Solomon's Road

Outside the cave we halted, feeling rather foolish.

"I am going back," said Sir Henry. "Why?" asked Good. "Because it has struck me that - what we saw - may be my brother."

This was a new idea, and we reentered the cave to put it to the proof, After the bright light outside our eyes, weak as they were with stating at the snow, could not for a while pierce the gloom of the cave. Presently, however, we grew accustomed to the semi-darkness, and advanced on to the dead form.

Sir Henry knelt down and peered into its face.

"Thank God," he said, with a sigh of relief, "it is not my brother."

Then I went and looked. The corpse was that of a tall man in middle life, with aquiline features, grizzled hair, and a long black mustache. The skin was perfectly yellow, and stretched tightly over the bones. Its clothing, with the exception of what seemed to be the remains of a pair of woollen hose, had been removed, leaving the skeleton-like frame naked. Round the neck hung a yellow ivory crucifix. The corpse was frozen perfectly stiff.

"Who on earth can it be?" said I.

"Can't you guess?" asked Good.

I shook my head.

"Why, the old don, José da Silvestra, of course - who else?"

"Impossible," I gasped, "he died three hundred years ago."

"And what is there to prevent his lasting for three thousand years in this atmosphere I should like to know?" asked Good. "If only the air is cold enough flesh and blood will keep as fresh as New Zealand mutton forever, and Heaven knows it is cold enough here. The sun never gets in here; no animal comes here to tear or destroy. No doubt his slave, of whom he speaks on the map, took off his clothes and left him. He could not have buried him alone. Look here," he went. on, stooping down and picking up a queer-shaped bone scraped at the end into a sharp point, "here is the `cleft-bone' that he used to draw the map with."

We gazed astonished for a moment, forgetting our own miseries in the extraordinary and, as it seemed to us, semi-miraculous sight.

"Ay," said "Sir Henry, "and here is where he got his ink from," and he pointed to a small wound on the dead man's left arm. "Did ever man see such a thing before?"

There was no longer any doubt about the matter, which I confess, for my own part, perfectly appalled me. There he sat, the dead man, whose directions, written some ten generations ago, bad led us to this spot. There in my own hand was the rude pen with which he had written them, and there round his neck was the crucifix his dying lips had kissed. Gazing at him my imagination could reconstruct the whole scene: the traveller dying of cold and starvation, and yet striving to convey the great secret he had discovered to the world; the awful loneliness of his death, of which the evidence sat before us. It even seemed to me that I could trace in his strongly-marked features a likeness to those of my poor friend Silvestre, his descendant, who had died twenty years ago in my arms, but perhaps that was fancy. At any rate, there he sat, a sad memento of the fate that so often overtakes those who would penetrate into the unknown; and there probably he will still sit, crowned with the dread majesty of death, for centuries yet unborn, to startle the eyes of wanderers like ourselves, if any such should ever come again to invade his loneliness. The thing overpowered us, already nearly done to death as we were with cold and hunger.

  By PanEris using Melati.

Previous chapter Back Home Email this Search Discuss Bookmark Next chapter/page
Copyright: All texts on Bibliomania are © Ltd, and may not be reproduced in any form without our written permission. See our FAQ for more details.