“Lord have mercy on me!” cried poor Job from the darkness. “Oh, the plank’s slipping!” and I heard a violent struggle, and thought that he was gone.
But at that moment his outstretched hand, clasping in agony at the air, met my own, and I hauled—ah, how I did haul, putting out all the strength that it has pleased Providence to give me in such abundance—and to my joy in another minute Job was gasping on the rock beside me. But the plank! I felt it slip, and heard it knock against a projecting knob of rock, and it was gone.
“Great heavens!” I exclaimed. “How are we going to get back?”
“I don’t know,” answered Leo, out of the gloom. “’Sufficient to the day is the evil thereof,’ I am thankful enough to be here.”
But Ayesha merely called to me to take her hand and creep after her.
THE SPIRIT OF LIFE
I did as I was bid, and in fear and trembling felt myself guided over the edge of the stone. I sprawled my legs out, but could touch nothing.
“I am going to fall!” I gasped.
“Nay, let thyself go, and trust to me,” answered Ayesha.
Now, if the position is considered, it will be easily understood that this was a greater demand upon my confidence than was justified by my knowledge of Ayesha’s character. For all I knew she might be in the very act of consigning me to a horrible doom. But in life we sometimes have to lay our faith upon strange altars, and so it was now.
“Let thyself go!” she cried, and, having no choice, I did.
I felt myself slide a pace or two down the sloping surface of the rock, and then pass into the air, and the thought flashed through my brain that I was lost. But no! In another instant my feet struck against a rocky floor, and I felt that I was standing upon something solid, and out of reach of the wind, which I could hear singing away overhead. As I stood there thanking Heaven for these small mercies, there was a slip and a scuffle, and down came Leo alongside of me.
“Hulloa, old fellow!” he called out, “are you there? This is getting interesting, is it not?”
Just then, with a terrific yell, Job arrived right on the top of us, knocking us both down. By the time we had struggled to our feet again Ayesha was standing among us, and bidding us light the lamps, which fortunately remained uninjured, as also did the spare jar of oil.
I got out my box of wax matches, and they struck as merrily, there, in that awful place, as they could have done in a London drawing-room.
In a couple of minutes both the lamps were alight and revealed a curious scene. We were huddled together in a rocky chamber, some ten feet square, and scared enough we looked; that is, except Ayesha, who was standing calmly with her arms folded, and waiting for the lamps to burn up. The chamber appeared to be partly natural, and partly hollowed out of the top of the cone. The roof of the natural part was formed of the swinging stone, and that of the back part of the chamber, which sloped downwards, was hewn from the live rock. For the rest, the place was warm and dry—a perfect haven of rest compared to the giddy pinnacle above, and the quivering spur that shot out to meet it in mid-air.