“Listen then, my love and lord, to the burden of the Song of Fate.”
She ceased speaking and gazed heavenwards with a rapt look as though she waited for some inspiration to fall upon her, and never, never—not even in the fires of Kor had Ayesha seemed so divine as she did now in this moment of the ripe harvest of her love.
My eyes wandered from her to Leo, who stood before her pale and still, still as the death-like figure of the Shaman, still as the Khania’s icy shape which stared upwards from the ground. What was passing in his mind, I wondered, that he could remain thus insensible while in all her might and awful beauty this proud being worshipped him.
Hark! she began to sing in a voice so rich and perfect that its honied notes seemed to cloy my blood and stop my breath.
“The world was
not, was not, and in the womb of Silence
Slept the souls of men. Yet I was and thou——”
Suddenly Ayesha stopped, and I felt rather than saw the horror on her face.
Look! Leo swayed to and fro as though the stones beneath him were but a rocking boat. To and fro he swayed, stretched out his blind arms to clasp her—then suddenly fell backwards, and lay still.
Oh! what a shriek was that she gave! Surely it must have wakened the very corpses upon the plain. Surely it must have echoed in the stars. One shriek only—then throbbing silence.
I sprang to him, and there, withered in Ayesha’s kiss, slain by the fire of her love, Leo lay dead—lay dead upon the breast of dead Atene!
THE PASSING OF AYESHA
I heard Ayesha say presently, and the words struck me as dreadful in their hopeless acceptance of a doom against which even she had no strength to struggle.
“It seems that my lord has left me for awhile; I must hasten to my lord afar.”
After that I do not quite know what happened. I had lost the man who was all in all to me, friend and child in one, and I was crushed as I had never been before. It seemed so sad that I, old and outworn, should still live on whilst he in the flower of his age, snatched from joy and greatness such as no man hath known, lay thus asleep.
I think that by an afterthought, Ayesha and Oros tried to restore him, tried without result, for here her powers were of no avail. Indeed my conviction is that although some lingering life still kept him on his feet, Leo had really died at the moment of her embrace, since when I looked at him before he fell, his face was that of a dead man.
Yes, I believe that last speech of hers, although she knew it not, was addressed to his spirit, for in her burning kiss his flesh had perished.
When at length I recovered myself a little, it was to hear Ayesha in a cold, calm voice—her face I could not see for she had veiled herself—commanding certain priests who had been summoned to “bear away the body of that accursed woman and bury her as befits her rank.” Even then I bethought me, I remember, of the tale of Jehu and Jezebel.