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Stories of Mystery edited by Rossiter Johnson
THE INVISIBLE PRINCESS by FRANCIS O'CONNOR.
Again we got well out to sea, and were becalmed. For nearly a week, not a breeze had broken the surface of the ocean. Then another of those enchanting scenes we had feared to behold no more was presented to us. The beautiful invalid, assisted by her now inseparable companion, came upon the deck to watch the sunset. From her cheek the bloom of health was gone; but the look of wild dread with which hitherto she had never quite ceased to regard him who supported her was gone also, and in its place the large, dark eyes were filled by a glance of such indescribable gratitude and trust as only her eyes could express. He, for the first time, looked neither more nor less than a man. Her shrinking from our presence, too, had disappeared, and her look of recognition now was unmistakable and cordial. She had resumed her original garb, long disused as if to avoid remark at the ports we visited, and its glowing colors seemed to heighten the contrast between the pallid cheek and the long, dark lashes that drooped languidly over them, as, wearied at length by the unusual exertion, she sank heavily on her companion, and was rather borne than assisted back to the cabin.
During another week of breezeless autumn calm, this strange drama was re-enacted many times before us, with each time a deepening of the tragic shades that were gathering above it. But even after it became evident that the sweet evening air had no balm for the drooping girl, she loved to look out on the glories of the sunset, as if conscious that soon she should behold them no more forever. And when her strength no longer enabled her to walk, her nurse carried her out like a child in his arms.
But this also ceased after a time, and the hope that our transplanted blossom would ever flourish on a new soil had already faded from the bosom of the most sanguine among us, when one evening the guardian genius of the cabin beckoned to me from its portal. My entrance seemed to arouse the fair invalid, who was reclined upon a couch. The enchanting halo of her perfect beauty was unabated by disease; and she was surrounded by articles so rare, so costly, and in such profusion, as to force themselves upon my attention even in that first glance. A faint smile, and a recognition from those now too bright eyes, were my welcome. But they did not rest upon me long; for, as if by some fascination, those eyes seemed always turned toward him, or, if by chance he was beyond their reach, to the spot where they could first behold his return.
So this nursling of a palace, evidently dying out on the wide sea, with only rough men about her, had neither a word nor a look of reproach for the one who had dragged her forth to so wretched a fate. Even in her mind's wanderings, she seldom went back to former pomps or pleasures, and her tongue preferred rather to stumble through the rough and unfamiliar language in which of late she had been so terribly schooled, than to speak that of her youth. Once, when after a short absence her attendant returned to her side, she said,--
"My heart was trying to cross the waves that were between us, and oh! how it was tossed upon them--and it ached, and--and--" Then, giving a sigh of relief, she sank back, closed her eyes, and slumbered restfully.
He disposed of the lamp he had just lighted, and then, with an expression as inscrutable as ever, he stood looking down upon her.