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Stories of Mystery edited by Rossiter Johnson
THE INVISIBLE PRINCESS by FRANCIS O'CONNOR.
While this scene was being enacted, I marked through the open portal of the cabin--in one of those strange distractions that occur to us amidst the most intense feelings of our lives--the stars above us growing brighter and brighter as the shades of the twilight deepened. Suddenly turning from the couch, he also, at a stride, stood in full view of those bright revelations of the darkness; but his eye sought them with no such abstracted regard as mine. Fixedly and sternly he seemed to be watching among them some portentous index of fate. Soon a change came over his countenance, and he resumed his place beside the scarcely breathing form. Then the fountains of the great deep within him were broken up, and the rushing torrent of its emotions shook his whole frame and convulsed his features. Stooping, he kissed the insensible girl passionately, again and again, and he would, I believe, have clasped her to his bosom if I, fearing for her the effects of his stormy transports, had not caught his arm. He needed no explanation of my interruption, neither was he startled or incensed by it, and he seemed more like one reluctantly obeying some sudden restraining impulse of his own than yielding to that of another.
"No," he said, "I must not cut short a single flicker of that bright spirit; the wondrously beautiful vessel that it glorifies will be cold clay soon enough! ashes from which no future Phoenix shall arise. O," he exclaimed, "this sacrifice is too great, too great! and for nothing! Even had she perished on the destined altar, an accepted sacrifice, it were too great! But I tore her from home and friends, and life itself, for this,--for nothing! O Destiny, thou art a subtle adversary, and infinite are thy devices for our overthrow! But I never reckoned on such an impediment as this heart-weakness."
Then approaching me, he laid a hand upon my shoulder, and said: "As the representative of the young, hopeful, living world she is about to leave, I called you here that you and she might look your last upon each other. Go now, and though your present emotion accords duly with the part I have assigned you, see that you do not play false to it hereafter by letting this woful event impress you with too deep or too lasting a sorrow."
Then to my Ideal, so strangely found and lost, I looked and murmured an adieu, and returned among my companions, reverenced as one who had been in a hallowed place.
It was the third evening after this, to me, memorable visit. Streaks of sable, with golden edges, barred the face of the setting sun, and promised to our hopes a change of weather. But this indication, important as it was after the long calm, was evidently not that which the whole ship's crew, officers and men, were now discussing,--as the converged attention of the scattered groups on the closed entrance of that silent, mysterious cabin testified.
"I know," said O'Hanlon, answering to an objection from some one in the group where he stood, "it would be like invading a sanctuary to intrude there; but the conviction sometimes comes over me that we have, all hands of us, from the captain down, acted in regard to this matter with the incapacity of men in a nightmare. Fear is a condition under which a true man should not breathe a moment without contest; and yet I know we have been all, more or less consciously, under its influence since this man came on board. Out upon us! I will, for myself at least, break through this dream of terror at once, by a tap at yonder door."