Nearly an hour after, a servant, entering to replenish the faded fire, fled out of the room and startled the household with his shrieks. Two or three domestics rushed in. There lay Sir Jasper Kingsland prone on his face on the floor, stiff and stark as a dead man. A paper, unintelligible to all, was clutched tightly as a death grip in his hand. Reading that crumpled paper, the strong man had fallen there flat on the floor in a dead swoon.
The hut on the heath.
Far away from the lofty, battlemented ancestral home of Sir Jasper Kingsland—straight to the seashore went Achmet the Astrologer. A long strip of bleak marshland spreading down the hill-side and sloping to the sea, arid and dry in the summer-time—sloppy and sodden now—that was his destination. It was called Hunsden’s Heath—a forlorn and desolate spot, dotted over with cottages of the most wretched kind. To one of these wretched hovels, standing nearest the sea and far removed from the rest, Achmet swiftly made his way.
The sun was high in the heavens; the sea lay all a-glitter beneath it. The astrologer had got over the ground at a swift, swinging stride, and he had walked five miles at least; but he paused now, with little sign of fatigue in his strange white face. Folding his arms over his breast, he surveyed the shining sky, the glittering sea, with a slow, dreamy smile.
“The sun shines and the sea sparkles on the natal day of the heir of Kingsland,” he said to himself; “but for all that it is a fatal day to him. ’The sins of the father shall be visited on the children even to the third and fourth generation,’ saith the Book Christians believe in. Christians!” he laughed a harsh, strident laugh. “Sir Jasper Kingsland is a Christian! The religion that produces such men must be a glorious one. He was a Christian when he perjured himself and broke her heart. ’Tis well. As a Christian he can not object to the vengeance Christianity teaches.”
He turned away, approached the lonely hut, and tapped thrice—sharp staccato knocks—at the door. The third one was answered. The door swung back, and a dark damsel looked out.
“Is it thee, Pietro?”
“It is I, Zara.”
He stepped in as he spoke, closed the door, took her face between his hands, and kissed both brown cheeks. The girl’s dark face lighted up into the splendor of absolute beauty as she returned his caress.
“And how is it with thee, my Zara, and thy little one?”
“It is well. And thyself, Pietro?”
“Very well. And the mother?”
“Ah, the mother! Poor mother! She lies as you saw her last—as you will always see her in this lower world—dead in life! And he”—the girl Zara’s eyes lighted fiercely up—“didst see him, Pietro?”
“I have seen him, spoken to him, told him the past, and terrified him for the future. There is a son, Zara—a new-born son.”