My mind was filled with the question which I made paramount, how to phrase my proposal of marriage to Anzimee. Such occupation of thought is common to all lovers, of every race and nation, where matchmaking is not conducted by the parents.
Having set my time for the momentous inquiry, I sought Anzimee. The information that she was absent at Roxoi palace one of the three set apart for the Rai, but seldom used by him, was rather perturbing. Lolix resided at Roxoi, and had done so ever since the time when I secured her transference from Menaxithlon. But I was not altered in my purpose of seeing Anzimee; so, while journeying across the city, forty miles to Roxoi, I pondered the new situation. I knew that the two girls were friends, and this fact seemed likely to complicate matters. Arrived at Roxoi, I found Anzimee in the gardens, seated near a cascade that tumbled over a fairy-like cliff into a mammoth dewdrop of a lake. She was alone. As I came near she inquired, in a surprised tone:
"Where is Lolix?"
"Where?" I repeated. "I know not. I was told that she was with thee."
"And 'twas truth. But she took my vailx and went away, saying that she would go and get thee, that we three might have a little outing together."
I thought rapidly. To Menaxithlon was forty miles across the city due south. The vailx must therefore take nearly or
quite as many minutes going in that direction, and the same returning. Eighty minutes. That would be long enough.
Seating myself beside Anzimee, I took her hand in mine. I had often done the same before, and even clasped her about with my arm, but in a distinctly brotherly way. Now the simple touch of the fingers was electric in effect, and she could at once detect the intensity of excitement which possessed me. The fine language I had intended to use was lost, and instead of trying to regain it I said merely:
"Anzimee, would words deepen thy certainty of my love for thee? I can not command them; but I ask thee, little girl, to be my wife!"
And for reply she answered in phrase as brief:
"Zailm, be it so!"
What followed the reader may imagine; thine own fancy will please thee best, for surely the picture is not hard to draw.
When Lolix returned, I had departed, nor this hastily, for she had been delayed in coming back, so that three hours had elapsed since her departure.
I knew that few things were more certain than that Anzimee would confide her joy to Lolix. But I had no misgivings, for I felt every confidence that Lolix would not betray our secret, however terrible the blow might be for her to bear. As I anticipated, Anzimee told the story of my avowal, and of her acceptance of me. When the whole was related, Anzimee said that her friend looked at her a moment, then fell fainting to the floor. When she had been revived, she seemed so calm that even Anzimee did not question her statement that the swoon was due to nervousness. This was at the eventide. Anzimee, filled with happy feelings, saw her friend in bed, dismissed the attendants, soothed her to sleep, and came home. These facts I did not learn until next day. I thought it best to have an interview with Lolix at once, and so experience all the pain and have done with the anguish of it. Deluded mortal!
I went to Roxoi, and going into the Xanatithlon, awaited Lolix, to whom I had sent word that I desired to see her there. She came. Fully ten years seemed to have passed over her
since I saw her last. Worn. and pale, with great dark rings under her glorious blue eyes, into which the tears flooded as she caught my quick gaze. Poor girl! But what could I do? that was my thought. I was even a little conscience smitten but very little, for the scales of sin were thick and very numbing to the soul.
She spoke first:
"Oh, my love, my love! Why hast thou done this? Thinkest thou I shall live? I have for long known that no law existed to bar our union, and have waited for thee to do what was right, confident that the day would soon come when thou wouldst ask me to share thy proud name. But--O Incal! my God! my God! " she exclaimed, bursting into a flood of tears, that were as quickly repressed. Then in a calmer voice, full of piteous heartache, she went on:
"Zailm, I love thee too well, even now, to chide thee! I am thine to do with as thou wilt. I gave thee my life long ago. I gave thee my babe, and thou didst place it in a home where no man might suspect its parentage. Zailm, I have done more also--there was another that--that--O Incal, forgive me! I sent it in to Navazzamin, that it might not accuse thee, Zailm! And now, I, whom thou hast called thy 'blue-eyed darling,' I, who love thee more than I do life, am by thee put aside! O God! Why am I made to suffer thus? Why thus stricken?"
She broke into a storm of agonized weeping, and I sought not to stay the flood, knowing that sometimes tears are a blessed relief. Had she loved me thus? Fool! not to have known it from her actions, which spoke louder than words possibly could. My heart smote me now indeed, and I prayed, prayed to God for forgiveness, and I prayed to her. Too late! Conscience came forth at last, born to smite, sprung like Minerva, full-armed for the combat.
When Lolix had recovered calmness, she said, in such heartbroken tones as had never fallen on my ears before:
"Zailm, I forgive thee. Not even now will I betray thee, since whom I once love I will love till death; afterwards, also, if love survive the grave. If thou art come to say the parting
word, so be it! But leave me now, for I am almost crazed! Yet remember, my darling, that if thy new life be not happy, though I pray Incal it may be, that there once beat a heart for thee warmer, more loving, perchance truer, than I fancy thou'lt find that of thy new love. I shall not live long to be a shadow over thy peace. Kiss me once as thou wouldst if I were thine own wife in the sight of the world, as I am in that of Incal, and having died, thou wert about to confide my clay to the Unfed Light."
With these words she stopped, arisen and come before where I sat, and placed her arms around me, drawing me into a embrace. A moment thus, then her lips, chill as those of one who keepeth company with Death, met mine in one long, sobbing kiss! She released her clasp, stood an instant, and was gone. So she left me. Long I sat in the midst of the flowers in the great conservatory at Roxoi.
"The blossoms blushed bright--but a worm was below,
The moonlight shone fair--there was blight in the beam;
Sweet whispered the breeze but it whispered of woe,
And bitterness flowed in the soft-flowing strewn."
That night the banns of my coming marriage with Anzimee would be announced by the Incaliz Mainin in the great temple, for in cases of high social rank it was customary thus to add extra formality to the publication. If, during the ceremony, a death was to occur within the Incalithlon, custom decreed that one entire year must elapse before consummation of the marriage rites. In any event one month must pass after the banns, which were in consequence declared immediately following the engagement. For reasons of his own, Mainin the Incaliz desired that Anzimee should not wed any one; but as he had no authority over and but little acquaintance with her he kept silent respecting his wishes.
At the proper hour, Anzimee and myself stood before Mainin the Incaliz, within the Holy Seat. By our side was Rai Gwauxln and Menax, the five of us being the cynosure of the eyes of a great audience.
In a clear, slow voice, the Incaliz began an invocation to Incal. But in the midst of this service, a woman glided quickly across the triangle of the Place of Life, in the center of which was the Maxin. It was Lolix. She was as faultlessly attired as it was her pride always to be. Apart from the awful blaze in her eyes I saw nothing extraordinary in her appearance. But to have stepped into the Place of Life was an impermissible thing, and the act centered all eyes upon her. It meant an appeal to the authority of the Rai.
"What wouldst thou?" asked Gwauxln. "Zo Rai, in Salda, my native land, it was the custom to allow either sex to woo the other in marriage. I wooed this man, the Astika Zailm, ignorant that he loved my friend--how could I know? And now, I pray thee, deny the banns, is thou hast a right to do."
"Woman, I am sorry for thee! But the customs of Salda are not those of Poseid. I grant not thy prayer,"
I had felt a numbing terror lest at fast my crime was to be revealed. But the fear faded as the slender, graceful figure of Lolix turned and was swallowed up in the audience. Then the interrupted banns were renewed. When Mainin said to Anzimee:
"Thou dost declare it thy wish to wed this man?" she replied:
"And thou, dost thou declare it to be thy wish to wed this woman?" To which I said: "Even so, Incal not preventing." As I made answer the proceedings were the second time interrupted by Lolix, who again came into the Place of Life, but this time as hurriedly as if pursued. Opposite the Unfed Light she stopped, and said:
"Incal will prevent! See, I come to wed thee now, Zailm, and here! The God of departed souls shall be our Incaliz, this dagger our wedding proclamation, banns and all!
I ought to have prefaced the narration of the questions put to Anzimee and myself by explaining that after the invocation by Mainin, that person, Anzimee and myself, and the Rai with
Menax, had left the Holy Seat and had gone into the Place of Life, so that Lolix now stood close beside me. As she spoke of the dagger her words were calm, but rapidly uttered--it was the calmness of insanity! Crazed by the course I had followed, Lolix stood there, her glorious blue eyes filled with the light of madness. With her last words still upon her lips, she struck at my breast with the keen weapon. I warded the blow with my arm, which was pierced through by the forceful stroke. As she drew it out with a wrench, blood spurted over the granite floor. At sight of this she uttered a frightful shriek, saying:
"Mad! Mad! MAD!!!" and with one bound sprang to the center of the Place of Life, where she stood by the cube of the Maxin.
Anzimee swooned; Menax stood as if petrified, gazing at my flowing blood, while Gwauxln, pale but calm, spoke to a guardsman near:
"Arrest the maniac!"
The order of the Rai attracted the attention of Lolix, who said to the approaching soldier:
"No, no, arrest not me. I was mad, but I am not. Whosoever shall touch me, him will I curse, and then die in the Maxin."
Being superstitious, the guardsman paused, for he dared not touch her, neither disobey the Rai. In his terror he turned to the latter and began to make excuse.
"Silence!" thundered Gwauxln. Then in gentle tones he said to Lolix: "Woman, come to me."
"Not so, Zo Rai! At this place beside the Maxin no one under the law may offer me violence. Here, then, I stay!"
Speaking thus, Lolix rearranged her slightly disordered turban, folded her arms, and then leaning back against the Maxin-cube, gazed calmly at the Rai. He made no motion, but looked first at her, then at me. Lolix, though still near to the Maxin, had assumed an erect position, no longer touching the cube.
Incaliz Mainin had stood quietly by during the excitement. He now said:
"Aye, Astiku from Salda, there thou shalt stay, indeed, even longer than thou thinkest!"
He had spoken very calmly, even softly, gazing the while at the unhappy girl. When he turned towards the Rai, he saw a look of horror on his face, and hurriedly looked away again, finishing the reading of the banns. I scarcely heard him, being engaged partly with my bleeding arm, and partly with Anzimee, who, but partially recovered, and still half fainting, leaned against me for support. When the ceremony was completed, Rai Gwauxln, placing a hand on each of our heads, said: "Not only a year must elapse ere ye may wed, but much longer! Zailm, I do forgive thee thy sins so far as it is mine to forgive, the human laws thou hast broken. As for thy partner in wrong, never mind."
Then turning to Mainin, the Incaliz, he sternly said:
"Because of thine accursed deed, thou and I are forevermore strangers! Now I know thee for what, alas. thou art."
Having spoken in this, to his hearers, enigmatical and startling language, Gwauxln left the Incalithlon. Mainin also left. Menax, become curious regarding the unhappy cause of all this trouble, spoke to her as she stood by the Unfed Light. She neither answered nor moved. I approached near to her and said gently:
Still no answer nor movement. I touched her silken bodice, but received a shock which startled me like an unexpected blow! Her corsage was as rigid as stone. I touched her hand; it, too, was cold and stiff. Her face, even her wavy brown tresses, were alike rigid. Not only was she dead, but actual rock! Like one in a dream, too much stunned to be horrified, but still possessed of a strange curiosity, I rapped with my knuckles on the various thin edges presented by folds in her robe, and heard them sound with a metallic clink. I grasped a finger; it broke off, and then in a sudden wave of awful living horror I dropped it upon the stone floor; it broke into fragments like any fragile bit of rock. Still were the golden tresses, with which I had so often caressingly played,
of the old lovely color. Her complexion, her blue eyes, even, were of the same natural hue they had been in life, but for all that her body was stone and her soul was forever fled! Her pretty foot, showing from beneath the hem of tier robe, was not only as the rest, stone, but it was petrified fast to the stone pavement on which she stood. At last I realized all. This hideous deed was the work of 'Mainin in that instant he looked at Lolix in speaking to her. He had prostituted his occult wisdom, and for this had Gwauxln cursed him. Lolix's flesh and blood and raiment had been transmuted into solid stone. This petrification was all that remained of poor, wronged, forsaken Lolix, a perfect statue which, if suffered by man to remain, might stand during the many centuries, till even stone at last crumbled to dust.
The awful meaning of it all came home to me at last. Was I primarily responsible for it? In that moment I knew that I was, knew that the murder was on my soul, as well as on that of Mainin, who had never found that opportunity, at least except by me.
Even in her temporary insanity Lolix had been true to me. Not one word had she spoken to involve me. If Gwauxln knew, and I was aware that he did, he gave me free pardon so far as human law was concerned. For the broken laws of Incal he could not extend pardon, that was become karma, and lay a weary width of desert sands of sin to scorch my feet in the passage I must make across them ere ever I could tread the narrow way of attainment. The long atonement was before me. I gazed on the mute form of the girl I had so fondly loved, and loved yet, until Menax, who had become aware of the awful occurrence while I stood stupefied, but on whom the main effect was a desire to leave as soon as possible, pulled me by the sleeve:
"Come, Zailm; let us go home."
Giving one last remorseful look, I obeyed. Lovely Lolix. Her voice was still in death, and that through me! As remorse surged over my soul, I thought that I would now be glad to ask Anzimee to release me, confess all to her, and with
her consent make Lolix my honored wife; but it wag forever too late in that life thus to make reparation. No more could the tender glance of love flash on me from those starry eyes of blue! No more would my weary head nestle down on tier shoulder, while with gentle caress she chased away my darker musings with a mild and gentle sympathy. Ah, ye gods! what had I lost? My life, that had seemed complete, and as a sphere like unto the full moon, was come, like that orb when it rises late at night, to seem torn and but half of itself, wrecked and ragged, careening through the night-time of existence.
Anzimee knew nothing of the awful reality; she had been too much stunned by the sudden knowledge of her friend's insanity. She must not know, if it were possible to prevent her learning of it. We went to our carriage and, solemn the one, stunned the other, and wildly remorseful the third, got in and went home to Menaxithlon. Home? I felt that the peace of hone was no more mine! Life had become a desert over which stalked the skeletons of despair, regret and sorrow; overhead a moonless sky, underfoot in the night a howling waste of sand, blown hither and thither by curbless winds. Lolix was gone, Anzimee would never be mine, as I felt in prophetic forecast of soul, and so, with bowed head, I sat in the midst of the desert of my days and let the phantoms dance about and mock me, unheeded.