Choked and mad with rage, Gervase for a few moments struggled furiously as well as he was able with his powerful captor. All sorts of ideas surged in his brain: the Princess Ziska might, with all her beauty and fascination, be nothing but the ruler of a band of robbers and murderers—who could tell? Yet reason did not wholly desert him in extremity, for even while he tried to fight for his liberty he remembered that there was no good to be gained out of taking him prisoner; he had neither money nor valuables— nothing which could excite the cupidity of even a starving Bedouin. As this thought crossed his brain, he ceased his struggles abruptly, and stood still, panting for breath, when suddenly a sound of singing floated towards him:
“Oh, for the pure cold heart of the Lotus-Lily!
A star above
Is its only love,
And one brief sigh of its scented breath
Is all it will ever know of Death!
Oh, for the passionless heart of the Lotus-Lily!”
He listened, and all power of resistance ebbed slowly away from him; he became perfectly passive—almost apathetic—and yielding to the somewhat rough handling of his guide, allowed himself to be urged with silent rapidity onward over the thick sand, till he presently became conscious that he was leaving the fresh open air and entering a building of some sort, for his feet pressed hard earth and stone instead of sand. All at once he was forcibly brought to a standstill, and a heavy rolling noise and clang, like distant muttered thunder, resounded in his ears, followed by dead silence. Then his arm was closely grasped again, and he was led on, on and on, along what seemed to be an interminable distance, for not a glimmer of light could be seen under the tight folds of the bandage across his eyes. Presently the earth shook under him,- -some heavy substance was moved, and there was another booming thunderous noise, accompanied by the falling of chains.
“C’est l’escalier de Madame la Princesse!” said the Nubian. “Pres de la chambre nuptiale! Descendez! Vite!”
Down—down! Resistance was useless, even had he cared to resist, for he felt as though twenty pairs of hands instead of one were pushing him violently on all sides; down, still down he went, dumb, blind and helpless, till at last he was allowed to stop and breathe. His arms were released, the bandage was taken from his eyes, the gag from his mouth—he was free! Free—yes! but where? Thick darkness encompassed him; he stretched out his hands in the murky atmosphere and felt nothing.
“Ziska!” he cried.
The name sprang up against the silence and struck out numberless echoes, and with the echoes came a shuddering sigh, that was not of them, whispering:
Gervase heard it, and a deadly fear, born of the supernatural, possessed him.
“Ziska! Ziska!” he called again wildly.