Ziska: The Problem of a Wicked Soul Part 20

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"There is such a thing as love!" said Denzil, looking up quickly, a pained flush on his handsome face.

"In the hearts of women, yes!" said Ziska, her voice growing tremulous with strange and sudden pa.s.sion. "Women love--ah!--with what force and tenderness and utter abandonment of self! But their love is in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred utterly wasted; it is a largesse flung to the ungrateful, a jewel tossed in the mire! If there were not some compensation in the next life for the ruin wrought on loving women, the Eternal G.o.d himself would be a mockery and a jest."

"And is he not?" queried Gervase, ironically. "Fair Princess, I would not willingly shake your faith in things unseen, but what does the 'Eternal G.o.d,' as you call Him, care as to the destiny of any individual unit on this globe of matter? Does He interfere when the murderer's knife descends upon the victim? And has He ever interfered?

He it is who created the s.e.xes and placed between them the strong attraction that often works more evil and misery than good; and what barrier has He ever interposed between woman and man, her natural destroyer? None!--save the trifling one of virtue, which is a flimsy thing, and often breaks down at the first temptation. No, my dear Princess; the 'Eternal G.o.d,' if there is one, does nothing but look on impa.s.sively at the universal havoc of creation. And in the blindness and silence of things, I cannot recognize an Eternal G.o.d at all; we were evidently made to eat, drink, breed and die--and there an end."

"What of ambition?" asked Dr. Dean. "What of the inspiration that lifts a man beyond himself and his material needs, and teaches him to strive after the Highest?"

"Mere mad folly!" replied Gervase impetuously. "Take the Arts. I, for example, dream of painting a picture that shall move the world to admiration,--but I seldom grasp the idea I have imagined. I paint something,--anything,--and the world gapes at it, and some rich fool buys it, leaving me free to paint another something; and so on and so on, to the end of my career. I ask you what satisfaction does it bring?

What is it to Raphael that thousands of human units, cultured and silly, have stared at his 'Madonnas' and his famous Cartoons?"

"Well, we do not exactly know what it may or may not be to Raphael,"

said the Doctor, meditatively. "According to my theories, Raphael is not dead, but merely removed into another form, on another planet possibly, and is working elsewhere. You might as well ask what it is to Araxes now that he was a famous warrior once?"

Gervase moved uneasily.

"You have got Araxes on the brain, Doctor," he said, with a forced smile, "and in our conversation we are forgetting that the Princess has promised to tell us a fairytale, the story of the Great Pyramid."

The Princess looked at him, then at Denzil Murray, and lastly at Dr.

Dean.

"Would you really care to hear it?" she asked.

"Most certainly!" they all three answered.

She rose from the dinner-table.

"Come here to the window," she said. "You can see the great structure now, in the dusky light,--look at it well and try, if you can, to realize that deep, deep down in the earth on which it stands is a connected gallery of rocky caves wherein no human foot has ever penetrated since the Deluge swept over the land and made a desert of all the old-time civilization!"

Her slight figure appeared to dilate as she spoke, raising one slender hand and arm to point at the huge ma.s.s that towered up against the clear, starlit sky. Her listeners were silent, awed and attentive.

"One of the latest ideas concerning the Pyramids is, as you know, that they were built as towers of defence against the Deluge. That is correct. The wise men of the old days foretold the time when 'the waters should rise and cover the earth,' and these huge monuments were prepared and raised to a height which it was estimated would always appear above the level of the coming flood, to show where the treasures of Egypt were hidden for safety. Yes,--the treasures of Egypt, the wisdom, the science of Egypt! They are all down there still! And there, to all intents and purposes, they are likely to remain."

"But archaeologists are of the opinion that the Pyramids have been thoroughly explored," began Dr. Dean, with some excitement.

The Princess interrupted him by a slight gesture.

"Archaeologists, my dear Doctor, are like the rest of this world's so-called 'learned' men; they work in one groove, and are generally content with it. Sometimes an unusually brilliant brain conceives the erratic notion of working in several grooves, and is straightway judged as mad or fanatic. It is when these comet-like intelligences sweep across the world's horizon that we hear of a Julius Caesar, a Napoleon, a Shakespeare. But archaeologists are the narrowest and dryest of men,--they preconceive a certain system of work and follow it out by mathematical rule and plan, without one touch of imagination to help them to discover new channels of interest or historical information. As I told you before I began to speak, you are welcome to entirely disbelieve my story of the Great Pyramid,--but as I have begun it, you may as well hear it through." She paused a moment, then went on: "According to my information, the building of the Pyramids was commenced three hundred years before the Deluge, in the time of Saurid, the son of Sabaloc, who, it is said, was the first to receive a warning dream of the coming flood. Saurid, being convinced by his priests, astrologers and soothsayers that the portent was a true one, became from that time possessed of one idea, which was that the vast learning of Egypt, its sciences, discoveries and strange traditions should not be lost,--and that the exploits and achievements of those who were great and famous in the land should be so recorded as never to be forgotten. In those days, here where you see these measureless tracts of sand, there were great mountainous rocks and granite quarries, and Saurid utilized these for the hollowing out of deep caverns in which to conceal treasure. When these caverns were prepared to his liking, he caused a floor to be made, portions of which were rendered movable by means of secret springs, and then leaving a hollow s.p.a.ce of some four feet in height, he started foundations for another floor above it. This upper floor is what you nowadays see when you enter the Pyramid,--and no one imagines that under it is an open s.p.a.ce with room to walk in, and yet another floor below, where everything of value is secreted."

Dr. Dean drew a long breath of wonderment.

"Astonis.h.i.+ng, if true!"

The Princess smiled somewhat disdainfully, and went on:

"Saurid's work was carried on after his death by his successors, and with thousands of slaves toiling night and day the Pyramids were in the course of years raised above the caverns which concealed Egypt's mysteries. Everything was gradually acc.u.mulated in these underground store-houses,--the engraved talismans, the slabs of stone on which were deeply carved the geometrical and astronomical sciences; indestructible gla.s.s chests containing papyri, on which were written the various discoveries made in beneficial drugs, swift poisons, and other medicines. And among these many things were thirty great jars full of precious stones, some of which were marvels of the earth. They are there still! And some of the great men who died were interred in these caves, every one in a separate chamber inlaid with gold and gems, and I think," here the Princess turned her dark eyes full on Dr. Dean, "I think that if you knew the secret way of lifting the apparently immovable floor, which is like the solid ground, and descending through the winding galleries beneath, it is more than probable you would find in the Great Pyramid the tomb of Araxes!"

Her eyes glistened strangely in the evening light with that peculiar fiery glow which had made Dr. Dean once describe them as being like the eyes of a vampire-bat, and there was something curiously impressive in her gesture as she once more pointed to the towering structure which loomed against the heavens, with one star flas.h.i.+ng immediately above it. A sudden involuntary shudder shook Gervase as with icy cold; he moved restlessly, and presently remarked:

"Well, it is a safe tomb, at any rate! Whoever Araxes was, he stands little chance of being exhumed if he lies two floors below the Great Pyramid in a sealed-up rocky cavern! Princess, you look like an inspired prophetess!--so much talk of ancient and musty times makes me feel uncanny, and I will, with your permission, have a smoke with Dr.

Dean in the garden to steady my nerves. The mere notion of thirty vases of unclaimed precious stones hidden down yonder is enough to upset any man's equanimity!"

"The papyri would interest me more than the jewels," said Dr. Dean.

"What do you say, Denzil?"

Denzil Murray woke up suddenly from a fit of abstraction.

"Oh, I don't know anything about it," he answered. "I never was very much interested in those old times,--they seem to me all myth. I could never link past, present and future together as some people can; they are to me all separate things. The past is done with,--the present is our own to enjoy or to detest, and the future no man can look into."

"Ah, Denzil, you are young, and reflection has not been very hard at work in that headstrong brain of yours," said Dr. Dean with an indulgent smile, "otherwise you would see that past, present and future are one and indissoluble. The past is as much a part of your present ident.i.ty as the present, and the future, too, lies in you in embryo.

The mystery of one man's life contains all mysteries, and if we could only understand it from its very beginning we should find out the cause of all things, and the ultimate intention of creation."

"Well, now, you have all had enough serious talk," said the Princess Ziska lightly, "so let us adjourn to the drawing-room. One of my waiting-women shall sing to you by and by; she has a very sweet voice."

"Is it she who sings that song about the lotus-lily?" asked Gervase, suddenly.

The Princess smiled strangely.

"Yes,--it is she."

Dr. Dean chose a cigar from a silver box on the table; Gervase did the same.

"Won't you smoke, Denzil?" he asked carelessly.

"No, thanks!" Denzil spoke hurriedly and hoa.r.s.ely. "I think--if the Princess will permit me--I will stay and talk with her in the drawing-room while you two have your smoke together."

The Princess gave a charming bow of a.s.sent to this proposition. Gervase took the Doctor somewhat roughly by the arm and led him out through the open French window into the grounds beyond, remarking as he went:

"You will excuse us, Princess? We leave you in good company!"

She smiled.

"I will excuse you, certainly! But do not be long!"

And she pa.s.sed from the dining-room into the small saloon beyond, followed closely by Denzil.

Once out in the grounds, Gervase gave vent to a boisterous fit of wild laughter, so loud and fierce that little Dr. Dean came to an abrupt standstill, and stared at him in something of alarm as well as amazement.

"Are you going mad, Gervase?" he asked.

"Yes!" cried Gervase, "that is just it,--I am going mad,--mad for love, or whatever you please to call it! What do you think I am made of?

Flesh and blood, or cast-iron? Heavens! Do you think if all the elements were to combine in a war against me, they should cheat me out of this woman or rob me of her? No, no! A thousand times no! Satisfy yourself, my excellent Doctor, with your musty records of the past,--prate as you choose of the future,--but in the immediate, burning, active present my will is law! And the fool Denzil thinks to thwart me,--I, who have never been thwarted since I knew the meaning of existence!"

He paused in a kind of breathless agitation, and Dr. Dean grasped his arm firmly.

"Come, come, what is all this excitement for?" he said. "What are you saying about Denzil?"

Gervase controlled himself with a violent effort and forced a smile.

Ziska: The Problem of a Wicked Soul Part 20

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Ziska: The Problem of a Wicked Soul Part 20 summary

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