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Chapter 17 Solomon's Treasure Chamber

  • While we were engaged in recovering from our fright, and in examining th_risly wonders of the Place of Death, Gagool had been differently occupied.
  • Somehow or other — for she was marvellously active when she chose — she ha_crambled on to the great table, and made her way to where our departed frien_wala was placed, under the drip, to see, suggested Good, how he was
  • "pickling," or for some dark purpose of her own. Then, after bending down t_iss his icy lips as though in affectionate greeting, she hobbled back, stopping now and again to address the remark, the tenor of which I could no_atch, to one or other of the shrouded forms, just as you or I might welcom_n old acquaintance. Having gone through this mysterious and horribl_eremony, she squatted herself down on the table immediately under the Whit_eath, and began, so far as I could make out, to offer up prayers. Th_pectacle of this wicked creature pouring out supplications, evil ones n_oubt, to the arch enemy of mankind, was so uncanny that it caused us t_asten our inspection.
  • "Now, Gagool," said I, in a low voice — somehow one did not dare to spea_bove a whisper in that place — "lead us to the chamber."
  • The old witch promptly scrambled down from the table.
  • "My lords are not afraid?" she said, leering up into my face.
  • "Lead on."
  • "Good, my lords;" and she hobbled round to the back of the great Death. "Her_s the chamber; let my lords light the lamp, and enter," and she placed th_ourd full of oil upon the floor, and leaned herself against the side of th_ave. I took out a match, of which we had still a few in a box, and lit a rus_ick, and then looked for the doorway, but there was nothing before us excep_he solid rock. Gagool grinned. "The way is there, my lords. Ha! ha! ha!"
  • "Do not jest with us," I said sternly.
  • "I jest not, my lords. See!" and she pointed at the rock.
  • As she did so, on holding up the lamp we perceived that a mass of stone wa_ising slowly from the floor and vanishing into the rock above, wher_oubtless there is a cavity prepared to receive it. The mass was of the widt_f a good-sized door, about ten feet high and not less than five feet thick.
  • It must have weighed at least twenty or thirty tons, and was clearly move_pon some simple balance principle of counter-weights, probably the same a_hat by which the opening and shutting of an ordinary modern window i_rranged. How the principle was set in motion, of course none of us saw; Gagool was careful to avoid this; but I have little doubt that there was som_ery simple lever, which was moved ever so little by pressure at a secre_pot, thereby throwing additional weight on to the hidden counter-balances, and causing the monolith to be lifted from the ground.
  • Very slowly and gently the great stone raised itself, till at last it ha_anished altogether, and a dark hole presented itself to us in the place whic_he door had filled.
  • Our excitement was so intense, as we saw the way to Solomon's treasure chambe_hrown open at last, that I for one began to tremble and shake. Would it prov_ hoax after all, I wondered, or was old Da Silvestra right? Were there vas_oards of wealth hidden in that dark place, hoards which would make us th_ichest men in the whole world? We should know in a minute or two.
  • "Enter, white men from the Stars," said Gagool, advancing into the doorway;
  • "but first hear your servant, Gagool the old. The bright stones that ye wil_ee were dug out of the pit over which the Silent Ones are set, and store_ere, I know not by whom, for that was done longer ago than even I remember.
  • But once has this place been entered since the time that those who hid th_tones departed in haste, leaving them behind. The report of the treasure wen_own indeed among the people who lived in the country from age to age, bu_one knew where the chamber was, nor the secret of the door. But it happene_hat a white man reached this country from over the mountains — perchance h_oo came 'from the Stars' — and was well received by the king of that day. H_t is who sits yonder," and she pointed to the fifth king at the table of th_ead. "And it came to pass that he and a woman of the country who was with hi_ourneyed to this place, and that by chance the woman learnt the secret of th_oor — a thousand years might ye search, but ye should never find that secret.
  • Then the white man entered with the woman, and found the stones, and fille_ith stones the skin of a small goat, which the woman had with her to hol_ood. And as he was going from the chamber he took up one more stone, a larg_ne, and held it in his hand."
  • Here she paused.
  • "Well," I asked, breathless with interest as we all were, "what happened to D_ilvestra?"
  • The old hag started at the mention of the name.
  • "How knowest thou the dead man's name?" she asked sharply; and then, withou_aiting for an answer, went on —
  • "None can tell what happened; but it came about that the white man wa_rightened, for he flung down the goat-skin, with the stones, and fled ou_ith only the one stone in his hand, and that the king took, and it is th_tone which thou, Macumazahn, didst take from Twala's brow."
  • "Have none entered here since?" I asked, peering again down the dark passage.
  • "None, my lords. Only the secret of the door has been kept, and every king ha_pened it, though he has not entered. There is a saying, that those who ente_here will die within a moon, even as the white man died in the cave upon th_ountain, where ye found him, Macumazahn, and therefore the kings do no_nter. Ha! ha! mine are true words."
  • Our eyes met as she said it, and I turned sick and cold. How did the old ha_now all these things?
  • "Enter, my lords. If I speak truth, the goat-skin with the stones will li_pon the floor; and if there is truth as to whether it is death to enter here, that ye will learn afterwards. Ha! ha! ha!" and she hobbled through th_oorway, bearing the light with her; but I confess that once more I hesitate_bout following.
  • "Oh, confound it all!" said Good; "here goes. I am not going to be frightene_y that old devil;" and followed by Foulata, who, however, evidently did no_t all like the business, for she was shivering with fear, he plunged into th_assage after Gagool — an example which we quickly followed.
  • A few yards down the passage, in the narrow way hewn out of the living rock, Gagool had paused, and was waiting for us.
  • "See, my lords," she said, holding the light before her, "those who stored th_reasure here fled in haste, and bethought them to guard against any wh_hould find the secret of the door, but had not the time," and she pointed t_arge square blocks of stone, which, to the height of two courses (about tw_eet three), had been placed across the passage with a view to walling it up.
  • Along the side of the passage were similar blocks ready for use, and, mos_urious of all, a heap of mortar and a couple of trowels, which tools, so fa_s we had time to examine them, appeared to be of a similar shape and make t_hose used by workmen to this day.
  • Here Foulata, who had been in a state of great fear and agitation throughout, said that she felt faint and could go no farther, but would wait there.
  • Accordingly we set her down on the unfinished wall, placing the basket o_rovisions by her side, and left her to recover.
  • Following the passage for about fifteen paces farther, we came suddenly to a_laborately painted wooden door. It was standing wide open. Whoever was las_here had either not found the time to shut it, or had forgotten to do so.
  • Across the threshold of this door lay a skin bag, formed of a goat-skin, tha_ppeared to be full of pebbles.
  • "Hee! hee! white men," sniggered Gagool, as the light from the lamp fell upo_t. "What did I tell you, that the white man who came here fled in haste, an_ropped the woman's bag — behold it! Look within also and ye will find _ater-gourd amongst the stones."
  • Good stooped down and lifted it. It was heavy and jingled.
  • "By Jove! I believe it's full of diamonds," he said, in an awed whisper; and, indeed, the idea of a small goat-skin full of diamonds is enough to aw_nybody.
  • "Go on," said Sir Henry impatiently. "Here, old lady, give me the lamp," an_aking it from Gagool's hand, he stepped through the doorway and held it hig_bove his head.
  • We pressed in after him, forgetful for the moment of the bag of diamonds, an_ound ourselves in King Solomon's treasure chamber.
  • At first, all that the somewhat faint light given by the lamp revealed was _oom hewn out of the living rock, and apparently not more than ten fee_quare. Next there came into sight, stored one on the other to the arch of th_oof, a splendid collection of elephant-tusks. How many of them there were w_id not know, for of course we could not see to what depth they went back, bu_here could not have been less than the ends of four or five hundred tusks o_he first quality visible to our eyes. There, alone, was enough ivory to mak_ man wealthy for life. Perhaps, I thought, it was from this very store tha_olomon drew the raw material for his "great throne of ivory," of which "ther_as not the like made in any kingdom."
  • On the opposite side of the chamber were about a score of wooden boxes, something like Martini-Henry ammunition boxes, only rather larger, and painte_ed.
  • "There are the diamonds," cried I; "bring the light."
  • Sir Henry did so, holding it close to the top box, of which the lid, rendere_otten by time even in that dry place, appeared to have been smashed in, probably by Da Silvestra himself. Pushing my hand through the hole in the li_ drew it out full, not of diamonds, but of gold pieces, of a shape that non_f us had seen before, and with what looked like Hebrew characters stampe_pon them.
  • "Ah!" I said, replacing the coin, "we shan't go back empty-handed, anyhow.
  • There must be a couple of thousand pieces in each box, and there are eightee_oxes. I suppose this was the money to pay the workmen and merchants."
  • "Well," put in Good, "I think that is the lot; I don't see any diamonds, unless the old Portuguese put them all into his bag."
  • "Let my lords look yonder where it is darkest, if they would find the stones,"
  • said Gagool, interpreting our looks. "There my lords will find a nook, an_hree stone chests in the nook, two sealed and one open."
  • Before translating this to Sir Henry, who carried the light, I could no_esist asking how she knew these things, if no one had entered the place sinc_he white man, generations ago.
  • "Ah, Macumazahn, the watcher by night," was the mocking answer, "ye who dwel_n the stars, do ye not know that some live long, and that some have eye_hich can see through rock? Ha! ha! ha!"
  • "Look in that corner, Curtis," I said, indicating the spot Gagool had pointe_ut.
  • "Hullo, you fellows," he cried, "here's a recess. Great heavens! see here."
  • We hurried up to where he was standing in a nook, shaped something like _mall bow window. Against the wall of this recess were placed three ston_hests, each about two feet square. Two were fitted with stone lids, the li_f the third rested against the side of the chest, which was open.
  • "See!" he repeated hoarsely, holding the lamp over the open chest. We looked, and for a moment could make nothing out, on account of a silvery sheen whic_azzled us. When our eyes grew used to it we saw that the chest was three- parts full of uncut diamonds, most of them of considerable size. Stooping, _icked some up. Yes, there was no doubt of it, there was the unmistakabl_oapy feel about them.
  • I fairly gasped as I dropped them.
  • "We are the richest men in the whole world," I said. "Monte Christo was a foo_o us."
  • "We shall flood the market with diamonds," said Good.
  • "Got to get them there first," suggested Sir Henry.
  • We stood still with pale faces and stared at each other, the lantern in th_iddle and the glimmering gems below, as though we were conspirators about t_ommit a crime, instead of being, as we thought, the most fortunate men o_arth.
  • "Hee! hee! hee!" cackled old Gagool behind us, as she flitted about like _ampire bat. "There are the bright stones ye love, white men, as many as y_ill; take them, run them through your fingers, eat of them, hee! hee! drin_f them, ha! ha!"
  • At that moment there was something so ridiculous to my mind at the idea o_ating and drinking diamonds, that I began to laugh outrageously, an exampl_hich the others followed, without knowing why. There we stood and shrieke_ith laughter over the gems that were ours, which had been found for u_housands of years ago by the patient delvers in the great hole yonder, an_tored for us by Solomon's long-dead overseer, whose name, perchance, wa_ritten in the characters stamped on the faded wax that yet adhered to th_ids of the chest. Solomon never got them, nor David, or Da Silvestra, no_nybody else. We had got them: there before us were millions of pounds' wort_f diamonds, and thousands of pounds' worth of gold and ivory only waiting t_e taken away.
  • Suddenly the fit passed off, and we stopped laughing.
  • "Open the other chests, white men," croaked Gagool, "there are surely mor_herein. Take your fill, white lords! Ha! ha! take your fill."
  • Thus adjured, we set to work to pull up the stone lids on the other two, first — not without a feeling of sacrilege — breaking the seals that fastened them.
  • Hoorah! they were full too, full to the brim; at least, the second one was; n_retched burglarious Da Silvestra had been filling goat-skins out of that. A_or the third chest, it was only about a fourth full, but the stones were al_icked ones; none less than twenty carats, and some of them as large a_igeon-eggs. A good many of these bigger ones, however, we could see b_olding them up to the light, were a little yellow, "off coloured," as the_all it at Kimberley.
  • What we did not see, however, was the look of fearful malevolence that ol_agool favoured us with as she crept, crept like a snake, out of the treasur_hamber and down the passage towards the door of solid rock.
  • *****
  • Hark! Cry upon cry comes ringing up the vaulted path. It is Foulata's voice!
  • "Oh, Bougwan! help! help! the stone falls!"
  • "Leave go, girl! Then—"
  • "Help! help! she has stabbed me!"
  • By now we are running down the passage, and this is what the light from th_amp shows us. The door of the rock is closing down slowly; it is not thre_eet from the floor. Near it struggle Foulata and Gagool. The red blood of th_ormer runs to her knee, but still the brave girl holds the old witch, wh_ights like a wild cat. Ah! she is free! Foulata falls, and Gagool throw_erself on the ground, to twist like a snake through the crack of the closin_tone. She is under — ah! god! too late! too late! The stone nips her, and sh_ells in agony. Down, down it comes, all the thirty tons of it, slowl_ressing her old body against the rock below. Shriek upon shriek, such as w_ave never heard, then a long sickening crunch, and the door was shut just as, rushing down the passage, we hurled ourselves against it.
  • It was all done in four seconds.
  • Then we turned to Foulata. The poor girl was stabbed in the body, and I sa_hat she could not live long.
  • "Ah! Bougwan, I die!" gasped the beautiful creature. "She crept out — Gagool; I did not see her, I was faint — and the door began to fall; then she cam_ack, and was looking up the path — I saw her come in through the slowl_alling door, and caught her and held her, and she stabbed me, and I die, Bougwan!"
  • "Poor girl! poor girl!" Good cried in his distress; and then, as he could d_othing else, he fell to kissing her.
  • "Bougwan," she said, after a pause, "is Macumazahn there? It grows so dark, _annot see."
  • "Here I am, Foulata."
  • "Macumazahn, be my tongue for a moment, I pray thee, for Bougwan canno_nderstand me, and before I go into the darkness I would speak to him a word."
  • "Say on, Foulata, I will render it."
  • "Say to my lord, Bougwan, that — I love him, and that I am glad to die becaus_ know that he cannot cumber his life with such as I am, for the sun may no_ate with the darkness, nor the white with the black.
  • "Say that, since I saw him, at times I have felt as though there were a bir_n my bosom, which would one day fly hence and sing elsewhere. Even now, though I cannot lift my hand, and my brain grows cold, I do not feel as thoug_y heart were dying; it is so full of love that it could live ten thousan_ears, and yet be young. Say that if I live again, mayhap I shall see him i_he Stars, and that — I will search them all, though perchance there I shoul_till be black and he would — still be white. Say — nay, Macumazahn, say n_ore, save that I love — Oh, hold me closer, Bougwan, I cannot feel thine arms — oh! oh!"
  • "She is dead — she is dead!" muttered Good, rising in grief, the tears runnin_own his honest face.
  • "You need not let that trouble you, old fellow," said Sir Henry.
  • "Eh!" exclaimed Good; "what do you mean?"
  • "I mean that you will soon be in a position to join her. Man, don't you se_hat we are buried alive?"
  • Until Sir Henry uttered these words I do not think that the full horror o_hat had happened had come home to us, preoccupied as we were with the sigh_f poor Foulata's end. But now we understood. The ponderous mass of rock ha_losed, probably for ever, for the only brain which knew its secret wa_rushed to powder beneath its weight. This was a door that none could hope t_orce with anything short of dynamite in large quantities. And we were on th_rong side!
  • For a few minutes we stood horrified, there over the corpse of Foulata. Al_he manhood seemed to have gone out of us. The first shock of this idea of th_low and miserable end that awaited us was overpowering. We saw it all now; that fiend Gagool had planned this snare for us from the first.
  • It would have been just the jest that her evil mind would have rejoiced in, the idea of the three white men, whom, for some reason of her own, she ha_lways hated, slowly perishing of thirst and hunger in the company of th_reasure they had coveted. Now I saw the point of that sneer of hers abou_ating and drinking the diamonds. Probably somebody had tried to serve th_oor old Dom in the same way, when he abandoned the skin full of jewels.
  • "This will never do," said Sir Henry hoarsely; "the lamp will soon go out. Le_s see if we can't find the spring that works the rock."
  • We sprang forward with desperate energy, and, standing in a bloody ooze, bega_o feel up and down the door and the sides of the passage. But no knob o_pring could we discover.
  • "Depend on it," I said, "it does not work from the inside; if it did Gagoo_ould not have risked trying to crawl underneath the stone. It was th_nowledge of this that made her try to escape at all hazards, curse her."
  • "At all events," said Sir Henry, with a hard little laugh, "retribution wa_wift; hers was almost as awful an end as ours is likely to be. We can d_othing with the door; let us go back to the treasure room."
  • We turned and went, and as we passed it I perceived by the unfinished wal_cross the passage the basket of food which poor Foulata had carried. I too_t up, and brought it with me to the accursed treasure chamber that was to b_ur grave. Then we returned and reverently bore in Foulata's corpse, laying i_n the floor by the boxes of coin.
  • Next we seated ourselves, leaning our backs against the three stone chest_hich contained the priceless treasure.
  • "Let us divide the food," said Sir Henry, "so as to make it last as long a_ossible." Accordingly we did so. It would, we reckoned, make fou_nfinitesimally small meals for each of us, enough, say, to support life for _ouple of days. Besides the "biltong," or dried game-flesh, there were tw_ourds of water, each of which held not more than a quart.
  • "Now," said Sir Henry grimly, "let us eat and drink, for to-morrow we die."
  • We each ate a small portion of the "biltong," and drank a sip of water.
  • Needless to say, we had but little appetite, though we were sadly in need o_ood, and felt better after swallowing it. Then we got up and made _ystematic examination of the walls of our prison- house, in the faint hope o_inding some means of exit, sounding them and the floor carefully.
  • There was none. It was not probable that there would be any to a treasur_hamber.
  • The lamp began to burn dim. The fat was nearly exhausted.
  • "Quatermain," said Sir Henry, "what is the time — your watch goes?"
  • I drew it out, and looked at it. It was six o'clock; we had entered the cav_t eleven.
  • "Infadoos will miss us," I suggested. "If we do not return to-night he wil_earch for us in the morning, Curtis."
  • "He may search in vain. He does not know the secret of the door, nor eve_here it is. No living person knew it yesterday, except Gagool. To-day no on_nows it. Even if he found the door he could not break it down. All th_ukuana army could not break through five feet of living rock. My friends, _ee nothing for it but to bow ourselves to the will of the Almighty. Th_earch for treasure has brought many to a bad end; we shall go to swell thei_umber."
  • The lamp grew dimmer yet.
  • Presently it flared up and showed the whole scene in strong relief, the grea_ass of white tusks, the boxes of gold, the corpse of the poor Foulat_tretched before them, the goat-skin full of treasure, the dim glimmer of th_iamonds, and the wild, wan faces of us three white men seated there awaitin_eath by starvation.
  • Then the flame sank and expired.