Ziska: The Problem of a Wicked Soul Part 26

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She ceased abruptly, for he, convinced now of the certainty of Immortality, was suddenly moved to a strange access of courage and resolution. Something sweet and subtle stirred in him,--a sense of power,--a hint of joy, which completely overcame all dread of death.

Old love revived, grew stronger in his soul, and his gaze rested on the shadowy form beside him, no longer with horror but with tenderness. She was Ziska-Charmazel,--she had been his love--the dearest portion of his life--once in the far-off time; she had been the fairest of women--and more than fair, she had been faithful! Yes, he remembered that, as he remembered Her! Every curve in her beautiful body had been a joy for him alone; and for him alone her lips, sweet and fresh as rosebuds, had kept their kisses. She had loved him as few women have either heart or strength to love, and he had rewarded her fidelity by death and eternal torment! A struggling cry escaped him, and he stretched out his arms:

"Ziska! Forgive--forgive!"

As he uttered the words, he saw her wan face suddenly change,--all the terror and torture pa.s.sed from it like a pa.s.sing cloud,--beautiful as an angel's, it smiled upon him,--the eyes softened and flashed with love, the lips trembled, the spectral form glowed with a living luminance, and a mystic Glory glittered above the dusky hair! Filled with ecstasy at the sight of her wondrous loveliness, he felt nothing of the coldness of death at his heart,--a divine pa.s.sion inspired him, and with the last effort of his failing strength he strove to gather all the spirit-like beauty of her being into his embrace.

"Love--Love!" he cried. "Not Hate, but Love! Come back out of the darkness, soul of the woman I wronged! Forgive me! Come back to me!

h.e.l.l or Heaven, what matters it if we are together! Come to me,--come!

Love is stronger than Hate!"

Speech failed him; the cold agony of death gripped at his heart and struck him mute, but still he saw the beautiful pa.s.sionate eyes of a forgiving Love turned gloriously upon him like stars in the black chaos whither he now seemed rus.h.i.+ng. Then came a solemn surging sound as of great wings beating on a tempestuous air, and all the light in the tomb was suddenly extinguished. One instant more he stood upright in the thick darkness; then a burning knife seemed plunged into his breast, and he reeled forward and fell, his last hold on life being the consciousness that soft arms were clasping him and drawing him away--away--he knew not whither--and that warm lips, sweet and tender, were closely pressed on his. And presently, out of the heavy gloom came a Voice which said:

"Peace! The old G.o.ds are best, and the law is made perfect. A life demands a life. Love's debt must be paid by Love! The woman's soul forgives; the man's repents,--wherefore they are both released from bondage and the memory of sin. Let them go hence, the curse is lifted!"

Once more the wavering ghostly light gave luminance to the splendor of the tomb, and showed where, fallen sideways among the golden treasures and mementoes of the past, lay the dead body of Armand Gervase. Above him gleamed the great jewelled sarcophagus; and within touch of his pa.s.sive hand was the ivory s.h.i.+eld and gold-hilted sword of Araxes. The spectral radiance gleamed, wandered and flitted over all things,--now feebly, now brilliantly,--till finally flas.h.i.+ng with a pale glare on the dark dead face, with the proud closed lips and black level brows, it flickered out; and one of the many countless mysteries of the Great Pyramid was again hidden in impenetrable darkness.

Vainly Denzil Marray waited next morning for his rival to appear. He paced up and down impatiently, watching the rosy hues of sunrise spreading over the wide desert and lighting up the ma.s.sive features of the Sphinx, till as hour after hour pa.s.sed and still Gervase did not come, he hurried back to the Mena House Hotel, and meeting Dr. Maxwell Dean on the way, to him poured out his rage and perplexity.

"I never thought Gervase was a coward!" he said hotly.

"Nor should you think so now," returned the Doctor, with a grave and preoccupied air. "Whatever his faults, cowardice was not one of them.

You see, I speak of him in the past tense. I told you your intended duel would not come off, and I was right. Denzil, I don't think you will ever see either Armand Gervase or the Princess Ziska again."

Denzil started violently.

"What do you mean? The Princess is here,--here in this very house."

"Is she?" and Dr. Dean sighed somewhat impatiently. "Well, let us see!"

Then, turning to a pa.s.sing waiter, he inquired: "Is the Princess Ziska here still?"

"No, sir. She left quite suddenly late last night; going on to Thebes, I believe, sir."

The Doctor looked meaningly at Denzil.

"You hear?"

But Denzil in his turn was interrogating the waiter.

"Is Mr. Gervase in his room?"

"No, sir. He went out about ten o'clock yesterday evening, and I don't think he is coming back. One of the Princess Ziska's servants--the tall Nubian whom you may have noticed, sir--brought a message from him to say that his luggage was to be sent to Paris, and that the money for his bill would be found on his dressing-table. It was all right, of course, but we thought it rather curious."

And glancing deferentially from one to the other of his questioners with a smile, the waiter went on his way.

"They have fled together!" said Denzil then, in choked accents of fury.

"By Heaven, if I had guessed the plan already formed in his treacherous mind, I would never have shaken hands with Gervase last night!"

"Oh, you did shake hands?" queried Dr. Dean, meditatively. "Well, there was no harm in that. You were right. You and Gervase will meet no more in this life, believe me! He and the Princess Ziska have undoubtedly, as you say, fled together--but not to Thebes!"

He paused a moment, then laid his hand kindly on Denzil's shoulder.

"Let us go back to Cairo, my boy, and from thence as soon as possible to England. We shall all be better away from this terrible land, where the dead have far more power than the living!"

Denzil stared at him uncomprehendingly.

"You talk in riddles!" he said, irritably. "Do you think I shall let Gervase escape me? I will track him wherever he has gone,--I daresay I shall find him in Paris."

Dr. Dean took one or two slow turns up and down the corridor where they were conversing, then stopping abruptly, looked his young friend full and steadily in the eyes.

"Come, come, Denzil. No more of this folly," he said, gently. "Why should you entertain these ideas of vengeance against Gervase? He has really done you no harm. He was the natural mate of the woman you imagined you loved,--the response to her query,--the other half of her being; and that she was and is his destiny, and he hers, should not excite your envy or hatred. I say you IMAGINED you loved the Princess Ziska,--it was a young man's hot freak of pa.s.sion for an almost matchless beauty, but no more than that. And if you would be frank with yourself, you know that pa.s.sion has already cooled. I repeat, you will never see Gervase or the Princess Ziska again in this life; so make the best of it."

"Perhaps you have a.s.sisted him to escape me!" said Denzil frigidly.

Dr. Dean smiled.

"That's rather a rough speech, Denzil! But never mind!" he returned.

"Your pride is wounded, and you are still sore. Suspect me as you please,--make me out a new Pandarus, if you like--I shall not be offended. But you know--for I have often told you--that I never interfere in love matters. They are too explosive, too vitally dangerous; outsiders ought never to meddle with them. And I never do.

Come back with me to Cairo. And when we are once more safely established on the solid and unromantic isles of Britain, you will forget all about the Princess Ziska; or if you do remember her, it will only be as a dream in the night, a kind of vague shadow and uncertainty, which will never seriously trouble your mind. You look incredulous. I tell you at your age love is little more than a vision; you must wait a few years yet before it becomes a reality, and then Heaven help you, Denzil!--for you will be a troublesome fellow to deal with! Meanwhile, let us get back to Cairo and see Helen."

Somewhat soothed by the Doctor's good-nature, and a trifle ashamed of his wrath, Denzil yielded, and the evening saw them both back at the Gezireh Palace Hotel, where of course the news of the sudden disappearance of Armand Gervase with the Princess Ziska created the utmost excitement. Helen Murray s.h.i.+vered and grew pale as death when she heard it; lively old Lady Fulkeward simpered and giggled, and declared it was "the most delightful thing she had ever heard of!"--an elopement in the desert was "so exquisitely romantic!" Sir Chetwynd Lyle wrote a conventional and stilted account of it for his paper, and ponderously opined that the immorality of Frenchmen was absolutely beyond any decent journalist's powers of description. Lady Chetwynd Lyle, on the contrary, said that the "scandal" was not the fault of Gervase; it was all "that horrid woman," who had thrown herself at his head. Ross Courtney thought the whole thing was "queer;" and young Lord Fulkeward said there was something about it he didn't quite understand,--something "deep," which his aristocratic quality of intelligence could not fathom. And society talked and gossiped till Paris and London caught the rumor, and the name of the famous French artist, who had so strangely vanished from the scene of his triumphs with a beautiful woman whom no one had ever heard of before, was soon in everybody's mouth. No trace of him or of the Princess Ziska could be discovered; his portmanteau contained no letters or papers,--nothing but a few clothes; his paint-box and easel were sent on to his deserted studio in Paris, and also a blank square of canvas, on which, as Dr.

Dean and others knew, had once been the curiously-horrible portrait of the Princess. But that appalling "first sketch" was wiped out and clean gone as though it had never been painted, and Dr. Dean called Denzil's attention to the fact. But Denzil thought nothing of it, as he imagined that Gervase himself had obliterated it before leaving Cairo.

A few of the curious among the gossips went to see the house the Princess had lately occupied, where she had "received" society and managed to shock it as well. It was shut up, and looked as if it had not been inhabited for years. And the gossips said it was "strange, very strange!" and confessed themselves utterly mystified. But the fact remained that Gervase had disappeared and the Princess Ziska with him.

"However," said Society, "they can't possibly hide themselves for long.

Two such remarkable personalities are bound to appear again somewhere.

I daresay we shall come across them in Paris or on the Riviera. The world is much too small for the holding of a secret."

And presently, with the approach of spring, and the gradual break-up of the Cairo "season," Denzil Murray and his sister sailed from Alexandria en route for Venice. Dr. Dean accompanied them; so did the Fulkewards and Ross Courtney. The Chetwynd-Lyles went by a different steamer, "old" Lady Fulkeward being quite too much for the patience of those sweet but still unengaged "girls" Muriel and Dolly. One night when the great s.h.i.+p was speeding swiftly over a calm sea, and Denzil, lost in sorrowful meditation, was gazing out over the trackless ocean with pained and pa.s.sionate eyes which could see nothing but the witching and exquisite beauty of the Princess Ziska, now possessed and enjoyed by Gervase, Dr. Dean touched him on the arm and said:

"Denzil, have you ever read Shakespeare?"

Denzil started and forced a smile.

"Why, yes, of course!"

"Then you know the lines--

'There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy?'

The Princess Ziska was one of those 'things.'"

Denzil regarded him in wonderment.

"What do you mean?"

Ziska: The Problem of a Wicked Soul Part 26

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Ziska: The Problem of a Wicked Soul Part 26 summary

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