A Vision of majestic buildings, vast, stately and gigantic! '—of streets crowded with men and women in white and coloured garments, adorned with jewels,—of flowers that grew on the roofs of palaces and swung from terrace to terrace in loops and garlands of fantastic bloom,—of trees, broadbranched and fully leafed,—of marble embankments overlooking the river,—of lotus-lilies growing thickly below, by the water's edge,—of music, that echoed in silver and brazen twangings from the shelter of shady gardens and covered balconies,—every beautiful detail rose before me more distinctly than an ivory carving mounted on an ebony shield. Just opposite where I stood, or seemed to stand, 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 gods and animals,—I saw the sparkling spray of many fountains in the moonlight, and heard the low persistent hum of the restless human multitudes that thronged the place as thickly as bees clustered in a hive. To the left of the scene I could discern a huge bronze gate guarded by sphinxes; there was a garden beyond it, and from that depth of shade a girl's voice, singing a strange wild melody, came floating towards me on the breeze. Meanwhile the marching music I had first of all caught the echo of, sounded nearer and nearer,—and presently I perceived a great crowd approaching with lighted torches and garlands of flowers. Soon I saw a band of priests in brilliant robes that literally blazed with sun-like gems,— they were moving towards the river, and with them came young boys and little children, while on either side, maidens whiteveiled and rose-wreathed, paced demurely, swinging silver censors to and fro. After the priestly procession walked a regal figure between ranks of slaves and attendants,—I knew it for the King of this ' City Beautiful,' and was almost moved to join in the thundering acclamations which greeted his progress. And that snowy palanquin, carried by lily-crowned girls, that followed his train,—who occupied it? … what gem of his land was thus tenderly enshrined? I was consumed by an extraordinary longing to know this,—I watched the white burden coming nearer to my point of vantage,—I saw the priests arrange themselves in a semi-circle on the riverembankment, the King in their midst, and the surging shouting multitude around,—then came the brazen clangour of many bells, intermixed with the rolling of drums and the shrilling sound of reed pipes lightly blown upon,—and, amid the blaze of the flaring torches, the White Palanquin was set down upon the ground. A woman, clad in some silvery glistening 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 this was a positive torture to me. If I could but see her, I thought, I should know something 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 in your 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 reeling into a dark chaos, where, as I imagined, I chased the moon, as she flew before me on silver wings,—then … the sound of a rich baritone trolling out a light song 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 his deck-chair, was carolling joyously to the silent night and the blank expanse of sandy shore, in front of which our dahabeah rested motionless. With a cry I flung myself upon him.
"Where is she?" I exclaimed. "Who is she?"
He looked at me without replying, and smiling quizzically, released himself from my sudden grasp. I drew back shuddering and bewildered.
"I saw it all!" I murmured—" The city—the priests,—the people—the King! all but Her face! Why was that hidden from me!"
And actual tears rose to my eyes involuntarily,—Lucio surveyed me with evident amusement.
"What a 'find' you would be to a first-class ' spiritual' impostor playing his tricks in cultured and easily-gulled London society!" he observed. "You seem most powerfully impressed by a passing vision!"
"Do you mean to tell me," I said earnestly, "that what I saw just now was the mere thought of your brain conveyed to mine?"
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"Precisely!" he responded. 'I know what the 'City Beautiful' was like, and I was able to draw it for you on the canvas of my memory and present it as a complete picture to your inward sight. For you have an inward sight,—though, like most people, you live unconscious of that neglected faculty."
"But—who was She?" I repeated obstinately.
"'She' was, I presume, the King's favourite. If she kept her face hidden from you as you complain, I am sorry !—but I assure you it was not my fault! Get to bed, Geoffrey,—you look dazed. You take visions badly,—yet they are better than realities, believe me!"
Somehow I could not answer him. I left him abruptly and went below to try and sleep, but my thoughts were all cruelly confused, and I began to be more than ever overwhelmed with a sense of deepening terror,—a feeling that I was being commanded, controlled, and, as it were, driven along by a force that had in it something 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 cowered before him, so increasingly great was the indefinable dread I had of his presence. It was not so much the strange vision of the 'City Beautiful' that had inspired this in me,—for after all, that was only a trick of hypnotism, as he had said, and as I was content to argue it with myself,—but it was his whole manner that suddenly began to impress me as it had never impressed me before. If any change was slowly taking place in my sentiments towards him, so surely it seemed was he changing equally towards me. His imperious ways were more imperial,—his sarcasm more sarcastic,—his contempt for mankind more openly displayed and more frequently pronounced. Yet I admired him as much as ever,—I delighted in his conversation, whether it were witty, philosophical, or cynical,—I could not imagine myself without his company. Nevertheless the gloom on my mind deepened,—our Nile trip became infinitely wearisome to me, so much so, that almost before we had got half-way on our journey up the river, I longed to turn back again and wished the voyage at an end. An incident that occurred at Luxor was more than sufficient to strengthen this desire. We had stayed there for several days exploring the district and visiting the ruins of Thebes and Karnac, where they were busy excavating tombs. One afternoon they brought to light a red granite sarcophagus intact,—in it was a richly painted coffin which was opened in our presence, and was found to contain the elaborately adorned mummy of a woman. Lucio proved himself an apt reader of hieroglyphics, and he translated in brief and with glib accuracy the history of the corpse as it was pictured inside the sepulchral shell.
"A dancer at the court of Queen Amenartes," he announced for the benefit of several interested spectators who with myself stood round the sarcophagus,—"who, because of her many sins, and secret guilt, which made her life unbearable, and her days full of corruption, died of poison administered by her own hand, according to the King's command, and in presence of the executioners of law. Such is the lady's story,— condensed;—there are a good many other details of course. She appears to have been only in her twentieth year. Well!" and he smiled as he looked round upon his little audience,— "we may congratulate ourselves on having progressed since the days of these over-strict ancient Egyptians! The sins of dancers are not, with us, taken au grand serieux I Shall we see what she is like?"
No objection was raised by the authorities concerned in the discoveries,—and I, who had never witnessed the unrolling of a mummy before, watched the process with great interest and curiosity. As one by one of the scented wrappings 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 of sick horror stole over me,—brown and stiff as parchment though the features were, their contour was recognisable,—and when the whole countenance was exposed to view I could almost have shrieked aloud the name of 'Sibyl!' For 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 reeled back giddily and covered my eyes. Irresistibly I was reminded of the subtle French perfume exhaled from Sibyl's garments when I found her dead,—that, and this sickly effluvia were not unlike! A man standing near me saw me swerve as though about to fall, and caught me on his arm.
"The sun is too strong for you I fear?" he said kindly. "This climate does not suit everybody."
I forced a smile and murmured something about a passing touch of vertigo,—then, recovering myself I gazed fearfully at Lucio, who was studying the mummy attentively with a curious smile. Presently stooping over the coffin he 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 up to the view of all the eager and exclaiming spectators. "Quite a treasure-trove! An admirable piece of ancient workmanship, besides being the picture of a very lovely woman. Do you not think so, Geoffrey?"
He handed me the medallion,—and I examined it with deadly and fascinated interest,—the face was exquisitely beautiful,—but assuredly it was the face of Sibyl!
I never remember how I lived through the rest of that day. At night, as soon as 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 quietly continued. "Yes,—I noticed it at once. But that should not affect you. History repeats itself,—why should not lovely women repeat themselves? Beauty always has 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 rise from my bed, and passed the hours in restless moaning and irritable pain that was not so much physical as mental. There was a physician resident at the hotel at Luxor, and Lucio, always showing himself particularly considerate for my personal comfort, sent for him at once. He felt my pulse, shook his head, and after much dubious pondering, advised my leaving Egypt immediately. I heard his mandate given with a joy I could scarcely conceal. The yearning I had to get quickly away from this 'land of the old gods' was intense and feverish,—I loathed the vast and awful desert silences, where the Sphinx frowns contempt on the puny littleness of mankind,—where the opened tombs and coffins expose once more to the light of day faces that are the very semblances of those we ourselves have known and loved in our time,—and where painted history tells us of just such things as our modern newspapers chronicle, albeit in different form. Rimanez was ready and willing to carry out the doctor's orders,—and arranged our return to Cairo, and from thence to Alexandria, with such expedition as left me nothing to desire, and filled me with gratitude for his apparent sympathy. In as short a time as abundance of cash could make possible, we had rejoined 'The Flame,' and were en route, as I thought, for France or England. We had not absolutely settled our destination, having some idea of coasting along the Riviera,—but my old confidence in Rimanez being now almost restored, I left this to him for decision, sufficiently satisfied in myself that I had not been destined to leave my bones in terror-haunted Egypt. And it was not till I had been about a week or ten days on board, and had made good progress in the recovery of my health, that the beginning of the end of this never-to-be-forgotten voyage was foreshadowed to me in such terrific fashion as nearly plunged me into the darkness of death,—or rather let me now say (having learned my bitter lesson thoroughly), into the fell brilliancy of that Life beyond the tomb which we refuse to recognise or realize till we are whirled into its glorious or awful vortex!
One evening, after a bright day of swift and enjoyable sail ing over a smooth and sunlit sea, I retired to rest in my cabin, feeling almost happy. My mind was perfectly tranquil,—my trust in my friend Lucio was again re-established,—and I may add, so was my old arrogant and confident trust in myself. My access to fortune had not, so far, brought me either much joy or distinction,—but it was not too late for me yet to pluck the golden apples of Hesperides. The various troubles I had endured, though of such recent occurrence, began to assume a blurred indistinctness in my mind, as of things long past and done with,—I considered the strength of my financial position again with satisfaction, to the extent of contemplating a second marriage—and that marriage with—Mavis Clare! No other woman should be my wife, I mentally swore,—she, and she only should be mine! I foresaw no difficulties in the way,—and full of pleasant dreams and self-delusions I settled myself in my berth, and dropped easily off to sleep. About midnight I awoke vaguely terrified, to see the cabin full of a strong red light and fierce glare. My first dazed impression was that the yacht was on fire,—the next instant I became paralyzed and dumb with horror. Sibyl stood before me! … Sibyl, a wild, strange, tortured writhing figure half nude, waving beckoning arms, and making desperate gestures,—her face was as I had seen it last in death, livid and hideous, … her eyes blazed mingled menace, despair, and warning upon me! Round her a living wreath of flame coiled upwards like a twisted snake, … her lips moved as though she strove to speak, but no sound came from them,—and while I yet looked at her, she vanished! I must have lost consciousness then,—for when I awoke, it was broad day. But this ghastly visitation was only the first of many such,—and at last, every night I saw her thus, sheeted in flame, till I grew well-nigh mad with fear and misery. My torment was indescribable,— yet I said nothing to Lucio, who watched me, as I imagined, narrowly,—I took sleeping-draughts in the hope to procure unbroken rest, but in vain,—always I woke at one particular moment, and always I had to face this fiery phantom of my 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 entered the saloon of the yacht alone, and started back amazed to see my old friend John Carrington seated at the table, pen in hand, casting up accounts. He bent over his papers closely,—his face was furrowed and very pale,—but so life-like was he, so seemingly substantial, that I called him by name, whereat he looked up,—smiled drearily, and was gone! Trembling in every limb I realized that here was another spectral terror added to the burden of my days; and sitting down, I tried to rally my scattered forces and reason out what was best to be done. There was no doubt I was very ill;—these phantoms were the warning of braindisease. I must endeavour, I thought, to keep myself well under control till I got to England,—there I determined to consult the best physicians, and put myself under their care till I was thoroughly restored.
"Meanwhile"—I muttered to myself—" I will say nothing, … not even to Lucio. He would 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 dispel midnight illusions by resting in the open air. But my sufferings were only intensified. I woke as usual, … to see, not only Sibyl, but also, to my deadly fear, the Three dark Phantoms that had appeared to me in my room in London on the evening of Viscount Lynton's suicide. There they were,—the same, the very same,—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 I heard it tolling like a funeral bell on the air and across the sea! … And Sibyl, with her face of death in the coils of a silent flame, … Sibyl,—smiled at 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 his impenetrable 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 sleep here, … 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 am going 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 from him down the deck-stairs, afraid to look back lest I should see those Three dread Figures of fate following me.
Once safe in my cabin I shut to the door violently, and in feverish haste seized my case of pistols. I took out one and loaded it. My heart was beating furiously,—I kept my eyes fixed on the ground, lest they should encounter the dead eyes of Sibyl.
"One click of the trigger," I whispered, " and all is over! I shall beat peace,—senseless,—sightless and painless. Horrors can no longer haunt me, … I shall sleep !''
I raised the weapon steadily to my right temple, … when suddenly my cabin-door opened, 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 quick revulsion of feeling I turned the pistol downwards and held its muzzle firmly against the table near me.
"You say that!" I exclaimed in acute anguish,—"you say it—seeing me thus! I thought you were my friend!"
He looked full at me, … his eyes grew large and luminous with a splendour of scorn, passion and sorrow intermingled.
"Did you?" and again the terrific smile lit up his pale features,—" you were mistaken! / am your Enemy !''
A dreadful silence followed. Something lurid and unearthly in his expression appalled me, … I trembled and grew cold with fear. Mechanically I replaced the pistol 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 increase in stature, towering above me like the gigantic Shadow of a storm-cloud! My blood froze with an unnamable sickening terror, … then, thick darkness veiled my sight, and I dropped down senseless!