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And having done this, he, with the others, said the ninety-first Psalm, the ninetieth he would have called it, and so he commended himself and them to God's care during the rest of their sleep. But, behold, when the rising sun aroused the whole party for good, they found that, secure refuge as their tree might afford, they were for the present confined to it.
Of the lioness, indeed, they saw nothing; but there sat the lion,--or rather, there he couched, as they say in heraldry,--with his mouth leaning on his extended paws, but with his eyes steadily fixed on his expected prey. What possible hope was there, after all?
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So again I say, what possible hope was there that these prisoners could escape? And to explain to you how they were released I must take you far away out of this world;--I do not mean into the land of spirits, but into a part of creation infinitely removed from us. You know how wise men tell us that, in all probability, there was in the planetary system, between Mars and Jupiter, a planet which has long since been broken up, and the fragments of which not only formed the little asteroids which are constantly being discovered, but also those masses of stone which have occasionally, coming within the attraction of our earth, fallen upon it, and of which many are preserved in the museums of Europe.
One such had been for many thousand years revolving round the sun till the hour came in which its appointed work was to be done; and that hour was now. It was a weary, weary time that the poor prisoners waited in the prison of their tree, almost as sorry now to have been induced to take shelter in it as glad on the preceding evening to have found harbourage there.
Every moment of imprisonment diminished their miserable hopes of final escape; and Quintus had seriously meditated whether it would not be better for him to sacrifice himself in order that the others might, at least for the present, be set free. But then he remembered, if with him their chances of reaching Petra were so small, how impossible would the effort be without him.
But you know the proverb, "When Israel is in the brick-kiln, then cometh Moses" and so it was now. The sun had risen most uncloudedly, and the sky remained bright and blue till about the third hour. But about that time a thin, grey haze began to float up through the air, and the light was such as you see on a cloudy day when there is a very great but not total eclipse. Terrified as they all were with the present, and anxious for the future, they were not unsusceptible of this strange atmospheric influence; and, "What singular weather!
It was drawing near to the fifth hour, and still the lion kept watch, and still the thoughts of Quintus grew more and more gloomy, and still the children were more and more impatient for their release from imprisonment and hunger. The first articulate sound was the outcry of the younger children; then their father, who for half a minute had himself been unable to form any idea as to the nature of what had happened, tried to encourage them. Look, my children, the lion is dead; one of those things that happen about once in a century has happened now.
Look, there it lies; it is just as if God sent it here to this very end, that we might be set free. The mass of stone,--an iron stone to all appearance,--irregularly shaped, but perhaps two feet square, had buried itself half its depth in the ground; first apparently smiting the lion upon its shoulders, had absolutely dashed it in pieces, and had then pulverised the hard rock all around. Quintus Turbo next looked round in all directions for any traces of the lioness, but he could discover none; and hoping that she might have been terrified from the spot, by the shock which had been that of an earthquake, he assisted his family to descend, and they were presently in safety again at the foot of the tree.
And here I must leave them for awhile, in order that I may go back to Lucia. I left her sleeping by the pool where she had breakfasted, and she slept on till early in the afternoon. I suppose, looking at the map, that she was then about twenty-four miles from her family: they now being nearly south of where she was.
You can hardly tell what a dreary thing it is to walk, hour after hour, in these vast solitudes; how the mind gets stupified with the sense of its own helplessness; how fearful the thought is,--If anything should happen to me, here I must leave my bones to whiten; the vulture that I hear screaming over my head would devour me before the breath were out of my body, and perhaps no human eye would ever see my remains.
All this, and much more, Lucia thought; and as the afternoon advanced, and she grew more and more tired, so much the sadder grew her fancies: and when at length she sat down under the shade of a solitary ilex, she felt as if she should be glad if she might there go to sleep, and never again wake in this world. She was refreshed by food, however, and she had with her as I should have told you before a flask. This she had filled at the spring in the morning, and so she now had a sufficient supply for the time.
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Indeed, had she only known it, she had done very well; she must have walked fourteen miles since her first halt, and of these, ten were in the right direction. By-and-bye the sun went down behind one of the ridges, and the shadow, first settling on the valley, gradually climbed higher and higher, till it covered the whole opposite side. Night came very fast on. Not knowing what else to do, she resolved that, as soon as she saw another cave,--of which she had passed a great many in the course of her walk,--there she would rest for the night. As to danger from wild animals, she could do nothing to prevent it; she was in God's hands, and He must do with her as it seemed to Him good.
Anyhow, in the cave she should be sheltered from the night air, and from the deadly rays of the moon. It was getting duskyish before she discovered what she needed,--a good-sized recess, in the left-hand ridge of the valley; dry sand the floor, a level calcareous rock the side and roof. After carefully examining it, she came to the conclusion that there were no traces of any living animal near: and, indeed, had anything of that kind entered the cave, they must have left their footprints on the sand.
She had a very remarkable dream. She thought that she was continuing her journey, and saw, immediately before her, a peak of very singular appearance. You have seen, I dare say, my reader, one of those pack-saddle towers which are so common in northern France, and which are occasionally found in England. It was just like one of these; and in the lower part was an opening, blackened with smoke, and with very much the appearance of a door.
Past this rock there were two ways. The one, that to the right, seemed to lead into a narrow defile; the other, to the left, opened out to a plain. While wondering at the door, two very ill-favoured men came out of it, and seeing Lucia, called out to her to come to them. While she hesitated what to do, she thought she heard a voice, "Run to the left. Then she felt that miserable sensation that her feet could not carry her.
Just as she expected the ruffians upon her, she saw a party with two camels at a little distance, and with the cry of "Save me!
It was a dream to her: but how her heart beat! Lions she knew to be her danger, but what of men worse than lions?
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Of them she had not thought. Not a breeze, not a leaf to rustle, not a blade of grass to stir: but the far-off stars looked down on the midnight ridges with their great melancholy eyes, as if they said, "We are bright and beautiful, but we are very, very, very far away! Wrapping her head in her toga, she again raised her heart in prayer; and presently, quite wearied out with her day's journey, she was asleep again.
When she awoke, the sun was some way above the horizon. The daughter of a man of good rank in a city, Lucia had been very little used to the many natural things whence a country girl could have guessed the time. However, it was clearly right to go on at once. Everything was favourable that morning. She found the road easier, her stiffness went off considerably, and she was so fortunate as to light upon a pool after walking about an hour. The water was not very pure, but it was at all events drinkable; and after breakfasting there, and filling her flask, and then bathing her head, and arms, and feet, she again set forward, very much refreshed, and happier than she had been since she left Aelia.
And very well she had kept her course too, though of that, poor child, she could tell nothing. On she went, however, the day now getting very hot. Running the further side of one of the hills, to her unspeakable surprise, she heard a call at a distance. Surely it was her name. Could it be her father? Was it one of the caravan drivers? But how could they know her sex? I am coming as fast as I can.
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Ah, poor Lucia! Have you never heard of these desert-calls, devices, many men think, of the Enemy to lure travellers to their destruction?
And though God may overrule the cruel purpose of the fiend, turning that to your deliverance which he intended to your ruin, yet what a bitter morning was that for you! Backwards and forwards, right and left, now quite near, now far in the distance, the call led her. She could not conceive how she missed the caller; for who that knew her name could be so cruel as to tantalize her by purposely keeping out of her way?
It must be her own stupidity, her own slowness; and so she made more and more desperate efforts, till utterly puzzled as to the direction she ought to have kept, utterly worn out both in soul and body, confused and perplexed by the dreary sameness of the sand-hills, she threw herself down and cried, "I cannot go on further. If you want me, you must come here. She lay in an attitude of perfect despair on the sand, her throbbing head resting on her hands, when close to her, a loud and clear shout, "Lucia!
Lion's flesh is not a pleasant dish. But Turbo, who now had no other food for his family, sent them on a little, while he cut some slices from the back, and wrapping them up in the leaves of a plantain, which fortunately grew near, speedily joined the rest.