Noting the change in his tone, she smiled shyly and even coloured a little, then answered:
“This house has many secrets, Vernoon. When you are lord of it you shall learn them all, till then I may not tell them to you. But, come, there are other secrets which I hope you shall see to-night, and, Jeekie, come you also, for you shall be the mouth of your lord, so that you may tell me what perhaps he would hide.”
“I will tell you everything, everything, O Asika,” answered Jeekie, stretching out his hands and bowing almost to the ground.
Then they started and following many long passages as before, although whether they were the same or others Alan could not tell, came at last to a door which he recognized, that of the Treasure House. As they approached this door it opened and through it, like a hunted thing, ran the bedizened Mungana, husband of the Asika, terror, or madness, shining in his eyes. Catching sight of his wife, who bore the lamp, he threw himself upon his knees and snatching at her robe, addressed some petition to her, speaking so rapidly that Alan could not follow his words.
For a moment she listened, then dragged her dress from his hand and spurned him with her foot. There was something so cruel in the gesture and the action, so full of deadly hate and loathing, that Alan, who witnessed it, experienced a new revulsion of feeling towards the Asika. What kind of a woman must she be, he wondered, who could treat a discarded lover thus in the presence of his successor?
With a groan or a sob, it was difficult to say which, the poor man rose and perceived Alan, whose face he now beheld for the first time, since the Asika had told him not to mask himself as they would meet no one. The sight of it seemed to fill him with jealous fury; at any rate he leapt at his rival, intending, apparently, to catch him by the throat. Alan, who was watching him, stepped aside, so that he came into violet contact with the wall of the passage and, half-stunned by the shock, reeled onwards into the darkness.
“The hog!” said the Asika, or rather she hissed it, “the hog, who dared to touch me and to strike at you. Well, his time is short—would that I could make it shorter! Did you hear what he sought of me?”
Alan, who wished for no confidences, replied by asking what the Mungana was doing in the Treasure House, to which she answered that the spirits who dwelt there were eating up his soul, and when they had devoured it all he would go quite mad and kill himself.
“Does this happen to all Munganas?” inquired Alan.
“Yes, Vernoon, if the Asika hates them, but if she loves them it is otherwise. Come, let us forget the wretch, who would kill you if he could,” and she led the way into the hall and up it, passing between the heaps of gold.
On the table where lay the necklaces of gems she set down her lamp, whereof the light, all there was in that great place, flickered feebly upon the mask of Little Bonsa, which had been moved here apparently for some ceremonial purpose, and still more feebly upon the hideous, golden countenances and winding sheets of the ancient, yellow dead who stood around in scores placed one above the other, each in his appointed niche. It was an awesome scene and one that oppressed Jeekie very much, for he murmured to Alan: