In the midst of this the paupers and the hags talked earnestly together. Some of those who had been nearest in rank to the late Chief Pauper and Chief Hag were conspicuous in the debate. All looked at me and at Almah, and pointed toward the sun, which was wheeling along behind the distant mountain crest, showing a golden disc. Then they pointed to the dead bodies; and the hags took the Chief Hag, and the paupers the Chief Pauper, and laid them side by side on the central altar. After this a hag and a pauper advanced toward us, each carrying the sacrificial knife which had belonged to the deceased.
The hag spoke first, addressing Almah, in accordance with the Kosekin custom, which requires women to take the precedence in many things.
“Take this,” she said, “O Almah, consort of Atam-or, and Co-ruler of Clouds and Darkness. Henceforth you shall be Judge of Death to the women of the Kosekin.”
She then handed Almah the sacrificial knife of the Chief Hag, which Almah took in silence.
Then the pauper presented me with the sacrificial knife of the Chief Pauper, with the following words:
“Take this, O Atam-or, Father of Thunder and Ruler of Clouds and Darkness. Henceforth you shall be Judge of Death to the men of the Kosekin, and Sar Tabakin over the whole nation.”
I received the knife in silence, for I had nothing to say; but now Almah spoke, as was fitting for her to do, since with the Kosekin the women must take the precedence; and here it was expected that she should reply in behalf of both of us.
So Almah, holding the sacrificial knife, stood looking at them, full of dignity, and spoke as follows:
“We will take this, O Kosekin, and we will reward you all. We will begin our reign over the Kosekin with memorable acts of mercy. These two great victims shall be enough for the Mista Kosek of this season. The victims designed for this sacrifice shall have to deny themselves the blessing of death, yet they shall be rewarded in other ways; and all the land from the highest to the lowest shall have reason to rejoice in our rule.
“To all you hags and paupers we grant the splendid and unparalleled boon of exile to Magones. There you can have all the suffering which heart can wish, and inevitable death. To all classes and ranks in the whole nation we promise to grant a diminution in their wealth by one-quarter. In the abundance of our mercy we are willing ourselves to bear the burden of all the offerings that may be necessary in order to accomplish this. All in the land may at once give up one-quarter of their whole wealth to us.”
At this the hags and paupers gave a horrible yell of applause.
“As rulers of Light and Darkness, we will henceforth govern the nation in the light as well as in the dark. We will sacrifice ourselves so far to the public good as to live in the light, and in open palaces. We will consent to undergo the pains of light and splendor, to endure all the evils of luxury, magnificence, and boundless wealth, for the good of the Kosekin nation. We will consent to forego the right of separation, and agree to live together, even though we love one another. Above all, we will refuse death and consent to live. Can any rulers do more than this for the good of their people?”
Another outburst of applause followed.
“In three joms,” continued Almah, “all you hags and paupers shall be sent to exile and death on Magones. As for the rest of the Kosekin, hear our words. Tell them from us that the laborers shall all be elevated to the rank of paupers, the artisans shall be made laborers, the tradesmen artisans, the soldiers tradesmen, the Athons soldiers, the Kohens Athons, and the Meleks Kohens. There shall be no Meleks in all the land. We, in our love for the Kosekin, will henceforth be the only Meleks. Then all the misery of that low station will rest on us; and in our low estate as Meleks we shall govern this nation in love and self-denial. Tell them that we will forego the sacrifice and consent to live; that we will give up darkness and cavern gloom and live in light. Tell them to prepare for us the splendid palaces of the Meleks, for we will take the most sumptuous and magnificent of them all. Tell all the people to present their offerings. Tell them that we consent to have endless retinues of servants, soldiers, followers, and attendants. Tell them that with the advent of Almah and Atam-or a new era begins for the Kosekin, in which every man may be as poor as he likes, and riches shall be unknown in the land.”
These extraordinary words seemed to fill the paupers with rapture. Exclamations of joy burst from them; they prostrated themselves in an irrepressible impulse of grateful admiration, as though such promises could only come from superior beings. Then most of them hurried down to communicate to the people below the glorious intelligence. Soon it spread from mouth to mouth, and all the people were filled with the wildest excitement.
For never before had such a thing been known, and never had such self-sacrifice been imagined or thought possible, as that the rulers of the Kosekin could consent to be rich when they might be paupers; to live together when they might be separate; to dwell in the light when they might lurk in the deepest cavern gloom; to remain in life when they might have the blessing of death. Selfishness, fear of death, love of riches, and love of luxury, these were all unintelligible to the Kosekin, as much as to us would be self-abnegation, contempt of death, voluntary poverty, and asceticism. But as with us self-denying rulers may make others rich and be popular for this, so here among the Kosekin a selfish ruler might be popular by making others poor. Hence the words of Almah, as they were made known, gave rise to the wildest excitement and enthusiasm, and the vast multitude poured forth their feelings in long shouts of rapturous applause.
Amid this the bodies of the dead were carried down from the pyramid, and were taken to the Mista Kosek in a long and solemn procession, accompanied by the singing of wild and dismal chants.
And now the sun, rolling along behind the icy mountain crest, rose higher and higher every moment, and the bright light of a long day began to illumine the world. There sparkled the sea, rising far away like a watery wall, with the horizon high up in the sky; there rose the circle of giant mountains, sweeping away till they were blended with the horizon; there rose the terraces of the amir, all glowing in the sunlight, with all its countless houses and cavern-openings and arching trees and pointing pyramids. Above was the canopy of heaven, no longer black, no longer studded with stars or glistening with the fitful shimmer of the aurora, but all radiant with the glorious sunlight, and disclosing all the splendors of the infinite blue. At that sight a thrill of joy passed through me. The long, long night at last was over; the darkness had passed away like some hideous dream; the day was here — the long day that was to know no shadow and no decline — when all this world should be illuminated by the ever-circling sun — a sun that would never set until his long course of many months should be fully run. My heart swelled with rapture, my eyes filled with tears. “O Light!” I cried; “O gleaming, golden Sunlight! O Light of Heaven! — light that brings life and hope to man!” And I could have fallen on my knees and worshipped that rising sun.
But the light which was so glorious to us was painful and distressing to the Kosekin. On the top of the pyramid the paupers crouched, shading their eyes. The crowd below began to disperse in all directions, so as to betake themselves to their coverts and to the caverns, where they might live in the dark. Soon nearly all were gone except the paupers at the foot of the pyramid, who were awaiting our commands, and a crowd of Meleks and Athons at a distance. At a gesture from me the few paupers near us descended and joined those below.
Almah and I were alone on the top of the pyramid.
I caught her in my arms in a rapture of joy. This revulsion from the lowest despair — from darkness and from death back to hope and light and life — was almost too much to endure. We both wept, but our tears were those of happiness.
“You will be all my own now,” said I, “and we can fly from this hateful land. We can be united — we can be married — here before we start — and you will not be cruel enough to refuse. You will consent, will you not, to be my wife before we fly from the Kosekin?”
At this Almah’s face became suffused with smiles and blushes. Her arms were about me, and she did not draw away, but looked up in sweet confusion and said,
“Why, as to that — I— I cannot be more your — your wife than I am.”
“What do you mean?” I exclaimed, in wonder. “My wife!”
Her eyes dropped again, and she whispered:
“The ceremony of separation is with the Kosekin the most sacred form of marriage. It is the religious form; the other is merely the civil form.”
This was unintelligible, nor did I try to understand it. It was enough to hear this from her own sweet lips; but it was a strange feeling, and I think I am the only man since Adam that ever was married without knowing it.
“As to flight,” continued Almah, who had quite adopted the Kosekin fashion, which makes women take the lead — “as to flight, we need not hurry. We are all-powerful now, and there is no more danger. We must wait until we send embassies to my people, and when they are ready to receive us, we will go. But now let us leave this, for our servants are waiting for us, and the light is distressing to them. Let us go to the nearest of our palaces and obtain rest and food.”
Here Featherstone stopped, yawned, and laid down the manuscript.
“That’s enough for to-day,” said he; “I’m tired, and can’t read any more. It’s time for supper.”
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University of Adelaide
South Australia 5005
Last updated Saturday, August 29, 2015 at 22:19