ESCAPEOn the following jom I told everything to Almah. I told her that
Layelah was urging me to fly with her, and that I had found out all
about her plans. I described the athalebs, informed her about the
direction which we were to take, the island of fire, and the
country of the Orin. At this intelligence Almah was filled with
delight, and for the first time since we had come to the amir there
were smiles of joy upon her face. She needed no persuasion. She was
ready to set forth whenever it was fitting, and to risk everything
upon this enterprise. She felt as I did, and thought that the
wildest attempt was better than this dull inaction.
Death was before us here, and every jom as it passed only
brought it nearer. True, we were treated with the utmost kindness,
we lived in royal splendor, we had enormous retinues; but all this
was a miserable mockery, since it all served as the prelude to our
inevitable doom. For that doom it was hard indeed to wait. Anything
was better. Far better would it be to risk all the dangers of this
unusual and amazing flight, to brave the terrors of that drear isle
of fire, Magones; better to perish there of starvation, or to be
killed by the hands of hostile Gojin, than to wait here and be
destroyed at last by the sacrificial knife of these smiling,
generous, kind-hearted, self-sacrificing fiends; to be killed—ay,
and afterward borne to the tremendous Mista Kosek.
There was a difficulty with Layelah that had to be guarded
against: in the first place that she might not suspect, and again
that we might choose our time of escape when she would not be at
all likely to find us out. We resolved to make our attempt without
any further delay. Layelah was with us for the greater part of that
jom, and the Kohen Gadol also gave us much of his company. Layelah
did not seem to have any suspicions whatever of my secret purpose;
for she was as bright, as amiable, and as devoted to me as ever,
while the Kohen Gadol sought as before to make himself agreeable to
Almah. I did not think fit to tell her about Layelah's proposal,
and therefore she was quite ignorant of the secret plans of the
Kohen Gadol, evidently attributing his attention to the unfailing
amiability of the Kosekin.
Layelah came again after Almah had retired, and spent the time
in trying to persuade me to fly with her. The beautiful girl was
certainly never more engaging, nor was she ever more tender. Had it
not been for Almah it would have been impossible to resist such
sweet persuasions; but as it was I did resist. Layelah, however,
was not at all discouraged, nor did she lose any of her amiability;
but when she took leave it was with a smile and sweet words of
forgiveness on her lips for what she called my cruelty. After she
left I remained for a time with a painful sense of helplessness.
The fact is my European training did not fit me for encountering
such a state of things as existed among the Kosekin. It's very easy
to be faithful to one's own true-love in England, when other fair
ladies hold aloof and wait to be sought; but here among the
Kosekin, women have as much liberty in making love as men, and
there is no law or custom about it. If a woman chooses she can pay
the most desperate attentions, and play the part of a distracted
lover to her heart's content. In most cases the women actually take
the initiative, as they are more impressible and impulsive than
men; and so it was that Layelah made me the object of her
persistent assault—acting all the time, too, in accordance with the
custom of the country, and thus having no thought whatever of
indelicacy, since, according to the Kosekin, she was acting simply
in accordance with the rights of every woman. Now, where a woman is
urged by one ardent lover to dismiss her other lover, she may
sometimes find it difficult to play her part satisfactorily; but in
my case I did not play my part satisfactorily at all; the ordeal
was too hard, and I was utterly unable to show to Layelah that
firmness and decision of character which the occasion demanded.
Yet, after all, the ordeal at last ended. Layelah left, as I
have said, with sweet words of forgiveness on her lips, and I after
a time succeeded in regaining my presence of mind.
Almah was waiting, and she soon joined me. We gathered a few
articles for the journey, the chief of which were my rifle and
pistol, which I had not used here, and then we set forth. Leaving
our apartments we traversed the long passages, and at length came
to the cavern of the athalebs. We met several people on the way,
who looked at us with smiles, but made no other sign. It was
evident that they had no commission to watch us, and that thus far
Layelah's information was correct.
Upon entering the cavern of the athalebs my first feeling was
one of helplessness; for I had no confidence whatever in my own
powers of managing these awful monsters, nor did I feel sure that I
could harness them; but the emergency was a pressing one, and there
was no help for it. I had seen where Layelah had left the harness,
and now my chief desire was to secure one of the athalebs. The
faint light served to disclose nothing but gloom; and I waited for
a while, hoping that one of them would come forward as before. But
waiting did no good, for no movement was made, and I had to try
what I could do myself to rouse them. So I walked farther in toward
the back part of the cavern, peering through the gloom, while Almah
remained near the entrance.
As I advanced I heard a slight noise, as of someone moving. I
thought it was one of the athalebs, and walked on farther, peering
through the gloom, when suddenly I came full upon a man who was
busy at some work which I could not make out. For a moment I stood
in amazement and despair, for it seemed as though all was lost, and
as if this man would at once divine my intent. While I stood thus
he turned and gave me a very courteous greeting, after which, in
the usual manner of the Kosekin, he asked me with much amiability
what he could do for me. I muttered something about seeing the
athalebs, upon which he informed me that he would show them to me
He went on to say that he had recently been raised from the low
position of Athon to that of Feeder of the Athalebs, a post
involving duties like those of ostlers or grooms among us, but
which here indicated high rank and honor. He was proud of his title
of "Epet," which means servant, and more than usually obliging. I
at once took advantage of his complaisance, and requested him to
show me the athalebs. Upon this he led the way farther on, where I
could see through the gloom the shadowy outlines of four monsters,
all of which were resting in an upright posture against the wall,
with their claws fixed on a shelf of rock. They looked more than
ever like dragons, or rather like enormous bats, for their wings
were disclosed hanging in loose leathern folds.
"Can they be roused," I asked, "and made to move?"
"Oh yes," said the Epet, and without waiting for any further
request he proceeded to pull at the loose fan-like wing of the
nearest one. The monster drew himself together, gave a flutter with
his wings, and then moved back from the wall.
"Make him walk," said I, eagerly.
The Epet at this pulled upon his wing once more, and the athaleb
"Bring him to the portal, so that I may see him," said I.
The Epet, still holding the athaleb's wing, pulled at him, and
thus guided him toward the portal. I was amazed at the docility of
this terrific monster; yet, after all, I thought that it was no
more astonishing than the docility of the elephant, which in like
manner allows itself to be guided by the slightest pressure. A
child may lead a vast elephant with ease, and here with equal ease
the Epet led the athaleb. He led him up near to the portal, where
the aurora light beamed through far brighter than the brightest
moon, and disclosed all the vast proportions of the monster. I
stood and looked on for some time in silence, quite at a loss what
to do next.
And now Layelah's words occurred to me as to the perfect
willingness of the Kosekin to do anything which one might wish. She
had insisted on it that they would not prevent our flight, and had
given me to understand that they would even assist me if I should
ask them. This is what now occurred to me, and I determined to make
a trial. So I said:
"I should like to fly in the air on the athaleb. Will you
I confess it was with some trepidation that I said this, but the
feeling was soon dissipated. The Epet heard my words with perfect
coolness, as though they conveyed the most natural request in the
world, and then proceeded to obey me, just as at home a servant
might hear and obey his master, who might say, "I should like to
take a ride; will you harness the bay mare?"
So the Epet proceeded to harness the athaleb, and I watched him
in silence; but it was the silence of deep suspense, and my heart
throbbed painfully. There was yet much to be risked. The gates had
to be opened. Others might interfere. Layelah might come. All these
thoughts occurred to me as I watched the Epet; and though the labor
of harnessing the athaleb was simple and soon performed, still the
time seemed long. So the collar was secured around the neck of the
athaleb, with the grapple attached, and the lines were fastened to
the wings, and then Almah and I mounted.
The Epet now stood waiting for further orders.
"Open the gates," said I.
The Epet did so.
Almah was seated on the back of the athaleb before me, holding
on to the coarse mane; I, just behind, held the reins in my hand.
The gates were opened wide. A few people outside, roused by the
noise of the opening gates, stood and looked on. They had evidently
no other feeling but curiosity.
All was now ready and the way was open, but there was an
unexpected difficulty—the athaleb would not start, and I did not
know how to make him. I had once more to apply for help to the
"How am I to make him start?" I asked.
"Pull at the collar to make him start, and pull at both reins to
make him stop," said the Epet.
Upon this I pulled at the collar.
The athaleb obeyed at once. He rose almost erect, and moved out
through the gate. It was difficult to hold on, but we did so. On
reaching the terrace outside, the athaleb expanded his vast wings,
which spread out over a space of full fifty feet, and then with
vigorous motions raised himself in the air.
It was a moment full of terror to both of us; the strange
sensation of rising in the air, the quivering muscles of the
athaleb at the working of the enormous pinions, the tremendous
display of strength, all combined to overwhelm me with a sense of
utter helplessness. With one hand I clung to the stiff mane of the
monster; with the other I held Almah, who was also grasping the
athaleb's hair; and thus for some time all thought was taken up in
the one purpose of holding on. But at length the athaleb lay in the
air in a perfectly horizontal position; the beat of the wings grew
more slow and even, the muscular exertion more steady and
sustained. We both began to regain some degree of confidence, and
at length I raised myself up and looked around.
It did not seem long since we had left; but already the city was
far behind, rising with its long, crescent terraces, sparkling and
twinkling with innumerable lights. We had passed beyond the bay;
the harbor was behind us, the open sea before us, the deep water
beneath. The athaleb flew low, not more than a hundred feet above
the water, and maintained that distance all the time. It seemed,
indeed, as if he might drop into the water at any time; but this
was only fancy, for he was perfect master of all his movement and
his flight was swift and well sustained.
Overhead the sky was filled with the glory of the aurora beams,
which spread everywhere, flashing out from the zenith and
illuminating the earth with a glow brighter than that of the
brightest moon; beneath, the dark waters of the sea extended, with
the waves breaking into foam, and traversed by galleys, by
merchant-ships, and by the navies of the Kosekin. Far away the
surface of the sea spread, with that marvellous appearance of an
endless ascent, as though for a thousand miles, rising thus until
it terminated half-way up the sky; and so it rose up on every side,
so that I seemed to be at the bottom of a basin-shaped world—an
immense and immeasurable hollow—a world unparalleled and
unintelligible. Far away, at almost infinite distances, arose the
long lines of mountains, which, crowned with ice, gleamed in the
aurora light, and seemed like a barrier that made forever
impossible all ingress and egress.
On and on we sped. At length we grew perfectly accustomed to the
situation, the motion was so easy and our seats were so secure.
There were no obstacles in our way, no roughness along our path;
for that pathway was the smooth air, and in such a path there could
be no interruption, no jerk or jar. After the first terror had
passed there remained no longer any necessity for holding on—we
could sit and look around with perfect freedom; and at length I
rose to my feet, and Almah stood beside me, and thus we stood for a
long time, with all our souls kindled into glowing enthusiasm by
the excitement of that adventurous flight, and the splendors of
that unequalled scene.
At length the aurora light grew dim. Then came forth the stars,
glowing and burning in the black sky. Beneath there was nothing
visible but the darkness of the water, spotted with phosphorescent
points, while all around a wall of gloom arose which shut out from
view the distant shores.
Suddenly I was aware of a noise like the beat of vast wings, and
these wings were not those of our athaleb. At first I thought it
was the fluttering of a sail, but it was too regular and too long
continued for that. At length I saw through the gloom a vast
shadowy form in the air behind us, and at once the knowledge of the
truth flashed upon me. It was another monster flying in
Were we pursued? Were there men on his back? Should I resist? I
held my rifle poised, and was resolved to resist at all hazards.
Almah saw it all, and said nothing. She perceived the danger, and
in her eyes I saw that she, like me, would prefer death to
surrender. The monster came nearer and nearer, until at last I
could see that he was alone, and that none were on his back. But
now another fear arose. He might attack our athaleb, and in that
way endanger us. He must be prevented from coming nearer; yet to
fire the rifle was a serious matter. I had once before I earned the
danger of firing under such circumstances, when my opmahera had
fled in terror at the report, and did not wish to experience the
danger which might arise from a panic-stricken athaleb; and so as I
stood there I waved my arms and gesticulated violently. The
pursuing athaleb seemed frightened at such an unusual occurrence,
for he veered off, and soon was lost in the darkness.