Home
  By Author [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Title [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Language
all Classics books content using ISYS

Download this book: [ ASCII | HTML | PDF ]

Look for this book on Amazon


We have new books nearly every day.
If you would like a news letter once a week or once a month
fill out this form and we will give you a summary of the books for that week or month by email.

Title: The Devil-Tree of El Dorado - A Novel
Author: Aubrey, Frank
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "The Devil-Tree of El Dorado - A Novel" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



produced from images generously made available by The
Internet Archive)



  _THE DEVIL-TREE OF
  EL DORADO_



  [Illustration: "IT WAS PASSED ABOUT; NOW LIFTED HIGH IN THE AIR BY ONE
  END, THEN BY THE OTHER."
  _Frontispiece._]     [_Page 249._]



  _THE DEVIL-TREE
  OF EL DORADO_

  A novel

  BY
  FRANK AUBREY

  _WITH ILLUSTRATIONS BY LEIGH ELLIS AND
  FRED. HYLAND._

  [Illustration]

  NEW YORK
  NEW AMSTERDAM BOOK COMPANY
  156 FIFTH AVENUE

  LONDON: HUTCHINSON & COMPANY



  COPYRIGHT, 1897,
  BY
  NEW AMSTERDAM BOOK COMPANY.



PREFACE.

SHALL RORAIMA[1] BE GIVEN UP TO VENEZUELA?

      [1] The Indians of British Guiana pronounce this word Roreema.


Shall Roraima be handed over to Venezuela? Shall the mysterious
mountain long known to scientists as foremost among the wonders of our
earth--regarded by many as the greatest marvel of the world--become
definitely Venezuelan territory?

This is the question that hangs in the balance at the time these words
are being written, that is inseparably associated--though many of
the public know it not--with the dispute that has arisen about the
boundaries of British Guiana.

Ever since Sir Robert Schomburgk first explored the colony at the
expense of the Royal Geographical Society some sixty years ago, Roraima
has remained an unsolved problem of romantic and fascinating interest,
as attractive to the 'ordinary person' as to the man of science. And
to those acquainted with the wondrous possibilities that lie behind
the solution of the problem, the prospect of its being handed over
to a country so little worthy of the trust as is Venezuela, cannot be
contemplated without feelings of disappointment and dismay.

This is not the place in which to give a long description of Roraima.
It will suffice here to say that its summit is a table-land which,
it is believed, has been isolated from all the rest of the world for
untold ages; no wilderness of ice and snow, but a fertile country of
wood and stream, and, probably, lake. Consequently it holds out to the
successful explorer the chance--the probability even--of finding there
hitherto unknown animals, plants, fish. In this respect it exceeds in
interest all other parts of the earth's surface, not excepting the
polar regions; for the latter are but ice-bound wastes, while Roraima's
mysterious table-land lies in the tropics but a few degrees north of
the equator.

Why, then, it may be asked, have our scientific societies not exhibited
more zeal in the solving of the problem presented by this strange
mountain? Why is it that unlimited money can, apparently, be raised
for expeditions to the poles, while no attempt has been made to
explore Roraima? Yet, sixty years ago, the Royal Geographical Society
could find the money to send Sir Robert Schomburgk out to explore
British Guiana--indeed, it is to that fact that we owe the discovery
of Roraima--but nothing has been done since. Had the good work thus
begun been followed up, we should to-day have been able to show better
reason for claiming Roraima as a British possession. But, as the writer
of the article in the _Spectator_ quoted on page 3 says, "we leave the
mystery unsolved, the marvel uncared for." This article is commended
to the perusal of those interested in the subject, as also are the
following books, which give all the information at present available,
viz.--Mr. Barrington Brown's 'Canoe and Camp Life in British Guiana,'
and Mr. Boddam-Whetham's 'Roraima and British Guiana.' Mr. Im Thurn's
'Among the Indians of British Guiana' should also be mentioned, since
it contains references to Roraima, though the author did not actually
visit the mountain, as in the case of the first named.

As an illustration of the confusion and uncertainty that prevail as to
the international status of this unique mountain, it may be mentioned
that in the map of British Guiana which Sir Robert Schomburgk drew out
for the British Government, it is placed within the British frontier.
But in the map of the next Government explorer, Mr. Barrington
Brown--'based,' he says, 'upon Schomburgk's map'--it is placed just
inside the Venezuelan boundary; and no explanation is given of the
apparent contradiction. Again, another authority, Mr. Im Thurn (above
referred to), Curator of the Museum at Georgetown (the capital of the
colony), in his book says that Roraima "lies on the extreme edge of the
colony, or perhaps on the other side of the _Brazilian_ boundary."
These references show the obscurity in which the whole matter is at
present involved.

Apart, however, from the special interest that surrounds Roraima owing
to the inaccessible character of its summit,[2] it is of very great
geographical importance, from the fact that it is the highest mountain
in all that part of South America, _i.e._, in all the Guianas, in
Venezuela, and in the north-east part of Brazil. Indeed, we must cross
Brazil, that vast country of upwards of three million square miles, to
find the nearest mountains that exceed in height Roraima. Consequently,
it forms the apex of the water-shed of that part of South America; and
it is, in fact, the source of several of the chief feeders of the great
rivers Essequibo, Orinoco and Amazon. Schomburgk, in pointing this out,
dwelt strongly upon the importance of the mountain to British Guiana,
and insisted that its inclusion within the British boundary was a
geographical necessity.

      [2] Mr. Barrington Brown says the mountain can only be ascended
      by means of balloons (see article previously referred to on
      page 3); and Mr. Boddam-Whetham came to the same conclusion.

Finally, Sir Robert's brother, Richard Schomburgk, a skilled botanist,
who had visited almost all parts of Asia and Africa in search of
orchids and other rare botanical productions, tells us that the country
around Roraima is, from a botanical point of view, one of the most
wonderful in the world. "Not only the orchids," he says, "but the
shrubs and low trees were unknown to me. Every shrub, herb and tree
was new to me, if not as to family, yet as to species. I stood on the
border of an unknown plant zone, full of wondrous forms which lay as if
by magic before me.... Every step revealed something new." ('Reissen in
Britisch Guiana,' Leipzig, vol. ii., p. 216.)

Are our rulers, in their treatment of the question, bearing these facts
sufficiently in mind? Are they as keenly alive as are the Venezuelans
to the importance of Roraima? If they are, there is no sign of it; for
while, in the Venezuelan statements of their case, there are lengthy,
emphatic, and repeated references to the importance of Roraima, on the
English side--in the English press even--there is scarcely a word about
it.

From these observations it will be seen that there is reason to fear
we may be on the point of allowing one of the most scientifically
interesting and geographically important spots upon the surface of the
globe to slip out of our possession into that of a miserable little
state like Venezuela, where civil anarchy is chronic, and neither life
nor property is secure.

One of the avowed objects of this book, therefore, is to stimulate
public interest, and arouse public attention to the considerations that
actually underlie the 'Venezuelan Question,' as well as to while away
an idle hour for the lovers of romance.

It has been suggested that, if it is too late to retain the
wonderful Roraima as exclusively British--and to effect this it would
be well worth our while to barter away some other portion of the
disputed territory--then an arrangement might be come to to make it
neutral ground. Standing, as it does, in the corner where the three
countries--Brazil, Venezuela and British Guiana--meet, it is of
importance to all three, and, no doubt, in such an endeavour, we should
have the support of Brazil as against Venezuela.

       *       *       *       *       *

With regard to the oft-discussed question of the situation of the
traditional city of Manoa, or El Dorado--as the Spaniards called
it--most authorities, including Humboldt and Schomburgk, agree in
giving British Guiana as its probable site. We are told that it stood
on an island in the midst of a great lake called 'Parima'; but no such
lake is now to be found in South America anywhere near the locality
indicated. An explanation of the mystery, however, is afforded by the
suggestion that such a great lake, or inland sea, almost certainly
existed at one time in precisely this part of the continent; in that
case what are now mountains in the country would then have been islands.

Indeed, most of British Guiana lies somewhat low, and it is estimated
that if the _highlands_ were to sink two thousand feet the whole
country would be under water--the mountain summits excepted--and there
would then be only 'a narrow strait' between the Roraima range and the
Andes. In this great supposed ancient lake the group of islands now
represented by mountain summits might well have been the home of a
powerful and conquering race--as is to-day Japan with its group of more
than three thousand islands--and Roraima, as the highest, and therefore
the most easily defensible, may very well have been selected as their
fastness, and the site of their capital city.

Schomburgk thus states his speculations upon the point, in his book on
British Guiana, page 6:--

"The geological structure of this region leaves but little doubt
that it was once the bed of an inland lake which, by one of those
catastrophes of which even later times give us examples, broke its
barriers, forcing for its waters a path to the Atlantic. May we not
connect with the former existence of this inland sea the fable of the
lake Parima and the El Dorado? Thousands of years may have elapsed;
generations may have been buried and returned to dust; nations who
once wandered on its banks may be extinct and exist no more in name;
still, tradition of Parima and the El Dorado survived these changes of
time; transmitted from father to son, its fame was carried across the
Atlantic and kindled the romantic fire of the chivalric Raleigh."

       *       *       *       *       *

As a natural sequence to the foregoing arises the inquiry, What sort
of people were those who inhabited this island city, or who 'wandered
on the banks' of the great lake? Here much is to be learned from the
recent discoveries of the Government of the United States who, of late
years, have devoted liberal sums to pre-historic research. The money
so expended has been the means of unearthing evidence of a startling
character--relics of a former civilisation that existed in America
ages before the time of its discovery by Christopher Columbus. The
Spaniards, as we know, found races that were white, or nearly so; but
these later discoveries go to show that long anterior to these--at
a time, in fact, probably coeval with what we call the Egyptian
civilisation--America was peopled with a white race fully as cultured,
as advanced in the sciences, and as powerful on their own ground as the
ancient Egyptians; and as handsome in personal appearance--if some of
the heads and faces on the specimens of pottery may be accepted as fair
examples--as the ancient Greeks.

It has long been known that America possesses extraordinary relics of
a former civilisation in what are known as the great 'earthworks,'
which are still to be seen scattered about in many parts of the
continent, and which, as vast engineering works, challenge comparison
with the pyramids themselves. But now discovery has gone much
further; bas-reliefs and pottery have been found that set forth with
marvellous fidelity many minute details concerning this pre-historic
people--their personal appearance, and their ornaments and habiliments;
the style of wearing the hair and the beard; and other particulars
that can be appreciated only by inspection and study of the reduced
fac-similes lately printed and issued by the Government of the United
States.

Many of them relate to the custom of human sacrifice which, as most
people are probably aware, prevailed largely in America when the
Spaniards first landed there; though few, perhaps, know the terrible
extent to which it was carried. Prescott tells us that few writers have
ventured to estimate the yearly number of victims at less than twenty
thousand, while many put it as high as fifty thousand, in Mexico alone!
If we consider that the lowest of these estimates represents an average
of some four hundred a week, or nearly sixty a day, such figures
are appalling! And now we learn, beyond the possibility of a doubt,
that the same practices obtained in America in times that must have
been ages before the Spanish conquest, and, judging by the frequency
of the representations of such things in these old bas-reliefs, as
extensively. In these sculptures we can see the very shape of the
knives used; the form of the plates or platters on which severed heads
of victims were placed, and other such details; and in a certain series
we are enabled to note the curious point, that, while the officiating
priests always wear full beards, the victims appear to have usually
possessed no hirsute adornments, or to have 'shaved clean,' as we term
it. It may be added that these ancient white people seem to have been a
totally different race from those the Spaniards found on the continent;
and that between the two there is believed to have been a gap lasting
for many ages, during which the country was overrun by Indian or other
barbaric hordes; though how or why this came about is one of those
mysteries that will probably never be unravelled.

       *       *       *       *       *

In conclusion, I have to acknowledge my indebtedness to the writers
whose books of travel I have named for the information I have made use
of; as well as to express a hope that the writer of the review in the
_Spectator_ will regard with indulgence the liberties I have taken with
his admirable article. I am sanguine enough to believe, however, that I
shall have the sympathy and good wishes of all these in the endeavour
here made to arouse public attention to the real meaning and importance
of the 'Venezuelan Question'; and to add to the number of those who
feel an interest in the future status and ultimate exploration of
the mysterious Roraima. I wish also to express my thanks to Messrs.
Leigh Ellis and Fred Hyland, the artists to whom the illustrations
were entrusted, for the thought and care they have bestowed upon the
work, and the successful manner in which they have carried out my
conceptions.

For the rest--if objection be taken to the accounts of the mountain
and what is to be found on its summit given by the characters in my
story--I desire to claim the licence of the romance-writer to maintain
their accuracy--till the contrary be proved. If this shall serve to
stimulate to renewed efforts at exploration, so much the better, and
another of my objects in writing the book will thereby have been
attained.

  FRANK AUBREY.



CONTENTS.


  CHAPTER I.                       PAGE
  "WILL NO ONE EXPLORE RORAIMA?"      1

  CHAPTER II.
  MONELLA                            17

  CHAPTER III.
  THE JOURNEY FROM THE COAST         26

  CHAPTER IV.
  THE FIRST VIEW OF RORAIMA          36

  CHAPTER V.
  IN THE 'DEMONS' WOOD'              45

  CHAPTER VI.
  THE MYSTERIOUS CAVERN              58

  CHAPTER VII.
  THE CANYON WITHIN THE MOUNTAIN     70

  CHAPTER VIII.
  ALONE ON RORAIMA'S SUMMIT          79

  CHAPTER IX.
  VISION OR REALITY?                 88

  CHAPTER X.
  IN SIGHT OF EL DORADO!             98

  CHAPTER XI.
  ULAMA, PRINCESS OF MANOA          106

  CHAPTER XII.
  A PRELIMINARY SKIRMISH            119

  CHAPTER XIII.
  A KING'S GREETING                 129

  CHAPTER XIV.
  DAKLA                             141

  CHAPTER XV.
  MARVELS OF MANOA                  153

  CHAPTER XVI.
  LEONARD AND ULAMA                 167

  CHAPTER XVII.
  THE FIGHT ON THE HILLSIDE         177

  CHAPTER XVIII.
  THE LEGEND OF MELLENDA            188

  CHAPTER XIX.
  HOPES AND FEARS                   199

  CHAPTER XX.
  THE MESSAGE OF APALANO            210

  CHAPTER XXI.
  THE GREAT DEVIL-TREE              221

  CHAPTER XXII.
  SMILES AND TEARS                  236

  CHAPTER XXIII.
  THE DEVIL-TREE BY MOONLIGHT       246

  CHAPTER XXIV.
  TRAPPED!                          256

  CHAPTER XXV.
  'IN THE DEVIL-TREE'S LARDER'      268

  CHAPTER XXVI.
  CORYON                            282

  CHAPTER XXVII.
  ON THE 'DEVIL-TREE'S LADLE'       290

  CHAPTER XXVIII.
  RALLYING TO THE CALL              301

  CHAPTER XXIX.
  'THOU ART MY LORD MELLENDA!'      308

  CHAPTER XXX.
  A TERRIBLE VENGEANCE              317

  CHAPTER XXXI.
  'THE SON OF APALANO!'             327

  CHAPTER XXXII.
  THE TREE'S LAST MEAL              339

  CHAPTER XXXIII.
  THE LAST OF THE GREAT DEVIL-TREE  350

  CHAPTER XXXIV.
  A MARRIAGE AND A PARTING          360

  CHAPTER XXXV.
  JUST IN TIME!                     369

  CHAPTER XXXVI.
  THE END                           382



  LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS.


  "IT WAS PASSED ABOUT; NOW LIFTED HIGH IN THE AIR
      BY ONE END, THEN BY THE OTHER"                   _Frontispiece_

  "THERE BEFORE THEM ... THEY SAW THE MYSTERIOUS
      RORAIMA"                                      _To face page 39_

  "A SCENE THAT WAS GRATEFULLY REFRESHING"              "     "   72

  "THE SUN WAS JUST HIGH ENOUGH TO LIGHT UP THE
      GLISTENING TOWERS AND CUPOLAS"                    "     "  106

  "SHE STOOD REGARDING THEM WITH WONDERING LOOKS"       "     "  115

  "OTHER BRANCHES SWOOPED DOWN, COILING ROUND HIM"      "     "  252

  "HE WAS STANDING WITH ONE ARM EXTENDED"               "     "  286

  ON THE DEVIL-TREE'S LADLE                             "     "  297



  THE
  DEVIL-TREE OF EL DORADO.



CHAPTER I.

"WILL NO ONE EXPLORE RORAIMA?"[3]

      [3] The Indians of British Guiana pronounce this word Roreema.


Beneath the verandah of a handsome, comfortable-looking residence near
Georgetown, the principal town of British Guiana, a young man sat one
morning early in the year 1890, attentively studying a volume that
lay open on a small table before him. It was easy to see that he was
reading something that was, for him at least, of more than ordinary
interest, something that seemed to carry his thoughts far away from
the scene around him; for when, presently, he raised his eyes from the
book, they looked out straight before him with a gaze that evidently
saw nothing of that on which they rested.

He was a handsome young fellow of, perhaps, twenty-two years of age,
rather tall, and well-made, with light wavy hair, and blue-grey eyes
that had in them an introspective, somewhat dreamy expression, but
that nevertheless could light up on occasion with an animated glance.

The house stood on a terrace that commanded a view of the sea, and,
in the distance, white sails could be seen making their way across
the blue water in the light breeze and the dazzling sunlight. Nearer
at hand were waving palms, glowing flowers, humming insects and
gaudily-coloured butterflies--all the beauties of a tropical garden. On
one side of him was the open window of a sitting-room that, shaded, as
it was, by the verandah, looked dark and cool compared with the glare
of the scorching sun outside.

From this room came the sounds of a grand piano and of the sweet voice
of a girl singing a simple and pathetic ballad.

At the moment the song ceased a brisk step was heard coming up the path
through the garden, and a good-looking young fellow of tall figure and
manly air made his way to where the other still sat with his eyes fixed
on vacancy, as one who neither sees nor hears aught of what is going on
about him.

"Ha, Leonard!" the new-comer exclaimed, with a light laugh, "caught you
dreaming again, eh? In another of your reveries?"

The other roused himself with a start, and looked to see who was his
visitor.

"Good-morning, Jack," he then answered with a slight flush. "Well,
yes--I suppose I must have been dreaming a little, for I did not hear
you coming."

"Bet I guess what you were dreaming about," said the one addressed as
Jack. "Roraima, as usual, eh?"

Leonard looked a little conscious.

"Why, yes," he admitted, smiling. "But," he continued seriously, "I
have just been reading something that set me thinking. It is about
Roraima, and it is old; that is to say, it is in an old number of a
paper bound up in this book that a friend has lent me. I should like to
read it to you. Shall I?"

"All right; if I may smoke the while. I suppose I may?" And the
speaker, anticipating consent, pulled out a pipe, filled and lighted
it, and then, having seated himself on a chair, crossed one leg over
the other, and added, "Now, then, I am ready. Fire away, old man."

And Leonard Elwood read the following extract from the book he had been
studying:--

  "Will no one explore Roraima, and bring us back the tidings which
  it has been waiting these thousands of years to give us? One of the
  greatest marvels and mysteries of the earth lies on the outskirt
  of one of our colonies, and we leave the mystery unsolved, the
  marvel uncared for. The description given of it (with a map and
  an illustrated sketch) in Mr. Barrington Brown's 'Canoe and Camp
  Life in British Guiana' (one of the most fascinating books of
  travel the present writer has read for a long time) is a thing
  to dream of by the hour. A great table of pink and white and red
  sandstone, 'interbedded with red shale,' rises from a height of
  five thousand one hundred feet above the level of the sea, two
  thousand feet sheer into the sapphire tropical sky. A forest crowns
  it; the highest waterfall in the world--only one, it would seem,
  out of several--tumbles from its summit, two thousand feet at one
  leap, three thousand more on a slope of forty-five degrees to the
  bottom of the valley, broad enough to be seen thirty miles away.
  Only two parties of civilised explorers have reached the base of
  the table--Sir Robert Schomburgk many years ago, and Mr. Brown and
  a companion in 1869[4]--each at different spots. Even the length
  of the mass has not been determined--Mr. Brown says from eight to
  twelve miles. And he cannot help speculating whether the remains
  of a former creation may not be found at the top. At any rate,
  there is the forest on its summit; of what trees is it composed?
  They cannot well be the same as those at its base. At a distance
  of fifteen hundred feet above sea-level the mango-tree of the
  West Indies, which produces fruit in abundance below, ceases to
  bear. The change in vegetation must be far more decided where the
  difference is between five thousand and seven thousand feet. Thus
  for millenniums this island of sandstone in the South American
  continent must have had its own distinct flora. What may be its
  fauna? Very few birds probably ascend to a height of two thousand
  feet in the air, the vulture tribe excepted. Nearly the whole of
  its animated inhabitants are likely to be as distinct as its plants.

      [4] Since then Roraima has been visited by two or three other
      travellers; but their accounts have added little to our
      knowledge. They entirely confirm Mr. Brown's statements as to
      its inaccessibility. (See Preface.)

  "Is it peopled with human beings? Who can tell? Why not? The
  climate must be temperate, delicious. There is abundance of water,
  very probably issuing from some lake on the summit. Have we here a
  group of unknown brothers cut off from all the rest of their kind?

  "The summit, Mr. Brown says, is inaccessible except by means of
  balloons. Well, that is a question to be settled on the spot,
  between an engineer and a first-rate 'Alpine.' (What is the
  satisfaction of standing on the ice-ridge of the Matterhorn, or
  crossing the lava-wastes of the Vatna-Jökull, compared to what
  would be the sensation of reaching that aerial forest and gazing
  plumb down over the sea of tropical verdure beneath, within an
  horizon the limits of which are absolutely beyond guessing?)

  "But put it that a balloon is required, surely it would be worth
  while for one of our learned societies to organise a balloon
  expedition for the purpose. No one can tell what problems in
  natural science might not be elucidated by the exploration. We have
  here an area of limited extent within which the secular variation
  of species, if any, must have gone on undisturbed, with only a
  limited number of conceivable exceptions, since at least the very
  beginning of the present age in the world's life. Can there be a
  fairer field for the testing of those theories which are occupying
  men's minds so much in our days? And if there be human beings on
  Roraima, what new data must not their language, their condition,
  contribute for the study of philologers, anthropologists,
  sociologists?

  "One more wonder remains to be told. The traveller speaks of
  two other mountains in the same district which are of the same
  description as Roraima--tables of sand-stone rising up straight
  into the blue--one larger than (though not as high as) Roraima
  itself. It is only because of their existence, and because, for
  aught that appears, they may be equally inaccessible with Roraima,
  that one does not venture to call Roraima _the_ greatest marvel and
  mystery of the earth!"

"What is that taken from?" asked Jack Templemore when the reader had
put down the book.

"It is from the _Spectator_.[5] I say, Jack, what a chance for an
explorer! Fancy people spending their money and risking their lives in
exploring an icy, cold, miserable, desolate region, like the Arctic
Circle, when there is a wondrous land here in the blue skies--yet
no wilderness of ice and snow--waiting to be won; and no one seems
to trouble about it! I do wish you would do as I have so often
suggested--set out with me upon an expedition and let us see whether
we cannot solve the secret of this mysterious mountain. You have the
leisure now, and I have the money. Dr. Lorien and his son are now on
their way back from near there; if they can undertake the journey, so
could we. Besides, it is not as though we were novices at this kind of
travel; we have been on short trips to the interior times enough."

      [5] This article appeared in the _Spectator_ of April 1877.

Jack Templemore looked dubious. He was, it is true, used to roughing
it in the wild parts of South America. He had been trained as an
engineer, and, for some years--he was now twenty-eight--had been
engaged in surveying or pioneering for new railways in various places
on the Continent. His father having lately died and left him and his
mother very poorly off, he was now somewhat anxiously looking about for
something that would give him permanent occupation, or the chance of
making a little money. He and Leonard Elwood were great friends; though
they were, in many respects, of very different characters. Elwood
was, essentially, of a romantic, poetic temperament; while Templemore
affected always a direct, practical, matter-of-fact way of looking at
things, as became an engineer. He was dark, tall and sturdily built,
with keen, steady grey eyes, and a straight-forward, good-humoured
manner. Both were used to hunting, shooting, and out-door sports, and,
as Elwood had just said, they had had many short hunting trips into the
interior together. But these had been in previous years, since which,
both had been away from Georgetown. Templemore, as above stated, had
been engaged in railway enterprises, Elwood had gone to Europe, where,
after some time spent in England, during which his father and mother
had both died, he had travelled for a while 'to see the world,' and
finally had come out again to Georgetown to look after some property
his father had left him. On arrival he had gone at first to an hotel,
but some old friends of his parents, who lived on an estate known as
'Meldona,' had insisted upon his staying with them for a while. Here he
found that his old friend Jack Templemore was a frequent visitor, and
it was an open secret that Maud Kingsford, elder of the two daughters
of Leonard's host, was the real attraction that brought him there so
constantly.

Now Jack Templemore, as has been said, was more practical-minded than
Leonard. He had not shrunk from the hardships and privations of wild
forest life when engaged upon railway-engineering work, when there
had been something definite in view--money to be made, instruction
to be gained, or promotion to be hoped for. But he did not view with
enthusiasm the idea of leaving comfortable surroundings for the
discomforts of rough travel, merely for travel's sake, or upon what
he deemed a sort of wild-goose chase. He had carefully read up all
the information that was obtainable concerning the mountain Roraima,
and had seen no reason to doubt the conclusions that had been come
to by those who ought to know--that it was inaccessible. Of what use
then to spend time, trouble, money--perhaps health and strength--upon
attempting the impossible?

So Jack Templemore argued, and, be it said, there was the other reason.
Why should he go away and separate himself for an indefinite period
from his only surviving parent and the girl he loved best in the world,
with no better object than a vague idea of scrambling up a mountain
that had been pronounced by practical men unclimbable?

Thus, when Leonard appealed to him on this particular morning, merely
because he had come across something that had fired his enthusiasm
afresh, Jack did not respond to the proposal with the cordiality that
the other evidently wished for.

"I don't mind going a short trip with you, old man," Jack said
presently, "for a little hunting, if you feel restless and are
a-hungering after a spell of wandering--a few days, or a week or two,
if you like--but a long expedition with nothing to go upon, as it were,
seems to me only next door to midsummer madness."

Leonard turned away with an air of disappointment, and just then Maud
Kingsford, who had been playing and singing inside the room, stepped
out.

Leonard discreetly went into the house and left the two alone, and
Maud greeted Jack with a rosy tell-tale flush that made her pretty
face look still more charming. In appearance she was neither fair nor
dark, her hair and eyebrows being brown and her eyes hazel. She was an
unaffected, good-hearted girl, more thoughtful and serious, perhaps,
than girls of her age usually are--she was twenty, while Stella, the
younger sister, was between eighteen and nineteen--and had shown her
capacity for managing a home by her success in that line in their own
home since her mother's death a few years before. The practical-minded
Jack, who had duly noted this, saw in it additional cause for
admiration; but, indeed, it was only a natural outcome of her innate
good sense. She now asked what her lover and Leonard had been talking
of.

"The usual thing," was Jack's reply. "He's mad to go upon an exploring
expedition; thinks we could succeed where others have failed. It's
so unlikely, you know. Now, if he would only look at the thing
practically----"

Maud burst into a merry laugh.

"You do amuse me--you two," she exclaimed; at which Jack looked a
little disconcerted. "_You_ always insisting so upon being strictly
non-speculative, and Leonard, with his romantic phantasies, and his
dreams and visions, and vague aspirations after castles in the air. You
are always hammering away at him, trying to instil practical ideas into
him with the same praiseworthy perseverance, though you know that in
all these years you have never made the least little bit of impression
upon him. Your ideas and his are like oil and water, you know. They
will never mix, shake them together as you will."

"But--don't you think I am right? Isn't it common sense?"

"Quite right, of course; and you _are_ persevering; I'll say that for
you."

"For the matter of that, so's Leonard," said Jack with a good-natured
laugh. "He's as persevering with this fad of his as any man I ever
met in my life. I do believe he's got a fixed idea that he has only
to start upon this enterprise, and he will come back a made man with
untold and undreamt-of wealth and----"

"And a princess for a bride--the fair maid of his dreams," Maud put in,
still laughing. "We have not heard so much of her, by the bye, lately.
He has been rather shy of those things since his return from Europe,
and does not like to be spoken to about them. We began to think he had
grown out of his youthful fancies."

The fact was, that, from his childhood, Leonard had been accustomed
to strange dreams and fancies. These five--Leonard, Templemore, and
Mr. Kingsford's son and two daughters--had been children together, and
in those days Leonard had talked freely to his childish companions of
all his imaginative ideas; and as they grew older, he had not varied
much in this respect. Moreover, Leonard had had an Indian nurse, named
Carenna, who had encouraged him in his fantastic dreamings, and who
had, by her Indian folk-lore tales, early excited his imagination.
Her son Matava, too, had been Leonard's constant companion almost so
long as he could remember, first in all sorts of boyish games and
amusements, and later in his hunting expeditions; and both Matava and
Carenna had been always more devoted to Leonard than even to his father
and mother.

But when Mr. and Mrs. Elwood left the estate they had been cultivating,
to go to England, the two Indians had gone away into the interior
to live at an Indian settlement with their own tribe. About twice a
year, however--or even oftener, if there were occasion--Matava still
came down to the coast upon some little trading expedition with
other Indians; and at such times he never failed to come to see the
Kingsfords and inquire after Leonard.

The Dr. Lorien, of whom mention had been made by Leonard, was a retired
medical practitioner who had turned botanist and orchid-collector.
He had been a ship's doctor, and in that capacity had voyaged pretty
well all over the world. Since he had given that up he had travelled
further still by land--in the tropical regions in the heart of Africa,
in Siam, the Malay Peninsular and, latterly, in South America--in
search of orchids and other rare floral and botanical specimens. The
vicinity of Roraima being one of the most remarkable in the world for
such things--though so difficult of access as to be but seldom visited
by white men--it is not surprising that he had lately planned a journey
thither.

From this journey the doctor and his son were now daily expected back.
One of the Indians of their party had, indeed, already arrived, having
been despatched in advance, a few days before, to announce their safe
return.

Thus it came about that Templemore and Maud, while still talking, were
not greatly surprised at the sudden appearance of Matava, who stated
that he had come down with the doctor's party, who would follow very
quickly on his heels.

Maud, who knew the Indian and his mother well, received him
kindly; and, to his great delight, was able to inform him that his
'young master'--as he always called Leonard Elwood--had returned to
Georgetown, and was at present with them.

Matava had, indeed, expected this, for he had heard of Leonard's
intention at his last visit to the coast some six months before. He
was greatly pleased to find he was not to be disappointed in his
expectation. Moreover, the Indian declared, he had news for him--"news
of the greatest importance"--and begged to be allowed to see him at
once. So Maud sent him into the house--where he knew his way about
perfectly--to find Leonard; and then, turning to Templemore, she said,
laughing,

"I wonder what his 'important' intelligence can be? Some deeper secret
than usual that his old nurse has to tell him, I suppose."

"I hope it's nothing likely to rouse a further desire to set off on
this mad-cap expedition he has so long had in his mind," Templemore
returned; "for," looking at her with a sigh, "if he _should_ make up
his mind to start, I am, in effect, pledged to go too, whether I wish
or not."

"Why should you expect it? and how are you obliged to go?" Maud
inquired with evident uneasiness.

"I know that Leonard saw Dr. Lorien in London before he came out last,
and had a long talk with him. When he learned of the expedition upon
which the doctor was then setting out, he was much annoyed at being
unable to join him. He said, however, that he should be in Georgetown
himself in a few months, and hoped to see the doctor on his return; and
he particularly asked him to try to collect for him all the information
and particulars he could concerning the best route by which to make
the journey to Roraima. Dr. Lorien told me all this before he left
us, adding that he felt certain Leonard's object in coming again
to Georgetown was quite as much to arrange for an expedition as his
ostensible one of looking after his property. And _I_ know, too, from
what I have seen since Leonard has been back, that his thoughts are
full of the idea. You say he does not now talk much of it to you or to
others?"

"No; and as I told you just now, we had begun rather to think he had
given up his former romantic yearnings for adventure; and, when you
have referred to them before him, I have thought that you were only
teasing him a little about old times."

"Oh dear no; by no means. Whatever he may say, or leave unsaid to you
and his general acquaintances, he is, in his heart, just as much set
upon it as ever."

"It is odd, that," Maud observed thoughtfully, "because he used to
be so fond of telling us about his dreams and visions and all the
castles in the air and half-mystical imaginings he used to build upon
them. But," she went on slowly, "I have noticed that, since his long
absence from us, Leonard Elwood is very different from what he was as
I remember him. He seems, at times, so reserved and distant, I almost
feel inclined to call him 'Mr. Elwood' instead of 'Leonard.' And he is,
in a manner, unsociable, too. He is so preoccupied always, so silent,
and so wrapped up in himself, that you generally have to wait, if you
speak to him, while he collects his thoughts--brings them back from the
distant skies or wherever they have gone a-wandering--before he replies
to you. Not that he is intentionally cool or distant, I think; and I
am sure he is just as good-hearted as ever. Yet there _is_ a change of
some sort. Stella says the same. And, do you know, he sometimes gives
me a sort of feeling as though he were not English at all, but of some
other race, and that he feels half out-of-place amongst us, a fish out
of water, as it were? I wonder whether he is in love!" And Maud gave a
ringing little laugh.

Templemore shook his head.

"If he were, it would be with some young lady on the other side of the
Atlantic," he returned. "And he would not be desirous of prolonging
his stay on this side. No; _I_ know what is the matter with him. He
talks freely enough to me. And, now that he is expecting Dr. Lorien
back, he is gradually working himself up into a state of excitement
and expectation. He has quite made up his mind for some news or
information--Heaven only knows why--and that is what makes him by turns
restless and preoccupied. If, therefore, what Matava has to tell has
anything to do with what I know to be so much in his thoughts, it may
be the means of deciding him to go; and then I should have to go too."

"But why? I don't see what it has to do with you, Jack."

"It has this to do with me, dear Maud," said Templemore, taking her
hand; "Leonard, some time ago, made me a very handsome--to me a very
tempting--offer if I would make up my mind to start with him on this
vague expedition. He offered me £300 clear, he paying all expenses,
and giving me, besides, half of whatever came out of it. Unfortunately
for myself, I am not now in a position to say 'no' to such an offer. I
have been, now, nearly a year waiting for something to 'turn up.' My
mother has barely enough to live on, and depends upon me for ordinary
comforts, to say nothing of little luxuries; and what I had saved up
from former engagements is steadily getting less and less, and will
shortly disappear. I do wish with all my heart I could get anything
else, almost, rather than this wild-goose affair of Leonard's. Yet
nothing has offered itself; so what am I to do? For your sake, for the
hope of being able one day to provide a home for you----"

"Nay, Jack," Maud interposed, with a deep flush, "do not say for _my_
sake. I would not have you set out on an enterprise of danger and
difficulty for my sake. But I see clearly enough you must do it, if it
be again offered, for your mother's sake. Yes, for hers, you must." The
girl hesitated, and it was easy to see she found it hard to say the
words, but she went on bravely, "So, I repeat, if it be again offered,
you must accept it, Jack. And be sure I will look after your mother,
and comfort her while you are away."

"That is spoken like my own dear girl," Templemore answered with
emotion. "Yes, I cannot well refuse; and I know I may look to you to
console my mother. You will comfort each other."

Just then they heard Leonard's voice calling out in excited tones for
Templemore. A moment or two later he came rushing out of the house.

"Jack, Jack!" he cried. "Such a strange thing! Here is our opportunity!
Matava has brought some extraordinary news!"

Leonard was so incoherent in his excitement, that it was some time
before his hearers grasped his meaning.

His news amounted, in effect, to this. A white man had been staying
for some time near the Indian village at which Carenna and her son
Matava lived; and he had had many talks with both about a project for
ascending the mountain of Roraima. It being an arduous undertaking, he
sought the co-operation of one or two other white men; and Leonard's
old nurse had urged him to communicate with her young master, who
would shortly be in Georgetown, assuring him that he would be the very
one--from the interest and enthusiasm he would feel--to join him and
help him to achieve success if success were possible. Matava, who knew
of Dr. Lorien's presence in the district, had suggested to the stranger
to go to see him, and a meeting had thus been brought about. The doctor
would tell him the result; but the main thing was that the stranger had
sent an invitation to Leonard to join him and to bring, if he pleased,
one other white man, but no more. The doctor was now at the Settlement,
near the mouth of the Essequibo, transferring to the steamer, from
the Indian canoes in which they had been brought down the river, his
botanical treasures and other trophies of his journey. If Leonard
wished to go back with the canoes and the Indians who were with them,
he would have to let them know at once, and they would wait. Otherwise
they would be on their way back in a day or two; which would involve
the organising of a fresh expedition--a matter of great trouble--should
Leonard make up his mind to proceed later.

The enthusiastic Leonard needed no time to make up his mind.

"I shall go," said he. "If you will come too, Jack, I shall be only too
glad. But, if not, I may be able to find some one else; or I shall go
alone. So I shall send word at once to keep the boats and the Indians."

"But," objected Maud Kingsford, "consider! You know nothing of this
stranger; he may be a blackleg, an escaped murderer or desperado, or
all sorts of things."

"No, no! Carenna knows. She has sent word that I can trust this man,
and she knows. She is too fond of me to let me get mixed up with any
doubtful character. Dr. Lorien, too, and Harry have seen him, and
talked with him, and think well of him; so Matava says. I shall know
more when I see them in a day or two. Meantime, I shall keep the canoes
and Indians, and risk it."

Then he rushed off to have a further talk with Matava, and, as he said,
see about getting the Indian "some grub."

Jack and Maud, left alone, looked at each other in dismay. It had been
one thing to talk vaguely of what they would do in case Leonard should
take what at the time seemed a very unlikely step. It was quite another
to be thus suddenly brought face to face with it.

Maud turned very pale and seemed about to faint. She felt keenly how
hard it would be to see her lover depart upon an adventure of this
uncertain character, the end or duration of which no one could even
guess at. But she recovered her self-possession with an effort and,
looking steadily at Templemore, said,

"What you said you would do for our sakes is to be very quickly put to
the test, it seems. You--will--go, Jack?"

"Yes," he answered firmly; "since it is your wish."

"You must," she answered. "It is hard to lose you; it will be hard for
us both. But go--and go with a good heart. Be sure I will be a daughter
to your mother while you are away."

He took her hand in his and pressed it to his lips.

"For your sake, dear Maud, I shall go," he said. "For your sake and for
my mother's; in the hope that some success may result; but not--Heaven
knows--for the mere sordid hope of gain."



CHAPTER II.

MONELLA.


Two days later Dr. Lorien and his son arrived in Georgetown and,
after taking rooms at the Kaieteur Hotel, went at once to call upon
the Kingsfords. This haste was, in reality, prompted by Harry, whose
thoughts were bent upon his hopes of once more seeing the pretty
Stella; but the ostensible reason that he urged upon his father was
somewhat different, and had to do with the message of which they were
the bearers from the white stranger they had met in their travels.

At the evening dinner the matter was discussed, Mr. Kingsford and his
son Robert and the others being present.

The two travellers had much to tell of their adventures, which had
been full of both interest and danger, apart from the matter of the
stranger's message.

"And yet, I think," observed the doctor, thoughtfully, "our meeting
with this stranger, and his behaviour, impressed me more than almost
all else that happened to us."

"How so? What is he like?" asked Mr. Kingsford.

"In figure he is very tall; of a most commanding stature and
appearance. _I_ am not short."

"Why, you are over six feet!" put in Harry.

"And yet I almost think, if he had held his arm straight out, I could
have walked under it with my hat on, and without stooping."

"I'm sure you could, dad," Harry corroborated.

"As to age--there I confess myself at sea. As a doctor I am accustomed
to judge of age; yet he thoroughly puzzled me. If I could believe in
the possibility of a man's being a hundred and fifty years old and yet
remaining strong and hale and vigorous, I should not be surprised if
he had claimed that age. On the other hand, if one could believe in a
young, stalwart, muscular man of thirty with the face and white hair
of an old-looking, but not _very_ old man, then I could have believed
it if I had been told he was no more than thirty. In fact, he was a
complete puzzle to me; a mystery. But the most remarkable thing about
him was the expression of his eyes; they were the most extraordinary I
have ever seen in my life."

"Wild--mad-looking?" Templemore asked.

"Oh no, by no means; quite the reverse. Very steady and piercing; but
wonderfully fascinating. Mild and kind-looking to a fault; and yet
changing to a look of quiet, almost stern resolution that had in it
nothing hard, or cruel, or disagreeable. In fact, I hardly know how to
describe that look, or convey an idea of it, except by saying that it
was something between the gaze of a lion and that of a Newfoundland
dog. It had all the majesty, the magnanimity, the conscious power of
the one, with the benevolence and wistful kindness and affection of the
other. Never have I seen such an expression. I really did not know the
human countenance could express the mingled characteristics one seemed
to read so plainly in his--all kindly, all noble, all suggestive of
sincerity and integrity."

"You _are_ enthusiastic!" said Robert, laughing.

The old doctor coloured up a little; then took out his handkerchief and
wiped his face.

"I know it sounds strange to hear an old man of the world like me
speak so forcibly about a man's appearance," he returned; "but, if it
is true, I do not see why I should not say it. Ask Harry here."

"I couldn't take my eyes off his face," Harry declared. "He fairly
fascinated me. I felt I should have to do anything he told me; even to
taking my pistol and killing the first person I met. I do believe I
should have done it--or any other out-of-the way thing. And he made you
feel, too, as though you liked him so, that you longed to do any mortal
thing you could to please him."

"What's his name?" asked Templemore.

"Monella."

"Monella? Is that all? No other name?"

"None that I heard. And as to his nationality, I cannot even so much
as guess. I have been in Central Africa, in Siam, in India, in China,
in Russia, and have picked up a smattering of the languages of those
countries; but this man jabbered away in all; additionally, he spoke
French, German, Spanish and Portuguese, besides English. So much I
know. How many more he speaks I can't say."

"Injun," said Harry.

"Oh yes, I forgot that. We had some of three different tribes with us,
and he spoke to each in his own tongue."

"And what is his object in going in for this Roraima exploration?"
asked Mr. Kingsford.

"He has a curious theory. He declares that the ancient island-city of
El Dorado--or Manoa--was not at the lower end or part of the Pacaraima
mountains, as some have surmised, but at the further and highest point
of the range, which is Roraima itself. He holds that the great lake
or inland sea of Parima once washed around the bases of all those
mountains, making islands of what are now their summits; and that the
highest and most inaccessible of all, Roraima, was selected by the
Manoans for their fastness, and for the site of their wonderful 'Golden
City.'"

"But that theory won't help him to get up there, will it?" Jack asked.

"Ah, but there is something else. He states that he was brought up by
some people, the last members of what had once been a nation, but has
now died out. They lived in a secluded valley high up on the slopes of
the Andes. He has travelled all over the world, and went back to these
friends of his, only to find that they were all dead, save one, and
that he was fast dying. This survivor gave him an ancient parchment
with plans and diagrams, by means of which, it was declared, the top of
the mountain can be reached, where will be found whatever traces may
be left of the famous city of Manoa or El Dorado. This man, Monella,
has other old parchments which he can read, but I could not--he showed
me some--and from these he declared his belief that there is almost
unlimited wealth to be gained by those who find the site of this
wonderful city."

All this time Leonard had been listening with sparkling eyes and
flushed cheeks, though in silence. Here he glanced with a satisfied
smile at Templemore, and said,

"There's method in all that; at all events he is not undertaking the
thing in a haphazard way and without something to go upon, that's
certain."

Jack did not look hopeful.

"It is probably just as wild and hopeless an adventure all the same,"
was his reply. "What 'directions' or 'plans' or 'diagrams' can help
a man to-day after the lapse of hundreds and hundreds of years--even
if they were reliable, and the old party who handed them over was not
mad--as he probably was?"

"As to Monella," observed the doctor, "I could see no sign of madness
in him. He is one of the most intelligent, best-informed men I ever
met. I cannot say anything, of course, of his informant."

"Has he any money, do you suppose--this man?" Robert asked.

"I don't know. But he pays the Indians well, and has got together a
lot of stores, it seems; which must have been a costly thing to do.
They have been brought over the mountains from Brazil. And he specially
said you need not trouble to load yourself up with much in the way
of stores--only sufficient to get to him. After that you will be all
right. And he said nothing about money being wanted. But," and here
the doctor hesitated, "he is very particular as to the character and
disposition of those he purposes to work with. In fact, he subjected
me to a long sort of cross-examination respecting our friend Leonard
here. He had already gained a lot of information about him from the
old Indian nurse, it seemed, and I was surprised at the details he
had picked up and remembered. In fact, Master Leonard," continued the
doctor, addressing the young man, "he seemed to know you almost as well
as if he had lived with you for years. And your friend Mr. Templemore,
too, he seemed to know about him, and to expect that he would join you."

"How could that be?" Jack demanded.

"Oh, from the old nurse and Matava, I suppose."

"To tell you the honest truth," Harry interposed, "I believe there's
some hocus-pocus business about those two. She is reputed to be a
witch, you know; not a bad witch, but a good sort. And I quite believe
Monella to be a wizard; also of a good sort. And when those two laid
their heads together, they could know a lot between them, I suspect. I
should not at all wonder if he were not magician enough to lead you to
the 'golden castle,' or 'city,' or whatever it is, and find its hidden
stores of gold. I wish I had a chance to join him. But dad's wanting me
somewhere else. So I am out of it."

"Yes," observed his father. "We have to go on to Rio, where I have some
law business on. But we shall not be away a great while, and then we
are going back to that district."

"Going back?" said Templemore in surprise.

"Yes, there is a lot to be done there. It is a wonderful place for my
sort of work, and we really saw but very little of it after all. So we
are going again when we return from Rio; but I cannot at all tell when
that may be."

The doctor was a fine-looking specimen of a hardy, bronzed traveller.
He was, as has been said, over six feet in height; his hair and beard
were iron-grey, his complexion was a little florid beneath its tan,
and his expression good-humoured and often jovial. His son, Harry, was
somewhat slight in build, but wiry, and had been used to knocking about
with his father. He was a young fellow with boundless animal spirits
and plenty of pluck and courage. His ready kindness to every one made
him a general favourite; and the lively, captivating Stella and he were
special friends.

Mr. Kingsford asked the doctor whether any time had been estimated for
the length of the expedition.

"That would be difficult," Dr. Lorien answered. "Apart from the long
and tedious journey there, there is the girdle of forest that surrounds
Roraima to be cut through. That may take months, I am told."

"Months!" The exclamation came from Maud who, with Stella, had been a
silent but appreciative listener.

"Yes. It is a curious thing, but this forest belt is never approached
even by any of the Indian tribes. They look upon it with superstitious
awe and will not even go near it. Indeed, they all regard Roraima with
a sort of horror. They declare there is a lake on the top guarded by
demons and large white eagles, and that it will never be gazed on
by mortal eyes; that in the forest that surrounds it are monstrous
serpents--'camoodis' they call them--larger far than any to be found
elsewhere in the land; besides these, there are 'didis', gigantic
man-apes, bigger and more ferocious and formidable than the African
gorilla. Altogether, this wood has a very bad reputation, and no
Indian will venture near it. Indeed, the mountain of Roraima and all
its surroundings are looked upon as weird and uncanny. As a former
traveller has expressed it, 'its very name has come to be surrounded by
a halo of dread and indefinable fear.'"

"How, then, is the necessary road to be made through this promising bit
of woodland?" asked Templemore.

"_There_ has been Monella's difficulty," returned the doctor. "But
for that, doubtless, he would not have troubled about any one else's
joining him. But, though he is very popular amongst the Indians, they
cannot get over their fear of the 'demons'' wood, as they call it.
They are, in fact, quite devoted to him, for he has done much that has
made him both loved and feared--as one must always be to gain the real
devotion of these people. He has effected many wonderful cures amongst
them, I was told; but, more than that, he has saved the lives of two
or three by acts of great personal courage. So that, at last, he even
prevailed upon them to enter the 'haunted wood' with him. But they are
making very little progress, it appears; he cannot keep them together,
and they give way to panic at the slightest thing and make a bolt of
it; then he has to go hunting over the country for them, and it takes
days to get them together again--and so on. He is in hopes that the
presence and example of other white men will inspire them with greater
confidence and courage."

"A promising and inviting outlook, I must say," said Jack, eyeing
Leonard gravely.

"Never mind," Leonard exclaimed with enthusiasm. "If he can face it, so
can we; and if it is good enough for him to brave such difficulties,
it is good enough for us. It only shows what sterling stuff he must be
made of!"

At this Jack gave a sort of grunt that was clearly far from implying
assent to Leonard's view of the matter.

There was further talk, but it added little to the information given
above; and, inasmuch as Leonard had already made up his mind, almost
in advance, and had to ask no one's permission but his own, he
determined at once to set about the necessary preparations; and Jack
Templemore--though with evident reluctance--agreed to accompany him.

"I have a list of all the things I took with me," remarked Dr. Lorien,
"and notes of a few that I afterwards found would have been useful
and that I consequently regretted I had not taken; and also some
specially suggested by the stranger Monella. You had better copy them
all out carefully, for you will find it will save you a lot of time and
trouble."

Thus it came about that in less than a week their preparations were all
made, and the two, with Matava as guide, were ready to set out. Matava
had with him fourteen or fifteen Indians, who had formed the doctor's
party, and these, and the canoes with the stores on board, were soon
after waiting at the Settlement, ready to make a start.

Then, one sunny day at the beginning of the dry season, the Kingsfords,
with Mrs. Templemore, and the doctor and his son, all took the steamer
to the "Penal Settlement" (a place a few miles inside the mouth of
the Essequibo river, the starting place of all such parties), to see
the young men off and wish them God speed. When it came to this point
the struggle was a hard one for Maud and for Templemore's mother; but
they bore themselves bravely--outwardly at least. The three canoes put
off amidst much fluttering of handkerchiefs, and soon all that could
be seen of the adventurers were three small specks, gradually growing
less and less, as the boats made their way up the bosom of the great
Essequibo river--here some eight miles in width. Their intended journey
had been kept more or less a secret; such had been the wish of him they
were going to join. Hence no outside friends had accompanied the party
to see them off. Those who knew of their going away thought they were
only bent upon a hunting trip of a little longer duration than usual.

For two loving hearts left behind the separation was a trying one.
For a few days Mrs. Templemore stayed on at 'Meldona' with Maud, and
the presence of Dr. Lorien and the vivacious Harry helped to cheer
them somewhat; but, when the doctor and his son started for Rio, the
others returned sadly to the routine of their everyday life, with many
anxious speculations and forebodings concerning the fortunes of the two
explorers.



CHAPTER III.

THE JOURNEY FROM THE COAST.


The greater part of the interior of British Guiana consists of dense
forests which are mostly unexplored. No roads traverse them, and but
little would be known of the savannas, or open grassy plains, and the
mountains that lie beyond--and they would indeed be inaccessible--were
it not for the many wide rivers by which the forests are intersected.
These form the only means of communication between the coast and the
interior at the present day; and so vast is the extent of territory
covered with forest growth that it is probable many years will elapse
before any road communication is opened up between the sea and the open
country lying beyond the woods.

Of these vast forests little--or rather practically nothing--is known
save what can be seen of them from the rivers by those voyaging to and
fro in canoes. There are a limited number of spots at which the Indians
of the savannas come to the banks of the rivers to launch their canoes
when journeying to the coast; and to reach these places they have
what are known as 'Indian paths' through the intervening woods. These
so-called paths are, for the most part, of such a character, however,
that only Indians accustomed to them can find their way by them. Any
white man who should venture to trust himself alone in them would
inevitably get quickly and hopelessly lost. Hence--save for a few
miles near the line of coast--there are, as yet, absolutely no roads in
the country.

Naturally, under such conditions, the forest scenery is of the wildest
imaginable character, and its flora and fauna flourish unchecked in the
utmost luxuriance of tropical savage life; for the country lies but a
few degrees from the equator, and is far more sparsely populated than
even the surrounding tropical regions of Brazil and Venezuela.

Fortunately, however, for those who for any reason have occasion to
traverse this wild region, there is no lack of water-ways. Several
grand rivers of great breadth lead from the coast in different
directions, most of them being navigable (for canoes and small boats)
for great distances, leaving only comparatively short stretches of
forest land to be crossed by travellers desiring to reach the open
plains and hills.

Of these rivers, the Essequibo is one of the finest, and it was by
this route that the two friends, Elwood and Templemore, set out, under
Matava's guidance, to reach their destination. From this river they
branched off into one of its affluents, the Potaro, noted for its
wonderful waterfall, the Kaieteur, which they visited _en route_. Here
their canoes were left and exchanged for lighter ones, hired from the
Ackawoi Indians, who live at a little distance above the fall; their
stores and camp equipage being carried round. So far the journey had
been uneventful, save for a little excitement in passing the various
cataracts and rapids; but the two young men knew their way fairly well
thus far, having visited the Kaieteur with Matava some years before.

When, however, the journey was resumed above the Kaieteur, the route
was new to them; and, among the first things they noticed, were the
alligators with which the river abounded. In the Essequibo they had
seen none, and not many below the fall; but from this point, as far as
they ascended the river, they saw them continually. Once they had a
narrow escape. They were making arrangements for camping on the bank,
and were nearing the shore in the last of the canoes, when a tremendous
blow and a great splash overturned the boat, and they found themselves
struggling in the stream. An alligator had struck the canoe a blow with
its tail and upset it. Fortunately, however, it was in shallow water;
and the Indians, seeing how matters were, made a great splashing, and
thus frightened away the reptile. The contents of the canoe were partly
recovered, not without difficulty; but some were damaged by the water.

As they proceeded up the river, the rapids and cataracts became more
frequent, and the negotiation of them more difficult, till they reached
a spot where further navigation was impossible, and they had to take to
the forest, their stores and baggage being henceforward carried by the
Indians.

This marked the commencement of the really arduous part of the journey.
So long as the stores were carried in the boats, the Indians had been
cheerful and docile, and easy to manage. But now their work was harder,
and food was scarcer--for game is difficult to shoot in the forest.
Then, after two or three days, the gloom of the woods began to have an
evident effect upon their spirits; they first became depressed, and
then began to grumble. This would not have been of so much consequence,
perhaps, but that Matava became apprehensive that they might desert.
They were not people of his tribe, it seemed; they had come with Dr.
Lorien from a different district; and when they began to understand
that the eventual destination was Roraima, they became still more
depressed.

All the Indian tribes who have heard of Roraima, in any way, have the
same superstitious dread of it; and those now with the two young men
were evidently not exceptional in this respect. Templemore and Elwood
began to feel anxious and, to make matters worse, food ran short
for the Indians. The latter live chiefly on the native food, a kind
of bread called cassava, and, of this, a good deal of what they had
brought with them had been lost or spoiled by the upsetting of the
canoe.

In consequence, Matava advised that they should interrupt their direct
journey to turn aside to an Indian settlement that he knew of, about
a day's journey off the route they were pursuing; there they would
be able to replenish their stores, he thought; and to this course a
reluctant assent was given by the two friends.

It turned out to be more than a day's journey, however; but they
reached the place on the second day. It was called Karalang; there were
not more than a dozen huts, and the people at first said that they
had no food to spare; but eventually promised to procure some if the
travellers would wait a few days; and this they were perforce compelled
to do.

This village was situated on a hill in a piece of open country in the
midst of the great forest; and, during their enforced rest, the two
friends were enabled to engage in a little hunting, and to see more of
the wild life of the woods than they had seen before.

The first thing they did on arrival was to procure a couple of fowls
for cooking, of which there were plenty in the village. But these were
of no use as food for the Indians, who never eat them. Throughout the
country this is everywhere the case; the Indians keep fowls, yet never
eat them; and it is said that, were it not for the vampire bats and
tiger-cats, these would increase beyond all reason. Though, however,
they object to fowls as a diet, they have no dislike to fish, and they
were not long in discovering that there were some in a stream that ran
near the village; and a supply was caught by their method of poisoning
the fish in such a way that they float on top of the water as if dead,
but are nevertheless palatable and wholesome as food. The poison is
prepared from a root.

Amongst the miscellaneous stores the two had brought they had a liberal
supply of firearms--five Winchester rifles, half-a-dozen revolvers
and two guns, each with double barrels, one for shot and the other
for ball. The extra weapons were in case of loss or accident, and
Templemore had a good stock of tobacco, for he never felt happy for
long together without his pipe.

On their way up they had had very little shooting. Jack had indeed
killed an alligator, by way of relieving his feelings after the
upsetting of the canoe; but there had been very little time to spare
for sport. Every morning they had started as soon as the morning meal
had been eaten, and had gone into camp at night only in time to cook a
meal before it became dark. For in this part of the world night closes
in at about half-past six on the shortest days of the year, and a
little before seven on the longest. Practically, therefore, the varying
seasons bring little difference in the length of the days. One cannot
there get up at three or four o'clock and "have a good long day," with
an evening keeping light till eight and nine o'clock, as in summer-time
in Europe. Hence the days seem short for travel and sport, and the
nights very long.

"I think we've stuck to it pretty well," Jack observed in the evening,
as he sat smoking by the camp fire, outside their tent--for though the
day had been hot the evening was chilly--"and we deserve a rest. So it
is just as well. We will have two or three days' shooting, and a look
round, before we go on to tackle 'the old man.'"

'The old man' was the one they were on their way to see--the one Dr.
Lorien had met and described so enthusiastically. Jack was a little
sceptical as to whether the good-natured doctor had not sacrificed
strict accuracy to his friendly feeling for the stranger. Leonard, too,
felt full of curiosity upon the same point.

"I can scarcely believe, you know," Jack continued, "that our friend
will turn out all that the doctor pictured him."

"I shall be glad if he does, at any rate," Leonard made reply. "He
would be almost worth coming to see for himself alone."

Jack laughed.

"That's rather stretching a point, I think. However, I am keeping an
open mind on the subject. The gentleman shall have 'a fair field and
no favour,' so far as my judgment of him goes. I won't let myself be
prejudiced in advance, either one way or the other."

During the following days they enriched their stores by the skin
of a fine jaguar, shot by Templemore, a great boa-constrictor--or
'camoodi'--twenty-four feet long, shot by Leonard, and many trophies of
lesser account. Then, a fresh lot of cassava having been procured for
the Indians, the journey was resumed.

In about three weeks from the time of their start, the party emerged
from the forest into a more open country, where rolling savannas
alternated with patches of woodland. Here the air was fresher and more
bracing, so that the depressing effect of the gloomy forest was soon
thrown off. They could shoot a little game, too, as they went along;
there were splendid views to be had from the tops of the ridges and low
hills they crossed. The ground steadily rose and became first hilly and
then mountainous, till, having crossed a broad, undulating plateau,
they once more entered a forest region, but this time of different
character. The trees were farther apart; there were hills, and rocky
ravines, and mountain torrents, steep mountains, and deep valleys. The
way became toilsome and difficult; game was scarce, or at least not
easy to obtain, owing to the nature of the ground; the cassava ran
short, and, once more, grumbling arose and trouble threatened.

At last, one evening, Matava, with perplexity in his face, led the two
young men aside to hold a consultation.

"These people," he said in his own language, "say they will not go any
farther!"

"How far do you reckon we are now from your own village?" asked Jack.

"About four days. If we could but persuade them to keep on for two days
more, we could fix a camp, and I could go on alone and bring back some
of my own people to take all the things on."

"Ah! a good idea, Matava. Well, let us see what persuasion will effect.
Any way, we had better get them to go as far as we can, and then encamp
at the first likely camping-ground."

In the end the Indians were prevailed upon, by promise of extra pay, to
go the additional two days' journey. Beyond that they would not budge.

"They think that mountain over there in the distance is Roraima,"
Matava explained; "and I cannot get them to believe it isn't. And they
are frightened, and won't go any nearer to it."

There was, therefore, nothing to be done but to adopt Matava's
suggestion. It was agreed that the two friends would stay in camp and
keep guard over their belongings, while he started next day for his
village, to bring help.

The spot was a convenient one in which to camp for a few days, with a
stream of water near. That evening, therefore, the Indians were paid,
this being done in silver, which they knew how to make use of. The next
morning, when Elwood and Templemore got out of their hammocks, they
found they were alone with Matava. All the others had disappeared.

"Ungrateful beggars!" said Jack. "They might, at least, have gone in a
respectable manner, and not like thieves slinking away. Let's hope they
are not thieves."

But they were not. An examination showed that nothing had been stolen.

"The poor fellows were only frightened," Leonard observed. "They are
honest enough."

Matava, meantime, was making ready to set off alone for carriers from
his own village. When he was ready, Templemore expressed a desire to
walk a little way on the road with him 'to take a peep over that little
ridge yonder'; which is a wish common to travellers in a country that
is new to them. But when they reached the ridge, there was only to
be seen another short expanse of undulating savanna, whereupon Jack
decided to return, leaving Matava to continue on his way.

Leonard, left to himself, finished the occupation he had in hand--the
cleaning of his double-barrel--and, having loaded it, strolled out of
the camp in another direction, to take a look round. He left the camp
to itself, not intending to go far, and expecting that his friend would
be back in a quarter of an hour or so. Not far away a 'bell-bird' was
ringing out its strange cry, that has been compared by travellers to
the sound of a convent bell. He had heard these birds often in the
forest since leaving the boats, but, in consequence of the density of
the woods, had never been able to get near one. Here, where the trees
were more open, there seemed to be a better chance, and he followed, as
he thought, the sound. But soon he came to the conclusion that he had
been in error; or the bird had flown across unseen; for the direction
of the sound seemed to have changed. He, therefore, turned off towards
where he fancied the bird now was; and this happened several times,
till at last he became confused and found he had fairly lost his way.
It is a peculiarity of the 'bell-bird,' as it is of many other birds
of the forest, that their notes are often misleading; it is one of
those cases of what has been termed by naturalists 'Ventriloquism in
Nature,' many examples of which the traveller in these wild regions
comes across. Leonard had arrived at the head of a small glen, and
found himself on a grassy bank beside a little stream, sheltered from
the glare of the sun by over-hanging branches. He laid down his gun
and went to take a drink of the inviting limpid water, and then sat
awhile on the bank looking down the picturesque ravine. It was very
quiet and peaceful all around, and he fell into one of his day-dreams.
At such times the minutes pass on unheeded; and he sat for a long while
oblivious of all that went on about him. But presently, behind him, a
silent, cunning enemy crept up unseen and unheard till near enough for
a spring; then there was a loud roar, and the next moment Leonard was
lying on the ground in the grasp of an enormous jaguar.

For a minute or two the beast stood over him growling, but not touching
him after the first blow that had knocked him down; while Leonard lay
dazed and helpless, with just enough consciousness to have a vague idea
that the best thing he could do, for the moment, was to lie perfectly
still. Then, with another roar, the animal seized him by the shoulder
and began to drag him down the slope towards some bushes. At that
moment Leonard, whose face was turned away from the brute, saw, like
one in a dream, the undergrowth through which he himself had come,
part asunder and three figures appear. Two of them were Templemore and
Matava, who stood rooted to the spot with horror-stricken faces; the
third was a tall stranger who towered above the other two, and who also
stood still for a second or two eyeing the scene, while the jaguar
growled threateningly.

Then the tall stranger advanced, and the animal released its hold and
was itself seized and pulled from over Leonard. In another moment
he felt himself lifted in two giant arms, and, looking up, saw the
stranger bending upon him a gaze in which there seemed a world of
tender anxiety and compassion. Everything appeared to swim around him,
and he knew that consciousness was leaving him; yet, for a space, the
fascination of that look seemed to hold him chained.

"You--must--be--Monella!" he said, softly. Then he fainted.



CHAPTER IV.

THE FIRST VIEW OF RORAIMA.


When Leonard came to himself sufficiently to see and understand what
was going on around him, for the moment he thought himself once more in
his days of childhood; for the first face he recognised was Carenna's,
his Indian nurse, who was bending over him in much the same way and
with the same expression as of yore. But, when he looked round, he
saw that he was in an Indian hut; and slowly the memory of what had
occurred came back to him.

Carenna, when she saw that he was himself again, gave a joyous cry;
then, conscious of her indiscretion, put her finger on her lips
to imply that he must remain quiet. He felt no inclination to do
otherwise, and soon fell into a refreshing sleep, which lasted for some
time.

When next he opened his eyes they rested on another pair, large and
steady, and that seemed to have a wondrous depth and meaning in them.
Then he saw that they belonged to the stranger who had pulled the
jaguar off, and was now sitting alongside the mattress on which he lay.

"Keep thee quiet, my son," said he in a low, musical voice. "All goes
well, and in two or three days you will be as strong as ever again."

There was something soothing in the mere glance of the eye, and in the
very tones of the man's voice; and Leonard, reassured by them, remained
passive for a while, till Carenna again appeared with a drink she had
prepared for him.

When, later, Jack Templemore came in, and Leonard was able to talk, he
found he had been ill for a week, and that he was then in the hut of
Carenna at the village of Daranato.

"I've had an awfully anxious time of it," Jack said; "but Monella seems
skilled in doctoring, and Carenna has been most devoted in her nursing
and attention and would brook no interference; so I've had to hang
around and pass the time as best I could."

When once Leonard had 'turned the corner,' as Jack called it, he
recovered rapidly, and was able, in a few days, as Monella had
predicted, to get about again. Nor was he any the worse for his mishap;
for the beast's teeth had just missed scrunching the bone.

When he wished to offer his thanks to Monella, the latter put him off
with a quiet smile.

"We think nothing of little incidents like that, my son, in a land such
as this. Your thanks are due to God who sent me to you at the moment;
not to me. Being there, I could not well have done otherwise than I
did."

It appeared that Monella had come out from the village a day or two
before to look out for them, and had fallen in with Matava. The Indian
had led him towards the camp, near which they had met Jack, who was
wandering about in search of Leonard. On learning that he was missing,
Monella had proceeded to the camp and thence--by some method known only
to himself--had tracked Leonard's footsteps--a thing that even Matava
confessed himself unable to do--and thus had come upon him just in time.

"When I saw how matters stood," said Jack, "my very heart seemed
to stand still. Neither I nor Matava dared to risk a shot, for the
brute stood up nearly facing us and holding you in his mouth. But
that wonder, Monella, quietly laid down his rifle and drew his knife,
keeping the beast fixed with his eye all the time; then he walked up to
it as coolly as though he were going to stroke a pet cat, put out his
hand and caught it with such a grip on the throat that it nearly choked
and had to let go of you at once. And presto! Before it could get its
breath, whizz went the knife into its heart! And he lifted it up and
threw it away from him, clear of you, as easily as one might a small
dog. Then he picked you up and carried you to the camp, as though you
were but a baby. The whole affair took only a few moments, and passed
almost like a dream. It's fortunate he happened to come out to meet us.
How could he possibly know we were coming?"

"I have always told you," said Leonard dreamily, "that there seems
to be a strange sympathy between my old Indian nurse and myself. She
tells me she 'felt' that I was in the neighbourhood, and sent word to
Monella, who at once went to her, and then came on to try to intercept
us. Only, you know, you never believed in those things. Yet here, you
see, Monella must have believed her, or he would not have had such
confidence in our coming as to wait about for us as he did."

"It's very strange," Jack admitted. "I confess I do not understand you
'dreamers.' I am out of the running there altogether.

"They say," he continued, "that from the top of yonder low mountain
before us you can see Roraima pretty plainly. But I had no heart to
go out to look for it while you were so ill, and, since you have been
getting better, I have preferred to stay and keep you company. But now,
I suppose, it will not be long before we set eyes, at last, upon the
wonderful mountain that is to be our 'El Dorado'!"

  [Illustration: "THERE BEFORE THEM ... THEY SAW THE MYSTERIOUS
  RORAIMA."
    [_Page 39._]

When Elwood heard this, he became anxious to get a sight of the object
of their journey; so, two days after, they started before dawn, with
Monella, to walk to the top of the low mountain Jack had pointed out.

They reached the summit of the ridge just when the sun was rising,
and there before them, like a veritable fairy-land in the sky, they
saw the mysterious Roraima, its pink-white and red cliffs illumined
by the morning sun, and floating in a great sea of white mist, above
which showed, here and there, the peaks of other lower mountains like
the islands they once were, but looking dark and heavy, in their
half-shadow, beside the glorious beauty of this queen of them all, that
reared herself far above everything around.

It is impossible to give an adequate idea of the impressive grandeur of
this mountain, which might be likened to a gigantic sphinx, serene and
impassive in its inaccessibility.

Or it might be likened to a colossal fortress, built by Titans to guard
the entrance to an enchanted land beyond; for the cliffs at its summit
appeared curiously turreted, while at the corners were great rounded
masses that might pass for towers and bastions.

In places, with the light-coloured cliffs were to be seen darker rocks,
black and dark green and brown, worked in, as it were, with strange
figures, as though inlaid by giant hands. And everywhere the sides were
perpendicular, smooth, and glassy-looking. Scarce a shrub or creeper
found a precarious hold there; but down from the height, at one spot,
fell a great mass of water--like a broad band of silver sparkling and
glistening in the sunlight--that came with one mad leap from the top
and disappeared in a cloud of spray and mist two thousand feet below.
Further along could be seen other narrower falls like silver threads.

There was no crest or peak as with most mountains. The top was a
table-land, beyond whose edge one could see nothing. This edge was
fringed with what looked like herbage, but, seen through a powerful
field-glass, proved to be great forest trees.

Then, as the sun rose higher and warmed the air, the mist cleared
somewhat around the lower part of the precipitous cliffs, so that
far, far down could now be seen the foliage that crowned the great
primæval forest--the 'forest of demons'--that girdled the cliffs' base.
Gradually the mist descended, and the full forest's height showed up
like a Titanic pedestal of green, itself floating in the haze that
still remained below.

By degrees the mist rolled down the mountain's side, for below this
extensive forest-girdle the actual base and lower slopes began slowly
to appear, with waterfalls, and cascades, and rushing torrents and
great rivers dashing and foaming in their rocky beds. Then other
intervening ridges and patches of forest and open savanna gradually
came into view, with the full forms of the surrounding smaller
mountains, the whole making up a panorama that was marvellous in its
extent and in the variety of its shapes and tints.

But scarcely had the sun revealed this wondrous sight to their
astonished eyes, when a cloud descended upon Roraima's height.

Almost imperceptibly it grew darker, then darker still and yet more
sombre, till the erst-while fairy fortress seemed to frown in gloomy
grandeur. Its salmon-tinted sides, but now so airy-looking in their
lightness, turned almost black, and seemed to glower upon the brilliant
landscape. The forest also lost its verdant colouring and looked dark
and forbidding enough to pass for an enchanted wood peopled by dragons,
demons, and hobgoblins to guard the grim castle in its centre.

Then the cloud descended lower still, and castle and haunted forest
passed out of sight, as swiftly and completely as though all had been a
magical illusion that had vanished at a touch of the magician's wand.

Leonard rubbed his eyes and felt half inclined to think he had been
dreaming. All this time not a word had been exchanged. Each had seemed
wrapped up in the weird attraction of the scene; and the new-comers,
even the practical Jack, had been astounded, almost overwhelmed, at the
sight of the stupendous cliffs and tower-like rocks of the mysterious
mountain, and its changes from gorgeous colouring and ethereal beauty
to black opacity and shapelessness.

Presently Monella turned and led the way back to the camp, the others
following, each absorbed in his own thoughts.

Templemore was more impressed by what he had just witnessed than he
would have cared, perhaps, to own. Never before had he seen such a
mountain, though he had crossed the Andes, and had looked upon the
loftiest and grandest on the American Continent. To him there was
something about Roraima that was wanting in all other mountains;
a suggestiveness of the unseen, of latent possibilities. He could
now understand why the Indians regarded it with fear and awe. It
was, indeed, impossible to look upon it without believing that some
wonderful story was hidden in its inaccessible bosom; some mysterious
secret that it kept jealously concealed from the rest of the world.
For, perhaps, the first time in his life, he was conscious of a feeling
that bordered on the superstitious. What if that which they had
witnessed were meant to shadow forth a warning; to be an omen! Did it
portend that, should they gain the summit of Roraima, they would find
there indeed a sort of earthly Paradise, but that it would turn--as
suddenly and completely as the fairy-like first view had changed that
morning--to the darksome solitude of a charnel house?

But Leonard, for his part, when he came to talk upon the matter, was
only more enthusiastic than before; and Monella smiled with indulgent
approbation when, with the ingenuous impulsiveness of youth, he
enlarged upon his delight and expectations.

When they returned to the Indian village preparations were begun for a
forward move to the place Monella had made his head-quarters; not far
from the commencement of the mysterious forest the Indians regarded
with such dread.

During the march thither they had many more glimpses of Roraima;
finally they emerged upon the last ridge that faced it, from which a
full view of its towering sides and of the forest at their base could
be obtained.

Between them was a deep ravine, along which flowed a narrow river
dotted with great boulders. Having crossed this with some difficulty
and ascended the other side, they reached an extensive undulating
plateau, an open savanna with here and there small clumps of trees.
They were now almost under the shadow of the great cliffs, and before
them, three or four miles away, was the beginning of the encircling
wood.

Rounding the end of a thicket distant a mile or so from this wood, they
came suddenly upon a large and substantially built log hut, and this,
Monella told them, was his temporary residence. Near it were several
smaller huts roughly but ingeniously formed of boughs and wood poles,
which the Indians who worked with him had constructed for themselves.

As they entered the larger dwelling Monella thus addressed them:

"This, my friends, is where we shall have to live until our work in
'Roraima Forest' shall be completed. Make yourselves as much at home
as the circumstances will permit; we are likely to occupy it for some
time."

And a fairly comfortable home it was; far more so indeed than the young
men had ventured to expect. There was rough furniture, there were lamps
for light at night, a number of books, and many other things that took
them altogether by surprise.

"It must have taken you a long time," said Jack Templemore, "to get all
these things transported here, and this place built and its furniture
made."

"It has taken me years!" was the reply.

The Indians who accompanied them, numbering about twenty, were all
of Matava's own tribe; altogether a different race from those who
had accompanied them nearly to Daranato and had been paid off and
gone home. When Monella had left his abode, temporarily, at Carenna's
request, to come to meet the two, all the Indians had gone with him,
objecting to be left so near to the 'demons' wood' without him. Now,
however, they quickly distributed themselves among the huts, one acting
as cook and servant in the house, and Matava attending to all other
matters as general overlooker.

So far little had been said between the young men and their strange
host as to the objects and details of their enterprise. The
circumstances of their introduction had been so unusual that the
discussion had been tacitly postponed until Leonard should have
recovered sufficiently to take part in it. And even then, when Jack had
broached the subject, Monella had remarked,

"You had better wait till you have been to my cabin near Roraima, when
I can better explain the nature of the undertaking. Then, if you do not
care to join me in it, or we seem unlikely to get on well together, we
will part friends and you will merely have had an interesting bit of
travelling." So all farther explanation had been adjourned.

"I call this more than a 'cabin,'" said Leonard, when they had had time
to make a sort of tour of inspection. "I think we ought to give it a
better name. Suppose we call it 'Monella Lodge.'" And 'Monella Lodge'
it was henceforth called.



CHAPTER V.

IN THE 'DEMONS' WOOD.'


The following day, Monella led the two friends to the road he had begun
to cut into Roraima Forest; but first he showed them two llamas that
were kept in a rough corral near his dwelling.

"I brought them all the way from the other side of the continent," he
said. "You know that there they are the only beasts of burden, and in
this country there are none. They will be useful to us later."

As to the so-called 'road,' it was really but a pathway; and, in
places, almost a kind of tunnel. The great trees of this primæval
forest were so high and dense that but little daylight penetrated to
the ground beneath; and on all sides the undergrowth was so thick and
tangled that almost every foot had to be cut out with the axe. Here and
there one could see for a few yards between the giant trunks, and at
these spots the path had been made wider. One curious thing Jack noted:
the path did not start from that part of the wood opposite to 'Monella
Lodge'; nor even from the margin of the wood itself.

Asked why this was, Monella thus made answer: "If in our absence others
should come here, they might hunt up and down for the path a long time
before they hit upon it--and very likely never find it. On this stony
ground the tracks we leave are very slight and difficult to trace."

"But," said Jack, "your Indians know the way."

Monella smiled.

"Not one of them would ever show another man the way," he replied, "let
him offer what he might."

"But why all these precautions?"

"Later you will understand."

But, when Jack came to look round, his heart sank within him.

"I should not care to have a few miles of railway to cut through wood
like this," he said. "It's the worst I ever saw. I do not wonder
you have found it more than you could manage--only yourself and
these Indians--and it's a wonder you ever got them to join at all,
considering all the circumstances."

"Yes; that's where it is," Monella answered. "Many men would have
despaired, I think. We have had trouble, too. Two Indians met with
accidents and were badly hurt; though now they are recovering. Then,
some of the small streams that issue from the mountain became suddenly
swollen once or twice, and washed away the rough bridges we had made
across them; and we have met with many unexpected obstacles, such as
great masses of rock, or a fallen tree, some giant of the forest that
was so big it was easier to go round it than to cut through it."

That evening, Monella explained his project, and showed the young men
the plans and diagrams Dr. Lorien had spoken of, and then went on to
say,

"If you decide to join me, you ought to know something of the language
in which these old documents are written. I both read and write it, and
I speak it too. You will find it interesting to decipher them, and an
occupation for the evenings."

Jack was not enthusiastic at this suggestion; but Leonard cordially
embraced it.

"To learn the language of an unknown nation that has passed away will
be curious and _very_ interesting," he declared, "and will, as you say,
help to pass the time. You may as well learn it too, Jack. You speak
the Indian--why not learn this? Then we can talk together in a tongue
that no one but ourselves and our friend here can understand."

"And where did these ancient people 'hang out'?" asked Jack
irreverently.

"Have you heard of the lake of Titicaca and the ancient ruins of
the great city of Tiahuanaco; a city on this continent believed by
archæologists to be at least as old as Thebes and the Pyramids?"
Monella asked.

"_I_ have," Leonard answered, "though I know very little about them.
But I believe I was in that country when very young, and had a curious
escape from death there."

Monella turned his gaze quickly upon the young man.

"Tell me about it. What do you remember?" he asked.

"Oh, I do not remember anything; I was too young. But I have been
_told_ how that my father went somewhere in that district on a
prospecting expedition, and, not liking to be separated from my mother,
took her with him, and my nurse, Carenna, and myself. Whilst there they
came across a small settlement of white people, as I understand, and
remained with them some time. There was amongst these people a child of
my own age, and so exactly like me, that my nurse grew almost as fond
of it as she was of me, and used to like to take the two out together.
One day, it seems, we both went to sleep on the grass, and she left us
for a few minutes to gather fruit. When she returned a poisonous snake
crawled hissing away, and she found the other poor little child had
been bitten and was dead.

"That's all I know about it. Who the people were, and where the place
was, I cannot say. I have always understood, however, that it was
somewhere in the direction of Lake Titicaca. But Carenna could tell you
more."

"And what about this ancient people of yours?" Templemore asked of
Monella, who still gazed thoughtfully and inquiringly at Leonard.
Templemore had heard of Elwood's early adventure many times before.

"High up on the eastern slopes of the great Andes is an extensive
plain, as large as the whole of British Guiana," the old man replied.
"It is twelve thousand feet above the level of the sea, and there, at
that great height, is also the largest lake of South America, Lake
Titicaca, over three thousand square miles in extent, on the shores of
which was once a mighty city called Tiahuanaco. It is now in ruins;
yet, even amongst its ruins, it boasts of some of the oldest and most
wonderful monuments in the world. Two thousand feet above this again,
are another large plain and another lake, little known to the outside
world, being, indeed, almost inaccessible. It was there my people
dwelt, and tradition asserts that they retired thither when driven
out of Tiahuanaco by some invasion of hordes from other parts of the
continent."

"Is it a very old language, do you suppose?" Jack asked.

"Undoubtedly one of the oldest in the world; and yet not difficult to
acquire by those who know the language of Matava and his tribe--as you
do. It has some affinity to it."

As regards the tongue spoken by the Indians, Leonard had learnt it from
Carenna in his childhood; and Templemore had picked up a good deal from
the same source, as well as on his hunting expeditions with Leonard and
Matava.

When it came to discussing terms, Monella declared that he had none to
make, except that on no consideration whatever should any other white
man be invited or allowed to join them. As to the rest, he simply
suggested that any wealth they might acquire by their enterprise should
be shared equally between them.

"Suppose one of us were to die," observed Jack. "How then? Might not
the survivors choose some one else to join them? Though," he added
thoughtfully, "if it were _you_, we should not be likely to go on."

"_I_ shall not die, my friend, until my task be finished," replied
Monella with conviction.

"You cannot say," was Jack's rejoinder.

"No, I do not say I _know_, yet I can say I _feel_ it. No man dieth
till he hath fulfilled the work in life allotted to him by God,"
Monella finished solemnly.

The others already knew him, by this time, as a man with deep-seated
religious convictions; though he made no parade of his beliefs. He
seemed to have a simple, steady faith in an overruling Providence, and
showed it, unostentatiously, in many ways, both in his actions, and in
the advice he gave, on occasion, to the young men.

In the result, the bargain--if it can be so termed--was concluded.
Elwood and Templemore formally enrolled themselves under Monella's
leadership, and henceforth performed the duties he assigned to them;
amongst other things assisting almost daily in the formation of the
path that was to take them through the forest. When not so engaged,
they would go out with some of the Indians on hunting or fishing
excursions in search of food.

Monella had with him, amongst other things, a beautifully finished
theodolite of wonderful accuracy and delicacy; with this he settled
the direction of the road from day to day. Often, obstacles were
encountered that made it impossible to go straight; these had to be
worked round and the proper direction picked up again by means of
Monella's calculations.

Another circumstance worthy of note and that caused the two young men
at first some surprise, was the fact that Monella had with him some
mirrors specially prepared and fixed in strong cases for carrying
about in rough travel, and intended for heliographic signalling. They
frequently took these out and practised with them by sending messages
to one another from the ridges of hills far apart. Monella tried also
to instruct Matava and some of the Indians in the work, but without
success. They were indeed afraid of the glasses, and looked upon it all
as some kind of magic.

"Wouldn't it be simpler to go up the bed of this stream that you
seem to have been following more or less all the time, even if it be
longer?" observed Jack one day.

Monella shook his head.

"No use, my friend. It divides into so many branches; and then again,
in case of a rise of its waters, we should have all our road submerged
at once."

On Sundays they always rested. This, it appeared, had been Monella's
custom all along.

In his conversations in the evenings and during their Sunday strolls,
he would instruct and amuse his hearers with his reminiscences and
adventures in all parts of the world, or with his intimate knowledge
of the wild life around them. From his account, he had undergone, at
times, terrible and extraordinary hardships and privations on the
plains and in the forests of India and Africa; of Australia; the
Steppes of Tartary; the Highlands of Thibet; the interior of China and
Japan; the wilds of Siberia; of Canada; the prairies of North America,
and the pampas, plains, and rugged mountains of South America--all,
as Dr. Lorien had said, seemed to be alike known to him. Nor was he
less familiar with the countries and cities of Europe; yet he spoke of
his travels and experiences in a simple manner that had in it nothing
of boastfulness or ostentation, but as though his sole object were to
amuse and entertain his two young friends.

As they penetrated farther into the forest, their work became harder
and the progress slower. This latter was unavoidable, since each day
they had to walk farther and farther to and fro. Moreover, the Indians,
who had displayed greater courage--so Monella had said--now that they
had two more white men with them, once more began to show signs of
nervous apprehension and fear.

This was doubtless due to the great difference in many ways--some
definite enough, others indefinable and vague--between this forest and
those generally to be found in the tropical regions of South America.
Not only were the trees still more gigantic--making it gloomier--and
the undergrowths more dense and tangled, but the birds and animals,
judging from their cries, were unfamiliar to them. Many of the sounds
usual to forest life in British Guiana were absent; the constant note
of the 'bell-bird' was not heard, nor was even the startling roar of
the howling monkeys. Instead were heard other sounds and noises of
an entirely novel and peculiar kind, unknown even to the Indians who
had been used to forest travelling all their lives; sounds that even
Monella either could not explain--or hesitated to. One of these was a
horrid combination of hiss and snort and whistle, loud and prolonged
like the stertorous breathings of some monstrous creature. Some of the
Indians declared that this was the sound traditionally said to proceed
from the great 'camoodi,' the monstrous serpent that is supposed to
guard the way to Roraima mountain; while others inclined to the
opinion that it was made by the equally dreaded 'didi,' the gigantic
'wild man of the woods,' that also had, as they averred, its special
haunts in this particular forest. At times, a startling, long-drawn
cry would echo through the wood, so human in its tones as sometimes
to cause them to rush in the direction it seemed to come from, in the
belief that it was a cry for help from one of the party who was in
danger. This strange, harrowing cry, the Indians called 'The cry of a
Lost Soul'[6]; and they were always seized with panic when it was heard.

      [6] This strange cry is often heard in the depths of the forests
      in this region, and has never been accounted for, the only
      explanation given by the Indians being the one stated above,
      viz., that it is 'the cry of a Lost Soul.' It is alluded to by
      the American poet, Whittier, in the following lines:--

         "In that black forest where, when day is done,

                 *       *       *       *       *

          Darkly from sunset to the rising sun,
          A cry as of the pained heart of the wood,
          The long despairing moan of solitude
          And darkness and the absence of all good,
          Startles the traveller with a sound so drear,
          So full of hopeless agony and fear,
          His heart stands still, and listens with his ear.
          --The guide, as if he heard a death-bell toll,
          Crosses himself, and whispers, 'A Lost Soul!'"

There were other cries and sounds equally mysterious and perplexing;
and, so the Indians began to declare, strange sights too. Of these they
could give no clear account, but they maintained that, in the shadows
in the darker places, or just before nightfall, while returning from
their work, they now and then caught passing glimpses of vague shapes
that seemed to peer at them and then disappear within the gloomy
forest depths. And even Elwood and Templemore were conscious of the
occasional presence of these silent unfamiliar shapes, and sometimes
fired at them, though without result. These facts they made no attempt
to conceal from one another, though, in their intercourse with the
Indians, they put a bold face on matters, and affected to disbelieve
the stories told them.

Monella alone was--or appeared to be--entirely undisturbed by all these
things. If conscious of them, he gave no sign of it, but went about
whatever he had to do as though danger were to him an unknown quantity.

There was, however, one unpleasant fact that could not be ignored, and
that was the unusual number of 'bush-masters' of large size in the
wood. This is a poisonous snake, very gaudily coloured, whose bite is
certain death. It does not--like most serpents--try to get out of the
way of human beings, but, instead, rushes to attack them with great
swiftness and ferocity. It is the only _aggressive_ venomous snake of
the American continent. It usually attains a length of five or six
feet; but, in this forest, the explorers killed many of eight or nine
feet, and two--that came on to the attack together--were nearly eleven
feet long, with fangs as large as a parrot's claw. In consequence of
the frequency of the attacks of these reptiles, so much dreaded by the
Indians, and indeed by all travellers, one or two of a working party,
armed with shot guns, had to be told off to keep watch; rifles being of
no use for the purpose.

Templemore, as it happened, had had a bad fright when a child from an
adventure with a snake; and this--as is frequently the case--had left
in his mind, all the rest of his life, a great horror of serpents. He
found, therefore, the presence of these 'lords of the woods,' as their
Indian name implies, a source of ever-present abhorrence.

Besides the 'bush-masters,' there were the 'labarri'--also a large
venomous snake, but not aggressive like the other--and rattlesnakes.
There were also, no doubt, boa-constrictors, or 'camoodis,' of the
ordinary kind; but, thus far, only one had been seen, and that, though
large, was nothing out of the way as regards size for that country.

Nor were serpents their only visible enemies; there were others of a
kind new to the two young men. One day, while with the working party at
the farthest part of the track, they heard the whole forest suddenly
resound with a perfect babel of discordant noises. There were shrill
cries and squeals, hoarse roars and growls, then a kind of trumpeting.
The Indians retreated, throwing down their axes to pick up their
rifles. As they hastily retired, four large animals sprang into their
path, one after the other, with loud roars and growls. But Monella,
who was behind Elwood, stepped forward and rolled two over with his
repeating rifle, and Jack stopped another of the beasts with his. The
fourth, apparently not liking the way things were going, leaped into
the thicket and disappeared; though, judging from the sounds that came
from the direction it had taken, there were many more of its fellows
close at hand. Gradually their cries grew fainter, until they died away
in the distance.

Meanwhile, further shots had given the _coup de grâce_ to the three
that had been knocked over, and the victors went up to examine them.
They seemed to be a kind of panther or leopard of a light grey colour,
approaching white in places, with markings of a deeper colour.

Neither Templemore nor Elwood had ever previously seen any animal, or
the skin of one, at all like these. They were, moreover, of different
shape from either the jaguar or the tiger-cat; larger than the latter,
and more thick-set than the former.

"These must be the 'white jaguars' that the Indians say help to guard
Roraima," Jack observed, looking in perplexity at the strange creatures.

"Yes," said Matava, who had now come up, "and they are 'Warracaba
tigers.'"[7]

      [7] A vivid account of an adventure with these formidable animals
      will be found in Mr. Barrington Brown's 'Canoe and Camp Life
      in British Guiana,' page 71. Very little is known about them,
      but they are believed to have their haunts in the unexplored
      mountain districts, from which they occasionally descend into
      other parts. Mr. Brown states that the Indians fear them above
      everything; and, while comparatively brave as regards jaguars and
      tiger-cats of all kinds, give way to utter panic at the mere idea
      that 'Warracaba tigers' are in their neighbourhood. It is said
      that nothing stops or frightens them except a broad stream of
      water--not even fire.

"What on earth are they?" asked Leonard.

"Warracaba tiger," Monella said, "is the name given to a species of
small 'tiger' (in America all such animals are called 'tigers') that
hunts in packs, and is reputed to be unusually ferocious. They have a
peculiar trumpeting cry, not unlike the sound made by the Warracaba
bird--the 'trumpet-bird'--hence their name."

"They look to me more like light-coloured pumas," Jack remarked.

"No; pumas are not marked like that, and do not make the sounds we
heard. Besides, you need never fear a puma, and should never shoot at
one, unless it is attacking your domestic animals."

Both Templemore and Elwood looked up in surprise.

"I always thought," the latter said, "that pumas were such bloodthirsty
animals."

"So they are, to other animals--even the jaguar they attack and kill.
But men they never touch, if let alone. I do not believe there is a
single authenticated instance of a puma's hurting any human being, man,
woman or child. In the Andes and Brazil--where I have lived long enough
to know--the Gauchos call the puma 'Amigo del cristiano'--'the friend
of man'--and they think it an evil thing to kill one."[8]

      [8] A very interesting account of the South American puma will
      be found in 'The Naturalist in La Plata,' by Mr. W. H. Hudson.
      He states that the puma has a strange natural liking for, or
      sympathy with, man; that, though ferocious and bloodthirsty in
      the extreme as regards other animals, yet it never attacks man,
      woman, or child, awake or asleep. He quotes many authorities, and
      gives numerous instances, of a very remarkable character, from
      the accounts of hunters and others whom he has himself seen and
      questioned.

A few days after, they were attacked again by these furious creatures,
and this time did not come off so well, for two of the Indians were
badly mauled. But for Monella's cool bravery, indeed, matters would
have been much worse; and Templemore had a narrow escape. Then, a day
or two later, one of the Indians was stung by a scorpion; and Jack came
near being bitten by a rattlesnake--would have been but for Monella,
who, just in time, boldly seized the reptile by the tail, and, swinging
it two or three times round his head, dashed its brains out against a
piece of rock.

Indeed, upon all occasions where there was any kind of danger,
Monella's ready, quiet courage was always displayed in a manner that
won both the admiration of his white colleagues and the devotion of his
Indian followers. Moreover, as Dr. Lorien had stated, and as Leonard
had found by actual experience, he was skilled in medicine and surgery.
To wounds he applied the leaves of some plant, of which he had a store
with him in a dried state, the curative effects of which were reputed
among the Indians to be almost marvellous.

But even these incidents were surpassed by a startling experience
they had a short time afterwards. On going to their working ground
one morning, two or three Indians in advance of the remainder of the
party saw, lying across the path, what they took to be the trunk
of a tree that had fallen during the night; and they sat upon it,
indolently, to wait for the others to come up. Suddenly, one of them
sprang up, exclaiming, "It's alive! I felt it move! It is breathing!"
They all jumped up, in alarm, when the great snake--for such it proved
to be--glided off into the wood. Most likely the others would have
ridiculed their story, but that Templemore happened to come up in time
to witness what occurred. And through the underwood, on both sides of
the path, was plainly to be seen a sort of small tunnel that marked the
place where the serpent had been lying asleep.

Matava and his fellows, of course, insisted that this was the great
'camoodi,' that Indian tradition had long declared existed in this
forest--set there specially, by the demons of the mountain, to guard it
from intrusion.

These constant dangers and adventures made the task of keeping the
Indians from deserting doubly difficult, and rendered the work both
harassing and tedious to the others. Only Monella showed no weariness,
no sign of the strain it all involved; so far from that, these troubles
seemed only to increase his vigilance, his power of endurance, and his
determination.

And all the time they were cutting their way through vegetation that
would have astonished and delighted the heart of a botanical collector
such as Dr. Lorien. Not only within the wood, but in the whole district
round, unknown and wondrous flowers and plants abounded. But the
explorers had neither time nor inclination to take that interest in
them they merited, and would, at any other time, have undoubtedly
excited.[9]

      [9] See extract given in the preface (page viii.) from Richard
      Schomburgk's book 'Reissen in Britisch Guiana.'



CHAPTER VI.

THE MYSTERIOUS CAVERN.


When the time drew near for the adventurers, if Monella's calculations
proved correct, to reach the base of the towering rock towards which
they were making their way with so much labour, a suppressed excitement
became apparent throughout nearly the whole party. It was clearly
visible in the Indians and in Elwood; and Templemore, even, showed
signs of anxiety. Monella alone was imperturbable as ever, and, if
any unusual feeling arose in his mind, there was no trace of it to be
seen in his placid manner. Perhaps a close observer might have seen,
at times, a little more fire in the gaze of his keen eyes; but it was
scarcely noticeable to those around him.

Elwood did not attempt to hide the state of expectancy into which he
had gradually worked himself; but while he, on the one hand, grew
more excited, Jack Templemore, on the other, became steadily more
pessimistic and moody. Since the adventure of the great 'camoodi' he
seemed nervous and depressed, and he no longer troubled himself to
conceal the discontent that now possessed him. The continued sojourn
in that terrible forest was becoming too much for his peculiar
temperament. Its gloom oppressed him more and more each day; and he
had become silent and unsociable, often sitting for long intervals
stolidly smoking and, if addressed, replying only in monosyllables.
They had now been for some weeks in the wood, camping in it every
night, and going back to 'Monella Lodge' only for the Sundays. To this
rule Monella rigidly adhered; but, since it took the greater part of
a day to reach the edge of the forest from the point they had now
attained, but little work was done at the path-making on Saturdays,
Sundays, or Mondays. Hence their progress had become slower, and
Templemore's discontent and impatience increased in proportion.

One morning, after breakfast, Jack was sitting on a log moodily
smoking, while Elwood was busying himself clearing up after the
meal recently finished. Monella and all the Indians had gone to the
path-end, and were out of sight; but the strokes of their axes, and
their calls one to another, could be heard distinctly, now and again,
echoing through the almost silent wood. Very little else broke the
stillness, but once or twice they had heard that weird sound, half
hiss, half whistle, that the Indians attributed to the monstrous
serpent. Presently, Jack took his pipe from his mouth and addressed
Elwood:--

"You heard what Monella said last night, that he hoped to-day or
to-morrow would see the end of this work. Supposing, as I expect, that
we find that we merely run against inaccessible cliff, I want to know
what you intend to do. To attempt to work either to right or to left,
along the foot of the rock, in the hope of finding an opening would
be, I feel convinced, a mere wild-goose chase, and would lead us only
farther into this hateful forest, and uselessly prolong our stay in it.
Now, Leonard, is it agreed that the thing is to end when we get to the
cliff? I've asked you again and again as to this, but you always put me
off."

"I put it off--till the time comes for deciding about it; that's
all, you old grumbler. What is the use of talking before we see how
Monella's calculations come out?"

"If I grumble, as you call it, it is because I am anxious for others.
I gave a solemn promise before I left my poor old mother that I would
not rush into any obvious and unnecessary danger; any danger, that is,
beyond the ordinary risks of travel in a country like Guiana. Now----"

"Well, what dangers have we courted that are beyond the 'ordinary risks
of travel,' as you call them?" Elwood demanded cheerfully. "We have
come safely through forests and plains thus far, and now we are in
another forest----"

"Yes, but what a forest! I have been, as you know, pioneering in the
furthermost recesses of Brazil and Peru; I know a little--just a
_little_--you will allow, of wild life; but never have I seen the like
of this wood! No wonder the Indians shun and fear it; indeed, it is a
marvel to me how Monella ever induced them to enter upon this work,
and it is still more wonderful how he has managed to keep them from
deserting him. Heaven knows what we have experienced of the place is
enough to try the courage of the best--the most ferocious 'tigers,' the
biggest serpents of one sort ever dreamed of, and the more deadly and
more fiercely aggressive venomous ones; strange creatures that one can
only catch glimpses of and can never see; sounds so weird and unnatural
that even the Indians can offer no explanation. That great serpent,
alone, fills me with a continual cold horror. We never know where it
may be lurking; it may make a rush at one of us at any moment, and what
chance would one have with such a beast? What consolation, to think it
would probably get a bullet through its head from one of us, if, while
that was being done, it crushed another to a jelly?"

"Your old horror and dislike of serpents make you nervous, old boy.
I wish you could get over it. In all else, you know, you are as bold
as--as--well, as Monella himself; and that is saying a lot, isn't it?
You must admit that, if our enterprise has its dangers, we have a
leader who knows what he is doing."

"A splendid fellow! but--a dreamer--or--a madman!"

"A madman! He has method in his madness then! I admire him more and
more every day. He is a man to lead an army; to inspire the weakest;
to put courage into the most timid. I do not wonder the Indians are
so devoted to him. _I_ would follow him anywhere, do anything he told
me! His very glance seems to thrill you through with a courage that
makes you ready to dare everything! He is a born leader of men! He
carries out, in every action, in his manner, his air, his principles,
his extraordinary cool courage, and his gentle, simple courtesy, all
my ideas of a hero of romance of the olden time--the very _beau idéal_
of a great king and chivalrous knight. _I_ can see all this; his very
looks, his slightest motions are full of a strange dignity; never have
I seen one who so excited alike my admiration and my affection! Yet, I
do admit he is a mystery. One knows nothing----"

"Exactly," Jack burst in, interrupting at last the speech of the
enthusiastic Leonard. "It is true, what you say, in a measure. He seems
to have in him the making of such a man as you, I can see, have in your
mind--a hero, a leader of men. Yet here is he, an unknown wanderer
on the face of the earth, giving up the last years of his life to a
fatuous chase after El Dorado, with a few Indians and a couple of
credulous young idiots joining in his mad quest. I like him; I admire
him; I believe in his sincerity. But I say he is mad all the same, a
dreamer; and for the matter of that, so are you. You suit each other,
you two. Two dreamers together!" And Templemore got up and began pacing
up and down, restless in body and disturbed in mind.

Leonard watched him with a half smile; but Templemore looked serious
and anxious.

"We are surrounded by hidden enemies--many of them deadly creatures,"
he went on gloomily. "Already three of us have fallen victims, and
we know not who may be the next. Even the most constant and watchful
vigilance does not avail in a place like this; and the never-ceasing
worry of it is becoming more than I can stand. One wants eyes like a
hawk's and ears like an Indian's. One cannot feel safe for a single
minute; you want eyes at the back of your head----"

Leonard went up and put his hand on the other's arm.

"All because you are so anxious about _me_ and others, dear old boy,"
he said. "If you really thought of yourself alone you would never
trouble; but you make a great affectation of nervous apprehension for
yourself, while all the time you are thinking only of me."

Templemore shook his head.

"I don't know how it is," he returned, "but the thought of that great
snake _haunts_ me. I feel as if some terrible trouble were in store
for us through it. A kind of presentiment; a feeling I have never had
before----"

Elwood burst out laughing.

"A presentiment! Great Scott! _You_ confessing to a presentiment! You
who always deride _my_ presentiments, and dreams, and omens! Well, this
is too good, upon my word! Who is the dreamer _now_, I should like to
know?"

Just then they heard a call, and, looking along the path, saw Monella
at some distance beckoning to them.

"Bring a lantern," they heard him say, "and come with me, both of you."

"A lantern!" exclaimed Jack. He took one up and examined it to see that
there was plenty of oil. "What on earth can he want with a lantern? Is
he going to look for the sun in this land of shadow?"

When they came up to Monella they looked at him inquiringly, but no
sign was to be had from a study of his impassive face. Yet there
seemed, Jack thought, a softer gleam in his eyes when he met his gaze.

"I think our work is at an end," he said to the young men; "and,"
addressing Jack more particularly, "your anxiety may now, let us hope,
be lightened."

Then he turned and walked on with a gesture for the two to follow. And
Templemore felt confused; for the words Monella had spoken came like
an answer to the thoughts that had been in his mind; so much so that
he could not help asking himself, had this strange being divined what
he and Elwood had been talking, and he (Jack) had been so seriously
thinking, of?

However, these speculations were soon driven away by surprise at the
change in the character of the wood. The trees grew less thickly, and
the ground became more stony, the undergrowth gradually thinner; more
daylight filtered down from above, and soon they found they could see
between the trunks of the trees for some distance ahead. And then, in
the front of them, it grew lighter and lighter, and shortly the welcome
sound of falling water struck upon their ears. Then they came upon a
stream--presumably the same that they had been, in a measure, following
through the wood--rushing and tumbling in a rocky bed--for they were
going up rising ground--and splashing and foaming in its leaps from
rock to rock. The trees became still sparser, and the light stronger,
till, finally, they emerged into an open space and saw, rising
straight up before them, the perpendicular flat rock that formed the
base of Roraima's lofty summit.

It was here fairly light; indeed, a single ray of sunlight played upon
the splashing water in the little stream, and the spray sparkled in the
gleam. But still very little sunlight ever entered the place. The great
wall of rock that reared itself in a plumb-line two thousand feet into
the sky, overshadowed it completely on the one side; and on the other
were the great trees of this primæval forest towering up three hundred
feet or more, and extending their branches above across almost to the
rock, though below, the nearest trunk was quite fifty yards away. They
stood, in fact, upon the edge of a semi-circular clearing that extended
for a distance of perhaps a hundred yards, its radius being about fifty
yards if taken from the centre of the exposed portion of the cliff. At
each end of this space the trees and undergrowth closed in again upon
the rock in an impenetrable tangled mass, denser, and darker even, than
that through which the explorers had been slowly cutting their way.

Some of the Indians were grouped round the stream, two or three
enjoying the luxury of wading in it, or sitting on the bank and
dangling their feet in the clear cool water. Matava and the others
were busy upon some kind of rough carpentering. Templemore and Elwood
saw that the stream issued from a hole in the rock near one end of the
clearing; and this was of itself a matter for surprise. They were,
however, still more astonished when Monella, with a strange smile,
pointed out another aperture in the rock near the centre of the open
portion of the cliff. It was about sixteen or eighteen feet from the
ground, and was not unlike a window or embrasure in a stone building of
considerable thickness. Within--at a distance of eighteen inches or
so--it seemed however to be closed by solid rock.

The two gazed in silence at this unexpected sight; Elwood showing in
his eager manner the hopes that it aroused, and Templemore pondering in
silent wonder as to what it all meant. That Monella's 'calculations'
had led them to a most unexpected result thus far--whether by accident
or otherwise--he could not but admit. Of the fact there was now no
doubt. But a clearing of this character, opposite to what looked like
an opening in the rock, or entrance to a cave, was a fact too startling
to be the outcome of a mere coincidence, or a lucky chance. He knew
that a party of explorers might spend years--centuries, indeed, if they
could live long enough--in a search for such a place in that forest
and never find it, unless guided by the most exact information. Then
the fact that the opening was so nearly in the centre of the clearing
had a significance of its own; the question whether it was actually
the entrance to a cave or merely a curious accidental hollow in the
rock was thus answered, as it were, in advance. Besides, just below
the 'embrasure' a small stream trickled out, and, falling down the
rock, found its way amongst the stones to the larger water-course
beyond. Here there seemed presumptive evidence that the space at the
back of the rock was hollow--was, in fact, a cave. But in that case
the entrance must have been purposely closed by human hands. If so, by
whom? and when? and why?

These thoughts revolved rapidly in Templemore's mind while he stood
looking at the rock. He glanced around at the giant trees, and thought
of the almost impenetrable character of the forest they had come
through, and he felt that, if the ideas that had come into his mind
were correct, it was impossible to suppose that such a cave could be
the retreat say, of any unknown Indians living at the present time.
Therefore, the puzzle seemed the greater. _Who_ could have been there
before them--and how long ago?

But Matava now approached the cliff bearing a sort of rough ladder
that he had constructed under Monella's directions; this he placed
against the rock just under the opening, planting the ends firmly in
the ground. He had cut down two young saplings and, partly by means of
notches, and partly by twisting some strong fibres to hold them, had
fastened cross-pieces at short intervals, and so fashioned the whole
into a very serviceable ladder.

Monella signed to him to hold it firmly, and proceeded to test its
strength. Then, satisfied as to this, he quietly mounted it till he
could insert his hand into the aperture. After a moment or two he
called to Elwood and Templemore to assist in steadying the ladder; and,
when they had come to the assistance of Matava and another Indian who
was with him, Monella leaned over into the opening and, exerting all
his great strength, pushed away the stone that was closing it, exposing
to view a cavern beyond. After a brief look inside, he asked for a
lighted lantern and a long stick, and, while these were being handed
up, the expectations and curiosity of his companions became excited
to a lively degree. The Indians, who had been amusing themselves in
the water, came crowding round, half pleased, half afraid at this
unexpected development of events.

"You're never going to venture into that place?" Templemore asked. "It
may be full of deadly serpents. For Heaven's sake do not be rash enough
to risk it. Send one of the Indians----"

Monella replied with a look--a look that Jack remembered for many a day
after. His eyes simply flashed; and then he said quickly,

"Did you ever know me bid another go where I would not venture myself?"

Then he took the lighted lantern, swung it into the cavern at the end
of the stick, and, having satisfied himself that the air within was
not foul, he threw the stick in first and followed, himself, into the
semi-darkness.

A minute after, his head and shoulders re-appeared, just when Jack was
half way up the ladder to follow him.

"Wait a few minutes before you come up," he asked him. "I just want to
give a glance round, and there is but one lantern. Or--well--suppose
you come up and wait inside. But tell the others to keep to the bottom
of the ladder, and be ready to hold it in case we should wish to beat a
hasty retreat."

This seemed prudent counsel, and was carried out. When Jack got off
the ladder into the opening, he was told to jump down inside; and he
found there a level rocky floor about three feet below the aperture,
which had thus a resemblance to a veritable window. By the dim light it
gave he could see that he was in a cavern of considerable height and
extent, and Monella, with his lantern, disappearing through an arched
opening at some distance that seemed to lead to another cave within. He
had brought with him his double-barrel, one barrel loaded with small
shot, the other with ball, and he gave a look at the revolver in his
belt while he stood waiting at the entrance and gazing curiously about
him. He saw that a small stream of water ran through one side of the
cave; there were, in fact, two streams, for one ran in a ledge at some
distance from the ground; but when it came to the opening they had
come through, it fell to the floor and joined the other stream, the
whole finding its way out through a fissure in the rock and running
down outside, as has been before described. Now the stone slab that
had closed the 'window,' as Jack called the opening, had rested on a
continuation of what may be termed the sill, and, on being pushed, had
rolled off. It was a thin slab, roughly circular in shape; not unlike
what one might suppose a millstone to be in the rough. Jack regarded it
with close attention, almost indeed with awe; it spoke so plainly of
human beings having inhabited the place, or, at least, of their having
fashioned this method of closing the entrance to the cave. How long ago
had they been there? And, when they went away, why had they closed the
entrance so carefully?

Monella seemed a long time away; so long that Jack at last began to
think of starting to look for him--they had already sent for another
lantern in case it should be required--when he heard his footsteps in
the distance, and shortly afterwards saw the gleam from his lantern.
When he came closer, Jack scanned his face keenly, but, as usual, read
nothing there.

"You can call Elwood," said Monella, "and I will take you to where
I have been. You need have no fear; the place is quite free from
reptiles."

When, however, Leonard was called, a difficulty arose; Matava and his
fellows objected very strongly to being left alone outside; but it
also appeared that they objected still more strongly to coming into
the cavern. On no consideration whatever would they enter 'the demons'
den,' as they had already named it. But, since they had to make a
choice, they elected, in the end, to remain outside and wait.

When Elwood was inside and had had a few moments in which to get
accustomed to the obscurity and peer wonderingly about him, Monella
pointed out how the opening had been closed.

"I want you to notice," he observed, "that this stone was _cemented_,
and this little stream of water that has accidentally found its way
round here, has, in the course of time, loosened the cement; else I
could not have pushed the stone away. We should have had to blast it."

"Yes," said Jack; "and it also shows that it was closed _from the
inside_. Whoever last closed it never went out again--at least not by
this entrance. Where then did they go to?"

"That's what we have to see about," returned Monella. "Now, follow me,
and I will show you something that will surprise you."



CHAPTER VII.

THE CANYON WITHIN THE MOUNTAIN.


Monella, with the lantern in his hand, led his two companions through
an arched opening into a second cavern which seemed to be larger and
loftier than the first; and this, in turn, opened into a third, at one
end of which they could see that daylight entered. Monella stopped here
and, lifting the light high in one hand, pointed with the other to
side-openings in the rock.

"They are side-galleries, so to speak," he said, "but do not appear to
be of any great extent. I have been to the end of two or three. They
all seem to be perfectly empty too; not so much as a trace of anything
did I see, save loose pieces of stone here and there, that had, no
doubt, fallen from the roof. Now we will go to the entrance on this
side." And he turned and walked on towards the place where they could
see the glimmering of daylight.

Quite suddenly they turned a corner and saw before them a high archway,
leading out into the open air; and, before the two young men had had
time to express surprise, they had stepped out of the gloomy cavern
into a valley, where they stood and stared in helpless astonishment
upon a scene that was as lovely and enchanting as it was utterly
unexpected.

They saw before them the bottom of a valley, or canyon, of about half
a mile in length, and nearly a quarter of a mile in width; its floor,
if one may use the expression, consisted chiefly of fine sand of a warm
tawny hue; its sides, of rocks of white or pinkish white fine-grained
sandstone, with here and there veins, two or three feet wide, of some
metallic-looking material that glistened in the sunlight like masses
of gold and silver. In other places were veins of jasper, porphyry,
or some analogous rock, that sparkled and flashed as though embedded
with diamonds; other parts again were dark-coloured, like black marble,
throwing up in strong relief the ferns and flowers that grew in front
of them.

At the further end of the valley a waterfall tumbled and foamed in
the rays of the sun which, being now almost overhead, threw its beams
along the whole length of the canyon. The stream that flowed below the
fall widened out into clear pools here and there, fringed by stretches
of velvety sward of a vivid green. The water of this stream was of a
wonderful turquoise-blue tint, different from anything, Templemore
thought, that he had ever seen before; and he and Elwood gazed with
admiration at its inviting pellucid pools. But most extraordinary of
all were the flowers that nearly everywhere were to be seen. In shape,
in brilliancy of colouring, and in many other respects, they differed
entirely from even the rare and wonderful orchids and other blossoms
they had come across in the vicinity of Roraima. Of trees there were
not many, though a few were dotted about here and there by the side of
the river; and, in places, graceful palms grew out of the rocky slopes
at the sides and leaned over, somewhat after the fashion of gigantic
ferns. Though the valley was so shut in, and the heat in the sun very
great, yet the amount of green vegetation on all sides, the blue
water, and the light-coloured, cool-looking rocks, made up a scene
that was gratefully refreshing after the gloom of the forest scenes to
which the explorers had been so long accustomed. Moreover, by stepping
back into the cool air of the cavern, they could look out upon it all
without experiencing the drawback of the intense heat.

Elwood was in ecstasies. The triumphant light in his eyes, when he
turned round and looked at his friend, was a thing to see.

"You confounded, wretched old grumbler," he exclaimed, "what have you
to say now? Is not _this_ worth coming for? Or is it that even _this_
will not suit you? Perhaps it is all too bright, the water too blue,
the flowers too highly coloured, or"--here a most delicious scent was
wafted across from some of the flowers--"they are perfumed too highly
to please you! You haven't found fault with anything yet, and we have
been here nearly five minutes!"

Jack laughed; and Leonard noticed that it was more like his old, easy,
good-natured laugh.

"I think you are too severe upon me, Leonard," he replied. "Don't you
think so, Monella?"

Monella, the while, had been standing gazing on the scene like one in a
dream. More than once he passed his hand across his eyes in a confused
way, as though to make sure he was awake. When thus addressed, however,
he seemed to rouse himself, and, without noticing the bantering
question that had been addressed to him, and, extending one hand slowly
towards the valley that lay before them, said,

"I praise Heaven that I have been led, after many days, to the land
that I have seen in my visions. _Now_ do I begin to understand why they
were sent. And you too, my son," he added, looking at Leonard, "you
have had your visions and your dreams. Tell me, does this not remind
you of them?"

  [Illustration: "A SCENE THAT WAS GRATEFULLY REFRESHING."
    [_Page 72._]

"Indeed it does," returned Leonard seriously. "Though, till you spoke
of it, I had not thought of it. I felt so glad to think we had been
successful so far, and that your expectations were being justified. It
is all very strange."

"I am out of all that," observed Jack, with a comical mixture of
offended dignity and good-natured condescension. "You dreamers of
dreams have the best of such beings as I am. _You_ are led on by
visions of what is in store for you, as it would seem, while _I_ have
to work in the dark, and follow others blindly, and----"

"And think of nothing but how best you can serve and protect your
friends," said Monella, looking at him with a kindly smile. "We are
not all alike, my friend. It is not given to all to 'dream dreams,'
any more than it is given to all to have true manly courage combined
with almost womanly affection for those they call their friends. We
three have little to boast of as between one another, I fancy. Would
it were so more often where three friends are found grouped together
or associated in any undertaking. But now to consider what is next
to be done. It seems to me we could not have a better place for our
head-quarters in our future explorations than this cavern. Here we
have all we want: shelter from rain, and sun, water--pretty well all
we could ask for. We must see about getting our things along here." He
paused for a moment and then continued, "On second thoughts I see no
reason why you should not remain here. There is no more baggage than
the Indians can carry amongst them, and that is all we have to trouble
about. I will go back, and you two stay here."

"That seems scarcely fair," Jack protested. "I have been lazy all the
morning. I propose I go and leave you here."

Monella shook his head.

"You cannot manage the Indians as I can," he answered. "Indeed, that is
one reason why I think you would do better to remain here. When they
find you do not return, and that they have to obey me or remain in the
forest alone, they are more likely to do what we require. But I will
ask you not to go far away, and not to fire off a gun or anything,
unless in case of actual danger and necessity."

"You do not believe that the place is inhabited?" Jack exclaimed in
surprise.

"Who can tell?" was the only reply, as Monella took up the lantern and
turned away.

Left to themselves, Jack pulled out his inevitable pipe, the while that
Elwood sought, and brought in, a couple of short logs from a fallen
tree to serve as seats; and the two then sat down in the shade of the
cavern-entrance.

Jack was very thoughtful; but his thoughtfulness now was of a different
kind from his late moody silence. He, indeed, was ruminating deeply
upon Monella, who was every day--every hour almost--becoming a greater
mystery to him. He had been particularly struck with his manner and
the expression of his face when they had stood together, looking out
upon that curious scene. In Monella's _words_ there had not been much
perhaps, but in other respects he had strangely impressed the usually
unimpressionable Templemore. There had been in his features a sort of
exaltation, a light and fire as of one actuated by a great and lofty
purpose, so entirely opposed to the idea that his end and aim were
connected with gold-seeking, that Jack Templemore confessed himself
more puzzled with him than he had ever been before. Too often, as he
reflected, when a man sets his mind, at the time of life Monella might
be supposed to have reached, upon gold-seeking, he is actuated by sheer
greed and covetousness. But by no single look or action whatever had
Monella ever conveyed a suggestion that the lust of gold was in his
breast. Yet, if that were not so, what was his object? Did he seek
fame--the fame of being a great discoverer? Scarcely. Again and again
he had declared, on the one hand, his contempt for and weariness of
the world in general, and, on the other, his fixed intention never to
return to civilised life. Jack began to suspect that all his talk about
the wealth to be gained from their enterprise had been chiefly designed
to secure their aid, and that for himself it had no weight--offered no
incentive. What, then, _was_ Monella's secret aim or object? What was
the hidden expectation or hope, or belief, or whatever it was, that
had led him into an undertaking that had appeared almost a chimera;
that had so taken possession of his mind as to have become almost a
religion with him; that had enabled him to support fatigue and physical
exertion, privation, hunger and thirst, as probably could few other
men on the face of the earth; and that had become such an article of
faith--had made him such a firm believer in his own destiny, that no
danger seemed to have any meaning for him? Neither storm nor flood,
lightning nor tempest, savage beasts nor deadly serpents--none of
the dangers or risks that the bravest men acknowledged, even if they
faced them, seemed to have existence so far as this strange man showed
any consciousness of them. Never had they known him to step aside
one foot, to pause or hesitate one moment, to avoid any of them. He
simply went his way in supreme contempt of them all; and, until quite
lately--till within the hour almost--Jack had attributed all this
either to madness, or to an inordinate thirst for riches for riches'
sake--which, as he reflected, would be, in itself, a sort of madness.
Now, however, his opinion was altering. The liking he had all along
felt was changing to surprised admiration. He remembered the calm,
unwavering confidence with which Monella had led them through all
their seemingly interminable difficulties and discouragements to their
present success--for success he felt it was, in one sense, if not in
another. In the strange flowers and plants before them, alone, there
were fame and fortune, and what might there not be yet beyond, now that
they had in very truth penetrated into that mysterious mountain that
had so long defied and baffled all would-be explorers? Monella, he
still felt, might be a bit mad--a dreamer or a mystic--but, evidently,
he was a man of great and strange resources. Few engineers, as Jack
himself knew, could have led them thus straight to their goal from
the data he had had to work upon. Yet he showed now neither elation
nor surprise, and in particular, as Jack confessed to himself rather
shamefacedly, no disposition to remind him of his many exhibitions
of contemptuous unbelief. With these thoughts in his mind, and the
remembrance of Monella's unvarying kindness of manner--to say nothing
of the way he had exposed himself to danger on his behalf--Templemore
began to understand better than he ever had before the affection that
the warm-hearted Leonard entertained for their strange friend, and
he became conscious that a similar feeling was fast rooting itself
in his own heart. In fact Monella was now, at last, exercising over
the practical-minded Templemore that mysterious fascination and magic
charm that had made the Indians his devoted slaves, and Leonard his
unquestioning admirer and disciple.

Presently, Leonard, who had fallen into one of his daydreams, woke up
with a slight start and exclaimed,

"What a paradise!"

Jack smiled, and said, "I wonder whether it is a paradise without a
serpent, as it is without an Eve? But your dreams, Leonard, if I
remember, were mixed up with a comely damsel; and there is none here. I
fear we shall have to regard her as the part that goes by contraries,
as they say."

Leonard looked hard at him, and there was evident disappointment in his
glance and tone when he asked,

"Do you then think this place is uninhabited?"

"I do," was the reply. "And I will tell you why. That stone that closed
the entrance from the forest was placed there by some one, no doubt,
and by some one inside. Yes; but how long ago? A very long time!
Hundreds of years, I should say. It has taken quite that time for that
stream of water to hollow out the little channel in the rocky side of
the cave and play upon the cement until it has become loosened. The
wood outside tells the same tale. It must be hundreds of years since
any human beings made their way to and fro through the wood, to or
from this place. _Once_ there were many people here; and they were
not ordinary people either, I can tell you. Not Indians, I mean, for
instance. They were clever workers in stone. That 'window,' as I call
it, through which we came in, is artificial."

Elwood gave an exclamation of surprise.

"Yes; I noticed it, though you did not. I have little doubt that
Monella noticed it too. The cavern was formerly all open, or, at
least, it had a large opening, and I am almost certain its floor was
originally level with the ground outside. If so, the present floor
is artificial, and there are probably vaults beneath. Outside, the
stonework is so artfully done that you see no trace of it; it appears
to be all solid rock; but inside I saw distinctly traces of the joints.
Then, look at these archways, at the one we are now sitting under! They
have been worked upon too--to enlarge them, probably; to give more
head-room when the floor was made higher. See! here are marks of the
chisel!" And Templemore got up and pointed to many places where the
marks left by the tool were clearly to be seen.

"Well," said Elwood, "I suppose we shall solve the problem and set all
doubts at rest before many days are over. For my part I am in a curious
state of mind about it--half impatient, half the reverse. If it is to
turn out as you say, I am in no hurry to terminate the uncertainty.
This strange spot, the fact that we are really, at last, inside the
wonderful mountain--these things open such a vista of marvellous
possibilities that I--it seems to me--I would rather, you know----"

"Oh, yes, I know, you old dreamer," Jack exclaimed, laughing. "You
would rather wait and have time to dream on for a while than have your
dreams rudely dispelled by hard facts. Now suppose we go and take a
look round in the shade over there. We need not go out of sight of this
entrance; so that Monella will find us immediately he returns."

The sun had now moved so far over that one side of the valley was
lying in shadow, and they strolled out to observe more closely the new
flowers and plants they had thus far seen only from a distance.



CHAPTER VIII.

ALONE ON RORAIMA'S SUMMIT.


When Monella returned about two hours later, the two young men had much
to tell him of the wonderful flowers and plants they had found, of
strange fish in the water, and curious _perfumed_ butterflies that they
had mistaken for flowers.

There were many of these extraordinary insects flying about. In
colouring and shape they resembled some of the flowers; when resting
upon a spray or twig they looked exactly like blossoms, and upon
nearing them, one became conscious of a most exquisite scent. But just
when one leaned a little nearer to smell the supposed flower, it would
flutter quickly away, and insect and perfume disappeared altogether.
Many of the flowers that were scattered about the rocks were shaped
like exquisitely moulded wax bells of all sorts and kinds of colours
and patterns, white, red, yellow, blue, etc., striped, spotted,
speckled. So distinct were they from anything the explorers had before
seen, that they had picked some and brought them into the cavern to
show Monella; but he could not give them a name.

The stream from the waterfall, they found, disappeared into the ground
just before it reached the cavern. No doubt this was the stream they
had seen issuing from the rock upon the other side.

At the further end the valley began to rise, following the stream,
which came down in a series of small falls or cataracts. About this
part they had found some other caves; but had not entered them.

"And most remarkable of all," said Templemore, "we have not seen a
single snake, lizard, or reptile of any sort or kind. Yet this is just
the sort of place one would have expected to be full of them. Nor have
we seen either animals or birds."

Monella told them the Indians still refused to enter the cave. They
all three, therefore, went to the 'window,' and assisted to get their
camp equipage inside, the Indians bringing the things to the top of
the ladder and handing them through the opening. They preferred,
themselves, to camp outside, and had already made a fire to cook some
monkeys they had killed with bows and arrows.

When all their things were safe inside, Leonard and Jack took some
fishing nets and soon caught some fish in the pools of the stream in
the canyon. They then made a fire just outside the cavern entrance, and
cooked them for their evening meal. The fish seemed to be a kind of
trout, but of a species they had never seen before.

Monella expressed his regret that all attempts to persuade the Indians
out of their fear of 'the demon-haunted mountain' had failed.

"They will neither come inside nor remain outside by themselves;
that is, if we go away from here to explore farther. It seems to me,
therefore, that we ought to have all our stores brought here before we
start, and then let the Indians go back by themselves. We may be here
for months, so had better get them to fetch everything we can possibly
require from 'Monella Lodge.'"

Such was Monella's advice.

"It will take two or three days at least--possibly more," he continued,
"to transport all our stores here. During that time we must be content
to attend to nothing else, and postpone any further exploration of the
mountain. Besides, when we once start, none can tell how far we may be
led on. Better have our 'base of operations' settled and secure first.
How far away are those other caves that you saw?"

"About a quarter of a mile," Jack answered.

"We will have a look at them in the morning," Monella said
thoughtfully. "It may be wiser to hide some of our stores and
belongings in different places, so that, if any accident should happen
to one lot, the others may be all right. Eh, Templemore?"

"Just the very idea I had in my head when I spoke to you of those other
caves," Jack responded. "We can take half an hour or so to explore them
in the morning."

"Better take longer," observed Monella. "Better take the day, and do it
thoroughly. Much may depend upon it hereafter. Suppose, therefore, that
you remain here while Elwood and I return to 'Monella Lodge' and see
about packing and bringing some of the 'belongings'? Then, if we find
another journey necessary, you can go next time, and Elwood and I will
remain here on guard. But we cannot get back to-morrow night. Do you
mind staying here alone?"

"Not I!" said Jack, laughing.

"Very well then; we will arrange it so. We shall load up our two
animals, and perhaps one journey will suffice after all. Any way, you
hunt for the best and most secret hiding-places you can find. See that
they are dry, you know. There are the three casks of powder----"

"What! Will you bring them too?"

"Certainly. We may have blasting to do before we have done with what
we have in hand. The extra arms, too, we will divide, and secrete in
different places."

"I see the idea," Jack assented. "Rely on me to do the best that can be
done."

The three went back, after their meal, to where the Indians were
camping just outside the 'window.' Matava looked grave, and shook his
head dubiously, when Leonard told him of the arrangements come to.

"My heart is heavy, my master," he said in his own language, "at the
thought of leaving you to fight the demons of the mountain. It is
not good this thing that you are about to undertake. Doubtless the
demons have left this place open as a trap to tempt you to enter their
country. When you are well inside they will close it and have you
securely captured and we shall never see you more. Alas! that my mother
should ever have said aught to lead you on to this terrible enterprise.
Better had she died first. I feel sure, if you go inside there, we
shall never see you again!"

Elwood only smiled, and bid him be of good cheer.

"We shall return," he replied, "and, I trust, not empty-handed. And, if
so, you and my old nurse shall share in my good fortune. But, if you
think there is danger, why do you not come with us to help? It is not
like a brave Indian to be afraid!"

The Indian shook his head and sighed.

"Matava is no coward," he responded. "His master knows that well.
Against all earthly dangers Matava will help him to his last breath,
but to battle with the demons of Roraima is but madness--and it is
useless. No mortal man may brave them and live. _Some_ one must take
the tale to those left behind. It is not good that they should never
know."

"That is a nice way of getting out of it, Matava," said Templemore,
who had just come up and heard the last sentence. "But please don't
take intelligence of our fate till you have learned it. Above all," he
continued seriously, "do not alarm our friends in Georgetown by any
wild, preposterous----"

"Oh, don't trouble as to that," Elwood interrupted. "Our friends know
Matava and his superstitions about the mountain too well by this time.
Besides, we will leave letters with him, to deliver, in case he returns
before we get back."

It was now getting dark, and the three white men went back into the
cavern to prepare their sleeping arrangements. First, it was determined
to make a more thorough examination of the side-galleries, and this was
soon done, for they were found to be of very limited extent. In passing
the archway that led into the canyon, however, Leonard happened to
glance out, and uttered an exclamation which called the others to his
side. They also looked out into the valley, and were as much astonished
as at their first sight of it that morning. It seemed to be lighted up!

On all sides, high and low, small lights were seen. They were of
various colours, and hung, some singly, some in groups or clusters.
Many drooped over the water, and were reflected in the pools below. The
effect was extraordinary. The place seemed a veritable fairy land; and
exclamations of astonishment and admiration burst from each of them
while he stood and gazed upon the scene.

Then they went out to the nearest lights, and the marvel was explained.
The bell-shaped flowers that had excited their curiosity during the
afternoon all glowed with radiance. Inside each was a small projection
apparently of a fungoid character, that was phosphorescent. It sent
forth a light nearly as brilliant as that of a firefly; and this
illumined the bell-shaped blossom, which then appeared of different
hues according to its colouring by daylight. Even those that Elwood
had picked, and thrown down at the entrance of the cavern, glowed with
appreciable glimmer.

"I've heard of some kinds of toadstools and fungi being
phosphorescent," Templemore remarked, "but never of such a thing in
flowers."

"Yet," observed Monella, "if you come to consider the matter, there is
nothing more remarkable in the one case than in the other."

The night passed without incident, and all were astir before dawn,
making preparations for the day's work. After a light meal, all
except Templemore set out on their way to 'Monella Lodge,' while Jack
went out into the canyon to seek for caves and likely hiding-places
for their stores, and to look about generally. He took with him his
usual two-barrelled gun, a supply of cartridges, and some biscuits
and other provisions. Water he knew he could get in plenty. He also
took a lantern to enable him to explore the caves. Before leaving the
'window,' as he now always called the entrance by which they had found
their way into the first cavern, he drew up the ladder, and then, with
some difficulty, rolled the stone that had closed it into its place
again. Most likely he could not have given any reason for this action
if he had been asked; but probably a vague hatred of the gloomy forest,
and satisfaction in shutting it out of view, were what chiefly prompted
him.

"I will take all I want round to the other side," he said to himself.
"I like that side best. It's a more cheerful outlook."

He thoroughly explored the caves, and decided that they were fairly
suitable for the purpose they had in view. Then, quite accidentally,
he came upon another that was so hidden by a tangled mass of creepers
that its existence would never have been suspected. He fancied he had
seen a small animal disappear behind a bush, and trying with a stick
to see whether he could rout it out, he found what at first he thought
was a large hole; but, on pushing back the creepers, which hung like a
curtain across it, he found a large opening about eight or nine feet
high. Inside was a roomy cavern with many recesses here and there, like
high shelves in the rock, and many short side-galleries. Just the very
place they wanted, he decided. Neither here nor elsewhere did he meet
with any signs of his pet aversion--the serpent tribe.

He now began the ascent of the canyon, following always the course
of the stream that came down it. In some places the way was easy and
direct; indeed, as he could not but remark, there was every appearance
that a well-defined, wide pathway, with steps here and there, had at
one time existed. But in places it was broken away; the steps cut in
the rock had crumbled, or trees growing in the fissures had rent them
asunder. In other places masses of rock, fallen from heights above,
blocked the road; and, occasionally, the trunk of a fallen tree. Then
he came to a wayside cave, and was glad to rest in its shade from
the heat of the sun, which began to pour down into the canyon with
intolerable fierceness. He had proceeded so far that he imagined he
must be half way to the top; and he looked up the canyon still beyond
him and at the overhanging cliffs with curiosity, wondering how much
farther he would have to go to reach its head, and what he would see
when he arrived there.

While he sat quietly pondering this question, and enjoying a smoke
following upon a light lunch, the idea grew upon him to complete
the ascent that afternoon. He knew that, if he did so, it would be
impossible to return that night, and this meant passing it in the open
air. But that he did not at all mind; he was accustomed to it; and,
since he saw no signs of serpents anywhere, there was an absence of the
only thing that troubled him in such case. Monella and the others would
not return till the following evening; he had plenty of time to do it
in, and nothing else to occupy his time.

But would Monella like it? Why, however, should he object? He could do
no harm in going to the top and back. It was not as though the place
were inhabited and he might get involved in any adventures with the
'natives.'

The more he thus thought about it, the more strongly did the feeling
grow upon him to make the venture. True, he had not much with him in
the way of provisions; but he had enough for supper and breakfast if he
put himself upon short rations. In the end he resolved to risk it.

Accordingly, so soon as the sun had gone across sufficiently to shade
the path, he started off once more, and made his way still upwards. He
encountered many obstacles that delayed his journey, but eventually,
just when night was falling, he arrived at what he calculated must be
the top of the ascent. It was a grassy plateau of a few hundred yards
in extent, facing cliffs that rose still higher and shut out the view
and were inaccessible. Down these the stream still flowed, though much
smaller in volume than was the case below. What, however, caused him
dismay, was to find that he was shut in on the other side by a belt
of forest that seemed to be almost as dense and impenetrable as the
hated wood below. It was too late to think of going back; there he must
stay and pass the night. It was cold, too, up there, and he had no
rug in which to roll himself. In fact, he began to wish himself back
in the cavern, where he could have cooked himself a good supper and
then rested comfortably. There was not even a view; he had hoped to
have a glorious prospect and, having brought his field-glass, even that
he might be able to look across the forest and savanna and make out
'Monella Lodge'; possibly see his friends, who would now be nearing it.
Instead of that, he was shut in upon a narrow ledge beside an unknown
forest that might be full of wild animals of a dangerous kind.

Altogether Jack felt he had not acted wisely. He went a little way into
the wood; but, finding it very dense, and fearful of losing his way in
its dark recesses, he soon returned to the clearing. Finally, as it
grew dark, being tired and drowsy after his exertions in climbing the
canyon, he fell asleep.



CHAPTER IX.

VISION OR REALITY?


The following afternoon, a long train of Indians, with Monella and
Elwood at its head, was making its way slowly along the tunnel-like
road that had been cut through the heart of Roraima Forest. They all
carried loads, and they had with them, besides, Monella's two llamas,
which were also loaded with as much as they could carry. All looked
more or less wearied from their long march, and cast many anxious
glances ahead as they approached the end of their journey. When they
reached the part where the path opened and the trees became thinner,
Matava fired two shots, the agreed-on signal to Templemore; they were
answered at once by one from him, and, shortly afterwards, he was seen
making his way towards them. He relieved Elwood of a few things he was
carrying, and inquired whether they brought any news.

"None," said Elwood; "and you?"

"First of all," returned Jack, "here's a very curious and awkward
thing. I have come across a large _puma_ that has taken a great fancy
to me, and has become somewhat of a 'white elephant.' At the present
moment it is looking out of window, anxiously awaiting my return; and,
though it has not yet learned to scramble down the ladder, I'm not at
all sure it won't acquire that accomplishment shortly--or it may even
risk the leap down. What I am thinking of is the animals you have with
you--they might tempt it; otherwise, it seems tame and good-natured
enough, and I do not think it will hurt either you or the Indians."

"Does it seem like an animal that has been tamed, then?" asked Monella.
"And where did you come across it? Inside, I suppose?"

"Why, yes. But I'll tell you later. Meantime, can't we halt the animals
here, and keep them out of sight for awhile? My new friend is as big
as a lioness, and of the same sex--and would have one of them down in
a moment, if she felt so inclined. You can't tie her up, you know,
without a collar and chain, even if one cared to make the attempt. I
tried to drive her away, but it was of no use; and I've been sitting
there racking my brains as to what on earth I was to do when you came,
and hoping against hope that the beast would take herself off." And
Jack looked the picture of comical perplexity and bewilderment.

Meantime, the train had come to a halt, and Matava and the other
Indians crowded round Templemore and examined him with great curiosity
and attention. There were many strange Indians who had been induced,
for a consideration, to accompany the party, and these were equally
inquisitive. Some came and touched him, as though to make sure he
was real flesh and blood. Since Jack seemed inclined to resent this,
Leonard laughingly explained.

"They can scarcely believe that any man can have passed a night in the
mountain and live to tell the tale," Elwood told Templemore. "Their
idea is that you have been eaten up or captured by the 'demons,' who
have sent back a ghostly presentment of their victim to lead on the
others. So they are anxious to know whether it is really yourself or
a spectral imitation. You may be sure, too, your 'lioness' will be a
matter of serious speculation to them. She will be looked upon as a
familiar spirit, to a certainty."

Monella had said little; but he now proposed to go on to the cave at
once with Jack and Elwood, to see how matters really stood, leaving the
others to await their return.

On nearing the 'window' they saw, sure enough, the head and paws of an
immense tawny-coloured animal that gave a cry--a sort of half-whine,
half-roar--of recognition on seeing Jack. The ladder was lying on the
ground outside.

"There you are," he observed with a mixture of mock gravity and real
anxiety; and he waved his hand towards the animal. "Let me introduce
you to the 'Lady of the Mountain.' I only hope to goodness she will
behave herself and receive you in a friendly manner; for, if not, _I_
have no control over her. I disclaim all responsibility."

Monella and Elwood looked curiously at what they could see of the
animal. It seemed, as Jack had said, nearly as large as a lioness.

"It is a puma," said Monella decidedly, "though a very large one. I
never saw one anything near the size. However, there is no need to be
afraid of it; you have heard me say you need never fear a puma."

"Yes," returned Jack, "and here is an opportunity of testing your
faith in your own theory. I confess, if I did not already know she was
well-disposed towards myself, I should think twice before I ventured
upon going near her."

"Nonsense!" said Monella, taking up the ladder and placing it against
the opening. "I will show you the creature is tame and friendly enough.
I could see it at the first glance." And he ascended the ladder and
entered the cavern, pushing the puma on one side as coolly as if it
were a pet dog. Then he turned and called to Elwood to follow.

Jack also went after them, and found the puma already on friendly terms
with both, much to his own relief; for he had had misgivings.

"The question now is what about the llamas?" he next said. "Do you
think she is to be trusted there--and with the Indians?"

"With the Indians--yes--though _they_ probably would object," replied
Monella; "but, with the llamas, it is doubtful. So we had best be on
the safe side, and keep them, if possible, out of her sight."

"She's wonderfully playful," observed Jack; "just like a great kitten.
I've been playing with her with my lasso, and she will run about after
it by the hour together, just for all the world like a kitten. If you
want to keep her out of the way on the other side, all that need be
done is for one of us to stay there and play with her."

"Let Elwood do so then," Monella decided. "He is tired; and you can
come and help unload."

The animal had, in fact, already begun to show a liking for Leonard,
and, when he went out towards the canyon, it followed him at once. Jack
watched this with some surprise, and affected much disgust.

"Just like the generality of females," he remarked, "inconstant and
changeable. Here have I been at the trouble of capturing the beast, and
being worried with her all day, only to see her transfer her affections
and allegiance to some one else at the very first opportunity!"

The unloading was then proceeded with, and before dark everything they
had brought was placed within the cavern temporarily, to be moved on to
other places, as might subsequently be determined.

When all had been brought in, the Indians set to work to cook their
evening meal, while Jack did the same outside the canyon entrance.
The hunters had shot an antelope, and with some of this and some fish
a satisfying meal was provided; the puma lying down and watching
the proceedings with evident curiosity, but with no more attempt at
interference or stealing than in the case of a well-trained dog.
Needless to say she was rewarded for her patience with a share.

When the meal was over, and Jack and Leonard took out their pipes,
Monella, looking at the former, said,--

"You have something of importance to tell us. What have you seen?"

At this Elwood turned and regarded Jack with surprise.

"Why, what is it?" he exclaimed. "You have said nothing about it all
this time!"

Jack looked a little sheepish. He was somewhat taken aback, too, by
Monella's direct question. It brought to his mind the query that had
often arisen before--could this strange being read his thoughts?

"I scarcely know whether I have seen something or only dreamed it," he
began hesitatingly; and seeing Leonard, at this, open his eyes, Jack
went on desperately: "Well, yes! I may as well out with it and make a
clean breast of it! I _have_ something to tell you, and for the life of
me, I cannot make up my mind whether I actually _saw_ it, or dreamed
it--whether, in short, it was reality, or only a vision!"

Leonard opened his eyes wider than ever, and gave a long whistle.

"_You_ having 'visions'!" he exclaimed in unbounded astonishment.
"_You_, the scoffer, the hard-headed, prosaic-minded derider of dreams
and visions! Great Scott! Is the world then coming to an end? Or have
the demons of the mountain in truth bewitched you as Matava declared
they would?"

"Ah! I knew you would laugh at me, of course. And I feel I deserve it.
However, if you want to hear what I have to tell, you will have to keep
quiet a bit. I cannot explain while you are talking, you know."

"I'll not say another word; I'm 'mum,' but amazed!" Elwood answered.
"Now go a-head."

"Well, yesterday, after you left, I pulled up the ladder and carefully
closed the 'window' by rolling the stone back into the place, as we
first found it. I thought to myself I would shut out the gloomy forest.
Then I went up the canyon to explore the caves we spoke of, and soon,
by accident, found a new one, so curiously hidden from sight, that
it seemed the very thing we wanted; so there was no need to search
farther. Then I thought I would stroll up the canyon a bit, and
reconnoitre; and I found another cave about half way up, and, finding
the sun getting warm, went in and had a rest. When it grew shady again,
I thought, instead of coming back, I would go on to the top to see the
view."

Monella uttered an exclamation.

"Ah! yes. I know you mean I ought to have kept below. However, no harm
has been done, and I could see no objection to going up and taking a
peep from the top. I had my glasses with me and thought I might even
catch a glimpse of you on your way to 'Monella Lodge.' However, by the
time I reached the top it was getting dusk, and, after all, I found
myself quite shut in by yet higher rocks on one side that I could not
climb, and a thick wood on the other. There was a grassy knoll of a few
hundred square yards in extent, and there I had to make up my mind to
pass the night. I was tired out; and, soon after it grew dark, I fell
asleep."

Templemore paused, and glanced doubtfully at Monella, as if expecting
him to say something; but he remained silent, and Jack proceeded:--

"I seemed to wake up after being asleep for an hour or two. I say
_seemed_ to wake up--I really cannot say--but either that, or I dreamed
the whole thing. Well, I seemed to wake up, and fancied I heard distant
shouts. I looked sleepily round and was surprised and alarmed to see
a very unmistakable glow in the sky through the trees. It struck me
at once that the forest must be on fire, and if so, I thought, my
position might be an awkward one. If the wood were burning, and the
fire travelling in the direction of where I was, to have to retreat
down the canyon in the dark would be anything but agreeable. After
some consideration I decided to venture a little way into the wood,
and climb a tree in the hope of getting a view of what was going on. I
could hardly, I reflected, lose my way, for, when I wished to return,
I should only have to turn my back on the direction in which the fire
lay and march straight back. Accordingly, I made my way into the wood;
at first it was very dense, but soon it grew thinner, and, encouraged
by this, I went straight on, when I emerged on to a high plateau, where
an extraordinary sight presented itself. I seemed to be on the edge of
an extensive sort of basin; I could see for miles; and in the centre,
as it appeared, there was a broad lake, and beside the lake were lofty
buildings lighted up on all sides, the lights being reflected in the
water. There seemed to me a large city; there were buildings that
looked like grand palaces; there were wide noble-looking embankments
and promenades and bridges, all well lighted; and, on the lake, boats,
also lighted, were going to and fro, filled with people. I could hear
shouts and cries, though of what nature it was impossible to say; and
through my glasses I could plainly distinguish numbers of people moving
about. It was as though some kind of _fête_ were going on. The large
buildings towered into the air, and their cupolas and turrets glistened
as though built of gold and silver. In effect, it was a wonderful
sight, and how long I stood watching it I cannot say; but, after a
time, the lights went down and all became silent and dark. I managed to
find my way back to my camping ground, and, while thinking it all over
in astonished wonder, I fell asleep again, as I suppose. At any rate,
when I finally awoke, the sun was shining and this animal was lying on
the grass by my side."

"What! the puma?" Leonard asked.

"Yes. I was rather upset at first sight of her, you may be sure. To
wake and find oneself in a wild place at the mercy of a great animal
like that is a startler for any one's nerves, I can assure you. No
chance to use one's rifle or anything, you know. However, while I lay
very still and watched it, not knowing what to do, I saw it must be
a puma, though an unusually large one. Then I thought of what you,
Monella, had told us--that we need never be afraid of a puma. And then
the beast turned round and began licking my hand! It stood up, too, and
purred, and put up its tail just like a tame cat; so I made friends
with it and found it was quite disposed to be on good terms. After a
bit my dream came back to me, and I went into the wood some distance,
but could see nothing. The forest seemed awfully thick, and to get
denser at every step; so I finally came away, thinking I must either
have had a remarkably vivid dream or vision, or that I had really been
the sport of some demons of the mountain such as Matava and his Indian
friends so thoroughly believe in." And Jack paused, and looked at his
two companions with an odd mixture of doubt and bewilderment.

Elwood's face, while he had been listening, had become lighted up with
sympathetic enthusiasm. It fell a little at the end of the recital,
when Jack made the suggestion about the 'demons.'

"Certainly," he said, "it sounds like witchcraft to hear you, our own
matter-of-fact Jack, who never dreams, make such suggestions. But,
either one way or the other, it goes to prove that there is something
very extraordinary about this mountain."

Elwood looked at Monella.

"What do you think of it all?" he asked.

"I think," he replied, "that our friend ought, in future, to be less
ready to deride those who may have to tell of strange things, whether
dreams and visions, or out-of-the-way experiences."

"I admit that to be a just rebuke," Jack responded with a good-natured
laugh; "but it does not tell us, all the same, what your real opinion
may be." But Monella had already risen from where he had been sitting
and moved away to speak to the Indians.

"I say, Jack," said Leonard, "can't you _really_ say, straight out,
whether you _saw_ this or only dreamed it?"

"Truly, my dear boy, it seemed so natural that I should say it was
real, only for the inherent improbability of the thing. Then, too, I
could see nothing this morning to confirm it, you know."

"Surely," Elwood said dreamily, "the Indian tales of demons that
can bewitch you cannot have any foundation? There cannot be an
unsubstantial city of demons to be seen at night, that vanishes and
becomes only plain forest in the daytime? That is taking us back to the
Arabian Nights, isn't it?"

Jack shook his head.

"I am more bewildered and puzzled than I can possibly give you any idea
of," he returned. "The whole thing is beyond me; the sight I saw, or
dreamed; and then, again, the behaviour of this animal here."

"Ah," Elwood said, "this puma! Does it not behave as though it were a
tame animal used to the company of human beings?"

"I must say that idea has occurred to me more than once to-day; but
the more I think over it, the more hopelessly puzzling the whole thing
becomes." And Templemore, for the time being, gave it up.



CHAPTER X.

IN SIGHT OF EL DORADO.


The next morning Templemore, after leading Monella and Elwood to the
hidden cave he had discovered, set out early with the Indians for
'Monella Lodge' to bring in the remainder of the stores; and, while
there, in the evening, he wrote long letters to his friends, to be
entrusted to Matava to take to Georgetown. Amongst them, we may be
sure, was one to the fair Maud, who, amidst all the excitement of his
adventures, was never long absent from his thoughts. His letter to her
was grave, almost sad in its tone. He knew he was about to set out upon
a critical venture, the end of which none could see, and he warned her
not to be surprised if nothing were heard of them for a long time.

When, the following afternoon, he and his party once more made their
way back through the forest to where they had left Monella and Elwood,
and had halted just out of sight, those two soon came to meet him in
response to the usual signal-shots. The first glance at Elwood's face
told Jack that he had some important news to impart. While Monella
was greeting the Indians and giving directions for the unloading and
camping, Leonard whispered to Jack,

"We've been up to the top and have seen all you saw. It was no dream,
old man, but simple reality. But don't let the Indians hear anything
about it, or they would stampede straight away."

Jack stared in mute surprise, scarce knowing what to think, whether to
be most pleased to have it established that he was not 'a dreamer of
dreams,' or astonished at the almost incredible fact it conveyed--that
the top of the mountain was, in very truth, inhabited.

"And the puma?" he asked.

"Is still with us. You had better go in and have a rest and take charge
of her, while we see to the unloading."

This Jack was glad to do, and, on entering the cavern, he was welcomed
by the animal with every demonstration of gladness at his return.

"Ah! you have not forgotten me then, old girl," he said, and he patted
and stroked the creature. "You're not so very fickle, then, after all.
Now come along with me for a while--I'm going to have a wash."

When all the fresh stores had been placed inside, and the Indians were
engaged upon their evening meal, and Monella and the two young men were
seated at theirs, Jack asked for further details of the wonderful news
Leonard had briefly spoken of.

"It is substantially a repetition of what you told us," said Elwood,
"save that we managed a little better in the morning than you did. That
is to say, we did not go the wrong way into the wood, as I suppose you
did; and thus, at sunrise, sure enough, we saw the wonderful city,
which Monella avers can be no other than Manoa--or, as the Spaniards
called it, El Dorado! We saw its palaces, and towers, and spires,
glistening and glittering in the sun--a marvellous sight! So, Jack, old
boy, you can be at ease; you are not yet 'a dreamer of dreams.'"

"But your intelligence, all the same, makes me feel quite dazed,"
answered Jack. "Are you _really_ sure about it? Are you certain--do you
feel confident that--er--well, that it won't all have melted into thin
air by the time we get up there?"

"Scarcely. It is too substantial for that."

"Then it means this--that the mountain _is_ inhabited after all," said
the puzzled Jack. "If so, what sort of a reception are they likely to
give us?"

"Well, that of course remains to be seen. But, meantime, it is certain
that all your clever theories about the place 'not having been peopled
for hundreds of years' are fallacious."

Jack presently asked Monella what he purposed doing next.

"We must put away our stores," was the reply, "and then arrange our
plans for making our presence known to the inhabitants, whoever they
may be, of the mountain."

"Yes, and then, if they speak the same language that you have been
teaching me," Leonard put in, "Jack will have reason to be sorry he has
not stuck to it a little more, I fancy."

Of late, Jack had practically dropped all efforts in this direction,
particularly during the last fortnight; while Elwood had neglected no
opportunity for using it in his converse with Monella. Elwood had, in
consequence, got so far as to be able to speak it fairly well; but Jack
was much behind him.

"By Jupiter! But I begin to think there is wisdom in what you say," was
Jack's response. "I must do my best to make up for lost time."

The night passed without incident. The Indians stayed on through the
following day, and Matava even yielded so far as to enter the dreaded
cavern, and take a look into the canyon. Elwood managed to persuade
him to do thus much, that he might take back to his friends at
Georgetown a description of the scene. Matava was rather afraid of the
puma, but the animal was quite friendly. The Indian evidently believed
that Elwood and his friends were going to their destruction, and would
never again be seen by mortal eyes. However, at Monella's suggestion,
he made for them during the day a more substantial ladder, which the
nails and tools brought with the stores enabled him easily to do. He
also made some poles or struts to form bars to close the stone from
within, and, with much perseverance, cut slots in the rock and in the
stone to receive them. When completed, and the struts put in their
places, the stone was firmly fixed and could not be moved from the
outside.

Then Monella made another suggestion. He arranged with Matava a few
simple signals that might be made from the mountain-top by flashing
small quantities of powder at night, and that Matava could, in turn,
answer from the plain beyond the forest, or, indeed, from 'Monella
Lodge'. These signals were simply--"All well," "Coming down," "_Not_
coming down." It was deemed best not to risk more than these, Matava's
intelligence in such directions being limited; and, since he could not
read, to write them down would have been useless.

When, on the last morning, the leave-taking came, the scene was an
affecting one. The Indians were well pleased with the rewards given
them for their services; but they were, one and all, in genuine
distress at the thought of leaving the three adventurers to what they
thoroughly believed would be a terrible fate. They even besought them
to alter their minds and "come away from the accursed place"; needless
to say in vain.

Matava, almost in tears, was loaded with messages to those in
Georgetown, should he go back before seeing the travellers again;
the understanding being that, if he found they did not return within
a short time, he was to conclude they would remain for an indefinite
period, in which case he would shut up 'Monella Lodge' and return to
Georgetown, and only expect to hear of them when he came that way again
in the usual course.

At last, the Indians sorrowfully set out and disappeared in the forest,
and Monella and his two companions set to work to distribute their
stores and spare arms and ammunition. It was decided, after some
discussion, to place the larger portion in the secret cave; leaving
only a comparatively small part hidden in the cavern they were in, it
being obvious that the latter was the one most likely to be searched,
if any should be.

In the carrying out of the plan settled by Monella, the whole of the
stores were divided roughly into two parts; two-thirds, and all the
spare arms, ammunition and powder, being hidden in the secret cave;
the other third, including most of their camping equipage, lanterns,
store of oil, etc., but no arms, being stowed away in various remote
parts of the cavern by which they had entered from the outer forest.
This was in accordance with certain anticipations and eventualities
that he had carefully thought out. Thus, if the people of the place
should prove unfriendly, and they were forced to retreat at once to
the entrance cavern, they had there, ready to hand, in addition to the
arms, etc., they took with them, all that was really necessary either
for a temporary stay or for the journey back to 'Monella Lodge.' On the
other hand, if the inhabitants should turn out to be hospitable, and
invite the travellers to stay with them, it might be a little while
before they returned to the cavern at the entrance; in the meanwhile it
might be entered and searched by others, who might carry off what had
been left there. But in that case the loss would not be a serious one
to the explorers, nor would the thieves find any arms or powder.

Early the next morning Elwood went out a little way into the forest
to cut some short poles he was in want of, when the puma--apparently
finding the new ladder more to her taste than the old one had
been--scrambled down after him and disappeared into the wood.

"We had better leave the ladder and go on with our work," observed
Monella, when told she had gone off and not returned. "No doubt she
will find her way back presently."

But they saw nothing of her till the afternoon, when she came in,
bearing in her mouth a good-sized wild pig, which she laid down quietly
at the feet of her astonished friends.

"Why, Puss," exclaimed Jack--he had of late insisted upon giving her
that name--"that _is_ an accomplishment, and no mistake! You can go out
hunting and get your own dinner, can you, and ours too? Well, after
this we need not want for fresh meat, apparently, while we stay here."

The meat was not only a welcome addition to their larder, so far as
they themselves were concerned, but solved the difficulty that had
begun to puzzle them, viz., how to find food for so large an animal.
Up to now there had been enough left over from what the Indians had
captured and brought in; but, since they had gone away, fresh meat had
been growing scarce, and to feed 'Puss' out of their limited stores of
tinned meats was, of course, out of the question.

"You'll have to leave us and go back to your friends, whoever they
are, Puss," Jack had said only that very morning. "We appreciate your
society and all that sort of thing, and shall be sorry to turn you out
of doors; but, unless you can crunch up meat-tins and imagine they are
marrow-bones, I really do not see where another meal for you is to come
from." Whether 'Puss' understood this speech or not, she had certainly
settled the question in her own way, and very quickly.

"You shall go out again, to-morrow, on this sort of expedition, Puss,"
observed Jack. And she did; and next time brought back a small antelope.

This led to a discussion and a good deal of speculation as to whom
'Puss' might actually belong to.

"I wonder who owns her, and whether they have missed her?" said Jack.
"And I wonder too whether there are many more like her on the mountain?
If so, why haven't we seen anything of any of the others?" Since,
however, no answer could be given to these questions, the speculation
remained a barren one.

After the stores had all been disposed of to his satisfaction, Monella
decided to stay on another day before making the venture of showing
themselves to the inhabitants; this was partly by way of a rest and
partly to give them an opportunity of studying the plants and rocks
in the canyon. Most of this day he spent in hunting for strange herbs
and leaves; while Jack and Elwood were more interested, after the
first feeling of surprise and pleasure in examining the flowers had
passed off, in searching for signs of gold among the rocks. They found
undoubted traces of both gold and silver, but in what quantity they
might exist it was not possible at the time to form any opinion.

Every night the canyon was lighted up in the fairy-like manner of
the first evening; and, during the day, two harp-birds had visited
the valley and enlivened it with their dreamy music. The travellers
also caught sight of two or three small animals; but did not obtain
a sufficiently good view to make them out, and Monella particularly
desired that they should not shoot at anything.

Of fish there was plenty; and bathing in the cool, limpid pools of 'The
Blue River,' as Jack had named the stream, was a welcome luxury.

Finally, having completed all their preparations, the three, on the
morning of the third day after the departure of the Indians, set out on
their enterprise of visiting the mysterious inhabitants of "The Golden
City."

They started at daylight, with just sufficient camping things for
passing the one night, heavily laden with spare ammunition, and
taking their Winchester rifles and revolvers, and one extra gun--a
double-barrelled fowling-piece. After a midday rest in the cave that
lay about half way up, they reached the summit, as before, at nightfall.

They assured themselves that the strange town was still in the same
place--had not vanished into thin air as an illusive creation of the
demons of the mountain. Then they settled down to sleep and were
undisturbed during the night.

When they woke at dawn on the day that was to prove so eventful, they
found that the puma had disappeared.

"Puss has deserted us," said Jack. "She knew she was close at home and
preferred the kitchen fireside, I suspect, like a respectable tabby,
to passing the night out here; and small blame to her. I shouldn't be
surprised, if we happen to come across her when she is in the company
of her own friends, to see her pass us by with her nose in the air with
a 'don't-know-you' sort of look. You'll see, she won't know us! she
would lose caste, I expect, if it were known that she had been away for
a week hob-nobbing with a party of houseless vagabonds like ourselves."



CHAPTER XI.

ULAMA, PRINCESS OF MANOA.


The morning broke fine, and the sun rose with a splendour that was not
often seen even in this land of gorgeous sunrises. As Leonard looked
up at the sky above, with its tint of deep sapphire blue flecked
with cloudy flakes, and cirri tinted with gold and pink and crimson,
he thought he had never witnessed any effect to equal it. But, when
they had quietly passed through the narrow belt of wood, and stood
just within its cover, gazing down at the wondrous 'golden city' that
lay sleeping at their feet, the three friends remained silent and
almost spell-bound. The scene was indeed one to which no description
can possibly do justice. The sun was just high enough to light up
the glistening towers and cupolas; and these, and the spangled sky
above, were reflected in the glassy waters of the lake. Beyond and
around all was haze of a rose-coloured golden hue, which gave to the
centre picture the effect of a vignette. From the upper parts, which
showed the clearest against this background of rosy mist, the various
buildings grew less substantial as the eye followed their lines
downwards, till the bridges and embankments seemed almost ghostly
and unreal, yet strangely beautiful in their airy lightness. And the
picture was so faithfully repeated in the lake that, but for the
reversal of the images, the line that divided the reality from the
shadow could scarcely be discerned; while the whole seemed poised, as
it were, in the ruddy-golden haze like a _mirage_ in mid-air. Just
below them a rocky spur jutted out with clear-cut outline against the
central scene, the palms and other trees with which it was crowned
showing a lace-work pattern of feathery foliage through which naught
could be seen but the golden mist. This part alone seemed real; the
city, with its towers, its lofty buildings, its bridges, and its lake,
seemed too fairy-like a creation to be indeed an earthly reality.

  [Illustration: "THE SUN WAS JUST HIGH ENOUGH TO LIGHT UP THE
  GLISTENING TOWERS AND CUPOLAS."
    [_Page 106._]

Of the three who were thus looking out upon this glorious sight, it
would be hard to say, perhaps, which was most affected by its subtle
influence. Templemore, notwithstanding his affectation of putting on
ultra-practical glasses through which to regard and analyse everything,
had, in reality--as is not infrequent with such characters--a deep
undercurrent of appreciation of beauty, whether exhibited in nature
or in the works of man. As an engineer, he could appreciate the rare
grace and exquisite proportions of the buildings, and of the bridges,
viaducts, and other such works, far better than could Elwood's less
trained mind; and then, his was a naturally generous and unselfish
nature, and--he was in love. Such a temperament cannot look upon
anything that charms, that satisfies the senses, without wishing
that the loved one were present to participate in the pleasure and
gratification experienced. And the absence of that companionship must
necessarily strike a chord of sadness and longing. He was one, at
heart, deeply sensible of these emotions; so sensible, indeed, that he
shrank from displaying them to onlookers; and thus it was that he half
unknowingly hid them beneath a veneer of 'matter-of-fact.'

Elwood's younger impulses, on the other hand, bubbled up on all
occasions unchecked and uncontrolled. He was of a highly imaginative
and poetic turn of mind; he was not in love, and hence, the vague
aspirations of his affections had as yet met with nothing upon
which to rest, or, as it were, to centre themselves. He was filled
with unformed hopes and shapeless expectations. The beautiful was
not satisfying in itself; it was but a stepping-stone, an enticing
indication of something still more pleasing yet to be met with beyond,
in the indefinite future. Thus he was always looking forward to an
horizon that lay beyond his ken; while Templemore's hopes and longings,
though they also turned upon the future, had found, in the being who
had won his love, a settled, definite purpose in life. Not that the
latter was altogether uninfluenced by that spirit of adventure which
always actuates, more or less, young men of his age and character;
though, in this respect, he might be swayed by somewhat more practical
considerations than was the enthusiastic Elwood. In the breasts of the
two, it could scarcely be but that there was some feeling of exultation
and pride in the consciousness that what they had achieved was likely
to bring them a high reward either directly or indirectly--in fame, or
wealth, or both--even though no sordid, grasping greed mingled with the
generous impulses natural to youth.

And Monella? With what feelings was _he_ swayed while he silently
surveyed the fair city that embodied the fulfilment of what he had
been striving after for so many years? He was old, he had no children
or other kin (he had declared) to interest himself in. Fame, power,
riches, he despised--so he had uniformly given his two companions to
understand. None of the motives that prompted the two younger men
seemed to apply in his case; yet the fact was patent to them--had been
all along, since first they met him--that he had been instigated by
some overmastering idea that had become, as Templemore had phrased it,
a sort of religion to him, a faith, a belief; that had urged him on
unceasingly where success had seemed hopeless and the difficulties of
his enterprise insurmountable. Templemore, at Monella's side, could
not but reflect upon this now; as he had similarly reflected upon it
when first they had found themselves veritably inside--so to speak--of
the hitherto inaccessible mountain. But now, mingled with Templemore's
admiring appreciation of all these things, there was a new element in
his feelings towards Monella, which he could only define to himself
as one of reverence. He felt inclined almost to take off his hat, and
deferentially salute the indomitable, high spirit that had led them
on to success, where success had seemed but a fallacious, impossible,
fatuous dream.

But Monella seemed unconscious of all such thoughts. He gazed out on
the scene before him with a countenance that expressed only a high
and simple joy. His tall, commanding form had never seemed to his
two companions so instinct with dignity and latent power as at this
moment; and in his eyes, when he turned his glance, with a smile, to
meet theirs, there were a kindness, a benevolence, a magnanimity even,
that seemed to fill up the measure of the feeling of respect that was
growing upon them--that made them wonder they had ever ventured to
treat such a man as one of themselves. This strange emotion swayed both
of them; they both felt it, though each thought it influenced himself
alone. Afterwards they found this out by comparing notes; and yet
again, in the time to come, they lived to comprehend that this vague
idea had been something more than a fancy; it had been an instinct
growing out of a solid, though then unknown, reason. It signified that
the parting of their several ways, as between them and him who had been
their comrade thus far, had commenced, had been already entered upon.

For a while they continued to gaze with swelling emotions upon the
wonderful town. Bathed in the light of the rising sun, it slowly grew
more substantial to the view, and its stately buildings gradually
assumed increased solidity and reality. Their graceful outlines and
proportions, their masterly design and bold execution, the novelty
and originality everywhere apparent, impressed Templemore with
astonishment, just as they delighted and satisfied the poetic fervour
of Elwood. Templemore presently turned to Monella.

"Never have I seen the like of those structures," he exclaimed, "either
in the places I have visited or in the pictured representations of
the most celebrated cities of the world. Surely this people must be a
nation of architects!"

"You speak truly, my friend," Monella returned. "I have travelled the
world over and I have not seen the like elsewhere. But, as I have
told you before--as I warned you I expected would be the case--we
have here the chief town of an ancient people; a race so old that the
oldest Egyptian records of which the world has any knowledge relate to
peoples, and times, and things that are but as yesterday compared to
the remote period to which these people can trace back their history.
So is it written in my parchments."

"And is what we see, that glistens everywhere, truly _gold_--upon the
very spires and roofs?" asked Elwood.

"I cannot say; but it may well be so, for these parchments of mine
assert that gold is the most plentiful metal of any in these mountains.
They say that the inhabitants used it for common purposes as other
nations use iron; and that, in fact, iron and steel were far less
common than gold and silver. But I think it is time we started down the
slope to reconnoitre and await our opportunity."

The plan Monella had arranged was that, after concealing in the wood
at the top the few camping requisites they had brought with them, they
should move down towards the city through the clumps of trees, keeping
within their cover, till they came to the point where the trees ended;
that they should remain thus concealed for a time to see what sort of
people passed to and fro, stepping out and making their presence known
only when they saw any one who might be supposed to be a person of
standing or authority.

Following out this plan, the three moved on through groves and
plantations of trees bearing luscious, tempting fruits of a kind and
nature totally unknown to them. Wonderful flowers, too, they saw on all
sides, and many strange and curious birds; amongst them the harp-bird,
whose enchanting notes came floating every now and then upon their
ears. In due course they reached the farthest and lowermost clump, and
here they were therefore compelled to pause. So far they had seen no
one; but it was yet early morning.

The thicket within the shelter of which they now stood was upon a knoll
that was not a great way from the lake. Looking across its waters
of turquoise blue, they now made out that which had so puzzled them
before. Moving on its surface were numbers of white swans of gigantic
size; and it was these, as they subsequently ascertained, that drew the
boats about which had seemed to glide here and there without sails or
oars. They had seen these great swans through their glasses, but had
believed them to be vessels fashioned in that shape; deeming them too
large to be really living creatures.

Suddenly, Elwood gripped Templemore's arm, and pointed to some one--a
youthful maiden seemingly--walking along the border of the lake in
their direction. She came to within a few hundred yards, and then stood
looking dreamily out over the lake at the towering, palatial buildings
upon the opposite side.

"Great heavens!" Elwood exclaimed in a whisper. "The face, the form,
the very _dress_ that I have so often seen in my dreams! Can it be
possible? Am I awake, or is this, too, but a vision from which I shall
awake by-and-by?"

Monella put his hand upon his shoulder as a sign to him to be silent,
and pointed to other forms approaching from the same direction. They
all seemed to have come from a great pile of buildings near the water's
edge some half-mile away. It was partially screened by groups of waving
palms and other trees, which hid from view the entrances.

The new-comers consisted of a tall, handsome man, of a dark-hued skin,
and richly dressed, and a following of a score or so of men, apparently
a guard or escort. They carried spears that flashed and glittered in
the sun, as did their burnished shields and helmets. These seemed to be
of gold; they wore short black tunics and sandals. They halted--upon
a sign from the one who seemed to be their leader--while he advanced
towards the girl. Just then she turned and caught sight of him. At this
she uttered a sharp cry expressive of surprise and fear; then walked
quickly up the slope towards where the three travellers were concealed.

The man followed and overtook her when she was about a hundred and
fifty yards from the edge of the wood. He seized her by the wrist; but
she, wresting herself free, turned and confronted him, regarding him
with a proud disdain, in which, however, fear was also plainly--too
plainly--written.

Now that they were closer, the concealed witnesses could distinguish
pretty clearly, through their glasses, the features of the two who
stood facing one another, neither for a full minute uttering a word.

As to the maiden, she was in very truth a dream of loveliness. With
skin as white and fair as the most delicately reared Englishwoman,
glistening golden hair, large grey-blue eyes of entrancing and lustrous
beauty, a perfect oval face, and a figure the very embodiment of grace,
she appeared indeed more like the creation of a vision than an earthly
being of flesh and blood. She was not exactly tall, yet of fair height
for a woman. Her dress seemed of silk; it was rich-looking, but quiet
in colour, and flowing in design. She wore golden ornaments enriched
with glistening gems, and her hair, falling loosely over her shoulders,
was confined by a broad gold circlet on the head and was cut short
over the forehead. And in her face was an expression of exquisite
sweetness--albeit now there were distracting emotions mingled with it.
The clear-cut, pouting lip curled in scorn, though, the while, the
eyes showed fear, as do those of the hunted hare. Timidly she glanced
around, as if for aid; but not a soul was to be seen save those who
accompanied the man she feared, and from them, it was clear, she could
expect no help.

As to the man himself, he was, as has been said, of fine stature and
handsome; but his was not beauty of a prepossessing character. His
dark face expressed arrogance and cruelty; in his smile was cold,
deadly menace; his haughty features wore a scowl; and his dark eyes
fairly blazed with passion. Upon his head he wore a coronet of curious
design in lieu of helmet or other covering. His tunic was of black
material--silk apparently--with a large star worked in gold upon the
breast. A belt as of gold was round his waist, and a short sword and a
dagger were by his side. His hair, full beard, and bushy eyebrows were
jet black; so far as one might judge he looked about thirty-five years
of age. The tunic had short sleeves and was cut low so as to display
his neck, round which was a kind of necklace; upon his bare arms were
bracelets, and in all these ornaments there flashed, as he moved,
sparkling jewels of large size and surprising lustre.

Then ensued, between the two, a hot discussion or dispute, though those
within the wood were too far away to understand its purport. The man
advanced again and again in a threatening manner towards the girl, who
as often retreated a short distance up the slope; then, each time,
turned and faced her adversary.

Suddenly, the man seemed to give way to a burst of fury; with a gesture
whose murderous import there was no possibility of mistaking, he drew
his dagger from its sheath, and tried to seize the girl; but she,
eluding him, turned and ran farther up the slope. The man followed, and
coming up with her, seized her by the wrist, and raised the hand that
held the dagger.

At this moment Monella stepped out from the wood and called loudly
to the assailant, at the same time holding up his hand in warning;
but Elwood, revolver in hand, rushed forward in advance of him, and
levelled the pistol at the moment when the blade was poised in the air
and was about to be plunged into the bosom of the girl, who had now
fallen upon her knees. He was only just in time; for the weapon had
already commenced its fatal downward sweep when the report rang out;
the murderer's arm gave a jerk that cast the dagger a distance of
some yards, and the man himself fell backwards with a bullet through
his heart.

  [Illustration: "SHE STOOD REGARDING THEM WITH WONDERING LOOKS."
    [_Page 115._]

Elwood hastened to the assistance of the girl, who swayed as though
about to faint; but the sight of the strangers seemed to rouse her,
for she rose to her feet and stood regarding them with wondering and
evidently doubtful looks. Then she turned her glance upon the dead man,
and shuddered at the thought of the death she had so narrowly escaped.
Looking once more at the three who now stood in a group a short
distance from her--for Elwood had drawn back on seeing her rise to her
feet--she drew herself up with a charming dignity and grace, and, to
the surprise of the two young men, asked, in the language Monella had
taught them,

"Who are you?"

The words were intelligible enough. The inflection, the accent, or the
exact pronunciation, may have been slightly different from Monella's,
but the words rang out clear enough.

"Who are you?"

Monella stepped a pace or two towards her. His lofty form seemed to
grow in dignity the while he bent his gaze upon her; and, looking up
into his face, she could scarcely fail to read the true meaning of the
glance she met. She felt its extraordinary fascination, and yielded to
its influence, as so many had before. Her confidence went out to him at
once; and her look, that for the moment had been proud and distrustful,
softened into one of friendly interest. She bowed her head as though
in involuntary respect--the respect a dutiful child might show to a
parent--and spoke again; this time varying the form of her question:--

"My father, whence come you?"

"We are strangers from far countries, my daughter," Monella made reply.
"We came here in peaceful and friendly intent, but fate has so ordered
it that our arrival has been marked by the shedding of blood. Still,
though of that I am deeply regretful in one way, I cannot pretend to be
sorry, if, as I see reason to believe, it has saved your young life."

"Truly it has, and I thank you; and the king, my father, will thank
you too; though I know not by what marvel it was accomplished, nor by
what other marvel ye have come here, you who wield the lightning and
the thunder, who hold men's lives in the hollows of your hands, and yet
speak our language."

"Time enough to explain that, anon, my child," was Monella's answer.
"For the moment we must know what yonder people are about to do. Their
intentions seem scarcely to be friendly."

This referred to the small company of guards or soldiers, who were
being harangued by one who appeared to be their officer, and who, when
he had ended his speech, formed them into line, as though for a charge
upon the strangers.

The girl turned round and looked at them; and, doing so, her face grew
pale.

"Alas, yes!" she exclaimed. "I had forgotten them for the moment. They
are the special soldiers of Zelus whom ye have slain; and their officer
will seek to carry you all before the father of Zelus, the dread High
Priest. His vengeance will be cruel and terrible, if you fall into his
power; but, if we could but get back to my father's palace, you would
be safe; for he would protect you for my sake--for the sake of what ye
have done for me to-day. But alas! How can that be? They are many and
ye are but three. Ye have not even swords or spears--unless, indeed, ye
can serve them as ye have served this one."

"Fear nothing for us, my daughter. We can truly serve these others
in the same way, if the necessity unfortunately should arise. But we
seek it not; we have come here, as I have told you, with peaceful
intentions, and we have no wish to signalise our arrival by further
bloodshed. Will you not, yourself, speak to these foolish people, and
warn them not to rush upon destruction? Tell them we are powerful, and
that, in your own words, we hold their lives in the hollows of our
hands. If they will depart in peace, they may, and bear with them the
body of their chief; but, if they dare approach with hostile intent,
then shall they fall before us, ere even they have time to come a dozen
paces, even as men are struck down by lightning. Tell them this, and
urge them to be friendly; for we are not of the nature of those who
take delight in slaying. To us, to slay is easy, but abhorrent."

The girl heard this with increasing wonder. She viewed the rifles
(which all three were now handling) with a curiosity she did not care
to hide. She took them for some sort of magic wands.

"I will perform your wish," she said, "but I doubt my power to stay
them, for they are men used to working their own will, and now they
seek your lives in revenge for this man's death. Indeed, they well know
they go to their own deaths if they return to Coryon, the High Priest,
and bring not with them those who slew his son."

She turned to go towards the soldiers, who were now standing in two
ranks, with spears in rest, awaiting the word of command.

"Stay," said Monella. "If they listen to your words, they will want
to come here to take up the body of their chief. We are willing they
should do so; but it were better we did not meet, for I do not trust
them, and they might plot treachery. See!" And he took his lasso from
where it hung at his waist and laid it in a straight line on the
ground about twenty feet from the dead body. "We will retire towards
the wood; and let it be clearly understood that they must not cross
that line nor touch that cord. If any man do so, he shall surely die
then and there. Let them not think, however, that we retire from
fear, because of their number. But now, my daughter, take heed lest
they seize you. Be sure you keep near enough to avail yourself of our
protection; but stand not between us and them, lest the lightning
strike your own form in its course. Once launched, it goes straight to
its mark, and blasts all whom it meets upon its path."

"I understand," she answered. "But you need have no fear for me, so
far as these people are concerned. Their chief has dared more to-day
than has ever been known before; but none of these would lay hand upon
Ulama, the daughter of their king."

"Then," said Monella, "if you feel sure as to that, do not approach
them, but go thirty or forty yards to the right, and bid them come
near enough for you to address them from there. For the rest we will
answer." And, with a sign to his companions, he walked slowly up the
slope towards the wood they had left but a few minutes before.



CHAPTER XII.

A PRELIMINARY SKIRMISH.


The words that had been spoken on both sides in this conversation the
two young men had followed fairly well; though they had listened in
silence and made no attempt to join in the discussion. On their way
back towards the wood, Elwood was at first very thoughtful; then he
turned to Monella and said excitedly,

"How do we know she is safe, out there alone? And what will her father,
the king, say to us, if harm come to her? It seems to me we are acting
in strange fashion to leave her thus."

"Patience, my son," returned Monella quietly; "we must avoid the
shedding of blood, if it be possible. We have come here, as I have
already said, with peaceful motives. If violent acts be forced upon
us in self-defence, let us keep at least our conscience clear; let
us be in a position to show that they _were_ forced upon us. Let it
not be said of us that we have come into a strange land to introduce
dissension, and discord, and internal warfare; and all for no other
reason than the gratification of an adventurous spirit."

"But," said Elwood, "_we_ have not introduced dissension and trouble.
It is clear enough that a terrible murder would have been perpetrated
had we not been here to prevent it. Surely, no one can accuse _us_
of commencing bloodshed; and, as to the rest, why, what are the lives
of two or three scoundrels like these, the infamous myrmidons--if we
may believe what we heard--of a bloodthirsty 'high priest'; what are
the lives of two or three such wretches, compared with the safety of
this gentle, trustful girl, whom we are leaving now almost at their
mercy? In my view this is one of those cases in which offence is the
best defence. They are showing their intentions pretty clearly; let
us anticipate them by shooting one or two. That will frighten the
remainder, and stop further hostile action; and, moreover, prevent
their coming near this young lady, or princess, as I suppose she really
is."

"I am bound to say I rather agree with Leonard," said Templemore. "I
see, clearly enough, we are in for a fight, and shall have to kill two
or three. Why not as well do it first as last? If, as she says, they
are used to do as they please in the land, and if what we have just
seen is a specimen of their style, pity is thrown away upon them. And,
besides, is it good generalship, Monella? To attack first would be sure
to scare them; but, if they make a rush, in absolute ignorance of the
power of our rifles, may they not, some of them, charge home? And then
we should have a hand-to-hand fight where they would be four or five to
one."

Monella passed his hand over his face, and answered almost sadly,

"There is a time to be forward in attack, and a time to be forbearing.
If the time come for the former, no man will ever see me flinch from
it. But you know what has been said, that the shedding of blood is like
unto the letting out of water, and that he who begins it is accursed.
If these people begin it, we will not shrink; but at least we shall
have clear consciences. Now listen to my plan. We must not enter the
wood, or they will think we have fled. If they cross the line I have
laid down, let each take the man opposite to him in the line, and bring
him down. Then, if they still rush on, fire once more, and step back
into the shelter of the wood. If they follow, you know what to do; your
revolvers will suffice."

Meantime, Ulama, as she had called herself, had been addressing the
soldiers. Their officer had advanced to speak to her, and angry talk
had been exchanged, which those standing at the edge of the wood, with
rifles at the 'ready', could not hear. But when, finally, she shook her
head meaningly, and began to retire towards them, Jack Templemore set
his teeth and said,

"I told you so! I knew it meant a fight! We might just as well have
begun it, as let them think we are afraid."

"There is yet a chance," replied Monella. "They may hesitate to pass
the line I have laid down. In any case, all we can now do is to wait
and see." And, as Ulama came towards them, he signed to her to step
aside, out of the line of fire.

The officer had returned to his men, and, after a short consultation
with one who seemed to be next in command, the two ranks advanced, with
the slow, measured tread of a well-disciplined troop, up the slope. On
reaching the dead body they were halted while the two officers examined
it. They had not understood how their leader had been killed; nor did
they understand it now. They had heard the report of the pistol and had
seen their chief fall, but the report had not been a loud one; and as
Elwood had run forward at the time, for all they could see (Ulama being
between them) he might have hurled a spear at Zelus. Yet the sound of
the explosion had puzzled them, and stayed them from rushing instantly
to the assistance of their leader. Altogether, they were perplexed.
The dress of their opponents showed them to be strangers. They appeared
to be unarmed, yet had they killed their dreaded master in the face
of his guard. This argued conscious power; and it behoved them not to
be too precipitate. After this fashion, probably, reasoned the two
officers.

If so, the examination of the dead body could but add to their
uncertainty; for they found there a wound they were quite unable to
account for. It was not a spear thrust; it was not a wound from a sword
or dagger. The scrutiny, in effect, yielded them no enlightenment; but
the sight of the dead body of their leader and of the blood exasperated
both officers and men, and murmurs were heard, and cries for vengeance.
They probably began, too, to remember what Ulama had suggested--that
if they went back with the dead body of their chief and without the
slayer, their own lives would be forfeited. And all this time the
strangers stood calmly regarding them, watchful of their movements, but
offering neither to retreat nor to attack them.

After some further consultation, the one who seemed to be in command
turned towards where the three strangers stood; flinging down his
sword, he stepped forward and threw out both his hands, to signify that
he desired a parley.

Thereupon Monella also advanced a few paces; then paused for the other
to address him.

"Who are you? Whence come you? Why do you enter our land in this
fashion by killing one of the greatest in the country?" asked the
captain of the guard.

"The answers to your first questions are for your king's ear alone,"
returned Monella. "As to the last, we came in peace, but interfered to
save a maiden from being murdered."

The other's face expressed an evil sneer, and he made answer:

"It is not usual, with us, for men to throw away their lives for
women. For what you have done yours may be required. Still," he added
diplomatically, "I am not judge nor executioner--unless you resist me.
If, therefore, you will surrender like men of peace--as you say you
are--and will come with me to tell your tale to my master, I promise
you good treatment while in my custody."

Monella shook his head.

"You have had my answer," he said. "We seek your king. We will yield
ourselves to no one else. And," he continued, with louder voice, "since
you, my friend, dare to deride us for taking a woman's part, know that
in the land we come from we are not accustomed to stand still and look
on while women are being murdered. What manner of _men_ are _ye_ who
dare openly proclaim so vile a doctrine? Soldiers of a High Priest?
Guardians of a 'religion' that teaches things like this? The span
that shall be left to such a being as ye serve is growing short. His
power is waning, his days are even now numbered." He raised his arm,
and extended it towards him he was addressing; then, with gathering
force, and even passion, till he seemed like an inspired prophet of
old thundering his denunciations against evil-doers--"We came here in
goodwill and peace; we may remain to be a withering scourge to you and
him you call your master. See to it, and take warning! There must--and
there _shall_--be an end of such deeds as we have this day seen
attempted by--as ye have no shame in avowing--the favoured son of your
High Priest. Hence from my sight, ere scorn and anger overcome me! I
have but to move my finger, and you fall dead before me!"

For the first time in their knowledge of him Templemore and Elwood saw
their leader, usually so calm and equable, moved by a passion that was
almost uncontrollable. They glanced at one another in surprise; and
well indeed they might. For whereas, at first, they had felt almost
impatient of his equanimity, and had feared he lacked the sternness to
deal with those they were opposed to, yet now they thought only how to
restrain his sudden and unlooked-for passion, lest it should embroil
them further than was actually necessary.

But the fire of Monella's rage expired as suddenly as it had kindled.

"You have heard," he went on, coldly and disdainfully, to the captain
of the hostile group. "I have warned you. I spare your life to give you
time to do better."

But this contemptuous treatment, so far from having the effect
intended, seemed to rouse the other's fury.

"Think not to impose on me by empty threats and vain-glorious
boasting," he retorted. "I summon you to yield and come with me. If
not, and we have to kill you in striving to enforce obedience, the
consequences be upon your own heads."

"And I say that I have warned _you_," returned Monella quietly. He
stooped and picked up a stone, then threw it to within three or four
feet of the cord that lay between them.

"If," he said, "you but cross that cord so far as that stone, you die."

Instantly the other took up the challenge. He stepped back for his
sword, then walked boldly forward, Monella meanwhile falling back in
line with his companions; but the instant the other crossed the cord,
Monella's rifle rang out, and the fatuous soldier fell prone upon the
sward.

Then a tall fellow burst from the ranks and, brandishing his spear,
rushed towards the fatal cord; he was followed by an adventurous
comrade; but, e'en as they stepped across the line, they both bit the
dust. Then all the others turned and fled; all save the second officer,
who stood his ground, neither advancing nor retreating. He remained
leaning on his sword, and looked, by turns, first at his flying men,
then at the dead bodies that lay around him, finally at Monella and his
companions.

Monella advanced and thus addressed him,

"How is it you stand thus in hesitation, friend? Are you in two minds,
whether to fight or to fly?"

The second officer was a fine-looking young fellow with features that
were not unpleasing. With a steady glance he looked Monella in the face
and answered,

"I am no coward to run away, and no fool to rush to meet a thunderbolt.
Whoever you are, it is plain that we are powerless against you. But
indeed," he went on, with something almost like a sigh, "when I heard
your words I felt no stomach to fight against you, if so be that they
are true."

"I am well pleased to hear you say so, friend," Monella said, laying
his hand upon the other's shoulder. "You have seen what it is in our
power to do. I call upon you to be a witness in the presence of your
king--of all your people--that we did not resort to force until all
other means had failed."

"That will I gladly do," returned the officer, bending his head in
courteous salutation. "Few would have been so persistent in their
merciful intention. For myself, I know my fate if I rejoin my master;
therefore, if you will accept my service, I would fain join myself to
you. One can but fight and die; better to do so in the service of such
a chief as you, than of him I have lately served," and he seemed to
shudder while he spoke.

Just then the maiden joined them, and he saluted her respectfully. She
looked at him with sorrowful eyes.

"And is it Ergalon," she said, "that could stand by to-day and see
another man raise his hand to slay the daughter of his king, and not
move a step to hinder him? Has Ergalon indeed sunk so low as this?"

The words were said in pained surprise rather than in anger; and in the
gentle eyes she turned upon him there was no sign of aught but mild
reproach. But this seemed to cut him to the heart, when ringing words
of accusation would, perhaps, have failed to move him. He fell upon one
knee and bent his head.

"Alas! Princess," he cried, "I well deserve your scorn; yet knowest
thou not how that against my will I have been forced into this service.
Well I know that to ask pardon would be useless--the king will never
pardon, should this reach his ears; still less will Coryon. Yet I care
not if thou wilt but grant me _thy_ forgiveness. If these strangers are
thy friends, grant me to serve thee by serving them; and should this
service be even to death, it will content me that thou shouldst say of
me that Ergalon had done his duty, and redeemed himself in thine eyes."

"Be it so, Ergalon," Ulama answered, her voice and manner charged with
a sweet graciousness that quite captivated the three bystanders. Then,
turning to Monella, she continued, "My father, I owe you much for what
you have done to-day. I shall try in the future to repay you to some
measure. Meantime you will need friends--accept from Ergalon this
proffered service. I feel sure, after what has happened, you may trust
him--even to the death. I know not who you are, whether immortals, or
beings of like nature to myself, thus timely sent by the Great Spirit
to my aid. But this I know, that I may trust you; that you have come
to be my friends, and my friends from henceforth you shall be."

It would be difficult to convey an idea of the wonderful mixture of
simple gentleness and queenly dignity with which these words were
spoken. Further, it would be hard to say which of her hearers was most
impressed. She had the art of winning hearts without intending or
desiring it; and few could long resist the fascination of her presence.
Small wonder then if Leonard Elwood had already fallen incontinently,
helplessly, irretrievably in love.

"And now," she finished, "I invite you to my home, where my father will
bid you welcome."

"And these?" Monella asked, pointing to the dead bodies.

"Ergalon will know what to do," she answered; and moved away in the
direction she had indicated.

But by this time a small crowd was on its way to meet them. Those
forming it were, as it appeared, chiefly her maidens and attendants and
a file of soldiers--her guards. They looked curiously at the strangers,
but, at a sign from her, fell in respectfully behind the little party.

"Doubtless you marvel," she observed to Elwood and Monella, between
whom she walked, "how it comes about that with all these people to
attend and guard me, I was alone this morning. But for that chance the
dead Zelus had never found his opportunity of saying that he did to me.
He must have been watching for it; perchance had heard that I sometimes
like to steal away alone for a little ramble. One gets so tired of
always having people around one," she added, with an almost childish
wilfulness. "But this will cure me. For the future I shall be more
careful."

Templemore, meantime, strolling along behind the others, found himself
somehow placed between Ergalon and a dainty little damsel whose name,
he afterwards found, was Zonella. She was Ulama's close friend, and was
most busy plying Ergalon with questions about what had taken place. At
the noise of the firing they had rushed out in alarm; then, missing the
princess, had set out to seek her. In reply to her inquiries, Ergalon
gloomily referred her to Templemore, and on this slender introduction
the two soon found themselves in friendly converse, rather to the
increase of their companion's moodiness.

It was well for Templemore that day that his affections were
unalterably fixed upon a chosen fair one; else, inevitably, had he lost
his heart either to the fair Ulama or to the dark-eyed, captivating
Zonella. As it was, he was compelled to own that he had never seen
two more fascinating maidens--save--save, of course, Maud Kingsford.
In that reservation--and in that alone--lay the salvation of his
heart. But this Ergalon knew not; and since he had long ardently--but
vainly--sought the favour of Zonella, he was none too pleased to see
her so quickly place herself on friendly terms with a total stranger.

But Templemore's acquaintance with the language was so limited, that
his part in the conversation consisted more in listening than in
talking; and his thoughts were more concerned in observing all that
went on around him than in studying Zonella herself.



CHAPTER XIII.

A KING'S GREETING.


During the walk--which now more resembled a procession, for they had
been joined by numbers of the inhabitants who had heard the rifle shots
and had come out in curiosity or alarm to inquire into the cause--Jack
Templemore had observed many pumas that, like tame dogs, accompanied
the people who crowded round them. They were mostly smaller than the
one that had followed him from the mountain top down the canyon, though
a few equalled it in size. But he looked in vain for any sign of
recognition from any of them; and it really seemed as though his own
jesting prophecy were being actually fulfilled.

They now arrived at a colossal edifice that reared its soaring walls
and towers high up in the sky. They passed between its open gates, that
appeared to be of gold and iron, beneath an archway that, far above
their heads, spanned the space between two lofty towers of pink-white
stone. In the courtyard within were many other soldiers. These, when
the party entered, seemed crowded together in some confusion; but, at
sight of Ulama and her attendants, they quickly formed into lines, in
obedience to hoarse words of command, shouted by officers in gorgeous
blue uniforms, and with white plumes waving in their helmets.

The courtyard was large enough for two or three hundred men to drill
and march about in. In the centre was a fountain that threw into the
air a jet of water that fell back with a sound of refreshing coolness
into a marble basin, from which rose curious-shaped green plants that
showed in pleasing contrast to the dainty whiteness of the stonework.
Here and there were marble statues, and, between them, large vases
filled with flowering plants. Above, a broad gallery ran round the
enclosure, and from this a number of richly-dressed people gazed down
upon the strangers as they entered with Ulama. The latter, making signs
to Monella and his two friends to follow her, proceeded, through lines
of soldiers and attendants who fell back respectfully before her, to
an apartment at one side, outside which all remained save two or three
whom she specially invited to accompany her. Around, were benches or
divans and couches covered with richly embroidered stuffs; upon these
she bade her guests be seated, begging them to await her while she
sought out the king and solicited an audience.

When she had gone, a sudden silence fell on those she left behind; a
silence that was the more noticeable, coming, as it did, after the
confused hubbub and clank of arms that had filled the courtyard on the
arrival of the strangers.

The scene was certainly a curious one. The homely, travel-stained
dress of the new-comers contrasted strangely in its nineteenth-century
plainness with the elaborate, brilliantly-coloured costumes of Zonella
and the half dozen members of the princess's suite who had entered with
her; with the luxurious carpets, rugs, and cushions everywhere around;
and with the magnificence of the whole surroundings, that spoke more of
the sumptuous luxury and elaborate decorations of a Moorish 'Alhambra'
than of what one would have expected in this isolated city of the
clouds.

Monella stood, lost in thought, with bowed head and folded arms,
his rifle, that that day had sent three human beings to their long
account, resting against the wall beside him. Elwood, whose eyes had
followed Ulama till she had disappeared through the inner door, also
stood plunged in reverie, not noticing aught of his surroundings. Of
the three, Jack Templemore alone seemed alive to the interest and
strangeness of the scene. His keen, steady eyes were making mental
notes of every line of the architectural designs, as though with the
object of afterwards constructing a like edifice from memory; and, from
the building, they travelled to its furniture and decorations, and
thence, finally, to the dress and appearance of those of the princess's
suite who stood or sat around. Ergalon had remained outside with many
more.

Presently, Templemore said quietly to Zonella, somewhat to her
astonishment,

"What is the name of this city?"

"What!" she exclaimed, "do you not know then that you are in Manoa?
Where did you suppose you were?"

"Manoa! H'm. The same as 'El Dorado,' I suppose, as the Spaniards
called it?"

"I know nothing of that, or of who you mean by 'the Spaniards,'" she
replied. "Fancy your coming here and not knowing the name of the place!
_Where_ have you come from? I long to hear all about it. Are all the
people there white like you and those with you? We have always been
instructed, by our teachers here, that only black demons lived in the
world beyond our island--at least we still so call it; though, of
course, it is no longer an island; has not been for many, many long
ages."

But when Jack attempted explanations, he soon discovered that he knew
too little of the language to make things clear to his companion. He
became hopelessly involved, his descriptions quite impossible, and, in
the end, he had to give it up as hopeless.

"You must wait till I know your language better," he said with a sigh;
"or else question my friends, who know far more of it."

"I will wait as patiently as I can until you can tell me yourself," she
answered with an arch look. "I shall like better to hear it from you. I
feel, too, a little afraid of your friend there--the older of the two.
He seems so proud and dignified."

Jack laughed.

"He is anything but that. He is as kind-hearted and good-natured a man
as I have ever known. To-day he looks more serious than usual, perhaps.
You see, we have had a disagreeable adventure, and do not yet know what
may be its consequences."

"I think, all the same, he is a man of great pride and dignity,"
Zonella repeated. "He might be a great chief--a king--so far as one can
judge from what one sees. He is not of the same race as you," she went
on with decision. "He is more like one of my own people. Your younger
friend, too, is not unlike one of our people; though I do not see the
resemblance so strongly there, as in the case of the other."

This odd suggestion almost startled Templemore. Curiously enough, the
same idea had struck him several times during the past half-hour;
since, in fact, the opportunity had offered of comparing Monella's
face and form with those inhabitants he had seen. Except that he was
taller than any, there were many points in which there was obvious
resemblance; and Jack began to ponder upon it as a strange coincidence.

He was also surprised at the confidence with which the young girl had
declared Monella to be of different race from himself.

"You must be an unusually quick observer," he said presently, "to
distinguish these things so readily. In my land young ladies do not
much trouble themselves----"

Suddenly, Zonella laid her hand upon his arm and leaned forward with a
look of fervid earnestness.

"_Who_ is this man?" she asked. "What is his name, and what brings him
here, and just at such a time, too?" This last seemed to be said more
to herself than to her companion.

"He is called Monella," Jack told her. "I know of no other name; and,
as to why he is here, I can no more tell you that than why you yourself
are here. In some things he keeps his own counsel absolutely, and is
altogether inscrutable."

"Ah!" Zonella said this with a long breath. "Then, though he is your
friend, and you are here together, you _really_ know nothing of him. Is
that what you mean?"

"Well," returned Jack slowly, "it's rather an abrupt way of putting it,
but--well, I never thought of it in that light before--but--I really
think you have about hit it."

"Yes! You and he have met by chance, and have agreed to travel together
for a time. And you have let him bring you here, I suppose, without
troubling yourself to ask him his objects?" Zonella went on, still with
her glance fixed on Monella.

Jack opened his eyes.

"You have a very direct way of putting things, I must say," he laughed.
"But again, I am bound to admit you are not far out."

"And your other friend--what do you know of him?"

"Oh, I have known him since he was a child."

"And yet," the girl persisted, "he is very different from you. Are you
_sure_ he is of the same race as yourself?"

"Quite," Templemore replied, laughing. "We are both of a nation that
I suppose you have never heard of, but that makes no small amount of
noise in the outer world, I can assure you. We are both English."

Just then a heavy curtain was drawn back, and Ulama entered, and with
her an immense puma, larger even than their friend of the canyon, and
behind it the latter animal itself!

"Why," exclaimed Zonella, "there is 'Nea,' who has been missing for
several days," and she called the animal to her. Great was her surprise
to see it, after a brief acknowledgment of her greeting, turn to Jack
and his two friends, with every sign of recognition and delight.

"Why, it's Puss, by all that's wonderful!" Jack cried. "At least,
that's the name I gave her," he added, by way of explanation to Zonella.

"Do you know her, then? But how can that be?"

"She has been living with us for the last week; but she deserted us
last night, and we wondered where she had got to."

"Then that accounts for it. We could not think what had become of her."
And she began to chide the animal for its desertion of its home and
mate.

"If 'Tuo' had known you were off gallivanting with strange people,
'Nea,' I fancy he would have come after you and marched you back."
Then, to Templemore: "But how odd that she should attach herself to you
like that; you must have had some strong attraction for her."

"It was not what she got to eat, at any rate," said Jack. "In fact, I
fear she was half starved. And at last she got so disgusted at what, I
suppose, she thought our stinginess, that she went off hunting on her
own account; and what she caught she offered, with a splendid lack of
selfishness, to share with us." And he went on to tell how he first met
the animal; Elwood, meanwhile, recounting the same story to Ulama; and
they learned that the two pumas were named 'Tuo' and 'Nea.'

Presently, the princess gave a sign to her attendants, and they all
followed her from the apartment, leaving the three strangers by
themselves.

Elwood was the first to speak.

"We are to wait till the king is ready to receive us," he said. "I
wonder what he is like, and what sort of a reception he will give us!
What say you, Monella?"

The latter turned slowly, and seemed to wake as from a deep reverie.

"I know not what to say, my son; but I am full of pain at all that has
happened to-day. My mind misgives me that civil war will come out of
it; yet we can but try to do our best, and leave the rest to a higher
power."

It was not long before the curtain was drawn aside again, and one
entered who seemed to be a dignitary of the court.

"I have come," said he, "to conduct you to King Dranoa." And, with a
ceremonious bow, he motioned to them to follow him.

They passed through many passages, across galleries and large halls,
and up broad staircases covered with thick soft carpet that was
noiseless to the tread.

On their way they saw many people of various costumes and appearance,
who regarded the new-comers curiously, but not rudely. Presently they
reached a heavy curtain before a doorway, where stood more soldiers and
officers in brilliant uniforms. The curtain being drawn aside, they
entered an immense hall, its sides lined with people, but the whole
centre part unoccupied. They were ushered up this hall and there left
standing, their conductor retiring to one side.

They found themselves confronting a high canopy, beneath which, upon a
raised dais, a man, apparently somewhat past middle age, was seated;
they had little doubt he was the king. He was a man of a fine presence,
and seemed hale and vigorous, though his dark hair and beard were
streaked with grey. His features were regular and well formed, his
eyes steady and piercing; his expression was not unkindly; but his
chin suggested weakness, a wavering and unsettled temperament. He was
dressed in a long flowing robe, and large jewels sparkled upon his
breast and shoulders, in the belt that girdled his waist and in the
hilt of his short sword. On his head he wore a circlet that was simple
in design, and scarcely to be called a crown; it was a band of gold
with gems set as stars. Ulama was seated by his side; she, also, wore
a golden circlet in which gleamed, with softened radiance, one cluster
of large pearls. She had changed the simple dress in which she had been
clad when they had first seen her, and now appeared in a costume that
was fairly dazzling in its richness, yet in exquisite taste, and well
chosen for showing to advantage her graceful figure.

At her feet Zonella sat, or rather half reclined, and other members of
her suite were grouped around. Upon the other side of the king stood
his ministers and officers of state, and his body guard, and, ranged
around the hall, were many others of both sexes, looking curiously and
silently upon the strangers.

Over the canopy was an immense star wrought in solid gold. Statues on
pedestals were to be seen at intervals, and, most curious of all, on
the walls were well-executed coloured frescoes depicting battle scenes.

The king rose and addressed them.

"Friends, I know not whence ye come, what brought ye hither, nor how ye
succeeded in passing the wood of black demons and forced your way into
our land. In ordinary circumstances it would have been my duty to send
ye away forthwith, or even to imprison ye--possibly, still worse might
have befallen. But my daughter hath told me that ye have saved her
life--a life doubly, trebly dear to me in that she is my only child.
But that ye came so opportunely on the scene, she who is my heart's
pride would e'en now be lying in the cold grasp of death."

Here he paused, overcome with emotion.

"So," he presently went on, "it has been described to me. I understand,
also, that, by some strange chance, ye speak our language, and
comprehend what I would say. We knew not that there were people outside
this land of ours who were white like us, and, above all, could speak
our tongue. But these wonders ye shall explain afterwards at your
leisure. At this moment not curiosity, but gratitude inspires me, in
that ye have restored my child to me. There is not one here"--his eyes
travelled round the packed assemblage--"who will not join with me in
thanking ye for that which ye have done. What say ye, friends?"--this
to his people--"Ye have heard in what dire peril hath my daughter been
this day. Shall we not give to those who rescued her a right good
welcome?"

At this, the hitherto silent crowd burst out into acclamations. They
cheered, they clapped their hands; they waved banners, they raised
their spears and swords aloft and flashed them in the air; again and
again the shouts went up, till they seemed in very truth to shake the
walls.

When, by a motion of his hand, silence had been restored, the king
resumed,

"Ye hear! All greet ye, and _I_ thank ye. Be assured of my protection
an' ye have come in peace. But alas! I grieve to say I am not
all-powerful. There are reasons for enjoining upon ye that ye be
circumspect in your going to and fro, have always with ye the escort I
shall give ye, and visit only places they shall indicate. This is not
the time or place for further explanations, nor is it fitting I should
now hear the wondrous things I doubt not ye can tell me. I only wish it
understood that while I shall give ye my protection, and that of those
devoted to me, ye must not hope too much from it; and it may fail ye,
if ye observe not the conditions and limitations I have stated; the
cause whereof I shall explain hereafter."

"While we return thee our thanks, O King," Monella answered, "on our
part, also, let it be understood that we can protect ourselves. The
cowardly assailants of the princess thy daughter fell before us like
chaff before the fire. We could, an' we had chosen, have destroyed them
all, even to the last one; but we spared some that they might noise
the tale abroad and warn others of their kind not to raise their hands
against us. Yet do I regret that it was necessary to kill any. We came
in peace and goodwill, not to maim and slay, or to spread alarm and
desolation through thy land. Yet this was forced upon us."

"It hath been so told to me. Perhaps, as ye say, ye can protect
yourselves; and it hath been further told to me how ye wield the
lightning and the thunder and blast your enemies, hurling them to the
ground ere they can reach ye. For all that, if ye would go about in
peace, and avoid the need for further exercise of your death-dealing
powers, accept the guard I offer. If occasion arise, and they fail ye,
and ye can help in your own defence--well, by so much the better will
it be."

"Thou hast well said, O King. It shall be as thou hast spoken," Monella
returned.

Throughout the interview the king had been eyeing the commanding
figure of the man before him, not only with great intentness, but also
even anxiously. Indeed, Monella, with his lofty stature and intrepid
bearing, his nobly chiselled features, his bold, unflinching glance,
would have made no unfitting occupant of the throne. And, possibly,
this thought had struck the king, who once more spoke.

"And now I would fain know thy name, and what hath brought thee."

"I am called Monella."

"Monella! It hath a sound as of our own tongue," returned the king.
"And thine end in journeying hither?"

"That is for thine ear alone, O King," Monella replied with decision,
thereby arousing the surprise of all, the king included. Then, drawing
from his breast a sealed roll of parchment he had brought with him,
"But here is that which will in part explain." And he handed the
document to the king.

The king unrolled the parchment, but, as the first words met his eye,
he started; then, growing more intent, he read on. But presently, in
evident agitation, he stepped down from the dais, placed his hand on
the other's arm, and said in a voice that trembled with emotion,

"I will speak with thee alone. Follow me into my private chamber." And,
looking neither to the right nor to the left, he passed down the hall,
Monella following, the crowd opening out to give them egress.

No sooner had they gone, than confused murmurs of astonishment and
curiosity burst out on all sides. Elwood and Templemore, as much taken
by surprise as any one, looked each in the other's face inquiringly;
but Zonella glided to their side and said in a low tone to Templemore,

"Said I not that thy friend was no ordinary man? Monella! Is it
not like my name, Zonella? Methought, the moment my eyes rested on
him, 'That man is a great man--a wondrous man--and he is one of our
people!'"



CHAPTER XIV.

DAKLA.


Ulama also left her seat and came forward to the two young men.

"Your friend," she said, "has taken my father by surprise; else had he
bidden you be seated. Nor did I know that he could not earlier have
received you, or I would have sent my maidens to you with refreshment.
Come now and sit near us, and I will point out to you my friends that
they may be your friends; meantime Zonella will order fruit and wine
for your sustainment. Anon you will be invited to our table; but
meantime you will need something. We all do," she added, when they made
gestures of dissent, "so you will not be conspicuous in partaking here
of what we offer you."

Pages then entered bearing luscious fruits and tempting-looking foaming
drinks; the former on massive salvers of pure gold, the latter in
chalices of gold and silver set with gems. The fruits were all new to
them, as also were the drinks; but, on tasting them, they found them to
be all they looked.

The fruits were indeed delicious and refreshing; the drinks cooling
and exhilarating: to Elwood and Templemore they were as nectar and
ambrosia, and they said so, and asked many questions concerning them.
But, seeing that the only information they received was a string of
names that conveyed to them no meaning, they added little to their
stock of knowledge.

They now talked freely with those around them; but found the questions
showered upon them from all sides somewhat more than they could answer,
so that Templemore said at last in an aside to the other,

"Tell you what it is, Leonard; we shall have to give a public
lecture--or perhaps a series--and invite as many at a time as the
Town Hall of the place will contain. Pity we didn't bring some magic
lanterns and dissolving views to illustrate what we have to tell them.
I _would_ have done so if I had only known."

They, in their turn, were not less full of curiosity and interest in
all they saw around them. The statuary, and, above all, the pictures
amazed them.

"It upsets all one's notions of history and all that," said Jack
quietly to Leonard, "to find this sort of thing in the so-called 'new'
world. We might be back in Ancient Greece."

"Or Babylon, or Nineveh," Elwood answered. "It's like a dream--and,
strange to say, I have dreamed much of it before. I keep thinking I
shall wake up presently and find that this city, with all that it
contains, has vanished."

"I trust not," said Ulama--to whom the last part of the sentence had
been addressed--with a smile. "I should not like to think that I,
myself, am but a dream. But, since you speak of having dreams of that
which you find here, know that I have strange dreams also. All my life
it has been thus with me. Of late they have been less frequent than of
yore, and the memory of them is confused and indistinct; but I know
that in them I have seen--aye, more than once--_your_ face, and the
face of him you call Monella."

Elwood regarded the maiden in surprise, and she continued,

"Yes, it is true. Tell me, Zonella, have I not often described to thee
those I had seen in my dreams; and did not some resemble these? As to
face thou canst not know, but as to garb and other details?"

"'Tis true," replied Zonella gravely.

But the matter-of-fact Templemore found it hard to credit this; visions
and the like were nothing in his way.

"Are you serious?" he asked.

"Quite," both said.

"And--me--a--I--myself, I mean; was I there too?"

Templemore's manner when he asked this question was so humorously
anxious that Ulama laughed--a joyous, ringing laugh, the token of a
soul innocent and free from care.

"No, indeed," she answered. "I never dreamed of you."

"And you?" he asked, turning to Zonella.

"No, never;" and she too laughed merrily.

"It really doesn't seem fair," said Jack, with an injured air. "Waking
or sleeping, my friend has been a dreamer all his life; when we met
with Monella we found he was one of the same sort; so those two were on
terms immediately; but I--I am out of it all. Never had a dream in my
life worth remembering. Not only that, but--as it now seems--I can't
even get into other people's. I put it to you, Princess, am I not a
little hardly done by?"

Thus they laughed and chatted, and time passed on, and still Monella
and the king were closeted together. It was more than an hour--nearer
two--before the king returned; and then alone.

"My friends," he said, "the audience is at an end. Affairs of state
demand my earnest thought, and I must now dismiss you. But," beckoning
the two young men to him, and taking in his own a hand of each, "once
more let me commend these strangers to your care and friendship.
They have rendered me to-day a service that is beyond price, and in
rendering it to me, they have rendered it to us all. More I need not
say, except to charge you to make their stay with us a pleasant one."

He withdrew, and, with his absence, the crowd began to thin; only those
belonging to the court remaining.

And now Ulama spoke.

"I shall hand you over to my good friends here," she said. "Doubtless
you will wish to make a change in your apparel and----"

"Unfortunately we brought no change with us," said Jack.

"They will bring you a choice of vestments," she answered, laughing.
"You will surely find something to your taste." She bowed courteously,
and went out, followed by Zonella and her attendants.

They were now taken in charge by the high chamberlain, whom they
already knew by name--Colenna. He, in turn, handed them over to his son
Kalaima, a bright-eyed, fair, talkative young fellow with whom they
quickly found themselves on pleasant terms. He conducted them to a
suite of chambers which would be, he said, reserved to them. They found
there various suits which he laid out for their selection, instructing
them, with much good humour, in the way in which they should be worn.
These were, so he told them, the distinctive dresses of a noble of high
degree; and were presents from the king as a mark of his special favour.

Elwood laughed at Jack's expression while he turned over the various
articles after Kalaima had left them to themselves, examining in turn
the white tunic of finest silk embroidered with strange devices, the
cap with jewelled plume, the heavy belt of solid gold, and the short
sword and dagger; all ornamented with precious stones of greater value
than they could estimate.

"Are you really going to deck yourself out in these things, Leonard?"
he asked, with a rueful look. "Am I expected to do so too? Great
Scott! What would our friends in Georgetown say if they could see us
masquerading in this toggery?"

"When at Rome you must do as Rome does, I suppose," Elwood returned
lightly. "After all, I don't suppose it will seem half so strange to
the good people here as would our continuing to wear our present dress."

"There's a good deal, no doubt, to be said for that view," Jack said
with resignation. "And, since it is intended as a compliment, I suppose
we must e'en accept it as such. I only hope I shall be able to keep my
countenance when I look at you--that is, before the king and others. At
present I feel very much afraid that it may prove beyond my powers."

In their suite of chambers was a bath, with water deep and broad
enough to swim in. A refreshing plunge, a reclothing in the unfamiliar
raiment, and they emerged from their apartments dressed as nobles
of the country. The attempts, honest, but too often futile, made by
Templemore to preserve his gravity, caused him at times more personal
discomfort than did even the strange garb but, since use accustoms us
to pretty nearly everything the efforts required became gradually less
and less.

But what sobered him, so to speak, the most, was his meeting with
Monella, who was now attired in like fashion to themselves. The change
seemed to have made an extraordinary alteration in the man. He looked
taller and more imposing than ever, and in his gait and manner there
were an added grace and dignity. It could now be seen that his form was
supple and muscular as that of a young man's, graceful in the swing of
the limbs and in every pose. His eyes retained their unique expression
that seemed to magnetise those upon whom they fell; but his face had
a greater gravity than ever, and something of a majesty that awed
Templemore when he noted it.

"Of a truth," he said to Elwood, "that man seems to alter from day to
day even from hour to hour. He is just as kindly, as courteous, and as
gentle; just as thoughtful--yet, I feel somehow that there is a gulf
deepening between us, and that it is widening, slowly but surely. Yet
not because one likes him less--that's just it, you seem to like him
and admire him more and more--but you feel you do it from afar--from a
gradually increasing distance."

And when, later in the day, they sat down to a banquet at the king's
table, and saw Monella seated beside the king, taking the post of
honour and accepting it with the easy dignity of one who had been
used to it all his life; not only the observant Jack, but the less
seriously-minded Leonard, felt, with increasing force, the feeling the
former had described.

During this repast they learned that the Manoans were vegetarians;
though their cookery was so skilful that such dishes as the strangers
tasted they found both appetising and satisfying. Not only that, but,
as they soon discovered, these dishes were fully as invigorating and
nourishing as a meat diet. This was due to the presence of some strange
vegetable or herb in nearly every dish; but what this was they could
not then determine.

At dusk, a new surprise awaited them; for, not only the palace, but
the whole city was lighted up by what they quickly recognised as the
electric light. They now could understand the brilliant aspect of the
city as first seen by them at night from the head of the canyon.

After the meal, Templemore and Elwood went out, with many more, upon
a terrace that overlooked the lake; where now boats were going to and
fro, some paddled by oars, some drawn by the large white swans. But
what at first puzzled the new-comers were the antics of some who threw
themselves into the water from considerable heights. Instead of falling
almost vertically, as a diver would, they swept down in a graceful
curve, striking the water almost horizontally, then bounded up and flew
through the air for a short distance, till once more they touched the
water and bounded up again. Finally, when the impetus was expended,
they swam back to shore or were taken thither in a boat. Of course this
style of bathing could not be practised _in puris naturalibus_, or in
ordinary bathing dress; so they were furnished with a kind of divided
parachute, or twin parachutes, not unlike artificial wings; with these
they could descend from towers and great heights and with a long
swallow-like sweep, striking the water and rebounding again and again.
By practice some had obtained a wonderful dexterity in this amusement,
and their evolutions would have deceived a stranger, viewing them from
a distance, into a belief that they were actual flying creatures. Some
of the children--who chiefly delighted in this pastime--were very
expert at it.

While watching the gay scene before them--a repetition of what they had
witnessed from afar--Kalaima came to say that the king requested their
presence in his council chamber. Following the young man they entered
a hall, smaller than that in which they had first been received, and
found the king throned under a canopy as before, and Monella seated
near him. Around the hall were ten or twelve of his chief ministers and
officers, each placed before a small table, Upon which were ink-horns,
pens, and sheets of parchment.

Standing in the centre of the chamber was a man of swarthy skin and
haughty mien, his expression cruel and deceitful. He wore a black tunic
on which was worked a large golden star like that displayed by the
ill-fated Zelus. Standing respectfully a short distance behind this man
were two others, somewhat similarly attired.

The leader had just finished speaking when Templemore and Elwood
entered, and he cast at them a scowl that was almost appalling in its
malignity.

The king signed to the young men to seat themselves beside Monella;
then, turning to the man who had just spoken, said,

"It avails nothing, Dakla, for thee to come to us with messages of this
intent, and with presentments, void of truth, of what befell to-day.
Here are the three strangers who, as thou sayest, opposed themselves
to Zelus, the son of Coryon thy master. They slew him, it is true, and
some of those who followed him, but it was to save my daughter from his
violence."

"It is false, O King! They lie, if they say so! For our lord Zelus had
no thought of violence!" This from Dakla.

"If thine errand here is but to charge with falsehood these three men,
I'll grant thee audience no longer." The kings voice was stern, and
his eyes flashed angrily, so that Dakla trembled, and there was less
confidence in his tone when he replied,

"But they are strangers whom the king knows not; wherefore should he
accept their word before our trusted servants?"

"Because it is confirmed by mine own daughter, sirrah! And if thou
darest again to say it is untrue that Zelus lifted his hand to take her
life, thou shalt not return unpunished, be the consequences what they
may!"

By the king's impressive manner, and still more by the menace he had
thus let fall, Dakla seemed daunted. He had expected to be able to
carry things his own way. He hesitated, then said in a milder tone,

"But even so, they should not have taken the life of our lord Zelus,
but have brought him before _thee_."

"How could they do that when he had more than a score of men with him,
and they were but three? Furthermore, there was no time for parley. An
instant's hesitation, my daughter saith, and it would have been too
late."

Dakla reflected; then he made a fresh suggestion.

"It will content us if the king remit to us for trial him who, with his
own hand, did slay our lord. If, on due inquisition, it shall be found
even as the king hath said, then shall he be returned unhurt."

The king's face clouded, and his lips curled with scorn as he replied,

"Out upon thee, with thy tricks and cunning snares! Thinkest thou we do
not know thy master by this time? These strangers are my guests--under
my protection! Hark ye! I say under my protection! If harm shall befall
them, I will seize thyself, an' thou comest again within my reach, or
any others of thy master's minions on whom I can lay hands, and their
lives shall pay the forfeit."

"Thy words will grieve my master, King Dranoa," said Dakla, with a
scarcely hidden sneer. "He careth only for the welfare of the king and
of his people. But how shall there be safety for the dwellers in this
land if such as these may go abroad and slay at will, and be protected
by the king?"

"What safety is there now for any, when even the king's daughter cannot
walk near mine own palace without assailment?" the king wrathfully
demanded. "Hold thy peace, sirrah! and quit my sight ere worse betide
thee!"

At this Monella rose, and, bending towards the king, said something
in a low tone to him; the king, assenting with a nod, Monella slowly
turned his glance upon the henchman of the priest, and thus addressed
him,

"I have the king's permission to send a message of my own to Coryon,
since the opportunity now offers. It is well that thou shouldst bear
it, and better still if thou takest it to heart. I sent the same
message by the murderous crew that followed at the heels of thy late
shameful lord--as thou callest him--Zelus. It is this: that such things
as he attempted will bring down vengeance and retribution on you all.
Bid Coryon take heed and mend his ways; if not, his doom is fixed. We
are but three; yet, if we chose, and the king so willed it, we could
clear thee and thy master and his brood from off the land--aye, ere
another sun has risen and set. And tell Coryon this, by the king's
permission we are here, and, as thou hast heard, under his protection.
For that protection we are grateful, but we need it not. If thou, or
any of thy serpent brood molest us, we will hold you all to such a
vengeance as shall repay the wrongs of others and rid the earth of you.
I sent this message by Zelus's craven hounds, but my mind misgives me
that in their flight they scarce remembered it; or, perchance, they
feared to give it. Wilt thou now bear it to thy master?"

"Who art thou that dares to send a message of defiance to the great
Coryon?" Dakla asked.

"One who can carry out his words; one who, as the ally of the king,
will bring upon your heads that which has been so long deserved. One
who, though he spared thy myrmidons to-day, will spare no more. Beware!
Attack us, and we show no mercy!"

With each succeeding sentence he seemed taller, more imposing, and more
menacing; until the last words were fairly thundered out, and his eyes
flashed fire.

The countenance of Dakla fell before his gaze; he hesitated, panted,
turned to go, then turned back, and finally, as one who spoke against
his will, he said, with no show of his former mocking insolence,

"Sir, I will bear thy message." Then, with an obeisance to the king, he
and his attendants left the place.

"I would give something to know what the king and Monella talked about
so long to-day," said Elwood to Templemore that night, when they found
themselves alone together.

"So far as I can gather," Jack replied, "there is a grand old feud on
here between these rascally old priests, on the one side, and the king
and his followers on the other; and Monella, I suspect, has learnt
enough concerning it to lead him to back up the king. Well! So far as I
am concerned, I am game to back him up, too, against such a murdering
lot as they seem to be. What say you?"

"You need not ask _me_," Elwood answered with some surprise. "But I
thought that you--well--that is----"

"Would be rather more slow to get up enthusiasm, eh?" Jack interrupted
with a laugh. "Not at all. Fooling about in a dark, gloomy forest, with
no apparent end in view, was one thing; taking part in an adventure
of this kind to help a lot of people who have received us kindly, is
quite another; to say nothing of helping the king, who's a regular
brick, and his daughter, who's----"

"An angel!" put in Leonard.

And Jack laughed, but approvingly, and said good-night.



CHAPTER XV.

MARVELS OF MANOA.


During the following days Elwood and Templemore learned much of the
strange land in which they found themselves; of its people, of their
condition, and other details. But, since to give every separate
conversation, incident, or other means by which they gained their
information, would be tedious, it will suffice to cite some extracts
from Templemore's diary that summarise the knowledge then and
subsequently obtained.

       *       *       *       *       *

"I am able now to jot down some account of this strange place and its
inhabitants, so far, at least, as my limited knowledge of its language
and other means of information go.

"The people seem to be amiable, fairly intelligent--considering,
of course, that they know nothing of the great world outside--and
generally well disposed. Although they maintain a small force of
'soldiers' or 'guards,' and drill and discipline them with as much
assiduity as though they might be called upon to engage in warfare,
yet, as a matter of course, there are no people with whom they can go
to war; nor is there any likelihood of their having to fight, except
amongst themselves. And this, unfortunately, has not been unknown;
moreover, there are 'signs in the air' that it may not be unknown
again.

"An unexpected discovery we have made is, that this mountain is
connected with another close to it and called 'Myrlanda.' The
connection is underground, and was made originally in the course of
mining operations.

"Undoubtedly, _once_ these people were a great nation. Their arts
and sciences, their buildings, their engineering works, and their
knowledge of mechanics, all give evidence of this; but, since a nation,
isolated as this has been for ages, must necessarily either progress
or retrogress, the Manoans slowly, gradually, but surely, have done
the latter. They have numerous museums which are full of wonders of
all sorts, pointing to lost arts, lost sciences, lost inventions, lost
knowledge of all kinds. The fact that the demand has fallen off with
diminishing population has led to the discontinuance of manufactures;
though, in the museums, there are evidences that they once existed.

"This is the case as regards chronometric instruments. Their
occupations being desultory, they have little need to know the time of
day; so the use of clocks and watches has 'gone out of fashion,' and
there does not now exist a person in the two 'islands'--as they still
call these two inaccessible mountains--who can make a clock or a watch.
Yet, in their museums they have many ancient specimens of clocks and
watches of various kinds.

"Like remarks apply to many other arts and sciences and
manufactures. The cause is likely to be found in the fact of their
non-intercommunication with other nations.

"But the most wonderful thing of all, in this land of marvels, is a
plant or herb they call the 'Plant of Life.' This, I am assured (though
it seems hardly credible), if taken from time to time in certain
forms, combined with other plants found here, induces great longevity
in the recipients. The king, for instance, who looks between fifty and
sixty years of age, I am seriously told is three hundred and forty! Yet
that, even, is nothing out of the way here; for--assuming that they
speak the truth--there are among the priesthood a few who have lived
in the land one thousand, fifteen hundred, and two thousand years and
more! I should scarcely take the trouble to write this down, were it
not that I find it a matter of such common belief on all sides that
it is impossible to avoid regarding it seriously. When first these
statements were made to me I sought Monella and reported to him what
had been told me, remarking that I thought it somewhat in bad taste
on the part of my informants to combine together--as it seemed to me
they must have--to palm off such tales upon a stranger. To my utter
astonishment, he replied that he had reason to believe that there
was truth in what I had been told! He had doubtless heard the same
thing--and he is so quick to probe to the very root of whatever excites
his interest, and a man so difficult to deceive, that, on receiving his
solemn assurance (I asked for it) that he was not jesting, I felt bound
to regard the matter attentively. I, therefore, set to work to get at
all the facts as well as I could, and to see and examine the wonderful
plant for myself. In this way I have arrived at the following data:--

"The plant, which is called 'karina' in the language of the country,
is of a curious delicate, clear, blue tint--almost transparent in
appearance, and in texture smooth and glassy-looking as to the
leaves. It grows to a height of two or three feet, and is succulent
in character; exuding freely, when squeezed, a juice which has a very
strong bitter-sweet taste. It is prepared in several ways--many
having, it is believed, secret recipes which have been handed down
from father to son from generation to generation; but they all relate
more or less to a tea or infusion of the leaves, with or without the
admixture of other herbs or drugs. To have the full effect it must be
taken regularly, almost from infancy; indeed, it is so powerful that
those not accustomed to it must take but very weak doses at first for
a long time, till the system learns to assimilate it; otherwise, it
may even act as a poison. Taken, however, regularly from childhood,
it produces and maintains perfect health, defying all those usual
fevers and diseases that afflict humanity in other parts of the world,
and carrying the body unimpaired in all its functions--accidents,
of course, excepted--into extreme age, without loss of vitality or
strength.

"People do not, however, live for ever; there is one disease and only
one that the 'karina' cannot cure. This is called the 'falloa'; there
is also another name for it signifying the 'don't care sickness.'
Those attacked with it gradually sink, and die painlessly and easily.
This disease, no doubt, must come to all sooner or later; but it is
generally believed that the priests--and they alone--are aware of some
way of so preparing the 'karina,' that they can either cure even the
'falloa,' or keep it at bay for very much longer periods than other
people succeed in doing.

"It is certainly a remarkable fact that throughout the land disease,
in the sense in which we understand it, is unknown. Consequently,
physical pain is almost absent, save in case of physical injury. Nor is
it necessary to be continually taking the preparation of the 'karina.'
When once the system becomes inoculated with it, as it were, it is
sufficient, afterwards, to repeat the doses at long intervals; and a
traveller, as I gather, might take sufficient of the dried plant with
him on his travels to keep him in perfect health for many years in any
part of the world.

"And when, at last, the 'falloa' attacks its victim, it causes neither
pain nor suffering of any kind; only melancholy, and a distaste for
life in general; while its approach is so gradual as often to be
unnoticed.

"There is little doubt that the absence of ordinary diseases exerts
a corresponding effect upon the physical development; and this alone
is sufficient to account for a fact that is very noticeable here,
viz., the beauty of the inhabitants. Both the women and the men are
remarkable in this respect; and probably not in all the rest of the
world put together could so many beautiful women and handsome men be
found as one sees in this small, but strange country; and this applies
to the old, in a measure, as well as to the young generally. Whether it
also applies to the old amongst the priests, one cannot say, for they
seem to keep entirely to themselves.

"As regards these 'priests,' there are two sects in the country, called
respectively the 'Dark,' or 'Black,' and the 'White.'

"The religion of the 'White' priests, or 'Brotherhood,' resembles,
in many respects, that of the Hebrews, save that for 'God' they use
the term 'Great Spirit,' or 'Good,' or 'Almighty' Spirit. These have,
however, now no influence in the country, and have been exiled to
Myrlanda, where they confine themselves to a small 'domain,' have few
followers and very little communication with the general inhabitants.
The chief of these is named Sanaima.

"The chief of the 'Dark Brotherhood'--as they denominate themselves,
and well they deserve their name, from all I hear--is called Coryon;
and he and Sanaima are both popularly supposed to be more than two
thousand years old! But, since both these millenarian gentlemen keep
themselves shut up amongst their own immediate adherents, and seldom
show themselves to the people, it would not be very difficult to keep
up a tradition of this sort without a word of truth to back it. It may
be urged in support of it, however, that we see many going about who,
we are assured, are three, four, or five hundred years old; and these
assert that they have not the true secret of preparing the 'karina';
this being known only to the priests.

"But whatever be the truth as to their longevity, the 'Dark
Brotherhood' seem to be a set of bloodthirsty, licentious tyrants,
ruling the people with a rod of iron, for the king, though nominally
an autocrat, has but little real power; but his rule, so far as it
extends, is mild, and his people appear loyal and well disposed towards
him.

"The real ruler of the land is Coryon, the High Priest of the 'Dark
Brotherhood'; a man who, though never seen beyond the limits of his
own domain, makes his power felt everywhere. What I have heard of him
and his chosen band sounds too atrocious to be true; yet I am assured
I have heard only a part; the whole truth is of such a nature that men
shrink from speaking of it to one another.

"It is said that they have many wives, whom they choose at will
from amongst the daughters of the people; but what becomes of them
afterwards no one knows, for they are never seen again when once they
disappear behind the gates that shut in the domain 'sacred' to the
'Brotherhood.' Further, they lay a 'blood-tax' upon the population
for 'religious sacrifices'; at certain intervals these victims are
selected, it is _said_, by a sort of ballot, and from that moment
vanish like the others, and their fate is never known; or at least no
one professes to know. It is, indeed hinted, that it is too terrible
to be published. One or two who have escaped back to their homes
have, it is averred, died raving mad; their ravings being of so dread
a nature that it could not be determined whether they referred to
scenes actually witnessed, or were the offspring of their madness.
What becomes of the children of these 'priests'--or at least of a
large proportion of them--is also a matter for conjecture. They cannot
well all live, or they would probably overrun the land. It is darkly
whispered that all but a certain definite proportion are sacrificed. At
any rate they are seldom heard of. Zelus, the one Elwood killed, was
an exception, it would appear. He is described as the 'only remaining'
son of Coryon; but what has become of his other children, if any, is
not known. Zelus had set his mind upon taking Ulama from her father
to make her, against her will, his wife--or one of them. Now it is
generally understood that the king and his family, and the members
of his household, are safe from molestation by the 'Brotherhood.'
Therefore, in seeking to force Ulama, Zelus was offending against the
strict law; yet, such was his insolent contempt for all law but his
own will, that he not only designed to bear her off, but, in his rage
at her resistance and the scathing disdain and scorn she showed in her
refusal, he would have killed her. And it is quite certain that, had
he succeeded, he would have been protected by his father, so that no
punishment would have fallen on him.

"If, however, as appears from this, even the king's only child is
not safe from these atrocious wretches, what must be the position of
the common people? As a matter of fact, though they are by nature
cheerful, contented and unselfish, yet over all there seems to hang the
shadow of an ever-present dread, the overpowering, constant fear that
to-morrow or the next day--this day, even, they or some of those they
love, without the slightest warning, may be seized and borne off to an
unknown fate. All the information vouchsafed in such a case is that
the victim has been chosen by the so-called ballot; but it is hinted,
and no doubt believed, that, if one of the priests, or one of their
favourite adherents, happen to cast an approving eye upon a daughter of
the people--be she maiden or wife--the 'ballot' is pretty sure to fall
upon her before very long.

"This is the awful despotism wielded by these 'priests' in the name
of religion. Needless to say, it is not confined to the particulars
stated. If the priests themselves are not much seen in public, some
of their emissaries and followers are continually about, and they
domineer over the people and perpetrate many shameful acts of cruelty
and injustice, in almost all of which they are supported and protected
by those they serve. For, though these wretches are nominally amenable
to the civil law, or to be brought before the king, few, even of the
boldest of their victims, care to risk the after vengeance that they
know would overtake them as the consequence.

"It was these miscreants that the king had in his mind when he insisted
upon giving us an escort during our sojourn here. And, though our
firearms are undoubtedly our best protection, still, as has been
pointed out to us, we have made enemies who are treacherous and
relentless, with fanatical adherents, who mingle with the people and
might stab one of us in the back without warning, were they allowed the
opportunity of coming near us in the guise of ordinary well-disposed or
curious citizens. We have thought it, therefore, only prudent to accept
the proffered guard.

"Of the 'White Brotherhood' one hears little. Sanaima, their chief, is
reputed to be an upright, well-disposed man, who would, if he had his
way, assist the king to put an end to the domination of the other sect
and its human sacrifices and other evils and abominations; but they do
not seem to have the power, or, if they have, they lack the resolution
to take any decided or practical steps to shake off the tyranny of
Coryon. Nor could it be done without plunging the country into a civil
conflict that might last indefinitely and be productive of almost
endless suffering; and the king, as a kind-hearted man, shrinks from
precipitating such a calamity. So Sanaima shuts himself up in his own
domain and gives himself up, it is understood, to abstruse study.

"Turning to another noteworthy and surprising thing--the fact that
these people are acquainted with electricity and the electric
light--it seems that they collect and store it underground in some
way I do not yet understand. But upon all high rocks are placed metal
rods--lightning rods, in fact--and it is asserted that at all times,
day and night, but more particularly when there are clouds around
the mountain, a constant stream of electricity passes down the rods
and is retained and stored in insulated receptacles constructed for
the purpose underground. The effect of this arrangement is that
thunderstorms are unknown here. The armature of lightning rods draws
off all the electricity from the surrounding atmosphere; and, though
thunderstorms are often witnessed in the distance--playing round other
mountains, for instance--yet they never burst over Manoa or Myrlanda.

"On this mountain--Roraima, as we call it--a name, by the way, entirely
unknown to the inhabitants--the city of Manoa and its lake stand at
one end of the great basin that lies within the summit. All around are
terraces of rock rising, one behind the other, till they end in high
wooded crags that form, in fact, the edge of the summit as seen from
outside. Down these crags or cliffs pour numerous cascades that find
their way, eventually, into the lake; whence they issue again as the
great waterfalls that tumble from the summit--or near it--to the base
of the mountain. For though, from a distance, these falls seem to start
from almost the very summit, they, in reality, burst out from the level
of the lake, more than a hundred feet lower than the highest rocks upon
the top of the mountain.

"The rest of the top--apart from the lake and city--is a country of
hill and dale, rocks and woods, very picturesque, and forming, in
places, minor basins, or vales, of considerable extent and beauty,
quite shut off from one another. I estimate the total extent roughly
at a hundred square miles; but I believe Myrlanda covers nearly two
hundred.

"None of the land in Manoa is given up to cultivation, save in the
form of gardens, or orchards, and groves of fruit-bearing trees. The
lower rocky terraces around the lake are beautifully laid out in this
way. Here, are cultivated fruits of every kind. The trees are planted
in such a way as to form shady walks and resting-places; beneath them
are seats and fountains that are always playing, fed by the streams
that rush down at intervals towards the lake. And across these streams
are numerous bridges; some, where the torrents open out on approaching
the lake, are necessarily of considerable width; those on the terraces
above are small rustic structures--but all are ornamental, and some of
exquisite design. Around the terraces flowers grow in profusion, partly
wild and partly cultivated. Wonderful orchids, gloxinias, begonias;
orange-groves covered with flowers and fruit; and gardenias with their
deliciously scented blossoms; with many others that I have never seen
before and have not yet learned the names of.

"The cereal and other crops required are grown in Myrlanda, which is
principally devoted to agriculture; there also there are numbers of
goats, and a kind of sheep, and large quantities of fowls. Pumas, which
are kept as pets in Manoa, are not allowed in Myrlanda, for they would
play sad havoc amongst the flocks and poultry; though, probably, they
live upon them all the same; for the Manoans, being vegetarians, never
eat meat, but give the flesh of their animals to their pets. The latter
include cats, of which there are large numbers; some of most curious
kinds. These two animals, between them, it is said--the puma and the
cat--have cleared the land of all wild animals, including serpents; for
there is no more deadly enemy of serpents--even venomous ones--than the
cat; and the puma will attack and overcome larger non-venomous snakes.

"No one, to see these latter great animals playing continually with
the children of their masters--as may be witnessed here all day
long--would think they were naturally of such bloodthirsty instincts.
It has been said of pumas that, with the possible exception of some
kinds of monkeys, they are the most playful animals in existence. One
can certainly see ample evidence of this in Manoa, for the creatures,
whether large or small, old or young, seem ever ready to start a game
of romps with whomever they can get to indulge them--whether little
folk or their grown-up elders.

"The large swans that swim about on the lake, though very tame,
can scarcely be regarded as pets, though they are frequently to be
seen docilely drawing a small boat about; or a team of them will be
harnessed to a vessel of larger size. They get their own living
among the fish in the lake, and seem able to hold their own with the
pumas. I am told that this comes about from the fact that the young
pumas, being often foolish enough to attack them in the water, meet
with such treatment that--if they succeed in escaping drowning--they
ever afterward leave the birds alone. These swans make their nests and
rear their young on some islands that lie out near the centre of the
lake. Often, towards night, when the sun has perhaps set for the day
on the lake and the country surrounding it, these birds may be seen in
small flocks circling and whirling in the air, and presenting a very
beautiful sight as they rise out of the shadow, and the rays of the
setting sun light up their plumage. These are undoubtedly the 'white
eagles' that are asserted by the Indians to be the 'guardians of the
lake' on the top of Roraima.

"Myrlanda is honeycombed with mines, but hardly any are at present
worked, the demand for their products having practically ceased; and
such large stocks have accumulated from former workings that I am told
they are not likely to be reopened for many years. So far, I have only
partially inspected the museums. They are more surprising than even
the people, for they speak plainly of a wonderful past history. Here
are many strange inventions and machines, the very meaning and use of
which are now but a matter of conjecture. They contain, too, stands
of arms--spears, javelins, swords, daggers, shields, bows and arrows,
etc., as well as suits of beautifully wrought chain armour--sufficient
to fit out a small army. Most of these are mounted in gold, and many
are ornamented with jewels. All are kept bright and in admirable order.

"The statues are surprising specimens of art, as are the bas-reliefs
with which most of the buildings are embellished. Yet there are now no
sculptors here, nor any painters. There are potters, but their work is
inferior to specimens preserved in the museums. In many other branches
of manufacture, also, the artificers of to-day are evidently unskilful
as compared with those of former times.

"In the museums are also preserved manuscripts of great antiquity,
and interesting as throwing light on the past history of the nation.
Many of the nobles and chief people can write and read; but, printing
being unknown, their opportunities of keeping up such accomplishments
are necessarily very limited. The materials used for dress are mostly
silk--obtained from silkworms--wool, and linen; the last being obtained
from a fibre resembling flax. In the manufacture of these materials
into fabrics the Manoans are particularly skilful; especially in
working or embroidering upon them all kinds of new and quaint designs.
Their boats, too, that float about the lake, are exquisite models; so
that one can quite believe that the nation was once, as they declare, a
maritime people, with fleets of ships, or, at least, large vessels of
some kind. In the museums, by way of confirmation, are pictures--very
cleverly executed works--of naval battles; and, in these, large vessels
with two and three masts are represented.

"It is worthy of remark that in all these pictures representing
battle-pieces--and these are many--none but white people are depicted.
That different races intermingled in the fighting is indubitable; but
the difference consists in dress and other details; not in the colour
of their skins.

"It is a tradition of the Manoans that they formerly ruled over 'the
whole world.' This may be taken to imply either the whole continent of
America, or a large portion of it; but they knew nothing, formerly, of
black or red races; and their archives bear this out--their pictures,
perhaps, more forcibly than anything else.

"As regards the buildings, their architectural magnificence is
undeniable--almost, indeed, defies description. On many structures gold
has been freely employed in the roofing, and for other purposes where
we should employ lead or iron. They say the gold came chiefly from
Myrlanda, and certain neighbouring 'islands'--_i.e._, mountains--from
which they are now isolated. Gold cornices, and embellishments, of
every conceivable shape and form, are commonly used for outside
decorations; the very conduits to carry off water being often of gold
or an amalgam consisting largely of that metal, and wrought into
elaborate designs. Indeed, both iron and tin--and lead also--seem to
have been much more sparingly employed than gold and silver. Iron seems
to have been used only where extra strength and weight were required,
and, in the form of steel, for weapons, or for common utensils, tools,
etc.; and of copper there is very little anywhere to be seen. Silver,
even, is less common in heavy decorative metal work than is solid gold.

"Thus the tales that Sir Walter Raleigh heard of the splendours of the
ancient city of Manoa--or El Dorado--and that for many hundreds of
years since have been regarded as fables, appear to have been based,
after all, upon actual fact."



CHAPTER XVI.

LEONARD AND ULAMA.


"How I should like to see this wondrous outside world that you come
from!" said Ulama dreamily. "The more you tell me of it, the more you
whet my curiosity, and the more I long to see its marvels for myself."

"And yet," was Elwood's answer, "nowhere will you find so marvellously
beautiful a scene as that which now surrounds us. I have travelled a
good deal myself; and my friend Jack much more; and Monella, where has
he not been? He seems to have visited every corner of the world! Yet
he said to me, but yesterday, that he thought this the fairest spot on
earth; and in this Jack agrees, so far as his experience extends.

"Since I first came here I have looked upon it from many points of
view; from the water, as the boat drifts from one side to the other;
from different places round the shore; from various spots on the rocky
terraces above; and these different views I have seen under all the
shifting effects of sunlight, moonlight, and in the mountain mist. Yet
do I find myself unable to decide which I like the best. Whatever I
do, wherever I happen to be, I see constantly some fresh enchantment,
some new charm, some effect at once unexpected and delightful; till I
strive in vain to make up my mind which I admire the most."

It was about a week after the arrival in the city of the three
travellers; and Ulama and Leonard were seated in a favourite boat in
which the princess was wont to spend a large portion of her time.
It was, really, a small barge, of curious but graceful design and
elaborate decoration. Over the after part was a white and light-blue
awning; the bow ran up in the shape of a bird with out-stretched wings
wrought in gold and silver, and the stern was fashioned like a fish
with scales of blue and gold, its tail being movable, and running down
below the water-line to form the rudder. Upon the sides provision was
made for several oars; but this morning Ulama and Elwood had put off
alone, content that the boat should drift wherever the slight air or
current might direct.

Truly Leonard had not over-rated the beauty of the scene around them;
scarce indeed would it be possible to do so. The water was a dazzling
blue, yet so clear and limpid that it seemed more like a film of tinted
air than water, so that the eye could pierce to great depths where
many strange creatures could be seen. The sun, high in the sky, poured
down its rays upon the buildings and the trees, in some parts lighting
up only the tops and throwing purple shadows over the rest; in other
places, touches of vivid green contrasted with the pink-white tints of
the faces of the buildings; the whole quivering in the shimmering haze
that conveys an idea of unsubstantiality in what one sees--a suggestion
that it may be only a mirage that a passing breeze may dissipate.

Ulama was leaning in contented listlessness over the boat's side,
her hand playing idly in the water. On the shapely arm, bare to the
elbow, was a plain gold band in which was set a single diamond that
even crowned heads might have envied. It flashed and sparkled in the
sunlight with dazzling fire and power. A gold fillet, set with another
matchless diamond, confined her hair, which fell loosely in wavy
tresses round her shoulders. Her dress was of finest work, its texture
thin as gossamer; pure white with here and there a silken knot of blue.
It was gathered into her waist by a golden zone whose clasp was hidden
by another and even larger diamond. No other style of dress could have
so well set off the perfect symmetry and beauty of her figure. Thus,
bending in unconscious ease over the boat's side, the young girl formed
one of the rarest models of maidenly grace and loveliness that could
that morning have been found amongst Eve's daughters.

Yet, probably, to most observers, the purity and sweetness that looked
out from her soft, wistful eyes would have seemed the chief and most
attractive charm of this radiant maiden of the 'city of the clouds.'
And her gentle, lustrous eyes were the index of the pure and loving
soul within.

No wonder, therefore, that she was, beyond compare, the best loved, the
most honoured person in the land.

She was her father's chief, almost his only, joy. Apart from her he
found but little that gave him happiness. At the same time he loved
his people and honestly desired to do his best for them; and gladly
would he have made great sacrifices to bring about their emancipation
from the priestly tyranny that oppressed them. But he shrank from the
extreme step of precipitating a civil war; yet the alternative of
allowing things to take their course and continue in the old groove
grieved him deeply; so much so that his distress had begun to take the
form of settled melancholy. His courtiers, who were devoted to him,
noticing this, themselves became a prey to anxious misgivings, fearing
in it the first symptoms of the sole incurable disease they knew--that
which they termed the 'falloa.'

Leonard's last words had started a fresh train of thought in the young
girl's mind, and presently she spoke again.

"Do you then mean that you would fain pass your life with us; you to
whom the great world beyond is known, with all its endless interest?
It seems strange that! Methinks that, were I in your place, I should
deem life here but colourless and childish. For me, certainly, it has
sufficed. I have a father who loves me dearly--dotes on me; my mother I
never knew. She died when I was very young. I have kind friends around
me whom I love, and who love me, and who seem to think far more of me
than I deserve. And, were it not for the sadness in the land, I think
I should be very happy; certainly I should be contented. Yet, now
that you have told me of a spacious world beyond, full of all sorts
of mysteries and unheard-of marvels, I confess I should like to see
something of it."

"To do so would bring you no lasting pleasure," Leonard answered. "If
we--if I--who have looked upon these things, have been brought up
amongst them, if I am weary of them, and never care to see them more,
and would spend the remainder of my life here, for you they would have
no attractions."

Ulama glanced up shyly at him from under her long lashes.

"But are you--would you?" she asked with a slight blush. "Would you
truly like to stay here all your life--never to go back to your own
land?"

"Yes! I _do_ mean that!" And there was a fervid glow in Leonard's
countenance. "All my life I have had a restlessness impelling me to
seek--I knew not what--in distant lands. All my life I have had strange
dreams and visions; not only in the stillness of the night, but also
amidst the busy hum of day, and in all these one form was ever present;
it hovered round me so that I could almost see and touch it. But--and
now comes the strange part of it--that first day I set eyes on you, the
moment you drew near, I saw in you the living image of her who had been
the central figure of my waking visions, and held sweet converse with
me while I slept. Then--when my eyes met yours--I understood it all!
I knew then what had led me hither; what it was I had unconsciously
been seeking, and wherefore I had been restless and unsatisfied at
home. I knew that in you I had discovered all I craved for--the sweet
fulfilment of my soul's desire. And then--then--I saw you in the grasp
of one who would have slain you! And my heart stood still, for I knew
that, unless my hand were steady and my eye unerring, in striving to
save your life I might destroy it. Oh, think, think what must have been
my anguish! Think, how----Ah! never will you know a tenth of what I
suffered in that brief space; or my relief and thankfulness when I saw
him fall, and you stand scatheless!"

The young girl looked shyly at him; then, noting the love-light in his
eyes, and the glowing flush upon his cheeks, the while he had poured
out all that he had felt for her, an answering blush stole over her
own fair cheek; while a coy, dainty little smile seemed to flit airily
around her mouth, setting into little dimples first here then there;
in like manner as a ray of light, reflected from a mirror, will dance
coquettishly to and fro in obedience to the hand that moves the glass.

There was silence for a space, she gazing downwards at the water, but
now and then stealing a shy glance at her companion.

Then another line of thought passed over her mind and shadowed her face
for a moment.

"I wonder," she said with touching innocence, "what people see in me to
like so much? I fear it is not always well that this should be. It was
that which led--Zelus"--she shivered at the name--"to thrust himself
upon, and at last threaten me, and has placed you in danger for having
slain him. It is very strange! To like, to love, should mean naught but
happiness and loving-kindness and innocent delight; yet here it has led
a man to attempt an awful crime, and has placed others in great peril."

"It was not _love_ on that man's part," said Leonard, savagely, between
his teeth. "At least, not the sort of love that urged _me_ on, that has
guided me--even as the unwinding of a clue leads the traveller through
the maze--to the side of her I loved and worshipped in my visions. Mine
is not the love that could ever do its object hurt; that could ever----"

He paused abruptly, seeing her glance up at him with a look of wonder
on her face.

"You love me?" she exclaimed. "But that is past believing! 'Tis but a
few days since you first saw me. You cannot know what I am really like!
How then can you _love_ me? I love my father because he has cared for
me and loved me all my life; I love Zonella--and--and--other friends,
because I have known them for so long, and they have been kind and good
to me. How can you yet tell that you will love me? Perchance when you
know me better you may even come to hate me."

"Oh! Ulama! What is that you say?" he said impetuously. "You cannot
mean it! You are playing with me! But it is cruel play! The love I mean
is not such as the slow growth of a child's affection for a parent
or a girl-friend. It is a swift, resistless passion, that centres on
one being above all others in the world, and says, 'This one only do
I love; this one possesses all my heart and soul! From this one I can
never swerve--my love will end only when my heart no longer beats; I
cannot live without it.' Such a love bursts forth spontaneously from
the heart, as does a tiny spring from the earth's bosom and that, when
once it has found vent, for ever bubbles up fresh and clear and pure,
and, commencing in a little rill, increases to a torrent whose force no
power can stem. _That_ is the love I mean; and 'tis such a love I bear
for you, Ulama. Can you not understand something of all this?"

"I know not," replied the maiden in a low voice, and glancing timidly
at him. "You frighten me a little--or you would, but that I like you
too well to feel afraid of you--but--I have no knowledge of such love
as you describe."

"But, you have _heard_ of a love that far exceeds mere friendship--far
stronger than affection?"

"Y-es. I have _heard_ of it; and--ridiculed it as fiction. Yet--if
you affirm its truth, and in your own person have experienced it--I
must fain believe you, for I know you would not say what is not true.
But"--here she sagely shook her head--"though my ears receive your
words, the time has not yet come when they have reached my heart."

Leonard seized her hand.

"But, meanwhile, I have not offended you, Ulama?" he asked
entreatingly. "You will let me love you? Indeed, I am powerless to help
it. And you will try to--to--like me--ah, you have said you _do_ like
me already. Will you not try to love me a little?"

"Nay," she frankly answered, "you would not surely have me _try_? What
sort of love would that be that we had to _try_ to bring into being--to
force upon an unresponsive heart? You have said that it should burst
forth spontaneously. I scarcely understand when you speak thus."

Leonard sighed.

"You are right, Ulama, as you ever are; and I am wrong; but my love
makes me impatient. I will not expect too much of you. I will wait with
such content as is in me to command until your gentle heart shall beat
in unison with mine; and something in me tells me that one day it will."

Just then they heard the voice of some one calling to them, and,
looking round, they saw Jack Templemore and Zonella, with several
others, coming towards them in another boat.

When they were within speaking distance, Jack said that Monella had
sent him to tell Leonard he wished to speak to him; Leonard accordingly
took up the oars and rowed the barge slowly to shore. There he left
Ulama with the party, and proceeded in search of Monella who, he had
been told, was awaiting him upon a terrace that overlooked the lake.

Here Leonard found him seated with a field-glass in his hand. Monella
turned and looked searchingly at the young man, who felt himself
colouring under the other's glance.

"I love not to seem to spy upon your acts, my son," Monella began
gravely, "but when I caught sight of you in yonder boat holding the
hand of the princess, the daughter of the king, who is our kind and
gracious host, I could not well do otherwise than seek a talk with
you. I fear you have not well considered what you do."

At this rebuke Leonard coloured up still more, albeit the words were
spoken with evident kindness. For that very reason, probably, they sank
the deeper. It was the first time anything savouring of reproof to him
had fallen from Monella's lips; and, up to that moment, its possibility
had seemed remote; and now the young man deeply felt the fact that the
other should have thought it necessary.

"I think I know what you would say," he answered in a low voice. "I
feel I have been wrong--guilty of thoughtlessness, presumption, and
seemingly of breach of confidence. I understand what is in your mind.
Yet let me say at once that so far little--practically nothing--has
been said, and nothing more shall be--unless--you can tell me I dare
hope. But oh, my good friend, you who have treated me always as a son,
and shown such sympathy and kindness towards me--who have known of my
half-formed aspirations, and the ideas that led me on and ended in my
coming here, and encouraged me in those ideas--who have learned that in
the king's daughter I have found the living embodiment of the central
figure of all my dreamings--_you_ surely will not now turn upon me and
tell me I must stifle all my feelings, and--give--up--the hopes--that
had arisen--in my heart?" And Leonard sank wearily into a seat.

Then, for the first time realising his actual position, how next
to impossible it was that the king would regard with favour his
pretensions, he placed his hands before his face and groaned aloud.

Monella rose, and, going to him, laid his hand kindly upon his
shoulder.

"I might bring all the arguments and platitudes of the 'worldly-wise'
to bear on you," he said, "but I forbear; and I know they will not
weigh with you. Moreover, it is undeniable that the circumstances are
unusual and unlooked-for. But they do not justify you in forgetting
what you owe to a kingly host and--I may add--to others; to us, your
friends, for instance. You know, also, that our position here is
critical; there is trouble brewing in the land. If the king should
have reason to believe that one of us has abused his confidence in
one matter, he may lose his trust in all, as touching other, and far
more weighty matters--matters that may affect even his own personal
security; to say nothing of our own lives, and those of many of his
subjects. Therefore----"

Leonard sprang up and looked at him imploringly.

"For pity's sake say no more," he said, "or I shall begin to hate
myself. I understand--only too well. Trust me--if you will; if you feel
you can; if you have not lost confidence. You shall not have further
reason for complaint."

Monella took Leonard's hand in his and pressed it affectionately.

"'Tis well, my son," he said. "I have full confidence, and will trust
you. And you, on your side, must trust me. I may have opportunity to
sound the king, and, if it so happen, you may count on me to say and
do all that my friendship for you may dictate--and that will not be a
little."

Leonard wrung the other's hand and tried to thank him, but a burst of
emotion overcame him, and he turned away. When he again looked round he
was alone.



CHAPTER XVII.

THE FIGHT ON THE HILLSIDE.


It had become the custom of the two young men to go every morning,
when the atmosphere was clear, to a height at one end of the valley,
from which a view could be obtained over the whole country surrounding
that end of Roraima. The spot was a level table of rock under a
picturesque group of fir-trees--for on the upper cliffs fir-trees were
numerous--and from it, looking in the direction farthest from the
mountain, the view was grand in the extreme; while, on the other side
of them was the great valley or basin in which lay the lake and the
city of Manoa.

It would be but labour lost to attempt to give an adequate idea of the
prospect over which the eye could travel on a clear day, when one stood
upon this giddy height. It extended to an almost illimitable distance;
for, when one looked beyond the surrounding mountains of the Roraima
range, there were no more hills to break the view till it reached the
far distant Andes, had these been visible. Indeed, it was said that
they _were_ visible on a few days in the year; but, if that were so,
it would perhaps be rather as an effect in the nature of a mirage than
what is usually understood by an actual view of the far-away mountains.
But nearer at hand, in other directions were mountain ridges and
summits in seemingly endless succession, piled up in extraordinary
confusion. From Roraima, as the highest of all, one could look down,
to some extent, upon the others. Myrlanda was upon the other side, but
Marima, and others of the strange group, lay before the eye, and one
could see the woods and lakes upon their summits; but enough could
not be seen to enable the spectator to decide whether they might be
inhabited or not.

The beauty of the expanse of tropical vegetation immediately below was
indeed marvellous. Here the explorers gazed down upon the tops of the
trees of the gloomy forest that girdled the mountain (though not that
part through which they had made their way with so much wearying, but
dogged perseverance), and lo! it was a veritable garden of flowers of
brilliant hue! For the trees beneath which they had crept, like ants
among the stems of a field of clover, were gorgeous above in their
display of blossoms, while shutting out the light from those who walked
below.

Here and there, amid the green, the great cascades and torrents from
the mountain side dashed impetuously from rock to rock; the streams
that were in fact some of the feeders of the greatest of all rivers,
the mighty Amazon; that river of wondrous mysteries, that pursues its
course of four thousand miles through the plains of Brazil, and finds
its way round at last into the Atlantic, there to hurl the volume of
its waters with such force into the sea, that even the ocean waters are
pushed aside to make a path for them hundreds of miles from land!

Here, upon the table of rock, in full view of one of the grandest and
most eloquent natural panoramas it is possible for the mind of man
to conceive, Leonard and Templemore stood the morning following the
former's interview with Monella, looking out upon the scene. A high
wind, of bracing and exhilarating freshness, blew in their faces,
rushed with a roar through the branches above them, swaying the great
trees to and fro, and then, seeming to tear off across the valley at
one leap, continued its wild course amongst the trees on the heights
that lined the further side. Leonard, on turning to look across the
lake, saw Ergalon advancing up the slope and making signs to him. He
drew Jack's attention to the signals, and they both descended the
terraces of rock below to meet him. Here all was quiet; they were
sheltered from the gusts of wind; the roar of the gale no longer met
their ears.

All the time they had been in the city they had had a guard. It
consisted of a file of soldiers with an officer, and they followed the
two young men in all their walks, movements, journeys, never thrusting
themselves on their attention, yet always ready to assist and defend
them, if occasion should arise. Monella, also, had an escort whenever
he went out. He had particularly enjoined on the other two never to
stir abroad without their rifles, and this injunction, though they did
not always see its necessity, they implicitly observed.

They had not seen much of Ergalon of late; he had attached himself
more particularly to Monella, and had, in fact, become his particular
attendant. Monella had trusted him so far as to explain to him
something of the secrets of the firearms, and had instructed him in
the loading of them in case circumstances should arise in which his
assistance might be needed. Accordingly, when Leonard saw him coming up
the hillside and signifying that he wished to speak to them, he at once
called Templemore and left the ledge where they had been standing.

Soon they saw their guard approaching with Ergalon in advance of them,
and, following them, Monella, who came on leisurely from ledge to
ledge, occasionally giving a glance behind him.

The hillside was marked out in terraces, or tables of rock, most of
them covered with greensward and fringed at the sides with belts of
trees. Ergalon, who had taken his stand below, made signs to the two
to come down to him, and, when they had descended within hearing, he
addressed them.

"The lord Monella has sent me to warn you to await him here and to be
ready for a contest. There is trouble afoot."

"But why wait here?" asked Jack. "We will go down to him at once."

Ergalon shook his head.

"No," he said. "He particularly desired that you would await him here."

"So be it; if you are sure you rightly understood him. But tell us,
friend Ergalon, what all this means."

Ergalon explained that Coryon had unexpectedly dispatched a large
force of his soldiers to capture the three strangers. They had hoped
to surprise them without giving time for others of the king's soldiers
to lend their aid. But he (Ergalon) had, through a former comrade who
was still one of Coryon's people, attained intimation of the intended
movement, and had been able thus to warn Monella.

"So the lord Monella," he explained, "sent on your guard in advance,
and then himself walked up the hill towards you that they might see
him. Thus he hoped to draw Coryon's people away from the palace and the
houses to this place, where, he says, it will be better to make a stand
and fight them, since thus no other persons will be injured in the
encounter."

It was strange, but all who spoke of Monella, or to him, gave him some
title of honour or respect. Ergalon called him 'lord.' Even Dakla,
at the meeting in the king's council chamber--spite of his insolent
swagger towards the king--had been awed by this man's look into
addressing him by the equivalent in their language of 'sir.'

"How many are there of them?" asked Jack.

"Oh, a hundred--or perhaps more. But the lord Monella has said their
number matters not; and he sent me to the king to beg that none of his
soldiers should interfere. 'They would only be in the way,' he said.
He sent these extra things for you. See." And he showed a parcel of
cartridges he had brought with him.

"Good," said Jack. "He is quite right. That's all we wanted; we can
answer for the rest. More soldiers would only be in the way; and some
of them would be pretty sure to get hurt, if not killed outright--and
all for nothing. I think I see Monella's idea. It is"--turning to
Elwood--"to take up our position here and shoot them down as they come
across this wide terrace just below us. Not a man of them will ever
cross that stretch alive."

"Here are your guards," observed Ergalon. "The lord Monella desired
that you should place them somewhere where they would be out of the
way, but within call."

"Let them get on to this next ledge, then, just behind us. There they
will have a fine view of everything. Did these people think to surprise
us, do you think, friend Ergalon?"

"No doubt. Your habit of coming here of a morning has been noted, I
suspect, and they had intended, I imagine, to creep round and get up
through the woods unseen. But the lord Monella, being warned by me,
went up on a high rock, where he could see them in the distance; when
they saw they were observed by him, they gave up that plan and came
straight on."

"I see. Well, we owe you something for having warned us, friend."

"It is nothing," Ergalon answered simply. "My life was forfeited that
day, and you spared me; and through the lord Monella and the princess,
I gained the king's pardon. I owe you all my service."

By this time the guards and their officer had arrived, and were placed
by Ergalon on a terrace above and behind that on which the two were
standing.

"We like it not, this mode of yours--putting us in the background, out
of danger, while you stand up in front," observed the officer; "we
consent only because the lord Monella so desires it. They are many, but
we should not shrink; and others from the king's palace would soon come
to our assistance."

"Yes, yes, good Abla. We have no misgivings of your courage. But you
could do no good with so few men--they are more than ten to one, I
hear--and your men would but impede us. Besides, it will give them a
lesson for the future, if we deal with them ourselves, unaided."

Abla bowed and walked away unwillingly, as one who is bound to obey
orders, but does so against his will.

Monella now came in view, and was soon standing by their side. After a
few words of explanation, he said gravely,

"They thought to have surprised us all three up here; but, when they
saw they had failed in that, they took a bold course and came straight
on. Now that means, in effect, an open challenge to the king. It
means," he continued with increased earnestness, "civil war. Civil war,
you understand, has therefore broken out in the land--unless we nip it
in the bud, _here, now_, as we can, if we show no untimely hesitation.
These men are scoundrels of the serpent's brood; cruel, bloodthirsty
tools of the human fiends behind them. They deserve no mercy, no
consideration. Let none be shown to them! My plan is simply to shoot
them down the instant they appear on that ledge below us. They _must_
climb up in front; there is no way round it, nor any means of getting
to the height above us. Therefore, they must cross that piece of open
ground. One word more. The chief, Dakla, leads them. Do not fire at
him. I wish to take him alive, if possible; he will make our best
ambassador hereafter."

Under such conditions the battle could not be a long one. Monella had
chosen his ground skilfully, so as to make the utmost of the advantage
firearms gave him. The black-coated myrmidons of Coryon scaled the
fatal terrace only to be shot down the moment that they came in sight.
There were only four or five places where they could climb up and, at
these, not more than two men could pass together. Those who reached the
top and escaped a bullet, turned back when they heard the explosions of
the firearms, saw the flashes and the smoke, saw also their comrades
fall. Others of those below who could see nothing of what was going on,
swarmed up in their places, only to fall or turn back at once in like
manner; till, in a short time, every man had been up and witnessed the
ghastly sight of the dead and wounded lying around, and had satisfied
himself that not one could cross that level piece of rock to come near
their foes. Finally, the survivors were all seized with panic when one
of the last to show his head above the ridge came back crying out that
"the white demons were coming down after them." At this, all those who
were unhurt turned and fled. But many had fallen, dead or wounded, and
lay at the foot of the rock they had climbed up only to be instantly
shot down. Above, on the terrace itself, but at one side, stood Dakla
and one of his subordinates. These had been amongst the first to appear
above the ledge, and had moved aside to let the men form into line up
on the rock; but now they were left alone, and, when Monella quietly
descended from the rock above, they had the mortification of seeing all
their men who were capable of running disappear in frantic terror down
the hillside.

Then he who stood by Dakla made a rush at Monella with uplifted sword,
thinking, since he seemed to be unarmed, that he would fall an easy
prey; but the man fell with a pistol ball in his breast ere he had gone
half way to meet Monella.

"Now yield, Dakla," Monella called to the other. "It is useless either
to fight or run."

"We will see to that," Dakla exclaimed savagely. "If thou be man, and
not demon, this sword shall find thine heart." And he too made a sudden
rush. But, before he had gone three yards, the sword flew from his hand
and his arm dropped useless by his side. Monella had shot him in the
arm.

"Thou see'st," he said coldly, as he now approached the crestfallen
chief, "how ill-advised thou hast been not to give heed to all my
warnings. I could have slain thee earlier in the fight; I could have
killed thee now, as I did thy friend there; but I have spared thy life.
It is not for thine own sake, but that thou mayest bear a message to
thy master, and witness to him of that which thou hast seen and warn
him once more of the futility of warring against us, the allies of the
king. Dost thou understand?"

The other cast a murderous scowl upon Monella, but made no answer for
a moment. Then, after reflection, he said in a dogged, surly tone,

"So be it. But thou must give thy message quickly and let me go; for
thou hast hurt me sore and the blood flows fast----"

"We will see to thy wound," Monella replied composedly. "Let me bind it
up till we get to the king's palace; there it shall be seen to farther."

And Dakla, reluctantly, and with an ill grace, submitted to have his
wound bound up by his enemy, who, before commencing, took away the
other's dagger.

"I cannot trust thee with these playthings," he observed. "Thou art of
the wolf tribe, Dakla."

Meanwhile, the officer and men of their guard had come down to the
lower terrace, with Templemore and Elwood, and were looking in awe and
horror upon the outcome of the fight--if so one-sided an encounter
could be so called. On Monella and the two young men they gazed in
wonder; and, gradually, they drew away from them in fear, from that
moment treating them with even greater deference than before.

Monella despatched Abla to summon more soldiers from the king's palace
to bring down the dead and wounded; and himself set about attending to
the latter, first handing Dakla over to Templemore.

"Look you!" said Jack to his prisoner, "if you attempt to escape, I
shall not kill you, but hurt your other arm; and, if that does not stop
you, I shall hurt your leg, and I know that that _will_. Do you follow
me?"

Dakla nodded a sour assent; then stood looking with evident surprise at
the trouble Monella was now taking with some of his late enemies. Such
singular behaviour he did not understand, and he shrugged his shoulders
in contempt.

When, after a time, more soldiers, with some officers, arrived upon
the scene, these were at once set to work to bear the dead and wounded
down the hill. Monella followed with his friends and Dakla. The noise
of the firing had brought out great crowds of people, who were now
massed about the palace waiting to receive them. They had watched the
precipitate flight of the survivors of the soldiers of Coryon, and
rejoiced greatly at their defeat. But, when they saw the dead and
wounded, and that Dakla was himself a prisoner, and heard that not one
had been hurt upon the other side, their astonishment was complete.

The king himself, with some of his ministers and officials, came out
to meet the victors; and his gratitude and emotion, when he noted all
these things and greeted Monella and his friends, were profuse and
heartfelt.

"Ye have indeed rendered us a service," he exclaimed, "and taught
Coryon a lesson he will do well to take to heart. I feared me greatly
that harm would come to ye, and that war would follow in the land."

"Nay, we have laid the dogs of war, I trust, at any rate, for the
present," Monella returned, with a grave smile. "They will not attack
us further, I opine, nor brave thee in the future in this rebellious
fashion."

Then they entered the palace, and Ulama came forward to welcome them,
with Zonella and many more.

"We have been in such trouble about you," she said, the tears standing
in her tender eyes, "ever since they told us that over a hundred of
Coryon's people had gone up the rocks to take you. And we heard the
noise of the thunder-wands, and were in great fear, till they told us
that your enemies were fleeing. Then we looked out and saw them rushing
madly down the hill, throwing away their spears, and their helmets, and
even fighting one another in their haste to scramble down the rocks.
Then Abla came and told us you were all safe, and then----"

"Then," said Zonella, "you sat down and wept." And at that Ulama
laughed.

"I fear it is true," she said.



CHAPTER XVIII.

THE LEGEND OF MELLENDA.


Monella's anticipations of what would follow the severe lesson they had
given Coryon's followers turned out to be well founded. For when Dakla,
with his arm in a sling, revisited his master, bearing a message from
the king, the conditions offered were accepted.

Dakla had been straightly charged that these terms would have to be
submitted to; if not that his master and all his followers would be
starved into submission. They would be confined to their own colony,
supplies of food refused, and any of their number leaving their retreat
would be killed at sight.

The conditions imposed were that not merely the three strangers, but
all the 'lay' inhabitants were to be free from molestation by Coryon's
people; and that no more 'blood-tax' was to be levied.

After many journeys to and fro, and much delay, Dakla at last announced
that Coryon agreed to the conditions for a time--for four months. After
that, their great festival would be coming on, and--well, time would
show.

"It is only a truce," said Monella, with a sigh, to his two young
friends. "I would it had been permanent; but it will give us time,
and the opportunity of shaping out our course. The people will have a
respite from the terrible fear that now is ever with them; and, short
of engaging in a protracted civil conflict, for which the people are
not yet prepared, I see not what better could have been arranged."

They were thus now able to move about more freely, and without a
guard; their rifles, too, could be left behind when they went abroad;
though Monella had counselled that they should always carry their
revolvers; for he feared they were not altogether safe from treachery,
or from some fanatical outbreak on the part of certain of the priests'
adherents.

Thus Templemore and Elwood were now able to mingle more freely with the
populace and to see more of their social life. And, wherever they went,
they were well received, and treated with both confidence and respect.
They visited the houses of people of all classes, from the palaces of
the nobles to the dwellings of the peasantry, if so the lower classes
might be called. There were, however, no poor in the country, in the
ordinary sense of the word. The crops grown were supplied to all
alike; every one had plenty to eat, and plenty of clothes to wear, and
well-built houses to live in. And, beyond these requisites, there was
little in the land to pine for. There were forests, and from these
all were free to cut wood for fuel; the electric light was laid on
to all alike. The water they required they supplied themselves with
from the lake, or from one or other of the streams that everywhere
gushed forth from the rocks above. Of shops there were none; but
there was a market-place, and a sort of market or exchange was held
there once a week. Even this, however, was falling into disuse. There
was a currency; and there were many kinds of coins; but they were
seldom used. They were of ancient make and were preserved rather as
curiosities, seemingly, than for use. There was so little that the
people wanted, either to buy or sell, that a simple system of barter
sufficed for practically all their needs.

Elwood and Templemore, as they came to know all these things, and
gained experience of the simple good-nature of the people, felt
increased indignation and resentment against the priests. They saw that
the horrible tyranny of these men had turned a land that might have
been a realm of perfect peace and goodwill, into one where constant
dread and hopeless misery and suffering had become so common, that all
seemed helplessly resigned to it.

One day, when the two were in a boat with Ulama and Zonella, Kalaima,
and others, Templemore, who had been talking of these matters, asked
whether the state of things they had seen had been of long duration.

The reply came from Zonella.

"Ever since the time of the great Mellenda. So we are told. It is
the punishment sent by the Great Spirit upon the people for their
ingratitude to him."

"And who was Mellenda?" asked Elwood.

"What! You ask who was Mellenda? But I forgot; of course, you have not
been here very long, and cannot know our history and legends."

"I have been prying about more in your museums than has my friend,"
Jack observed, "and I have learned something of Mellenda. But I know
nothing of any legend. Pray let us hear it."

"Yes, tell us about it," Leonard urged. "I like fine old legends and
tales of wonder."

"Ask the princess to tell you."

"No, no, Zonella," Ulama interposed. "You began it; you finish it.
Besides, you are more learned in such things than I am."

"Very well," Zonella said resignedly. "I can only give it as I know
it. If you want further details, you must go to the museum, or ask
Colenna, the High Chamberlain, who is a very learned man. Only I do
not wish you to ridicule it"--this to the two young men--"for, though
I call it a legend, yet it is history; and all our people implicitly
believe it. You could not offend them more than by treating it lightly
or affecting to disbelieve it. I give _you_ that as a caution, more
particularly," she added, looking mischievously at Jack, "for I know
that you are very much inclined to scepticism in such things."

"I will promise to be very good, and to make no frivolous remarks," was
Jack's laughing answer.

"Then you must know," Zonella began, "that we deem Mellenda the
greatest of our kings; that is, of our later kings. Our ancient line
of kings before him had made Manoa the greatest, the most powerful,
and the richest country of the world. These mountains that you have
seen around us were all islands in a great lake--the lake of Parima.
Its waters extended to the great mountains that we can sometimes see
from the highest points about Manoa--far, far away. But over those, and
over lands in every direction, our nation held sway. These islands were
our chief fastnesses, and this one, Manoa, being the highest and the
most naturally favoured of them all, was the seat of government, and
its city was the capital to which were brought all the wealth and the
most valued productions of the other countries that formed part of its
empire.

"But, after many mighty kings had lived and died, a weakness seemed to
fall upon the people. They were defeated in battle; provinces revolted,
and many distant parts of the empire were lost, passing under other
kings. At that time, it is said, our kings and nobles and chiefs among
the nation were too much given to feasting and enjoyment; and, it is
declared, they began cruelly to oppress the weaker of the people. And a
change came over the religion. Up to then all had worshipped only one
Great Spirit, who was said to be a good Spirit--the great ruler of all
spirits, in fact, and his priests were called 'Children of the Light.'
Their rule--what they taught--was gentle; it is recorded that they
were men of peace and of great--very, very great--wisdom. But another
religion had been introduced, coming, it is believed, from some of the
lands that had been conquered; and this was the exact opposite of the
old one. Its votaries and high priests called themselves 'Children of
the Night'; they worshipped, not one God, but many strange and terrible
gods; their priests, also, were thought to possess great wisdom, but
of an evil kind. They taught that there was but one way to escape the
power of the Spirits of Darkness, and that was by propitiating them by
constant sacrifices; and they killed many people at their festivals to
give them to their gods.

"Then Mellenda came to the throne. He was the only son of the last of
the ancient line of kings. While young he had travelled far and gained
much knowledge in strange countries; and he had already, as general
of some of his father's armies, defeated the enemies of the country,
and regained some of the lost provinces. His father was killed in
battle, and Mellenda immediately set about plans for reviving the old
power and recovering the former empire of the nation. He taught, too,
that the White religion was the true religion, and he made endeavours
to put down the other. But he was absent for long periods at a time,
upon distant expeditions, from which, it is true, he always returned
victorious; but, while he was away, establishing peace and order
in some distant province, the Dark Priests were craftily at work
undermining his authority at home. However, for a long time, nothing
came of their plottings, and Mellenda reigned for several hundred
years----"

"That's a long time," Jack interrupted, regardless of his promise.

"For several hundred years," repeated Zonella with a reproving look
at the interrupter, "which was not very long, considering that his
father had reigned for fifteen hundred years, and was then cut off,
in the flower of his age, by an accident in battle. He (Mellenda)
had restored peace at last throughout the whole empire; reformed the
style of living, himself setting an example of great simplicity; and
his wisdom and justice and kindness of heart had made him revered and
loved wherever the name of Manoa was known. Then, finally, he married
a princess he was passionately fond of, named Elmonta, and had four
children, upon whom, they say, he lavished the most tender love. But
some occasion arose for him to leave Manoa once more, to visit a
distant part of his great empire. There was a treaty of alliance to be
made with another monarch, or some such matter of importance. He sailed
away and returned after a long absence, to find that Coryon----"

"Coryon!" exclaimed Jack, once more forgetful of his promises.

"Yes, Coryon, the same Coryon, as is believed, that we have here in the
land to-day. He had seized upon the government and gained over a vast
number of the most dissolute and discontented spirits to his side. He
was then, as now, the chief of the Dark Brotherhood, or Children of the
Night. All the crowd of idle, self-indulgent nobles and men of wealth,
but of loose life, among the people, whom Mellenda had rebuked and
curbed, broke out and joined Coryon's revolt; and they actually seized
upon Elmonta, Mellenda's queen, and his children, and offered them as
sacrifices to their gods. Coryon set up a king of his own choosing;
and, when Mellenda returned, he found his wife and children dead, and
the government in the hands of a puppet king controlled by Coryon, who
threatened him with death if he landed and fell into his hands. Such
was the message sent out to Mellenda when he arrived in sight of our
island on his return, successful in the mission that had called him
away, and impatient to get back to his wife and children. He had with
him a great fleet of vessels; and, though the revolt had spread to
the other islands, he could, perhaps, have found followers enough in
other parts of the empire to have regained his throne, had he been so
minded. But he was broken-hearted, and said that, since his wife and
children were no longer living, he had nothing left to fight for, and
cared not to take part in a civil war with his own people. Instead, he
decreed that their punishment should be that he (Mellenda) would go
away and leave them for many ages to suffer under the lash of the foul
religion they had supported; till all who had sinned against him saw
their wicked error, when he would return to punish finally the Dark
Priests and those who still wilfully supported them. Then, and for ever
afterwards, there should be peace and happiness and justice throughout
the land for all his people.

"So Mellenda sailed away, and was never seen or heard of more. Not long
after his departure came the great sinking of the waters, and the lake
of Parima disappeared. This the better-disposed inhabitants left here
regarded as a special punishment for their allowing Coryon to usurp
the government and drive away the great, good, and wise Mellenda. And
they rose up against Coryon and the king he had set up. But the crafty
priest had obtained too strong a position for the movement to succeed.
Moreover, he managed to pacify a part of his opponents in a strange
way. He declared he had not put to death all Mellenda's children, and
produced a boy, who, it is said, was recognised by those who ought to
know as one of Mellenda's children. This child he promised to place
upon the throne; and afterwards he did so.

"The nation, shut off from all the world, has much decreased in
numbers, and is now unknown where it was once all-powerful. For
centuries, it is said, the surrounding country was but a chaos of swamp
and mud. By degrees there grew up vegetation, and finally trees that,
in time, became thick, tangled forests that could not be penetrated.
Thus, for long ages, we have been cut off from all the other peoples
of the world. Some parties were sent out, hundreds of years ago, to
explore the surrounding country; but some never returned, and those
who did brought back such terrible accounts of awful woods haunted
by fearful creatures, and of deserts beyond, inhabited only by black
demons, that it was considered better to keep the country here entirely
to ourselves. So I believe the only known way that led out into the
woods was sealed up for good; and thus ended the last attempt to
communicate with the outside world.

"Many of the White Priests fled to Mellenda's vessels, and were taken
away with him when he departed; but the others, including their chief,
Sanaima, retired to Myrlanda, where they have ever since maintained
themselves.

"That is the story of Mellenda, and of how he left us, and of what
befell the proud city of Manoa after his departure. When he will come
back we know not; but some old prophecies obtain amongst the people
according to which the time of his return is very near, if it is not
indeed overpast."

"His return!" said Jack. "You surely would not have us understand
that you expect this venerable old fossil to return, in the flesh,
to trouble himself about the present state of the descendants of his
ungrateful people?"

Zonella stared.

"Why, _of course_ we do!" she answered. "There is not a man or a
woman--scarcely a child of a few years old--that has not been taught to
believe in it."

"I should think so," Ulama exclaimed, almost indignantly. "We all
_know_ it will be so; we believe it absolutely."

"But," said Jack, "how long ago do you reckon all this took place?"

"About two thousand years," Zonella replied, after a brief, but
apparently careful, calculation, counting up on her fingers.

"Two thousand years! And you--you two sensible young people--tell us
you expect to see this badly-treated, but respectable, old gentleman
turn up again, just much as usual, I suppose, after two thousand years!"

"Why not?" Ulama asked. "We have Coryon and Sanaima, both said to be
older than that."

"Yes--but"--looking at Leonard--"I fancy that is like the Pharoahs of
old, you know, where there was always a Pharoah on the throne, though
kings were born and died. It would be easy to keep up a farce of that
sort where, as here, the 'High Priest,' black or white, is so seldom
visible--always in the background."

"But if the king is three hundred and forty, may it not be possible to
live to two thousand, or more? I can point out many men of more than
five hundred in the king's palace," observed Zonella.

The gentle Ulama, even, looked somewhat offended.

"We do not question the wonderful things you tell us about the world
outside," she said. "Why should you question what we know to be true?"

"It seems to me," said Leonard, "that it all depends upon the virtues
of the 'Plant of Life.' Now, if that herb, or plant, or whatever it
is, really has the qualities attributed to it, why, the rest is easy
enough."

"I admit that," Jack said, laughing. "When once that is conceded, a
man may just as easily live to five thousand years. Only, even in that
case, I see a difficulty. How would Mellenda get the necessary 'Plant
of Life' away from here?"

"The White Priests who went away with him would not be likely to leave
their secret behind," explained Zonella. "Besides, it is specially
stated in our historical manuscripts--so Colenna has told me--that
those who went out from the island for long periods--governors of
distant provinces and the like--not only took a large supply of the
dried plant with them, but seeds that they might grow it; and in some
places they found the plant do well; though they kept its virtues a
secret from the peoples they went amongst. These things would be known
to Mellenda and to the White Priests who went away with him; and,
probably, they settled in a place where they knew the plant was being
grown."

"Were that so, it would explain something of the former far-reaching
fame and power of a small nation of islanders like these," said
Leonard. "The secret of such a plant--the rapid increase of population
when there were so few deaths in proportion--would of course give them
a long pull over other nations."

"As to the question whether we seriously expect Mellenda to return
to us," resumed Zonella, "in the large museum you will see one of
his suits of armour, his banner, and a celebrated sword of his, all
kept bright and ready for use and well preserved. They are kept there
waiting for him."

"I saw them," Jack remarked. "He must have been a big fine man, if that
suit fitted him. But, to go back to the son of this great king, said to
have been saved after all, and then put on the throne; did he have any
descendants?"

Zonella nodded.

"There have been five kings in the direct line since."

"I see. So that the present king is----"

"A great-great-great-grandson of the great Mellenda," put in Ulama.

"I think it was rather fortunate you managed as you did when you came
here," Zonella said after a pause; "for, if Coryon had been the first
to know of you strangers being in the country, he would have striven
in every way to have killed or captured you. They say he is a firm
believer in the early coming of Mellenda, and is in mortal terror about
it."

Jack was silent awhile, and then he observed drily,

"Well, all I can say is that I should very much like to see the good
gentleman, if he is still about; and I only hope and wish he will
arrive while we are here. If he has been travelling around all these
years, by this time he must know a thing or two! I wonder whether he
will come in a balloon!"



CHAPTER XIX.

HOPES AND FEARS.


Amongst other advantages of the peace or truce that had been arranged
with the mysterious Coryon, one was that Elwood and Templemore were
free to visit the canyon and the caves where their reserve stores lay,
and assure themselves that they were all safe. To do this they had to
arrange to be away one night, since it was a day's journey each way.
That night they passed in the cavern--which they had named 'Monella
Cave' in honour of their friend; the canyon itself they called 'Fairy
Valley'--and their camp equipage being all found intact where they
had hidden it away, they had everything at hand for making themselves
comfortable. They found, on examination, that the stone that closed
the entrance was in the same position as when they had left it. Having
removed the wooden bars, they rolled it to one side, and looked out
into the gloomy depths of Roraima Forest.

From this outlook Templemore turned back with a shudder of disgust.

"How I hate that forest!" he exclaimed. "How miserable it seems out
there! Verily it is wonderful, if you come to think of it, that we ever
had the patience and perseverance to cut our way through to this place."

"We never should have done so, but for Monella's influence," observed
Leonard. "How strange it all seems, doesn't it? Now that we are back
here, we could almost think all we have been through a dream. One thing
is certain; no other party of explorers would ever work their way
through this wood as we did; they would get disheartened before the end
of the first week. Nor could they possibly do any good by persevering,
unless they had that to guide them which Monella had. What is that
piece of white over there?"

And Leonard indicated a white patch upon a tree-trunk at the edge of
the clearing.

Templemore took out his glasses and looked through them.

"It's a piece of paper," he cried excitedly. "Some one's been here! We
must go out and inquire into this!" The ladder was quickly got out, and
they hurried down it and across the clearing to the tree that bore the
unexpected _affiche_. But, though the paper must have been purposely
nailed in its place it was blank; on opening it, however, they found
a few straight lines that formed a somewhat vague resemblance to the
letter M.

"Matava has been here!" Leonard cried out. "All he can do in the
writing line is to make some marks that mean M--his own initial, you
know. Poor fellow! Fancy his venturing here to seek for us!"

The paper had been folded many times, the 'M' being in the inside;
and it had been nailed just under an overhanging piece of bark, as a
protection from the weather.

"He must have executed this elaborate piece of penmanship at 'Monella
Lodge'," said Jack, "and brought it with him in case his journey here
should be in vain. He's a good fellow! Knowing, as we do, how he and
all his tribe abhor this wood and the mountain, we can appreciate
the devotion that led him to screw up his courage so far. And then to
have come for nothing! It's too bad, poor chap! What a pity we could
not have got down here and seen him! Plainly he had some hope we might
return, or he would not have left this simple yet ingeniously contrived
message for us!"

"His hope would be but a faint one at best," Leonard replied gravely.
"Having been here and found the entrance fast closed, and after our
failing to make any signals, as arranged, I fear he will carry back an
alarming tale to Georgetown."

"I fear so too, Leonard," Jack assented very seriously. "They will be
terribly alarmed about us; worse than if he had gone straight back
without coming here."

That evening, after they had cooked their evening meal, they sat by the
smouldering fire, both silent and both thoughtful. Jack smoked away
moodily at his pipe; Leonard was absolutely idle, except that he turned
his eyes, now on the glow of failing daylight overhead, then down at
the scene around him.

Each knew what was in the other's mind; yet neither liked to be the
first to speak of it. But at last Jack spoke.

"It's no use blinking the fact, Leonard," he began, "that this visit
of Matava here and the account he is sure to carry back is a serious
matter. Our friends will be more than alarmed; they will, perhaps, give
us up for dead. This raises the whole question again, What are we going
to do here, how long are we going to stay, and what about getting back?
We can't stay here for ever--at least, _I_ certainly don't mean to. I
don't like the idea of going away and leaving you here. Where are we
drifting to?"

Leonard was gloomy. He had been so more or less ever since that
conversation with Monella about Ulama. For a few minutes he made no
reply; then said, with a tinge of bitterness in his tone,

"You must wait awhile, Jack. I am not prepared to say yet, but--it may
be I shall be ready to clear out soon with you."

Jack raised his eyebrows and gave a brief, but keen, glance at his
friend. Then he smoked on stolidly for a while and ruminated.

"There's one who will never go back with us," presently he went on,
"and that's Monella. He spoke truly when he said he should never
return to 'civilisation.' He seems to have resolved to make his home
here for the future. He is now the king's right hand--his 'guide,
counsellor, and friend,' with him constantly, except when he's away
in the place they call Myrlanda, on some mysterious business. And,
perhaps, the oddest thing of all is that he is the most popular man at
the court--even with those he has, in a sense, displaced. You would
think there would be all kinds of envy, and hatred, and jealousy, and
counter-plotting, and general 'ructions,' when a stranger, suddenly
come from goodness knows where, stepped upon the scene and became
straight away the favourite and confidant and counsellor of the king!
Yet, the more he takes that character upon himself, the more they all
seem to like him!"

"Who can help liking him?" Leonard sighed. "Who can help loving him?
Even where he reproves, he does it so tenderly you only love him the
more for it. How can any one feel jealous, or angry, or envious with a
man who behaves to all as he does? For myself I do not wonder; he was
born to be a leader of men, as I said long ago; he has that magnetic
attraction that makes a great commander--a commander who inspires such
devotion that thousands and hundreds of thousands are ready to give
their lives for but a glance of approval or a word of praise. There
can't be many such men at this moment in the world; there cannot have
been many since the world was made. But, when such a man appears, he
quickly spreads his influence around him."

Jack gave a little laugh; but not an ill-natured one.

"You are as full as ever of enthusiasm for your hero," he remarked,
"though he _has_ been a sort of cold shower-bath to you lately, eh?"

Leonard coloured, and shifted uneasily on his seat.

"How did you know that?" he asked.

"I guessed it, old man. In fact, I saw the 'cold shower-bath' in his
eye that day--you know."

"Yes--perhaps you are not far out, Jack. However, I promised to leave
things in his hands, and there they must remain at present. Of his
regard for me I have no doubt whatever--or for us both. If he cannot do
the almost impossible, I shall accept my fate, and try to bear it as
well as may be. Let us say no more about it now."

Jack, who for all his usual habit of appearing somewhat unobservant,
could see most things, thought he could have told his friend of some
one else who was displaying signs of unhappiness under Monella's 'cold
shower-bath' treatment--Ulama, to wit. She had become very quiet and
grave of late; and, indeed, the fresh, childish gaiety she had shown
during the first few days after their arrival had disappeared. But
Jack discreetly decided to keep these thoughts to himself, and let
events take their course. He knew that they were in the keeping of a
head wiser and more far-seeing than his own--Monella's. Of late they
had seen comparatively little of him; he was most of his time either
closeted with the king, or had gone, it was said, to Myrlanda, to visit
Sanaima, the chief of the 'White Priests.' On these occasions he would
be away for two or three days together. Yet, whenever either of the
young men chanced to run against him--or, if they met at the king's
table--they found no alteration in his manner. Indeed, he showed, if
anything, increased kindliness in both his words and actions, often
going out of his way to do some little thing, in a manner all his own,
to show, before whoever might be present, his cordial feelings towards
them. For the rest, he had the air of one whose mind is charged with
anxious and weighty thoughts, and both Templemore and Elwood _felt_
rather than knew that he was occupied with fears of trouble in the
future.

One morning, a few days after the visit to the canyon, Monella invited
Leonard to walk out with him, and they went together to the place they
had named 'Monella's Height.'

The day was clear and bright, and a slight breeze came sighing through
the tree-tops. The scene around was full of soft repose, soothing and
curiously satisfying to the mind. But Leonard noticed it not to-day;
his heart beat fast, and his colour came and went, for something in
Monella's manner told him that he was about to hear a statement of
moment on the subject that was always uppermost in his thoughts. He
tried to brace himself to bear the worst, if it must come; but his
effort was not too successful.

"My son," Monella presently began, "I promised to speak with you, when
I could, upon the matter we talked about one day. Is your mind still
the same concerning it?"

Was it? Did he need to ask? Leonard impulsively replied. And he
launched into a rhapsody that need not here be given at length. Monella
listened in silence till the young man had finished, and then went on,

"Have you considered whether your wish is a wise--a final one? That,
were it granted, you must remain here for good? Never to return to your
own people?"

"Why, never?" Leonard asked. "In the future--one day, perhaps----"

Monella shook his head.

"You must clearly understand," he said, "that that cannot be. I have
told you all along that I never expected to return from my journey
here; and now I know that I shall never leave this place. And you
and your friend--you will have ere long to decide either to stay
here for good, or leave for good. If you elect to go, the king will
send you away rich--so rich that you will no more need to strive for
wealth; if to stay, he will give you posts of honour where you can
profitably employ yourselves in helping me in the great task I have
set myself--the teaching of the true religion of the one great God to
these my people; for"--he continued, when Leonard looked up at him in
surprise--"it is true that I am one of this nation by descent, and that
I have, therefore, 'after many days,' only wandered back to mine own
people. But I have seen too much of the world outside to love it; my
people desire to keep to themselves, and I can only, from what I have
seen and experienced, confirm them in that wish. I cannot find it in
my conscience to do otherwise. Therefore, we are resolved that there
shall be no intercourse between us and the great world beyond. It is
useless to say more upon the subject; it is settled beyond all reach
of argument or discussion. Hence, it will be necessary for both you
and your friend to decide whether to remain and cast in your lot with
us for your whole future lives, or to say farewell and return--but
not empty-handed--to your own people. It is a serious and weighty
matter for you to decide; therefore should not be settled hastily. Nor
is there any need for haste; take as long as you please to think it
over. Wait awhile, till you have seen more of the place, and have come
to know the people better. Or wait until"--here the speaker's voice
became impressive well-nigh to sternness--"until I shall have stamped
out this serpent brood that hath too long held this fair land in its
loathsome coils. Then shall ye see a new era here--an era of peace, and
cheerfulness, and godliness--and ye shall see that it is good to dwell
in such a country."

"I do not believe that any amount of reflection can alter my wishes in
this matter," Leonard answered earnestly. "Painful as the thought of
never seeing my friends again would be, yet it would be still harder
to leave here and never look again on her my heart has chosen for its
queen--aye, for years before I saw her. No! Now that fate has led me to
her, nothing in this world shall part us--if the decision rests with
me."

Monella regarded the young man fixedly, and there were both affection
and admiration in his glance. Very handsome Leonard looked, with the
light in his open honest eyes, and the flush upon his cheek. Then
Monella's look waxed overcast as from a passing shadow, and he made
answer, with a sigh,

"Youth, with its hopes and aspirations, when they come from honest
promptings, is always fair to look upon; more's the pity that these
aspirations all lead to but one end--sorrow, and disappointment, and
weariness. Verily, all is vanity, vanity! We travel by different roads,
but we all arrive at the same goal." He looked dreamily away across
the landscape to the far distant horizon; then continued, as though
talking to himself: "Yet youth pleases, because it desires to live in
love--and love is God and Heaven in one. It is the principal of the
only two things--it and memory--we carry with us in our passage from
this life to the next. Love and memory are two great indestructible
attributes of the human soul. True, we take with us our 'character,'
as it may be called, but that counts little, unless it be founded upon
love. And memory is the ever-living witness showing forth whether our
life here has been influenced mainly by selfishness, or ambition, or
hate, or cruelty, or--love. For only the love shall live and flourish
again; all the rest shall wither and die. Ye hear of 'undying hate,'
but there is no such thing. All hates, even, die out at last; love only
lives for ever and can never die."

He paused, and remained for a space gazing into the distance. Finally,
he turned again to Leonard.

"Come with me, and find your friend; I have that to show you that I
wish you seriously to consider."

They walked together down the hill. Meanwhile he continued,

"You say your mind is made up, if the decision rests with you. Well,
nominally, it rests with the king, of course; but, in reality, I
suspect, in this case with the maiden herself. The king is too fond of
her--too anxious for her happiness--to desire to thwart her wishes. And
he has remarked of late that she is not as she used to be; that she has
fits of sadness and melancholy. Her state alarms him. I think, perhaps,
he fears it may be the first sign of what is called here the 'falloa.'
But," looking at Leonard with a half-smile, "I suspect there is a
remedy for her disease, whereas there is none known for the 'falloa.'"

When Leonard heard these words his heart and pulses bounded, and he
felt indeed as though walking upon air. Nor did he forget what he owed
in the matter to his friend. His breast swelled with gratitude, and he
poured out his thanks with a rush of words that stopped only when he
caught sight of Templemore coming towards them.

Leonard ran to meet him, and somewhat incoherently explained what
Monella had been saying, while Monella led the way to his own
apartments in the palace.

When they were seated there he went over again most of what he had
impressed on Leonard--for Jack had understood but little of Elwood's
impetuous talk--and added,

"Now I want you to advise your friend and consult with him, lest he
should decide too hastily; and that must not be. I also must speak
further with the king. You see," he continued gravely, "this is a
serious thing. The king's son-in-law will look forward to be king one
day; therefore he must not be lightly chosen. Again, to choose one of
an alien race is no small thing. For myself, I am free from any worldly
prejudices about birth, and 'family,' and 'royal blood,' and all that
vain, foolish cant. And the king is of the same mind, and wants only to
choose for his child the one who pleases her, provided he is worthy.
For that I have passed my word to him. I have lived long upon the earth
and have consorted with many men; thus I have learned to judge of
character and disposition. And I have met none to whom I would sooner
trust a daughter of mine own, than to our friend here. On that point,
therefore, I have been able to satisfy the king; and fate seems to have
settled the rest beforehand. For, incredible as the sceptic may regard
it, these two had met in visions long before they encountered one
another in the flesh. Thus, in the present, as in the past, fate points
the way, and so it will be in the future. For no one can escape his
destiny. For good or ill, each has a destiny prepared for him, and that
destiny he must perforce fulfil."



CHAPTER XX.

THE MESSAGE OF APALANO.


The furniture in use in the city of Manoa, in material and style, was
not unlike that found in Japan. That in the palace was of exquisite
design and finish, much of it inlaid with gold and silver. It was such
a cabinet that Monella now unlocked: he took from it a parchment roll.

"This," said he, "is the document I gave the king the first day he
received us. Now, of course, it belongs to him; but I have borrowed
it, temporarily, to show you. It was written by Apalano, the last
descendant of those 'White Priests' who fled this country ages ago
with the king Mellenda. In some of the old parchments in my possession
it is described how those who thus went away found the empire going
everywhere to pieces, and falling a prey to barbaric hordes of black
or red or cruel white races; and how they eventually took refuge in
the secluded valley high up amongst the peaks of the Andes, of which
I have already spoken to you, and dwelt there through many centuries.
They had brought with them, and succeeded in cultivating, the 'Plant
of Life,' or 'karina'; but, notwithstanding--and albeit it made them
all long-lived--the fatal disease, the 'falloa,' claimed them one after
another, till Apalano and I alone were left. Then the 'falloa' laid
its withering hand upon Apalano also; he lost his last child, and that
affected him very deeply; for, before he died, he wrote this strange
letter which tells all about myself that I know with certainty; yet
hints, as you will see, at still more to be learned in the future. I
will read it to you:--

  "'TO SANAIMA, THE CHIEF WHITE PRIEST OF MANOA. OR, IF DEAD, HIS
      DESCENDANT OR SUCCESSOR. OR TO THE REIGNING KING OF MANOA,
      GREETING.

  "'I, Apalano, the last of the descendants of the White Priests who
  fled with the great King Mellenda, do commend to your care the
  bearer of this letter, he whom ye will know by the name of Monella.
  He is, after myself, the sole survivor of our race outside thy land
  of Manoa. Treat him with all courtesy, respect and confidence,
  for he is of royal descent, and the unsullied blood of thine
  ancient line of kings flows in his veins. Mark well his counsels,
  give heed to his warnings, and observe his rulings; for he comes
  to restore the true religion of the Great Spirit, and to bring
  peace and happiness to our land. Long years ago he did receive a
  grievous injury to the head in combat with a savage foe. This cast
  a shadow upon his memory of the past, so that he knoweth naught
  of what went before, and his former life is blank, save for some
  vague passing glimpses that, at rare times, come back to him in
  the guise of dreams and visions. We could have told him much of
  all that went before, but we have refrained;--first for that he
  might not have rightly comprehended what we had to tell, and next,
  in mercy; for he hath suffered much. It was deemed best that the
  recollections of his sufferings should sleep until the time for his
  awakening should arrive, when the work for which the Great Spirit
  hath appointed him shall lie before him and shall form his sorrow's
  antidote and comfort.

  "'The memory that hath untimely been suspended--for we know that it
  may not be destroyed--perchance may be restored to its full power
  by such an accident as wrecked it; but, failing that, there is but
  one sure treatment--namely, to drink of the infusion of the herb
  called 'trenima' that groweth in Myrlanda and nowhere else. Let the
  stranger Monella, that bringeth this to thee, drink of 'trenima'
  in accordance with the rules I have laid down for him upon another
  scroll; let him, for some weeks, take of it sparingly even as I
  have written; then more frequently, and lo! all his past life,
  now hidden, shall be revealed to him, the sun shall light up the
  recesses of his memory, and he shall know himself and what lies
  before him.

  "'And my dying eyes, though unable yet to pierce the future, still
  can see that his coming amongst you shall be in itself a sign
  of the truth of these my words. When he shall appear to you I
  know not; only that it will be at the time the Great Spirit hath
  appointed--not an hour sooner nor an hour behind that time--ay, not
  one minute. And herein ye shall read a message from the Almighty
  Spirit, and ye shall know that Monella's coming at that special
  time was marked out by the hand of Destiny. And ye shall find upon
  his body marks whose meaning will be known unto Sanaima, or to him
  on whom hath fallen his mantle.

  "'With my greeting, I bid ye now farewell--ye unto whom this
  scroll shall be delivered--my first and last message to the land
  of my forefathers, and to those that now rule there. Through many
  centuries we, a faithful few, have kept your memory and our love
  for you green in our hearts; and I and those who have been with me
  had hoped, as the appointed time drew near, that the Great Spirit
  would have deigned to grant to us to see our ancient city and our
  native land. But it was not to be; all have gone save me and him
  who brings you this; but in him I send the blessing that we have
  preserved and nursed for you through long years of persecution and
  despair.

  "'If ye would return our love and care for you, I pray you show
  them unto him we send. I know that he is worthy of them; and,
  further, that in his own breast he bears for you the sum of all the
  love we in our own persons would have shown, had we been spared to
  greet ye--I and those who have preceded me to the land of the Great
  Spirit.

    "'Farewell!
      "'APALANO.'"

When Monella had finished reading this strange letter, he leaned his
chin upon his hand and fell into a reverie, Leonard and Templemore
meanwhile looking on in silence. Presently Monella roused himself, and,
with a deep-drawn sigh, passed his hand across his forehead with a look
of pain. His action was as though he had half-caught some flitting
thought or memory, that had, after all, eluded him; and that the effort
to retain it had cost him mental pain. After a short interval he said,
with one of his rare smiles and in the musical voice that captivated
every one, so full were they of kindliness,

"Now you know as much about me as I know myself. I did not show you
this before, because I had been charged to hand it only to those to
whom it was addressed; and this is the first opportunity I have since
had, for the king sent it to Sanaima, who returned it only a day or
two ago. But, since you must now consider seriously the question of
your going or remaining, it is right that you should know all I can
tell you of myself. It is very little; yet sufficient to explain my
present feelings. You can understand, now that you have read that
letter, that I am now, with all my heart and soul, one with these
people. I look at everything from their point of view; I consider only
their interest, their welfare, their safety, their advantage. If you
shall elect to remain with us--to become one of us--you shall find me
ever a staunch friend who will do all he can to make you feel at home
amongst us, and will place you in positions of great honour. If, on the
other hand, you prefer to leave us, you shall not go without such marks
of the king's favour as are beyond, perhaps, your dreams. These are the
alternatives that lie before you. Take time to ponder them; there is,
as I have already told you, no need for an immediate decision."

When, after leaving Monella, the two were once more alone together,
Leonard burst out with the thought that filled his mind,

"I scarcely know how to express my feelings. I am full of sadness and
yet of joy, and I know not which predominates."

"I know what it will be," said Jack gloomily. "You will stay, and I
shall have to return alone. What excuse I shall give to people for
leaving you here--dead to them and to the world for ever--or whether
I shall ever be forgiven for appearing to have deserted you, God only
knows. I wish you would think a little upon all this. For the rest,
I congratulate you with all my heart. To be the future king of so
ancient and remarkable a nation, is a piece of 'luck' that does not
fall to everybody. By Jove!" he exclaimed with increasing earnestness,
"upon my word I don't wonder at your going in for it--indeed, if--that
is--well, if I had not already set my mind upon something else, I
would chuck up the world in general and throw in my lot with you and
be your--your Prime Minister--or State Engineer--or some other high
functionary." And he laughed good-naturedly at the ideas the suggestion
called up in his mind.

"Don't let us meet trouble half way," said Leonard hopefully. "The time
of parting is not yet; who knows what may turn up? Monella may make us
some concession that will meet the case. And now look here. I have been
thinking of a plan for sending a message home."

Jack stared.

"How on earth?" he asked.

"It won't be much of a message, and perhaps it will never reach home;
but we can try. Let us find a place where we can get a view in the
direction of 'Monella Lodge' and watch at night for camp fires out on
the far savanna. We must find a spot screened from observation on this
side. Then we will bring some powder up from our stores, and flash some
signals as Monella had arranged."

"But what good will that do? Even if they are seen it will only be by
Indians who will not understand them."

"Never mind. If any Indians see them they are sure to spread the news
about; and probably the first place to hear of it will be Daranato, the
Indian village where my old nurse Carenna lives. Matava may have told
her about the signals, or even other Indians. At any rate, she will be
pretty sure to hear of them and let Matava know when he returns; or
perhaps even send a message down by some one going to the coast, to say
that signals had been seen that showed we were alive on the summit of
Roraima."

Jack reflected.

"Yes!" he presently said slowly. "Yes. There is something in the idea.
We will try it; it can do no harm. But, to be of any good, we shall
have to signal frequently; once or twice would not be of much use."

"Precisely. Before long, Matava will be back from the coast, and will
hear of them, and will come out on to the savanna at night to see them
for himself. And he would watch night after night with an Indian's
patience till he saw them."

"Yes; I suppose Monella won't object? We ought not to do it without
his consent. But for that awful forest, we might even go farther; we
might make an expedition for a week or two, and get to 'Monella Lodge'
and leave a letter there; or even to Daranato, and leave letters to be
taken to the coast by the first Indians going that way."

"No, we can't manage that, nor would Monella like us to be away so
long. You never know what trouble might turn up here with these priests
and their vile crew. And that reminds me of that letter Monella read
to-day. What did you think of it?"

"An extraordinary letter! Really, I feel almost inclined to go back to
my former idea that Monella and his friends were all mad together!"

Leonard stared aghast.

"What! You speak of that again?" he exclaimed, real indignation in his
tones. "After the way everything has come out--after all Monella's
kindness----"

Jack stopped him with a smile and a touch of his hand on the other's
arm.

"Put the brake on, old man," he said. "I don't mean anything
disrespectful. But if Monella, who already seems to have been about
the world and to have seen as much as three ordinary men of three
score years and ten--if the point to which his memory reaches is only
a portion of his life--why, you see, he must be Methuselah, or the
Wandering Jew himself, or some other mythical being. Already, he has
puzzled me, times enough, with his extraordinary tales; at the same
time you cannot doubt his absolute sincerity. So that if his 'complete'
memory is to go back farther still, why--Heaven help us!--we sha'n't
know whether we are on our heads or our heels."

After a short silence Leonard spoke.

"But, if they had this 'Plant of Life' with them--those he was
with--would that not in part account for it?"

"It might; but it is making large demands on one's credulity. But what
I really mean is this. I am inclined, at times, to think Monella a bit
mad. He has a religious mania; he has persuaded himself--and evidently,
from that letter, has been encouraged by others to believe it--that
he has a religious mission to these people. Well, no harm in _that_,
you say. No; and that he is honourable, upright, sincere, I feel very
certain. Still, he may be self-deceived. He seems to me to be one of
those fervidly religious mystics who can persuade themselves into
almost anything."

"Yet he is no fanatic. See how mild and gentle he can be; how slow to
anger, how just in his discrimination between right and wrong!"

"I admit all that. Still, I repeat, he might easily deceive himself."

That afternoon Leonard sought out Ulama and asked to be allowed to row
her on the lake; and to this she smiled a glad assent. When he had
rowed the boat out a long distance from the shore, he laid down the
oars, and let her drift. A gentle breeze was blowing, and this served
to temper the ardour of the waning sun.

"Do you remember the last time we were thus alone, Ulama?" presently he
asked her.

"Indeed I do," she answered, her cheek, that had of late been very
pale, now glowing with a rosy flush. "But I began to think _you_ had
forgotten, and were never going to take me out again."

"Ah! It was not my fault, Ulama."

"Whose else could it be?" she asked.

"Well--I cannot tell you now. But, if you remember the occasion, do you
remember also what we spoke of?"

The colour deepened in the maiden's face. She bent her head and fixed
her eyes dreamily upon the water; and one hand dropped over the boat's
side, as on that day of which he had reminded her.

"I then said," he went on, "that I loved you dearly, and asked
you whether you could love me in return. And you said you did not
understand such love as I described to you. Do you remember?"

"Yes; I remember," she said softly. "But then I said I could scarce
credit such sudden love for me; and that you might change. And it seems
you have, for, since then, you have never told me that you loved me."

He seized her hand.

"No, Ulama," he cried passionately, "it was not so. I have not altered.
But I feared--that--well, that your father might be angered. 'Twas for
that reason that I spoke no more to you of love."

"In that you did my father wrong," she answered frankly. "My father
loves me far too well to cause me pain and----"

"Ah! Then--would it pain you were I to go away from here and never see
you more?"

She started, and a look of mingled fear and grief came into her eyes.

"You are--not--going away?" she faltered anxiously.

"Not if you bid me stay, Ulama. If you but whisper in my ear that
you may come to love me--if only a little--then I will stay--stay
on always--forget my country, my own people, my friends; give up
everything, and live for you--for you alone, my sweet, my gentle Ulama;
my beloved Ulama!"

Gradually her head sank until it rested on her hand; her colour
deepened, she made no reply, but still gazed pensively into the water.

"Tell me, Ulama--am I to stay or go? Oh, say that you will try to love
me!"

He still retained her hand, and now he passed his own gently over it,
she making no effort to withdraw it. Thus answered, he pressed his lips
upon it, and at this, also, she showed no resentment.

"I would have you stay," she presently murmured softly; "but indeed I
fear it is too late for me to try to love you, for my heart tells me
you have my love already."

And the boat drifted aimlessly in the evening light. The sun had set,
and the moon, the witness of so many lovers' vows--both true and
false--had shown her silvery light above the surrounding cliffs; and
still the two sat on and scarcely spoke, yet, in speechless eloquence,
recounting to each other the old, old tale.

And, when the sweet Ulama left the boat, her heart could scarce contain
the joy that filled it; and in her eye there was a light that it had
lacked before, so that the king, her father, drew her affectionately to
him and asked her what had wrought this wondrous change.

She shyly bent her head and answered him,

"To-morrow thou shalt know, my father." Then she hid her blushing face
upon his shoulder. "I have a favour to ask of thee; but--I would fain
not speak of it this evening."

Then, as though fearing that he would wrest from her the secret of her
joy, she stole swiftly to her room, and from her window looked across
the lake, now shimmering in the silver moonbeams.

For long she sat there motionless, dreaming youth's fond dreams;
dwelling, in loving tenderness, on every word and look she could recall
of Leonard while the boat had drifted here and there, and the lap,
lap, lap, of the ripples against the sides had kept up a soft musical
accompaniment to the rhythm of love's heart-beats.



CHAPTER XXI.

THE GREAT DEVIL-TREE.


In pursuance of their design of making signals from the summit of
Roraima, the two friends made further explorations of the northern
side. And this led them into an adventure, one day, that had well-nigh
proved fatal to them both.

On mentioning their intention to Monella, he had at first objected;
but, upon Leonard's reminding him of the anxiety and distress
Templemore's mother and _fiancée_ might be, too probably were, in, he
had given a reluctant consent.

"Your friends, Dr. Lorien and his son, talked of coming back again,"
he remarked. "Do you think they are likely to make the journey with
Matava, and to be coming to seek for you?"

"Certainly they are coming into this neighbourhood, after orchids,"
Leonard replied; "and, now you speak of it--though I had not thought
about it lately--the news Matava will probably take back may cause
such anxiety that they may hurry to get here sooner than they would
otherwise have been likely to, in order to make inquiry about us on the
spot."

"Matava might lead them to the cavern, if they came to Daranato," said
Monella thoughtfully.

"Yes; of course that is possible."

"And a very little ingenuity or a small charge of powder would force an
opening; and their way would then be easy to get up here?"

"Certainly."

Monella's face clouded.

"That must not be; you must clearly understand that you must tell me in
time if there seems any such probability. I wish not to seem unfriendly
towards your friends--and personally I liked them--but to allow them to
come in here would be as the beginning of a flood, as the letting out
of water. It cannot, must not be."

"Well, after all, it is only a supposition," observed Jack. "Time
enough to deal with it, if the occasion actually arise. They were going
on to Rio on some law business which was likely to occupy them some
time; they might be detained there indefinitely, they said."

"Quite so," Monella answered decisively. "Only, remember, I rely upon
you to inform me in time. And be very cautious and vigilant upon that
side of the country, for, as you know, it is in that direction that
Coryon and his people have their habitation."

In their walks they were often accompanied by one or both of Ulama's
pumas, and on the day referred to the male one, 'Tuo,' as it was
called, came after them when they had gone a little way, and trotted
quietly beside them; and this, as it turned out, saved their lives.

They came upon a place they had not seen before. Two great iron gates
of highly finished workmanship, and picked out with gold, shut in
a narrow opening in a high rock. They were such as might form the
entrance to a public garden. A broad road wound round from the inside
of the gates; but outside, where Templemore and Elwood were, the rocks
rose up fifty or sixty feet, or even more, on either side; and though
they followed them a considerable distance on both sides of the gates,
the rocks still towered up precipitously for as far as they could see.

"This can scarcely be the entrance to Coryon's 'domain,'" said Jack,
"or there would be some people about on guard. It must be some kind of
public place."

"A cemetery, perhaps," suggested Leonard.

"I believe you've hit it. Well, there's a gate open, so I suppose
there's no harm in our having a peep inside."

"Suppose some one were on the watch, and were to pop round and close
and lock the gates when we were inside and out of sight," said Leonard
suspiciously. "Monella warned us to be wary and to suspect traps."

"We have our revolvers; and, if the worse came to the worst, we could
climb over these rocks."

In the result they went inside; then made their way to a wide terrace
that ran round an extensive area of horseshoe shape, half natural, half
artificial, as they judged. This terrace extended several hundreds
of yards in both directions from the point at which they stood; but
it narrowed off considerably on one side of the horseshoe. Above and
behind it, cut out of the rock, were other terraces, like steps or rows
of seats, but broad below and narrowing as they got higher. These went
all round, almost to the top of the rocks. It was, in fact, a vast
amphitheatre where many thousands of people could stand or sit. At the
farther end it was open; and in the centre was a large arena sunk some
fifteen feet below the main terrace on which they stood.

This arena opened out into a deep defile beyond, from the rocky heights
of which there issued a rushing stream of water that flowed into a
large, dark-looking pool below.

But what at once riveted their attention, almost to the point of
fascination, was an extraordinary-looking tree that stood in the arena.
This tree had no leaves, but branches only. In colour it was of a
sombre violet-blue, tinged in places with a ruddy hue. The trunk was
about thirty feet in height, and eight or nine feet in diameter. The
branches, which were many--a hundred or more probably--drooped over
from where the trunk ended and trailed about the ground. But what was
most astonishing, these branches were all in motion. Though there was
no wind, they waved to and fro, ran restlessly along the ground like
lithe snakes, and intertwined one with another, at the same time making
a harsh, rustling sound.

Straight in front of where they stood was a long pier of masonry that
ran out towards the tree, which was not in the centre of the arena but
was nearer to that part of the terrace where it grew narrow. In order
the better to observe the object that had so roused their curiosity,
the two young men walked across the terrace and some distance along
the pier; and, when they had proceeded a little more than half its
length, one of the long trailing branches--some of them appeared to be
two hundred or three hundred feet in length--came up over the end of
the pier, and, with a rustle, made its way swiftly towards them. It
was within two or three feet of where they stood looking at it, when
the puma, with a loud growl, sprang forward and bit at it. Immediately
the branch curled itself round the animal's body and began dragging
it along the pier towards the tree. Then two or three other branches
advanced and went to the assistance of the first one, coiling round the
poor puma and dragging it farther along, despite its teeth and claws
and its desperate struggles. In succession, other branches crept up
over the end of the stonework, and, just in time, Jack seized Leonard
and dragged him back.

"For Heaven's sake come away, man!" he exclaimed in horror. "That tree
is _alive_, and will drag us off, if once one of those branches touch
us!"

They had stepped back only barely in time, for a moment after a
trailing branch swept over the very spot on which they had halted. When
assured that they were really out of reach, they stood fascinated, but
filled with horror, while they witnessed the unavailing fight made by
the poor animal that had saved their lives. More branches came to the
aid of the others; they coiled round its mouth and closed it; round
its legs and bound them; and soon, helpless, a mere bundle in the
coiling, curling branches, as it were, it was drawn off the pier to the
ground below. Then it was rolled on and on till it had almost reached
the tree-trunk, where were shorter but thicker and stronger branches
waiting for it. These, in their turn, soon coiled round it; then,
slowly, they bent upwards, carrying the poor animal in their relentless
grasp, and lowered it into a hollow in the centre of the top of the
trunk, where it almost disappeared from sight. Then all the thicker
branches coiled round it and shut it completely out from view, forming
a sort of huge knot round the top of the tree and remaining motionless;
while the longer and more slender branches continued to play restlessly
about, seeking for further prey. Then, without a word, the two turned
away; nor did they speak till they found themselves safely outside the
great gates. Then they looked, horror-struck, at each other.

Jack was the first to break the silence.

"Great heavens!" he exclaimed. "What an escape! What an awful monster!
What a frightful death! And that poor animal--that saved us both! What
shall we say to the princess? Talk of 'traps'! If this gate was left
open as a 'trap'--and it looks to me so--we have reason indeed to be
thankful!"

"What _is_ it?" Leonard asked at last.

"A 'devil-tree.' It is a carnivorous tree. I've seen a small one
before; in a forest in Brazil that we were working through. One of the
dogs got caught in it and was nearly killed before we cut it free with
our axes. And then it was badly hurt, and so was I; a branch caught
hold of my hand and tore some of the flesh off it. And where we cut
this branch it _bled_! A dark crimson-blue liquid oozed out that stank!
Oh, there, I can't tell you what the stench was like! I've smelt _some_
bad smells in my time, but that beat anything I ever came across! But
that was only a small bush. I had no idea they could grow into great
flesh-eating monsters like this! Why, that thing must have been there a
thousand--ah--two thousand years, I should say. Fully that."

"But," said Leonard, "why is it kept here? who feeds
it--and--what--is--it--fed--on?"

He asked this last question slowly, and looked at the other in blank,
horrified amazement.

"It can't live without food," he continued. "And it must want a lot
too. Whoever can take the trouble to get it food of the only kind--as I
suppose--that it would care for? And why is it there in the middle of
that strange place? One would almost think it was kept there as a kind
of show or curiosity; and yet--we have never heard about it all the
time we have been here! And it is there, with the gate open, no fence
to guard people, or notice to warn them. Well! It's a mystery to me!"

But if they had been astounded and horror-stricken at what they had
seen, they were still more mystified and upset by Ulama's behaviour
when they told her of their adventure; for she fainted right off and,
when she recovered, seemed so overcome with terror as to be unable to
say a word. No explanation would she give; save that now and then she
murmured, almost in a moan, to herself,

"Then it _is_ true! And I never knew! It is horrible--too horrible!"

When Leonard expressed his sorrow about the puma, she hardly seemed to
notice it.

"Ah yes!" she said once. "Poor Tuo! I shall miss him--and such a death,
too! But oh, he saved you and your friend! And then, he was but an
animal--but the others!"

At her express desire they promised not to speak to any one else about
it.

"I will tell you why--or you will know why--later," she added. "But you
can speak privately to Monella about it; to no one else just now!"

When they found an opportunity of speaking to him about it, he looked
very grave.

"You have had a narrow escape," he said. "Heaven be thanked you did
escape. I cannot explain more to you now, but may be able to do so
shortly. Meantime, please do as the princess says, and keep this matter
to yourselves."

All this time Leonard's relations with Ulama had remained unchanged;
they had not been placed on any settled footing. Monella had asked him
to take time to make up his mind, and had intimated that nothing would
be said or done meanwhile. Leonard had, however, been too impatient to
put his fate to the test to be able to wait after the encouragement
Monella had given to him. But, whether Ulama had spoken on the subject
with her father, he knew not; for it so happened that he had not seen
her alone since their love-scene in the boat.

And now she was evidently much discomposed about their adventure with
the 'devil-tree'; though she did not refer to it again.

Naturally too, the recollection of it was very much in the minds of the
two young men. Leonard asked Templemore, one day, what the branches of
the one he had seen were like.

"They were covered with small excrescences," he replied, "that are
suckers and piercers in one. They pierce the flesh and then suck the
blood. The whole affair is a sort of gigantic vegetable 'octopus,'
or devil-fish, only that it has a hundred or more 'arms' or branches
instead of eight, as the octopus has. I have heard of devil-fish
having been caught as large as eighty feet in length, on the coast of
Newfoundland. But I never knew that its vegetable prototype grew to
anything like the size."

"Of course I have seen devil-fish," said Leonard thoughtfully; "but
they have a mouth--a great beak--to which their arms carry the food. Do
you think it is the same here? You saw that the branches carried the
poor puma up into a hollow in the top of the trunk. Do you suppose the
thing has a kind of mouth there?"

"Goodness only knows! It must be an awful sort of affair, if it is so.
The whole thing is monstrous and uncanny. Don't let us talk about it!"

But, as a result of this experience, they sought in another direction
for a likely place from which to make their intended signals; and
finally they found one convenient for their purpose. Then they made two
or three trips to the canyon to bring up the requisite powder. They
also brought back from the secret cave a number of things Monella
wanted. From the first, at his suggestion, they had told no one except
the king, Ulama, and Zonella, of the means by which they had gained
access to the mountain; and these had promised to keep the knowledge to
themselves.

"The place has evidently been so long unvisited," Monella had remarked,
"that probably most of those who once knew of it have forgotten all
about it. No need to remind them just now. Many years ago, as I have
been informed, a project was started for filling it up."

"Filling it up!"

"Yes, and if you go to the other end of the canyon--that by which we
entered--you will find, even now, in the thick wood that everywhere
surrounds the top of the canyon, vast numbers of great boulders that
were quarried from the surrounding cliffs and hauled to the edge in
readiness to be thrown down. They lie, in fact, just over the cavern we
came in by. There they have remained for a very long time, it seems.
Had that intention been carried out, all our work in cutting through
the forest and finding the entrance to the cavern, as you can see,
would have been thrown away."

"And what stopped it?"

"It is said that the people threatened a rebellion. The belief in the
eventual return of Mellenda--of whom you have heard--is deep-seated;
and, though the people here are anxious enough to keep to themselves,
they would not assent to closing irrevocably the only means by which
their hero could gain admittance, should he ever come."

"Do they expect him to come with a host of followers--a conquering
army--or do they expect the great lake to come back, and that he will
arrive with a grand fleet of ships?" Templemore asked, with somewhat of
a sarcastic smile.

Monella passed his hand across his brow in the half-dreamy manner
that was his at times, as though striving to collect his thoughts, or
to arrest and force into shape some half-formed conception that had
flitted across his mind and escaped his grasp. For a minute he stared
vacantly away into the distance and was silent. Then, with a look as
though of pain at failing to catch the fleeting image, he turned away,
saying simply,

"I cannot tell you."

During the days that followed, Templemore passed much of his time in
the museums; time that Elwood spent in a lover's dream of happiness
with Ulama. In the relics of the former history of this strange
people, Templemore took a deep interest; and in the archives and
ancient manuscripts he found many evidences of the former existence of
scientific and engineering knowledge that astonished and perplexed him.
On the true meaning and import of some of these he sought the help of
Monella, who would frequently accompany him in these visits, and, from
his better knowledge of the language, was able to assist him to unravel
their curious contents.

"These people must once have been great engineers and architects!" he
exclaimed in surprised admiration on one of these occasions.

Monella smiled and made reply,

"There is nothing so surprising in that, if you comprehend the true
significance of the gigantic earthworks still extant in many places on
this continent. Have you seen any of them?"

"No; but I have both heard and read of them."

"I have seen them; and I tell you your mind can form no idea of their
extent, of the scientific knowledge and the prodigious amount of time
and labour that must have been expended on them, unless you actually
see them. They are of various forms, mostly geometrical figures upon
a vast scale--miles in extent. The wonderful thing is that a certain
figure is repeated exactly in different places hundreds of miles
apart. Yet you shall take your cleverest engineers of the present day,
give them the advantages--or supposed advantages--of all your modern
discoveries and machinery, and scientific instruments, and, say,
unlimited workpeople to do their building, and _then_ it would tax all
their skill to construct a work _exactly_ similar to one of those great
figures. Yet now, upon some of them, trees are growing that must be
over a thousand years old!"

"And what were they for--what was their object?" Templemore asked.

Then there came over the other's face again that curious look as of one
seeking for a lost recollection; but it seemed to evade him, and he
answered somewhat as before,

"I think I ought to be able to tell you," he replied, "but I cannot now
seem to remember."

It was while thus together one day that Templemore asked him for some
further information concerning the 'Plant of Life.'

"You have told me," he said, "that your people, with whom you lived in
that secluded valley high up in the Andes, had with them the 'karina'
and cultivated it. Therefore I suppose you yourself have been in the
habit of taking it?"

"Always. And in my travelling to and fro in the world I always had with
me a good supply of the dried herb. I was accustomed to leave stores
of it in certain towns, so that if I lost what I had with me by any
accident, there was more within easy reach."

"I see. But what I am puzzled about is this: why, if the virtues of
the plant are so great, do people ever die at all? And why do some live
longer than others?"

"As to the first question," Monella answered, "man was never intended
to live on this earth for ever. The human frame _must_ wear out sooner
or later. As to the second query, some constitutions are naturally
stronger than others, and these endure longer, just as is the case in
the world outside where the plant is not known. The effect of the plant
is simply to keep the blood pure, if originally pure. If, however,
there is an inherited taint, that taint will make itself felt sooner
or later and undermine the vitality of the system. In this case the
plant will only result in ensuring a somewhat longer life than would
otherwise have been the case. Sooner or later the vitality will fall
off and gradual decay set in, although (the blood being kept still
pure) ordinary diseases are kept at bay. Lastly, there is the question
of the will."

"The _will_?"

"Yes; that has a most powerful influence. If a man who has inherited
a constitution that is absolutely sound, from ancestors who have
possessed the same through many generations, and if he has, in
addition, a strong _will_, powerful beyond the average, he may live
longer--if he is so minded."

"I--do not understand you," said Templemore, somewhat puzzled.

Monella gazed at him with a smile that was full of sadness.

"You would," he answered, "if you were old yourself; if you had
outlived all that made life worth having--your wife, and others you
love, your ambitions, your hopes. _Then_ does the soul grow weary,
and restless as well; it is like unto a bird that is caged whose time
for migration has come. It will either fret or pine itself to death,
or beat itself to death against the bars of its cage. Only two things
can then keep the soul from taking its flight; the _will_ to live to
complete some unfinished work, or a delight in a worldly, wicked life.
A nature superlatively evil, like Coryon's, may enable its possessor
to live on and on for an indefinite time; where better men take the
'falloa' and die. Or a man, not himself enamoured of life upon this
earth, may exert his _will_ to carry out to its end some great work to
benefit his fellow-creatures, and he too may keep the 'falloa' at arm's
length for an unusually long period. In other words, the 'falloa' is a
form of melancholia, of weariness with the world, of an inward sense
that life's work is completed. It is the result of that feeling that we
are told took possession at last even of him who has been called the
Wise Man of the World--King Solomon--whose wisdom and riches and power
only brought him to the same point I have indicated--that at which the
soul declares that all earthly things are but vanity."

On another occasion, Templemore was accompanied by Zonella and Colenna;
and the latter took him into a gallery he had not before seen, the door
being usually kept locked.

In it, to his surprise, were ranged hundreds of stands of arms and
military uniforms, helmets, spears, shields, swords, daggers, and red
tunics, all kept in splendid condition, as though for instant use. All
the helmets had little silver wings at their sides, and the shields
were engraved in the centre with a strange hieroglyphic, the same that
he had noticed chiselled upon the fronts of many of the principal
buildings.

"There," said Colenna, "are the arms and uniforms of Mellenda's
soldiers. Over in Myrlanda, in the great temple of the White Priests,
are hundreds more; all kept ready for use, as you see these here. You
see the silver wings upon the helmets, similar to those on that of
Mellenda's suit that stands in the other gallery. And that figure upon
the shields is the sacred sign that was engraved upon his signet-ring.
It signifies his seal or sign-manual. Wherever you see that mark, it
refers to him; on a building it implies that he designed or built it.
His royal colour was red, as the king's to-day is blue; and these red
tunics are for his soldiers."

"When they come," said Jack, discreetly repressing the incredulous
smile that almost forced itself upon his lips.

"When _he_ comes," said Colenna, lifting his hat reverently. "Yes, when
_he_ returns to us."

"You don't believe in that, I know," interposed Zonella; "yet we all
do; and it is a good thing we do, I think, for I fear many in the land
would go mad under their dread of Coryon, if they did not believe in a
happier future for the country. But there," she added sadly, "it does
not matter to _you_. You have no interest in what may go on here in the
future. You intend to go back to your own country, and care little for
the sorrows or the fate of those you leave behind."

Colenna had walked away some little distance, to examine a shield that
he thought was not quite so bright as it should be.

"Not care!" Jack exclaimed, impulsively. "Why, how can you say that? It
is that thought that grieves me all the time I am here; that makes me
doubt how I shall ever be able to make up my mind to leave. To leave
behind one's dearest----"

Zonella turned to him quickly, with a heightened colour and a bright
look. This was so unexpected that he stopped and hesitated.

"Well?" she said. "You said your dearest----"

"My dearest friend, Leonard--of course," he answered, looking at her in
some surprise.

But Zonella's face paled, and she turned away.

"Let us go," she said with a shiver, as though a cold wind had blown
upon her. "This old gallery is kept locked up so much it gets to smell
musty, and makes one feel quite faint."



CHAPTER XXII.

SMILES AND TEARS.


One morning, Monella sought Leonard and reverted to their former
conversation about Ulama.

"You have well considered all the words I spoke to you, my son?" he
said. "Are you still of the same mind?"

"I had hoped that you knew me too well to think it necessary to ask the
question," Leonard said earnestly. "Since I first looked upon Ulama, my
love for her has been given past all recall. I have never wavered in my
resolution to remain here for her dear sake, if I may hope to gain the
king's consent."

"Then," returned Monella, "the king would talk with you concerning it.
Let us go to him."

And, without further preface, he led the young man into the private
chamber of King Dranoa, where he left him.

The king, Leonard thought, looked ill and careworn; but he received him
with great kindness, and in a manner that quickly reassured the anxious
lover.

"It has been no secret to me for some time," said Dranoa, "that thou
hast looked with affection upon my child. She, too, hath spoken to me;
I see that she hath set her heart upon this thing, and I love her too
dearly to desire to thwart her wishes, unless for some weighty reason.
Here I see no such reason; for, though thou art a stranger, yet thou
art worthily recommended by one upon whose judgment I have learned to
place reliance. He that led thee hither is not a man to act lightly or
without full consideration in a matter of such paramount importance;
if thou hast gained his confidence and esteem, I doubt not that there
are good reasons for it. He hath the unerring eye that pierces to the
very heart, and that no hypocrisy, no cunning, can deceive. Were it
the case that my dominions were to-day the great empire over which
my forefathers held sway, I would seek such a man's advice in the
appointment of my generals, my ministers, my governors for distant
districts. Therefore do I feel that I can rely upon his judgment, even
in a matter so momentous as the choice of one to espouse my child and
to succeed me on my throne. And knowing, as I do full well, that the
'falloa' hath laid its hand upon me and that my days in this my land
are numbered, it is grateful to mine heart to feel that my child will
be comforted, when I am gone, by one whose affection for her is pure
and wholly hers, and who will have at his side a friend and counsellor
who will guide his youthful steps in the path that I would have him
follow. This conviction hath lifted from mine heart a grievous trouble,
and hath enabled me to bear without sorrow or regret the knowledge that
the fatal sickness hath taken hold upon me. For the fact that I shall
now soon quit this earthly life I care nothing in itself; it hath been
the fear of what would then befall that hath filled me with forebodings
and with fear. But, if I see--as I hope to see--the power of the Black
Coryon broken and destroyed for ever; my child wedded to one worthy of
her love and honour; my successor aided and advised by one so competent
to guide as is thy friend, then indeed I shall feel I can lay down the
burden of life with thanksgiving, and take my way to the great unknown
of the hereafter without fear, without regret, without a sigh; but,
instead, with the great content of one who feels he hath nothing more
to wish or hope for upon earth. For know, my son," continued Dranoa
with grave emphasis, "no man wisheth to prolong his life for that which
it hath yielded, but rather for that which he is hopeful it may yield.
The proof of this is easy; no man desireth to live his life over again;
therefore he is, at heart, and from actual experience, dissatisfied
and wearied with life; not charmed with it. Yet do many cling to it,
fatuously believing, in the face of all their own actual experience,
that it shall yet, in the future, afford them joys and gratifications
they have never found in the past. These, my son, are the words of one
who hath lived long enough to gain the wisdom that teacheth how to sift
the wheat from the chaff."

Dranoa paused, and remained silent awhile. Then he resumed, with a
change of tone,

"But I wish not to weigh down thy young imaginings with the sober
knowledge that belongeth not to thine years but to mine. It will
be sufficient to give thee counsel that is more suited to the
circumstances. Therefore I say this to thee: thou hast a good heart and
good instincts--trust them, follow them honestly; and leave the rest
to the Great Spirit that ruleth over all. And now I have but one more
thing to say; it were better for the present that this that is between
us were not known openly. Personally, that will not concern thee. When
the time hath come, I will myself announce it to my people. Meanwhile,
thy mind will be at rest with the knowledge of my approval of thy suit."

Leonard gratefully poured out his thanks to the kind-hearted king; then
went to seek Ulama.

He found her sitting alone in an apartment that overlooked the lake, so
deep in thought that she did not hear his coming. She was leaning on
the window-sill gazing pensively upon the beauties of the scene that
lay outspread before her.

But Leonard thought, as he caught sight of her and stayed his steps
upon the threshold, that she herself was the fairest creation of all,
posed as she was with that unconscious grace and charm that seemed
with her to be innate. For a full minute he stood in silence; then,
still without moving towards her, he softly called her name, as though
fearing to approach her till he had permission.

She turned her head towards him with no surprise, but with a look of
sweetest pleasure in her gentle eyes.

"I did not hear you," she said dreamily, "and yet--I know not why--I
was looking for your coming."

"And what were you thinking of so profoundly, sweet Ulama?"

"I was thinking," she replied, "how much more beautiful our lake and
its surroundings have seemed to me of late. I scarce noticed them
before; I suppose because I have known them all my life. Yet, now
that you have pointed out some of their beauties, I not only feel and
appreciate them, but I note many others on all sides that I never saw
before. It is very strange! I wonder why it is?"

"It is _love_, Ulama," Leonard said, coming quietly to her side and
laying his hand lightly on her shoulder. "Love can make the plainest
works of nature beautiful; small wonder then if it makes those that are
really so display new and unsuspected charms. It is because love has
taken up his dwelling in your heart that you now see new beauties in
these familiar scenes."

But Ulama shook her head sagely, and smilingly made answer,

"You know you told me that the first time you saw our lake you deemed
it the fairest spot on all the earth. And you did not know me then, so
could not love me. How then can what you say explain it?"

Leonard laughed and took her hand in his.

"You forget that I had seen you in my dreams and had loved you
long before," he said. "Perhaps some instinct told me that here I
should find the abode of her who already had my heart. Or, if that
explanation does not please you, here is another. Love and sympathy are
inseparable; you admire, now, things that you thought little of before,
because you see that _I_ admire them."

"Yes; that may be," Ulama admitted, with a thoughtful look. "But then,
it does not explain why _you_ should see beauties where _I_ did not. I
think you must have a quicker appreciation of the beautiful in nature
than is given to me."

"It may be so; and that in turn explains how it came about that I was
so quick to realise the beauty of the fairest daughter of Manoa!" And
Leonard's look was so tender, so full of loving admiration, that it
brought a rosy glow to Ulama's cheek. "And it also reminds me that I
sought you here to tell you something of importance, something that has
brought joy and gladness to my heart. I have just been talking about
you with the king."

The colour in the girl's cheek grew deeper; and now she turned her
glance again upon the landscape that lay sleeping in the morning
sunlight.

"Dear love," continued Leonard, "think what it means to me--to both of
us, I hope--when I tell you that the king has given me permission to
ask you to give yourself to me! Ah! Not only has he done that, but he
has done it in a manner--accompanied it with kind words of trust and
confidence that have filled my whole heart with gratitude. He speaks as
though I had already _proved_ that which I can only hope to show in the
future--my true desire to make myself worthy of your love. His kindness
and many marks of friendship towards one who is but a stranger here
have overwhelmed me. I feel the whole devotion of my life to you and
him can scarce repay such generous, ungrudging proofs of his confidence
and favour."

"You have a good friend in Monella," Ulama said quietly. "He never
fails to speak well of you when occasion offers. And he is one of our
own race, and has had great experience of the world outside, of which
we know nothing; and my father knows he can rely on his opinion."

"Yes, I know that is true, dear love, and my heart burns with gratitude
to him too. And now, beloved"--and he put his arms round her and drew
her to him--"may I not think of you as all my own? Let me hear you say
with those dear lips that you know now what love is, that it has sprung
up unforced in your pure heart; let me hear you say, 'Leonard, I love
you!'"

And, as he drew her closer to him and her head nestled upon his
shoulder, a whisper, that seemed but a faint sigh, breathed softly the
words so sweet to hear for the first time from a loved-one's lips--"I
love you!"

Later in the day Leonard told Templemore of his interview with the
king; and, as he did so, a look came over his face that, as his friend
expressed it to himself, "did one's heart good to see, even if but once
in a lifetime!"

"In your happiness I too feel happy, dear old boy," he said. "And I
should have little concern, for the time being, if only those at home
knew we were alive and well. As it is, the thought of their anxiety
troubles me unceasingly."

"Let us hope our signal flares were seen and will be reported," Leonard
answered. "I think they must have been seen; and, if so, Carenna is
sure to hear of it, and will find some way of sending word."

This referred to what they had done to carry out Leonard's suggestion.
After some perseverance in watching from the spot they had selected,
they saw, one evening, camp fires far out on the savanna. At once they
made their signals with small heaps of powder, and these they repeated
several times. No response whatever came; nor did they expect any.
There was nothing for it but to wait patiently in the hope that their
signals had been seen.

Then ensued a time, lasting many weeks, which was almost uneventful. To
Leonard and Ulama it was one uninterrupted dream of blissful happiness.
To Templemore it was pleasant and interesting, for he found plenty to
engage his mind. He studied the designs of the chief buildings; of the
bridges that spanned the streams that fed the lake. In the arches and
general construction of these he formed engineering ideas that were new
to him. He visited often the great waterfall that formed the outlet
of the lake, and declared that the sight of the vast body of water
shooting out in its leap of two thousand feet, its deep, thundering
roar, and the play of colour when the sun shone into the mist and
spray, made up a combination that threw Niagara itself--which he had
seen--into the shade.

One day, when Ulama and Zonella were alone together, the former thus
addressed her friend,

"Sometimes of late I have fancied there has been some unpleasant
passage between you and Leonard's friend. I myself am so fortunate, so
happy, that I like not to see those about me otherwise. I would have
all my friends as happy as myself." And she took Zonella's hand and
rubbed her face affectionately against it. "Tell me, Zonella, have you
two quarrelled?"

For a moment Zonella's face, usually so pleasant to behold, looked hard
and almost fierce. Then it softened, and, with a loud cry, she threw
her arms around Ulama; she hid her face in the gentle bosom, and burst
into a torrent of impassioned tears.

It was some time before Ulama, greatly surprised as well as pained and
puzzled, could understand the meaning of this outburst; but presently
Zonella, growing somewhat calmer, sobbed out,

"Ah! _You_--you little know, little think what I have suffered. He
cares no more for me than he does for you--perhaps less. His heart is
elsewhere; he is set upon going away from our land, and only his regard
for his friend delays him."

Ulama's beautiful face bent over Zonella's, and her tears fell upon the
other's cheek as she pressed her lovingly to her bosom.

"Alas! Alas! My poor Zonella! And is it possible that love, which has
been so sweet to me, should bring to you but pain and suffering? I
almost fear for my own happiness; that my selfishness in yielding to
it has blinded me to what was going on with the others. But it never
occurred to me that love that is to me so wonderful in the joy and
pleasure it confers, could also be the cause of misery and sorrow.
And yet," she added thoughtfully, "you are not without one to love
you. Poor Ergalon has long been faithful to his love for you. Oh, how
strange and contrary it all seems! Poor fellow! Perhaps you have made
him suffer even as you yourself have suffered. Can his love not console
you? I know so little myself that what I say may be only foolishness,
yet----"

Zonella smiled faintly, and shook her head. Then she kissed the other
tenderly.

"Let us say no more, my dear," she said. "I am sorry I gave way as I
did; but you took me by surprise. Perhaps, too, your implied advice is
wise. It might be better to try to love the one you _know_ does truly
love you, than to fret your heart out after one who loves you not, and
who is beyond your reach. At least, as you say, there _is_ one in the
world who loves me."

Thus the time sped on. Monella was much away; sometimes for a week
together; so the young men saw comparatively little of him. Templemore,
on one occasion, expressed a wish to visit Myrlanda with him, but
Monella said there were difficulties in the way.

"It is better you two should remain here for the present," he declared.
"At a future time, let us hope it may be different."

But one day Monella came to him with a look of gravity that at once
aroused his interest.

"It is time," he said, "that I should show you something of the truth,
that you may understand what lies before us. Can you brace up your
courage and your nerve to stand a severe trial?"

Templemore opened his eyes in astonishment.

"Need you ask?" he answered. "Have you ever known me wanting in
courage?"

"Ah, no. But this that I refer to requires courage of a different sort.
Yet it must be faced. But I warn you it will be a shock. Make up your
mind to a test that will tax all the nerve you can summon to your aid."

"And Leonard too?" Jack inquired, wondering.

"No. Say nothing to him. Let his dream be happy while it may. Be ready
to come out with me to-night, when Ergalon shall come to seek you. And
bring your rifle."



CHAPTER XXIII.

THE DEVIL-TREE BY MOONLIGHT.


It was about ten o'clock when Templemore, with Ergalon as guide, came
out from the king's palace by a side-entrance that was little used, and
the door of which the latter now opened with a key. Outside, at a short
distance, they found Monella pacing up and down.

Before leaving, Templemore had told Leonard just so much as would
explain his absence; then had managed to slip away unobserved by their
friends of the king's court.

The night was fine but chilly, and all three were muffled up. In the
sky overhead the moon shone calm and clear, lighting up the valley
with great distinctness; but across its face wild-looking clouds were
scurrying, showing that a strong wind was blowing up above, though
little of it was felt below. Only now and then an eddying gust would
sweep down the hillside and stir the trees around them, then die away
with a rustling sigh or a low moan.

Ergalon led the way; skirting the town he took a roundabout road that
Templemore soon saw led to the neighbourhood of the scene of their
adventure with the devil-tree, though they were approaching it from a
different direction. Finally, they entered a thick wood that covered
a steep hill; and now Templemore's companions made signs to him to
observe strict silence and to proceed as quietly as possible. When they
had reached the summit of the slope, and stood on the ridge within the
shadow of the trees, which here ceased abruptly, Templemore uttered a
half-smothered exclamation. Instantly, he felt Monella's heavy hand
upon his shoulder grasping him with a grip of iron; and it brought to
him the recollection of the caution he had received.

"Whatever you see or hear," Monella had rejoined, "you must remain
absolutely quiet and utter no sound; do nothing that might betray our
presence."

What had excited Templemore's surprise was the fact that he found
himself looking down into the great amphitheatre in which stood the
well-remembered tree. Its long trailing branches were still moving
about swiftly in their strange, restless fashion; but most of the
shorter and thicker branches were curled up at the top of the trunk
in the same kind of _knot_ as they had formed after carrying thither
the body of the puma. Viewed in the bright moonlight, the tree was
a hideous monstrosity that had yet a certain terrible fascination
which attracted and retained the sight while it revolted and repelled
the mind. The coiled branches upon the top reminded one irresistibly
of the snakes entwined round the head of the Medusa; they formed
a kind of crown, of a character suitable to the frightful monster
whose formless head, if one may so term it, they encircled. The
appearance of the whole thing was repulsive, ghastly, ghoulish. There
was that in the mere form and outline of this gruesome wonder of
the vegetable world that instinctively aroused aversion. Its naked
branches--that in ordinary circumstances could belong only to a dead
tree--its colour--half funereal, half of a deep blood-tint almost
unknown amongst botanical productions--its never ceasing movement,
so suggestive of an everlasting hunting after prey, of an insatiable
craving for its hateful diet of flesh and blood, of sleepless hunger,
of tireless rapacity and relentless cruelty--all these made up an
unnatural creation that appalled the instincts and chilled the very
blood of those who looked upon it. This had been the feeling, or
combination of feelings, that had made itself felt in Templemore's mind
when he had first seen the spectacle by daylight; it impressed itself
much more strongly now that he saw the tree in the cold moonlight--now
standing out clear and well-defined, now plunged into semi-obscurity,
as the hurrying clouds chased each other across the sky above and threw
their fleeting shadows beneath.

From the spot where the three men stood a clear view was presented of
the opposite side of the enclosure--_i.e._, of the side nearest to
the tree, which was there sufficiently close to the main terrace for
its branches to sweep over it; but the terrace was here protected by
a covered-way or verandah formed of metal gratings, the interstices
in which were small enough to keep the dreadful writhing snake-like
branches from pushing through them. When Templemore had seen the place
before, this part of the terrace had been open; for the metal screens,
or gratings, were, in reality, sliding shutters that could be withdrawn
into grooves in the rock beyond. Here, at the end of the covered-way,
was a gateway that formed the entrance to the labyrinth of caverns and
galleries in the cliff in which Coryon and his adherents lived.

These sliding screens were movable at the will of those within the
gateway. They could be either moved along in their grooves and thus
protect those traversing the covered-way, or withdrawn, so that the
branches of the fatal tree, in that case, guarded the entrance most
effectually; for no man might then venture to approach the gateway and
live.

Underneath, there were cells in the terrace, also within reach of
the tree; and screened off, in like manner, by sliding grated doors.
Through these gratings came faint beams of light.

Templemore noted all these things; yet, while his gaze wandered to
them, each time the tree itself attracted it again and seemed to hold
it spell-bound; and he waited--waited, hardly daring to breathe; waited
for he knew not what; waited as one expectant and oppressed by a dim
unshapen foreshadowing of some new and nameless horror.

Nor was it without reason; for, slowly, the coiled 'crown' unfolded,
and _something_ came little by little into view. Gradually the
_something_ rose out of the hollow in the trunk, was carried up clear
of it, then lowered over the side towards the ground. In shape it was
cylindrical, and of a colour that could not be discovered in the fitful
moonlight. Soon it was deposited upon the ground, and the branches that
had lowered it released their hold, and it remained for a brief space
untouched. Then other branches crept up to it with tortuous twistings
and, coiling round it, raised and swung it to and fro, then quickly
dropped it. Anon, yet other branches would do the same; only, in their
turn, to drop it or to hand it on to others. Thus was it passed about;
now lifted high in the air by one end, then by the other, anon dangled
horizontally in mid-air. In time it made the circuit of the tree; but
each branch, or set of branches that laid hold of it, rejected it
eventually, as though, by some fell but unfailing instinct, they knew
there was nothing left in it to minister to their hateful appetite.
And all the while the shadows came and went, and the moon looked down
between them and lighted up the hideous scene.

Meantime, from out the dark and filthy water and thick slime of the
large pool a few hundred yards away, crawled uncouth monsters the
like of which Templemore had never looked upon, save, perhaps, in
some fanciful representations of creatures said to have existed in
pre-historic times. These mis-shapen reptiles were from ten to twelve
feet in length. They had heads and tails like crocodiles, and in many
other respects resembled them; but in place of the usual scales they
were covered with large horny plates several inches in diameter; and in
the centre of each plate was a strong spine or spike, thick at the base
but sharp at the point, and four or five inches long.

These creatures crawled up to the fateful tree; and it was quickly
evident that they came to claim their share in the foul repast--the dry
husk and bones from which the tree had sucked the rest. Their armour
made them safe against the tree; for the branches no sooner touched
their bodies than they recoiled, baffled by the sharp points they
everywhere encountered. Two or three of these horrid reptiles began to
drag the dead body towards their haunt, and finally carried it away,
but not without several tussles with the twisting, curling branches
which seemed loth to relinquish their prey; or, perhaps, wished to play
with it a little longer, as a cat might with a mouse.

Monella had handed his field-glass to Templemore, still keeping a hand
upon his shoulder. The young man placed it to his eyes, and in an
instant gasped out,

"Great heavens! _It is a human body!_"

Yes!--if that may be so called which was but the mutilated husk of
what had once been a living, breathing, human being! But now there was
little left beyond a shapeless form!

Templemore felt sick, and almost reeled; but Monella's grasp up-held
him, and was a silent reminder that he was expected to master his
emotions, however strong and painful they might be.

"It is no time to give way," Monella whispered in his ear. "Wait and
watch!"

It was, however, almost more than Templemore could do. He felt like
Dante led by his guide to witness the tortures of the damned. But here,
as it seemed to him, was a scene that rivalled in horror, if not in
agony, even the scenes in the 'Inferno.' He set his teeth and clenched
his hands; his breath was laboured, and his heart almost stood still.
But for Monella's hold upon his shoulder he must have fallen.

But now there came out of the covered-way two figures; they stood on
the terrace and bent their gaze upon the scene, silent and motionless.
They were dressed in flowing robes of black, or some dark colour, that
were emblazoned on the breast with a golden star.

Grim, weird figures were they; their dark forms showing sharply against
the light-coloured rocks behind them, the while they gazed with cruel
composure upon the ghastly contention between the loathsome reptiles
and the tree.

When it was ended, and the beasts had disappeared with their prey into
the dark waters of the pool, one of the figures on the terrace put a
whistle to his mouth, and a low piping sound reached the ears of the
concealed watchers.

Immediately a rumbling noise was heard; and one of the sliding gratings
beneath the terrace rolled back, thereby disclosing a cavernous
cell, in which was a lighted lamp on a rough table. Then a figure
seated by it, his face buried in his hands, sprang up with a loud
cry, and retreated into the thick gloom beyond. But the terrible
trailing branches swept in after him, twined round his legs and
threw him down, then quickly drew him out feet foremost. Vainly he
shrieked, and clutched at this and that; at the table, at the edge of
the sliding door; relentlessly, inexorably, he was dragged from one
futile hold to another, upsetting the lamp in his struggles, till he
was outside. Other branches swooped down upon him, coiling round him
in all directions, and stifling his cries as, slowly, with an awful
deliberation and absence of hurry, or even of the appearance of effort,
he was hauled high into the air and disappeared into the hollow of the
fatal tree. The great branches silently arranged themselves into their
knot-like circle; at another sound of the low whistle the sliding door
returned to its place with a sullen rumble, and the two dark-robed
spectators turned and left the place.

Then Monella and Ergalon also came away; and it is no disparagement
of Templemore's courage or 'nerve' to state that they had almost to
carry him between them. When they had got to a safe distance, Monella
placed him on a boulder, and held to his lips a flask containing a
strong cordial. Templemore, who had been on the point of fainting, felt
revived by it at once; the liquid seemed to course quickly through his
veins, and the feeling of deadly sickness, after a time, passed away.

Monella, meanwhile, contemplated him with compassion and concern, but
said no word. Presently Templemore gasped out,

"What horrors! What frightful, cold-blooded atrocity! What a race
of foul fiends! Great heavens! To think such things go on in this
fair land--a land that seems so peaceful, so contented, so free from
ordinary pain and suffering!"

"Ah, my son," replied Monella, and there was an indescribable
sadness in his tones, "_now_ you can understand the great horror in
the land; that which has oppressed it for many long ages; that casts a
gloom upon people's lives; that turns to gall and bitterness what, but
for it, would be a life of innocent enjoyment."

  [Illustration: "OTHER BRANCHES SWOOPED DOWN, COILING ROUND HIM."
    [_Page 252._]

"But why----?" Templemore exclaimed almost fiercely; but the other
checked him.

"I think I know what you would say," Monella went on. "You would know
two or three things, I think. To the first question (as I read it)
I reply that the reason you have not heard of this thing from other
people is that they have learned, from long habit, never to refer to
it, even to one another. Almost incredible, you think? Not more so than
are many things that happen in your own life, in your own country. I
could name many known to all, yet alluded to by none--often wrongly, as
I hold. Still, there is the fact. It is the same here. This horror in
the land broods over, enthrals the people; yet, because they hold it in
such dread, they make an affectation of pretending not to know of its
existence; perhaps, in mercy to their children.

"Next, it surprises you that _I_ have not told you sooner. The answer
is simple. You are not like myself; I am one of this people; you are
but a sojourner in the land--a visitor. I had the desire to make your
sojourn here as pleasant as it could be; that your interest in the many
curious things you see about you should not be lessened, nor your stay
here rendered unhappy by the knowledge of that which you have seen
to-night--the earlier knowledge of which could have done no good to any
one.

"Lastly, you naturally desire to know why, in that case, I have now
chosen to enlighten you. For this reason: the time is approaching when
certain plans of mine and of the king's will be completed, and when I
devoutly hope we may be able, with God's help, to end this thing for
ever. In that I shall ask you to help us--I hope you will aid us all
you can."

"I will," said Templemore impetuously. "Against such a hellish crew as
that I am with you heart and soul. I think I begin to understand----"

"Yes, I never doubted your readiness to take part with us. But it was
necessary to give you absolute proof of what goes on, that you might
understand those with whom we have to deal. You have now seen for
yourself----"

"Ay, I have seen!" Jack shuddered.

"And will now understand that, when the time comes to extirpate
this serpent brood, there must be no hesitation, no paltering, no
half-and-half measures, no mercy. It will be of no use to kill the old
snakes and leave the brood to grow up again, or eggs to hatch. Do you
take in my meaning?"

"Yes, and think you will be right and well justified."

"Good. If you wonder why, knowing all this, I have done nothing
heretofore, it is that the king's plans could not sooner be matured.
Meantime we have stayed the horror for a while."

Jack uttered an impatient exclamation.

"Oh, yes," Monella declared, "we _have_, and you have helped to do it.
These wretched creatures you have seen sacrificed to this horrible
'fetish-tree' of theirs, are their own soldiers--those who escaped from
us by running away. They deserve no pity. They themselves have given
many an innocent victim--even women and children--to that tree----"

"I know that to be true," Ergalon interposed.

"The truce we forced on Coryon," resumed Monella "has had this effect
at least--it has saved the lives of numbers of poor creatures who would
have been seized and sacrificed during the time that we have been here.
Instead of that, however, the arch-fiend Coryon has had to content
himself with making victims of his own wretched myrmidons by way of
punishment for their running away from us. They are as bad as he--very
nearly. At any rate they are not worth your pity."

"Well, I am glad to hear that, at least," said Templemore. "It takes
away a little of the load of horror that turned me sick. Truly, of all
the diabolical atrocities that the mind of man in its depths of cruelty
and wickedness ever conceived----"

Ergalon shuddered now in his turn.

"I can look on at the sacrifice of victims such as these," he said
gravely, "because I know that every one of them has deserved his fate
by acts of cruelty; but when it is a case, as it has been in the past,
of women, young girls, and poor little children----"

"For Heaven's sake say no more," Jack entreated; "I begin to feel sick
again at such suggestions! I will fight to the death against such
wretches. As it is, for the rest of my life I shall see before me in
my dreams what I saw to-night. Surely no wilder phantasy, no more
outrageous, blood-curdling nightmare ever entered the most disordered
brain. And now it will haunt me to my life's end!"



CHAPTER XXIV.

TRAPPED!


One day the king announced his intention to fix a day for Leonard's
formal betrothal to Ulama according to the usage of the country.
Immediately the people began preparations to do honour to the event;
and congratulations and marks of friendship and goodwill were showered
upon the young couple by all those who were well affected towards the
king.

In the opposite camp, however, as might be expected, the announcement
was differently received; and, indeed, the crafty Coryon took advantage
of it to sow dissension among some of the people, and to suggest
opposition to the proposal. His adherents had certain supporters in the
land; people who bought their own security by aiding Coryon secretly
against their neighbours. This was why the king had shrunk from
pushing matters to the extreme against the priest. He knew that these
half-hearted or doubtful ones were quite as likely to side with Coryon,
at the last moment, as with himself, and that thus a civil war would be
inaugurated.

Monella, since he had come into the country and espoused the king's
side, had thrown more energy and method into the cause than had been
previously bestowed upon it. Through the Fraternity of the White
Priests, and their covert friends and sympathisers, and through
Ergalon, who had secretly gained over some of Coryon's people,
an active work had been carried on amongst all classes, and with
satisfactory results. But Coryon, on his side, had been busy too;
though hitherto with less success. Now, however, he found a useful aid
in the objection many felt to seeing the king's only daughter wedded
to one who--as it was cunningly suggested to them--was a stranger,
an adventurer, come from no one knew where, and unable to show such
evidence of descent and other qualifications as should entitle him to
seek alliance with the daughter of their king.

But Coryon's emissaries worked silently and unseen; and there was
nothing outwardly to show that two undercurrents were gradually gaining
strength and approaching that point whence the slightest accident might
bring them into active opposition.

Indeed, in announcing the proposed betrothal, the king had, for once,
acted directly against Monella's advice. The latter had counselled that
the matter should be kept secret until the contest with Coryon--now in
abeyance--had been finally decided; for he foresaw the use to which
Coryon would put it.

Leonard and Ulama were too much taken up with each other and with their
own happiness to trouble themselves about the 'pros and cons' that had
weighed in the minds of Monella and those who thought with him. That
the effect of the proclamation would be to hasten his marriage was, of
course, sufficient to commend it to Leonard; and he left all the rest
to others.

Templemore knew not sufficient of what was going on around him to
have any opinion upon the subject. Since the night when the real use
to which the great devil-tree was put had been revealed to him, he
had been very unhappy. He felt as might one who had been slumbering
peacefully in sight of a terrible peril, to whose existence he had
suddenly been awakened. Not that he had any fear for his own safety;
yet he was filled with a nameless dread, a vague sense of horror and
distrust, of unreality, in the life about him. He could not but realise
that there would be no real peace, no security for life or property,
until an absolute end had been put to Coryon and his atrocious crew,
and their abominable fetish-tree destroyed. But when would that be?
he wondered. His sense of disquiet was increased by having to keep
from Leonard the knowledge he had gained, and being thus debarred
from discussing matters with him. Not, however (as he acknowledged to
himself), that that would have been of much advantage; for Leonard was
too much absorbed in 'love's young dream' to be likely to discuss such
things coolly and critically.

Three days before that fixed for the ceremony of betrothal, which
was to be marked by a still grander entertainment, the king gave a
preliminary _fête_. There was much feasting for all and sundry; boats,
gaily decorated with flowers and banners and coloured streamers, glided
to and fro upon the lake; the young people skilled in diving from great
heights into the water with their parachute aids, contended for prizes,
and there were many other forms of gaiety and festivity.

Leonard and Ulama, seated upon a terrace, looked upon the scene, and
waved their hands in frequent recognition of friendly faces and signals
here and there amongst the crowd. Ulama's lovely face was radiant,
and the soft light in her gentle eyes, her pleased acknowledgment of
the tokens of affection and the good wishes she received on every
side, and her grateful smiles for all, were charming to behold. Her
wondrous grace and beauty seemed, if possible, enhanced by her
half-shy, half-proud glances, and the flush that mounted to her cheeks
when she turned her eyes with love on Leonard. Never before, even in
that country where the charms of the daughters of the land exceed the
average, had such a vision of lovely maidenhood and such rare beauty
been beheld. And yet all those who knew her, loved her as much for the
innocence and sweetness that beamed ever in her face and guided all her
thoughts and words and actions, as for the physical perfection that
compelled their admiration.

She stole her little hand into her lover's and sighed quietly.

"I am so happy, and yet my eyes are full of tears. And I feel half
frightened too; frightened lest my happiness should be too great to
last. Is it wrong, then, to be happy, think you? It almost seems so,
when I know so many others are unhappy."

Leonard fondly pressed her hand, and gazed deep down into her eyes.

"If you feel happy in your love, dear heart," he answered, "it is
because you love so much; and surely to love cannot be wrong, or to
take pleasure in it. Besides, in that you think so much of others you
but show your sweet unselfishness. Therefore, trouble not yourself
about the regrets for others that accompany your love. For, if to-day
they sorrow, they have had their times of happiness in the past, or may
have them in the future."

"It may be so," replied Ulama. "I doubt whether in all the world there
is another maiden who loves as I do, and therefore who could know the
dread that weighs me down. But as for me--ah, I tremble at my own great
joy, and fear it is too great to last. And every one is so kind to me
and seems so rejoiced to see me happy--that--that I can hardly keep
from crying."

And for a brief minute the gentle-hearted girl placed her hands before
her face to hide her tears--tears that were born of the great gladness
of her love and her tender sympathy for others.

And so for these two the day passed, like many that had gone before it,
in a blissful dream; but it was a dream from which they were soon to be
roughly awakened to the dark knowledge of what wickedness can achieve.

For, amid the feasting and among the revellers, were evil beings
who had plotted in their black hearts to kill the joy of the
gentlest-hearted maiden that ever with her sweetness brightened this
sorrow-laden earth; wretches that even then were spinning around her
the treacherous web designed by the fell Coryon to end her dream of
happiness for ever.

       *       *       *       *       *

When Templemore woke up the next morning he gazed about him in
surprise. He was not in his usual sleeping apartment; but, instead, in
some room that was strange to him. It was small, dingy and ill-lighted,
and the couch upon which he found himself was not that on which he
had lately slept. He sprang up and, in vague alarm, looked round for
his clothes and his arms; the clothes were there, but there was no
revolver, and his rifle was nowhere to be seen. Even his sword and
dagger, that formed part of his usual dress, had been removed. Dressing
himself hastily, he rushed to the door, but it was fastened.

"Great heavens!" he exclaimed, "I am a prisoner; my rifle and pistol
have been taken away in my sleep. Oh, what, what has happened to
Leonard? What can it all mean?"

He hammered at the door, but no answer came. Then he tried to look out
of the window, but it was too high for him to be able to see anything
through it but the sky. There was nothing to be done but wait; so
he sat down upon the bed, a picture of misery and bewilderment, and
forthwith began to formulate all sorts of theories and ideas to account
for what had happened to him.

When, after a long interval, the door was opened, a man entered whose
dress showed him to be one of Coryon's black-tunicked soldiers. He
brought in some food, and a pitcher and a mug, which he deposited upon
a small table, and was turning to go, when Templemore sprang up and
addressed him. He felt so incensed at the sight of this emissary of
Coryon's that he could indeed scarcely refrain from hurling himself
upon him, despite the fact that the man was armed. But just outside the
door, as he could see, were other soldiers; he could hear, too, the
clank of their arms, so he knew that to attack the one before him would
be worse than useless.

"What is the meaning of this?" he demanded.

The man, who was just on the point of going out, turned back for a step
or two, and then said in a low tone,

"You are the prisoner of the High Priest Coryon."

"But how, and why, and where?"

The man shook his head quietly. He was not an ill-favoured fellow, and
regarded his prisoner in a half-friendly manner, Templemore thought.

"You are still in the king's palace," he continued, "but your friend
and the princess have been taken away to Coryon's abode."

"Taken away to his place? Great God help them and help us all,
then!" Jack moaned, as the picture of what he had seen there that
well-remembered night rose up before his mind. "And how has all this
come about? and where is Monella, and where is the king?"

"I may not talk to you," the soldier answered. "I have disobeyed orders
in telling you thus much. But Ergalon was a friend of mine and I know
that he is a friend of yours." And he went out, closing and fastening
the door behind him.

Here was terrible news! Leonard and Ulama prisoners of Coryon; perhaps
immured in one of those awful dungeons within reach of the terrible
tree, where the very sight of what went on beyond those barred and
grated doors was enough to drive the bravest mad; and where, at any
moment, that whistle--a door run back--and then----!

"It's too dreadful--too horrible to think of!" Templemore exclaimed.
He sprang up and began pacing restlessly up and down. "I shall go mad
myself, if I dwell upon such thoughts."

The hours dragged slowly by till evening, when, just when it was
growing dark, the door was once more opened and the same man came in
and, looking at Templemore, made a sign to be silent. Then he returned
to the door and led in a muffled figure, and, without a word, retired.
The figure threw back a hood that covered the head, and Templemore,
with glad surprise, saw that it was Zonella.

He ran forward and took her hand in his.

"Zonella!" he exclaimed. "This is surprising, and gladdening too. It
does one good to see your face after all that I have been imagining.
Tell me--what does it all mean?"

She laid her finger on her lips and said in a hushed voice,

"It means that the cunning, treacherous Coryon has played a trick upon
us all, and made you prisoners. Your friend and our beloved princess
have been carried off, the king himself is kept a prisoner in his
room, and so are many of his ministers."

"And Monella and Ergalon?"

"Monella was away in Myrlanda, as you know, and so has escaped; and
Ergalon--who is free too, but in hiding--has sent a trusty messenger to
warn him."

"And you?"

"I am virtually a prisoner too. That is, I am forbidden to leave the
palace. But I am free to go about within it. The whole place is full of
Coryon's soldiers."

"Can you tell me how it was managed?"

"The 'loving cup' was drugged. All who partook of it fell into an
unnaturally heavy sleep. You remember almost every one throughout the
palace drank some, in honour of your friend and our poor princess.
Alas! alas! My dear, my loved Ulama!"

She sobbed bitterly, while Jack marched excitedly up and down the place.

"Is there no hope--nothing to be done?" he exclaimed despairingly.

"There is only one thing," was answered in a low, hesitating tone.

"What is that?" he asked eagerly.

"I have come to try to aid you. If you wrap up in this cloak and go out
quietly now, while it is half dark, you may get clear out of the palace
unobserved. One of my maids is waiting for me without, and will show
you the way. I warned her of my plan, and she is to be trusted."

"What! And leave you here in my place to suffer Coryon's vengeance?
Why, Zonella--dear, kind friend--what must you think of me?"

"I can think of nothing else," she answered simply. "And for me--I care
not. Whatever may befall me, _you_ will be able to get away; perhaps
even to serve your friend."

Jack took her hand in his, not noticing that she seemed to shiver under
the touch.

"Such an offer is too kind, too much, my dear, good friend," he said.
"It cannot be; we must try----"

"For _my_ sake, then," she exclaimed impulsively. "I would rather
die myself than see you carried off to yonder dens. Or"--she paused
confusedly, and then went on--"for your friend's sake. Think! Consider!
Do you refuse merely from any thought about me? Think what you might be
able to do for others--for your friend, for Ulama!"

Templemore passed his hand over his face; the tears were coming into
his eyes. When he tried to speak again, he felt half choking.

"You are a noble girl, Zonella," he answered with emotion; "and when
you appeal to me on _their_ behalf you cannot know how hard it is to me
to stay on here, knowing that I have the chance--just the chance--of
saving them. But it cannot be, dear friend, it cannot be; but--I thank
you. My whole heart thanks you." He pressed her hand, and turned
sorrowfully away.

Presently, she spoke again, this time in a different tone; indeed, her
voice sounded hard and strained.

"Then Ergalon shall risk his life for you," she said. "I know that
which will induce him to attempt what to-day he said could not be done.
I will seek him at once. For now, good-bye; do not go to bed, but be
ready, if you hear some one at the window. You can reach it, if you
stand up on the table." And, without further explanation, she left him.

Templemore sat for long pondering upon this strange interview, and
wondering too what she had planned; and the time seemed to drag
wearily while he waited for some signal at the window.

It was about midnight, as he judged, when there came a tap, tap from
the outside. He sprang on to the table; then by the dim light that came
through the window he could discern the upper part of a man's body
swinging on a rope.

"Is that Ergalon?" he whispered.

"Yes," came back the answer. "If I send you in a short rope and you
wait till I have gone down, you can then pull in the rope I am on, get
on to it, and come down yourself. Do you dare try it?"

"Yes."

"Then here it is. Now wait till you find you can pull this one in."

Templemore felt about and caught hold of a small cord that was hanging
inside the window--which was open to the air--and he pulled lightly
at it till he felt the strain upon the rope to which it was attached,
relaxed. Then he pulled harder, and a portion of a thicker rope came
inside. By its means he was able to climb up on to the sill. With
some trouble and manoeuvring he got outside and was soon sliding down
the rope, which Ergalon steadied from below. It was very dark, and he
descended amidst some trees where it was darker still. When he touched
the ground, at first, he could see nothing; but Ergalon turned on the
light of a bull's-eye lantern. It was one of those Monella had brought
with him, and lent by him to Ergalon.

A voice, that he knew to be Zonella's, whispered,

"That has been well done. Now what do you propose to do?"

"I must get down to the canyon by which we came into the mountain.
There we have left spare weapons. But I can't get down in the dark;
not even, I fear, with the lantern."

"There will be a moon later; perhaps that will help. Let us go in that
direction."

"What! you, too?" Jack asked in surprise.

"Yes, why not? I shall be as safe with you as in the midst of Coryon's
hateful minions, and I may be of service."

"You couldn't climb down that place and up again," Jack reminded her.

"Then I can wait near the top, and Ergalon can go with you to help you
carry what you want."

"But we shall be a long time, all day to-morrow."

"No matter, I will manage."

Then the three made their way with much difficulty, owing to the
darkness, to the top of the canyon. Here they sat and talked in guarded
voices till the moon had risen high enough to light the hazardous
descent.

Templemore learned how Coryon's plans had been carried out; how
Ergalon's escape had been due to his absence from the palace, awaiting
the return of a messenger from Monella. At a late hour, on his way back
to the palace, he had been warned by a friend amongst Coryon's people.
On this he had sent on the messenger to Monella to inform him of all
that had occurred. The man had been only just in time to get through
the subterranean road before Coryon's soldiers took possession of it
and closed it.

Templemore's escape had been planned by Zonella. She had smuggled
Ergalon into the palace and up to the roof disguised as one of her own
maids; and in this she had been aided by one of his friends amongst
the soldiers of the priest. Ergalon had at first objected strongly,
conceiving that the attempt was foolhardy and could not succeed; that
he would only lose his own liberty and, perhaps, his life, and that
Monella might be displeased. In short, he had considered himself bound
to do nothing that was in any way risky until Monella had communicated
with him. But Zonella had contrived, by some means, to persuade him;
and had herself stolen out and steadied the rope for Ergalon in his
perilous descent.

From his friend in the opposite camp Ergalon had learned one very
important thing--that nothing was likely to be done to Leonard or Ulama
till the day that had been named for their betrothal. That day Coryon
had fixed upon, with cruel irony, for the holding of a sort of trial,
the result of which would be a foregone conclusion.

"Therefore," said Ergalon, "if you can get back by the morning of
to-morrow" (it being then already morning) "you will be in time; though
I fear you will find it difficult to effect much good alone, and I
cannot yet tell when the lord Monella may be able to get through the
subterranean passage to come to your assistance."

"We will try, anyhow," said Jack, setting his teeth with grim
determination. "And, if I fail, we will die together. One can but die
once. I think it is possible to get back with a couple of rifles and
pistols and the necessary ammunition by the morning. If human effort
can do it, it shall be done; and I can then put a pistol into your
hands, too, my good friend."



CHAPTER XXV.

'IN THE DEVIL-TREE'S LARDER!'


Leonard awoke from a deep sleep, on the morning after the _fête_, to
find himself, like Templemore, in a place that was strange to him.

So profound had been the slumber induced by the drug that had been
mixed with the drink, that he had been carried all the way to Coryon's
retreat in absolute unconsciousness. When he at last woke up, he was
in one of the cells under the terrace within the reach of the great
flesh-eating tree.

No words can describe the horror and anguish that filled his breast
when, by degrees, he realised the dreadful truth. Not only did he
shudder at the thought of his own too probable fate, but the fear that
his sweet Ulama might share the same awful doom drove him almost to the
verge of madness. He cursed the false sense of security that had led up
to this terrible result. A few simple precautions would have frustrated
this treachery! But it was too late!

Through the grated door he could see the great devil-tree, hear the
swishing of its long, trailing branches, watch them come up to the
grating and search about over its face for some opening large enough
to penetrate, even trying to wriggle in through its small slits and
perforations. In the centre of the cell was a block of wood fixed
in the ground to serve as a table. A small stream of water ran down
from a pipe above and fell into a channel in the floor, and a pitcher
stood beside it. For chair there was a smaller log of wood; the 'bed'
on which he had found himself was simply a bag of straw whereon were
laid two or three rugs. An iron door shut off the back from an interior
gallery, and the cell was partitioned off from others, on each side, by
grated screens, like that in the front. The occupants of adjacent cells
could, therefore, see each other.

As Leonard looked round in astonishment and alarm, and exclaimed,
involuntarily, "Where am I?" a discordant peal of mocking laughter rang
out from the cell upon his right.

"Where is he! He doesn't even know where he is!" a harsh voice cried
out. "He--one of the gods that wielded the lightning and thunder! After
all, caught by Coryon, and brought here like the rest of us! Ha! ha!
ha!"

Leonard, shocked and amazed, went to the side whence the sounds
proceeded, and there saw, peering through the bars, a horrible face
that grinned at him with hideous sneers and wild-looking eyes. The hair
and beard were matted and dishevelled; the face and figure, so far as
he could make them out, looked gaunt and thin. He was dressed in the
black tunic with gold star that denoted one of Coryon's soldiers.

"Ha! ha! ha!" laughed the mocking voice. "You don't know where you are,
eh? I'll tell you, my lord, son of the gods, that can kill us soldiers
with a magic lightning wand, but can't keep yourself out of Coryon's
clutches--you are in the 'devil-tree's larder'!"

"The devil-tree's larder!"

"Yes, my lord; the devil-tree's larder. That means that they have put
you here to keep you cool and in good condition, before they hand you
over to be food for their pet out there." And he pointed to the tree.

Leonard shuddered, and the awful truth of the man's statement forced
itself upon his mind, in spite of his wish to believe it too atrocious
to be possible. He went up to the door in the front and examined it. He
saw that it ran in grooves at the top and bottom.

"Ah," said the mocking voice behind him, "that's right. You see how
it's done now. They run that back from inside, sudden-like, some time
when you don't expect it; and in come the twisting branches that lay
hold of you, and out you go to make him a nice meal. Ha! ha! ha!"

Leonard turned and stared in helpless horror. Was it possible that
there was such cold-blooded, fiendish cruelty in the world? Yet--he
remembered the fate of the poor puma. He trembled, and turned sick and
faint; while the one in the next cell continued to jeer and mock at him.

"Where is your lightning-wand, my lord? Why have you not brought it
to try it on the tree? You managed to get _me_ brought here; and now
you've managed to get here yourself!"

"I got _you_ brought here? How? What then are you doing here?" Leonard
asked, his surprise overcoming his disgust.

"What am I doing here? Why, the same as you--waiting in 'the
devil-tree's larder' till I'm given to him for a meal--as you will be.
And it's all through you; because you killed some of us and we others
ran away; this is what they do with us."

Leonard shuddered again, while the man went to the stream of water
that, as in Leonard's cell, was pouring down from a pipe above, and,
filling the pitcher, took a long drink.

"Makes you thirsty, this sort of thing," he said, with another jeering
laugh. "You'll find that water there mighty handy if they let you stay
here long enough. Ha! ha! ha!"

The man was evidently in a state of high fever. The place was full of
foetid odours given off by the foul tree; and, apart from that, the
want of sleep would superinduce fever, if, indeed, it did not drive mad
the wretched occupants of the cells; for who could sleep for more than
a minute or two at a time in one of those dens, where, at any moment,
the door might be run back and the miserable prisoner delivered over
to the fatal branches? It was this constant, ever-present dread that
banished sleep, and must inevitably end in madness for the victims,
provided they were kept there long enough.

Then the thought flashed upon him that Ulama also might be an occupant
of one of these awful cells; and at that such a burst of grief and
agony came over him that he hid his face within his hands and groaned
aloud.

"Yah! don't give way like that, my lord. Being here's not so bad when
once you're used to it! Look at me! You don't see me worry and cry like
a great girl. I take it quietly; I've been too used to seeing others
here. Many's the time I've had the pulling back of these doors and have
seen a man or a woman hauled out squealing and kicking like an animal
going to be killed; and I've laughed at them. I thought it such fun!
And now those who used to help me and laugh with me, they're waiting to
see how I like it; and they will laugh at me, too, just the same. But I
don't care. What does it matter? It's nothing, I tell you, when you're
as used to it as I am."

The wretched creature thus trying to delude himself with boastful
talk and jeering at his fellow-captive, was himself, it was easy to
see, worked up into the highest state of nervous dread and fear. The
least sound made him start and look with straining eyeballs in the
direction from which it came. He kept going to the pitcher for draughts
of water, and never remained still for a single instant. If he sat down
for a short space, the twitching of a foot, or leg, or hand, spoke of
agitation within that would not be controlled.

Leonard turned from the sight with mingled feelings of disgust and
loathing and, going to the other side, looked through the grating of
the adjoining cell, to see whether it was occupied. And, looking, his
heart seemed to come up into his throat when he saw a silent female
form seated with its back to him. The exclamation that escaped him
caused the form to turn, when he saw that the woman was a stranger.
Her face was pleasing in its features, and good-looking, but had in
its expression such a burden of unspeakable horror and despair that
he shivered as he met her glance. At sight of it, for the moment, he
almost forgot his own misery, and he asked gently,

"And who then are you?"

For a few seconds there was no reply; then, in a voice that had in it
the suggestion of much sweetness, albeit now forced, and unnatural,

"I scarcely know. Once I was a happy young girl; then a well-beloved
and loving wife and mother; now I am only something with which to feed
yonder monster."

"Yes," continued the woman dreamily, "I was once good-looking, they
said. Certainly, my husband thought so; and that was enough for me. But
it was my curse, alas! for Skelda, the chief of the priests next to
Coryon, thought so too. He stole me away from my home and my children
and forced me to become one of his so-called wives. And now, because my
sorrowing and pining have seared and furrowed my good looks, even as
they had eaten into my heart, he has tired of me, and has sent me to
the fate that, sooner or later, we all come to here--all of my sex, at
least, as well as many of the other among those who are not priests.
Yet," she added, "it is but five years since they brought me here. What
I look like now you can see for yourself!"

Leonard looked at her with pity; and there came into his mind the
remembrance of Ulama's words of the day before--"It seems almost wrong
to be happy when I know so many others are unhappy"--and his own light
rejoinder. And he reproached himself in that he had been content to
bask in love and self-enjoyment while, close at hand, there were such
abuses, such direful sufferings. True, he had not actually known
their whole nature and extent; but he _had_ known of the so-called
'blood-tax'; and had heard enough to make it certain, had he given the
matter due consideration, that there were evils in the land that cried
aloud for remedy.

Then his thoughts reverted to Ulama, and he asked,

"Do you know aught concerning the Princess Ulama?"

"I know that she was to be brought to this place, and that she was to
be put into the cell I occupied before they brought me here yesterday.
It is underground; a long way from this part."

At least, then, the poor child, Leonard thankfully reflected, was not
in one of the cells in sight of the dreaded tree.

Presently he asked the woman whether she had known Zelus, the son of
Coryon.

"Ah yes! Who did not in this land?" was the reply. "The monster! A
great spasm as of relief and joy came upon us all--all the women, I
mean--when we heard of his death. He was the worst of them all, though
one of the youngest. No one was safe from him. Even the princess he
sought to bring here to treat as he had treated so many others!"

"I know. I killed him when he was in the very act of raising his
cowardly hand against the king's daughter," said Leonard quietly.

The woman turned and looked at him with more of interest in her manner
than she had yet shown. She scanned him closely.

"Then," she said, "you must be one of the strangers of whom we heard.
But you are young, and not, as I have been told, of our race. We heard
of one older, one who, it was said, belonged to our people. And when we
heard that, we all rejoiced; for surely, we said, he brings us tidings
of what all have been expecting. Therefore, we who were held here in a
bondage that is a daily, hourly torture, a never-ceasing degradation,
we welcomed your coming as a sign that the Great Spirit had at last
brought our long punishment to an end. I, even I, dared to hope I
should escape the fate that has befallen all others, and should live to
see again my husband and children before I die. But, alas! it was but a
dream--a delusive, passing hope, a thing too good to come in my time.
Four months have passed and nothing has occurred, though ye smote the
hated Zelus quickly; and even Coryon was filled with fear and dread.
Why have ye failed to do more, and, instead, fallen victim to Coryon?"

Ah! why? It was a question that now sank deep into Leonard's soul
and tortured him with vain regrets and self-reproach. For he had a
heart that swelled with kindness towards his fellows, and a tender
conscience; and the more he thought things over, the more difficult he
found it to feel that he was without blame. He had been too selfishly
wrapped up in his own personal feelings, he now acknowledged; too
little interested in those very matters that, as the king's future
son-in-law, should have taken, if not the first, at least a prominent
position in his mind. And then, to be ignobly trapped, at a time when
there was nothing but feasting and amusement in their minds! Their arms
taken from them--they who could have kept at bay all Coryon's soldiers
and dispersed them, had they but been vigilant and wakeful! It was
a cruelly humiliating thought--it was worse; for the child-hearted,
innocent Ulama, who had a right to rely on his protection, had been
sacrificed also to his self-abandonment and want of watchfulness.

Thus did Leonard reason, now that his opportunities had vanished. He
knew not what was the true explanation of the position in which he
found himself; but a vague, half-formed idea crept into his mind that
Coryon would hardly have ventured upon such a daring stroke unless he
had felt he could rely upon the support, or, at least, the indifferent
neutrality, of a certain proportion of the people. And if he, Leonard,
had shown more interest in the affairs of the people over whom he
was one day to be king, he might have gained so firm a hold on their
confidence and affections as would have rendered Coryon's schemes
hopeless from the very start.

But such thoughts, whether well or ill-founded, came now all too late.
Here he was, caged, and at Coryon's mercy. His relentless enemy had but
to give the signal and he would be consigned to an awful death.

He had some further talk with the woman, who told him terrible
tales of indescribable barbarities and iniquities perpetrated by the
priestly tyrants under the covering of their 'religion'; tales that
made the blood within him boil, and filled his soul with savage, though
helpless, indignation. Then he asked the woman's name, and was told it
was Fernina.

At last, he asked the question that, though often upon his tongue, yet
he had shrunk from giving voice to.

"And what do you suppose will happen--here?"

She sighed and shook her head, hopelessly, despairingly.

"Only what always happens," she answered, in a dull, listless tone.
"None that are once placed here ever escape the fatal tree; except that
sometimes they are carried up above and laid on what they call 'the
devil-tree's ladle.'"

"'The devil-tree's ladle?'"

"Yes; it is a contrivance on wheels; a kind of long plank shaped at one
end like a great spoon. Those who are to be given to the tree are laid
upon it, bound so that they cannot move, and then pushed out along the
stone-work till they are within reach of the branches; those who push
the plank at the other end being far enough away for their own safety.
It is part of the system of terrorism and torture here," Fernina added,
"to place some of us, at times, in rooms that are in the rock above,
and that overlook this place, and to keep us locked in there for days
and nights, that we may be cowed and frightened at the scenes that are
enacted here. Often, a hateful fascination compels you to become an
unwilling witness; in any case, you cannot avoid hearing the shrieks
and moans; imagination supplies the rest."

Leonard turned away, not caring to hear more, and sat down to brood,
eating his heart out with keen regrets, all now unavailing. The
jeering of the half-mad wretch in the other cell had ceased; he,
too, had fallen into a sort of brooding lethargy, and so was quiet;
but a constant tap, tap, tap, of one foot on the stone floor told he
was not asleep. Thus the hours dragged by in silence, save for the
intermittent, stealthy rustle of the branches outside, as they came
prowling over the face of the gratings in their sleepless seeking after
the prey they seemed to scent within.

Once, a small grating at the bottom of the door of each cell was
opened, and a platter with coarse food upon it was pushed in; then the
space closed up again. The sounds made them all, for the moment, start;
then they relapsed again into the stupor of despair. None touched the
food or even noticed it. But the man in the further cell had now seated
himself near the little stream of water and, every now and then, he
roused himself to take long draughts.

When it grew dark, a lighted lantern was pushed under the door into
each cell, as the food had been. Leonard felt drowsy and longed for
rest; yet was afraid to lie down or to close his eyes. Now and again
they even closed against his will in a short doze; but it was never of
long duration, and each time he woke it was with a renewed sense of the
horror of his situation.

He had just roused from one of these brief snatches of sleep, and had
had time to remember once more where he was, when a low rumble made
him spring up and look around. Then the man in the next cell gave an
awful cry--a cry that rang in Leonard's ears for many a day--and at the
same moment the grated door of his prison slowly began to move. In his
demented terror he banged himself against the partition between the two
cells, tried to get his fingers into the slits that he might cling to
it; then climbed up on to the wooden block in the middle of the cell.
But the rustling branches neared him, sought for him on every side, and
soon mounted the log and caught him in their deadly embrace. Slowly,
but irresistibly, while he never ceased his cries or his vain struggles
and clutchings, the coils around him tightened and dragged him out into
the darkness, where his cries gradually became weaker, and were finally
heard no more; and when they ceased, and he heard the door rolling
back, with dull rumbling, to its place, Leonard tottered to the pile of
rugs in the corner of his cell, and fell upon them in a swoon.

When he returned to consciousness a bright light was shining through
the grated door. He got up and, like one who is but a helpless
on-looker in a fevered dream, he went to the bars and gazed out. It
was bright moonlight outside, and there he saw the same ghastly scene
repeated that Templemore had witnessed a short time before. He saw
the dead body of the latest victim of the tree's insatiable thirst
for blood dangling amongst the branches; caught up, now by the neck,
and now by the feet, and passed on from one branch to another in what
seemed a new dance or sport of death; and finally carried off by the
great crawling reptiles that had come up to claim their share in the
repast.

While the scene lasted, Leonard seemed incapable of volition; his limbs
refused to obey the will of his reeling brain and to bear him away
from the sight. But, when the creatures had disappeared, he turned and
made his way once more to the low bed, where he remained in a state of
torpor till the day was far advanced.

After what seemed a long interval, he sat up and rubbed his eyes, after
the manner of one just awakened from the horror of a nightmare. Then he
saw the woman who occupied the next cell standing with her eyes fixed
on him; and, when she found he was once more awake and conscious, she
addressed him.

"I am sorry for you," she said. "Even in my own misery I am not so
blinded but that I can see that your burden of sorrow is a heavy
one--more than you can bear. Yet methinks, were I a man, I would not
thus give way to it. I am but a woman, but my greatest wish--since
nothing else is left me--is that I may see Coryon once more--stand
face to face with him--and show him that all his calculated cruelty
and subtle ingenuity of torture have not subdued my spirit, nor the
scorn that a heart conscious of having done no wrong can feel for such
as he. I would give him back look for look, hate for hate, as I have
before to-day; and make his wicked eyes quail before mine with the
consciousness that the spirit of one he has unjustly oppressed can
show itself greater than his own. But with _you_--he will but laugh at
you--for I feel, somehow, you will be taken from here to meet him. I
suspect he has sent you here first to crush your spirit with the sight
of the horrors that are perpetrated here. He--have you ever seen him?"

"No," Leonard answered, staring at her in amazement.

"Ah! then you know not what he is like. I tell you," the strange woman
went on, her eyes lighting up with unexpected fire, "he is a man whose
mere glance strikes terror into the souls of ordinary men. There is
that about him that makes you shrink as from some unearthly incarnation
of all the powers of evil; and in that he delights, yea, more, even,
than in torturing his victims."

Here she broke off abruptly; then resumed, in a different manner.

"I have been wondering whether you are he who was to have wedded the
princess?"

"Alas! yes. You have divined aright," Leonard answered sadly.

"Then," said the woman, with increasing warmth, that gained as she went
on an energy that was almost fierceness, "then, the greater the reason
you should throw off this weakness and gird up your strength to meet
the haughty tyrant and show him that your spirit is equal to his own.
In all his ill-spent time upon this earth--and they say it has been a
very long one--it is his boast and his pride that scarce any can meet
his glance without quailing under it. Think! Think how he will triumph
over you--how he will point the finger of scorn--turn the look of
cold contempt upon the one who aspired to be the future king of this
country--and _that_ means to stand on an equality with himself--and
yet, as he will declare, is but a weak, puling, or ordinary mortal.
Ah! would I were in your place! You can but die. But I would make him
feel that I had a heart, a spirit, more dauntless, more unconquerable
than his own. Ay! I would die knowing that for many and many and many a
year to come, the remembrance that he had met _one_ spirit he could not
intimidate or master would be to him an instrument of defeat and shame,
eating into his proud heart, even as the suffering he has caused to me
has gnawed into my own."

The woman spoke at the last with a force that almost electrified her
hearer. Leonard felt roused as, perhaps he had never been roused before.

"You are right, my friend!" he exclaimed, "and I thank you. As you
truly say, he who aspires to high things should show himself worthy
to achieve them, and not even the shadow of a dreadful death and
cruel sufferings should have the strength to cow his spirit in the
presence of this most cold-blooded and revolting tyrant. If I have
shown weakness, it was not from personal fear, but from thought of the
suffering of one dearly loved, and my self-reproach for having been
the unintentional cause of it. It is well that I met you; for you have
taught me how I should meet this Coryon!"

"And," said the woman, "if you want one unerring shaft to launch at
him--one that I know will pierce the armour of his pride and drive him
to the verge of madness--tell him you know one woman whose spirit more
than matches his; tell him that she is called Fernina."



CHAPTER XXVI.

CORYON.


At sunrise on the morning of the day that was to have witnessed
Leonard's public betrothal he was sitting staring gloomily, through the
grating of his cell, at the never-resting branches without, when the
sounds of drums, on which a long tattoo was being beaten, broke on his
ear. The sounds came from both near and far, some half-muffled in the
galleries and caverns of the cliff, others echoing from one side to the
other of the rocky enclosure till they died away in the far distance.

Since the previous morning nothing further had occurred; the woman was
still in the cell on one side of him; no new victim had been brought to
occupy the other.

The roll of the drums caused Leonard to start up and look about him.
He was haggard and worn from want of sleep, but his step was firm, and
his face was stamped with a look of quiet resolution that showed he had
taken to heart his fellow-prisoner's advice. When he rose up she spoke.

"It is as I thought," she said; "they are to have one of their
gatherings to-day, when the tree will be given its meal in sight of all
who are summoned to be present. That is why one of us was not given to
it last night, no doubt." And she gave a short, hard laugh, that was
far from pleasant to hear.

"No doubt it is your turn," she went on in a softer tone. "You must
summon all your fortitude. Be brave! If one must die, one needs not
show such craven fear as that half-mad wretch exhibited the other
night."

"You speak well, my good friend, and what you have said to me has
braced me up. Would that, before we part, I could say or do something
to serve or comfort you."

"That cannot be; only remember what I told you--if you want a taunt
to hurl at the tyrant's head, a taunt that will stab him through his
self-admiration, you know now what to say. Soon they will be here for
you. Ah!" here she broke off, as though a new thought had come to her.
"On these days they are all assembled outside--all the men. Only the
women and children are left within their dens. Oh, if I could but get
free for half an hour! I know some of their secrets, and could play a
trick upon them that would go far to square accounts between us. But,
of course," she added mournfully, "it is foolishness to think of it."

Overhead could now be heard the scuffling of many footsteps, and, anon,
more drum-beating, with much blowing of horns and trumpets. Next, there
were shouting and cheering, followed by what appeared to be a speech
from some one; but the words were not intelligible to the two anxious
listeners.

At one time the noise had brought a faint hope into Leonard's mind that
it might portend the approach of friends; but the words Fernina had
just spoken quickly dissipated any such idea.

Presently, steps were heard in the gallery outside, a key was inserted
in the lock, and two of Coryon's black-coated soldiers entered. They
were both armed with drawn swords; and one of them, addressing Leonard
in gruff accents, said,

"You are to come with us." Then, turning to his comrade, he asked,
"Have you the cord?"

"No," was the reply, "I thought you had it."

"And I thought you were bringing it. Go, get it."

The man went out.

Then he who had remained, raising a warning hand to Leonard, addressed
him in low, guarded tones.

"The lord Monella," he said, "is hastening to thine aid with many armed
followers; but he has been detained in the underground pass. Whether he
will arrive in time, I know not; if not and thou be harmed, thou wilt
be avenged."

"Who art thou, then?" asked Leonard.

"A friend of the lord Monella's."

"And my other friend--what of him?"

"He was a prisoner, but escaped, and has gone--I know not whither."

"Heaven be praised for that! Ah, I can guess where he has gone!" Just
then a sudden thought came into Leonard's head.

"See, friend," he said earnestly, "canst thou not turn the key in the
lock of the next cell and give the poor creature there one little
chance for liberty?"

"I do not know, but I will see. If the key fits, I might."

"Quick, then, ere thy fellow returns."

The man hastily took out the key and tried it in the lock of the
woman's cell; it fitted, and he unlocked the door; then withdrawing the
key, he replaced it in the door of Leonard's cell.

"Roll that log to the door to keep it close till you think it safe to
venture out," Leonard advised the woman. She had but just done so when
they heard the steps of the other soldier in the gallery.

"What is thy name, friend?" Leonard asked him in a whisper.

"Melta," the man answered; and then, when the other made his appearance
with some cord, he began to rate him for having been so long.

Leonard was bound in a loose fashion, just sufficient to prevent his
free use of either arms or legs, and led away. On his way out he said a
kindly word to Fernina.

"The Great Spirit help you," was the reply. "I have no fear for you
now; you will die with courage, if it be so fated. A heart that can
feel and think for a stranger in the midst of such distress as is yours
to-day is the heart of a brave man. But we may yet meet again."

Leonard shook his head sadly.

"I have no false hopes," he answered. "I do not expect that help can
now come in time. I may be avenged; that is the most I can hope for."

"Yes!" said the woman in a meaning tone; "you will be avenged; and so
shall I."

The man who had been sent for the cord laughed jeeringly at the woman
when she said this, but took no further notice of her; and the three
proceeded along the gallery till they came to some steps at the end.
Ascending these they entered a broader gallery or corridor above;
then, turning back, they passed out through the gateway and along
the covered-way, finally emerging on the main terrace of the great
amphitheatre.

Round the sides of the enclosure a large number of people were
gathered. Among these were black-coated soldiers to the number of,
perhaps, two hundred; the others, of whom there were from four to five
hundred, also carried arms of some sort, spears or swords. When Leonard
cast his eyes around and noted them, the heart within him sank, for he
saw how difficult would be a rescue, even with the armed followers that
the man Melta had said accompanied Monella.

In the centre of the great terrace, upon a high chair carved and
emblazoned, and with a great banner waving above his head, sat the
dreaded Coryon. Round him were grouped, first his nine priests in
black robes, and Dakla and others of his chief officers; then, ranks
of soldiers and, among them, some of the king's ministers and chief
functionaries, all bound as Leonard was. But the king himself was not
there; nor was Ulama; and Leonard, when he had assured himself of this,
turned his gaze on Coryon.

It was well that he had been warned that he would need all his courage
to enable him to look upon this man unflinchingly. Even thus prepared
he found it barely possible to keep down the emotion the sight excited
in his breast.

He saw before him a man of great height and powerful frame, clad in
a black robe with a star on the breast worked in virgin gold and set
with jewels. His grey hair and beard were unkempt and long, his skin
of a dark swarthy hue, his forehead, albeit broad, was receding, and
furrowed, and wrinkled into a sinister scowl, and his lips were parted
or drawn up in a set snarl that disclosed teeth more like a wild
beast's fangs than a human being's teeth. When Leonard first caught
sight of him, he was standing with one arm extended as though he had
just finished some harangue; but, when Leonard was brought up, Coryon
sat down. Then he slowly turned his glance upon the prisoner.

  [Illustration: "HE WAS STANDING WITH ONE ARM EXTENDED."
    [_Page 286._]

And beneath that glance a feeling of cold horror stole into Leonard's
breast; he felt as though an icy hand were about to seize his very
heart and wring it in a grip of iron. It was the nameless dread that
a man may feel in the presence of something that his instincts tell
him is a deadly enemy, yet of which he cannot discover the form, or
size, or nature; whether earthly or supernatural. Here, certainly, the
outward shape was that of a man, but in the eyes there was something
suggesting that their owner was not a man at all, but a living
incarnation of depravity--a demon with eyes, for the moment quiescent
as with the cold glitter and deadly malignancy of the serpent, but
instinct with suppressed power, and ready to flame up with terrible,
relentless, overwhelming energy. Mingled with the snake-like glitter
of malevolence there were lurid flashes that darted forth perpetually,
causing the beholder to recoil as though from actual darts. At sight
of him one thought of some nameless monster coiled up and meditating
a spring upon its prey; a monster that was the implacable foe of the
whole human race, that embodied, in human form, all the power, the
attributes, the cruelty, of an arch-demon from another world.

From such a being the soul shrinks with a horror that is less earthly
fear than the natural loathing of evil things that is implanted within
the breasts of all endowed with pure and holy instincts; and this was
Leonard's feeling while he stood, half sick and faint, enduring and
returning Coryon's fixed look.

But just when it came upon him that he must either shift his glance
or drop helpless to the ground, the thought of all the child-like,
innocent Ulama must have suffered through the shameless treachery of
this fiend in human shape came into his mind; and, with the thought,
forth from his heart rushed out the blood, bursting through the icy
grip that had all but closed upon it, and coursing through his veins in
a leaping torrent, like one of those great waves of fiery indignation
that sometimes, for a while, gives to one man the strength of ten. With
a sudden impulse that forgot everything but his righteous anger, he
put forth such an effort that he broke the cords that bound him; then,
rushing impetuously upon Coryon, before any one could interfere, he
actually had him by the throat in a clutch that, spite of the other's
own gigantic strength, would have ended his vile life if, for a few
seconds longer, his assailant had been left alone. But a dozen hands
laid hold of him and pulled him back, bruised and panting, to the
custody of the men he had escaped from. But, though baffled and injured
in the struggle, there was in his eyes a light almost of triumph when
he turned round and faced his enemy once more.

"Aha!" he shouted. "Coward! Hateful murderer of women and children and
unarmed men! Thou darest not come down and meet me man to man! Though
thou art near twice my size, I had choked the foul life out of thee,
had we been left alone!"

At first, Coryon made no answer, except to glare at his late assailant
with his evil eyes; but they fell away under the other's dauntless
look, and he put his hands to his throat as if in pain.

"This will cost thee dear," at last he said, in a harsh, croaking
voice; but Leonard replied with a cold smile,

"Thou canst but kill me; and I would not beg mercy from such as thou.
Why dost turn thine eyes away, coward Coryon? Dost feel at last that so
foul a thing may not endure the glance of an honest man?"

Coryon sprang up and stood for a moment with his hands extended
towards his prisoner, his fingers closing and opening convulsively as
though he half intended to accept the challenge in the other's words
and looks. Then he managed to control his passion and sat down again,
first addressing a few words in a low tone to a priest who stood beside
him.



CHAPTER XXVII.

ON THE 'DEVIL-TREE'S LADLE!'


When Coryon sat down, a kind of buzzing or hum or talk in low tones
broke out on all sides. Exclamations and expressions of astonishment
were heard, for never had such audacity been known in a prisoner
standing thus on the very brink of death and almost within reach of the
clutch of the fatal tree.

Leonard was now bound again, and Dakla sent two or three of his
subordinate officers to stand beside him. But, even while they bound
him, the guards, as he could hardly fail to see, treated him with a
measure of involuntary respect; and well they might, for there was not
one amongst them that durst look the evil Coryon in the face.

Then was brought out the contrivance called the 'devil-tree's ladle';
it was simply a long plank widened out at one end, and mounted, in the
centre, on wheels. An irrepressible shudder passed through Leonard when
he saw this grim apparatus. But there was little outward sign of his
emotion, and his eyes were soon again fixed on Coryon, who rose and
thus addressed those present,

"Friends, ye all see here a confirmation of that which I have already
explained unto you this morning. Yonder stands one of the strangers
whom the king hath admitted to his friendship; the man he was about
to honour by alliance with his royal house. Ye can see for yourselves
the untutored passions by which this youth, who was, forsooth, to have
been your future king, is swayed, and his lack of seemly behaviour in
the presence of one like myself, who hath for so many years held a
high position in the land, and hath conferred so many benefits upon
it. Not the least of these, my friends, is that which I have just
achieved--only just in time. I have, with the joint help of those
powerful gods whom we all here serve, been able to defeat and overcome
even the magic with which these men were armed. Ye all know, or have
heard, how they came provided, by some enemies of our race outside the
country, with magic wands that brought down lightning and thunder and
death upon those opposed to them; and to their seeming power the king
weakly yielded, and allowed these strangers to assume high stations
in the land. Zelus, my well-beloved son, early fell a victim to their
lawless intrusion into our domains, as did many of my people whom I
sent to capture them. But in the end I have prevailed against them; I
have taken from them their magic wands, and now they are, as ye all can
see, but ordinary men. But a punishment hath fallen upon the king, for
he is sick to death, and that is why he is not here to-day. He hath
not long to live, and soon the country will be without a king. Now it
seemeth to me certain that the people are averse from accepting this
young stranger as the successor to their dying ruler, and that they
desire one of their own race. This hath caused me much anxious thought,
but I have at last, I think, discovered a solution of the difficulty.
_I_ will espouse the Princess Ulama, and become the king's son-in-law;
thus will your minds be set at rest; for ye will know that whenever the
king dieth he will be succeeded by a ruler who is not only of your own
race, but hath served his country long enough to satisfy all objectors
as to his experience, or his ability, or his solicitude for the welfare
of his native land."

While uttering these words, Coryon looked with a hardly-veiled smile of
malice at Leonard, who, listening to the infamous proposal wrapped up
in such unblushing hypocrisy, started as though he would have rushed
again upon the speaker; but he was held too firmly by those who now
surrounded him. He could scarce keep from groaning aloud at what he had
just heard.

Coryon marked with evident satisfaction this effect of his
announcement, and proceeded, in an unctuous voice, and with an
affectation of great resignation,

"In doing this, good friends, I have, I assure you, no thought, no
feeling save the welfare of my country. I had not thought ever to take
to me another wife; though I had looked with favour upon the desire of
my son Zelus to ally himself with our king's daughter. But, since this
young stranger hath rendered that impossible by slaying treacherously
mine only son, I will accept the necessities of the situation, and
sacrifice my own feelings for the general good. Perhaps, after all,
it is as well; for in me ye will have, as ye all know well, one who
thinks always only of his people's weal. For long ages I have guarded
the land from outward foes by making friends of the powers of darkness.
This, and this alone hath protected us from invasion by the hordes of
wild men that we know exist beyond our borders. The powers, whose High
Priest I am, have guarded us through many centuries, and have planted
around the limits of our island a forest impenetrable and filled with
terrible creatures for our protection. True, they let these strangers
through, but only as a warning of that which might befall if we forgot,
even for a moment, our religion, or rebelled against the sacrifices
it requires and that our gods look for from us and will insist upon.
True, we have to sacrifice some of those we love to our sacred tree,
but what is that compared with the benefits and advantages that the
rest receive? We have peace, prosperity, contentment, freedom from
invasion, from wars, from enemies and dangers of all kinds; and,
compared with these, the price that hath to be paid is, after all, but
small. Henceforth, too, there will be a stronger guarantee for peace
throughout the land, in that your king and the head of your religion
will be one. And you, my faithful followers, who have served me well,"
continued the arch-hypocrite, casting his eyes around, "will no more
be called upon to reside in the rocky fastness that has been so long
our home; for I shall take up my abode in the palace of the king and
there shall ye all follow me." At this a loud cheer went up from all.
"And now to more immediate duties. I have condemned this murderer of my
son to death; he shall end his life befittingly as a sacrifice to the
gods whose power he hath defied in coming here--defied only to his own
doom. So shall perish all who brave me; and so shall perish this man's
friends, his murderous abettors who, too, are in my power. And now,
sirrah, if thou hast aught to say, thou hast just a minute. If thou
hast aught to ask me, now is thy final opportunity."

When he ceased speaking, Coryon sat down, first casting at Leonard a
hideous glance of triumph. Leonard saw the sneer and knew that his
enemy's desire was to excite him to a farther display of useless anger;
but the knowledge only served to calm him, and, when he spoke, it was
in a voice that had in it neither bitterness nor passion, but only a
great sadness. He did not wish to gratify Coryon by exhibiting anger;
and thus he spoke,

"It is true I have something I would say, but it is not to thee, O
Coryon, but to those who are not Coryon's degraded servants, but free
agents, who have been misled into supporting him here to-day. To you,
good people, I address myself." And Leonard cast his eyes around upon
those who were not wearers of Coryon's uniform. "I have much to say and
much to ask. Know that the power of this boastful tyrant who declares
with mock humility his wicked purpose to force the youthful daughter
of his king into an alliance that revolts her--know, good people,
that his power is almost at an end, and that he will never enter into
that palace, in which he has promised to find place for his credulous
followers. He may kill me if he will, but my death will naught avail;
a few hours hence he will be either a prisoner in the hands of those
who came with me, or hiding in his underground haunts like a hunted
animal that dares not show its face above the ground. But the end will
be the same. He will quickly be hurled out, and a terrible punishment
will be meted out to him and to all those who abet him--every one,
that is, who shall support him. Therefore I say this to you, when
my friends come--as come they will--do not help Coryon's myrmidons
against them. They will come armed with a fearful power that you can
scarce conceive; you shall see the very rocks fall away before them in
crashing thunders as they hunt these rats out of their holes. If you
fight on Coryon's side, they will mow you down like grass before the
scythe. On the other hand, if you side not with these doomed ones, but,
instead, ask for mercy, you shall find it; for we came not to this land
to teach cruelty and murder, but to deliver it from the tyranny that
has so long oppressed it. That is my advice to you; what I would ask is
that you tell your fellow-citizens that I am sore distressed in that
I have done far less than I might to win their affections and their
confidence. That I have made a terrible mistake, that it has led me to
this situation, I now see. But my error I shall expiate with my life;
when I am dead, and you see the benefits my friends will shower on the
land, then tell all that I was of the same mind, and was full of naught
but kindly feelings. But--my great--love for one so fair--as your
young--princess--took up my thoughts, perhaps, more than should have
been the case." Leonard's voice almost failed him here; but by a strong
effort he recovered himself and went on. "That is all that I would ask;
let them remember me and think kindly of me. You will see in those days
who has spoken truly--whether I, or Coryon. You will know how false has
been every word he has said to you to-day. Even what he says about my
friends is false; they are _not_ in his power, nor has he deprived them
of their magic power, as you will all quickly see. To say that by his
atrocious so-called religious rites he has guarded and advanced this
country is a lie----"

"Silence!" exclaimed Coryon, who had all this time been moving
restlessly in his seat.

"I come from a land--the greatest on the earth--that has an empire
upon which the sun ne'er sets; we have no such wicked murders called
sacrifices; yet we are safe against our enemies, and----"

"Silence, I tell thee! What think'st thou we care about thy country or
thyself?" Coryon burst out.

"I say," Leonard went on, disregarding him, "that every word this man
utters is a lie. He cannot say one single sentence without uttering a
lie----"

"If thou sayest more, I will have thee scourged as well as killed,"
Coryon cried, in growing rage. "It speaketh well to these good people
for my patience that I have let thee have thy say thus far. Never, for
many a year, has mortal dared to flout me to my face as thou hast
done."

"O Coryon!" Leonard exclaimed, turning and facing him, "truly did I say
that thou could'st not speak one single sentence without uttering some
lie, and now thou art convicted. For I know of one, at least, that has
flouted and dared thee to thy face; one whose spirit thou couldst not
quell; and she but a woman--her name Fernina!"

At this a perfect howl of rage escaped from Coryon's lips. He sprang up
and clutched at the air, and gasped; and, for a moment, Leonard half
thought he would have a fit. But he recovered himself, and shouted, in
a screaming voice,

"Seize him! Gag him! Lay him on the feeding-ladle of our sacred tree!
We will see how he fancies its embrace!" Then, turning round and
addressing some one near him, he cried out,

"Bring forward the princess, that she may witness this my act of
justice towards the murderer she would have taken to her bosom. Let my
future wife look on. Ha! ha! ha! My future wife! How dost thou like the
title, murderer of my son, and would-be king?"

His rage was something fearful to behold; many even of his own
myrmidons trembled, and they made speed to do his bidding.

Leonard was seized and bound to the wheeled plank, and, after trying
in vain to turn his head to take one last look at Ulama, he closed his
eyes and resigned himself to prayer. At the same time Ulama, looking
but the mere ghost of her former self, was led to the side of Coryon's
chair between two women, and forced to look upon the dreadful scene. At
the sight of Leonard bound to the fatal plank, and the grim tree with
its restless branches ever twisting in avid hunger for their prey, a
look of stony horror came over her face; she gave one gasping, sobbing
cry, and fell back unconscious.

  [Illustration: ON THE DEVIL-TREE'S LADLE.
    [_Page 297._]

For some moments Coryon paused; he was inclined to wait till Ulama
should be restored to consciousness, for he wanted to prolong the
torture of the lovers somewhat before finally consigning Leonard to his
fate; but his fury mastered him, and he gave the signal to the two men
holding one end of the plank to push it out along the stone pier.

They had just begun to move it when a shot was heard, and one of them
fell to the ground; and Leonard, turning his head, saw Templemore, high
on the rocks above, kneeling with his rifle at his shoulder.

Coryon saw it too, and, with a shout, and many threats, urged the other
man to push out the plank; but, instead, he started back in terror, and
only just in time to escape a second bullet that came singing past his
ears and wounded a soldier standing near.

Coryon, mad with rage and disappointed malice, snatched a spear from
a soldier beside him, and ordered others in front of him to seize
the plank and push it out, prodding at them with the spear to force
obedience; but one, who stepped forward at his bidding, fell before
he could reach the plank. Meantime, Templemore, followed by Ergalon
and the brave Zonella, had come leaping down from ledge to ledge,
threatening all who barred his way, and shooting down one or two who
tried to stop him. He now stood, a revolver in each hand, at the end of
the plank, and there he kept a circle around him, while Ergalon cut the
cords by which Leonard was bound, released the cloth that had been tied
round his mouth to gag him, and helped him to his feet. Immediately he
rushed to Templemore.

"Give me a rifle, Jack! Let me shoot down that son of Satan and rid the
earth of him for ever."

Ergalon was carrying three rifles, the one Templemore had been using
and two spare ones; one of these he handed now to Leonard.

But, in the interval, Coryon's chief officer, Dakla, had taken in the
situation; and having already had experience of the weapons with which
he saw Templemore was armed, had advised Coryon to retreat into the
covered-way.

"It is useless to stay here, my lord," he said. "Thou wilt surely be
killed! Haste to the shelter while there is yet time! There I think
thou wilt be safe. If not, thou canst retreat within the gates."

"Dost think the danger is so great, good Dakla?" Coryon asked,
incredulously.

"I am sure of it, my lord. Haste thee--and take some soldiers with thee
and keep them between thee and thine enemies, or thou wilt never reach
the shelter alive. I will leave some men here and take others up on to
the rocks above, whence we can hurl down great stones upon them. Haply,
if no more come, we may yet prevail against these."

Coryon and his priests and immediate followers hastened away,
accordingly, leaving the still unconscious Ulama, in charge of the two
women, behind his chair. He was only just in time, for a soldier he
forced to walk beside him fell by a shot from Leonard's rifle a moment
before they gained the shelter of the covered-way.

Leonard saw the women beside Coryon's chair, and, though he knew
not that Ulama was lying there unconscious, he guessed she was near
the spot; therefore he feared to fire more shots in that direction;
while he knew it would be useless to fire at the iron-work of the
covered-way. For a space, therefore, there was a pause; but soon
Dakla's men appeared on the rocks above them and began to roll down
stones and boulders.

The position of the little band was now becoming critical. To retreat,
leaving Ulama in the hands of Coryon, was not to be conceived. Yet they
could not advance, for a compact body of men stood ready to receive
them; and at these they durst not fire lest they might hit Ulama or
one of her attendants. Yet every minute they stayed where they were
increased their danger. Great masses of rock, started by persons above
who showed only an arm or hand above the ridge, came crashing down and
shooting past them. And, when a head was raised above it here and there
to take a hurried aim, it was seen only for a second, and gave little
opportunity for a shot.

They had had two or three narrow escapes, and had avoided injury
only by leaping out of the path of the rocks that came crashing and
bounding down. Jack urged Zonella to go back, but she stoutly refused;
and he was at his wits' end what course to take, when loud shouting
was heard in the direction of the entrance of the enclosure. Soon, a
rush of armed men in red tunics came along the roadway at the rear of
the black-coated soldiers standing around Coryon's chair. Instantly
Coryon's men gave way, and rushed across the terrace towards the
covered-way; while the red-coated men poured in and spread themselves
out on either side.

And now could be seen men carrying flags and banners, and amongst them
two of mighty stature; one of them, the taller, dressed in the coat
of mail and the helmet with silver wings that had been preserved so
long in the museum and that was said to have belonged to the legendary
Mellenda. He wore, too, the great sword that belonged to the suit, and
it seemed, upon his towering form, to be of no more than usual and
proportionate size.

As this majestic figure came more closely into view, accompanied
by Colenna and some others of the king's officers, Leonard and
Templemore's astonishment were great at recognising no other than their
friend Monella!



CHAPTER XXVIII.

RALLYING TO THE CALL.


To make clearer the events described in the previous chapters, it
should be stated that, when Templemore and Ergalon had returned from
their journey down the canyon in quest of arms and ammunition, they
found with Zonella, who was anxiously awaiting them, a messenger from
Monella.

It was not yet daylight, and the two who had made the descent and
ascent of the difficult path under conditions of considerable hardship,
were very much exhausted. They were therefore glad, though surprised,
to find that, in their absence, Zonella had provided both food and wine
for them.

"How pleased I am to see you I need scarcely say," she exclaimed. "But
first, eat and drink, while I talk. I have much to tell, and there is
yet time to spare. Therefore, rest and refresh yourselves, while I
relate what has been made known to me.

"Your friend, Monella, has done wondrous things. It seems--as Ergalon
here no doubt has been aware--that he has long been quietly making
preparations for some such crisis as the present. Coryon, it is
true, by his treachery, has stolen a march upon him, but he is being
gradually and surely enmeshed in the net that the lord Monella has
drawn around him. For a long time Sanaima has been secretly drilling
numbers of his followers in Myrlanda, where he has a large store of
arms, and he and Monella have gained over many of Coryon's men; in
particular, some of those sent to close the subterranean pass. When,
therefore, the two, with many armed men, presented themselves at
the entrance to the pass and found the gates closed against them,
instead of making a desperate fight of it in which many must have
been killed on both sides and the news of it have been carried to
Coryon's ears, they waited for their friends inside to act. Soon,
those of them amongst the soldiers who guarded the approach, seizing
their opportunity, fell upon their fellows in their sleep, bound them,
and opened the gates. The same thing has occurred in the palace;
all Coryon's soldiers really devoted to him have been quietly made
prisoners, and the palace is now in the hands of Monella and Sanaima
and their friends; and Coryon knows it not.

"Now, when Monella found that you had escaped, he divined whither you
had gone, and sent messengers here to await your return; and I sent
them back at once to tell him I expected you here ere long. And now
another has arrived with instructions, in case you should return in
time to put them into execution, as--the Great Spirit be praised!--you
have. Monella has sent two or three of Coryon's own people to him with
various messages to allay his suspicions; and Coryon quite believes
that you are still a prisoner, and that Monella is still in Myrlanda,
unable to get through the pass. Others of Monella's men, dressed in
black tunics taken from the prisoners, are now placed at intervals on
guard at all the approaches to Coryon's retreat; where already, by this
time, nearly all his followers and his adherents amongst the people
are assembling. There will be some hundreds altogether; all hostile to
you and your friends. But, when they are all assembled, Monella will
gather together also many hundreds from the people outside, and march
them to the amphitheatre and so surprise Coryon and all with him."

"But how," asked Templemore, "if Coryon gets to hear of it?"

"He will not. No move will be made till all are gathered in the
amphitheatre; after that, any stragglers going thither from the town,
and any messengers sent thence by Coryon, will fall into the hands of
Monella's disguised soldiers, and will be quietly seized and bound."

"I see. And now what is to be done to make sure of the safety of our
friends?"

"The directions are these. You are to go quietly, through the forest,
to the wood at the edge of the amphitheatre where----"

"I understand," broke in Ergalon. "It is the place,"--turning to
Templemore--"where we stood and looked down upon the great devil-tree
that night. I can take you by a route that leads through the woods all
the way, and thus we shall not be seen."

"Yes, that is right," resumed Zonella. "When you get there, you are to
remain concealed, and watch all that goes on, and, unless compelled, do
nothing till the arrival of Monella and his friends. But, if it should
be absolutely necessary to interfere before that to save our friends,
why, then, of course, you must do the best you can."

"I only hope we may be in time to save them," said Templemore, with a
sigh. "I am terribly anxious. Let us be going; it is already getting
light."

The three then started--for Zonella insisted on accompanying them--and
the messenger was sent back to inform Monella. When they approached the
amphitheatre, four black-coated soldiers suddenly sprang up before them
from among the bushes, where they had been lying concealed. Templemore
drew a pistol, but Zonella stepped in front of him, and said something
in a low tone to the soldiers, who at once gave way and let them pass.

"What did you say to them?" asked Templemore.

"I gave them the pass-word," she answered quietly.

"And what is that, if I may inquire?"

"It is a word you do not regard with the same feelings as ourselves,"
she answered gravely. "But in Manoa it has always been a word to
conjure with, and, so it is to-day--it is 'Mellenda.'" And, while she
spoke, she looked at Templemore half defiantly.

But he made no reply, and they walked on in silence, and now with all
caution, to their destination.

Meanwhile, so soon as the sun had risen, messengers were hurrying
hither and thither amongst the populace, knocking at doors, and
summoning all friendly to the king and the princess, to assemble in the
great square where stood the large museum. And, in reply to excited
questionings, they often only gave the magic word, 'Mellenda,' or said,
'Mellenda calls you.'

Most of the population were early astir that morning, restless with
anxiety and fear for the princess and her betrothed, who had, they
were told, been carried off by Coryon. As stated, by the great mass of
people their princess was much beloved by the people; and Leonard, if
he had not gained their affection, had the sympathy, for her sake, of
all loyal subjects, and they were many. Indeed, all they wanted was a
leader; they were too cowed to take action for themselves.

No wonder, then, that when such a leader came, announcing himself as
the long-expected, legendary Mellenda, the whole population, outside
those who were gathered around Coryon in the amphitheatre, rallied
to his standard, and clamoured to be armed and led against their
oppressor. That there were plenty of arms in the museum all well knew;
and, when the messengers ran to and fro, spreading the news of the
return of their hero-king, all the men who heard the tidings left at
once whatever they might have in hand, and hurried to the museum. There
they found Sanaima with a number of followers already equipped in
the well-known red tunics and winged helmets; and Colenna and others
engaged in giving out arms and uniforms to many more.

And when, shortly after, Monella appeared at the top of the wide flight
of steps, clad in Mellenda's coat of mail, with the well-known banner
floating above him, and wearing at his side the mighty sword, every
man and woman and child amongst the crowd below gave a great shout and
knelt before him. Then Monella drew the mighty sword, that an ordinary
man could hardly wield, and, flourishing it in the air as easily as
though it were but the lightest cane, addressed the kneeling people in
sonorous tones that were heard by all, and were delivered with an air
of exceeding majesty and dignity,

"Yes, my children! I have returned to you! After many days the Great
Spirit hath led my weary steps back to my beloved country, there
to finish my life's work, and end a long and troublous journey. My
pilgrimage through the ages hath been a punishment to me, even as the
same dreary time hath been a punishment to you; a punishment to myself
for having placed too high a value, in the times that are long past,
on power and conquest and dominion; to you, for that your forefathers
forsook their faith--the worship of the one Great Spirit--and embraced
the religion of the powers of darkness, and supported the atrocious
Coryon in a rebellion against their lawful king, and in the murder of
those near and dear to him. For that, the punishment hath been that
they should be oppressed and cruelly ill-treated by him they thus
supported, through many generations. But, at last, the anger of the
Great Spirit is appeased. He hath led me hither to deliver this fair
land from the horror that broods over it. I come to you, not with great
fleets of ships, with armies and generals, as of yore; but as a simple
wanderer returning to his home. Yet in my coming the Great Spirit sent
you all a sign; for I arrived but just in time to save her who is the
child of Manoa's ancient race of kings and--my own descendant. This was
the sign--this and the death of Zelus at the same time; which was a
warning to Coryon that he heeded not. But time presses, and I may not
say more now. The princess and our friends are in great peril, and I
go to save them. I go to break Black Coryon's power for ever, and to
punish him as he deserves. Then will I bring again to this fair land
peace, and happiness, and security for all."

Then, amid acclamations, and shouts and cries of delight, Monella--or
Mellenda, as he now called himself--moved off towards the place where
Coryon, in fancied security, was boastfully proclaiming his intention
to espouse the princess, and to live henceforth at the palace as
supreme ruler of the country.

Those of Sanaima's followers from Myrlanda, who had been instructed
in their duties, took charge, as officers, of ranks and companies of
the newly-recruited men. They were assisted by many officers of the
king's guard who had been held prisoners in the palace, but had been
released, and had now changed their blue uniforms for the red tunics
and winged helmets in the museum.

Some, however, remained behind, to equip and despatch reinforcements
as men continued to arrive asking to be enrolled. Thus, if trouble
should arise with Coryon, Monella would have at his back, eventually,
an overwhelming force. And as the men kept marching off in companies,
the crowd of women and children and old men collected in the square
in which was the museum stood about in anxious groups, awaiting news;
hardly daring to hope for what all so fervently desired--the final
downfall of their ruthless tyrant.



CHAPTER XXIX.

'THOU ART MY LORD MELLENDA!'


To return to the scene in the amphitheatre. Monella, and those with
him, advanced with measured tread; but suddenly his eyes fell on Ulama.
For a few moments he bent over her, then he came slowly to the front
and looked around him, and in that rapid survey he seemed to take in
everything.

Beckoning to Leonard and Zonella he said, when they had joined him,

"The princess lies there in a dead faint. This is no place for the poor
child. Bear her tenderly outside. My people will protect you." Then he
turned again to look around.

In their surprise at the unexpected inrush, those on the heights had
ceased hurling down the rocks, and now they gazed in wonderment at
Monella and those with him. Beside him stood a tall man in a white robe
upon which was worked a figure of the sun in diamonds that flashed
and sparkled as he moved. His long hair and beard were snowy white,
his forehead, high and massive, was clear, and curiously free from
lines and wrinkles. It had the impassive look of one who suffers few
earthly cares to trouble him. His features were pleasant and benevolent
in expression, and the clear grey eyes were open and candid in their
glance. Like Monella, he was far above the usual height; and, like
him, was of imposing presence and stately mien. Altogether, one would
say of him that he was a _good_ man, a man to be trusted and respected;
he had at the same time the air of one deeply engrossed in intellectual
pursuits, or leading an ascetic life. He lacked just that touch of
tender human sympathy that made Monella's mere look so fascinating to
those with whom he came in contact, and that bound so thoroughly to him
those who yielded to its subtle influence.

Ergalon had already whispered to the others that the stranger was
Sanaima, the ancient chief of the White Priesthood; and Templemore
regarded him with interest and curiosity.

Above their heads waved great red banners with strange devices and
elaborately carved standard poles. At a sign from Monella, Coryon's
banner, that floated above his chair, was pulled down and trampled in
the dust; then the largest of the red ones was hoisted in its place.

Next, Monella quietly seated himself in Coryon's chair and gazed around
the enclosure, his features set and stern, and his steady, piercing
eyes seeming to read the very heart of every one upon whom he turned
his gaze. The king's ministers and other prisoners had been unbound,
while Templemore had been hastily explaining, to the best of his
ability, all that had taken place.

Presently Monella rose, and, waving his hand towards the people not
clad in Coryon's uniforms, he thus addressed them,

"How comes it, that in this place of evil deeds and heinous crimes,
I find many of the king's peaceful subjects--or they who should be
peaceful--ranged round and calmly looking on at acts of cold-blooded
cruelty against the king's own child and those he calls his friends?
What have ye to say in excuse or extenuation? Choose the highest among
ye for a spokesman, and let him come forward and explain this shameful
thing, if so he can. Else I may include ye all in the punishment I am
here to mete out to these evil-doers."

At this there was a great hubbub and commotion. Some of Coryon's
companions in the covered-way turned in a panic to make their escape
into the interior gallery; but found, to their dismay, that the gates
were fast closed and barred against them from within. And when they
glanced out at the rocks above, they saw red-coated soldiers, who now
lined the heights and kept still arriving in ever-increasing numbers.
Dakla and his principal officers had withdrawn at their advance,
and now stood, with the priests, crowded together just inside the
covered-way. Outside the iron screens the long, trailing branches swept
up from time to time, as though seeking to get at those within.

After a hurried conference among the people, one of their number
stepped down on to the main terrace and placed himself before Monella.

Templemore stood on one side of Monella's chair, rifle in hand, with
Ergalon close by holding the spare rifles, all ready loaded. He watched
with growing wonder the continual arrival of red-coated soldiers on
all sides of the rocky ridges. They all carried spears, or swords and
shields, and wore the curious helmets ornamented with little silver
wings that he had seen in the museum. And now, amongst them, were to
be seen many citizens in ordinary dress. But all kept a space between
themselves and those who had been there on their arrival; their manner
towards these was evidently unfriendly and threatening; and, since the
newcomers outnumbered the others, including all Coryon's people, the
position of the latter was growing anything but comfortable. And still
the red-coated men kept coming, pushing those in advance of them into
positions lower down and farther round the terraces of the enclosure.

There was a general hush when the one who had been chosen spokesman
came forward and stood in front of Monella, who asked curtly,

"Thy name?"

"Galaima," was the reply, given in a clear, unhesitating voice. "I have
been chosen by those whom thou didst but now address, to speak in their
name. Seeing that punishment hath been spoken of, we desire first to
ask what authority thou hast to speak in the king's name; by what right
thou dost threaten us; and who thou art?"

"You have the right to ask those questions," returned Monella coldly.
"Know then that I am King of Manoa--thy king, and the king of Coryon,
and of all in this country."

"King of Manoa!" echoed Galaima in surprise, while similar exclamations
broke forth around. "But, my lord--I speak with all respect--how can
that be?"

"The King Dranoa is sick even unto death. His illness hath been
hastened in its course by acts of base treachery perpetrated by
Coryon--with whom I shall deal anon. Finding himself dying and unable
to lead his soldiers to the rescue of his child, he hath abdicated
in my favour, for me to hold the post so long as I think fit in the
interests of the nation. Here (taking out from his bosom a roll of
parchment) is his sign-manual duly sealed and executed in the presence
of the High Priest Sanaima and others who are with me; and here is his
sceptre of office, and this is his signet-ring--these being given to me
by him in token of my authority, and also in the presence of Sanaima
and many others you see around me. Is it not so, friends?" Monella
demanded, turning to Sanaima and the others near.

A loud shout went up in confirmation; then, at a wave of Monella's
hand, there was again a deep, expectant silence.

Coryon had come out from the covered-way on hearing the unlooked-for
and unwelcome news, and now stood, a little in advance of his own
people, an attentive listener and observer of what was going on.

"Thou hast heard," resumed Monella, in the same cold, stern tone. "I
come duly armed with authority to punish, and I have the power. Do thou
and thy fellows yonder desire to take part with the traitor Coryon, and
fight against us; or do ye disavow him and throw yourselves upon my
mercy?"

"My lord, with all respect, I ask for the reply to my last question.
We came hither--of a certainty I and my immediate friends so came--to
protest against the king's choice of a son-in-law. We were unwilling
to have thrust upon us, as our future king, one who is of a different
race--who is a stranger in the land--and who, so far as it appeareth,
hath no claim to royal dignity. Now--with all respect, I say again--for
all we know, those same objections apply to thine own case. If,
however, I am wrong in this, and thou canst convince us that thou hast
reasonable claim to the dignity the king hath conferred upon thee, then
we are ready to submit ourselves as loyal subjects."

"Thy logic is good," observed Monella with bitter emphasis, "for thy
present purpose; but it faileth to explain how it came about that,
instead of making known your sentiment in a petition and awaiting
the king's friendly explanation, as befitted faithful subjects, ye
supported Coryon in his treasonable acts--in kidnapping the king's
daughter and his friends. Further, ye were all proceeding, at Coryon's
mere suggestion, to put to death this stranger, without giving him
either time or opportunity to afford the information ye now profess
yourself so anxious to obtain. However, thou shalt have thy question
answered--and, that done, let me warn thee that I am in no mood to
suffer further trifling. King Dranoa's good-natured weakness, and my
own misplaced leniency, have already wrought too much misunderstanding.
Ask thy question of the lord Colenna, the king's High Chamberlain."

Then Colenna stepped forward, and, in a loud, sonorous voice, that
resounded throughout the vast amphitheatre, cried out,

"Know ye all, by the command of King Dranoa and the unanimous assent
of his ministers, that the great lord Mellenda, who hath been hitherto
known amongst us as Monella--which in ancient times had the same
signification as the word Mellenda--hath made himself known to his
people, and hath assumed the office of ruler of the countries of Manoa
and Myrlanda."

At this extraordinary announcement Coryon moved back into the
covered-way with unsteady and almost tottering steps; while Monella
rose and, with another wave of the hand, signalled for silence. Turning
to Sanaima, he asked, with quiet dignity, but in a ringing voice that
all could hear,

"And thou, august head of our religion, faithful through so many years
of persecution and despair, who dost _thou_ say I am?"

Then Sanaima raised his hands to heaven as though to invoke a blessing,
and said, solemnly,

"In the name of the Great Spirit whom I serve, I recognise and welcome
thee, my lord Mellenda!"

But still Monella waved his hand for silence; and, raising his voice,
he cried,

"Come forth, Black Coryon! I command thee! Come forth!"

And Coryon came forward, and stood before him; but he durst not meet
his eyes.

Monella slowly raised his arm and straightened it, pointing his finger
at his enemy.

"And who, foul Coryon, who dost _thou_ say I am?"

For the space of a few seconds Coryon looked his questioner in the
face. There was a brief struggle to hold his own and to repel with
proud defiance the glance Monella turned on him; then, bowing his head,
he murmured humbly,

"Thou art my lord Mellenda!"

Then a great shout went up. Again, and again, and yet again it was
repeated. "Mellenda! Mellenda! Mellenda!" It rang out from far and
near. It was taken up by a crowd of women and children without the
gates, and thence it travelled back and echoed from one side of the
rocky amphitheatre to the other.

When, once more, there was silence, Galaima dropped upon one knee and
begged for clemency for himself and friends.

"Lay down your arms, each one of you, and go!" the answer came. "Let me
not look upon your faces again yet awhile."

Then Monella, turning to Coryon's soldiers, commanded them also to lay
down their arms and surrender themselves prisoners.

Here Coryon showed the first signs of resistance he had yet exhibited,
and his officers, who had stood watching for a sign from him, withdrew
in a body into the entrance to the covered-way, seeing in it the best
opportunities for a last desperate fight.

"My lord forgetteth," said Coryon, "that he hath given no assurance
that the lives of my people and servants will be spared."

"I can make no terms with thee or with thy minions. I came here to
punish the evil-doers, as well as to save my friends," returned Monella
with grave meaning. "Thou hast been warned again and again since I came
into the land; I sent thee word that, if I came to thee, I would bring
retribution in my hand."

"But surely," urged Coryon, in the smooth, oily manner he could put on
at will, "if we submit, my lord will require no more? Thy friends are
safe; no harm hath been done to them. May it not be that I remain here
with mine own people, within mine own domain--the domain that hath been
mine for centuries--in friendly alliance----"

"What!" exclaimed Monella, turning wrathfully upon the crafty hypocrite
with a blaze of anger in his eyes, as might a lion turn upon a snapping
cur. "Thou darest to speak to me of _alliance_! Alliance with _thee_!
With a thing so foul, so loathsome, so detestable as thou! Shall the
eagle ally himself with the carrion crow? Enough!" He broke off, in
indignation at the insult, and, turning to the officers of his own
party who stood near, cried,

"Seize them and bind them! Every one! Let not one escape! But take them
alive, if possible."

A large number of the red-coated soldiers, led by their officers, now
advanced upon the crowd of Coryon's people gathered at the entrance
to the covered-way. Many of the latter came forward at once and threw
down their arms; while others stood irresolute. Coryon, himself, made
no effort to escape, and was seized by a couple of men, who quickly
bound his hands behind him. But Dakla and all Coryon's priests and
some half-dozen of his lieutenants and a few soldiers--perhaps those
who felt themselves most guilty--stood defiantly some little distance
within the gallery, determined to resist capture to the last.



CHAPTER XXX.

A TERRIBLE VENGEANCE!


Of all the spectators of what had occurred in the amphitheatre, no
one, probably, was so utterly astonished and helplessly bewildered as
was Templemore. At Monella's assumption of the royal office he felt
no great surprise. It seemed almost a natural thing, taking all the
circumstances into account, that the king, finding his daughter stolen
away and himself too ill to pursue and punish her captors, should
delegate his authority to the man in whom he had of late reposed such
confidence. But at Colenna's announcement that in Monella he recognised
the long-expected, legendary Mellenda, Templemore was, as may be
supposed, considerably startled; and his perplexity was increased
when Sanaima, in his turn, subscribed to Colenna's declaration; but
when Coryon himself affirmed his belief in the marvellous assertion,
Templemore's ideas became so hopelessly confused, that he knew not what
to think or what to make of it. In other circumstances he would, no
doubt, have quietly settled matters in his own mind by deciding that
all present had become victims to a passing fit of madness or transient
delusion; but the grim realities of the strange drama that was being
played before him made it impossible to explain things by any such
hypothesis.

It was in the midst of the conflict thus proceeding in his mind, that
Dakla and his fellows took up their attitude of defiance; so Templemore
promptly decided to postpone further thought upon the matter. It was
sufficient, for the moment, that there was the prospect of a fight in
which his friends would need his help; and he began handling his rifle
significantly, glancing while he did so at Monella.

The latter had laid his hand upon his shoulder as though to stay him
until he should have had more time to study the situation, when a
rumbling noise was heard, and an iron door shot out from the inside
wall a little distance from the end of the covered-way, completely
closing it and shutting out from view the men within. So suddenly had
this been done that Dakla was almost caught by it, and would have been
jammed against the iron pillar into which it fitted, but that he had
managed to withdraw himself inside just in time to escape it.

The impression upon the minds of those outside was that this
unlooked-for obstacle that intervened between those within the
protected gallery and their enemies, had been purposely made use of
to gain time to force open the interior gates and thus assist their
escape into the labyrinth of passages beyond. The first effect was
to dishearten those of Coryon's adherents who were still outside
in a state of indecision. Seeing themselves thus, as they thought,
incontinently abandoned by their leaders, they threw down their arms
without further ado, submitted to their captors, and, in few minutes,
were pinioned and marched out of the way.

It now became a question what steps were to be taken to follow up those
who had so cleverly escaped, temporarily, at all events, from their
pursuers. These were, after Coryon himself, the most guilty of the
whole atrocious confederacy; and Templemore turned to Monella with a
look of inquiry.

"What say you," said he, "shall we try whether that door is
bullet-proof?"

But Monella again laid his hand upon the other's arm, and gazed, as
though in expectation, first at Coryon--who was standing out in the
centre of the terrace, guarded by two soldiers--and then, from him,
to that part of the covered-way nearest to the rocks that ended it.
His quick eye had noticed that Coryon seemed as much taken by surprise
as all the rest, and that there was, in his face, no trace of that
triumphant satisfaction that might have been expected if this manoeuvre
of his chief friends had been looked for. Instead, there was a fixed
look that was momentarily changing from surprise to terror.

Templemore, following Monella's gaze, noted all this--and so did
others. A hush fell upon all present; every one looked at Coryon, and,
from him, to the length of grated iron screens, over the face of which
the branches of the fatal tree were playing with busy sweep, evidently
aware, by some unfailing instinct, that there was plenty of prey for
them within. And it was now noticed that the larger number of the
longer branches had gathered themselves upon that side.

Gradually, the look on Coryon's face changed into one of absolute
horror, the while he stood staring at the outside of the
covered-gallery.

To make what follows clear, it is necessary to describe this
covered-way a little more in detail. It has already been explained
that it formed the approach to an opening in the rock--closed by
gates--which was the principal entrance to Coryon's retreat. When
unprotected by the sliding gratings at the side, it was so near to
the great devil-tree that the longer branches could sweep its whole
width for some distance in front of the gates. At the side was some
masonry, above which the rock rose steep and almost over-hanging. At
the end, above the entrance, the rock rose also abruptly, and then
followed the line of the arena, shutting in the latter at this part by
a rocky wall that rose perpendicularly some fifty or sixty feet. But
the part within reach of the tree was roofed over by iron gratings,
forming a sort of verandah, which, in turn, could be rendered safe from
the terrible branches by sliding grated doors or shutters that could,
by machinery within, be moved forward in telescopic fashion along the
whole length accessible to the tree, and a short distance beyond. Thus,
when the side 'shutters' were withdrawn, the entrance-gates were very
effectually guarded by the tree itself. When they were extended, they,
in conjunction with the roof, constituted an efficient protection to
the covered-way. But herein lay also a cunningly-devised and deadly
trap; for, just within the entrance of this covered-gallery, was
another iron door that could be moved across the passage so as to
imprison any one caught between it and the gates at the other end. This
door came out of a scarcely noticeable slot in the masonry at the side;
and it was situated far enough along to place those thus caught within
reach of the tree, if the side shutters were withdrawn.

Doubtless, many had fallen into this frightful trap. Thinking the
gallery well protected they would walk unsuspiciously along it towards
the closed gates, when those watching from within could close the
gallery behind them and open the sides; and their fate would then be
sealed.

This was the only part of the main terrace within reach of the tree.
Round the remainder of the amphitheatre it was far removed from it,
and was of ample width. Only at this part, and upon the stone pier
that jutted out towards the tree from the centre, or down in the arena
itself, was there danger to any one moving about within the vast
enclosure.

At a point in the cliff, high above the covered-way, was a small grated
door in the rock. This was another entrance to Coryon's fastness; but
it was sufficiently protected by the nature of the steep and narrow
path by which alone it could be reached.

While those gathered around the enclosure, following Coryon's fixed
gaze, were watching the outside faces of the sliding doors or
shutters, these doors began to move; and, amidst a hush of awe-struck
expectation, they disclosed a gap which gradually widened, and through
which the fatal branches quickly darted. Then, from within, arose a
fearful and appalling cry, as the miserable prisoners caught in this
trap of their own contriving began to realise their situation. The
gap grew wider, and, anon, another opened farther on, and into this
the searching branches likewise entered, hungry for the prey within.
And, as the gaps grew wider, they disclosed to view an awful scene.
Some dozens of terror-stricken wretches could be seen fighting and
struggling with the writhing branches and with each other, amidst
a deafening din of screams, and shrieks, and yells; the officers
and soldiers using their swords, and the priests and others their
daggers, in a hopeless contest with the twisting branches that kept
coiling around them. In their mad struggles and desperate efforts the
combatants fought with one another, the stronger striving to push the
weaker in front of them; the latter, in turn, stabbing backwards at
those who thus tried to make use of them. Three or four, in headlong
terror, leaped from the terrace on to the ground beneath, where they
fell with dull thuds, and probably broken limbs; but, ere they could
rise, their legs were entangled in the ubiquitous branches and escape
became impossible. Dakla was seen, with a sword in one hand and a
dagger in the other, at one moment slashing furiously at the branches
that assailed him, at another striving to hold in front of him Skelda,
the next in rank to Coryon. Two of the priests were seen engaged in a
hand-to-hand struggle, apparently unmindful of the coils that gradually
encircled them and presently dragged both out, locked together, and
still frantically fighting with each other. They were carried up to the
top of the tree, and disappeared, still fighting, within the cavity.
But, though the rapacious tree had now as much as it could, for the
time, dispose of in this way, it had no intention of giving up its hold
upon the others. These it grappled in its toils, dragging them about
hither and thither, dangling them now this way and now that, but never
giving one a chance of escape--evidently bent on saving all up for
future meals--perhaps days hence. It was a gruesome scene that shocked
and sickened the spectators, for all they were so incensed, and justly
so, against the victims.

Meanwhile, the iron door in the rock above had opened, and a woman was
seen hurrying down the dangerous path. Her hair was streaming loosely
about her shoulders, her eyes were wild and fierce, and she laughed and
gesticulated in a fashion that made those who watched her think her
crazy. She made her way to where Coryon still stood, a silent witness
of what was going on before him; and she then paused and surveyed the
awful scene with a smile that was almost devilish.

Just then Skelda leaped out of the covered-way on to the ground
beneath; then, rising to his feet, looked round despairingly, and,
glancing up, he met the fierce gaze and cruel smile of the woman he
had so shamefully betrayed. She pointed her finger at him.

"Ha! ha!" she cried triumphantly, "this is _my_ work, Skelda! _I_
closed the gates and shut you all in with the outer door. My love to
you, my--_husband_!" This last word was hissed out at him between
clenched teeth. "My love to you, dear friend." And she mockingly threw
him a kiss on the tips of her fingers. Then, when the wretched Skelda's
feet were dragged from under him by a branch that had coiled round his
legs, she addressed herself to Coryon, who had now fixed his eyes upon
her, his evil face twitching convulsively with the fury he could not
suppress.

"See, great Coryon! Mighty Coryon! All-powerful Coryon! See my
handiwork! Yes, _mine_! See what a woman's wit hath done for thy
precious friends. What a day to live to see! I saw thee in the clutch
of thy prisoner; heard thee called 'coward' to thy face. It was sweet
that; and sweet to see thy prey escape thee! And this is sweet too!
Look at thy great friend Skelda; see how he kicks and shrieks! Think of
it--all my doing! See how Dakla glares! Now he and Palana are fighting
one another! Oh, but it is a brave sight to look upon! Fit even for
the gods ye have served so well! I think I am almost avenged; but the
sweetest of all is yet to come--when I see _thee_ given to the tree, as
I _shall_!"

Coryon struggled, but vainly, to get at her. She shrugged her shoulders
and turned her back upon him, then slowly approached Monella; the look
of triumph died away, and an expression that was partly of sorrow, and
partly of hard determination, took its place. Arrived in front of him,
she threw herself humbly on her knees.

"My lord," she cried, with clasped hands, "I crave justice at thy
hands, I _demand_ it! In the names of the countless women and fair
children whom yonder monster hath given over to the same awful death
that hath now overtaken his own creatures; in the name of my own bitter
wrongs and sufferings, I demand that this loathsome being shall not
escape his just reward. I ask that he be given up to that tree to
which he has consigned so many; and that first he be confined in the
same cell from which I have escaped. I will lead thy officers to it.
Let him be kept there till the wicked tree, with recovered appetite,
shall be ready to devour him! Let him there endure the tortures he hath
inflicted upon me and countless others!"

"Who art thou, daughter?" asked Monella gently.

She shook her head mournfully and replied, much as she had to Leonard,

"I am called Fernina, lord. Once, I was a joyous-hearted wife and
mother; but Coryon stole me away from my home to give me to his friend
Skelda. What I am now I scarcely know; misery and suffering, and shame
and infamies unutterable have made me--alas, I know not what!"

"From my heart I pity thee, my daughter. Thy wrongs cry out for
punishment, and thy prayer is just. Show my officers the place. Coryon
_shall_ be the last meal of the accursed fetish he has fed with the
blood of so many victims."

"I will go back by the way by which I came," Fernina answered, "and
will make safe again the covered-way; then will I open the gates, that
thine officers may take him in that way."

By this time the covered-way was empty; every occupant had been
dragged or had leaped out and was held in the toils below. There was,
therefore, nothing to prevent its being used again. Fernina went up the
path and disappeared from view; then soon the sliding shutters were
seen to move back in their places; and, shortly after, she appeared at
one end of the covered-way and beckoned to those in charge of Coryon
to follow her. He was led down and placed in the same cell she had
occupied, and there shut in and left to himself, and to look out, if
he chose, at his friends in the tree's tenacious arms outside. Some of
them were so close he could have spoken with them.

After Coryon had been removed, Sanaima turned to Monella; then raised
his hands and eyes towards heaven.

"Let us thank the Great Spirit," said he solemnly, "that hath, at last,
delivered our enemies into our hands, and that without the loss of a
life, or so much as a wound upon our side!"

And Monella added a heartfelt "Amen."

"Of a truth," he added reverently, "the wicked have been caught to-day
in their own snare. At last, we may truly rejoice that the curse hath
been removed, for ever, from the fair land of Manoa. But this is a
fearful sight; let us hasten from it. But ere we do, Sanaima, send
kindly and trustworthy people to care for the poor woman Fernina and
the other women and children who are somewhere within. I cannot now
stay longer; I must look after the princess and return to the palace."

"I will remain and look to them myself," answered Sanaima. "Now that
the Great Spirit hath at last given them into my charge, it is a trust
that belongeth to me, and to me alone."

During the foregoing events, several messengers had passed to and fro
delivering messages, in low tones, to Monella or some of his officers,
and speeding away again with their replies, or upon other errands. In
this way Monella had learned that the princess had recovered from her
long swoon and expressed a strong desire to return to the palace to her
father, and he had sent back word to Leonard to accompany her.

When, therefore, Templemore, with Monella and many more, reached the
great gates on leaving the amphitheatre, they found Ulama and all those
with her gone, and they now hastened to the palace after them.



CHAPTER XXXI.

'THE SON OF APALANO!'


On leaving the amphitheatre, Monella and his followers formed a long
and imposing procession. Only a few had been left behind to guard the
prisoners. These last were immured in cells pointed out by Fernina,
who was well acquainted with the interior arrangements of Coryon's
retreat. For within the rocks was an almost endless series of passages
and galleries opening, at the further end, on to an extensive hanging
terrace on the very face of the great precipice that formed one end of
Roraima's perpendicular sides. Even those of Coryon's followers who
had gone over secretly to Monella, were only partially acquainted with
the interior of this fastness; hence Fernina's assistance was found of
great use by Sanaima and those who remained with him.

It can scarcely be said that the procession, as it left the great
gates of the amphitheatre, exhibited, at first, many signs of having
just been engaged in a victorious and successful expedition. Those
who formed it were, for the most part, silent and preoccupied; for
the scenes they had witnessed--and that, as they knew, were still in
progress--were of too horrible a character to be readily dismissed
from the mind. But, as they proceeded on their way, they met and were
joined by fresh bands of red-coated sympathisers; and these, not having
the same reasons for repressing their elation at the result of the
day's proceedings, broke out into cheering as they passed the groups of
people who were now coming out to meet them. For messengers had gone
on in advance to tell the news, and the crowds who had been waiting
so anxiously in the city, soon learned that Coryon's downfall was an
accomplished fact. They had already heard the good tidings of the
rescue of the princess and her lover and friends, and were only waiting
for this last crowning announcement; when it came, they became almost
delirious with joy, and soon poured out to meet the victors and give
them an enthusiastic welcome.

Thus the procession that started so quietly--almost in sadness, as it
seemed--from the dismal amphitheatre, became at last, as it entered
the city, a veritable triumphal pageant, meeting on all sides, and
returning, cheers and shouts of joy and exultation. And when Monella,
with Templemore, Colenna, and others came into view in the centre of
the long array, every head was uncovered and every knee bent. Then,
when he had passed, the excited crowds rose and shouted again louder
than ever. And well might they do so; for they--and only they--knew the
full meaning of the horrors from which they had that day been delivered.

By the time they had neared the king's palace, the crowd had grown so
dense that it was with some difficulty that space was cleared for the
passage of the principal persons into the building. At the entrance,
under the great archway, Leonard, looking pale and anxious, awaited
them. Running forward to meet Monella, he said,

"I have heard the news and congratulate you all. But I am in sore
distress about the princess. We had much ado to bring her here, and I
fear she is very ill. Let me entreat you to go and see her at once,
and then let me know what you think about her."

"Certainly will I, my son," replied Monella kindly, and hurried away;
while Leonard turned and greeted Templemore and the others with
him. Then they all entered the palace and went up one of the great
staircases and on to a terrace overlooking the open space where the
crowd was assembled, and there awaited Monella's return.

Presently he came to them.

"The princess is weak and much depressed," he said, "and will require
care for awhile; but I see no cause for anxiety. Naturally, the poor
child is terribly upset. She grieves, too, about the condition of the
king her father, and wishes to help nurse him, but this she has not
strength for at present. Patience, my son. Be patient and of good
heart." He looked with pity and concern at Leonard's haggard face
with its hollow, dark-ringed eyes and its worn-out look. "You have
suffered--cruelly--I can see," he added, placing his hand gently on the
young man's shoulder. "You have been sorely tried."

"Ah!" returned Leonard with a heavy sigh. "You cannot imagine what I
have been through! My thoughts still dwell upon the horror of it; my
eyes still see the sights I gazed upon! I feel as though I shall never
be my old self again. And Ulama! Though I do not yet know how much she
saw or knew, I sadly believe she shares my feelings."

"You are both worn out--exhausted, my son. Wait but a space--while I
speak to the crowd and dismiss them--and then I will give you a cordial
and refreshment; after that you must lie down and have a long sleep."

"I fear even to sleep," said Leonard, shaking his head sadly. "I dread
the thought of sleep, for I know but too well what my dreams will be."

"Nay, my son, have no fear. I will promise you dreamless, restful
sleep," Monella answered, and moved away to the front of the terrace.

At the sight of his commanding form and upraised hand the shouts and
noise and all the subdued roar that till now had been continuous were
hushed. Then, as with one accord, all uncovered and fell upon their
knees. He spoke a few brief words and then dismissed them, pointing out
that his friends were in need of rest and quiet.

The crowd, in respectful obedience, quietly dispersed, and Monella,
motioning Elwood and Templemore to follow him, led them into his
private apartments and there mixed and administered to both certain
drinks that had an immediate and wonderfully revivifying effect. These
potions had also the advantage of stimulating their appetites, so
that they were the better enabled to take the nourishment he pressed
upon them. Then he accompanied them to their sleeping chambers and
bade them lie down and take the repose they so sorely needed. None
of the three had had any sleep or rest--for Leonard's swoon in his
cell and subsequent state of torpor could scarcely be so called--for
the past two nights. The two young men were not only worn out, but in
that excited state in which the brain seems to insist upon going over
and over and over again the events of the previous troubled time, in
that ceaseless, monotonous whirl that makes all efforts at sleep so
useless. But Monella--who alone showed no sign of the strain all had
undergone--sat down by the side of each in succession for a short time,
and talked to him in his low, musical tones. What he talked of, or
what he did, neither could afterwards remember; but the effect was
magical. As Leonard afterwards expressed it, a soothing, delicious
sense of drowsy rest crept over his senses; a rest that was not sleep,
for he could still hear the usual sounds around, but gradually growing
hushed and muffled. Then came a sensation as of being lifted and wafted
away by a gentle wind; and in the sighing of the breeze there seemed
a delightful strain of music, a dreamy lullaby that carried with it a
restful peace sinking imperceptibly into untroubled repose.

The strangest thing, perhaps, is that even the unimpressionable
Templemore was affected in the same way, as he afterwards admitted. Nor
was that all; for, on awaking, he was conscious of having had the most
delicious dreams, though he could not quite recall their subject. For
some time he lay in a state of blissful ease, striving to recollect
the dream that had left sensations so delicious, and afraid to rouse
himself for fear the remembrance should vanish altogether. He could
hear the usual sounds going on in the palace, the tramp of armed men,
and clashing and jingling of arms; but he was only half-conscious of
them. Then he heard his name called in tones that seemed to come from
the far distance, and, opening his eyes, he saw Monella standing beside
his couch and regarding him with a grave smile.

"Wake up, my friend," he said. "It is time you roused yourself. I
wish to have some talk with you and Leonard. You have slept for
eight-and-forty hours!"

Templemore sat up and rubbed his eyes.

"I feel as if I had slept for months," he answered in a half-dazed way.
"And I've had such curious dreams, or visions; I feel quite sorry to be
awake again. It's a strange thing for _me_ to talk like that, I know,"
he added with hesitation.

"What did you dream of?" asked Leonard, who had entered in time to hear
the other's concluding words.

"That's the strange part of it," returned Templemore, looking perplexed
and somewhat sheepish. "I've had a most extraordinary dream of some
kind, or a vision or something--_that_ I know, yet I cannot remember
what it was. All I can now tell you is that it was something so
extremely pleasant that it has left the most agreeable sensations
behind it. My very blood seems in a warm, delicious glow from it. What
can it be?" he added, looking in a bewildered way from one to the other.

But Monella made no comment, and went away.

"It's been just the same with me," said Leonard, in a low voice, that
had an expression almost of awe in it. "Monella woke me about half an
hour ago and I felt much like what you have described."

"It's very odd," Templemore returned thoughtfully. "It must be the
drink he gave us. Do you remember what Harry Lorien said of him? That
he believed Monella was a magician? I begin to think him a wizard
myself. But, dear boy, how much better you look!"

"So do you, Jack; and he tells me Ulama is the same--and it's all his
doing, you know. He _is_ a wizard; and that's all there is to be said
about it."

"The question is," Jack went on, "what was it he gave us? Here it has
made us sleep nearly forty-eight hours; and it seems, has done us, in
that time, as much good as one would have thought would have taken
a week or two to accomplish, and yet it has left no dull, drowsy,
listless feeling, such as opiates generally do. I can't make it out."
And, shaking his head gravely, Templemore went to take his morning
plunge.

When they sought Monella, he bade Leonard give him the particulars of
all that had occurred to him. Leonard recounted them.

"It seemed very terrible to me," he said when he had finished, "at the
time; and truly I thought I should never get over it. Yet--now--it
seems such a long while ago--so far off."

"That is well, my son," returned Monella. "For it has been a sore
trial. I have heard about _you_," he continued, turning to Templemore,
"from the lady Zonella and from Ergalon."

"I owe a great debt to her--to him--to both," Templemore replied.
"Without their aid I fear things would have gone badly with Leonard,
and myself too."

"Yes, Coryon had ably laid his treacherous schemes, and we all have
reason to be thankful for their failure," said Monella solemnly.
"Things came to a crisis just then. I had just matured certain plans
that Sanaima and I had laid out; and only the day before my long-lost
memory returned to me, and I remembered, all in a flash, as it were,
the whole of my former life."

"That you were--that is--are----" Templemore began; but stopped and
looked confused.

"Yes, that I am indeed Mellenda," was the reply, given with an air of
grave conviction. "I know the statement sounds incredible to you; you
are of that nature, have been brought up in that kind of school, that
makes such a thing sound impossible. But if _I_ myself feel and know
that it is true, and if my people around me know it and not only admit
it but rejoice in it, then, for me, that is sufficient."

"Certainly," Templemore assented, feeling very uncomfortable under the
other's gaze.

"Still--to you--let me be, while you remain here, simply what I have
been before--your friend Monella. I am the same being to-day that you
have known and, I hope, liked--that you have joined with in facing
danger and adventure--I am the same! The mere fact that I remember
things now that I had forgotten before makes no difference to me or to
our friendship."

This was said with a look of such kind regard that Templemore felt his
own heart swell with responsive feeling. It was true he had a strong
inclination to regard the other as a sincere, but self-deceiving
mystic; but, apart from that--apart from this strange delusion, as he
deemed it, about Monella's being the legendary Mellenda--Templemore
looked upon him with feelings of the greatest admiration, affection,
and respect. And he had never been so conscious of those feelings as at
this moment. He took the hand that the other extended to him, and bent
his head respectfully.

"Sir," said he in a low tone, "no son could respect and reverence a
beloved and honoured father more than I do you. No one could feel
prouder of the love and esteem you have been kind enough to show me; no
people, I feel satisfied, could have a worthier, a more disinterested,
or exalted ruler. If I find it difficult to realise the marvel that
you have related, if I have the idea that, perhaps, you are mistaking
your own dreams for actual realities, it is not from any doubt of your
sincerity or veracity--only that in that way alone can I bring myself
to explain the wonder."

"And I, on my side, respect the honesty that will not allow you to
pretend what you cannot feel," was the reply. "To you let me be simply
Monella, and let us continue on our old terms of mutual friendship and
esteem. And now I am going to rouse your wonder and surprise with yet
one other unexpected statement. Your friend Leonard here is not the
son of the parents he has all his life supposed himself to be."

Leonard sprang up with an exclamation.

"I will explain how. You have already told us"--this to Leonard--"how
that your supposed father and mother, with yourself, and your Indian
nurse, once stayed some time with a strange people in a secluded valley
among the peaks of the Andes. I was not there at the time, but they
were my people."

"Your people!" Leonard repeated with astonishment.

"Yes, my son, my people! Apalano, and two or three others of whom you
have heard me speak--all, alas, now dead! I was informed of your visit
when I next came back to them, for a while, from my wanderings. I heard
of it and what had happened; how Apalano's little child--his only
one--had been killed by a venomous serpent."

"The child of Apalano!" Leonard repeated in amaze.

"The two children," Monella continued--"Mr. Elwood's child and
Apalano's--were wonderfully alike, and your nurse, the Indian woman
Carenna, was very fond of both, and was in the habit of taking them
out together. She was out with them thus one day, and left them
both sleeping in the shade of a clump of trees while she went a few
yards away to gather some fruit. She returned (so she says) in a few
minutes; then, thinking one of the children had a strange look she
picked it up in alarm; at the same moment a serpent glided out from
under its clothes and went away, hissing, into the wood. But the
child was dead; and it was the child of the Englishman. Then Carenna,
frantic with grief, and afraid to tell the truth to her master and
mistress, exchanged the clothes and ornaments of the children. The
trick succeeded; for the dead infant was swollen and discoloured; and
Apalano mourned the death of his only child, when it went away, in
reality, with the strangers and their Indian nurse."

"Then," said Leonard excitedly, "I am----"

"Ranelda, son of my well-beloved friend! Ah," said Monella, sadly, "it
was a cruel thing to do. It preyed upon the mind of my friend, and, I
truly believe, brought on the fatal sickness. But for that he might
have lived, haply, to see at last the land of his fathers--might have
been one of us here to-day."

Leonard felt the tears come into his eyes at the picture called up by
this suggestion; and he said in a low tone,

"Alas! My poor father! It was cruel--very cruel!"

"It seems so," Monella returned with a sigh. "But God so willed
it. And He has also willed that you should be led back to your own
nation--that, after many days, you should join with me in the work that
I had set myself."

"It's very wonderful. Yet it seems to me to explain those strange
dreams and visions that were ever urging me on to attempt the
exploration of the mysterious Roraima! I suppose, when Carenna found
out who you were, she confessed?"

"Well," answered Monella, with a half-smile, "I made her do so. People
find it difficult to hide anything from me. I saw she had some secret,
and compelled her to divulge it. But, since she was so afraid to
confess to others, and especially averse to _your_ knowing it, I made
her this promise, that, if you desired to return from our adventure,
you should do so in ignorance of the actual facts. I was only to tell
you in case you freely elected to stay here permanently. That is why I
have kept it back thus far. I had intended to announce it to you and to
the people at the time of your public betrothal. Then they would have
received you, with one accord, as one having a right to rule over them.
And now you can understand why I have regarded you with such affection
from the first; and how glad I was to find, in Apalano's son, one so
worthy of my love and confidence. Your father was allied with my line,
and you are, therefore, akin to me. Worthy son of a worthy father! Let
me join with you in thankfulness that you have, after all, come into
the heritage that is yours by right! The young eagle was bound to find
its way to the eyrie for which it was best fitted." And Monella stood
up and laid his hand affectionately upon the young man's shoulder.
Leonard reverently bowed his head, and the other pressed his lips upon
his forehead.

There was silence for some seconds. Then Templemore took Leonard's hand.

"And let me too congratulate you, Leonard," he said fervently. "It is
good news for you--this; for, since you have elected to pass here the
remainder of your life, it will be a great comfort and advantage to you
that you have such good claims and qualifications for the position."

"I am thinking about my poor father who died of heartache and
disappointment," rejoined Leonard; and in his tone there was a note of
genuine sorrow. "And I can scarcely forgive Carenna--fond of me as I
know her to have always been--for her cruelty to him."

Presently Templemore turned again to Monella, saying,

"Did Carenna then believe this mountain was inhabited, that you would
find here the people you came to seek? Did you yourself think that?"

"As to myself, I can scarcely tell you," was the answer. "'Reason'
said that the hope of finding here the people of whom Apalano had so
often talked to me--for that was all I then knew--was chimerical; yet
Apalano's dying wishes, and some strange sentiment or instinct within
me, urged me on. Then, when I met with Carenna, I found she quite
thought it might turn out true."

"Carenna thought it?"

"Why, yes; but that is not very surprising, for, according to the
Indian ideas, it would not be the only instance in this country. There
is a belief amongst the Indians in several parts that some of the
unexplored mountains are inhabited by strange and unknown races. This
applies to those--and there are many; Roraima is not the only one--that
are surrounded by the curious belts of almost impenetrable forest. The
Indians believe that, if these forests could be passed, strange peoples
would be met with living on the mountains thus encircled; and they say
that on clear nights the lights from their fires may often be seen.[10]
Therefore Carenna was quite prepared to believe we might find Roraima
inhabited."

      [10] Mr. Im Thurn, referring to this belief amongst the Indians,
      states that he has himself seen, from a distance, strange lights
      on the Canakoo Mountains for which he was quite unable to
      account. See 'Among the Indians of British Guiana,' p. 384.

"I see. Then she, at least, will not have been so very much surprised
at our not returning, and may not have given us up for dead?"

"Yes; that is probable enough."

"And if she has heard of the signal flares we made when some
Indians--as I suppose they were--were camping in sight of the mountain,
she would look upon that as a sign of our being up here alive?"

"I think that is very likely."

"There is the suggestion of a little comfort in that," said Templemore;
"for, otherwise, those I left behind, and who are dear to me, must have
given up all hope and be now mourning me as dead. With Leonard it is
different. He stood alone in the world and has no one to grieve for him
more than as an ordinary friend."



CHAPTER XXXII.

THE TREE'S LAST MEAL.


"And now," said Monella, "I have some other news to give you; for you
have slept for nearly two days, and in that time much has been done.
While you slept we have been busy."

"Do you _never_ sleep--yourself?" Templemore asked.

"Yes; but not for long at a time. However, the long rest you have taken
is no reproach to you, for it was my doing. I saw that it was needful
to restore your strength and good spirits. You are the better for it;
the princess, the lady Zonella, and others have also had long rests and
are the better for it, as I have already told Leonard. The king Dranoa,
too, is better--in a sense; for he has now no mental trouble, and with
his sickness there is no physical pain nor suffering nor distress of
any kind. But he is very wishful now that the marriage of his daughter
should take place as soon as possible; for only then, he feels, will he
be able to die happily. In deference to his earnest wish I have settled
for it to be solemnised at the end of a fortnight; and, in view of the
fact that the state of his health cannot but be a source of sadness to
his people, I have deemed it better to order that it shall be a quiet
ceremonial, and not a great _fête_, as had been planned. This will not
offend your feelings, my son?"

Leonard looked up with a bright smile.

"After what you have told me," he said, "I feel, with gladness and
gratitude that it is not without reason that you have so often thus
addressed me--as your son. _Now_, I may indeed claim you as a father."

"You may indeed," Monella assented; "I take the place of my lost
friend."

"Then you have no need to ask whether what you think best pleases _me_.
If you will be my father, choose for me and instruct me; for I feel
I have need of your help to enable me to take up, and bear worthily,
the position I owe to you. I felt this," continued Leonard, with great
earnestness--"I felt this very strongly when I lay in that foul den
that the poor demented wretch called 'the devil-tree's larder.' I made
then a vow that, if it should please God to deliver me from the peril
that threatened me, I would thenceforth devote my life to the good
of the people I had come amongst. I repented sorely that I had given
my thoughts too much to selfish--albeit innocent--enjoyment; and I
vowed I would not be guilty of that selfishness in the future, if the
chance and the choice were offered to me. And now that they _are_, help
me--instruct me, my father, I pray you, in all that may enable me to
fulfil that vow."

Monella gazed long and fixedly at the young man; and in his eyes there
was a glistening as of a tear. Then he rose and went to the window that
looked out over the lake, and stood awhile, with a far-off vacant look
that told his thoughts were wandering to distant scenes or persons. It
was some time before he looked round.

And, when he again turned to speak to the young men, they were both
conscious that some indefinable change had taken place in his manner.
His face expressed unmistakably a great and exalted joy; and the eyes,
that at all times had had so strange a charm in them, had taken on
a new expression. For a little while Templemore strove in vain to
ascertain in what the change consisted; but presently it seemed to him
that they had lost that half-sad, half-wistful expression he had so
constantly remarked; and that they now conveyed, instead, a sense of
contentment and repose.

"That which you have now told to me," said Monella, walking slowly up
to Leonard, "is as sweet to me as water to the thirsty in the desert."
With grave deliberation he placed both hands upon the young man's
shoulders and looked into his eyes with fatherly affection.

"Know, my son Leonard--or rather Ranelda, as you rightly should be
called--know that in these words you bring to my soul the message it
has been awaiting--sometimes in hope, too often, alas! in doubt and in
despair--through the long ages. Yours is the hand--the hand of the son
of Apalano--that bears to me the key of my fetters; and yours are the
lips that announce my coming freedom! My work, then, nears its end, and
soon--ay, _soon_--I--shall--be--_free_!"

While uttering these last words Monella raised his hand, and with
upturned face looked rapturously above him, as if his sight, piercing
the marble ceiling overhead, perceived some far-off scene that, while
invisible to his companions, filled him with the most intense delight.
Presently, he turned away with a regretful sigh, as though the vision
he had been gazing at had vanished, and added, with an absent manner,

"Now, when I leave you, I shall feel----"

He stopped; in his eyes there was a far-off look; and Leonard, who
had been looking on with wide-open, wondering eyes that comprehended
little, if anything, of his discourse, exclaimed in anxious tones,

"Leave me--leave us! What mean you, my father? You surely do not think
of leaving the people you so love, to become again a wanderer?"

Monella shook his head; and, appearing to rouse himself, he replied in
quite a different voice,

"You misunderstand, my son; I speak of when I shall be called
away--called from this earthly life."

"But that will not be for a long, a very long time yet," urged Leonard,
looking with confidence at the stalwart frame, and remembering the many
feats of strength the other had performed.

Monella turned his eyes on Templemore.

"Do you remember," he asked, smiling, "a conversation we had one day in
the museum; when I explained to you that no 'Plant of Life' or other
specific--no power, indeed, of earth--can keep in its earthly cage the
soul that feels its work is done, and that, therefore, frets itself
against its prison bars?"

"I remember," answered Templemore in a subdued tone, and avoiding
Leonard's questioning eyes.

"Ah! then _you_ understand me. And now"--this with a gesture that
enforced obedience--"now let us go back to that which we were speaking
of. I was saying that King Dranoa desires that you and Ulama should be
wedded without delay. To spare the feelings of the maiden, and give
her time, so that the matter may not come upon her too suddenly, I
have named a day two weeks hence. There will be no pageant, no public
_fête_; only the necessary ceremony, quiet and solemn."

"I should prefer it so," murmured Leonard.

"Then that is arranged; and it will take place in the great Temple of
the White Priests that has been closed for so many years. Workmen are
engaged upon it, and it is now being cleansed and renovated. It will be
ready in time.

"The next thing I have to tell you is that Coryon has suffered his
punishment, and is dead."

"Coryon dead?" the other two exclaimed in a breath.

"He is dead," Monella repeated solemnly. "It seems that during the
night after we left, there were dreadful scenes in the amphitheatre.
Those large reptiles--they are called 'myrgolams' here--came out of
their pool and attacked the half-dead wretches entangled in the tree.
But the branches tried hard to retain their victims, and so--well,
you can almost imagine what took place. The creatures carried off the
miserable beings in scraps; tore them piece by piece from the clutches
of the branches till nothing was left!"

He paused for a moment, and his listeners shuddered.

"Thus it came about that the greedy tree was, after all, baulked of
most of its intended victims; all, indeed, save three or four; though
the deaths the others met with were not less horrible. Yesterday,
finding the monster had no victims in its grasp, I ordered the
separating door to be withdrawn. In a moment, Coryon was seized and
carried up into its awful gorge. With that, the tale of this terrible
tree must end. I have no heart to devote more criminals to it; though
there are some among the prisoners who are scarcely less guilty than
was Coryon. But these Sanaima will deal with; he will punish them as
seems best to him; and I have set men to work to dig a mine from one
of the cells so as to get underneath the tree. Then it can be blown up
with gunpowder. And I designed to ask you to superintend the work for
me," turning to Templemore.

"That I will gladly do. And--the--reptiles?" Templemore was doubtful of
the name.

"Kill them off, if you can, with bullets. And now, to turn to your own
affairs. Think not I have forgotten them; I know you are anxious and
will be getting restless and unhappy. As I said to you before, when
you go away, you will not go empty-handed. On the contrary, you will
carry with you such riches as will place you beyond the need of toil
for the remainder of your life. I need not say, 'Do not therefore be
an idle man,' for I know that you will never be. Whenever it pleases
you to go, some of my people shall escort you through the wood to
'Monella Lodge,' as we called it, and there await you while you go on
to Daranato and bring back such Indians as you require. Then, do you,
in turn, with your Indians, re-escort my people to the cavern; for, you
must remember, they are not used to forest life; nor can they, if left
alone, protect themselves against wild animals. Will that please you?"

"Yes, truly it is all I can ask or wish for," Templemore responded.

"I shall wish to know--that is, all here will wish to know," said
Monella, "that you get back in safety to 'Monella Lodge.' With the
heliograph mirror which you will find packed away at 'Monella Lodge'
you can send us back a message to that effect; then, with the one we
brought here with us, we can reply, and send you a 'God speed you' to
start you on your way. Shall it be so arranged?"

"Gladly," responded Templemore with emotion. "But must I then resign
myself to the thought that I shall never see Leonard or any of you any
more?"

"You must," Monella answered quietly, but firmly. "Leonard--or Ranelda,
as I prefer to call him--has asked me to guide him and instruct him;
and my first and last advice to him is, and will be, to keep his
people to themselves. Now let us consider this question from what you
yourself would term a practical point of view. The term 'El Dorado'
has come to be a synonym in the outside world for a sort of earthly
paradise, has it not? Originally handed down from actual facts and
history relating to this, the celebrated island capital of Manoa--the
Queen City of my once powerful and extensive empire--with the tales of
its wonderful wealth and the virtues of the Plant of Life; its memory
lingered through the ages long after the waters had receded and left
it isolated and unknown. And the Spaniards called it 'El Dorado,'
which has ever since been but another expression--as I have said--for
'Earthly Paradise,' or 'summit of every man's ambition.' Is it not so?
And seeing that the great curse that so long lay upon the land has been
removed, can you say that _now_ it does not deserve the term? Have we
not here a veritable 'Earthly Paradise'--an actual realisation of what
you in the outside world understand when you use the expression 'El
Dorado?'"

"Truly I believe it."

"Ah yes! It is so now--or will be henceforth, when those who have
had such sorrows here shall have outlived them," said Monella with
impressive emphasis. "But what I would put to you, is this; you have,
perhaps, seen something of frontier settlements, or miners' camps,
and gold diggings--at least, _I_ have--and you have heard of them.
Now, you know well enough that the only people who would care to brave
the hardships of the journey hither would be those led on by the lust
and greed of gold. Supposing things were reversed, and you were in
Leonard's place, and had here your wife--as he will have--your friends,
your own people--all that was dearest in the world, with ample wealth,
would you care to allow him, or any one else, to lead people hither, to
turn this 'El Dorado' into a 'Gold diggings,' a 'Miners' camp,' with
all their hideous associations, their gambling and drunkenness; their
rowdyism and their debauchery, their shootings and murders?"

"No!" said Templemore thoughtfully, "you are right there. Still--surely,
between that, and forbidding intercourse altogether--forbidding me even
to come to visit my friend----"

Monella smiled and gravely shook his head.

"You think that, between the two extremes, there should be some middle
course possible," he rejoined. "Unfortunately--or fortunately--there
is none. _You_ will have no need to come here seeking for wealth.
You would not be likely to undertake the expedition alone. Those who
accompanied you would do so from self-seeking motives. Then, again,
you will have other ties; you will have your wife, children. You do
not contemplate dragging them hither through trackless wastes to greet
friends _they_ have never known as you have? They would not like it,
again, if you, a man of wealth, able to do as you pleased, were to
leave them for a long space while you made the journey hither alone!
And, finally, the thing is not practical or feasible for another
reason. You will have much ado to find your way out from here. You know
that in these regions vegetation spreads rapidly unless--as in the
canyon we came up, or in the clearing immediately outside around the
cavern by which we entered, or out on the savanna--there are special
causes that check its spread. Should you come back in a year's time,
you would not only find the road we cut out impassable--you could not
even trace it. The spread of the undergrowth, the fall of great trees
or branches, the hurling down of rocks from the heights above, floods
from the streams and watercourses--all these, and other forces of
nature in this wild region, will, within a few months, have combined
to block up or obliterate completely the path we cut with so much
difficulty. Is it not so?"

"I fear you are right, though it had not occurred to me," Templemore
admitted with reluctance.

"Then, again, with the wealth you will take back with you, you will not
care to remain in Georgetown. You will wish to travel with your wife;
in any case, it would be years before you would be likely to think of
undertaking another journey."

"If ever you _do_, though, dear old Jack," Leonard burst in
impulsively, "if ever circumstances should arise to make you wish to
communicate with me, you can always do so by the heliograph, you know,
or perhaps by balloon, if I'm still alive."

But, though Leonard put on a cheerful tone, it was easy to see that
both he and his friend felt deeply the severance that too clearly lay
before them. Yet, after Monella's argument, they saw no alternative.

"I am as sorry as you can be," Monella wound up kindly; "but your
duties call you away from us, even as Leonard's call upon him to stay.
And now I must leave you, for many are waiting to see me. First,
however"--this to Leonard--"I will lead you to the princess."

Leonard followed him from the apartment into another, where Monella
left him; and presently Ulama entered, looking radiant, lovely,
beautiful--so Leonard thought--beyond belief.

At the sight of Leonard, she threw herself upon him with a joyous cry;
with her face upon his shoulder, she sobbed and laughed by turns.

"Oh, my darling! my darling!" she murmured in gentle accents, "if you
only knew how _glad_ I am to see you! I've had such dreams--dreams
about you--dreams that frightened me so! They _were_ only dreams, were
they not?"

She looked up anxiously, and fixed her glorious eyes upon his face, and
closely scanned it. Then she gave a sigh, the token of relief, and once
more she nestled her face upon his shoulder.

"Yes!" she said softly, "after all 'twas but a dream! For you look
well, and your eyes are bright and happy-looking; and in my dream
you were looking _dreadful_! Your poor face looked so thin, and so
_different_, and your eyes so sunken, and they had dark rings around
them, and oh! their terrible, despairing look! But it was only a dream,
or you could not look well again so soon, as now you do. Yes, 'twas
but a dream, my darling! But oh! an _awful_ dream. I thought there was
a great tree--like that you said you saw one day; and it was a tree
that fed on human beings, and you were lying bound and they were going
to give you to that dreadful tree! Oh, Leonard, my love, think what
a dream that was for me! Think, for a moment, what I felt! And there
were other dreadful, awful things!" She shivered and cried softly for a
space.

"Yes, my darling," Leonard answered soothingly. "But, as you say, 'twas
but a dream!"

"Ah, yes! And now it seems far off; for, after it, came other dreams,
that were happy and delightful, so that the bad one receded ever
farther. Just when I seemed even at the very point of death from
horror, a cool hand pressed tenderly on my brow, and brought me peace.
It seemed to cool the fever that had made me think my very brain would
burst; and a voice said--oh _so_ kindly--'Be at rest, my daughter, I
bring thee peace, and surcease of thy sorrow.' Then I opened my eyes
and saw a strange form leaning over me. It was dressed in a warrior
dress, just like that which stands in our museum and which is called
Mellenda's. Helmet, sword, everything the same. Then I felt secure and
happy, for I thought the great Mellenda had come to deliver me in my
trouble. But--and this seems so strange--when I looked up at his face,
who do you think he was? Ah! you would never guess! But the countenance
was Monella's--your friend Monella's! Was not my dream a strange one?"

"Strange, indeed, my dear one," said Leonard tenderly.

"From that moment," went on Ulama, "everything was changed, everything
was _lovely_. It seemed to me that _you_ then came to me, and led me
from that scene of horror. Where we went I know not; but, hand in hand,
we wandered on, till you led me home. Then once more things became
confused--I can scarcely remember--but I'm nearly sure Mellenda seemed
to come to me again. And--yes--I remember, he repeated, 'Rest, my
child; I bring thee rest and peace.' Then he left me, and we wandered
on--you and I, my Leonard--through the loveliest, the most entrancing
scenes; among places, people, strange to me, yet all delightful; and,
oh, it all seemed _so_ sweet, so restful, so grateful, after the horror
of that first awful dream! At last I wakened, and they tell me I have
slept through two whole nights and nearly two whole days! Did you not
wonder that you saw me not the while? Tell me how you have passed your
time without me?"

And thus the gentle, loving girl talked on with childlike innocence,
Leonard at first evading her inquiries, averse to mar her happiness by
telling her the truth.

Indeed, it was not for some days, and then only by degrees and
carefully guarded words, that he revealed the truth about her 'dreams.'



CHAPTER XXXIII.

THE LAST OF THE GREAT DEVIL-TREE.


Templemore did not find the occupation of directing the operations
for destroying the great devil-tree a very agreeable or engrossing
one. His memories of the amphitheatre filled him with disgust and
loathing both of the place and of the vegetable monster it contained,
and he never went near them without reluctance; for all that, he stuck
conscientiously to the task now that he had undertaken it. But there
was neither excitement nor interest in it to keep his thoughts engaged,
and to prevent their brooding upon his desire to get back to those
dear to him. Now that everything was settling down peacefully in the
land, and there was nothing specially to keep him, he felt he was not
justified in prolonging further unduly his friends' suspense. He saw
comparatively little, too, of Leonard, who was continually engaged with
Monella and others in councils and consultations that naturally had
little interest for Templemore; though, no doubt, they would have been
glad enough of his company and assistance in their deliberations, had
he chosen to offer them.

As a consequence, he wandered about a good deal alone; and took to
haunting the spot from which he and Leonard had made their signal
flares, and whence he could, with his glasses, just distinguish
'Monella Lodge' and the adjacent open country. Here he would sit by
the hour together, wistfully gazing out over the vast panorama spread
beneath him, and moodily watching for the slightest sign of life in the
far distance. Sometimes 'Nea,' the puma, offered herself as a companion
in his walks; at such times, when he went to the amphitheatre, he was
always in some concern to keep her out of the reach of the fatal tree,
lest she should meet the fate that had befallen her unfortunate mate.

It had been arranged that he would wait till Leonard's marriage, since
it was so near. But he had determined not to delay his going more
than two days beyond it; and he now awaited the event with something
akin to impatience. At the same time, he knew that the journey back
to Georgetown would be anything but easy or agreeable. It had been
arduous, difficult, wearisome, and dangerous enough on the way up, when
he had the company of Leonard with his exhaustless boyish enthusiasm.
What would it be like, he asked himself, going all that weary road
again alone, for he would be alone in the sense of being the only
white man amongst a number of Indians. Then again, he must return
with very little to show for all the time, and trouble, and danger
he had incurred. Monella, it was true, promised him 'wealth'--and no
doubt would keep his promise in the form of a selection of precious
stones. _They_ were numerous and comparatively cheap in the country;
so Templemore had no scruples about accepting such a present. And,
when he reached Georgetown, they would mean wealth. That was all
satisfactory enough; but there was much, very much more he would have
liked to carry away with him; things of much less intrinsic value, but
of greater scientific interest. Of these there were more than could
be catalogued in a few lines; vessels of gold and silver; wonderful
antique jewellery, specimens of their armour, swords, etc., were
some; dress-fabrics also; an endless number of curious botanical and
zoological specimens, for others--these form only the beginning of a
long list of things he had in his mind, and would have liked to carry
with him. But well he knew the impossibility; the difficulties of
transport were insurmountable. In a country where it was difficult to
get carriers even for the bare food required, it was obviously useless
to dream of carrying back with him a 'collection' such as he would have
wished to take.

There was natural disappointment in all this. It is hard for an
explorer to face danger, hardship, discomfort; to separate himself
from civilisation and from those he loves, and to risk illness, fever,
wounds and death, and then, having achieved success, to have to resign
himself to returning without those trophies he would have delighted in
exhibiting to an astonished and wondering world. But just, perhaps,
when he had convinced himself, by dwelling morbidly upon such thoughts,
that he had good cause for dissatisfaction, his good nature would
assert itself and remind him of the other side to the picture. Was it a
little matter to take back with him wealth enough to make his mother's
future secure and comfortable; to marry the girl of his heart, and to
be henceforth a man of means and affluence? And if his part in the
expedition ended in such result, had he any just cause for complaint?
Did he not rather owe a debt of gratitude to those who had urged him
on, in spite of his own scepticism, to share in their enterprise? At
this thought a rush of gratitude would come into Templemore's mind;
then he would torment himself in turn, with misgivings as to whether
he was not guilty of ingratitude in now feeling impatient to get away
from--to leave for ever--the friends who had thrown such good fortune
in his way.

And thus Jack Templemore felt anything but happy in the days that
preceded Leonard's marriage. And, of course, he was in love, and felt
home-sick; so, perhaps, it is not much to be wondered at that he was
restless and changeable and ill at ease.

Yet, had he been in a different mood, his stay in the place might now
have been very enjoyable, and of surpassing interest. He was free to go
where he liked and do as he pleased. The people were not only friendly
and willing and anxious to please, but showed pride and pleasure, if he
but spoke to them. The story of the rescue of Leonard and the princess
had been noised abroad and told and re-told over and over again, and
the part that Templemore had taken in it was well known. Then, again,
it had also now become known who Leonard really was; and the people
felt that what Templemore had done for his friend had been done for
them, inasmuch as it had saved for them the life of one who was of
their own nation and whom they now valued highly. Thus Templemore was
regarded as a hero, second only to Monella (or Mellenda). The people
were quite ready to credit him with qualities he did not possess;
for was he not the close and trusted friend of their own great hero?
If Mellenda had chosen this one from all the people of the outside
world--for they knew by this time that there _was_ a great world,
outside their mountains, peopled with white races--must it not have
been for some very good reason? Must he not be a great man, a hero, a
wonder, for the great Mellenda to have chosen him as his friend and
companion on his return to Manoa?

Thus reasoned the simple-hearted people; and, since it was also known
that he was going away from them for ever--going back to the outer
world that was his home--it created a sort of mystery about him. Must
he not be some very great man in that world that could not spare him
even to stay and enjoy the friendship and favour of their own great
hero-king?

So they regarded him with an interest and curiosity almost amounting
to awe. Mothers would bring out their children to look at him as he
passed, bidding them remember, for the remainder of their lives, that
they had once seen the wonderful stranger, the great friend of their
own great hero.

Meanwhile, Ulama had given herself up zealously to joining with Leonard
in the work he had set himself among the people. She had been gently
and tactfully told the story of all that had occurred; she knew now
that her 'bad dream' had been only too true. The knowledge cast for a
while its shadow upon her fair face, and she seemed to lose some of her
childish gaiety and to become more staid under its influence. But it
also called into play all the womanly tenderness and sympathy of her
nature. When she heard of unhappy women and children needing care and
comforting, she eagerly desired to assist in the work in company with
Leonard and Sanaima; and thenceforth she devoted to it all the time she
could spare from attendance upon her ailing father.

Amongst those in constant attendance on the princess might now be
seen Fernina. She had been brought to the palace by Sanaima, who had
discovered that her husband was no longer living. The meeting between
her and Leonard was affecting; he presented her to Ulama and commended
the poor woman to her kindness. Ulama knew now the particulars of the
terrible time the two had passed together in the dread cells within
reach of the great tree, and received her with a heart filled with
compassion. Fernina's gratitude and pride at the kindliness of her
reception were such that they went far to assuage her sorrows. Her two
children also were well cared for, and, by degrees, the old look of
dull misery in her face gave place to a softer expression that promised
to bring back, in a measure, her former beauty. It was understood that
Fernina would in the future take Zonella's place; for it had been
announced that the latter would shortly be married to Ergalon.

One day Templemore informed Monella that the mine had been completed,
that he had placed the cask of gunpowder in position, and laid a fuse.

"And the reptiles?" asked Monella.

"I have left them alone--and for a reason. It seems to me they are
inclined to attack the tree; have done so, in fact. They are getting
hungry and have nothing else to attack, and, being well penned in, they
are beginning to feed on the only thing within their reach. After all,
the 'flesh'--if one may so term it--of a 'flesh-eating' tree may quite
possibly form an acceptable food for these ugly reptiles when they are
starving. If, when we have blown it up--or down--they are disposed to
devour it and so clear it out of the way, it may save some trouble."

Then a day was fixed for firing the mine, and a large crowd of the
citizens assembled to witness the destruction of their enemy; but many,
whose memories of the place were sad, remained away.

When the explosion took place, a long tongue of flame shot up into the
air with a thunderous roar, the great tree seemed lifted bodily up,
swayed, and then fell with a mighty crash full length on the ground,
disclosing a rent in the trunk from which a thick, noisome stream of
dark-coloured fluid slowly flowed. This gave off an odour so offensive
and over-powering that none could stay in the enclosure; so the crowd
quickly dispersed, with loud expressions of wonderment and admiration
at all that they had seen. But Templemore remained long enough to see,
from a distance, that the foul reptiles had approached the tree, and
were greedily drinking up the liquid that flowed from the wound in
the trunk. And, visiting the place next day, he found that they had
torn the rent still further open, and were busily tearing the trunk
to pieces, the branches now showing but feeble signs of life. In
the end they fulfilled his expectations and devoured every scrap of
the monster. Thus ended the existence of the terrible, horror-laden
devil-tree!

       *       *       *       *       *

It was shortly after he had completed the destruction of the hated
tree that Templemore made a discovery that filled him with grave
uneasiness. He was wandering about among the heights that lay at one
end of the canyon--that immediately over the entrance-cavern--when
he found himself amongst huge blocks which had been quarried out (as
Monella had one day mentioned) with the idea of precipitating them into
the canyon to block it up impenetrably. On examining the quarry from
which they had been taken, he observed with alarm that some masses of
overhanging rock seemed almost on the point of giving way. A sort of
partial landslip had already taken place, and there were fresh-looking
cracks and fissures that threatened shortly to loosen the overhanging
masses and set them free to fall into the canyon below. He spoke to
Monella about this, and he at once accompanied him to the spot, and his
opinion confirmed his own. This made Templemore busy himself in earnest
with his preparations for departure; for he feared that, if these rocks
actually fell, the entrance to the cavern might be so blocked up as to
take long and arduous labour to clear it.

It being now within a day or two of Leonard's marriage this was all he
could do in the matter. But Monella sent men down the canyon in charge
of Ergalon--since the latter now knew the road--to carry in advance and
deposit in the cavern some of the things Templemore desired to take
with him. They returned on the eve of the wedding, Ergalon stating that
all they had taken down had been duly stored as desired, ready for
Templemore when he went down.

That evening King Dranoa was much better and insisted on presiding at
the evening meal. He even hoped, he said, to be able to be present at
the wedding. Ulama's joy at this, and the sweet delight that lighted
up her face, were alone enough to infuse happiness into those around
her. She looked at Templemore, too, and smiled and nodded her head in
a mysterious way that roused his curiosity; and, later, an explanation
came.

At the very end of the repast a mysterious-looking dish or tray, whose
contents were hidden by a golden cover, was brought in with a good
deal of ceremony and was placed before the king. Then Ulama glanced
shyly at Templemore and clapped her hands. At this the king lifted the
cover, and displayed to view--not some new eatables, as Templemore
had anticipated, but--a beautifully fashioned belt, and several
exquisitely-worked purses that all sparkled and flashed with the little
diamonds and other stones that were worked in patterns into the silken
netting. And, when Templemore looked inquiringly at Leonard, that young
man only smiled and nodded mysteriously like the others.

Then King Dranoa thus addressed him:

"My friend, thou hast already heard, I believe, that we do not purpose
to allow thee to depart hence without begging thine acceptance of some
little testimony of our appreciation of what thou hast done for us. I
say we, for all here--all in the land indeed--are deeply in thy debt.
Without thy courageous help and unselfish devotion my dear daughter
would not now be here happy and joyous as she is to-night, and my
kinsman and son-in-law that is to be would, I fear, only too probably
have met a dreadful fate. Therefore, we have all joined in subscribing
to these presents, of which we beg thy acceptance. The princess hath
worked this belt, and inside it are some of her own chosen jewels that
thou hast often seen her wear. The lady Zonella, and others of her
maidens, have worked these purses--they are for thy friends--and we
have all contributed to their contents. I know naught about thy world
outside, but understand that what is in these satchels will be of far
greater value to thee, and those dear to thee, than to us here. I truly
hope it may be so; else I should hesitate to offer them, as being but
a poor return for what thou hast done for us. If, however, they can
purchase for thee, in the future, any surcease of toil, of trouble,
of anxiety, then, and only from that point of view, may they be worth
the offering. Take them, my friend; and may the blessing of the Great
Spirit go with them, and accompany thy footsteps throughout thy life."

Then Ulama took the belt and poured out its contents upon the tray--a
magnificent, glittering heap of superb precious stones. Then she
emptied each purse in turn, making other sparkling but smaller heaps.
And each purse had a little label with a name to it; and Templemore
looked on in wonder as the contents of each were revealed and the names
read out by Leonard. There were three large purses, one for his mother,
one for Maud, and one for Stella. Smaller ones for Mr. and Robert
Kingsford, Dr. Lorien and his son; and two, still smaller, for Carenna
and Matava. No one had been forgotten.

Templemore looked from the one to the other, his heart filled with
emotion. Even more than the overwhelming value of the jewels, he felt
the loving-kindness that had thus taken thought and trouble for those
dear to him.

"But--Dr. Lorien and Harry--and--the others----" he said, hesitating.
"I don't see----"

"The good doctor," Monella explained, "will be sorely disappointed
that he cannot come to see us and take back to the world some of
the botanical rarities we have here, and which, to him, would be
great treasures. These are to console him. As to the others of your
friends--this is the least we can do to show our regret for the sorrow
and anxiety they will have borne on your behalf, through us. That is
all."

For some minutes Templemore was silent.

"It is too much--a great deal too much!" he got out presently. "I don't
know what to say----"

"Then say nothing, dear friend," Ulama interposed, with a merry laugh.
"Now let me put them back and show you how they all fit nicely into the
belt. You see, while you were working for us at that horrid old tree,
we had not forgotten you. Keep the belt always for my sake, and think
of us all lovingly in the future, as we always shall of you. Now I want
you to take me out on the terrace."



CHAPTER XXXIV.

A MARRIAGE AND A PARTING.


In the ancient Temple of the White Priests Leonard and Ulama were
solemnly made man and wife according to the custom of the country. King
Dranoa was able to be present at the ceremony, and nearly the whole
population may be said to have assisted, for they thronged in crowds to
the great building where in ages past their kings had all been married;
though comparatively few of the populace could find room inside the
Temple. The remainder filled all the surrounding open spaces, and
waited patiently to greet the bride and bridegroom on their way back to
the palace.

Templemore had a place of honour in the assemblage, and watched the
function with curious interest. Sanaima, with an array of white-robed
priests; Monella, with his commanding form, conspicuous by his noble
bearing; the beautiful Ulama, all suffused with blushes; and her
handsome bridegroom; the kindly, dignified Dranoa, looking weak
and pale, yet well-pleased and content; and the brilliant crowd of
spectators, officers in gleaming armour, and courtiers in gorgeous
dresses--all combined to form a noble pageant. The building, whose
interior Templemore now for the first time saw, was a magnificent
structure, and helped to add grandeur to the imposing spectacle.

At the conclusion of the ceremony, the procession, on its way back to
the palace, was greeted with excited and enthusiastic cheers and cries
that seemed almost loud enough to shake the towering buildings past
which it slowly filed.

In the evening there were general feastings and rejoicings. These were
continued till the night was far advanced; and it was morning ere the
city again subsided unto rest.

The following day, Templemore was busy completing his preparations,
and going round to bid farewell to those he knew. But, towards the
afternoon, he was surprised to see a large crowd outside the palace;
and still more astonished on learning that the people were gathered
in his honour. The good-hearted citizens, it appeared, liked not the
notion of his going away without some public mark of the esteem in
which they held him; so, somewhat against his will, he was called out
on to the terrace that overlooked the place in which the people had
assembled. Monella, Ulama, Leonard, and all the members of the court
and of the king's household, stepped out with him; and the first two
each took him by the hand, and led him to a spot where all could see
him. Then a great shout went up, and he was cheered again and yet
again, till the strange feelings called up by the unexpected warmth of
the welcome he received made him go red and white by turns.

"They have come for a sight of you, and a word of farewell ere you
leave us," explained Monella. "Will you not give them a few words?"

Templemore was unused to oratory, and he would fain have excused
himself; but he saw that to do so would disappoint his friends. So he
made them a short speech, assuring them of his appreciation of their
friendly feelings.

"The unexpected warmth and kindness you have shown in thus coming here
to-day," he said, "I shall always gratefully remember. If, in company
with the friends who led me hither, I have done aught that seems to you
to call for commendation, I will only ask you, in return, to keep for
me a tender corner in your memories when I have left you. If, when I
have gone, you will but think as kindly of me as I shall of you, then
indeed I shall be well repaid."

Then Monella addressed them in his sonorous tones.

"My children, I am well pleased that ye should have thus gathered here
to-day, and of your own accord, to show to my friend that you are not
unmindful of his part in the events of the past few months. I am glad
and proud that he should receive, before he leaves us, this proof that
my people are not ungrateful to one who hath done so much for them.
A great work hath been accomplished in the land since we three, as
strangers to you all, arrived some months ago. At the last, its prompt
completion was due in no small measure to your quick response to my
urgent call, at a time when hours were precious--and even moments.
When I left you in the times long past, I sailed away with fleets and
armies; when returning I was a simple wanderer. Yet ye gathered gladly
at my summons, and no voice was raised to question my authority. This
was well, and helped me to achieve success; yet might we have been too
late to save the well-beloved of your princess had not our friend here
kept all Coryon's vile following at bay till we could come to aid him.
If the dread devil-tree exists, to-day, no more, and all the wickedness
and cruelty that went with it have been trampled out for ever, if now
your minds are all at peace, and your daughters and your other dear
ones are secure--ye owe much of this to our friend's ready courage and
devotion; and I am rejoiced to see that ye have not forgotten it!

"Now will my friend know that he bears away with him the love and the
good wishes of us all. We wish him all happiness in his future life;
our sole regret is that he cannot stay and spend that life with us."

At this there were shouts and roars of applause, and other tokens of
assent.

"And now, my children," went on the speaker, "I have somewhat else to
say to you. The ancient Temple of the Great Spirit is once more open;
see that ye neglect not to there offer up your thanks for the blessing
that hath been vouchsafed you. Give heed to the teachings of the worthy
Sanaima. See that ye take to your hearts the precepts that he will
expound to you. So shall the good work that I have begun be continued
and consummated after I shall have left you."

Loud murmurs of surprise and objection were here heard.

"Nay, let not that which I have said arouse your grief, my children.
Remember my long life and weary wanderings to and fro upon the earth;
these have been a punishment to me, even as events, during this same
time, have been to you. Ye would not wish to keep me here when I tell
you that my task is done, and my tired soul is seeking rest--rest not
to be found on earth, but only in the great domain beyond the skies.
I may not linger here now that the work that I was sent to do is
finished. I have freed you from the curse that did oppress you; have
brought you one to govern you who combines within himself the blood
both of your ancient White Priests and of our kings; and in Sanaima ye
have a wise counsellor and guide. Seek not then to stay me; when the
Great Spirit calleth, weep not and repine not, for then is the hour of
my deliverance. Then shall I be united, at the last, to my well-beloved
queen, my Elmonta, and my children that have gone before!"

When Monella ended, he raised his hands and face towards heaven, and
stood gazing upwards like one inspired. His face seemed transfigured
and was lighted up as by a thrilling joy; and, as on the occasion of
his talk in the palace with Templemore and Leonard a few days before,
he appeared to see something invisible to those around him, but the
sight of which filled him with supreme content. Then he dropped his
arms, looked around him as though he had just awaked from sleep, and,
with bent head and tardy steps, walked silently away.

Ulama caught Templemore by the arm.

"Oh, do you think it can be true--what he says?" she exclaimed in
anxious tones, almost a sob. "It cannot be that we are about to lose
him? Do you think so?"

"Nay, I see no cause to apprehend it," was Templemore's reply. "Our
friend seems as robust and as strong as a man can wish."

"Yes! So think I, and yet--he has spoken in this strange fashion
several times of late. His words fill me with foreboding."

She looked at Templemore with such sorrow in her gentle eyes that
he scarcely knew what to say to comfort her. And just then he was
obliged to leave her to return the salutes of the people, who were now
separating and returning to their homes or their various callings.

The next morning, shortly after sunrise, Templemore stood at the top of
the hillside, not far from the entrance of the canyon--the spot from
which he had first seen the 'Golden City'--looking his last upon the
fair scene outspread beneath, and saying the last words of farewell to
his friends. Once more the people had assembled to do him honour, and
they now crowded the slopes on every side.

Already some of the little party who were to accompany him to 'Monella
Lodge' had started and were on their way down the canyon, and Ergalon,
under whose charge they were, stood waiting for Jack Templemore.
The latter was surrounded by a little group, of whom the chief were
Leonard, Ulama, and Zonella, who seemed as if they could not make up
their minds to let him go. Monella, his arms folded, stood apart,
gravely looking, first at the group, and then out over the landscape
with dreamy eyes, his noble figure, outlined against the dark foliage,
the centre of a half-circle of officers and courtiers who stood
respectfully a short distance from him. Templemore was dressed in the
same clothes he had worn on his arrival; beneath them he had buckled
on the precious belt with the jewels it contained; his rifle was slung
across his shoulder.

Amongst those around were to be seen Colenna and his son, Abla, and
others who had been amongst Templemore's first friends; and all
showed by their demeanour genuine sorrow at the parting. As a last
and special gift--one more token of his remembrance of his boyhood's
friend--Leonard had that morning handed to Templemore a deed of gift
making over all his property in the 'outer world' to Maud Kingsford.

"It is nothing to give, since it is no longer of any use to me," he
observed, with a quiet smile. "But, since I _must_ convey it to some
one, let it be a dowry for Maud in addition to the purse the others
send."

It would be difficult to say how many 'last hand-shakes' were given,
or how many times Ulama, with tear-dimmed eyes, pleaded for 'a minute
longer--just a minute,' Zonella, with sorrow in her looks, seeming
mutely to second the appeal. But the parting came at last, and, amid
loud huzzas, and the waving of hands and scarves, and other tokens of
good will, Templemore turned away and, with Ergalon, disappeared into
the thicket.

Little was said by either as they made their way down the rough path,
and, even when they rested in the shade of the half-way cave, neither
seemed disposed for talk. Almost in silence they ate the refreshments
with which the forethought of their friends had loaded them, and drank
cool draughts from the rocky shallows of the stream.

Suddenly, while they sat within the cave, waiting for the sun to move
so far that the path should be in shade, a heavy booming detonation
like the firing of cannon burst upon their astonished ears; and they
started up together and stood listening anxiously.

"What on earth can that be?" exclaimed Templemore.

Ergalon gravely shook his head.

"Falling rock, I think," he answered. "If so, it must be farther down
the canyon."

"Let us hasten," cried the other, a vision rising before his eyes of
the entrance-cavern blocked, and his being forced to return. "This is
what I have been fearing."

Despite the sun, he started off at a rapid pace down the path, Ergalon
following and striving, as well as he could, to keep up with the
other's impetuous movements. During the remainder of the descent
they heard two or three other similar noises; and at each of these
Templemore hurried on still faster.

When they reached the bottom, they came upon the little party who had
preceded them; they were standing in doubt and alarm, looking along
the valley, which was already partially blocked by fallen rocks, while
more continued to fall at intervals, crashing on to those already
fallen and sending up clouds of dust. With the group, looking on at the
scene in a sort of mild surprise, stood 'Nea' the puma.

"The stars be praised," Ergalon exclaimed, relieved, "it's all at the
other end."

"What do you mean?" asked Templemore in surprise.

"Why, the rocks have not fallen near your cave," was the reply. "All is
clear there," and he pointed to the hidden cave.

Then there were explanations, and, to Templemore's dismay, it now
appeared that Ergalon had mistaken his instructions and placed all the
things in the wrong place. He was not really to blame in the matter;
for he only knew of the one cave--that to which he had accompanied
Templemore when they had come down to fetch the spare weapons. He knew
nothing of any other cavern, and Templemore had not remembered this.

The situation was a trying and terribly disappointing one, and
Templemore found himself in a grave dilemma. If he hesitated, it was
plain his way would soon be totally barred. If he went on, and risked
being crushed by the falling rocks, he must go alone; leave behind him
everything he had intended to take with him, save what he had on his
person, and make up his mind to face the dangers of the gloomy forest
by himself! Even now it was almost folly to risk death or serious
injury by making for the cavern.

Templemore hesitated, the while that more boulders came crashing down.
Then he thought of what it would mean for him were he to be shut up
in the mountain for an indefinite period. He looked up keenly and saw
enough of what was going on to grasp the fact that the whole sides of
the canyon were crumbling and falling in, and it looked a sufficient
quantity to make it likely that the reopening of the road would be a
work of years. As that conviction dawned upon him, with a brief word
of farewell he dashed away from the group, and, despite their startled
endeavours to stay him and the entreaties they called after him, he ran
swiftly along the valley towards the entrance-cavern. After him bounded
the faithful puma; he had no time to give to the attempting to send her
back, and the two went rapidly on, dodging the great masses that now
crashed down faster than before. A massive boulder rolling down seemed
about to crush them, but they escaped it and disappeared in a cloud of
dust from the view of the spellbound witnesses of their hazardous race.

Just when they reached the cavern a great stone pitched upon one
already fallen and, splitting into several pieces, sent heavy fragments
flying around in all directions, like an exploding bomb-shell. One of
these fragments struck Templemore in the back, smashing his rifle, and
throwing him, stunned and bruised, upon the floor of the cavern.



CHAPTER XXXV.

JUST IN TIME!


At sunrise, one morning, a fortnight after the events recorded in the
last chapter, a party of travellers, consisting of three white men
and a number of Indians, set out from the Indian village of Daranato,
making their way in the direction of Roraima.

The three white men were Dr. Lorien, his son Harry, and Robert
Kingsford; and among the Indians was Matava. As they toiled along the
rough path it was easy to see that the travellers were, for the most
part, travel-worn and weary; they moved forward in a half-listless
fashion, scarcely looking to right or left, and showing but little
interest in the scenes that lay along their route. Only when they came
to the ridge from which the first view of Roraima is to be obtained
did any of the party exhibit curiosity. Here a halt was made, and they
all gazed for some time silently at the great mass that raised itself
high above the surrounding landscape. This morning, clouds hung over
it and it appeared sombre, dark and threatening, and gave no sign of
the fairy-like lightness and beauty it sometimes assumed when seen from
this same spot.

Robert Kingsford had come up from the coast, in the company of the
doctor and his son, bent upon solving, if possible, the mystery
that surrounded the fate of the two friends who had left Georgetown,
nearly nine months before, to join with an unknown stranger in the
exploration of Roraima. All that had since been heard of them was the
strange, almost fantastic account that had been brought back by Matava,
according to which they had actually found a way into the mountain, and
thenceforth had disappeared. The very entrance by which they had made
their way through the solid wall of cliff had been afterwards found
fast sealed; and no trace or clue to their fate had been left behind.
This had been Matava's account, and he had not hesitated to express his
belief that the three adventurers had been captured by the demons of
the mountain, and either eaten up then and there, or kept as prisoners
and slaves in durance vile.

This story, however, did not satisfy the minds of the others, and
Robert Kingsford, seeing and compassionating the deep sorrow of
Templemore's widowed mother, and the still more passionate grief of
his own sister Maud, determined to investigate matters for himself.
Dr. Lorien was detained longer in Rio than he had expected; but, when
at last he returned to Georgetown, he readily joined the other in the
proposed expedition of inquiry.

They had a very arduous and difficult journey up from the coast. It
happened to be a season of exceptional drought, and cassava, and food
of all kinds, were extremely scarce. The sun had been unusually fierce,
and the heat abnormal; hence, by the time they reached Daranato, even
the sturdy and seasoned doctor--a very veteran in tropical travel--was
nearly worn out; while the other two were in still worse plight.

Add to these trials the fact that they had little, if any, hope of
succeeding in their quest, and felt, in reality, that the expedition
was, at best, but a sort of forlorn hope; and it will be understood why
they had started from Daranato dispirited and depressed.

Thus, when they obtained their first view of the mysterious mountain,
the cause of all their trouble, they were not inclined to regard it
with any very friendly feelings; and its gloomy, forbidding look this
morning was reflected, so to speak, in their own minds. "There is our
enemy," they felt. "There is the fascinating, sinister chimera that
has bewitched, and lured away from us, our dear friends, and caused us
all this anxiety and useless trouble." And so, as Roraima frowned upon
them, they frowned back, and returned in kind its gloomy and unfriendly
greeting.

But frowns and angry looks could do them no good; so the travellers,
with a very few words of comment, continued their route towards
'Monella Lodge,' where they arrived towards evening.

Here, a mile or so from the 'haunted wood,' and almost, as it seemed
to them, under the very shadow of the mighty towering walls, they
set about making arrangements for a stay of several days. They found
everything in the cabin much as Matava had led them to expect; the
place, indeed, just as Templemore had left it at his last visit. Many
things had been left there that the travellers now found useful, and
that seemed veritable luxuries after the discomforts of their long
journey.

Kingsford's thoughts were intent upon his missing friends; and, indeed,
this was also the case in only a slightly less degree with the other
two. All were oppressed with vague suspicions of the Indians, even of
Matava. Might these not have murdered the three travellers for the sake
of the things they had with them--articles and stores which would
be as priceless treasures to Indians; therefore which might quite
conceivably have offered a temptation too great to be resisted?

However, amongst the tribe at the village, they had seen no signs of
'white men's' belongings to any unusual extent; and, now that they saw
what a number of things had been left undisturbed in 'Monella Lodge,'
their suspicions were very considerably lightened. For all that, they
found it difficult to believe implicitly the fantastic tale Matava had
told about the three adventurers' disappearance.

The Indians gathered wood and lighted fires, while the white men made
a careful and interested inspection of the contents of the habitation
and its surroundings (the two llamas had been removed to the village,
where, however, they had both since died). Inside, they found a lamp
and a small cask still partly full of oil, which was a discovery they
appreciated when it grew dark.

After their evening meal, the three friends sat for some time smoking
their pipes and discussing the strange situation in which they found
themselves. They were now within reach of their journey's end. If the
tale told by Matava were correct, and the road through the forest were
still fairly clear, they ought to be able to reach the mysterious
cavern the next day; when they were determined, if requisite, to blow
open the entrance with gunpowder. In addition to that which they had
brought with them, they had found a considerable quantity at 'Monella
Lodge.' This surprised them; for in this country gunpowder is more
valued by Indians than almost anything else.

The three friends were sitting talking, and were thinking of retiring
to rest for the night, when Matava came rushing excitedly into the
place.

"Come quickly, my masters," he exclaimed. "Come! Come and see the light
on the mountain!"

Somewhat languidly those addressed rose and went out. They had so often
heard the usual stories of lights seen at night on unexplored mountains
that they attached but little importance to them. They had treated
in like manner a statement by Carenna and Matava that some Indians,
camping out on the savanna a few months before, had seen strange and
unusually bright lights, that they took to be signals, on Roraima's
summit. The Indians had been scared and broke up their encampment at
once, fearing the lights might have been placed there to lure them into
the power of the demons of the mountain.

When, however, the doctor stepped outside, and looked up towards the
top of the stupendous precipice, he saw a brilliant flame that had all
the appearance of a signal beacon.

"It doesn't look like a forest fire," he said to Kingsford, while they
were examining it carefully through their field-glasses. "And now and
then I almost fancy I can make out human forms passing in front of it."

The others had the same impression, and Harry Lorien declared he could
see flashes of light, as though the beings round the fire were dressed
in clothes, or carried something, that reflected the firelight.

"Let us try burning a little powder," the doctor suggested, "after the
fashion Matava says was arranged between him and the others, but which
they never carried out."

So they sent Matava for the powder, and told him to fire it in the
manner that had been settled between him and Monella. It is true none
of the three messages agreed upon would be applicable to the present
occasion--but that they could not help.

Presently, three tongues of flame leaped up into the air, then suddenly
died out, leaving those around temporarily half-blinded by the glare.
Then they stood for some time anxiously watching through their glasses.

What seemed a long interval ensued; when, suddenly, three brilliant
gleams flashed out on Roraima's height, in exact imitation, as to the
intervals between the flashes, of the signals they had themselves made.

"Try another," Doctor Lorien cried, in growing excitement. "Arrange the
three differently this time."

This was done, and the answering flashes came back, again in exact
imitation; and this time with scarcely any delay.

Doctor Lorien seized Kingsford by the hand.

"Heaven be praised for this!" he exclaimed, his voice half-choked with
emotion. "It begins to look, indeed, as though Matava's account were
true; as if our dear friends may be alive after all!"

Words cannot describe the delight with which the travel-worn party
hailed these signs, that so unmistakably pointed to the conclusion
suggested in the doctor's words. There was one thing, certainly, they
could not understand; none of the signals agreed upon between Monella
and Matava had been given from the mountain; but they were inclined to
attribute this to Matava's having, after the lapse of time, forgotten
or mixed up what had been arranged. Only the thought that their
supply of powder was not unlimited restrained them from continuing
the signalling; but they were reluctantly compelled, as a matter of
prudence, to discontinue it.

"Now," said the doctor, "we can attack the 'haunted wood' with a good
heart. Surely, our friends will come down to meet us, now that they
know we are here!"

Before daylight they were all astir, and set off at once on the
journey through the forest, Matava guiding them. The road, or track,
was followed with difficulty, and was almost blocked at times. Only an
Indian's instinct, indeed, could have made it out. In places the rough
temporary bridges that had been made over water-courses had been washed
away, but, the water being very low from the long-continued drought,
this caused no serious difficulty. They met with some adventures by the
way, which were, however, suggestive of the dangers that lay around
them rather than important in themselves. At last, towards evening,
Matava told the doctor they were getting near the cavern. And now he
begged him to proceed with caution. He could not get over the fear that
the 'demons of the mountain' had eaten up or captured their friends,
and were now awaiting more victims whom they had lured on by imitating
and answering the signals of their murdered friends.

This theory did not find much favour with the doctor; for all that he
so far yielded to the entreaties of the Indian as to send him on to
scout in advance, while he, and the others of the party, walked in
silence behind. And, since Matava now moved with especial care, they
made slow progress.

As it happened, however, Matava's caution was in a measure justified;
for just when they came to the part where there was an opening in the
trees, and they could see ahead of them the light that came down into
the clearing round the cavern, Matava stopped and raised his hand.

All stood still, except the doctor, who moved up to the Indian's side
and looked whither he was pointing.

For a moment or so he could see nothing to account for the other's
behaviour. To the right the stream that came out of the rock was now
plainly in sight; and ahead of them was the clearing. The entrance
to the cavern was as yet hidden by intervening trunks, but the
light-coloured rock could be seen between the trees. Matava slowly
raised his rifle and took a careful aim; then, as though dissatisfied,
he lowered the weapon and stood with up-lifted hand enjoining silence
upon those behind him. To make sure, he turned round and, with many
gestures, impressed upon them all to keep motionless and silent; then,
having satisfied himself that they understood and would obey his signs,
he faced round and again raised his rifle.

And now, Doctor Lorien, following the line of the Indian's aim,
became conscious of a slight movement among the trees in front of
them. Presently--the Indian still waiting his opportunity to fire--he
saw that a great hanging mass was swaying to and fro, passing and
re-passing the space between the trunks of two trees. At first he
thought it was a large mass of hanging creeper, but, remembering that
there was no wind to cause the movement, he looked more closely and saw
that it was the head and part of the body of a gigantic serpent that
was depending from a branch above. Suddenly, Matava's rifle rang out,
and a moment after an enormous mass fell to the ground and writhed and
twisted about in horrible contortions.

Then a loud, hoarse roar was heard, echoing through the forest. The
startled travellers looked about on every side, but could see nothing
to explain the sound; then it came again and again, while the colossal
folds in front of them, half hidden by the trees, continued to rise
and fall, lashing against the trees and shrubs with blows that seemed
almost to shake the ground.

Matava advanced and fired other shots into the struggling monster;
then, watching his opportunity, made a rush and dexterously cut off
the creature's head with a blow of his axe.

And now, looking towards the rock, they saw the 'window' entrance to
the cavern, and the head of the big puma from which had proceeded the
loud roars they had heard; and by the side of the puma was a pallid,
thin, haggard face that they had some difficulty in recognising as Jack
Templemore's!

"You have come only just in time," he said, in a weak voice, with
a poor attempt at a smile, when the doctor had come near. "We were
almost done for; at least, I know I am. I scarcely know whether I have
strength enough to get the ladder out for you."

They tied two lassoes together and threw one end in; this he fastened
to the ladder, and, thus assisted, it was got out. Immediately the
puma sprang down it and disappeared into the forest. Then the doctor,
followed by Kingsford and Harry, climbed up and entered the cavern, to
find Templemore lying on the floor unconscious.

He was suffering from a sprained ankle and a badly bruised arm, and was
exhausted from want of food. It was some time before he could explain
matters to his rescuers; and they, meantime, were anxiously wondering
at finding him thus alone, with no sign about of his two friends. When
he had briefly accounted for their absence, he told how he had been
kept prisoner for more than a week by the great serpent that, all that
time, had relentlessly watched and waited outside. But, apart from
this, he could scarcely have got through the wood in his crippled state.

"Still," he said, "but for that serpent, 'Nea,' the puma, would have
brought in some fresh meat. As it is, I have had to share with her even
the small amount of tinned food we happened to have left here."

The flying pieces of rock that had injured him had broken his rifle;
and he had only a few cartridges for his revolver.

"It's all been unfortunate," he said. "They put all the things in the
wrong cave, and, when I came to myself after my desperate race between
the falling rocks, I was in darkness and the puma was licking my hands
and face. With much difficulty I found my way to the front here and
pulled the stone away; then found a lantern and some oil, and got a
light. The entrance to the canyon I found was all dark--buried--and
I could still hear rumblings as of further falls of rock; but they
sounded distant. I imagine, therefore, that the valley must be buried
pretty deep. I set about making myself as comfortable as I could; and,
when I put the ladder out, 'Puss,' as I call her, went out hunting
while I bathed my ankle and arm. Several days she went out and brought
in something pretty regularly, and I thought I should be able to nurse
myself up and get well enough to struggle through the wood alone. But,
one morning, she refused to go out; that day I had a visit from a pack
of 'Warracaba tigers'; another time when she stayed in, looking out
myself, I saw that awful serpent hanging from a bough; and there it
has been day and night ever since; 'Puss' refusing to venture forth. I
fired all my cartridges, except two, at it without any effect. It kept
ceaselessly swaying its head about, and my arm pained me and my hand
trembled; and, unless you can put a bullet through its head, it's of no
use firing at a creature like that, you know. If my rifle had been all
right, the thing would have been easy enough. I kept two cartridges in
reserve--one for poor 'Puss' and the other for myself--and I think you
came only just about in time to save us both." And Jack's voice shook,
and he felt a choking sensation in his throat. It was clear he had
given up hope and had been making up his mind to face death alone.

Robert Kingsford's gratification and delight in the fact that his
journey had, after all, turned out to be the means of rescuing his
friend, the lover of his sister, may be imagined. Nor were the others
less pleased; only the good doctor's satisfaction was clouded by
his inability to get out into the wonderful valley to obtain any of
the botanical treasures that lay so near at hand. But his chagrin
disappeared when Templemore, as some consolation, showed him the purse
of gems that had been sent to him.

"We'll give up orchid-collecting after this, lad!" he exclaimed to
his son. "No need to wear out my old bones any longer in toilsome
wanderings, when we've got enough to live on comfortably without."

Presently, 'Puss' came back with a wild pig, and great was the
rejoicing over the meal that followed.

Then all, save Templemore--who could only look on from the window--went
out to examine the reptile monster they had killed and to gaze in
astonishment at its huge proportions. The Indians had already begun
to skin it, but had not finished the operation when the time came for
making their preparations to pass the night.

These were complete--the four white men sleeping in the cavern and the
Indians bivouacking outside--when strange cries were heard echoing
through the forest. Instantly there was a great stir among the Indians.
With one accord they started up, exclaiming, "The tigers! The tigers
are coming!" Forgetting their fear of the 'demons' cavern,' they cried
out piteously for the ladder to be put out for them; and no sooner was
this done than they scrambled up it with all speed into the cave, and
pulled it in after them.

In reply to the amazed inquiries of the others, Matava explained that
they had recognised the distant trumpetings of 'Warracaba tigers,'
those fierce animals that nothing--not even fires--can stay or keep at
bay. Soon, in fact, the animals could be heard on all sides around the
cavern, though but little could be seen of them in the darkness. Their
growls and roars and squeals were answered by hoarse roars of defiance
from the puma that were deafening as they reverberated through the
galleries of the cavern. Outside, the 'tigers' made frantic efforts
to leap up and get in at the window, while those within had much ado
to keep the puma from leaping out amongst them. They also fired a few
shots at them, but in the darkness--for the fires had burned low--they
were fired at random.

"Why," said the doctor, "I should think there must be a hundred of
them! What an awful place this forest must be! I know that wolves hunt
in packs, but I never before heard of 'tigers' doing so. Wolves can't
climb trees as these can. It's awful, perfectly awful!" he added, the
while he listened to the diabolical noises going on outside. It was,
indeed, as a former traveller has expressed it, 'like a withering
scourge sweeping through the forest.'[11]

      [11] See Mr. Barrington Brown's 'Canoe and Camp Life Among the
      Indians of British Guiana,' p. 71. He says these animals hunt in
      packs of as many as a hundred or more.

It was hours before the din died down; and then, just when the tired
travellers were falling asleep, the most appalling, human-like cries
broke forth, sounding first quite close at hand, and then dying away in
a long-drawn wail or shriek.

Again the new-comers started up in alarm; but Templemore, smiling
feebly, bade them take no notice.

"It is only the 'lost souls'," said he.[12]

      [12] See foot-note, Chapter V., p. 52.

"The 'lost souls'!" exclaimed Kingsford. "What can you mean?" He began
to think the other must be raving.

"I know no more than you do," was Templemore's reply. "So the Indians
account for those sounds, and that is all I can tell you. Since I have
been here they have serenaded me thus every night--even sometimes by
day--and at times I have thought all the 'lost souls' from the Infernal
Regions must have been let loose for my especial entertainment--or to
frighten me to death or drive me mad--I know not which. I really think,
if I had not had the company of this faithful beast--she always roars
back defiance at them--I _should_ have gone mad."

Towards morning the sounds ceased, and sleep became possible for two or
three hours. But when, at daylight, the Indians rose and ventured out,
they found the great snake had been almost completely devoured. Only
some bones and a few bits of skin were left.



CHAPTER XXXVI.

THE END.


Templemore was carried, with much difficulty, to 'Monella Lodge,' where
an attack of fever supervened, and it was nearly two weeks before the
doctor pronounced him out of danger.

Carenna came over from her village to nurse him, and tended him as
devotedly as she had Leonard. In the height of the fever he raved
constantly of the great devil-tree, of gigantic serpents, of Monella,
and of 'lost souls'; and, mixed up with all, were a number of names
strange to those who listened to him; for he had been too ill when
found in the cavern to give more than a brief idea of the adventures he
had passed through.

While he lay upon his bed of sickness, anxious friends watched from
the mountain top for tidings of his fate, but received no intelligible
answers to their signals; for none of those now with Templemore knew
how to reply to them. Thus it was not till he was convalescent and
well enough to be taken out into the open air, that any interchange of
messages became possible.

Those below, looking up, day after day had seen little flashes of
light, of which they could make nothing; but now Templemore explained
their meaning. A search in the cabin brought to light the mirror
Monella had thoughtfully packed up and hidden carefully away; and
Templemore was thus able at last to open communication with his Roraima
friends.

His first signalled message to them brought back the reply:--

  "_Heaven be praised! We are all so thankful! We have mourned you
  as dead! And we are in great affliction, besides, for Monella, the
  great, great-hearted Mellenda, is dead! He died peacefully the day
  after you went away._"

Then, presently, when Templemore had sent back a message of sorrow and
condolence, another came.

  "_The whole valley at the bottom of the canyon is half-filled up.
  It would take years to clear it. And we pictured you as lying dead
  beneath it all!_"

Many messages passed to and fro during the remainder of the travellers'
stay; and then, after a time, Templemore having thoroughly recovered,
preparations were made for the journey back to the coast.

Both Carenna and Matava were grieved at the thought that Leonard had
remained on the mountain for good, and that they were never likely to
see him more. Carenna, alone, however, expressed no surprise. She told
Templemore that the deception as to Leonard she had practised upon
the good people who had received them so hospitably in their lonely
mountain retreat had, all her life, been a sore trouble to her. It was
some consolation to her, therefore, to know that he had, after all,
been led back to his own people. She at first refused the valuable
present Leonard had sent her, saying that to receive forgiveness was in
itself more than she had hoped for. But, needless to say, Templemore
persuaded her into accepting it. Matava's delight with what had
been sent him was unbounded; especially when Templemore told him
what treasures he could purchase with it: rifles, pistols, unbounded
supplies of powder, and unlimited tobacco, and other things that
Indians prize.

Meanwhile, Doctor Lorien and his son had been assiduous in collecting
specimens of all the botanical and zoological treasures with which the
neighbourhood of Roraima abounds; and, when the time for starting came,
they had good reason to be satisfied with the result. They might have
done still better, perhaps, if they had gone more into Roraima Forest;
but this they could not make up their minds to do. Indeed, they could
not venture far without an Indian guide; and this they could not get.
Neither Matava nor any one of the other Indians could be prevailed upon
to go into the wood again; and even the doctor was not very pressing.
All had had quite enough of the 'haunted wood.' For it now came out,
too, that Templemore had become a believer in the 'didi.' He declared
that more than once during his imprisonment in the cavern he had seen,
either at early morning or at dusk, strange human-like shapes--gigantic
apes--standing watching within the shadow of the trees.

Nothing, he said, would induce him to enter that wood again. And he
felt certain that only the fact that the entrance to the cavern was so
high from the ground had enabled him to escape with his life.

'Nea,' the puma, alone showed no fear of the gloomy forest. She went
hunting there daily, and nearly always returned with something to
reward her enterprise.

When all was ready for the start, two or three last messages passed
between the travellers and their friends upon the mountain.

"_Heaven keep you and all those dear to you! Your memory will always
be cherished by all here_," came from Leonard. To which Templemore
replied:--

"_Long life and happiness to you and your dear wife and all your
people._"

"_God bless you, Jack!_"

"_God bless you, Leonard!_"

Thus they finally parted; and a few hours later the homeward-bound
friends looked their last upon Roraima from the ridge near Daranato.
The mountain was lighted with the red rays of the setting sun and
towered up in glowing splendour. The greens of the wood at its base,
varied and vivid in colouring, as they were, contrasted with the pinks,
and purples, and reds of the precipitous walls above, that now looked
again like a fairy fortress in the clouds, smiling, and fascinating in
its light, aerial beauty.

"What a pity the city does not show!" said Harry. "What a glorious
sight it would make!"

"At least you have conquered the secret the mysterious mountain has so
long and so well concealed," Doctor Lorien observed to Templemore.

The latter gazed on the mountain gloomily. His mind went back to the
morning when he saw it first and the vague forebodings that had then
come into his mind.

"I don't know," he said doubtfully. "I have not brought away with me
the most wonderful secret of all--the 'Plant of Life.' When I think how
I was cheated out of that, by the mountain itself, as you may truly
say--for its very rocks came crashing down to prevent my escape, or
to kill me if I persisted; or at least, to insure my leaving nearly
everything behind--when I think of this, it seems to me that Roraima
has guarded most of its secrets pretty effectually, and I am almost
persuaded there is something uncanny about it."

Harry laughed at this; the more so that it came from Jack.

"That's very fanciful--for you," he returned. "If it had been Leonard,
now, I should not have been surprised."

"I am afraid my ideas of what is precisely practical and what is
fanciful have been a good deal modified," Jack confessed. "So would
yours, if you had passed through my experiences."

"Well, after all, perhaps you haven't lost much," Harry returned. "A
small bundle of dried plants wouldn't have been of much use, and as to
the seeds, if, as I understand you, they only thrive high up on the
mountains, I don't see what you were going to do with them. Moreover,
very likely they would have been eaten up by insects, or lost, or got
wetted and spoiled, or something, before you got back or could have
planted them in a likely spot."

Then they continued their journey, staying that night in Daranato,
where the great puma at first created a scare among the dusky
inhabitants, but, showing friendliness towards all, she was soon the
object of unbounded wonder and interest on every side.

Some two months later there was again a little dinner party at
'Meldona,' Mr. Kingsford's residence, and the same faces were gathered
round the hospitable board--all but Leonard Elwood's. Maud looked
charming and happy as she glanced, now and again, first at Jack
Templemore's bronzed face, and then at her brother, listening, not for
the first time now, to her lover's wondrous tale.

She and Stella had shuddered before at the accounts of the great tree
and its victims, and of the horrors of the 'haunted wood'; and had
talked of Ulama and Zonella, and wondered, again and again, what they
were like.

"Poor Leonard! I am sorry to lose him," Maud said. "Yet, I suppose,
he does not need pity; for he is to be envied in many ways. Fancy his
dreamings--about which we used to tease him so--coming true after all!"

"It is just a year ago to-day," observed Mr. Kingsford to the doctor,
"that you were at dinner here and first told us about that wondrous
stranger, Monella. We've had an anxious time ever since."

"I have never known a happy moment till you all came back the other
day," said Maud sadly. "I am so thankful that the cruel suspense is
ended at last. I have often recalled the words Dr. Lorien used about
Roraima; that 'its very name had come to be surrounded by a halo of
dread and indefinable fear.' I can truly declare that it has been so
with me. I, too, had come to hate and dread the very name. It has
seemed to me like a great, remorseless ogre that had swallowed up two
of our friends, and, as I feared, was going to swallow up my brother
and two more. Yet," she added, looking at Jack, "had I known how things
really were, had I known of your lying lamed, and ill, and alone in the
den in that horrible forest, I think I should have gone mad! What a
comfort to you this dear, faithful animal must have been!"

'Nea' was by her side, and she put her tear-stained face affectionately
down to the animal's head. The big puma had already established herself
as a favourite with every one in the house.

"Truly," returned Jack, "such thoughts occurred to me while I was
cooped up there. I couldn't help going over things in my mind; and,
when I considered how the mountain itself, and all the horrors of the
forest, seemed to have combined against me to prevent my escape, I was
seized with a sort of hate and detestation of the place. And, ever
since, my sleep has been disturbed--and will be for years to come, I
feel convinced--by nightmare dreams of the sights and sounds that haunt
my memory!"

"I feel that I have a grudge against it, too," the doctor avowed.
"Consider all the wonderful things you have told us that are to be
found inside! Then, just when I got so near, to be shut out in that
way! That 'Plant of Life,' too! I'd have given a good deal to have some
specimens of that, and some seeds. _I_ would have got them to grow,
somehow, if the thing could be done!"

"I'm precious glad, then, that you didn't," the irreverent Harry put
in. "I'm hoping to be a physician--one day--remember! And what chance
would there be for me and the rest of the profession, if you taught
people how to live for hundreds of years without so much as an illness?"

This very unexpected view of the matter from the vivacious 'budding
doctor' had the effect of turning the thoughts of the others from the
somewhat gloomy channel into which they seemed to have drifted.

After dinner, the belt, and the purses, and their glittering contents,
were brought in and spread out to view.

"Whatever else may be said," Mr. Kingsford declared, with emotion,
"there is not one here who will not have cause to remember the stranger
Monella, and Leonard, and their friends, with grateful feelings. And
you, Jack, above all; for, if I am any judge of the value of your share
of these things, you are a millionaire. And that brings back to my
mind the thought that is now constantly perplexing me, Who _was_ this
wondrous Monella after all? I really cannot bring myself to believe he
was--what was his name?--Mellenda, you know."

"No," assented the doctor. "As a man, I have the greatest liking and
respect for him; but, as a scientist, I am bound to disbelieve in that
part."

"Since I have no claim yet to be considered a scientist," said Harry,
"I suppose I am free to believe what I like. So I go the whole ticket.
I believe he was what I first pronounced him to be--a magician--and--I
swallow the Mellenda legend--whole! So there!" This very emphatically.

"Oh dear, _yes_!" Stella exclaimed, her blue eyes opening wide at the
doubting ones. "Why, of course, it _must_ be true. It is so much more
romantic and poetic, you know!"

Robert shook his head gravely.

"No!" he said, very decidedly. "I honour and respect the man, and
his memory, from all I have heard of him, but--I cannot accept that
wonderful part of it."

"Well, _I_ do," Maud exclaimed, looking round with a pretty air
of defiance, more particularly directed against Jack. "So that
makes opinion even, so far--three for, and three against. Now," to
Templemore, "of course, I know _you_ will side with the others."

To every one's surprise, however, Jack also shook his head.

"I don't know that," he answered, with a comically bewildered air.
"I've really had all my old notions so mixed up and blown about, that I
honestly admit I really cannot make up my mind. The whole thing is an
enigma that I cannot solve as yet--probably never shall. So you may put
me down as neutral--undecided--whatever you like to call it."

Maud clapped her hands; and upon that the puma gave a loud roar,
evidently signifying _her_ assent and approbation.

"Three for, three against, and one neutral," Maud cried "That's better
than I hoped for!"

The doctor laughed, and his good-natured eyes twinkled.

"You've all but beaten us," he said good-humouredly. "But, going away
from that part of the subject, I feel truly sorry to think that he
should have died so soon after he had accomplished the work he had had
so much at heart."

"There again I am inclined to differ," Templemore answered slowly. "I
honestly believe that nothing could have happened to please him more.
All his later talk clearly showed that. He said he was utterly weary
of life, and anxious to be 'released,' as he called it; yet his love
for his people was so great, he let no sign of this appear till he felt
sure all had been finally achieved. It was the fear that that work
might be upset after he had gone--and that alone--that made him so
anxious to shut out all future communication with the world outside;
of that I feel convinced. It was that that influenced him too, I have
no doubt, in making me promise to keep my adventures there a secret
from the world in general. But, just at the last, almost when I was
coming away, a doubt seemed to come into his mind, and he said to me,
'I release you from that promise, if circumstances should arise in
which you conscientiously believe it would be conducive to the good of
my country to tell the story of your sojourn here.' What he meant I
cannot conceive; I only tell you what he said. Possibly time may show.
He seemed to have the 'gift of prophecy' to some extent in those days;
certainly, everything went to show that he foresaw, or expected, his
own approaching death."

       *       *       *       *       *

This was all some years ago.

Maud Kingsford and Templemore were married shortly after; and Stella
and Harry Lorien are now married too. And, when the two sisters appear
in society, they excite admiration, not only by their beauty, but also
by their matchless jewels--that once glittered on the bosom of Ulama,
Princess of Manoa, and that had adorned, probably, the persons of
generations of descendants of former mighty kings of that once mighty
empire.

But of this nothing is known to the general public. Templemore and his
friends have kept the promise he gave, and preserved the secret of
Roraima. It was only a short time ago that circumstances arose that
seemed to him to justify a departure from the course he had hitherto
observed. This was when the dispute which has been dormant for just
upon a hundred years respecting the boundaries of British Guiana
suddenly reached an acute stage.

"Truly," he said to his wife, then, "I think this is the contingency
our friend Monella must have had in his mind when he intimated that
in certain circumstances I was to be free to depart from the silence
he had enjoined. It seems to me more than ever the case that he must
have had 'the gift of prophecy' at that time. I cannot doubt that,
if he were alive now, and saw that the future international position
of Roraima was hanging in the balance, he would wish it to become
permanently British territory, rather than Venezuelan. And, if he could
know of the present state of indifference--or want of information--that
seems to prevail in England, I feel satisfied he would wish me to do
what I could to awaken the English nation to the true facts of the
question that is at stake."

And that is how it has come about that, after some years of silence,
this strange story of Roraima and the ancient city of El Dorado is now
given to the world.


THE END.



Transcriber's note


Words in italics have been surrounded with _underscores_, and small
capitals changed to all capitals.

Errors in punctuation have been corrected without note. The footnotes
have been placed directly after the paragraph they belong to. Missing
punctuation of the poem in footnote 6 was found on the internet. Some
words were hard to read but could be guessed from the context. Entirely
missing words were filled in and mentioned in the list underneath. Also
the following changes were made, on page

   vii "nöt" changed to "not" (the author did not actually visit)

  xiii pagenumber "xii" changed to "xiii"

    27 "that" changed to "than" (far more sparsely populated than)

    29 "Thoughout" changed to "Throughout" (Throughout the country)

    31 "scarely" changed to "scarcely" (I can scarcely believe)

    51 "Morover" changed to "Moreover" (Moreover, the Indians)

    83 "Gorgetown" changed to "Georgetown" (do not alarm our friends in
       Georgetown)

    95 "o" changed to "of" (some kind of)

   126 missing word guessed "to" (repay you to some measure)

   202 "mysel" changed to "myself" (For myself I do not wonder)

   381 "entertaintment" changed to "entertainment" (for my especial
       entertainment).

Otherwise the original has been preserved, including inconsistent
spelling and hyphenation.





*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "The Devil-Tree of El Dorado - A Novel" ***

Doctrine Publishing Corporation provides digitized public domain materials.
Public domain books belong to the public and we are merely their custodians.
This effort is time consuming and expensive, so in order to keep providing
this resource, we have taken steps to prevent abuse by commercial parties,
including placing technical restrictions on automated querying.

We also ask that you:

+ Make non-commercial use of the files We designed Doctrine Publishing
Corporation's ISYS search for use by individuals, and we request that you
use these files for personal, non-commercial purposes.

+ Refrain from automated querying Do not send automated queries of any sort
to Doctrine Publishing's system: If you are conducting research on machine
translation, optical character recognition or other areas where access to a
large amount of text is helpful, please contact us. We encourage the use of
public domain materials for these purposes and may be able to help.

+ Keep it legal -  Whatever your use, remember that you are responsible for
ensuring that what you are doing is legal. Do not assume that just because
we believe a book is in the public domain for users in the United States,
that the work is also in the public domain for users in other countries.
Whether a book is still in copyright varies from country to country, and we
can't offer guidance on whether any specific use of any specific book is
allowed. Please do not assume that a book's appearance in Doctrine Publishing
ISYS search  means it can be used in any manner anywhere in the world.
Copyright infringement liability can be quite severe.

About ISYS® Search Software
Established in 1988, ISYS Search Software is a global supplier of enterprise
search solutions for business and government.  The company's award-winning
software suite offers a broad range of search, navigation and discovery
solutions for desktop search, intranet search, SharePoint search and embedded
search applications.  ISYS has been deployed by thousands of organizations
operating in a variety of industries, including government, legal, law
enforcement, financial services, healthcare and recruitment.



Home