The Head Of The Ethiopian



AT length the heralds and forerunners of the royal sun had done their work, and, searching out the shadows, had caused them to flee away. Then up he came in glory from his ocean-bed, and flooded the earth with warmth and light. I sat there in the boat listening to the gentle lapping of the water and watched him rise, till presently the slight drift of the boat brought the odd-shaped rock, or peak, at the end of the promontory which we had weathered with so much peril, between me and the majestic sight, and blotted it from my view. I still continued to stare at the rock, however, absently enough, till presently it became edged with the fire of the growing light behind it, and then I started, as well I might, for I perceived that the top of the peak, which was about eighty feet high by one hundred and fifty thick at its base, was shaped like a negro's head and face, whereon was stamped a most fiendish and terrifying expression. There was no doubt about it; there were the thick lips, the fat cheeks, and the squat nose standing out with startling clearness against the flaming background. There, too, was the round skull, washed into shape perhaps by thousands of years of wind and weather, and, to complete the resemblance, there was a scrubby growth of weeds or lichen upon it, which against the sun looked for all the world like the wool on a colossal negro's head. It certainly was very odd; so odd that now I believe that it is not a mere freak of nature but a gigantic monument fashioned, like the well-known Egyptian Sphinx, by a forgotten people out of a pile of rock that lent itself to their design, perhaps as an emblem of warning and defiance to any enemies who approached the harbour. Unfortunately we were never able to ascertain whether or not this was the case, inasmuch as the rock was difficult of access both from the land and the water-side, and we had other things to attend to. Myself, considering the matter by the light of what we afterwards saw, I believe that it was fashioned by man, but whether or not this is so, there it stands, and sullenly stares from age to age out across the changing sea -- there it stood two thousand years and more ago, when Amenartas, the Egyptian Princess, and the wife of Leo's remote ancestor Kallikrates, gazed upon its devilish face -- and there I have no doubt it will still stand when as many centuries as are numbered between her day and our own are added to the year that bore us to oblivion.

`What do you think of that, Job?' I asked of our retainer, who was sitting on the edge of the boat, trying to get as much sunshine as possible, and generally looking uncommonly wretched, and I pointed to the fiery and demoniacal head.

`Oh Lord, sir,' answered Job, who now perceived the object for the first time, `I think that the old gentleman* must have been sitting for his portrait on them rocks.'

I laughed, and the laugh woke up Leo.

`Hullo,' he said, `what's the matter with me? I am all stiff -- where is the dhow? Give me some brandy, please.'

`You may be thankful that you are not stiffer, my boy,' I answered. `The dhow is sunk, and everybody on board her is drowned, with the exception of us four, and your own life was only saved by a miracle;' and whilst Job, now that it was light enough, searched about in a locker for the brandy for which Leo asked, I told him the history of our night's adventure.

`Great Heavens!' he said, faintly; `and to think that we should have been chosen to live through it!'

By this time the brandy was forthcoming, and we all had a good pull at it, and thankful enough we were for it. Also the sun was beginning to get strength, and warm our chilled bones for we had been wet through for five hours or more.

`Why,' said Leo, with a gasp as he put down the brandy bottle, `there is the head the writing talks of, the "rock carven like the head of an Ethiopian."'

  By PanEris using Melati.

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