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 on 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 that 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 Bryant and May's 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 a curious scene they revealed. 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.
`So!' said She, `safely have we come, though once I feared that the rocking stone would fall with you, and precipitate you into the bottomless deeps beneath, for I do believe that the cleft goeth down to the very womb of the world. The rock whereon the stone resteth hath crumbled beneath the swinging weight. And now that he,' nodding towards Job, who was sitting on the floor, feebly wiping his forehead with a red cotton pocket-handkerchief, `whom they rightly call the "Pig," for as a pig is he stupid, hath let fall the plank, it will not be easy to return across the gulf, and to that end must I make a plan. But now rest a while, and look upon this place. What think ye that it is?'
`We know not,' I answered.
`Wouldst thou believe, oh Holly, that once a man did choose this airy nest for a daily habitation, and did here endure for many years; leaving it only but one day in every twelve to seek food and water and oil that the people brought, more than he could carry, and laid as an offering in the mouth of the tunnel through which we passed hither?'
We looked up wonderingly, and she continued--
`Yet so it was. There was a man -- Noot, he named himself -- who, though he lived in the latter days, had of the wisdom of the sons of Kôr. A hermit was he, and a philosopher, and skilled in the secrets of
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