“Let the gates be opened, and send to see whether or no I lie,” said Elissa, quietly.
Then for a while there was silence while a priest went upon the errand. At length he was seen returning. Pushing his way through the crowd, he mounted the platform, and said:—
“The daughter of Sakon speaks truth; alas! the lady Baaltis is dead.”
Elissa sighed in relief, for had her tidings proved false she could scarcely have hoped to escape the fury of the crowd.
“Ay!” she cried, “she is dead, as I told you, and because of your sin, who would have offered human sacrifice in public, against the custom of our faith and city and without the command of the goddess.”
Then in sullen silence the priests and priestesses reformed their ranks, and departed from the sanctuary, whence they were followed by the spectators, the most of them in no good mood, for they had been baulked of the promised spectacle.
THE HALL OF AUDIENCE
When Elissa reached her chamber after the break up of the procession, she threw herself upon her couch, and burst into a passion of tears. Well might she weep, for she had been false to her oath as a priestess, uttering as a message from the goddess that which she had learnt from the lips of man. More, she could not rid herself of the remembrance of the scorn and loathing with which the Prince Aziel had looked upon her, or of the bitter insult of his words when he called her, “a girl of the groves, and a murderess of children.”
It chanced that, so far as Elissa was concerned, these charges were utterly untrue. None could throw a slur upon her, and as for these rare human sacrifices, she loathed the very name of them, nor, unless forced to it, would she have been present had she guessed that any such offering was intended.
Like most of the ancient religions, that of the Phoenicians had two sides to it—a spiritual and a material side. The spiritual side was a worship of the far-off unknown divinity, symbolised by the sun, moon and planets, and visible only in their majestic movements, and in the forces of nature. To this Elissa clung, knowing no truer god, and from those forces she strove to wring their secret, for her heart was deep. Lonely invocations to the goddess beneath the light of the moon appealed to her, for from them she seemed to draw strength and comfort, but the outward ceremonies of her faith, or the more secret and darker of them, of which in practice she knew little, were already an abomination in her eyes. And now what if the Jew prophet spoke truly? What if this creed of hers were a lie, root and branch, and there did lie in the heavens above a Lord and Father who heard and answered the prayers of men, and who did not seek of them the blood of the children He had given?