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."We must wait awhile," called Ayesha; "soon there will be light."At the moment I could not imagine what she meant.How could more light than there was ever come to this dreadful spot? While I was still wondering, suddenly, like a great sword of flame, a beam from the setting sun pierced the Stygian gloom, and smote upon the point of rock whereon we lay, illumining Ayesha's lovely form with an unearthly splendour.I only wish I could describe the wild and marvellous beauty of that sword of fire, laid across the darkness and rushing mist-wreaths of the gulf.How it got there I do not to this moment know, but I presume that there was some cleft or hole in the opposing cliff, through which it pierced when the setting orb was in a direct line therewith.All I can say is, that the effect was the most wonderful that I ever saw.Right through the heart of the darkness that flaming sword was stabbed, and where it lay there was the most surpassingly vivid light, so vivid that even at a distance we could see the grain of the rock, while, outside of it—yes, within a few inches of its keen edge—was naught but clustering shadows.And now, by this ray of light, for which She had been waiting, and timed our arrival to meet, knowing that at this season for thousands of years it had always struck thus at sunset, we saw what was before us.Within eleven or twelve feet of the very tip of the tongue-like rock whereon we stood there arose, presumably from the far bottom of the gulf, a sugarloaf-shaped cone, of which the summit was exactly opposite to us.But had there been a summit only it would not have helped us much, for the nearest point of its circumference was some forty feet from where we were.On the lip of this summit, however, which was circular and hollow, rested a tremendous flat boulder, something like a glacier stone—perhaps it was one, for all I know to the contrary—and the end of this boulder approached to within twelve feet or so of us.This huge rock was nothing more or less than a gigantic rocking-stone, accurately balanced upon the edge of the cone or miniature crater, like a half-crown on the rim of a wine-glass; for, in the fierce light that played upon it and us, we could see it oscillating in the gusts of wind."Quick!" said Ayesha; "the plank—we must cross while the light endures; presently it will be gone.""Oh, Lord, sir!" groaned Job, "surely she don't mean us to walk across that there place on that there thing," as in obedience to my direction he pushed the long board towards me."That's it, Job," I halloaed in ghastly merriment, though the idea of walking the plank was no pleasanter to me than to him.I pushed the board on to Ayesha, who deftly ran it across the gulf so that one end of it rested on the rocking-stone, the other remaining on the extremity of the trembling spur.Then placing her foot upon it to prevent it from being blown away, she turned to me."Since I was last here, oh Holly," she called, "the support of the moving stone hath lessened somewhat, so that I am not certain if it will bear our weight or no.Therefore will I cross the first, because no harm will come unto me," and, without further ado, she trod lightly but firmly across the frail bridge, and in another second was standing safe upon the heaving stone."It is safe," she called."See, hold thou the plank! I will stand on the farther side of the stone so that it may not overbalance with your greater weights.Now, come, oh Holly, for presently the light will fail us."I struggled to my knees, and if ever I felt terrified in my life it was then, and I am not ashamed to say that I hesitated and hung back."Surely thou art not afraid," this strange creature called in a lull of the gale, from where she stood poised like a bird on the highest point of the rocking-stone."Make way then for Kallikrates."This settled me; it is better to fall down a precipice and die than be laughed at by such a woman; so I clenched my teeth, and in another instant I was on that horrible, narrow, bending plank, with bottomless space beneath and around me.I have always hated a great height, but never before did I realise the full horrors of which such a position is capable.Oh, the sickening sensation of that yielding board resting on the two moving supports.I grew dizzy, and thought that I must fall; my spine crept; it seemed to me that I was falling, and my delight at finding myself sprawling upon that stone, which rose and fell beneath me like a boat in a swell, cannot be expressed in words.All I know is that briefly, but earnestly enough, I thanked Providence for preserving me so far.Then came Leo's turn, and though he looked rather queer, he came across like a rope-dancer.Ayesha stretched out her hand to clasp his own, and I heard her say, "Bravely done, my love—bravely done! The old Greek spirit lives in thee yet!"And now only poor Job remained on the farther side of the gulf.He crept up to the plank, and yelled out, "I can't do it, sir.I shall fall into that beastly place.""You must," I remember saying with inappropriate facetiousness—"you must, Job, it's as easy as catching flies." I suppose that I must have said it to satisfy my conscience, because although the expression conveys a wonderful idea of facility, as a matter of fact I know no more difficult operation in the whole world than catching flies—that is, in warm weather, unless, indeed, it is catching mosquitoes."I can't, sir—I can't, indeed.""Let the man come, or let him stop and perish there.See, the light is dying! In a moment it will be gone!" said Ayesha.I looked.She was right.The sun was passing below the level of the hole or cleft in the precipice through which the ray reached us."If you stop there, Job, you will die alone," I called; "the light is going.""Come, be a man, Job," roared Leo; "it's quite easy."Thus adjured, the miserable Job, with a most awful yell, precipitated himself face downwards on the plank—he did not dare, small blame to him, to try to walk it, and commenced to draw himself across in little jerks, his poor legs hanging down on either side into the nothingness beneath [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]