Oh! now we knew, they were open also to another soul. We could see nothing save the Altar and the Effigy, we could only hear the slow chant of the priests and priestesses and the snake-like hiss of the rushing fires. Yet we knew that our hearts were as an open book to One who watched beneath the Mother’s shadowing wings.
THE COURT OF DEATH
Now the curtains were open. Before us appeared a chamber hollowed from the thickness of the altar, and in its centre a throne, and on the throne a figure clad in waves of billowy white flowing from the head over the arms of the throne down to its marble steps. We could see no more in the comparative darkness of that place, save that beneath the folds of the drapery the Oracle held in its hand a loop-shaped, jewelled sceptre.
Moved by some impulse, we did as Oros had done, prostrating ourselves, and there remained upon our knees. At length we heard a tinkling as of little bells, and, looking up, saw that the sistrum-shaped sceptre was stretched towards us by the draped arm which held it. Then a thin, clear voice spoke, and I thought that it trembled a little. It spoke in Greek, but in a much purer Greek than all these people used.
“I greet you, Wanderers, who have journeyed so far to visit this most ancient shrine, and although doubtless of some other faith, are not ashamed to do reverence to that unworthy one who is for this time its Oracle and the guardian of its mysteries. Rise now and have no fear of me; for have I not sent my Messenger and servants to conduct you to this Sanctuary?”
Slowly we rose, and stood silent, not knowing what to say.
“I greet you, Wanderers,” the voice repeated. “Tell me thou”—and the sceptre pointed towards Leo—“how art thou named?”
“I am named Leo Vincey,” he answered.
“Leo Vincey! I like the name, which to me well befits a man so goodly. And thou, the companion of—Leo Vincey?”
“I am named Horace Holly.”
“So. Then tell me, Leo Vincey and Horace Holly, what came ye so far to seek?”
We looked at each other, and I said—“The tale is long and strange. O—but by what title must we address thee?”
“By the name which I bear here, Hes.”
“O Hes,” I said, wondering what name she bore elsewhere.
“Yet I desire to hear that tale,” she went on, and to me her voice sounded eager. “Nay, not all to-night, for I know that you both are weary; a little of it only. In sooth, Strangers, there is a sameness in this home of contemplations, and no heart can feed only on the past, if such a thing there be. Therefore I welcome a new history from the world without. Tell it me, thou, Leo, as briefly as thou wilt, so that thou tell the truth, for in the Presence of which I am a Minister, may nothing else be uttered.”
“Priestess,” he said, in his curt fashion, “I obey. Many years ago when I was young, my friend and foster-father and I, led by records of the past, travelled to a wild land, and there found a certain divine woman who had conquered time.”