He had not long to wait. A shrewd hissing apprised him that something unusual was about to occur. Like the flight of a great rocket a black object quickly mounted to the zenith. It did not become visible for several seconds; Gerald’s nerves crisped with apprehension. The apparition was an incandescent chariot; in it sat Karospina, and beside him—oh! the agony of her lover—Mila Georgovics. As the fiery horses swooped down, he could see her face in a radiant nimbus of meteors, which encircled the equipage. Karospina proudly directed its course over the azure route, and once he passed Gerald at a dangerously low curve earthward, shouting:—
“The Spiral! The Spiral!”
It was his last utterance; possibly through some flaw in the mechanism, the chariot zig-zagged and then drove straight upon the reservoir. To the reverberation of smashed steel and blinding fulguration the big sphere was split open and Mila with Karospina vanished in the nocturnal gulf.
Gerald, stunned by the catastrophe, threw himself down, expecting a mighty explosion; the ebon darkness was appalling after the scintillating rain of fire. But the liberated gas in the guise of an elongated cloud had rushed seaward, and there gathering density and strength, assumed the shape of a terrific funnel, an inky spiral, its gyrating sides streaked with intermittent flashes. Its volcanic roaring and rapid return to land was a signal for vain flight—the miserable lover knew it to be the flamboyant ether of the pyromaniac transformed into a trumpeting tornado. And he hoped that it would not spare him, as this phantasm twirled and ululated in the heavens, a grim portent of the iron wrath of the Almighty. In a twinkling it had passed him, high in the dome of heaven, only to erase in a fabulous blast the moaning multitude. And prone upon the strand between the stormy waters and the field of muddy dead, Gerald Shannon prayed for a second cataclysm which might bring oblivion to him alone.
A MOCK SUN
Where are the sins of yester-year?
The grating of the carriage wheels awoke her from the dream which had lightly brushed away the night and the vision of the Arc de Triomphe—looming into the mystery of sky and stars, its monumental flanks sprawling across the Place de l’Etoile. She heard her name called by Mrs. Sheldam as their coachman guided his horses through the gateway of the Princesse de Lancovani’s palace.
“Now, Ermentrude! Wake up, dear; we are there,” said Mrs. Sheldam, in her kind, drawling tones. Mr. Sheldam sighed and threw away the unlighted cigar he had bitten during the ride along the Champs Elysees. Whatever the evening meant for his wife and niece, he saw little entertainment in store for himself; he did not speak French very well, he disliked music and “tall talk”; all together he wished himself at the Grand Hotel, where he would be sure to meet some jolly Americans. Their carriage had halted in front of a spacious marble stairway, lined on either side with palms, and though it was a June night, the glass doors were closed.