I was led into the hall where the priests had been taking their morning meal. The room was almost deserted now; but Agmahd and Kamen remained talking, in their low subdued tones, by one of the windows, while two novices led me to a place by the table, and brought me oiled cakes, fruit, and milk. It was strange to me to be waited on by these youths, who did not speak to me, and whom I regarded with awe as being more experienced than myself in the terrible mysteries of the temple. I wondered, as I ate my cakes, why they had not spoken to me, any of the novices whom I had seen; but looking back over the brief time which I had spent in the temple, I recollected that I had never been left alone with one of them. Even now, Agmahd and Kamen remained in the room, so that, as I saw the silence of fear was upon the faces of the youths who served me. And I fancied it to be a fear, not as of a schoolmaster who uses his eyes like ordinary mortals, but as of some many-sighted and magical observer who is not to be deceived. I saw no gleam of expression on the countenance of either of the youths. They acted like automata.
The exhaustion which had again taken possession of my frame was lessened by the food, and when I had eaten I rose eagerly to look from the high window, to see if Seboua were in the garden. But Agmahd advanced, stepped between me and the window, and gazed upon me with the immovable look which made me dread him so deeply.
"Come," he said. He turned and moved away; I followed him with drooping head, and all my new energy and hope departed; why, I knew not; I could not tell why I gazed upon the embroidered hem of the white garment -- which seemed to glide so smoothly over the ground in front of me -- with a sense that I was following my doom.
My doom! Agmahd the typical priest of the temple, the real leader among the high priests. My doom.
We passed down the corridors till we entered upon the wide one which led from the gate of the temple to the holy of holies. A horror filled me at the sight of it, even with the sunlight streaming through the gateway, and making mock of its unutterable shadows. Yet so deep was my dread of Agmahd, that, left thus alone with him, I followed him in perfect obedience and silence. We passed down the corridor -- with each reluctant step of mine I drew nearer to that terrible door whence, in the darkness of the night, I had seen the hideous form emerge. I was scanning the wall with the kind of terror with which a tormented soul might gaze upon the awful instruments of spiritual inquisition. It is impossible, once looking upon some impending doom with open eyes, not to remain gazing thereon with object yet riveted attention. Such did I in my blind fear bestow upon the walls of the long corridor, which, to my fancy, as we moved down it, seemed to close upon us and to shut us from all the bright, beautiful world which I had lived in until now.
Scanning thus intently these smooth and terrible walls, I perceived, as we approached it, a little door, which stood at right angles with the door of the sanctuary. It would have escaped any observation but one unnaturally tense; for the darkness at this far end of the corridor was deep indeed, by contrast with the glowing sunlight we had left at the other.
We approached this door. As I have said, it stood at right angles with the wall of the sanctuary. It was close to the door of it, but it was in the wall of the corridor.
My steps seemed to be taken without my own volition now; certainly my will would have carried me back to the sunshine which made the world, beautiful with flowers -- which made life seem a glorious reality, and not a hideous and unimaginable dream!
Yet there it was -- the door -- and Agmahd stood, his hand upon it. He turned and looked at me.
"Have no fear," he said, in his calm, equable tones. "Our sanctuary is the centre of our home, and its near neighborhood is enough to fill us with strength."
I passed through the same experience as when first Agmahd encouraged me by his voice in the garden. I raised my eyes, with an effort, to his, that I might discover whether there was the same encouragement in his beautiful countenance. But all that I saw was the intolerable calm of those blue eyes; they were pitiless, immovable: my soul, aghast, beheld in them at that moment fully the cruelty of the beast of prey.
He turned from me and opened the door; and, passing through it, held it open that I might follow him. I followed him -- yes, though my steps seemed to recoil upon myself and lead me to the deeps.
We entered a low-roofed room, lighted by one broad window, high in the wall. It was curtained and draped with rich material; a low couch stood at one side of the room. When my glance fell on the couch I started; why, I know not; but I at once thought it to be the couch which I had slept on in the last night. I could look at nothing else, though there were many beautiful things to look at, for the room was adorned luxuriously. I only wondered, with a shrinking heart, why that couch had been removed from the room in which I had slept.
While I looked on it, lost in conjecture, I suddenly became conscious of silence -- complete silence -- and of loneliness.
I turned with a sudden alarm.
Yes! I was alone. He was gone -- the dread priest Agmahd -- he had gone without another word, and let me in this room.
What could it mean? I crossed to the door and tried it. It was fast closed and barred.
I was a prisoner. But what could it mean? I looked around the massive stone walls -- I glanced up at the high window -- I thought of the near neighborhood of the sanctuary -- and I flung myself upon the couch and hid my face.
I imagine that I must have lain there for hours. I did not dare to arise and make any disturbance. I had nothing to appeal to but the blue, pitiless eyes of the priest Agmahd. I lay upon my couch with fast-closed eyes, not daring to face the aspect of my prison and praying that the night might never come.
It was yet the early part of the day, that I felt sure of, although I knew not how long a time I had passed in the garden with Seboua. The sun was high, and streamed in at my window. I saw this as, after a long time had passed, I turned and looked around, my room with a sudden and alarmed glance. I had the idea that some one was in it -- but, unless hidden behind the curtains, no visible form was in the room.
No, I was alone. And as I gathered courage to look up to the sunlight that made my window a thing glorious for the eyes, I began to realize that it still veritably was in existence; and that, notwithstanding my recent hideous experiences, I was nothing but a boy who loved sunshine.
The attraction grew very strong, and at last fanned itself into the wish to climb up to the high window and look. The passion which caused me to desire so ardently to do this, having once thought of it, I can no more account for than I could for most of the inquisitive and headstrong purposes of a boy's brain. At all events I rose from my couch -- casting all terror of my surroundings to the winds, now that I had a purpose sufficiently childish to absorb me. The wall was perfectly smooth; but I fancied that, by standing on a table that was beneath the window, I could reach the sill with my hands, and so raise myself up to see out. I soon climbed the table, but I could barely reach the sill with upstretched arms. I jumped a little, and just catching hold of the sill managed to draw myself upwards. I suppose that part of the enterprise must have been the delight to me; for I certainly did not anticipate seeing anything but the temple gardens.
What I saw, though there was nothing perhaps very startling, sobered my enjoyment.
The gardens were not there. My window looked out upon a small square piece of ground, which was surrounded by high blank walls. I soon saw that these were evidently walls of the temple, not outer walls. The piece of ground was enclosed in the very heart of the great building, for I could see its columns and roofs rising beyond each side, and the walls were blank. Mine was the only window I could perceive any trace of.
At that moment I heard a faint sound in the room, and, quickly letting myself drop, I stood upon the table, looking round in consternation. The sound seemed to proceed, from behind a heavy curtain that half covered one wall. I stood breathless, and, even in this broad daylight and gleaming sunshine, somewhat in terror of what I might see. For I had no idea that there was any mode of entrance but that door by which I had come, so that I scarce dared to hope for a wholesome human presence!
These fears soon vanished, however, for the curtain was drawn a little back, and a black-robed novice -- whom I had not seen before -- crept from out its shelter. I wondered at his stealthy manner; but I had no fears, for he held in his hand a glorious blossom of the royal white lotus flower. I sprang from the table and advanced towards him, my eyes upon the flower. When quite close he spoke, very low and quickly.
"This," he said, "is from Seboua. Cherish it, but let none of the priests see it. Cherish it, and it will help you in hours when you will need help; and Seboua urges that you remember all the words he has said to you, and that you trust, above all, to your love for the truly beautiful and to your natural likes and dislikes. That is the message," he said, stepping back towards the curtain. "I am risking my life here to please Seboua. Be careful that you never come near this door, or show that you know it exists; it opens into the private room of the high priest Agmahd, into which none dare enter save on peril of intolerable punishment."
"And how have you come through?" I asked in great curiosity.
"They are engaged in the morning ceremonies -- all the priests -- and I succeeded in escaping unseen to come to you."
"Tell me," I cried, holding him even as he endeavored to hurry through the door, "why did not Seboua come?"
"He cannot -- he is closely watched that he may make no effort to get near you."
"But why is this?" I exclaimed in dismay and wonder.
"I cannot tell," said the novice, extracting his garment from my grasp. "Remember the words I have said."
He hastily passed through the door and closed it behind him. I found myself half smothered by the heavy curtain and, as soon as I could recover from my amazement at this sudden appearance and disappearance, I moved it aside and stepped out, the lily in my hand.
My first thought, even before I would let myself think over the words which I was to remember -- was to place my precious flower in some safe place. I held it tenderly, as though it were the breathing form of one I loved. I looked around anxiously, wondering where it would be both unseen and yet preserved.
I saw, after a few moments spent in hasty inspection that just behind the head of my couch there was a corner which the curtain fell a little away from. Here, at least, I might place it for a while; it would have room to breathe, and would not be seen unless the curtain were moved away -- and behind my couch seemed a less likely place for it to be discovered in than any other. I hastily placed it here, afraid to keep it in my hand lest the ceremonies should be over and Agmahd enter my room. So I hid it, and then looked around for some vessel of water in which I might place it, for it occurred to me that, if I did not supply it with some of that element which it so dearly loved, it would not live long to be my friend.
I found a little earthen jar of water and placed it in it, wondering the while what I should do if the priests, discovering its absence, should ask me for it. I could not tell what to do in such an emergency; but, if the flower were discovered, I could only hope that some inspiration would be given me by which I might avoid throwing further blame upon Seboua; for, though I could not understand why or how, it was very evident that he had been blamed for something in connection with me.
I went and sat on the couch, to be near my beloved flower. How I desired that I might place it in the sunshine and revel in its beauties!
In this way the day passed. No one came near me. I watched the sun pass away from my window. I watched the shadows of evening descend upon it. I was still alone. I do not think I grew more terrified. I do not remember that the coming night brought with it any agony of fear. I was filled with a deep calmness, which either the long undisturbed hours of the day had produced, or else it was wrought by the beautiful though unseen flower; for that was ever before my eyes in all its radiant and delicate beauty. I had none of the intolerable visions which I had been unable to drive from me in the former night.
It was quite dark when the door which communicated with the corridor opened, and Agmahd entered, followed by a young priest, who brought me food and a cup of some strange sweet-smelling syrup. I should not have stirred from my couch had it not been that I longed for food. I had not thought of it before, but I was indeed faint and fasting. I rose eagerly, therefore, and, when the young priest brought the food to my side, I drank first of the syrup -- which indeed he offered me first -- for my exhaustion suddenly became plain to me.
Agmahd looked on me as I drank. When I had put down the cup, I raised my eyes to his with a new defiance.
"I shall go mad," I said boldly, "if you leave me in this room alone. I have never been left alone so long in all my life."
I spoke under a sudden impulse. When I had been passing the long hours in solitude they had not seemed so terrible; but now, with a quick apprehension of the evil of this solitariness, I spoke out my feeling.
Agmahd said to the young priest --
"Set the food down and fetch hither the book that lies upon the couch in my outer room."
He departed on his errand, Agmahd said nothing to me; and I -- having said my say, and not having, as I rather expected, been annihilated for it -- took up an oiled cake from the platter, and cheerfully went on with my meal.
Five years after I could not have faced Agmahd in this way. I could not have eaten my all having just defied him. But now I was elated by the supreme ignorance and indifference of youth. I had no measuring line for the depths of the priest's intellect -- the wide embracingness of his stern cruelty. How should I have? I was ignorant. And, moreover, I had no clue to the mode of his cruelty -- the purpose, the intention of it. I was in the dark altogether. But I was well aware that my life in the temple was not what I had looked for if it was to be like this, and I already cherished boyish notions of escaping from it (even down the terrible corridor) if I were to exist after such an unhappy fashion. I little knew when I thought of this how well I was guarded.
Agmahd said no word while I ate and drank, and presently the young priest opened the door and entered, bearing in his hands a large black book. He placed it on a table which Agmahd told him to draw near to my couch. A lamp was then brought by him from a corner of the room and placed on the table. He lighted it, and this done, Agmahd spoke:
"You need not be lonely if you look within those pages."
So saying, he turned and left the room, followed by the young priest.
I opened it at once. It seems, looking back on that time, that I was to the full as inquisitive as most boys; at all events, any new object riveted my attention for the time being. I opened the black covers of the volume and gazed on the first page. It was beautifully colored, and I looked in pleasure at the colors a little while before I began to spell out the letters. They stood out from a gray background in letters of so brilliant a hue that they seemed like fire. The title was -- "The Arts and Powers of Magic."
It was nonsense to me. I was a comparatively uneducated boy, and I wondered what companionship Agmahd supposed such a book could afford me.
I turned idly over its pages. They were all unintelligible to me, by very reason even of the words used, apart from the matter. The thing was ridiculous, to have sent me this book to read. I yawned widely over it, and closing the book was about to lie down again upon my couch, when I was startled to observe that I was not alone. On the other side of the little table whereon my book and lamp were, stood a man in a black dress. He was looking earnestly upon me, but when I returned his gaze he seemed to retreat from me a little. I wondered how he could have entered so noiselessly and approached so near me without sound.
"Have you any wish?" said the man in a clear, but very low voice.
I looked at him in surprise. He was a novice, it seemed, by his dress; yet he spoke as though he could gratify my wish -- and that, too, without the tone of a mere servant.
"I have just taken food," I answered. "I have no wish -- but for freedom from this room."
"That," he answered quietly, "is soon gratified. Follow me."
I stared in astonishment. This novice must know my position -- must know of Agmahd's will with regard to me. Dare be thus defy him?
"No," I answered; "the high priests have imprisoned me here; if I am found escaping I shall be punished!"
"Come!" was all his answer. And as he spoke he raised one hand commandingly. As in physical pain I cried aloud; why, I could not realize. Yet my sense seemed to be that I was held as by a vice -- that some intolerable power grasped my frame and shook it. A second after I stood beside my mysterious visitor, my hand tight clasped in his. "Look not back!" he cried. "Come with me."
And I followed him. Yet, at the door I desired to turn my head to look; and by what seemed a great effort, I did so.
Little marvel that he bade me not look back! Little marvel that he strove to hurry me from the room, for when my eyes had once turned I remained spellbound, gazing -- resisting his iron grasp.
I saw myself -- or rather my unconscious form -- and then for the first time, I understood that my companion was no denizen of earth -- that I had again entered the land of shadows.
But this wonder was wholly swallowed up in a larger one -- one sufficient to make me strong against the effort of my companion to draw me from the room.
Leaning over the couch -- standing behind it and bending forward, in that delicious drooping attitude in which I had first seen her when she stooped to drink the water -- I saw the Lily Queen.
And I heard her speak. Her voice came to me like the dropping of water -- like the spray of a fountain.
"Wake, sleeper -- dream no more, nor remain within this accursed spell."
"Lady, I obey," I murmured, within myself, and instantly a mist seemed to enwrap me. I was but dimly conscious -- yet I knew that, in obedience to the wish of the beautiful queen I was endeavoring to return to my natural state. I succeeded by degrees, and opened my eyes wearily and heavily, to behold a desolate empty room. The novice had left me -- of that I was glad -- but, alas! the Lady of the Lotus had left me also. The room seemed empty indeed, and my heart was heavy as I looked around me. I felt the sweet Lady of the Flower more as a beautiful mother in my childish heart, than as a queen. I yearned for her soft presence. But it was not there. I knew only too well that she was not in the room hidden from me. I felt her absence with my soul as well as perceived it with my eyes.
I raised myself languidly enough, for, indeed, this last struggle had out-wearied me, and went to the corner behind my couch where my dear flower was hid. I drew back the curtain a little way, to look at my treasure. Alas! it was already drooping its lovely head! I sprang forward to assure myself that I had indeed given it water. Yes, its stem was deeply plunged in its lower element. Yet the flower drooped like a dead thing, and the stem bent inertly over the edge of the vessel.
"My flower," I cried, kneeling down beside it, "art thou too gone? -- am I quite alone?"
I took the languid flower-form from the vessel and placed it upon my breast, within my robe. And then wholly disconsolate for the moment, I flung myself again upon my couch and closed my eyes, endeavoring to make them dark and visionless.
How? -- who knows the way to hide visions from the inner eye, that eye which has the terrible gift of sight which no darkness can blind? I did not, then at all events.
The night had descended on the earth, when I aroused myself from my long and silent rest. It was moonlight without, and a silvery streak of light entered at the high window and streamed into my room. Within that streak of light came the hem of a white garment; a hem gold-embroidered. I knew the embroidery -- I raised my eyes slowly, for I expected to recognize Agmahd, as indeed I did. He stood just within the dim shadow; but his bearing was not easily confused with that of another man even if his face were unseen.
I lay perfectly still; yet he seemed immediately to know that I was awake.
"Rise," he said. I rose, and stood beside my couch, with wide eyes of fear fixed upon him.
"Drink that which is beside you," he said. I looked and saw a cup full of red liquid. I drank it, blindly hoping it might give me strength to bear whatever ordeal the silent hours of this night might be destined to bring upon me. "Come," he said; and I followed him to the door. I half unconsciously cast a glance up to the window, in the thought that perchance fresh air and freedom lay before me. Suddenly I felt myself blinded -- quickly I put my hand to my eyes; a soft substance was bound over them. I was silent with the silence of wonder and of fear; I felt myself supported and led onward carefully. I shuddered as I thought that it must be the arm of Agmahd which upheld me, but I submitted to the contact, knowing that I was powerless to resist it.
We moved onwards slowly; I was conscious of leaving my own room and of traversing some distance beyond it, but how far or in what direction I was unable to guess, bewildered as I was by my blindfold state.
We paused in utter silence; the arm around me was removed, and I felt the bandage taken from my eyes. They opened upon a darkness so complete that I raised my hand to assure myself that the kerchief was not still upon them. No -- they were free -- they were open -- yet they gazed upon nothing but a blank wall of deep and total darkness. My head was full of pain and dizziness -- the fumes of the strong syrup that I had drunk seemed to have filled it with confusion. I remained motionless, hoping to recover myself and realize my position.
While I waited, I suddenly became conscious of a new presence close beside me. I did not shrink from it. I seemed to know it to be beautiful, to be friendly and glorious. I was thrilled with a yearning, an indescribable sense of leaning in spirit towards the unknown presence.
Amid the silence suddenly came low, sweet speech close to mine ear.
"Tell Agmahd that he disobeys the law. One priest alone may enter the holy of holies, and no more."
I recognized the liquid water-like voice of the Lily Queen. Although I was unaware of the priest's presence I unhesitatingly obeyed my queen.
"One priest alone may enter the holy of holies," I said, "and no more. Agmahd being here the law is disobeyed."
"I demand to hear the utterance of the queen" came the reply in the solemn tones of Agmahd.
"Tell him," said that other voice which thrilled my soul and made my frame vibrate, "that had I been able to reveal myself in his presence I had not waited for you."
I repeated her words. There was no answer, but I heard a movement -- footsteps -- and a door closed softly. Immediately a soft hand touched me. I was simultaneously conscious of the touch, and of a faint light upon my chest. I felt in a second that the hand was put within my dress to draw forth the withered lily which I had hid there. But I did not attempt to hinder this, for, looking up as a light attracted my eyes, I beheld standing before me the Lily Queen. My queen as in my boyish heart I had begun to call her, I saw dimly and as enveloped in a shadowy mist, but yet plainly enough to make me rejoice in her near presence. And as I looked I saw that she held close to her bosom the withered flower which she had taken from mine. And I saw, wonderingly, that it faded yet more, grew dimmer, and wholly vanished. Yet I did not regret it, for, as it died away, she grew more bright and distinct to my sight. When the flower had wholly disappeared she stood beside me, clear and distinct, illuminated by her own radiance.
"Fear no longer," she said, "they cannot harm thee, for thou hast entered within my atmosphere. And though they have placed thee in the very dungeon of vice and falsehood, have no fear, but observe all things, and remember what thine eyes perceive."
The darkness appeared to become illumined by her confident and gracious words. I grew bold, and full of strength.
She held out her hand and touched me gently. The touch filled me with a fire that excelled any warmth I had ever experienced.
"The royal flower of Egypt dwells upon the sacred waters, which in their purity and peace fitly form its eternal resting-place. I am the spirit of the flower; I am sustained upon the waters of truth, and my life is formed of the breath of the heavens, which is love. But the degradation of my earthly resting-place, over which my wings of love yet brood, is driving from it the light of heaven which is wisdom. Not long can the spirit of the royal lotus live in darkness; the flower droops and dies if the sun be withdrawn from it. Remember these words, child, grave them upon your heart, for as your mind becomes capable of grasping them, they will enlighten you in many things."
"Tell me," I said, "when may I again visit the lilies? Will you not take me there in to-morrow's sunshine? Now it is night, and I am tired; may I not sleep at your feet, and to-morrow be with you in the garden?"
"Poor child," she said, stooping towards me so that her breath fanned me, and it was sweet like the scent of wild flowers, "how hardly have they taxed thee! Rest here in my arms, for thou art to be my seer, and the enlightener of my loved land. Strength and health must dwell upon thy brow like jewels. I will guard thee; sleep, child."
I lay down at her bidding, and though I knew that I was upon a cold, hard floor, I felt that my head rested upon an arm soft and full of magnetic soothing; and I fell into deep, dreamless, undisturbed slumber.
There was writ in Agmahd's secret volume of records but one word that night, -- "Vain."
A white flower was in my hand when I awoke. Its beauty filled my heart with gladness, I looked on it and was refreshed and content, as though I had slept in my mother's arms, and this was her kiss on my lips, for I held the flower, a half-blown lotus-blossom, close to my mouth. I did not wonder at first how I had obtained it, I only looked upon its beauty and was happy, for it made me know that my queen, my one friend, did indeed guard me.
Suddenly I saw some one enter the room, yet she did not so much enter it, as seem to come out of the shadow. I lay, as now I saw, on the couch in the room to which Agmahd had brought me. I was scarcely aware of how, or in what place, I had spent the dark hours of the night, but I felt that it was in his arms I had been carried back to my couch. I was glad to be there again and I was glad to see this child that approached me. She was younger than myself, and bright as the sunshine. She came near to me, and then paused; I put out my hand to her.
"Give me the flower," she said.
I hesitated, for the possession of the flower made me happy, but I could not refuse her, for she smiled, and none within the temple had smiled on me till now. I gave her my blossom.
"Ah!" she cried, "there is water on its leaves!" and she flung it away from her as if in disgust. I started from my couch in angry haste to rescue my treasure. Instantly the child snatched it up again and fled from me with a cry of laughter. I followed her at my utmost speed. I was only a boy, and like a boy I chased her, for I was angry, and determined she should not win. We sped through great rooms wherein we saw no one, the child darting through the great curtains, and I following with the swiftness of a lad of the country. But suddenly I came against what seemed to me a wall of solid stone. How was it she could have eluded me? for I was close on her footsteps. I turned back in a passion of rage that made me blind, but I was silenced and stricken into quiet, for the priest Agmahd stood before me. Had I done wrong? It could not be, for he was smiling.
"Come with me," he said; and spoke so gently that I did not fear to follow him. He opened a door, and I saw before my eyes a garden full of flowers, a square garden enclosed in hedges, thickly covered too with flowers, and this garden was full of children all running hither and thither as swiftly as possible, in the intricacies of some game I did not understand. There were so many, and they moved so swiftly, that at first I was bewildered, but suddenly I saw the child among them who had taken my flower. She wore it on her dress, and she smiled in mockery as she saw me. I plunged into the crowd immediately, and seemed, though I knew not how, at once to obey the laws of the game or dance. I scarce knew which it was, for though I moved rightly among them, I could not tell what object they had in pursuit. I followed, and chased the figure of the girl. Although I did not succeed in approaching her, so swift was she, yet I grew quickly to enjoy the motion, the excitement, the merry faces, and laughing voices. The scent of the innumerable flowers filled me with delight, and I became passionately desirous to possess myself of some of them. I forgot the lotus blossom in thinking of these others, and yet I hurried on in the maze of the dance, promising myself a great cluster of flowers when the dance ceased; at that moment I did not fear Agmahd or his displeasure, even if this garden were his. Then suddenly I heard a shout of a hundred gay children's voices.
"He has won it! He has won it!"
It was a ball, a golden ball, and light, so light, that I could throw it far, far up in the sky; yet it always return to my uplifted hands. I had found it at my feet when I heard the others shout, and immediately I knew the ball was mine. Now, I saw there was no one near me but the child, who had taken my lotus flower. It was not on her dress now, and I had forgotten it. But she was smiling, and I laughed to see her. I threw her the ball, and she threw it back to me, from one end of the garden to the other.
Suddenly a bell rang out clear and loud in the air. "Come," she said; "it is school-time, come." She caught my hand and threw the ball away. I looked longingly after it.
"That was mine," I said.
"It is no use now," she answered. "You must gain another prize."
We ran away, hand in hand, through another garden into a great room which I had not seen before. The children with whom I had played were here and a great many more. The air was heavy and sweet in this room. I was not tired, for I had but just risen from my long sleep and the morning was yet fresh, but now that I entered this room I felt weary and my head burned.
Very soon I fell asleep, hearing the children's voices round me. When I awoke it was to hear a shout like that in the garden. "He has won it! He has won it!"
I stood upon a kind of throne -- a lofty seat of marble. And I could hear my own voice in the air. I had been speaking. The children were round me, but they were clustered upon and about the marble seat. I remembered that the child who brought me here had said the teacher stood upon this throne. Why then were we, the children here? I looked, and lo, I saw that the room was full of priests! They stood in the place of the taught. They stood silent, immovable. Again I heard the children cry, "He has won it! He has won it!" I sprang from the throne in a sudden frenzy, I knew not why. As I stood upon the ground I looked and saw that the children were gone. I could not see any one of them but the child who had brought me here. She was standing on the throne, and she laughed and clapped her hands with glee. I wondered what it was that pleased her, and looking down I saw that I stood in a circle of white robed priests who had prostrated themselves until their foreheads touched the ground. What did this mean? I could not guess, and stood still in terror, when suddenly the child cried out as if in answer to my thought, "They worship you!"
My wonder at her words was not greater than another wonder which fell on me. For I understood that I alone heard her voice.
I was taken back to my own room, and there the young priests brought me food. I was hungry, for I had not broken my fast, and I found the food exquisite. The young priests who brought it to me fell on one knee when they offered it; I looked wonderingly at them, for I could not guess why they should do so. Many of them came with fruits and rich syrup and delicate sweetmeats, such as I had never seen, and with flowers. Great clusters of flowers were brought and placed near me, and bushes covered with blossoms were put against the wall. I cried out with pleasure to see them, and as I cried out I saw Agmahd standing within the shadow of the curtain. His eyes were on me, cold odd smiles. Yet I did not fear him now; I was full of a new spirit of pleasure, which made me bold. I went from flower to flower, kissing the blossoms. Their scent filled all the room with its richness. I was glad and proud, for I felt as if I need no longer be afraid of this cold priest, who stood motionless as though cut in marble. This sensation of fearlessness lifted a weight of agony from my childish soul.
He turned and vanished, and as he passed under the curtain I saw the child at my side.
"See," she said, "I brought you these flowers."
"You!" I exclaimed.
"Yes, I told them you loved flowers. And these are strong and sweet; they grow in the earth. Are you tired, or shall we go out and play? Do you know that garden is our own and the ball is there? Some one took it back for you."
"Tell me," I said, "why the priests kneel to me to-day.
"Do you not know?" she said, looking at me curiously. "It is because you taught from the throne today, and spoke wise words they understood, but we could not. But we saw you had won a great prize. You will win all the prizes."
I sat down upon my couch, and held my head with my hands and looked at her in wonder.
"But how could I do that and not know it?" I demanded.
"You will be great when you do not struggle, when you do not know it you will win all the prizes. If you are quiet and happy you will be worshipped by all these priests, even the most splendid."
I was dumb with wonder for a moment, then I said --
"You are very little. How can you know all this?"
"The flowers told me," she said with a laugh. "They are your friends. But it is all true. Now come and play with me."
"Not yet," I said. And indeed I felt my head was hot and heavy, and my heart filled with wonder I could not understand her words.
"It is impossible I can have taught from the throne," I exclaimed.
"You did! and the high priests bowed their awful faces before you. For you told them how to perform some strange ceremony where you would be in the midst."
"Yes, for you told them of what should be your dress, and how to prepare it, and what words to utter, as they placed it on you."
I watched her with passionate interest. "Can you tell me more?" I cried, when she ceased.
"You are to live among earth-fed flowers, and to dance with the children often. Oh, there were many things. But of the ceremony I cannot remember. But you will soon see, for it is to be to-night."
I started from my couch in a sudden frenzy of fear.
"Do not be afraid," she said, with a laugh. "For I am to be with you. That makes me glad, for I belong to the temple, yet have I never been admitted to one of the sacred ceremonies."
"You belong to the temple! But they cannot hear your voice!"
"Sometimes they cannot see me!" she said, laughing, "only Agmahd can always see me, for I am his. But I cannot talk to him. I like you because I can talk to you. Come, let us go out and play. The flowers in the garden are as sweet as these, and the ball is there. Come."
She took my hand and went quietly away. I let her lead me, for I was lost in thought. But outside the air was so rich and sweet, the flowers so bright, the sun so warm, that soon I forgot my thoughts in happiness.
It was night. I was sleepy and content, for I had been happy and amused, running hither and thither in the sweet-scented air. All the evening I had slept on my couch among the flowers that made my room fragrant, and I dreamed strange dreams in which each flower became a laughing face, and my ears were full of the sound of magic voices. I awoke suddenly and fancied I must be still dreaming, for the moonlight came into my room and fell upon the beautiful blossoms. And I thought with wonder of the simple home I had been reared in. How have I ever endured it? For now it I seemed to me that beauty was life.
I was very happy.
As I lay dreamily looking at the moonlight, the door in the corridor was suddenly opened from without. The corridor was full of light, such brilliant light that the moonlight seemed like darkness, and I was blinded. Then a number of neophytes entered my room, bringing with them some things that I could not see, because of the strong light. Then they went away and closed the door, leaving me alone in the moonlight, with two tall, white-robed, motionless forms. I knew who was with me though I dared not look -- it was Agmahd and Kamen Baka.
At first I trembled, but suddenly I saw the child glide forth from the shadow, her finger on her lips and a smile on her face.
"Do not be afraid," she said. "They are going to put on you the beautiful robe you told them to prepare."
I rose from my couch and looked at the priests. I was no longer afraid. Agmahd stood motionless, his eyes fixed on me. The other approached me, holding in his hands a white robe. It was of fine linen and covered with rich gold embroidery, which I saw formed characters I could not understood. It was more beautiful than Agmahd's robe and I had never seen anything so beautiful as that when I entered the temple.
I was pleased, and held out my hand for the robe. Kamen came close to me, and when I flung aside the one I wore, put this upon me with his own hands.
It was steeped with a subtle perfume, which I inhaled with delight. This seemed to me a royal robe!
Kamen advanced to the door and opened it. The brilliant light streamed in full upon me. Agmahd remained standing motionless, his eyes fixed on me.
The child looked upon me with admiration and clapped her hands in delight. Then she held out one hand and took mine. "Come," she said. I yielded, and together we went into the corridor, Agmahd close behind us. The scene we entered startled me, and I paused. The great corridor was full of priests, save just where I stood, close to the door of the holy of holies. Here a large space was left, and in this space stood a couch covered with silken drapery, embroidered with gold, in characters resembling those upon my dress. About the couch was a bank or hedge of sweet smelling flowers, and all around the ground was strewn with plucked blossoms. I shrank from the great crowd of motionless white-robed priests, whose eyes were fixed on me, but the beautiful colors pleased me.
"This couch is for us," said the child, and led me to it. No one else spoke or moved, and I obeyed her. We advanced, and upon the couch found our golden ball with which we had played in the garden. I looked in a sudden wonder to see if Agmahd watched us. He stood by the door of the holy of holies; his eyes were on me. Kamen stood nearer to us, and he was gazing at the closed door of the sanctuary, and his lips were moving as if he were repeating words. No one seemed angry with us, so I looked back at the child. She snatched up the ball and sprang to one end of the great couch; I could not resist her gaiety; I sprang to the other end of the couch, and laughed too. She flung me the ball; I caught it in my hands, but before I could throw it back to her, the corridor was plunged into complete profound darkness. For a moment my breath died away in the sudden agony of fear, but suddenly I found that I could see the child, and that she was laughing. I flung her the ball, and she caught it, and laughed again. I looked around, and saw that all else was black darkness. I thought of the awful figure I had seen before in the darkness, and I must have cried aloud with fear but for the child. She came to me and put her hand in mine.
"Are you afraid?" she said; "I am not. And you need not fear. They would not harm you, for they worship you!"
While she spoke, I heard music -- gay, wonderful music -- that made my heart beat fast and my feet long to dance.
A moment later and I saw the light come round the sanctuary door, and the door open. Was that awful figure coming forth? My limbs shook at the thought, but yet I did not lose all courage as before. The child's presence and the gay music kept from me the horror of solitude. The child rose, holding my hand in hers. We approached the sanctuary door. I was unwilling, yet I could not resist the guidance which led me on. We entered the door, and as we did so the music ceased. All was still again. But there was a faint light within the sanctuary which seemed to come from the far end of the chamber. The child led me towards this light. She was with me, and I was not afraid. At the end of the chamber was a small inner room, or recess, cut, as I could see, in the rock. I could see this, for there was enough light here. A woman sat on a low seat, her head bent over a great book, which she held open on her knee. My eyes were riveted to her instantly, and I could not remove them. I knew her, and the heart within me shuddered at the thought that she would raise her head, and I should see her face.
Suddenly I knew my companion the child, was gone. I did not look to see, for my eyes were held by a supreme fascination, but I felt my hand had no answering clasp. I knew her presence was gone.
I waited, standing still as one of those figures carved in the avenue of the temple.
At last she lifted her head and looked at me. My blood shivered and grew cold. It seemed to myself that I froze, for those eyes cut like steel, yet I could not resist or turn away, or even hide my eyes from that awful sight.
"You have come to me to learn. Well, I will teach you," she said, and her voice sounded low and sweet like the soft tones of a musical instrument. "You love beautiful things and flowers. You will be a great artist if you live for beauty alone, but you must be more than that." She held out her hand to me, and, against my will, I lifted mine, and gave it her but she barely touched it; at the touch my hand was suddenly full of roses, and all the place was filled with their scent. She laughed, and the sound was musical; I suppose my face pleased her.
"Come now," she said, "and stand nearer me, for you no longer fear me." With my eyes upon the roses, I approached her; they held my sight, and I did not fear her when I did not see her face.
She put her arm round me and drew me close to her side. Suddenly I saw that the dark robe she wore was no garment of linen or cloth -- it was alive -- it was a drapery of coiling snake, who clung about her and made folds that had seemed to me like soft hanging draperies when I stood a little away from her. Now terror overcame me; I tried to scream but could not, I tried to fly from her but could not. She laughed again but this time her laugh was harsh. But while I looked all was changed, and her robe was dark -- dark still but not alive. I stood breathless, wondering in cold with fear -- her arm was still about me! She raised her other hand and placed it on my forehead. Then fear left me altogether; I seemed happy and quiet. My eyes were shut, although I saw; I was conscious, yet I did not desire to move. She rose, and lifting me in her arms, placed me on the low stone seat where she had herself been sitting. My head fell back against the wall of rock behind me. I was dumb and still, but I could see.
She rose up to her full height and stretched her arms aloft above her head, and again I saw the serpents. They were vigorous and full of life. They were not only her dress but they were about her head. I could not tell if they were her hair or if they were in it. She clasped her hands high above her head, and the terrible creatures hung wreathing from her arms. But I was not afraid. Fear seemed to have left me forever.
Suddenly I became aware that there was another presence in the sanctuary. Agmahd was there, standing at the door of the inner cavern.
I looked in wonder at his face, it was so still; the eyes were unseeing. Then I knew suddenly that they were in very fact unseeing; that this figure, this light, I myself, were all invisible to him.
She turned to me, or leaned towards me, so that I saw her face, and her eyes were on mine; otherwise she did not move. Those eyes that cut like steel no longer filled me with terror, but they held me with a grasp as of some iron instrument. While I watched her, suddenly I saw the serpents change and vanish; they became long sinuous folds of some soft gray gleaming garment, and their hands and terrible eyes changed into starry groups of roses. And a rich strong scent of roses filled the sanctuary. Then I saw Agmahd smile.
"My Queen is here," he said.
"Your Queen is here," I said, and did not know I had spoken till I heard my own voice. "She waits to know your desire."
"Tell me," he said, " what is her robe?" I answered, "It shines and gleams, and on her shoulders are roses."
"I do not desire pleasure," he said; "my soul is sick of it. But I demand power."
Until now her eyes fixed on mine had told me what to speak; but now I heard her voice again.
"In the temple?"
And I repeated her words, unconscious that I did so till I caught the echo of my voice.
"No," answered Agmahd contemptuously. "I must go outside these walls, and mix with men and work my will among them. I demand the power to do this. It was promised to me; that promise has not been fulfilled."
"Because you lacked the courage and the strength to compel its fulfillment."
"I lack those no longer," answered Agmahd, and for the first time I saw his face flame with passion.
"Then utter the fatal words," she said.
Agmahd's face changed. He stood still for some moments, and his face grew colder and more stony than any carven form.
"I renounce my humanity," he said at last, uttering the words slowly, so that they appeared to pause and rest upon the air.
"It is well," she said. "But you cannot stand alone. You must bring me others ready like yourself to brave all and know all. I must have twelve sworn servants. Get me these, and you shall have your desire."
"Are they to be my equals?" demanded Agmahd.
"In desire and in courage, yes; in power, no; because each will have a different desire; thus will their service be acceptable to me."
Agmahd paused a moment. Then he said, "I obey my Queen. But I must be aided in so difficult a task. How shall I tempt them?"
At these words she flung out her arms, opening and shutting her hands with a strange gesture, which I could not understand. Her eyes gleamed like hot coals, and then grew cold and dull.
"I will direct you," she answered. "Be faithful to my orders and you need not fear. Only obey me and you shall succeed. You have every element within this temple. There are ten priests ready to our hand. They are full of hunger. I will satisfy them. You I will satisfy when your courage and steadfastness is proved -- not until then for you demand much more than these others."
"And who shall be the one to complete the number?" asked Agmahd.
She turned her eyes again upon me.
"This child," she answered. "He is mine -- my chosen and favorite servant. I will teach him: and through him I will teach you."
"Tell Kamen Baka, that I know his heart's desire, and that he shall have it, but that he must first pronounce the fatal words."
Agmahd bowed his head and turned away. He silently left the sanctuary.
I was again alone with her. She approached me and fastened her terrible eyes on mine.
While I gazed at her she vanished from before me, and in her place was a golden light which gradually shaped itself into a form more beautiful than any I had ever seen.
It was a tree full of foliage that hung soft like hair rather than leaves, and on each branch was a multitude of flowers growing in thick clusters, and among the flowers were a number of birds all golden and gay with brilliant colors, and they darted hither and thither among the glowing blossoms, till my eyes grew dazzled, and I cried aloud, "Oh give me one of these little birds for my own that it may come to me and nestle as it does in those flowers."
"You shall have a hundred of them, and they will so love you they will kiss your mouth and take food from your lips. By-and-by you shall have a garden in which a tree like this shall grow, and all the birds of the air will love you. But first you must do my bidding. Speak to Kamen and bid him enter the sanctuary."
"Enter," I said, "the priest Kamen Baka shall enter."
He came and stood within the doorway of the inner cavern. The tree had vanished, and I saw before me the dark figure with its shining flowing robes and cruel eyes; they were fixed on the priest.
"Tell him," she said slowly, "that his heart's hunger shall be satisfied. He desires love -- he shall have it. The priests of the temple have turned cold faces towards him, and he feels that their hearts are as stone. He wants to see them on their knees around him, adoring him, willing slaves. He shall have it; for he shall take upon him this once, which until now has been mine. He shall gratify their heart's lust, and in return they will put him alone upon a pedestal above all but myself. Is the bribe great enough?"
She said these words in a tone of intense contempt, and I could read in her terrible face that she despised him for the narrow limit of his ambition. But the sting left the words as I repeated them.
Kamen bowed his head, and a strange glow of exultation came upon his face.
"It is," he said.
"Then pronounce the fatal words!"
Kamen Baka fell upon his knees and Rung his hands high above his head. The look in his face changed to one of agony.
"From henceforward, though all men love me, I love no man!"
The dark figure swept towards him and touched his head with her hand. "You are mine," she said, and turned away, a smile that was dark and cold like a northern frost upon her face. She gave me the idea of a teacher and a guide with Kamen; to Agmahd she had rather spoken as a queen might to her chief favorite, one whom she values and fears at once; one who has strength.
"Now, child, there is work to do," she said, approaching me. "This book has written in it the hearts of the priests who shall be my servants. Thou art weary and must rest, for I will not that they injure thee. Thou must grow to a strong man worthy of my favor. But carry the book with thee in thy arms; and as soon as thou shalt wake in the early morn Kamen shall come to thee, and thou shalt read to him the first page of this volume. When he has succeeded in accomplishing the first task, then he shall again come to thee at early morn and thou shalt read to him the second; and in this way the book will be finished. Tell him this; and bid him not despair at any time, because of difficulties. With each difficulty surmounted his power will increase, and when all is done he will stand supreme."
I repeated these words to Kamen. He was standing now at the doorway, his hands clasped in front of him, and his head drooped low, so that I could not see his face. But as I ceased, he raised his head and said, "I obey."
His face wore still the strange gleam which I had seen on it before.
"Bid him go," she said, "and he is to send Agmahd hither."
When I repeated this, he quietly withdrew; and I could see by his movements that the place to his eyes was all darkness.
A moment later and Agmahd stood in the doorway. She approached him and laid her hand upon his forehead. Immediately I saw a crown there; and Agmahd smiled.
"It shall be yours," she said. "Say this to Agmahd; it is the greatest crown but one upon the earth; and that greater one he would not wear. Now bid him carry thee in his arms and lay thee on thy couch. But thou clasp tight the book."
While I was repeating her words, she came to me and touched my forehead. A deep delicious languor came upon me, and I thought the words faded on my lips. But I could not say them again; all had vanished. I was asleep.
When I awoke it was broad daylight; and I felt that I had slept a long deep sleep. My room was like a garden it was so full of flowers. My eyes wandered around them in pleasure, but presently lighted on an object which kept them fixed. It was a kneeling figure in the midst of the room; a priest whose head was bowed low; but I knew it was Kamen Baka. I moved, and at the slight sound I made he raised his head and looked towards me. In moving, I found that the book lay beside me open. My eyes became fastened to the page. I saw words that shone, and unconsciously I read them aloud. I ceased at last, because no more was writ in plain language, but all was hieroglyphics.
Kamen Baka started to his feet. I looked at him, and saw his face was all alight with what seemed like wild exultation.
"He shall kiss my feet to day," he cried out. Then observing my wondering gaze, he said, "Have you read all?"
"All that I can understand," I answered. "The rest is in strange characters that I do not know."
He turned instantly and left my chamber. I looked back at the page of the book which I had read to see what were the words which had so strangely excited him. They were now no longer intelligible to me -- they too were writ in hieroglyphics -- and I gazed at them in despair, for now I found I could remember no word of what I had read. I grew weary with puzzling over this strange thing, and at last I fell asleep again my head upon the open pages of the mystic book. I did not rouse from the deep dreamless sleep in which I was, until a sound startled me. Two young priests were in my room; they carried cakes and milk, and fell upon their knees to offer me the food. I was afraid, or I should have laughed to see them thus kneeling to me, a boy of the country. When I had eaten they left me, but I was not long alone. The curtain lifted, and at the sight of one who entered, I sprang to my feet and laughed with pleasure. It was Seboua, the gardener.
"How is it you have come to me?" I asked. "I thought indeed I was never to see you again."
"Agmahd sent me here," he said.
"Agmahd!" I cried in amazement. I approached him and pressed his arm between my hands.
"Oh yes, I am real," he answered. "They cannot make a phantom of me. Do not doubt when you see me it is I myself."
He spoke angrily and roughly, and for a moment I was afraid, but not for long. The strange smile came on his ugly face.
"You are to come with me into the garden" he said, and held out his dark large hand. I put mine in it, and together we left my room and went quickly away through the large empty chambers and long passages of the temple till we reached that narrow iron gateway through which I had first seen Seboua's face. As then so now, the garden shone beyond, a vision of greenness and light and color.
"Oh! I am glad to come back here," I said.
"You came first to work; you were to be the drudge for me," said Seboua, proudly. "Now all's changed. You are to play, not work, and I am to treat you like a little prince. Well! have they spoiled thee yet, I wonder, child? Would'st like to bathe?"
"But where," I said, "in what waters? I would love to plunge in and swim in some water that was cool and deep."
"Thou canst swim? and thou lovest the water? Well, come with me and I will show thee deep water that will be cool indeed. Come thou with me!"
He walked on and I had to hurry to keep pace with him. He muttered to himself as he went, but I could not understand his words. Indeed, I did not listen for I was thinking of how glorious the plunge into cool water would be on this warm languid morning.
We came to a place where there was a wide, deep pool, into which water came dropping, dropping, in a quick swift shower from some place above.
"There is water for thee," said Seboua, "and no flowers are there for thee to hurt."
I stood on the brink in the warm sunlight and flung my white robe from me. Then with one instant of pause to look around and think how sweet the sun was, I plunged into the water. Ah! indeed, it was cold! My breath was almost gone with the sudden chill, but I struck out and began to swim, and soon began to glory in the sense of keen refreshment. I felt strong and eager, here in the sweet fresh waters. No longer languid as amid the fragrant odors of the temple, or the rich scents of the flowers in my chamber. I was so happy, I wanted to stay a long while here in the water mid the sun; so presently I ceased swimming and let myself float idly, and, closed my eyes that the sunlight should not blind me.
Suddenly I felt something so strange, I grew breathless, yet it was so gentle it did not terrify me. It was a kiss upon my mouth. I opened my eyes. There, beside me, lying upon the surface of the water, was my own Queen, the Lily Queen, the Lady of the Lotus. I uttered a cry of joy. Immediately all pleasure which I had had since last I saw her vanished from my mind. She was my Queen, my beautiful friend; when she was there I had none other in all the world.
"Child, thou art come to me again" she said, "but soon thou wilt leave me; and how can I aid thee if thou forgettest me utterly?"
I made no answer, for I was ashamed. I could hardly believe that I had indeed forgotten and yet I knew that it was true.
"The waters thou liest in now," she said, "come from that place where my flowers, the lotus blossoms, dwell in their glory. Thou wouldst die wert thou to lie thus in the water where they dwell. But this that drops from them has but little of their life in it, and has given up its own to them. When thou must plunge into the water of the lotus tank, then thou wilt be strong as the eagle and eager as the young life of the newborn. My child, be thou strong; listen not to the flattery which confuses thee; listen only to the truth I keep in the sunlight, dear child, and let not the phantoms delude thee; for there is the life of lives awaiting thee, the pure flower of knowledge and love is ready for thee to pluck. Wouldst thou be a tool, a mere instrument in the hands of those who desire only for themselves? No! acquire knowledge and grow strong; then shalt thou be a giver of sunshine to the world. Come, my child, give me thine hand; rise in confidence, for this water will support thee; rise and kneel upon it and drink of the sunshine; rise and kneel upon it, and address thyself to the light of all life, that it may illumine thee."
I rose, holding her hand. I knelt beside her. I rose again and with her stood upon the water -- and then I knew no more.
"Wouldst thou be a tool, a mere instrument in the hands of those who desire only for themselves? No! acquire knowledge and grow strong; then shalt thou be a giver of sunshine to the world."
These words seemed whispered in my ear as I awoke; I repeated them over and over, and remembered every separate word rightly. But they were vague and unmeaning to me; I had fancied I understood them when first I heard them, but now they sounded to me as the good words of the preacher sound to the dancers at the festivals.
* * * * * * *
I was a child when these words were breathed into my ear -- a lad, helpless because ignorant and full of youth. Through the years of my growth, the cry to my soul from the Lily Queen rang dimly and without meaning in the obscure regions of my brain. They were to me as the song of the priest to the babe that hears but its music. Yet I never forgot them. My life was given up to the men who held me in bondage, in spirit and in body; fetters lay heavy on my unawakened soul. While my body yielded dully to the guidance of its masters, I was a slave, yet knew that freedom existed beneath the free sky! But, though I obeyed blindly, and gave all my strength and powers to the base uses of the desecrated temple, in my heart I held fast the memory of the beautiful queen and in my mind her words were written in fire that would not die. Yet as I grew to man's stature, my soul sickened within me. These words which lived like a star in my soul cast a strange light upon my wretched life. And as my mind developed I recognized this, and a heavy weariness, as of death or despair, shut away from me all the beauty of the world. From a gay child, a happy creature of sunshine, I grew into a sad youth, whose eyes were large and heavy with tears, and whose sick heart held hidden within it many secrets, but half understood, of shame and sin and sorrow. Sometimes, when I wandered through the garden I gazed into the still water of the lily tank and prayed to see again the vision. But it came not I had lost the innocence of childhood, and had not yet won the strength of the man.