Ziska: The Problem of a Wicked Soul Part 21

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"He has got his chance,--I have given it to him! He is alone with the Princess, and he is asking her to be his wife!"

"Nonsense!" said the Doctor sharply. "If he does commit such a folly, it will be no use. The woman is NOT HUMAN!"

"Not human?" echoed Gervase, his black eyes dilating with a sudden amazement--"What do you mean?"

The little Doctor rubbed his nose impatiently and seemed sorry he had spoken.

"I mean--let me see! What do I mean?" he said at last meditatively--"Oh, well, it is easy enough of explanation. There are plenty of people like the Princess Ziska to whom I would apply the words 'not human.' She is all beauty and no heart. Again--if you follow me--she is all desire and no pa.s.sion, which is a character 'like unto the beasts which perish.' A large majority of men are made so, and some women,--though the women are comparatively few. Now, so far as the Princess Ziska is concerned," continued the Doctor, fixing his keen, penetrative glance on Gervase as he spoke, "I frankly admit to you that I find in her material for a very curious and complex study. That is why I have come after her here. I have said she is all desire and no pa.s.sion. That of itself is inhuman; but what I am busy about now is to try and a.n.a.lyze the nature of the particular desire that moves her, controls her, keeps her alive,--in short. It is not love; of that I feel confident; and it is not hate,--though it is more like hate than love. It is something indefinable, something that is almost occult, so deep-seated and bewildering is the riddle. You look upon me as a madman--yes! I know you do! But mad or sane, I emphatically repeat, the Princess is NOT HUMAN, and by this expression I wish to imply that though she has the outward appearance of a most beautiful and seductive human body, she has the soul of a fiend. Now, do you understand me?"

"It would take Oedipus himself all his time to do that,"--said Gervase, forcing a laugh which had no mirth in it, for he was conscious of a vaguely unpleasant sensation--a chill, as of some dark presentiment, which oppressed his mind. "When you know I do not believe in the soul, why do you talk to me about it? The soul of a fiend,--the soul of an angel,--what are they? Mere empty terms to me, meaning nothing. I think I agree with you though, in one or two points concerning the Princess; par exemple, I do not look upon her as one of those delicately embodied purities of womanhood before whom we men instinctively bend in reverence, but whom, at the same time, we generally avoid, ashamed of our vileness. No; she is certainly not one of the

"'Maiden roses left to die Because they climb so near the sky, That not the boldest pa.s.ser-by Can pluck them from their vantage high.'

And whether it is best to be a solitary 'maiden-rose' or a Princess Ziska, who shall say? And human or inhuman, whatever composition she is made of, you may make yourself positively certain that Denzil Murray is just now doing his best to persuade her to be a Highland chatelaine in the future. Heavens, what a strange fate it will be for la belle Egyptienne!"

"Oh, you think she IS Egyptian then?" queried Dr. Dean, with an air of lively curiosity.

"Of course I do. She has the Egyptian type of form and countenance.

Consider only the resemblance between her and the dancer she chose to represent the other night--the Ziska-Charmazel of the antique sculpture on her walls!"

"Ay, but if you grant one resemblance, you must also admit another,"

said the Doctor quickly. "The likeness between yourself and the old-world warrior, Araxes, is no less remarkable!" Gervase moved uneasily, and a sudden pallor blanched his face, making it look wan and haggard in the light of the rising moon. "And it is rather singular,"

went on the imperturbable savant, "that according to the legend or history--whichever you please to consider it,--for in time, legends become histories and histories legends--Araxes should have been the lover of this very Ziska-Charmazel, and that you, who are the living portrait of Araxes, should suddenly become enamored of the equally living portrait of the dead woman! You must own, that to a mere onlooker and observer like myself, it seems a curious coincidence!"

Gervase smoked on in silence, his level brows contracted in a musing frown.

"Yes, it seems curious," he said at last, "but a great many curious coincidences happen in this world--so many that we, in our days of rush and turmoil, have not time to consider them as they come or go. Perhaps of all the strange things in life, the sudden sympathies and the headstrong pa.s.sions which spring up in a day or a night between certain men and certain women are the strangest. I look upon you, Doctor, as a very clever fellow with just a little twist in his brain, or let us say a 'fad' about spiritual matters; but in one of your more or less fantastic and extravagant theories I am half disposed to believe, and that is the notion you have of the possibility of some natures, male and female, having met before in a previous state of existence and under different forms, such as birds, flowers, or forest animals, or even mere incorporeal breaths of air and flame. It is an idea which I confess fascinates me. It seems fairly reasonable too, for, as many scientists argue that you cannot destroy matter, but only transform it, there is really nothing impossible in the suggestion."

He paused, then added slowly as he flung the end of his cigar away:

"I have felt the force of this odd fancy of yours most strongly since I met the Princess Ziska."

"Indeed! Then the impression she gave you first is still upon you--that of having known her before?"

Gervase waited a minute or two before replying; then he answered:

"Yes. And not only of having known her before, but of having loved her before. Love!--mon Dieu!--what a tame word it is! How poorly it expresses the actual emotion! Fire in the veins--delirium in the brain--reason gone to chaos! And this madness is mildly described as 'love?'"

"There are other words for it," said the Doctor. "Words that are not so poetic, but which, perhaps, are more fitting."

"No!" interrupted Gervase, almost fiercely. "There are no words which truly describe this one emotion which rules the world. I know what YOU mean, of course; you mean evil words, licentious words, and yet it has nothing whatever to do with these. You cannot call such an exalted state of the nerves and sensations by an evil name."

Dr. Dean pondered the question for a few moments.

"No, I am not sure that I can," he said, meditatively. "If I did, I should have to give an evil name to the Creator who designed man and woman and ordained the law of attraction which draws, and often DRAGS them together. I like to be fair to everybody, the Creator included; yet to be fair to everybody I shall appear to sanction immorality. For the fact is that our civilization has upset all the original intentions of nature. Nature evidently meant Love, or the emotion we call Love, to be the keynote of the universe. But apparently Nature did not intend marriage. The flowers, the birds, the lower animals, mate afresh every spring, and this is the creed that the disciples of Naturalism nowadays are anxious to force upon the attention of the world. It is only men and women, they say, that are so foolish as to take each other for better or worse till death do them part. Now, I should like, from the physical scientist's point of view, to prove that the men and women are wrong, and that the lower animals are right; but spiritual science comes in and confutes me. For in spiritual science I find this truth, which will not be gainsaid--namely, that from time immemorial, certain immortal forms of Nature have been created solely for one another; like two halves of a circle, they are intended to meet and form the perfect round, and all the elements of creation, spiritual and material, will work their hardest to pull them together. Such natures, I consider, should absolutely and imperatively be joined in marriage. It then becomes a divine decree. Even grant, if you like, that the natures so joined are evil, and that the sympathy between them is of a more or less reprehensible character, it is quite as well that they should unite, and that the result of such an union should be seen. The evil might come out of them in a family of criminals which the law could exterminate with advantage to the world in general. Whereas on the other hand, given two fine and aspiring natures with perfect sympathy between them, as perfect as the two notes of a perfect chord, the children of such a marriage would probably be as near G.o.ds as humanity could bring them. I speak as a scientist merely. Such consequences are not foreseen by the majority, and marriages as a rule take place between persons who are by no means made for each other. Besides, a kind of devil comes into the business, and often prevents the two sympathetic natures conjoining. Love-matters alone are quite sufficient to convince me that there IS a devil as well as a divinity that 'shapes our ends.'"

"You speak as if you yourself had loved, Doctor," said Gervase, with a half smile.

"And so I have," replied the Doctor, calmly. "I have loved to the full as pa.s.sionately and ardently as even you can love. I thank G.o.d the woman I loved died,--I could never have possessed her, for she was already wedded,--and I would not have disgraced her by robbing her from her lawful husband. So Death stepped in and gave her to me--forever!"

and he raised his eyes to the solemn starlit sky. "Yes, nothing can ever come between us now; no demon tears her white soul from me; she died innocent of evil, and she is mine--mine in every pulse of her being, as we shall both know hereafter!"

His face, which was not remarkable for any beauty of feature, grew rapt and almost n.o.ble in its expression, and Gervase looked at him with a faint touch of ironical wonder.

"Upon my word, your morality almost outreaches your mysticism!" he said. "I see you are one of those old-fas.h.i.+oned men who think marriage a sacred sort of thing and the only self-respecting form of love."

"Old-fas.h.i.+oned I may be," replied Dr. Dean; "but I certainly believe in marriage for the woman's sake. If the license of men were not restrained by some sort of barrier it would break all bounds. Now I, had I chosen, could have taken the woman I loved to myself; it needed but a little skilful persuasion on my part, for her husband was a drink-sodden ruffian..."

"And why, in the name of Heaven, did you not do so?" demanded Gervase impatiently.

"Because I know the end of all such liaisons," said the Doctor sadly.

"A month or two of delirious happiness, then years of remorse to follow. The man is lowered in his own secret estimation of himself, and the woman is hopelessly ruined, socially and morally. No, Death is far better; and in my case Death has proved a good friend, for it has given me the spotless soul of the woman I loved, which is far fairer than her body was."

"But, unfortunately, intangible!" said Gervase, satirically.

The Doctor looked at him keenly and coldly.

"Do not be too sure of that, my friend! Never talk about what you do not understand; you only wander astray. The spiritual world is a blank to you, so do not presume to judge of what you will never realize TILL REALIZATION IS FORCED UPON YOU!"

He uttered the last words with slow and singular emphasis.

"Forced upon me?" began Gervase. "What do you mean? ..."

He broke off abruptly, for at that moment Denzil Murray emerged from the doorway of the hotel, and came towards them with an unsteady, swaying step like that of a drunken man.

"You had better go in to the Princess," he said, staring at Gervase with a wild smile; "she is waiting for you!"

"What's the matter with you, Denzil?" inquired Dr. Dean, catching him by the arm as he made a movement to go on and pa.s.s them.

Denzil stopped, frowning impatiently.

"Matter? Nothing! What should be the matter?"

"Oh, no offence; no offence, my boy!" and Dr. Dean at once loosened his arm. "I only thought you looked as if you had had some upset or worry, that's all."

"Climate! climate!" said Denzil, hoa.r.s.ely. "Egypt does not agree with me, I suppose!--the dryness of the soil breeds fever and a touch of madness! Men are not blocks of wood or monoliths of stone; they are creatures of flesh and blood, of nerve and muscle; you cannot torture them so..."

He interrupted himself with a kind of breathless irritation at his own speech. Gervase regarded him steadily, slightly smiling.

"Torture them how, Denzil?" asked the Doctor, kindly. "Dear lad, you are talking nonsense. Come and stroll with me up and down; the air is quite balmy and delightful; it will cool your brain."

"Yes, it needs cooling!" retorted Denzil, beginning to laugh with a sort of wild hilarity. "Too much wine,--too much woman,--too much of these musty old-world records and ghastly pyramids!"

Here he broke off, adding quickly:

"Doctor, Helen and I will go back to England next week, if all is well."

"Why, certainly, certainly!" said Dr. Dean, soothingly. "I think we are all beginning to feel we have had enough of Egypt. I shall probably return home with you. Meanwhile, come for a stroll and talk to me; Monsieur Armand Gervase will perhaps go in and excuse us for a few minutes to the Princess Ziska."

"With pleasure!" said Gervase; then, beckoning Denzil Murray aside, he whispered:

Ziska: The Problem of a Wicked Soul Part 21

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Ziska: The Problem of a Wicked Soul Part 21 summary

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