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.
"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.