“Hiero is not dead; he is there behind the trees.”
Stiffly he turned and stared bewildered. Landscape, sky, Gnulemah, swam before his eyes in fragments, like images in troubled water. She put out her arm and tenderly supported him.
“Where?” said he at length.
“Near the house,—there!” she pointed.
Balder began to walk forward doubtfully. But, suddenly realizing what lay before him, clearness and vigor ebbed back. He saw a figure turn the corner of the house. Then he leapt out and ran like a stag-hound!
Uncle Hiero at last.
In a couple of minutes Balder was at the house, breathless: the figure was nowhere to be seen. He sprang across the broad portico, and hurried with sounding feet through the oaken hall. Should he go up stairs, or on to the conservatory? The sound of a softly shutting door from the latter direction decided him. The place looked as when he left it a half-hour before. Gnulemah’s curtain had not been moved. The other door was closed; he ran up the steps between the granite sphinxes, and found it locked. Butting his shoulder against the panel with impatient force, the hinges broke from their rotten fastenings, and the door gave inwards. Balder stepped past it, and found himself in the sombre lamp-lit interior of the temple.
He could discern but little; the place seemed vast; the corners were veiled in profound shadow. At the farther end a huge lamp was suspended, by a chain from the roof, over a triangular altar of black marble. The architecture of the room was strange and massive as of Egyptian temples. Strong, dark colors met the eye on all sides; in the panels of the walls and distant ceiling fantastic devices showed obscurely forth. Nine mighty columns, of design like those in the doorway, were ranged along the walls, their capitals buried in the upward gloom.
Becoming used to the dusk, Balder now marked an array of colossal upright forms, alternating between the pillars. Their rough resemblance to human figures drew him towards one of them: it was an Egyptian sarcophagus covered with hieroglyphic inscriptions, and probably holding an immemorial mass of spiced flesh and rags. These silent relics of a prehistoric past seemed to be the only company present. In view of his uncle’s well-known tastes, the nephew was not unprepared to meet these gentry.