|ACROSS THE ZODIAC by Percy Greg|
My task was not quite done. It was well for me in the first moments of this new solitude, of this maddening agony, that there was instant work imperatively demanding the attention of the mind as well as the exercise of the body. I had first, by means of the air pump, to fill the vessel with an atmosphere as dense as that in which I had been born and lived so long; then to close the entrance window and seal it hermetically, and then to arrange the steering gear. To complete the first task more easily, I arrested the motion of the vessel till she rose only a few feet per minute. Whilst employed on the air pump, I became suddenly aware, by that instinct by which most men have been at one time or another warned of the unexpected proximity of friend or foe, that I was not alone. Turning and looking in the direction of the entrance, I saw, or thought I saw, once more the Presence beheld in the Hall of the Zinta. But commanding, enthralling as were those eyes, they could not now retain my attention; for beside that figure appeared one whose presence in life or death left me no thought for aught beside. I sprang forward, seemed to touch her hand, to clasp her form, to reach the lips I bent my head to meet:—and then, in the midst of the bright sunlight, a momentary darkness veiled all from my eyes. Lifting my head, however, my glance fell, through the window to which the Vision had drawn me, directly upon Ecasfe and upon the home from which I had taken her whose remains were now being carried back thither. Snatching up my field-glass, I scanned the scene of which I had thus caught a momentary and confused glimpse. The roof was occupied by a score of men armed with the lightning weapon, and among them glanced the familiar badge—the band and silver star. Clambering over the walls of the wide enclosure, and threatening to storm the house, were a mob perhaps a thousand in number, many of them similarly armed, the rest with staves, spears, or such rude weapons as chance might afford. Two minutes brought me immediately over them. In another, I was descending more rapidly than prudence would have suggested. The strife seemed for a moment to cease, as one of the crowd pointed, not to the impending destruction overhead, but to some object apparently at an equal elevation to westward. A shout of welcome from the remaining defenders of the house called right upward the eyes of their assailants. For an instant they felt the bitterness of death; a cry of agony and terror that pierced even the thick walls and windows of the Astronaut reached my ears. Then a violent shock threw me from my feet. Springing up, I knew what wholesale slaughter had avenged Eveena and her father, preserved her family, and given a last victory to the Symbol she so revered. In another instant I was on the roof, and my hands clasped in Zulve’s.
“We know,” she said. “Our darling’s esve brought us a line that told all; and what is left of those who were all to me, of her who was so much to you, will now be returned to us almost at once.”
We were interrupted. A cry drew my eyes to the right, where, springing from a balloon to the car of which was attached a huge flag emblazoned with the crimson and silver colours of the Suzerain, Ergimo stood before us.
“I am too late,” he said, “to save life; in time only to put an end to rebellion and avert murder. The Prince has fulfilled his promise to you; has repealed the law that was to be a weapon in the hands that aimed at his life and throne, as at the Star and its children. The traitors, save one, the worst, have met by this time their just doom. That one I am here to arrest. But where is our Chief? And,” noticing for the first time the group of women, who in the violence of alarm and agony of sorrow had burst for once unconsciously the restraints of a lifetime—”where … Are you alone?”
“Alone for ever,” I said; and as I spoke the procession that with bare and bent heads carried two veiled forms into the peristyle below told all he sought to know. I need not dwell on the scene that followed. I scarcely remember anything, till a chest of gold, bearing the cipher which though seldom seen I knew so well, was placed in my hands. I turned to Zulve, and to Ergimo, who stood beside her.
“Have you need of me?” I said. “If I can serve her house I will remain willingly, and as long as I can help or comfort.”
“No,” replied Ergimo; for Zulve could not speak. “The household of Clavelta are safe and honoured henceforth as no other in the land. Something we must ask of him who is, at any rate for the present, the head of this household, and the representative of the Founder’s lineage. It may be,” he whispered, “that another” (and his eyes fell on the veiled forms whose pink robes covered with dark crimson gauze indicated the younger matrons of the family) “may yet give to the Children of the Star that natural heir to the Signet we had hoped from your own household. But the Order cannot remain headless.”
Here Zulve, approaching, gave into my hand the Signet unclasped from her husband’s arm ere the coffer was closed upon his form. I understood her meaning; and, as for the time the sole male representative of the house, I clasped it on the arm of the Chief who succeeded to Esmo’s rank, and to whom I felt the care of Esmo’s house might be safely left. The due honour paid to his new office, I turned to depart. Then for the first time my eyes fell on the unveiled countenance and drooping form of one unlike, yet so like Eveena—her favourite and nearest sister, Zevle. I held out my hand; but, emotion overcoming the habits of reserve, she threw herself into my arms, and her tears fell on my bosom, hardly faster than my own as I stooped and kissed her brow. I had no voice to speak my farewell. But as the Astronaut rose for the last time from the ground, the voices of my brethren chanted in adieu the last few lines of the familiar formula—
“Peace be yours no force can break,
Peace not Death hath power to shake;”
“Peace from peril, fear, and pain;
Peace—until we meet again!
Not before the sculptured stone,
But the All-Commander’s Throne.”
NEXT WEEK WE BEGIN SIR ARTHUR CONAN DOYLE’S CLASSIC OF ADVENTURE, THE LOST WORLD!