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impossible to put in clear words before him ; she could not tell this man that what she feared for him was the love that he would feel for herself; and what she had said sufficed to give back to his heart its restless tumult of vague joys; sufficed to make the present hour in which he lived full of sweet intoxication.
He bowed low once more.
“ Then, since not for yourself you command, for myself I refuse to obey; refuse, now and for ever-come what will-ever to be to you again as a stranger.
The tremor was still in his voice, but there were in it, too, the passionate thrill of a triumphant gratitude, the reckless resolve of a tropic passion ; Idalia knew that the die was cast, that to send him from her now would serve but little to make her memory forgotten by him. She knew well enough that forgetfulness was a treasure for evermore beyond the reach of those who once had loved her.
She smiled, and swept onward down the aisle of cedars with a low, light laugh; her temperament was variable, and she did not care that he should see that new unwonted weakness which had made her eyes grow dim at the chivalry and pathos of his brief words.
6. Be it so! We will have no more words on the matter," she said, carelessly. “The fantasies of Uhland have made us speak as poetically as themselves. My counsels were counsels of wisdom, Sir Fulke, but since Wolfdieterich will rest under the linden, he must take the hazard ! How calm the Bosphorus is, the waves are hardly curled. There is my caïque at the foot of the stairs ; it is not too warm yet for half an hour on the sea if you would like to take the oars."
A moment ago and she had forbade him any knowledge of her, and had sought to dismiss him from her presence ; now she spoke to him familiarly and without ceremony, with the charm of those first bright sweet hours of communion when strangers glide into friends; that hour which either, in friendship or in love, is as the bloom to the fruit, as the day break to the day, indefinable, magical, and fleeting:
For the freedom of that unconstrained permitted intercourse Ercel. doune would have paid down five years of his life. How could he remember his midnight chase or his unknown assassin then? He did not even remember all that had been strange in her own words, all that had warned him from her ; he only remembered her in the uncertain, feverish, delicious joy which suddenly possessed him.
The caïque rocked on the water, half hidden under the hanging boughs of myrtles at the foot of the landing-stairs, while the sea lay calm as a sun-girdled lake, nothing in sight except a far-off fleet of olive-wood feluccas. He sprang down with a bound into the little boat, and pushed it closer to the edge of the steps, raising his hand to aid her to embark. In all his years that were to come, be they many or few, he would never forget her as he saw her then, where she stood on the broad marble stair that the sea was lazily lashing, the sun full on her proud brow, her black laces sweeping the white steps, the brilliance of her beauty framed in the dark background of the myrtles and the scarlet flowers of the wild japonica. Her eyes were looking seaward to the Hellenic mountain line; they were musing, troubled, slightly veiled by the drooped lashes ;where were her thoughts! The shock of the boat's keel against the stone recalled her memory; she looked down and smiled, then gave him her hand and entered the caïque, sinking down among its cushions as Cleopatra on the silken couch of her Nile barge.
And with one stroke of the oars among the fragrant water-weeds, the little, curled, gilded sea-toy floated softly and slowly down the still grey waters that glistened like a lake of silver in the sun. Erceldoune was in as ecstatic a dream as any opium-eater.
She had cast away whatever thoughts had weighed on her when she had bade him leave her ; a step once taken, a decision once given, the Countess Vassalis was not a woman to vacillate in further doubt or in after regret, she was at once too proud and too nonchalant. She had bidden him, in all sincerity, remain a stranger to her ; he had refused to obey, and had chosen to linger in her presence. She let his will take its course, and accepted the present hour.
The caïque dropped down the Bosphorus in the sunlight, so smoothly, that a lazy stroke of the oars now and then sufficed to guide it along the shore, where the cypress and myrtle boughs drooped almost to the water, and the heavy odours of jessamine and roses floated to them from the gardens across the sea. Lying back among her cushions, so near him that he could feel the touch of her perfumed laces sweep across him as the breeze stirred them, and could see the breath of the wind steal among the chesnut masses of her hair that was drawn back in its own richness from her brow and fastened with gold threads, scarce brighter than its own hue ; the fascination of Idalia—a danger that men far colder, and better on their guard than he, found themselves powerless against-gained its empire on him, as the spell of the Venusberg stole on the will and the senses of the mailed knight Tannhäuser. With a glittering gaiety when she would ; with a knowledge of the world, varied, it seemed, almost beyond any woman's scope ; with the acquisition of most European languages and of their literature, polished and profound to scholarship; with a disdainful, graceful, ironic wit, delicate, but keenly barbed as Talleyrand's itself; and with all these a certain shadow of sadness, half proud, half weary, that gave to her an exquisite gentleness and a deeper interest yet, she would have had a fatal and resistless seduction, without that patrician grace of air and form, and that rarity of personal loveliness, which made her one of those women whom no man looks on without homage, few men without passion. With the ease which long acquaintance with the world alone gives, she spoke on all topics, lightly, brilliantly—with the languor or the satire of one moment, changed the next to the poetry or the earnestness which seemed to lie full as much in her nature ; and even while she spoke of trifles, she learnt every trait, every touch of his life, his character, his fortunes, and his tastes, though he never observed or dreamt of it—though he never noted in turn that in it all no word escaped her that could have told him who she was, whence she came, what her past had been, or what her present was. He did not note this; he did not note that she had never said one word of her presence in Moldavia ; the frank, bold, loyal nature of the man loved and trusted, and had nothing to conceal. The Countess Vassalis, a woman of the world, though little more than twenty years had passed over her, read his at will, while her own life was veiled.
The caïque dropped softly and indolently down the Bosphorus shore,
the oars scarcely parting the bright waters, the warmth of the Asiatic day tempered by the low west wind, blowing gently from the Levantine isles, spice-laden with their odour. With the rise and fall of the boat on the smooth waves, with the perfumes of rose gardens borne on the air, with the boundless freedom of the cloudless skies and stretching seas, there were blent the sweet murmur of her voice, the fragrance of her hair, the glance of the eyes, whose beauty had haunted him by night and day, the fascination of a loveliness passing that even of his remembrance. It seemed to him as if they had been together for ever, drifting through the glories of an Avillion--as if, until now in all his life, he had never lived.
An hour went by uncounted; then she bade him turn the caïque and take her back. Erceldoune was like a man in enchantment; the world seemed no longer real to him, but changed into a golden and tumultuous dream.
Time, custom, ceremonies, all grew vague and indifferent; it seemed to him as if he had loved this woman for an eternity, and the bond of a life saved was a tie between them stronger than the conventionalities of formal usage. The passion suddenly woke in him would have broken its way into hot unconsidered words, but for that proud and graceful negligence, that sovereign-like dignity which were so marked in Idalia ; and that light chain lying on his love and binding it to silence only gave it more sweetness and more strength. She would not have been what she was to him could he have approached her with familiarity; could he have sought her as his mistress, she would have fallen for ever as his ideal.
“ The sea beguiled us; I must apologise to you, Sir Fulke. I have detained you too long, and I have wholly forgotten many letters that I must send out by the French mail," she said, as the boat ground against the marble stairs, and she swept up them into the tangled rose-grounds.
It was a courteous dismissal, and he had no power but to take it as such ; a man less chivalrous and less imbued with the old knightly courtesies and honour than he was would have found it an ordeal beyond his audacity to have pressed his presence on her, or to have whispered warm words under the proud eyes of Idalia. No one could have called her cold who looked on the brilliance of her beauty, on the light of her smile ; but the languor with which she turned aside homage, and let words of softer meaning glide off her ear unnoted or unaccepted, gave her an impenetrability, a nonchalance, a serenity, that were as impassible as coldness.
“ I may return to-morrow ?”
He spoke briefly, but his voice was very low, and there was entreaty in the tone that pleaded far more than a honeyed phrase would ever have done with her. Her
eyes dwelt on him a moment, once more with that profound and undefinable look of pity; then she smiled slightly.
“ Yes, since you wish. I shall be happy to see you at dinner, if you will do me the honour. I dine early here ; at seven.
Farewell till tomorrow, Monsieur Erceldoune.”
She bowed, and moved to leave him. Something in his look as he answered her made her pause as she swept away, and stirred by a sudden impulse (an impulse was rare with her, since she was a woman of the world), she waited an instant, and held out her hand.
He took it; and bending his head, touched it with his lips that burned like fever, as reverently as a Catholic would kiss his cross. She laughed a little, softly, as she drew it gently away.
“ Sir Fulke, we are not in the days of Castilian courtesies! Ladies give the back of their hand, not the palm, when they allow such a farewell. A demain donc.!”
And with that graceful, negligent movement which gave her the languid charm of the East, she passed away from him into the villa ; and for Erceldoune the sun died out of the heavens, and all its beauty faded off the bright earth about him.
He rode his horse back at a mad gallop along the shore, and spent the remaining hours of the day alone-alone till long after nightfallpushing a caïque far out to sea, and letting it float at hazard, in the sunset, in the twilight, in the phosphor brilliance of the moon, till the chant of the Muezzin rang over the waves with the dawn. His life seemed dreamy, unreal, transfigured; he neither heeded how time went nor what he did ; but lay leaning over the side of his boat gazing all through the night at the lighted lattices of her windows, where they glittered through the cypress and myrtle woods. He was in the first trance of love.
THE ISLE OF DEMONS.
SUAKim is in the present day, next to Massawah, the most important trading-place on the west shore of the Red Sea. The number of black slaves annually exported thence is estimated at between two thousand and three thousand, while about three thousand five hundred are annually shipped from the port of Massawah. Adule, an old site, founded by fugitive slaves, and where is the throne of white marble with an inscription of the time of Ptolemy Evergetes, preceded, however, both Massawah and Suakim as the chief port of the Axumite Kingdom of Abyssinia, and it is this port which, possessing a capacious and sheltered harbour, the French have lately projected restoring to its former importance. Suakim sprang from this trade in slaves, which dates from the most remote times, and the history of its origin is thus narrated by the Easterns.
The sultans of Constantinople have ever taken as much delight in Abyssinian slaves as have the pashas of Egypt or the sheikhs of Arabia. They have, indeed, been said to constitute the joy of their masters and the glory of their harems. Desirous of a fresh instalment of these nutbrown supple beauties, the grand signor summoned one day the intendant of his seraglio, and said to him : “Set forth at once for Abyssinia, and bring back with you a hundred of the most beautiful slaves that that country ever produced. All that I have hitherto seen have charmed my eyes by their graces and their beauty. But be vigilant, and take every possible precaution in carrying out my instructions. Have nothing to do
with the jellabs (slave-dealers), they are people without faith or law, who do not scruple to pollute their charges. Take with you as much gold as you like, spare no expense, and if you punctually execute my orders, you shall be magnificently rewarded on your return."
The intendant seeing both profit and honour in the undertaking, hastened his departure, took ship to Alexandria, went overland to Suez (properly Sivas and the Ancient Sebaste), and thence again took ship to Massawah, which had by that time succeeded to Adule as the port of Abyssinia. The report that slaves were wanted for the sublime harem, that the price was less considered than youthful charms, and that a splendid future awaited the happy chosen ones, soon brought down troops of juvenile Ethiopians from their native vales and mountains.
The number being thus soon made up, the grave and bearded intendant accoutred them in rich garments, and then embarked on his journey back to Suez. Unluckily, they had not proceeded far before there arose a storm, which seemed to blow from the Hejaz, and converted the placid expanse of the Erythrean Sea into a boiling caldron. The ship was tossed about with its fair freight for several days without being able to make any way, and was obliged at last to seek refuge behind a small island on the coast of Africa, and nearly opposite to the Holy Cities. As the island was uninhabited, the intendant pitched some great green tents and disembarked the slaves, who suffered greatly from confinement and from the sea, with the intention of stopping there until the storm had abated.
Now it turned out that this island, so peaceful in appearance, and wrapped during the day in silence and solitude, was haunted at night by demons, whence it derived its actual name, Jezirah el Shaïtan, or the “ Isle of Demons." Scarcely had darkness enveloped the land and water, than the said demons came pouring into the island to celebrate their nocturnal rites. May Heaven curse them! Finding the prey which chance, or their master Eblis, had thrown in their way, they had recourse to the most powerful incantations in order to subject the fair slaves to their wills." After the lapse of a few days and so many nights of demoniacal orgies, the sea calmed, and the vessel set sail again, the intendant not having the slightest suspicion as to what had occurred, and the Abyssinian girls deeming it best not to say anything about the matter. The journey from the Island of Demons to Suez was very
tedious: : progress was baffled one day by calms, and another by contrary winds ; add to which, the intendant, terrified by the storm at the outset, and in consideration of his precious cargo, insisted upon the vessel being navigated close in shore, and often at night he sought the shelter
of some friendly island. Thus some weeks elapsed before they reached Egypt. Here the delays brought about by the necessity in which the intendant was placed of hiding his numerous slaves from the gaze of the profane, and yet getting so numerous a bevy across the country, entailed a still more serious loss of time. So excessive were the precautions taken by the worthy intendant, that finally some months had elapsed before they came in sight of the minarets of Constantinople, and the victims of the demons had begun to give manifest signs of increased proportions. The intendant, however, took no notice of this; his precautions had been so great,