“Oh my! Major, family vault child’s play to this hole, just like——” here his comparison came to an end, for the Asika cut it short with a single glance.
“Sit here in front of me,” she said to Alan, “and you, Jeekie, sit at your lord’s side, and be silent till I bid you speak.”
Then she crouched down in a heap behind them, threw the cloth or veil she carried over her head, and in some way that they did not see, suddenly extinguished the lamp.
Now they were in deep darkness, the darkness of death, and in utter silence, the silence of the dead. No glimmer of light, and yet to Alan it seemed as though he could feel the flash of the crystal eyes of Little Bonsa, and of all the other eyes set in the masks of those departed men who once had been the husbands of the bloodstained priestess of the Asiki, till one by one, as she wearied of them, they were bewitched to madness and to doom. In that utter quiet he thought even that he could hear them stir within their winding sheets, or it may have been that the Asika had risen and moved among them on some errand of her own. Far away something fell to the floor, a very light object, such as flake of rock or a scale of gold. Yet the noise of it struck his nerves loud as a clap of thunder, and those of Jeekie also, for he felt him start at his side and heard the sudden hammerlike beat of his heart.
What was the woman doing in this dreadful place, he wondered. Well, it was easy to guess. Doubtless she had brought them here to scare and impress them. Presently a voice, that of some hidden priest, would speak to them, and they would be asked to believe it a message from the spirit world, or a spirit itself might be arranged—what could be easier in their mood and these surroundings?
Now the Asika was speaking behind them in a muffled voice. From the tone of it she appeared to be engaged in argument or supplication in some strange tongue. At any rate Alan could not understand a word of what she said. The argument, or prayer, went on for a long while, with pauses as though for answers. Then suddenly it ceased and once more they were plunged into that unfathomable silence.
WHAT THE ASIKA SHOWED ALAN
It seemed to Alan that he went to sleep and dreamed.
He dreamed that it was late autumn in England. Leaves drifted down from the trees beneath the breath of a strong, damp wind, and ran or floated along the road till they vanished into a ditch, or caught against a pile of stones that had been laid ready for its repair. He knew the road well enough; he even knew the elm tree beneath which he seemed to stand on the crest of a hill. It was that which ran from Mr. Champers-Haswell’s splendid house, The Court, to the church; he could see them both, the house to the right, the church to the left, and his eyesight seemed to have improved, since he was able to observe that at either place there was bustle and preparation as though for some big ceremony.