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Stories of Mystery edited by Rossiter Johnson


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Stories of Mystery edited by Rossiter Johnson

I might attempt to describe her. I might tell you that her every limb and every feature seemed perfect in its form and its harmony with the others; that her complexion was a fresh, delicate bloom, without spot or blemish; that the innumerable braids of her long, black hair were ravishingly glossy and soft; that her great, dark eyes were bewilderingly bright and wise, and expressive of everything enchanting and good that eyes can express; that her smile,--but no! her smile was an expression of her individuality too subtle for words to catch; and without any power of revealing this individuality, this all that distinguished her from merely mortal woman and made her angelic, where is the use of attempting to describe her? Of her garments, by a recurrence to Lady Mary Wortley Montagu for the names of them, I could give you a description, from the golden-flowered, diamond-studded kerchief wreathed in her hair, to the yellow Cinderella slippers that covered her fairy feet. But the gauzy fabric that enfolded though it scarcely concealed her bosom, the vest of white damask stuff inwoven and fringed with gold and silver, the caftan, and the trousers of crimson embossed and embroidered with flowers of the same gorgeous materials, all were buttoned and guarded and overstrewn with jewels, while the broad belt that confined them was literally encrusted with diamonds and clasped by a magnificent bouquet of flowers wrought by the lapidary from diamonds, rubies, emeralds, sapphires, and pearls, so exquisitely that the artist showed a skill in them almost worthy of his materials.

From our ardent gaze the beautiful vision was soon withdrawn,--often to reappear, however, in the bright, calm weather that followed, each time with less of blushing and confusion in the beautiful face; and at length, some of us began to flatter ourselves, with a shy glance of interest and recognition for us in the luminous eyes.

On her strange companion, also, her presence shed a beam that lightened the darkness of our thoughts toward him. We marked the long, dark lashes of her eyes rising and falling, now trustingly, now fearingly, before that inscrutable countenance, as if her spirit wavered between a dream of terror and a contentful awaking. And many imagined that, as those dark eyes began to turn more lovingly and more longingly toward him, the strange brilliance of his own became imbued with their softness, while a faint auroral tinge seemed just ready to change his countenance from marble to flesh and blood.

Thus day after day we crept along the European coast, enjoying a dream of romance in which we could have gone on sailing contentedly forever, our only cause of uneasiness being that, at some of the numerous ports we touched, the magic presence on which the spell depended might go from us, as it came to us, without ceremony or warning, and leave us to cross the great ocean in the world of intolerable loneliness that would settle on the ship when she was gone. There was something like a patriotic aspiration in our desire to transplant this brightest of Eastern blossoms to diffuse its supreme beauty and sweetness in the West. And though we feared for her the stormy autumn passage of the Atlantic, a load was taken from every spirit when we left the Pillars of Hercules behind us and pointed our prow straight out across the cloud-bound ocean.

Just as we lost sight of land, we were attacked by a most violent storm, that buffeted us for many a day, during which we saw nothing of our fair passenger, and we learned that she was seriously ill. But never had invalid such a nurse as she. No one knew if he slept or ate, and no one was allowed to share his office, and no one obtruded on him the sorrow or sympathy which all felt in spite of our engrossing battle for life against the tempest. For though there was no change in his appearance or demeanor, all were conscious that a deep feeling stirred his heart. Even when we doubted if all our energies could preserve the vessel from being dashed back upon the coast we had just left, he gave us neither help nor heed, till in the final moment when we had given up all for lost, he seized the helm and shot us into shelter and safety behind the reef whereon we expected to go to pieces, through a channel which, in the calm that followed the storm, we found it difficult to retrace to the deep water, towing the ship with boats.