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Stories of Mystery edited by Rossiter Johnson
THE INVISIBLE PRINCESS by FRANCIS O'CONNOR.
After a time, the fury of the tempest abated; but the ship still fled onward before strong gales, through those famous seas we had cruised so often in youthful fancy with the Greek and the Trojan, and the fear of pursuit ceased to haunt us.
Meanwhile we saw no more of our lovely passenger. Her strange guardian kept a watch beside her cabin door as vigilant as that of a sentinel at his post, or a saint before his shrine. His eye never swept the horizon behind us with an anxious gaze, as ours did, while we looked for the smoke of a pursuing steamer. Neither did it kindle at sight of the famous landmarks that measured our rapid course, each of which we hailed with delight as another harbinger of safety. He had ceased to perform the duties of a seaman, and devoted himself entirely to the care of the INVISIBLE PRINCESS, as we grew to call her. But though invisible to our eyes, hers was the pervading presence of our thoughts. Not a wave rocked the ship, not a cloud overshadowed it, not a morning breeze came fresh from the sea, or an evening breeze brought fragrance from the shore, but was thought of in some relation with her. There was none like her, we said, in the broad continents to right of us, to left of us, or before us; and we doubted if there was her like in the lands of enchantment we had left behind. Her wondrous beauty, the flashing of the jewels that encrusted her belt, and that seemed to gleam and sparkle all over her picturesque attire, the haunting look of those great, lustrous eyes, all the reminiscence of that eventful night,--how fondly we recurred to them again and again in the forecastle or the night-watch, and with what pleasure we recognized the first indications that her trance of terror had passed, and that she had resumed a living interest in the strange world around her.
First the open window of the cabin gave evidence that the balmy air and the pleasant shores we skirted were no longer indifferent to her; then came flitting glimpses of bright garments and brighter eyes quickly withdrawn from observation into the depths of the fairy grotto she inhabited; and finally, one beautiful moonlight evening, while most of the crew were on deck watching the lurid peak of Etna and the pavement of golden waves stretching toward it, and listening not to premonitions of Scylla or Charybdis, but to the song of the nightingales from the dim shore, or to tales of Enceladus and the Cyclops from Fred, and whimsical comments from Mike, she came hesitatingly forth, arousing an excitement and curiosity among us as intense as if she were a ghost arising from the tomb. Her dress was the same in which she had been brought among us, without addition of yashmak or veil of any kind,--excepting the mistiness of the moonlight,--to conceal her face, though there was a shy drawing down of the tasselled cap or turban she wore, that shadowed it somewhat.
I need hardly say how soon the glories of earth, sea, and sky, which we had been contemplating, shrank into mere accessories around that one central figure, as she stood gazing upon them through the shrouds and spars from our deck. But, notwithstanding the beauty of the scene and the hour, she did not hold her position long to enjoy them. She had, in appearing thus before strange men, evidently by a great effort, done that which she shrank from doing; but whether in obedience to her own will or to that of another, we could not guess. The ice thus broken, however, she was the INVISIBLE PRINCESS no longer. Emboldened by two or three subsequent moonlight and twilight ventures, she at length came out in the sunset, and I doubt if the setting sun ever revealed a lovelier sight than greeted our eyes on that evening. A glance in the clear light satisfied us that the superhuman beauty we almost worshipped, and the splendor that seemed too lavish to be real, were no mere glamor of lamplight or moonlight, but surpassed in the reality all that our stunted, sceptical, Western imaginations, even stimulated as they were, had dared to anticipate.