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Stories of Mystery edited by Rossiter Johnson
THE INVISIBLE PRINCESS by FRANCIS O'CONNOR.
There he stood, looming out from the tempestuous darkness more gigantic and terrible than ever, with the form of a beautiful girl, gorgeously clad and flashing with jewels, held easily and firmly by one encircling arm. His disengaged right hand was stained as if with blood, and spots of the same sanguinary hue were on his brow and his garments. The expression of his face was unmoved as usual.
For a moment he permitted the slippered feet of the trembling girl to rest upon the deck, though his arm still encompassed her shrinking form, and, while her great dark eyes, dilated with horror, like those of a captured bird, threw wild, eager glances to left and right, as if in search of any desperate refuge from the terrors that possessed her, he said in his usual quiet tones to the captain,--
"This is the passenger for whom I engaged the cabin. She will, by your leave, take possession of it at once." So saying, he led her gently forward and disappeared at the companion-way, conducted by the captain.
Every face on deck had grown pale, and every heart throbbed with the conviction that we had just beheld the consummation of a most desperate and bloody deed. It was evident the girl had been snatched suddenly from the harem of some palace, probably from the royal seraglio itself, off which we had been lying. And the horror depicted on her face, as well as the stains of blood on her abductor, told with what ruthless violence. Here then, I thought, in all human probability, was the royal maiden I had summoned; here was the wildest vagary of my imagination realized. But how different from the bright fancy was the woful reality!
Soon the captain returned on deck, pale and excited like the rest of us, and ordered a rash amount of sail to be set. The mate, a bluff, powerful man, swore an oath that we should first understand the meaning of what had just transpired.
"I know no more about it than you do," avowed the captain, "except that it's a piece of business very likely to bring all our heads to the block unless we show a clean pair of heels for it. So now avast jawing, and obey orders!"
"Never! boys," I said, "till we are assured of that girl's safety. What's done cannot be helped; but if she suffers further wrong in our midst, we ought all to be hanged as cowardly accessories to it."
"Dismiss your uneasiness in that regard," said a voice behind us, at whose sound there was a general start. "To keep her safe and inviolate is more my right and interest than yours, and it must therefore be my especial duty to do so; but if I fail in it, I care not though you make my life the forfeit, nor by what mode you exact it."
So saying, he took his place at the helm, a press of sail was set, and the ship fairly rent her way through the sea of Marmora before the tempest. But the ship, like all around, seemed to acknowledge his controlling power; and when I turned in with my watch, my sleep was undisturbed by any fear of wind or water, though it was full of troubled dreams. Now a lovely form in royal vesture beckoned to me from a lattice; anon the gleam of a lantern flickered across the terribly familiar face of a gnome, bearing out of a dark cavern an armful of the most precious jewels, which had a wild appealing in their light that puzzled me; while the roaring of the sea pervaded it all with a kind of dream harmony.