the bosom of the placid sea. Suddenly Kari stared and stared.
"What is it?" I asked idly.
"I thought I saw something yonder far away where Quilla's footsteps make the waters bright," he said, speaking in his own language in which now we often talked together.
"Quilla's?" I exclaimed. "Oh! I forgot: that is the lady moon's name in your tongue, is it not? Well, come, Quilla, and I will wed and worship you, as 'tis said the ancients did, and never turn to look upon another, be she woman, or goddess, or both. Only come and take me from this accursed isle and in payment I'll die for you, if need be, when first I've taught you how to love as star or woman never loved before."
"Hush!" said Kari in a grave voice, when he had listened to this mad stuff that burst through my lips from the spring of a mind distraught by misery and despair.
"Why should I hush?" I asked. "Is it not pleasant to think of the moon wearing a lovely woman's shape and descending to give a lonely mortal love and comfort?"
"Because, Master, to me and my people the moon is a goddess who hears prayer and answers it. Suppose, then, that she heard you and answered you and came to you and claimed your love, what then?"
"Why, then, friend Kari," I raved on, "then I should welcome her, for love goes a begging, ready as ripe fruit to be plucked by the first hand if it be fair enough, ready to melt beneath the first lips if they be warm enough. 'Tis said that it is the man who loves and the woman who accepts the love. But that is not true. It is the man, Kari, who waits to be loved and pays back just as much as is given to him, and no more, like an honest merchant; for if he does otherwise, then he suffers for it, as I have learned. Therefore, come, Quilla, and love as a Celestial can and I swear that step by step I'll keep pace with you in flesh and spirit through Heaven, or through Hell, since love I must have, or death."
"I pray you, talk not so," said Kari again, in a frightened voice, "since those words of yours come from the heart and will be heard. The goddess is a woman, too, and what woman will turn from such a bait?"
"Let her take it, then. Why not?"
"Because, O friend, because Quilla is wed to Yuti; the Moon is the Sun's wife, and if the Sun grows jealous what will happen to the man who has robbed the greatest of the world's gods?"
"I do not know and I do not care. If Quilla would but come and love me, I'd take my chance of Yuti whom as a Christian I defy."
Kari shuddered at this blasphemy, then having once more scanned that silver pathway on the waters, but without avail for the great fish or drifting tree or whatever he had seen, was gone, prayed after his fashion at night, to Pachacamac, Spirit of the Universe, or to the Sun his servant, god of the world, I know not which, and rolling himself in his rug of skins, crept into our little hut to sleep.
But as yet I did not sleep, for though Kari hated both, this talk of love and women had stirred my blood and made me wakeful. So I took a rough comb that I had fashioned from the shell of a turtle, and dragged it through my long fair beard, which, growing fast, now hung down far upon my breast, and through the curling hair that lay upon my shoulders, for I had become as other wild men are, and sang to myself there by the little fire which we kept burning day and night and tried to think of happy things that never should I know again.
At length the fit passed and I grew weary and laid myself down by the fire, for the night being so fine and warm I would not go into the hut, and there sleep found me.
I dreamed in my sleep. I dreamed that a very beautiful woman who wore upon her naked breast the emblem of the moon fashioned in crystal, stood over me, looking down upon me with large dark eyes. And as she looked she sighed. Thrice she sighed, each time more deeply than the last. Then she knelt down by me—or so it seemed in my dream, and laid a tress of her long dark hair against my yellow locks, as though she would match them together. She did more, indeed—in my dream—for lifting that tress of fragrant hair, she let it fall like thistledown across my face and mouth, and then kissed the hair, for I felt her breath reach me through its strands.
The dream ended thus, though I wished very much that it would go on, and I felt as though it had gone away as such visions do. Awhile later, as I suppose, I awoke quite suddenly, and opened my eyes. There, near to me, glittering in the full light of the brilliant moon, stood the woman of my dream, only now her naked breast was covered with a splendid cloak broidered with silver, and on her dark locks was a feathered headdress in front of which rose the crescent of the moon, likewise fashioned in silver. Also in her hand she held a little silver spear.
I stared at her, for move I could not. Then remembering my crazy talk with Kari, uttered one word, only one. It was—Quilla.
She bowed her head and answered in a voice soft as the murmur of the wind through rushes, speaking in the rich language called Quichua that Kari had taught me. In this tongue, as I have told, we talked together for practice during our journeys and on the island. So that now I knew it well.
"So indeed am I named after my mother, the 'Moon,'" she said. "But how did you know it, O Wanderer, whose skin is white as the foam of the sea and whose hair is yellow as the fine gold in the temples?"
"I think you must have told me when you knelt over me just now," I said.
I saw the red blood run to her brow, but she only shook her head, and answered:
"Nay, my mother, the Moon, must have told you; or perchance you learned it in the spirit. At least, Quilla am I named and you called me aright."
Now I stood up and stared at her, overcome by the strangeness of the business, and she stared at me. A marvellously beautiful woman she was in her dazzling robe and headdress, and lighter coloured than any native I had seen, almost white, indeed, in the moonlight save for the copper tinge that marked her race; tall, too, yet not over-tall; slim and straight as an arrow, but high-breasted and round-limbed, and with a wild grace in her movements like to that of a hawk upon the wing. Also to my fancy in her face there was something more than common youthful beauty, something spiritual, such as great artists show upon the carven countenances of saints.
Indeed she might well have been one whose human blood was mixed with some other alien strain—as she had called herself, a daughter of the Moon.
A question rose to my lips and burst from them; it was:
"Tell me, O Quilla, are you wife or maid?"
"Maid am I," she answered, "yet one who is promised as a wife," and she sighed, then went on quickly as though this matter were something of which she did not wish to talk, "And tell me, O Wanderer, are you god or man?"
Now I grew cunning and answered,
"I am a Son of the Sea as you are a Daughter of the Moon."
She turned her head and glanced at the radiance which lay upon the face of the deep, then said as though to herself:
"The moon shines upon the sea and the sea mirrors back the moon, yet they are far apart and never may draw near."
"Not so, O Quilla. Out of the sea does the moon rise and, her course run, into the sea's white arms she sinks to sleep at last."
Again the red blood ran to her brow and her great eyes fell, those eyes of which never before had I seen the like.
"It seems that they speak our tongue in the sea, and prettily," she murmured, adding, "But is it not from and into Heaven that the Moon rises and departs?"
At that moment to my grief our talk came to an end, for out of the hut crept Kari. He rose to his feet and stood there as ever calm and dignified, looking first at Quilla and then at me.
"What did I tell you, Master?" he said in English. "Did I not say that prayers such as yours are answered? Lo! here is that Child of the Moon for whom you sought, clothed in beauty and bringing her gifts of love and woe."
"Yes," I exclaimed, "and I am glad that she is here. For the rest, were she but mine, I think I should not grudge her price whate'er it be."
Quilla looked at Kari frowning over the spear that when he appeared she had lifted, as though to defend herself, which in my case she had not thought needful.
"So the sea breeds men of my own race also," she said, addressing him. "Tell me, O Stranger, how did you and yonder white god come to this isle?"
"Riding on the ocean billows, riding for thousands of leagues," he answered. "And you, O Lady, how did you come to this isle?"
"Riding on the moonbeams," she replied, smiling, "I, the daughter of the Moon, who am named Moon and wear her symbol on my brow."
"Did I not tell you so?" exclaimed Kari to me with a gloomy air.
Then Quilla went on:
"Strangers, I was out fishing with two of my maidens and we had drifted far from land. As the sun sank I caught sight of the smoke of your fire, and having been told that this isle was desert, my heart drew me to discover who had lit it. So, though my maidens were afraid, hither I sailed and paddled, and the rest you know. Hearken! I will declare myself. I am the only child of Huaracha, King of the People of the Chancas, born of his wife, a princess of the Inca blood who now has been gathered to her Father, the Sun. I am here on a visit to my mother's kinsman, Quismancu, the Chief of the Yuncas of the Coastlands, to whom my father, the King, has sent an embassy on matters of which I know nothing. Behind yonder rock is my balsa and with it are the two maidens. Say, is it your wish to bide here upon this isle, or to return into the sea, or to accompany me back to the town of Quismancu? If so, we must sail ere the weather breaks, lest we should be drowned."
"Certainly it is my wish to accompany you, Lady, though a god of the sea cannot be drowned," I said quickly before Kari could speak. Indeed, he did not speak at all, he only shrugged his shoulders and sighed, like one who accepts some evil gift from Fate because he must.
"So be it!" exclaimed Quilla. "Now I go to make ready the balsa and to warn the maidens lest they be frightened. When you are prepared you will find us yonder behind the rock."
Then she bowed in a stately fashion an departed, walking with the proud, light step of a deer.
From our little hut I took out my armour and with Kari's help, put it on, because he declared that thus it would be more easily carried, though I think he had other reasons in his mind.
"Yes," I answered, "unless the balsa oversets, when I shall find mail hard to swim in."
"The balsa will not overset, sailing beneath the moon with that Moon-lady for a pilot," he replied heavily. "Had the sun been up, it might have been different. Moreover, the path into a net is always wide and easy."
"What net?" I asked.
"One that is woven of women's hair, I think. Already, if I mistake not, such a net has been about your throat, Master, and next time it will stay there. Hearken now to me. The gods thrust us into high matters. The Yuncas of whose chief this lady is a guest are a great people whom my people have conquered in war, but who wait the opportunity to rebel, if they have not already done so. The Chancas, of those king she is the daughter, are a still greater people who for years have threatened war upon my people."
"Well, what of it, Kari? With such questions this lady will have nothing to do."
"I think she has much to do with them. I think that she knows more than she seems to know, and that she is an envoy from the Chancas to the Yuncas. To whom is she affianced, I wonder? Some Great One, doubtless. Well, we shall learn in time; and meanwhile, I pray you, Master, remember that she says she is affianced, and that in this land men are very jealous even of a white god who rises from the sea."
"Of course I shall remember," I answered sharply. "Have I not had enough of women who are affianced?"
"By your prayer of the moon this night, which the moon answered so well and quickly, one might think not. Also this daughter of hers is fair, and perchance when she gave her hand she kept her heart. Listen again, Master. Of me and of whom I am, say nothing, save that you found me on this island where I dwelt a hermit when you rose from the sea. As for my name, why, it is Zapana. Remember that if you breathe my rank and history, however much sweet lips may try to cozen them out of you, you bring me to my death, who now do not wish to die, having a vengeance to accomplish and a throne to win. Therefore treat me as a dog, as one of no account, and be silent even in your sleep."
"I will remember, Kari."
"That is not enough—swear it."
"Good. I swear it—by the moon."
"Nay, not by the moon, for the moon is woman and changes. Swear it by this," and from beneath his skin robe he drew out the golden image of Pachacamac. "Swear it by the Spirit of the Universe, of whom Sun and Moon and Stars are but servants, the Spirit whom all men worship in this shape or in that."
So to please him I laid my hand upon the golden symbol and swore. Then, very hurriedly, we made up a tale of how, clad in my armour, I had risen from the sea and found him on the island, and how knowing me for a white god who once in ages past had visited that land and who, as prophecy foretold, should return to it in days to come, he had worshipped me and become my slave.
This done we went down to the rock, Kari walking after me and bearing all our small possessions and with them Deleroy's sword. Passing round the rock we saw the balsa drawn up to the sand, and by it the lady Quilla, who now had put off her fine robes and again was attired as a fishing-girl as I had seen her in my dream, and with her two tall girls in the same scanty garments. When these saw me in the glittering armour, which in our long idle hours we had polished till it shone like silver, with the shield upon my arm and the casque upon my head and the great sword girded about my middle and the black bow in my hand, they screamed with fear and fell upon their faces, while even Quilla started back and glanced towards the boat.
"Fear not," I said. "The gods are kind to those who do them service, though to those who would harm them they are terrible."
Kari also went to them and whispered in their ears what tale I know not. In the end they rose trembling, and having motioned to me to be seated in it, with the help of Kari pushed the balsa, which I noted with joy was large and well made, down into the sea. Then one by one they climbed in, Quilla taking the steering-oar, while Kari and the two maidens hoisted the little sail and paddled till we were clear of the island, where the gentle wind caught the balsa. Then they shipped the paddles, and although full laden, we sailed quietly towards the mainland.
Now I was at the bow of the balsa and Quilla was at its stern, and between us were the others, so that during all that long night's journey I had no speech with her and must content myself with gazing over my shoulder at her beauty as best I could, which was not well, because of Kari, who ever seemed to come between my eyes and hers.
Thus the long hours went by till at length when we were near the land the moon sank, and we sailed on through the twilight. Then came the dawn, and there in front of us we saw the lovely strand green with palms within a ring of snow-clad mountains, two of them the great peaks that we had seen from our isle.
On the shore was a city of white, flat-roofed houses, and rising above it, perchance the half of a mile from the sea, a hill four or five hundred feet in height and terraced. On the top of the hill stood a mighty building, painted red, that from the look of it I took to be one of the churches of these people, in the centre of which gleamed great doors that, as I found afterwards, were covered with plates of gold.
"Behold the temple of Pachacamac, Master," whispered Kari, bowing his head and kissing the air in token of reverence.
By this time watchmen, who had been set there to search the sea or the boat of Quilla, had noted our approach. They shouted and pointed to me who sat in the prow clad in my armour upon which the sun glittered, then began to run to and fro as though in fear or excitement, so that ere we reached the shore a great crowd had gathered. Meanwhile, Quilla had put on her silver-broidered mantle and her head-dress of feathers, crowned with the crescent of the moon. As we touched the beach she came forward, and for the first time during that night spoke to me saying:
"Remain here in the balsa, Lord, while I talk with these people, and when I summon you be pleased to come. Fear not—none will harm you."
Then she sprang from the prow of the balsa to the shore, followed by her two maidens, who dragged it further up the beach, and went forward to talk with certain white-robed men in the crowd. For a long while she talked, turning now and again to point at me. At length these men, accompanied by a number of others, ran forward. At first I thought they meant mischief and grasped my sword-hilt, then, remembering what Quilla had said, remained seated and silent.
Indeed, there was no cause for fear, for when the white-robed chiefs or priests and their following were close to me, suddenly they prostrated themselves and beat their heads upon the sand, from which I learned that they, too, believed me to be a god. Thereon I bowed to them and, drawing my sword—at the sight of which I saw them stare and shiver, for to these people steel was unknown—held it straight up in front of me in my right hand, the shield with the cognizance of the three arrows being on my left arm.
Now all the men rose, and some of them of the humbler sort, creeping to the balsa, suddenly seized it and lifted it on to their shoulders, which, being but a light thing of reeds and blown-out skins, they could do easily enough. Then, preceded by the chiefs, they advanced up the beach into the town, I still remaining seated in the boat with Kari crouching behind me. So strange was the business that almost I laughed aloud, wondering what those grave merchants of the Cheap whom I had known in London would think if they could see me thus.
"Kari," I said, without turning my head, "what are they going to do with us? Set us in yonder temple to be worshipped with nothing to eat?"
"I think not, Master," answered Kari, "since there the lady Quilla could not come to speak with you if she would. I think that they will take you to the house of the king of this country where, I understand, she is dwelling."
This, indeed, proved to be the case, for we were borne solemnly up the main street of the town, that now was packed with thousands of people, some of whom threw flowers before the feet of the bearers, bowing and staring till I thought that their eyes would fall out, to a large, flat-roofed house set in a walled courtyard. Passing through the gates the bearers placed the balsa on the ground and fell back. Then from out of the door of the house appeared Quilla, accompanied by a tall, stately looking man who wore a fine robe, and a woman of middle age also gorgeously apparelled.
"O Lord," said Quilla, bowing, "behold my kinsman the Caraca" (which is the name for a lesser sort of king) "of the Yuncas, named Quismancu, and his wife, Mira."
"Hail, Lord Risen from the Sea!" cried Quismancu. "Hail, White God clothed in silver! Hail, Hurachi!"
Why he called me "Hurachi" at the time I could not guess, but afterwards I learned that it was because of the arrows painted on my shield, hurachi being their name for arrows. At any rate, thenceforth by this name of Hurachi I was known throughout the land, though when addressed for the most part I was called "Lord-from-the-Sea" or "God-of-the-Sea."
Then Quilla and the lady Mira came forward and, placing their hands beneath my elbows, assisted me to climb out of that balsa, which I think was the strangest way that ever a shipwrecked wanderer came to land.
They led me into a large room with a flat roof that was being hastily prepared for me by the hanging of beautiful broideries on the walls, and sat me on a carven stool, where presently Quilla and other ladies brought me food and a kind of intoxicating drink which they called chicha, that after so many months of water drinking I found cheering and pleasant to the taste. This food, I noted, was served to me on platters of gold and silver, and the cups also were of gold strangely fashioned, by which I knew that I had come to a very rich land. Afterwards I learned, however, that in it there was no money, all the gold and silver that it produced being used for ornament or to decorate the temples and the palaces of the Incas, as they called their kings, and other great lords.
THE ORACLE OF RIMAC
In this town of Quismancu I remained for seven days, going abroad but little, for when I did so the people pressed about me and stared me out of countenance. There was a garden at the back of the hose surrounded by a wall built of mud bricks. Here for the most part I sat and here the great ones of the place came to visit me, bringing me offerings of robes and golden vessels and I know not what besides. To all of them I told the same story—or, rather, Kari told it for me—namely, that I had risen out of the sea and found him a hermit, named Zapana, on the desert island. What is more, they believed it and, indeed, it was true, for had I not risen out of the sea?
From time to time Quilla came to see me also in this garden, bearing gifts of flowers, and with her I talked alone. She would sit upon a low stool, considering me with her beautiful eyes, as though she would search out my soul. One day she said to me:
"Tell me, Lord, are you a god or a man?"
"What is a god?" I asked.
"A god is that which is adored and loved."
"And is a man never adored and loved, Quilla? For instance, I understand that you are to be married, and doubtless you adore and love him who will be your husband."
She shivered a little and answered:
"It is not so. I hate him."
"Then why are you going to marry him? Are you forced to do so, Quilla?"
"No, Lord. I marry him for my people's sake. He desires me for my inheritance and my beauty, and by my beauty I may lead him down that road on which my people wish that he should go."
"An old story, Quilla, but will you be happy thus?"
"No, Lord, I shall be very unhappy. But what does it matter? I am only a woman, and such is the lot of women."
"Women, like gods and men, are also sometimes loved and adored, Quilla."
She flushed at the words and answered:
"Ah! if that were so life might be different. But even if it were so and I found the man who could love and adore even for a year, for me it is now too late. I am sworn away by an oath that may not be broken, for to break it might bring death upon my people."
"To whom are you sworn?"
"To the Child of the Sun, no less a man; to the god who will be Inca of all this land."
"And what is this god like?"
"They say that he is huge and swarthy, with a large mouth, and I know that he has the heart of a brute. He is cruel and false also, and he counts his women by the score. Yet his father, the Inca, loves him more than any of his children, and ere long he will be king after him."
"And would you, who are sweet and lovely as the moon after which you are named, give yourself body and soul to such a one?"
Again she flushed.
"Do my own ears hear the White-God-from-the-Sea call me sweet and lovely as the moon? If so, I thank him, and pray him to remember that the perfect and lovely are always chosen to be the sacrifice of gods."
"But, Quilla, the sacrifice may be all in vain. How long will you hold the fancy of this loose-living prince?"
"Long enough to serve my purpose, Lord—or, at least," she added with flashing eyes, "long enough to kill him if he will not go my country's road. Oh! ask me no more, for your words stir something in my breast, a new spirit of which I never dreamed. Had I heard them but three moons gone, it might have been otherwise. Why did you not appear sooner from the sea, my lord Hurachi, be you god or man?"
Then, with something like a sob, she rose, made obeisance, and fled away.
That evening, when we were alone in my chamber where none could hear us, I told Kari that Quilla was promised in marriage to a prince who would be Inca of all the land.
"Is it so?" said Kari. "Well, learn, Master, that this prince is my brother, he whom I hate, he who has done me bitter wrong, he who stole away my wife and poisoned me. Urco is his name. Does this lady Quilla love him?"
"I think not. I think that like you she hates him, yet will marry him for reasons of policy."
"Doubtless she hates him now, whatever she did a week ago," said Kari in a dry voice. "But what fruit will this tree bear? Master, are you minded to come with me to-morrow to visit the temple of Pachacamac in the inner sanctuary of which sits the god Rimac who speaks oracles?"
"For what purpose, Kari?" I answered moodily.
"That we may hear oracles, Master. I think that if you choose to go the lady Quilla would come with us, since perhaps she would like also to hear oracles."
"I will go if it can be done in secret, say at night, for I weary of being stared at by these people."
This I said because I desired to learn of the religion of this nation and to see new things.
"Perhaps it can be so ordered, Master. I will ask of the matter."
It seemed that Kari did ask, perhaps of the high priest of Pachacamac, for between all the worshippers of this god there was a brotherhood; perhaps of the lord Quismancu, or perhaps of Quilla herself—I do not know. At least, on this same day Quismancu inquired whether it would please me to visit the temple that night, and so the matter was settled.
Accordingly, after the darkness had fallen, two litters were brought into which we entered, Quilla and a waiting woman seating themselves in one of them and Kari and I in the other, for Quismancu and his wife did not come—why I cannot say. Then, preceded by another litter in which was a priest of the god, and surrounded by a guard of soldiers, through a rain-storm we were borne up the hill—it was but a little way—to the temple.
Here, before the golden doors on which the lightning glimmered fitfully, we descended and were led by white-robed men bearing lanterns, through various courts to the inner sanctuary of the god, on the threshold of which I crossed myself, not loving the company of heathen idols. So far as I could see by the lamplight it was a great and glorious place, and everywhere that the eye fell was gold—places of gold on the walls, offerings of gold upon the floor, stars of gold upon the roof. The strange thing about this holy place, however, was that it seemed to be quite empty except for the aforesaid gold. There was neither altar nor image—nothing but a lamp-lit void.
Here all prostrated themselves, save I alone, and prayed in silence. When they rose again, in a whisper I asked of Kari where was the god. To which he answered: "Nowhere, yet everywhere." This I thought a true saying, and indeed so solemn was that place that I felt as though I were surrounded by that which is divine.
After a while the priests, who were gorgeously apparelled, led us across the sanctuary to a door that opened upon some stairs. Down these stairs we went into a long passage that seemed to run beneath the earth, for the air in it was heavy. When we had walked a hundred paces or more in this narrow place, we came to other steps and another door, passing through which we found ourselves in a second temple, smaller than that which we had visited, but like to it rich with gold. In the centre of this temple sat the image of a man rudely fashioned of gold.
"Behold Rimac the Speaker!" whispered Kari.
"How can gold speak?" I asked.
Kari made no answer.
Presently the priests began to mutter prayers and incantations that I thought unholy, after which they laid offerings of what looked like raw flesh set in cups of gold before the idol, that I thought unholier still. Lastly they drew back and asked of what we would learn.
I made no answer who did not like the business. Nor did Kari say anything, but Quilla spoke out boldly, saying that we would learn of the future and what would befall us.