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here?- Here to a household steeped in crime of every hue. A house where shame was glory, and glory shame. Where the sudden self-murder, or the knife plunged into woman's breast, or infant's heart, wore no startling horrors. A house where there were no grey old men !
“Generation after generation, until fair Ix'hulie came.
“Ix'hulie was beautiful as the day, bright as the sea in the morning light, soft and gentle as the breeze at noon. Her mother's first-born, and dearly loved. Little children clung to her like small bananas round the riper ones. Her love encompassed them like the delicate network of the Malta berry. She was a very pomegranate blossom.
“At fifteen she was betrothed to a gallant and splendid bridegrooma relation of her house. But another was there, the daughter of a different mother, equally young, but not equally innocent, not equally beautiful. Jealous of the towering heights of Ix'hulie's fortunes, she resolved to blight the light and graceful bamboo in its springing growth.
"Ix’hulie was gone with her mother into the town to choose the bridal dress, the silks for her faldettas, and the whole of her new lace wardrobe. Meantime, a knight of the Spanish house, who had desperately loved her, but in vain, came to Macluba, met Zoraiba, and made her swear to help him to seize Ix'hulie, by persuading her to go to Valetta the next day. Zoraiba swore the more willingly that it suited her to get Ix’hulie far from her splendid and gift-giving bridegroom, though her jealous heart yet kindled anew to see how Ix’hulie was on all sides beloved.
“Ix’hulie returned from Citta Vecchia weary and dispirited. The pale gold and crimson fillets for her hair could not be found. And her hair, of the hue of the pisatelli grape, would be so beautiful in pale gold!
“ Zoraiba consoled her. “Go then to Valetta, where the Turkey mer. chant's hidden stores are held. He will have the true pale gold-pale as thy cheek, sister!
“On the morrow, forth they went, Ix'hulie and her mother, but the bridegroom would not go; and Zoraiba rejoiced that there would be fewer to protect Ix'hulie.
She sat long in anxious thought. At last the mother and her maidens alone returned, and said, “They have stolen away my child.'
“Great was the anger of Zoraiba and her mother. The mother of Ix'hulie could only speak the before-mentioned words. The maidens, however, said that a monk had come near and begged of Ix'hulie, but they being of no church, gave, as usual, nought; whereupon the monk did seem to plead, and Ix'hulie to listen, when, in a moment, at the corner of a street, Santa Ursola, they both vanished, and were seen no more!
“The mother of Ix'hulie was frantic, her father desperate. In vain did he daily ride forth around to seek her—he found her not. In vain did he seek the, by his house, oft-contemned rule of the knights, and obtain orders to have the port watched-he found her not.
"At last one told him that his child was in the depths of the earth, and that if he would swear her conqueror should possess her and her dowry, he should embrace her again. He spoke to the bridegroom, and by his counsel they besieged the entrance to the subterranean way in Citta Vecchia ; but the defences were strong, and they, fearful of injuring her, gave way. Then their hearts throbbed, for they saw that she must be for ever lost to them, and they mourned over her as one doomed; for the knight's vow against marriage would not let her live in sight. So. they mourned over her bitterly.
“But whilst they mourned, a messenger came to demand her dowry, or, said he, Your house shall burn! To-morrow night give me the money, or your house shall perish. I leave you this time to decide.'
“Full well knowing his power, for he was high in favour with the grand master, the father of Ix"hulie was overwhelmed with dismay. The chiefs of his family, except the bridegroom, would not aid him in any wild attempt at resistance. While they sat in council, a noise was heard in the subterranean passages of the house, and the fair Ix’hulie stood before them.
“ Father,' cried she, save me from the power of the knight. Oh! I have passed through fearful caves and darkness. I knew not that the passages extended thus far, but
"Speak!' said her father; who revealed it unto thee?'
“ • It was told me,' said Ix'hulie ; "and I resolved to try if the hidden passes of the rock were indeed open to the foot of man. The way was difficult, but I am here! Oh, my father, send me not away-send me not back again !
" • And knowest thou at what price we shall retain thee?' said Zoraiba.
“ . She is worth any price,' quoth her father, and the rest of the assembled.
“ She is worth Paradise,' said her betrothed, springing towards her.
“Zoraiba saw that there was no way to get rid of her; but she knew of a maddening poison, and she presently brought Ix'hulie coffee, and wine, and fruit to refresh her; the coffee and the wine were not poisoned, but she pressed upon her sister a glorious, bursting, custard-apple, and in its fair semblance was death concealed. Ix’hulie, heated and excited, would soon feel its power, and this her wicked sister well knew. Her purposes were not complete, however. When her father was reposing after the banquet, she worked upon his drunken senses, and revived his fears of an attack, until he swore Ix’hulie should not linger and destroy them all. Then she passed on to a harder task, that of persuading the betrothed. By cruel art, pretending pity, she made him doubt that Ix’hulie was still his own-she hinted that she had not resisted the captor. In vain did he strive to confute her. Skilled, skilled indeed, taught such acts long before by her mother, did she loosen his belief in Ix'hulie, and lure him on to adore herself, until he was well prepared to hear and enter into her father's fears. He was again addressing his council, when Ix'hulie fell into convulsions, and in her delirium called upon her captor, the knight, to let her out. These ravings confirmed the evil work of Zoraiba, and the wavering of her bridegroom's heart. He gave his vote against her, and she was condemned by all. Forced back into the narrow entrance, in spite of her cries and struggles, Zoraiba standing by, and witnessing her agony unmoved; she was firmly fastened in, and her faithless sister and betrothed sought their guilty bower, and gave themselves joy of their fancied security.
“But not for long this wicked joy. A long, loud shriek rent the air, then all was silent as the grave.
“It was lx'hulie's last shriek, and at the sound her frantic mother died, and Zoraiba's mother rushed from the house.
“There came a roar like thunder, and the mighty house-mighty and wretched—went down into the earth many, many feet, with a shock that crumbled it to ruins, burying every inhabitant, and blocking up the entrance to the subterranean passages for a mile.
“When the knight came to seek the dowry, he found ruins in a deep pit with one miserable being wandering round it, instead of the magnificent and populous house he had sworn to burn down. The miserable one was Zoraiba's mother, who only lived to tell the tale, and then stricken with intolerable agony, fell convulsed into the dread chasm, and expired.
"O, beautiful Ix’hulie, snatched by death from living sorrow! O, fair bride, cruelly torn from thy bridegroom-yea, condemned even by himself-guileless and beautiful Ix'hulie! Star of thy home, moon of the stormy night, sunshine of the morning, all lovely things in one, thou art overwhelmed with the blackness of night for ever!
“And ye cruel and unnatural parents! Ye that delighted in blood and murder! Zoraiba, steeped to the lips in malice, child of a wretched mother, thou, too, and all, are included in the miserable overthrow of a guilty household! But did none survive? Did none escape ? Did none transmit to futurity the evil knowledge, the store of wicked and cunning arts, the transcendant talents for crime ?
“Yea, young as Zoraiba was, she had a babe in Valetta.
66 This babe was born in a chapel of St. John's Church. Its mother had gone thither to look upon one of the priests, who was the father of her child. Strange! she was suddenly taken ill, and her babe was born there. She never brought it to be baptised. This child, fated inheritor of the stain of her race—this wretched offspring of unseen powers-ah, woe is me! ah, woe is me!-why was she not trampled under foot by the worshippers rather than carried out tenderly from a temple she was never more to enter ? Child of a fated line! Who dares to enter here and ask her history ?—the tale of her horrible end? Away! away! cursed Christian spy, away!"
The tone of the aged being had gradually become more and more excited. She reeled and tottered, yet rushed angrily towards me, and I gave myself up for lost. I tried to move, but a cry of agony burst from me as I made the futile attempt. Suddenly a light step sounded, a strong and aromatic perfume reached even my oppressed senses, and my fearful foe lay unconscious upon the ground, while my good genius stood between me and it, waving a long moist plume before its face. The Hadji mourned the consequences of a moment's absence, inquired tenderly of my wounds, and said that I must have suffered terribly in that last encounter. The pilgrim spoke in soft and varied inflexions, touched my fluttering pulse with a light finger, and placed upon my lips a rosecoloured crystal of cordial virtue to restore me.
4 Tell me where I am," I exclaimed. “What is this place? And who is that fearful being ?”
* Ask not,” replied my Hadji, “where thou art ; the tale thou hast heard tells thee that thou art upon the condemned spot !"
These words made me shudder. “And what then was the Hadji ? The priest of an avenging spirit,” thought I. Though I spoke not, my guardian read my thoughts: “Ask no more—anon thou shalt know all
-now sleep, I command thee!" And sleep I did, in obedience to certain mystic signs, and knew not even that I existed, during many, many hours. On my awaking, the Hadji felt my pulse, assured me that I was better, and seemed disposed to allow me to converse. I was, indeed, more than ever anxious to hear somewhat of my real position and probable fate.
“For mercy's sake, tell me why I am here ?" I inquired.
The Hadji coldly replied, “ You must surely know that. Why, however, do you speak of mercy here?”
“Because I have received mercy from you. I came hither to view the ruins of the fated house. Further I know not.”
“Did you not fall ?" asked my friendly genius.
“I did,” replied I, “ both in courage and in fact;" and I felt ashamed to confess this to a superior being, for such I doubted not my seeming Hadji to be, and the more so as I felt myself strangely moved by his speech.
“Be not disturbed,” was the reply; "you were assailed by extraordinary difficulties. No one but yourself ever trod the ridge whence you must have fallen. From the prickly pear-tree to the ground was not, indeed, an awful descent, but the first fall was enough to destroy most men of your people.”
This was said somewhat disparagingly, but every word of the speaker formed an echo in my heart.
“Ah!" replied I,“ no doubt you despise our race, but though we cannot cope with supernatural powers, we are not easily daunted by tangible foes.”
A long, low laugh followed this speech, and my guardian seemed to be quite unable to subdue the temptation to derision which my words had afforded, and I must own that the sounds fell not unmusically upon my ear, though I was somewhat vexed to have my vauntings thus received.
“ Supernatural !--tangible foes !-when you have recovered," said my deriding Hadji, “ I will tell you all."
« Nay, may I not hear it now ? I am well, and must depart. I could walk abroad with ease.”
“ Say you so ? then try your powers."
I tried to rise, and found I could do so without pain, though trembling with weakness. My good genius put forth a hand to help me ; I took it with an eager grasp, whereat it was half plucked away, and a flush mounted to the brow of the Hadji.
“A mortal hand, and a mortal flusb,” thought I, and my own heart beat faster, and an indefinite sensation glided pleasantly into my soul. I felt as if I might make more inquiries in the free air, and urged my faltering steps towards the arch that served as a door. The air gave me fresh vigour, and I found myself in a wilderness of plants, among which rocks and ruins were profusely scattered. The uneven ground made my steps uncertain, and a hand was immediately ready to support me. As I took it I grew courageous, or rather desperate, and, anxiously looking at the Hadji, our eyes met, and I saw a deep confusion rise upon the countenance. I still clung to the hand, and asked once more,
“In pity, say, who are you?—what are you ?”
The benign eyes were lowered, the hand actually trembled, but no angry flush as before, no sudden movement checked my inquiries.
“I am Cinxica.”
The voice was low and melodious, but what of that? It was the soft and gentle sigh with which the words were uttered that told me that the Hadji, my good genius, was—a woman!
Now, her disguise dropped, my fair genius was, indeed, shy and startled to find herself confessed.
Recovering herself, she explained that her strange companion had been kind to her family before her birth, that her father was now in Spain, had left this poor being to her good offices ; that a sudden desire on the part of this companion to flee to this lonely spot, with only the fiend-like dog as a protector, had induced Cinxica to accompany her friend, notwithstanding the objections of her relatives ; and that the Hadji dress had been adopted to avoid molestation, as it is well known to be a kind of safe conduct.
And you submit to this banishment ?” “No one has such claims upon me as Ayesha,” replied Cinxica, in a low voice.
“I thought her superhuman,” replied I; “ and you a good spirit sent by Allah.”
Cinxica looked grave.
“ She worships no god—but Allah sometimes. To none for the most part does she bow," said she, sadly.
“ What was the wild tale she told me ?"
“ One generally believed to be true. She is descended from the wicked Zoraiba. Sometimes, she thinks herself her actual daughter, but that is impossible.”
“ How long has she been mad—for so I suppose she is ?”
“She is mad, and has been so some months. She dreads pursuit, and is furious if she sees a stranger. When the fit is on her she tells the tale you heard, then springs upon her victim. I had great difficulty in keeping her from killing you the moment you began to recover, and only by strong opiates succeeded.”
“ Has she ever committed a crime ?"
I looked at her earnestly, and she blushed. I have already said she was beautiful and very young-her English prettily mixed with Spanish and Maltese, exhibiting evidently a cultivated tone of thought and expression. Is it wonderful that I should draw her hand closely within mine, and upon seeing the blush that said so much, I should kiss it vehemently?
When my friend arrived in March, he found me just married, perfectly happy with my lovely and gifted Cinxica, and one of our first rides together was to visit Ayesha in her home near the now doubly. interesting ruins of Macluba.