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Chapter 39

  • A Vision of majestic buildings, vast, stately and gigantic! '—of street_rowded with men and women in white and coloured garments, adorned wit_ewels,—of flowers that grew on the roofs of palaces and swung from terrace t_errace in loops and garlands of fantastic bloom,—of trees, broadbranched an_ully leafed,—of marble embankments overlooking the river,—of lotus-lilie_rowing thickly below, by the water's edge,—of music, that echoed in silve_nd brazen twangings from the shelter of shady gardens and covere_alconies,—every beautiful detail rose before me more distinctly than an ivor_arving mounted on an ebony shield. Just opposite where I stood, or seemed t_tand, on the deck of a vessel in the busy harbour, a wide avenue extended, opening up into huge squares embellished with strange figures of granite god_nd animals,—I saw the sparkling spray of many fountains in the moonlight, an_eard the low persistent hum of the restless human multitudes that thronge_he place as thickly as bees clustered in a hive. To the left of the scene _ould discern a huge bronze gate guarded by sphinxes; there was a garde_eyond it, and from that depth of shade a girl's voice, singing a strange wil_elody, came floating towards me on the breeze. Meanwhile the marching music _ad first of all caught the echo of, sounded nearer and nearer,—and presentl_ perceived a great crowd approaching with lighted torches and garlands o_lowers. Soon I saw a band of priests in brilliant robes that literally blaze_ith sun-like gems,— they were moving towards the river, and with them cam_oung boys and little children, while on either side, maidens whiteveiled an_ose-wreathed, paced demurely, swinging silver censors to and fro. After th_riestly procession walked a regal figure between ranks of slaves an_ttendants,—I knew it for the King of this ' City Beautiful,' and was almos_oved to join in the thundering acclamations which greeted his progress. An_hat snowy palanquin, carried by lily-crowned girls, that followed hi_rain,—who occupied it? … what gem of his land was thus tenderly enshrined? _as consumed by an extraordinary longing to know this,—I watched the whit_urden coming nearer to my point of vantage,—I saw the priests arrang_hemselves in a semi-circle on the riverembankment, the King in their midst, and the surging shouting multitude around,—then came the brazen clangour o_any bells, intermixed with the rolling of drums and the shrilling sound o_eed pipes lightly blown upon,—and, amid the blaze of the flaring torches, th_hite Palanquin was set down upon the ground. A woman, clad in some silver_listening tissue, stepped forth from it like a sylph from the
  • foam of the sea, but she was veiled,—I could not discern
  • so much as the outline of her features, and the keen disappointment of thi_as a positive torture to me. If I could but see her, I thought, I should kno_omething I had never hitherto guessed !" Lift, oh, lift the shrouding veil, Spirit of . the City Beautiful!" I inwardly prayed—"For I feel I shall read i_our eyes the secret of happiness!"
  • But the veil was not withdrawn, … the music made barbaric clamour in my ears, … the blaze of strong light and colour blinded me, … and I felt myself reelin_nto a dark chaos, where, as I imagined, I chased the moon, as she flew befor_e on silver wings,—then … the sound of a rich baritone trolling out a ligh_ong from a familiar modern
  • _opera bouffe_  confused and startled me, and in another
  • second I found myself staring wildly at Lucio, who, lying easily back in hi_eck-chair, was carolling joyously to the silent night and the blank expans_f sandy shore, in front of which our dahabeah rested motionless. With a cry _lung myself upon him.
  • "Where is she?" I exclaimed. " _Who_  is she?"
  • He looked at me without replying, and smiling quizzically, released himsel_rom my sudden grasp. I drew back shuddering and bewildered.
  • "I saw it all!" I murmured—" The city—the priests,—the people—the King! al_ut Her face! Why was that hidden from me!"
  • And actual tears rose to my eyes involuntarily,—Lucio surveyed me with eviden_musement.
  • "What a 'find' you would be to a first-class ' spiritual' impostor playing hi_ricks in cultured and easily-gulled London society!" he observed. "You see_ost powerfully impressed by a passing vision!"
  • "Do you mean to tell me," I said earnestly, "that what I saw just now was th_ere thought of your brain conveyed to mine?"
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  • "Precisely!" he responded. 'I know what the 'City Beautiful' was like, and _as able to draw it for you on the canvas of my memory and present it as _omplete picture to your inward sight. For you  _have_  an inwar_ight,—though, like most people, you live unconscious of that neglecte_aculty."
  • "But—who was She?" I repeated obstinately.
  • "'She' was, I presume, the King's favourite. If she kept her face hidden fro_ou as you complain, I am sorry !—but I assure you it was not my fault! Get t_ed, Geoffrey,—you look dazed. You take visions badly,—yet they are bette_han realities, believe me!"
  • Somehow I could not answer him. I left him abruptly and went below to try an_leep, but my thoughts were all cruelly confused, and I began to be more tha_ver overwhelmed with a sense of deepening terror,—a feeling that I was bein_ommanded, controlled, and, as it were, driven along by a force that had in i_omething unearthly. It was a most distressing sensation,—it made me shrink, at times, from the look of Lucio's eyes,—now and then indeed I almost cowere_efore him, so increasingly great was the indefinable dread I had of hi_resence. It was not so much the strange vision of the 'City Beautiful' tha_ad inspired this in me,—for after all, that was only a trick of hypnotism, a_e had said, and as I was content to argue it with myself,—but it was hi_hole manner that suddenly began to impress me as it had never impressed m_efore. If any change was slowly taking place in my sentiments towards him, s_urely it seemed was he changing equally towards me. His imperious ways wer_ore imperial,—his sarcasm more sarcastic,—his contempt for mankind mor_penly displayed and more frequently pronounced. Yet I admired him as much a_ver,—I delighted in his conversation, whether it were witty, philosophical, or cynical,—I could not imagine myself without his company. Nevertheless th_loom on my mind deepened,—our Nile trip became infinitely wearisome to me, s_uch so, that almost before we had got half-way on our journey up the river, _onged to turn back again and wished the voyage at an end. An incident tha_ccurred at Luxor was more than sufficient to strengthen this desire. We ha_tayed there for several days exploring the district and visiting the ruins o_hebes and Karnac, where they were busy excavating tombs. One afternoon the_rought to light a red granite sarcophagus intact,—in it was a richly painte_offin which was opened in our presence, and was found to contain th_laborately adorned mummy of a woman. Lucio proved himself an apt reader o_ieroglyphics, and he translated in brief and with glib accuracy the histor_f the corpse as it was pictured inside the sepulchral shell.
  • "A dancer at the court of Queen Amenartes," he announced for the benefit o_everal interested spectators who with myself stood round th_arcophagus,—"who, because of her many sins, and secret guilt, which made he_ife unbearable, and her days full of corruption, died of poison administere_y her own hand, according to the King's command, and in presence of th_xecutioners of law. Such is the lady's story,— condensed;—there are a goo_any other details of course. She appears to have been only in her twentiet_ear. Well!" and he smiled as he looked round upon his little audience,— "w_ay congratulate ourselves on having progressed since the days of these over- strict ancient Egyptians! The sins of dancers are not, with us, taken  _a_rand serieux I_  Shall we see what she is like?"
  • No objection was raised by the authorities concerned in the discoveries,—an_, who had never witnessed the unrolling of a mummy before, watched th_rocess with great interest and curiosity. As one by one of the scente_rappings were removed, a long tress of nut-brown hair became visible,—then, those who were engaged in the task, used more extreme and delicate precaution, Lucio himself assisting them to uncover the face. As this was done, a kind o_ick horror stole over me,—brown and stiff as parchment though the feature_ere, their contour was recognisable,—and when the whole countenance wa_xposed to view I could almost have shrieked aloud the name of  _'Sibyl!'_or it was like her !— dreadfully like!—and as the faint half-aromatic half- putrid odours of the unrolled cerements crept towards me on the air, I reele_ack giddily and covered my eyes. Irresistibly I was reminded of the subtl_rench perfume exhaled from Sibyl's garments when I found her dead,—that, an_his sickly effluvia were not unlike! A man standing near me saw me swerve a_hough about to fall, and caught me on his arm.
  • "The sun is too strong for you I fear?" he said kindly. "This climate does no_uit everybody."
  • I forced a smile and murmured something about a passing touch o_ertigo,—then, recovering myself I gazed fearfully at Lucio, who was studyin_he mummy attentively with a curious smile. Presently stooping over the coffi_e took out of it a piece of finely wrought gold in the shape of a medallion.
  • "This, I imagine must be the fair dancer's portrait," he said, holding it u_o the view of all the eager and exclaiming spectators. "Quite a treasure- trove! An admirable piece of ancient workmanship, besides being the picture o_ very lovely woman. Do you not think so, Geoffrey?"
  • He handed me the medallion,—and I examined it with deadly and fascinate_nterest,—the face was exquisitely beautiful,—but assuredly it was the face o_ibyl!
  • I never remember how I lived through the rest of that day. At night, as soo_s I had an opportunity of speaking to Rimanez alone, I asked him—
  • "Did you see,—did you not recognise? … "
  • "That the dead Egyptian dancer resembled your late wife?" he quietl_ontinued. "Yes,—I noticed it at once. But that should not affect you. Histor_epeats itself,—why should not lovely women repeat themselves? Beauty alway_as its double somewhere, either in the past or future.''
  • I said no more,—but next morning I was very ill,—so ill that I could not ris_rom my bed, and passed the hours in restless moaning and irritable pain tha_as not so much physical as mental. There was a physician resident at th_otel at Luxor, and Lucio, always showing himself particularly considerate fo_y personal comfort, sent for him at once. He felt my pulse, shook his head, and after much dubious pondering, advised my leaving Egypt immediately. _eard his mandate given with a joy I could scarcely conceal. The yearning _ad to get quickly away from this 'land of the old gods' was intense an_everish,—I loathed the vast and awful desert silences, where the Sphin_rowns contempt on the puny littleness of mankind,—where the opened tombs an_offins expose once more to the light of day faces that are the ver_emblances of those we ourselves have known and loved in our time,—and wher_ainted history tells us of just such things as our modern newspaper_hronicle, albeit in different form. Rimanez was ready and willing to carr_ut the doctor's orders,—and arranged our return to Cairo, and from thence t_lexandria, with such expedition as left me nothing to desire, and filled m_ith gratitude for his apparent sympathy. In as short a time as abundance o_ash could make possible, we had rejoined 'The Flame,' and were  _en route,_s I thought, for France or England. We had not absolutely settled ou_estination, having some idea of coasting along the Riviera,—but my ol_onfidence in Rimanez being now almost restored, I left this to him fo_ecision, sufficiently satisfied in myself that I had not been destined t_eave my bones in terror-haunted Egypt. And it was not till I had been about _eek or ten days on board, and had made good progress in the recovery of m_ealth, that the beginning of the end of this never-to-be-forgotten voyage wa_oreshadowed to me in such terrific fashion as nearly plunged me into th_arkness of death,—or rather let me now say (having learned my bitter lesso_horoughly), into the fell brilliancy of that Life beyond the tomb which w_efuse to recognise or realize till we are whirled into its glorious or awfu_ortex!
  • One evening, after a bright day of swift and enjoyable sail ing over a smoot_nd sunlit sea, I retired to rest in my cabin, feeling almost happy. My min_as perfectly tranquil,—my trust in my friend Lucio was again re- established,—and I may add, so was my old arrogant and confident trust i_yself. My access to fortune had not, so far, brought me either much joy o_istinction,—but it was not too late for me yet to pluck the golden apples o_esperides. The various troubles I had endured, though of such recen_ccurrence, began to assume a blurred indistinctness in my mind, as of thing_ong past and done with,—I considered the strength of my financial positio_gain with satisfaction, to the extent of contemplating a second marriage—an_hat marriage with—Mavis Clare! No other woman should be my wife, I mentall_wore,—she, and she only should be mine! I foresaw no difficulties in th_ay,—and full of pleasant dreams and self-delusions I settled myself in m_erth, and dropped easily off to sleep. About midnight I awoke vaguel_errified, to see the cabin full of a strong red light and fierce glare. M_irst dazed impression was that the yacht was on fire,—the next instant _ecame paralyzed and dumb with horror. Sibyl stood before me! … Sibyl, a wild, strange, tortured writhing figure half nude, waving beckoning arms, and makin_esperate gestures,—her face was as I had seen it last in death, livid an_ideous, … her eyes blazed mingled menace, despair, and warning upon me! Roun_er a living wreath of flame coiled upwards like a twisted snake, … her lip_oved as though she strove to speak, but no sound came from them,—and while _et looked at her, she vanished! I must have lost consciousness then,—for whe_ awoke, it was broad day. But this ghastly visitation was only the first o_any such,—and at last,  _every night_  I saw her thus, sheeted in flame, til_ grew well-nigh mad with fear and misery. My torment was indescribable,— ye_ said nothing to Lucio, who watched me, as I imagined, narrowly,—I too_leeping-draughts in the hope to procure unbroken rest, but in vain,—always _oke at one particular moment, and always I had to face this fiery phantom o_y dead wife, with despair in her eyes and an unuttered warning on her lips.
  • This was not all. One day in the full sunlight of a quiet afternoon, I entere_he saloon of the yacht alone, and started back amazed to see my old frien_ohn Carrington seated at the table, pen in hand, casting up accounts. He ben_ver his papers closely,—his face was furrowed and very pale,—but so life-lik_as he, so seemingly substantial, that I called him by name, whereat he looke_p,—smiled drearily, and was gone! Trembling in every limb I realized tha_ere was another spectral terror added to the burden of my days; and sittin_own, I tried to rally my scattered forces and reason out what was best to b_one. There was no doubt I was very ill;—these phantoms were the warning o_raindisease. I must endeavour, I thought, to keep myself well under contro_ill I got to England,—there I determined to consult the best physicians, an_ut myself under their care till I was thoroughly restored.
  • "Meanwhile"—I muttered to myself—" I will say nothing, … not even to Lucio. H_ould only smile, … and I should hate him! … "
  • I broke off, wondering at this. For was it possible I should ever hate him?
  • Surely not!
  • That night, by way of a change, I slept in a hammock on deck, hoping to dispe_idnight illusions by resting in the open air. But my sufferings were onl_ntensified. I woke as usual, … to see, not only Sibyl, but also, to my deadl_ear, the Three dark Phantoms that had appeared to me in my room in London o_he evening of Viscount Lynton's suicide. There they were,—the same, the ver_ame,—only this time all their livid faces were lifted and turned towards me, and though their lips never moved, the word ' Misery!' seemed uttered, for _eard it tolling like a funeral bell on the air and across the sea! … An_ibyl, with her face of death in the coils of a silent flame, … Sibyl,—smile_t me! a smile of torture and remorse! … God !—I could endure it no longer!
  • Leaping from my hammock, I ran towards the vessel's edge,
  • … one plunge into the cool waves, … ha !—there stood Amiel, with hi_mpenetrable dark face and ferret eyes.
  • "Can I assist you sir?" he inquired deferentially.
  • I stared at him,—then burst into a laugh.
  • "Assist me? Why no!—you can do nothing. I want rest, … and I cannot slee_ere, … the air is too close
  • and sulphureous, the very stars are burning hot! … "
  • I paused,—he regarded me with his usual gravely derisive expression. "I a_oing down to my cabin," I continued,
  • trying to speak more calmly "I shall be  _alone_  there …
  • perhaps!" Again I laughed wildly and involuntarily, and staggered away fro_im down the deck-stairs, afraid to look back lest I should see those Thre_read Figures of fate following me.
  • Once safe in my cabin I shut to the door violently, and in feverish hast_eized my case of pistols. I took out one and loaded it. My heart was beatin_uriously,—I kept my eyes fixed on the ground, lest they should encounter th_ead eyes of Sibyl.
  • "One click of the trigger," I whispered, " and all is over! I shall bea_eace,—senseless,—sightless and painless. Horrors can no longer haunt me, … _hall sleep !''
  • I raised the weapon steadily to my right temple, … when suddenly my cabin-doo_pened, and Lucio looked in.
  • "Pardon me!" he said as he observed my attitude. "I had no idea you were busy!
  • I will go away. I would not disturb you for the world!"
  • His smile had something fiendish in its fine mockery;— moved with a quic_evulsion of feeling I turned the pistol downwards and held its muzzle firml_gainst the table near me.
  • " _You_  say that!" I exclaimed in acute anguish,— _"you_  say it—seeing m_hus! I thought you were my friend!"
  • He looked full at me, … his eyes grew large and luminous with a splendour o_corn, passion and sorrow intermingled.
  • "Did you?" and again the terrific smile lit up his pale features,—" you wer_istaken! /  _am your Enemy  !''_
  • A dreadful silence followed. Something lurid and unearthly in his expressio_ppalled me, … I trembled and grew cold with fear. Mechanically I replaced th_istol in its
  • case, then I gazed up at him with a vacant wonder and
  • wild piteousness, seeing that his dark and frowning figure seemed to increas_n stature, towering above me like the gigantic Shadow of a storm-cloud! M_lood froze with an unnamable sickening terror, … then, thick darkness veile_y sight, and I dropped down senseless!