Ziska by Marie Corelli

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    The Project Gutenberg EBook of Ziska, by Marie Corelli#8 in our series by Marie Corelli

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    Title: ZiskaThe Problem of a Wicked Soul

    Author: Marie Corelli

    Release Date: February, 2004 [EBook #5079][Yes, we are more than one year ahead of schedule][This file was first posted on April 17, 2002]

    Edition: 10

    Language: English

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    *** START OF THE PROJECT GUTENBERG EBOOK ZISKA ***

    Produced by Charles Franks and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team.

    ZISKA

    THE PROBLEM OF A WICKED SOULBYMARIE CORELLI

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    Other Books by the same Author

    THE SORROWS OF SATAN BARABBAS A ROMANCE OF TWO WORLDS THE MIGHTYATOM, ETC., ETC.

    TO THE PRESENT LIVING RE-INCARNATION OF ARAXES

    ZISKA.

    THE PROBLEM OF A WICKED SOUL.

    PROLOGUE.

    Dark against the sky towered the Great Pyramid, and over its apexhung the moon. Like a wreck cast ashore by some titanic storm, theSphinx, reposing amid the undulating waves of grayish sandsurrounding it, seemed for once to drowse. Its solemn visage that

    had impassively watched ages come and go, empires rise and fall,and generations of men live and die, appeared for the moment tohave lost its usual expression of speculative wisdom and intensedisdain--its cold eyes seemed to droop, its stern mouth almostsmiled. The air was calm and sultry; and not a human footdisturbed the silence. But towards midnight a Voice suddenly aroseas it were like a wind in the desert, crying aloud: "Araxes!Araxes!" and wailing past, sank with a profound echo into the deeprecesses of the vast Egyptian tomb. Moonlight and the Hour wovetheir own mystery; the mystery of a Shadow and a Shape thatflitted out like a thin vapor from the very portals of Death'sancient temple, and drifting forward a few paces resolved itselfinto the visionary fairness of a Woman's form--a Woman whose dark

    hair fell about her heavily, like the black remnants of a long-buried corpse's wrappings; a Woman whose eyes flashed with anunholy fire as she lifted her face to the white moon and waved herghostly arms upon the air. And again the wild Voice pulsatedthrough the stillness.

    "Araxes! ... Araxes! Thou art here,--and I pursue thee! Through life intodeath; through death out into life again!I find thee and I follow! I follow!Araxes!..."

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    and sauntering at evening in the Esbekiyeh Gardens, cigar in mouthand hands in pockets, looking on the scene and behaving in it asif the whole place were but a reflex of Earl's Court Exhibition.History affects the cheap tripper not at all; he regards thePyramids as "good building" merely, and the inscrutable Sphinxitself as a fine target for empty soda-water bottles, whileperhaps his chiefest regret is that the granite whereof theancient monster is hewn is too hard for him to inscribe his

    distinguished name thereon. It is true that there is a punishmentinflicted on any person or persons attempting such wanton work--afine or the bastinado; yet neither fine nor bastinado would affectthe "tripper" if he could only succeed in carving "'Arry" on theSphinx's jaw. But he cannot, and herein is his own misery.Otherwise he comports himself in Egypt as he does at Margate, withno more thought, reflection, or reverence than dignify thecomposition of his far-off Simian ancestor.

    Taking him all in all, he is, however, no worse, and in somerespects better, than the "swagger" folk who "do" Egypt, orrather, consent in a languid way to be "done" by Egypt. These arethe people who annually leave England on the plea of being unable

    to stand the cheery, frosty, and in every respect healthy winterof their native country--that winter, which with its wild winds,its sparkling frost and snow, its holly trees bright with scarletberries, its merry hunters galloping over field and moor duringdaylight hours, and its great log fires roaring up the chimneys atevening, was sufficiently good for their forefathers to thriveupon and live through contentedly up to a hale and hearty old agein the times when the fever of travelling from place to place wasan unknown disease, and home was indeed "sweet home." Infected bystrange maladies of the blood and nerves, to which even scientificphysicians find it hard to give suitable names, they shudder atthe first whiff of cold, and filling huge trunks with a thousandfoolish things which have, through luxurious habit, become

    necessities to their pallid existences, they hastily depart to theLand of the Sun, carrying with them their nameless languors,discontents and incurable illnesses, for which Heaven itself, muchless Egypt, could provide no remedy. It is not at all to bewondered at that these physically and morally sick tribes of humankind have ceased to give any serious attention as to what maypossibly become of them after death, or whether there IS any"after," for they are in the mentally comatose condition whichprecedes entire wreckage of brain-force; existence itself hasbecome a "bore;" one place is like another, and they repeat thesame monotonous round of living in every spot where theycongregate, whether it be east, west, north, or south. On theRiviera they find little to do except meet at Rumpelmayer's at

    Cannes, the London House at Nice, or the Casino at Monte-Carlo;and in Cairo they inaugurate a miniature London "season" overagain, worked in the same groove of dinners, dances, drives,picnics, flirtations, and matrimonial engagements. But the Caireneseason has perhaps some advantage over the London one so far asthis particular set of "swagger" folk are concerned--it is lesshampered by the proprieties. One can be more "free," you know! Youmay take a little walk into "Old" Cairo, and turning a corner youmay catch glimpses of what Mark Twain calls "Oriental simplicity,"namely, picturesquely-composed groups of "dear delightful" Arabswhose clothing is no more than primitive custom makes strictly

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    necessary. These kind of "tableaux vivants" or "art studies" givequite a thrill of novelty to Cairene-English Society,--a touch ofsavagery,--a soupcon of peculiarity which is entirely lacking tofashionable London. Then, it must be remembered that the "childrenof the desert" have been led by gentle degrees to understand thatfor harboring the strange locusts imported into their land byCook, and the still stranger specimens of unclassified insectcalled Upper Ten, which imports itself, they will receive

    "backsheesh."

    "Backsheesh" is a certain source of comfort to all nations, andtranslates itself with sweetest euphony into all languages, andthe desert-born tribes have justice on their side when they demandas much of it as they can get, rightfully or wrongfully. Theydeserve to gain some sort of advantage out of the odd-lookingswarms of Western invaders who amaze them by their dress andaffront them by their manners. "Backsheesh," therefore, has becomethe perpetual cry of the Desert-Born,--it is the only means ofoffence and defence left to them, and very naturally they cling toit with fervor and resolution. And who shall blame them? The tall,majestic, meditative Arab--superb as mere man, and standing naked-

    footed on his sandy native soil, with his one rough garment flunground his loins and his great black eyes fronting, eagle-like, thesun--merits something considerable for condescending to act asguide and servant to the Western moneyed civilian who clothes hislower limbs in straight, funnel-like cloth casings, shaped to thestrict resemblance of an elephant's legs, and finishes thegraceful design by enclosing the rest of his body in a stiff shirtwherein he can scarcely move, and a square-cut coat which divideshim neatly in twain by a line immediately above the knee, with theeffect of lessening his height by several inches. The Desert-Bornsurveys him gravely and in civil compassion, sometimes with amuttered prayer against the hideousness of him, but on the wholewith patience and equanimity,--influenced by considerations of

    "backsheesh." And the English "season" whirls lightly andvaporously, like blown egg-froth, over the mystic land of the oldgods,--the terrible land filled with dark secrets as yetunexplored,--the land "shadowing with wings," as the Bible hathit,--the land in which are buried tremendous histories as yetunguessed,--profound enigmas of the supernatural,--labyrinths ofwonder, terror and mystery,--all of which remain unrevealed to thegiddy-pated, dancing, dining, gabbling throng of the fashionabletravelling lunatics of the day,--the people who "never thinkbecause it is too much trouble," people whose one idea is tojourney from hotel to hotel and compare notes with theiracquaintances afterwards as to which house provided them with thebest-cook