THE DARK MAIDEN LAYELAHLayelah at length began to make pointed remarks about Almah.
"She loves you," said she, "and you love her. How is it that you
do not give each other up?"
"I would die rather than give up Almah," said I.
Layelah smiled. "That sounds strange to the Kosekin," said she,
"for here to give up your love and to die are both esteemed the
greatest possible blessings. But Almah should give you up. It is
the women with us who make the beginning. Women generally fall in
love first, and it is expected that they will tell their love
first. The delicacy of a woman's feelings makes this natural, for
if a man tells his love to a woman who does not love him, it shocks
her modesty; while if a woman tells a man, he has no modesty to
"That is strange," said I; "but suppose the man does not love
"Why, no woman wants to be loved; she only wants to love."
At this I felt somewhat bewildered.
"That," said Layelah, "is unrequited love, which is the chief
blessing here, though for my part I am a philosopher, and would
wish when I love to be loved in return."
"And then," said I, "if so, would you give up your lover, in
accordance with the custom of your country?"
Layelah's dark eyes rested on me for a moment with a glance of
intense earnestness and profound meaning. She drew a long breath,
and then said, in a low, tremulous voice,
Layelah was constantly with me, and at length used to come at an
earlier time, when Almah was present. Her manner toward Almah was
full of the usual Kosekin courtesy and gracious cordiality. She was
still intent upon learning from me the manners, customs, and
principles of action of the race to which I belonged. She had an
insatiable thirst for knowledge, and her curiosity extended to all
of those great inventions which are the wonder of Christendom.
Locomotives and steamboats were described to her under the names of
"horses of fire" and "ships of fire"; printing was "letters of
power"; the electric telegraph, "messages of lightning"; the organ,
"lute of giants," and so on. Yet, in spite of the eagerness with
which she made her inquiries, and the diligence with which she
noted all down, I could see that there was in her mind something
lying beneath it all—a far more earnest purpose, and a far more
personal one, than the pursuit of useful knowledge.
Layelah was watchful of Almah; she seemed studying her to see
how far this woman of another race differed from the Kosekin. She
would often turn from me and talk with Almah for a long time,
questioning her about her people and their ways. Almah's manner was
somewhat reserved, and it was rendered somewhat more so from the
fact that her mind was always full of the prospect of our impending
doom. Each jom as it came and went brought us nearer to that awful
time, and the hour was surely coming when we should be taken to the
outer square and to the top of the pyramid of sacrifice.
Once Layelah sat for some time silent and involved in thought.
At length she began to speak to me.
"Almah," said she, "is very different from us. She loves you and
you love her. She ought to give you up. Almah, you ought to give up
Atam-or, since you love him."
Almah looked confused, and made some reply to the effect that
she belonged to a different race with different customs.
"But you should follow our customs. You are one of us now. You
can easily find another who will take him."
Almah threw a piteous glance at me and said nothing.
"I," said Layelah, "will take him."
She spoke these words with an air of magnanimity, as though
putting it in the light of a favor to Almah; but Almah did not make
any reply, and after some silence Layelah spoke of something
Not long after we were alone together, and Layelah returned to
the subject. She referred to Almah's want of sympathy with the
manners of the Kosekin, and asserted that she ought to aim after a
"I love her," said I, with great warmth, "and will never give
"But she must give you up; it is the woman's place to take the
first step. I should be willing to take you."
As Layelah said this she looked at me very earnestly, as if
anxious to see how I accepted this offer. It was for me a most
embarrassing moment. I loved Almah, but Layelah also was most
agreeable, and I liked her very much; indeed, so much so that I
could not bear to say anything that might hurt her feelings. Among
all the Kosekin there was not one who was not infinitely inferior
to her in my eyes. Still, I loved Almah, and I told her so again,
thinking that in this way I might repel her without giving
But Layelah was quite ready with her reply.
"If you love Almah," said she, "that is the very reason why you
should marry me."
This made me feel more embarrassed than ever.
I stammered something about my own feelings—the manners and
customs of my race—and the fear that I had of acting against my own
principles. "Besides," I added, "I'm afraid it would make you
"Oh no," said Layelah, briskly; "on the contrary, it would make
me very happy indeed."
I began to be more and more aghast at this tremendous frankness,
and was utterly at a loss what to say.
"My father," continued Layelah, "is different from the other
Kosekin, and so am I. I seek requital for love, and do not think it
A sudden thought now suggested itself, and I caught at it as a
"You have," said I, "some lover among the Kosekin. Why do you
not marry him?"
"I have no lover that I love," said she, "among the
My feeble effort was thus a miserable failure. I was about
saying something concerning the Kosekin alphabet or something else
of an equally appropriate nature, when she prevented me.
"Atam-or," said she, in a low voice.
"Layelah," said I, with my mind full of confusion.
"I love you!"
She sat looking at me with her beautiful face all aglow her dark
eyes fixed on mine with an intense and eager gaze. I looked at her
and said not one single word. Layelah was the first to break the
"You love Almah, Atam-or; but say, do you not love me? You smile
at me, you meet me always when I come with warm greetings, and you
seem to enjoy yourself in my society. Say, Atam-or, do you not love
This was a perilous and a tremendous moment. The fact is, I did
like Layelah very much indeed, and I wanted to tell her so; but my
ignorance of the language did not allow me to observe those nice
distinctions of meaning which exist between the words "like" and
"love." I knew no other word than the one Kosekin word meaning
"love," and could not think of any meaning "like." It was,
therefore, a very trying position for me.
"Dear Layelah," said I, floundering and stammering in my
confusion, "I love you; I—"
But here I was interrupted without waiting for any further
words; the beautiful creature flung her arms around me and clung to
me with a fond embrace. As for me, I was utterly confounded,
bewildered, and desperate. I thought of my darling Almah, whom
alone I loved. It seemed at that moment as though I was not only
false to her, but as if I was even endangering her life. My only
thought now was to clear up my meaning.
"Dear Layelah," said I, as I sat with her arms around me, and
with my own around her slender waist, "I do not want to hurt your
"Oh, Atam-or! oh, my love! never, never did I know such bliss as
Here again I was overwhelmed, but I still persisted in my
"Dear Layelah," said I, "I love Almah most dearly and most
"Oh, Atam-or, why speak of that? I know it well. And so by our
Kosekin law you give her up; among us, lovers never marry. So you
take me, your own Layelah, and you will have me for your bride; and
my love for you is ten thousand times stronger than that of the
cold and melancholy Almah. She may marry my papa."
This suggestion filled me with dismay.
"Oh no," said I. "Never, never will I give up Almah!"
"Certainly not," said Layelah; "you do not give her up—she gives
"She never will," said I.
"Oh yes," said Layelah; "I will tell her that you wish it."
"I do not wish it," said I. "I love her, and will never give her
"It's all the same," said Layelah. "You cannot marry her at all.
No one will marry you. You and Almah are victims and the State has
given you the matchless honor of death. Common people who love one
another may marry if they choose, and take the punishment which the
law assigns but illustrious victims who love cannot marry, and so,
my Atam-or, you have only me."
I need not say that all this was excessively embarrassing I was
certainly fond of Layelah, and liked her too much to hurt her
feelings. Had I been one of the Kosekin I might perhaps have
managed better; but being a European, a man of the Aryan race—being
such, and sitting there with the beautiful Layelah lavishing all
her affections upon me—why, it stands to reason that I could not
have the heart to wound her feelings in any way. I was taken at an
utter disadvantage. Never in my life had I heard of women taking
the initiative. Layelah had proposed to me, she would not listen to
refusal, and I had not the heart to wound her. I had made all the
fight I could by persisting in asserting my love for Almah, but all
my assertions were brushed lightly aside as trivial things.
Let any gentleman put himself in my situation, and ask himself
what he would do. What would he do if such a thing could happen to
him at home? But there such a thing could not happen, and so there
is no use in supposing an impossible case. At any rate I think I
deserve sympathy. Who could keep his presence of mind under such
circumstances? With us a young lady who loves one man can easily
repel another suitor; but here it was very different, for how could
I repel Layelah? Could I turn upon her and say "Unhand me"? Could I
say "Away! I am another's"? Of course I couldn't; and what's worse,
if I had said such things Layelah would have smiled me down into
silence. The fact is, it doesn't do for women to take the
initiative—it's not fair. I had stood a good deal among the
Kosekin. Their love of darkness, their passion for death, their
contempt of riches, their yearning after unrequited love, their
human sacrifices, their cannibalism, all had more or less become
familiar to me, and I had learned to acquiesce in silence; but now
when it came to this—that a woman should propose to a man—it really
was more than a fellow could stand. I felt this at that moment very
forcibly; but then the worst of it was that Layelah was so
confoundedly pretty, and had such a nice way with her, that hang me
if I knew what to say.
Meanwhile Layelah was not silent; she had all her wits about
"Dear papa," said she, "would make such a nice husband for
Almah. He is a widower, you know. I could easily persuade him to
marry her. He always does whatever I ask him to do."
"But victims cannot marry, you said."
"No," said Layelah, sweetly, "they cannot marry one another, but
Almah may marry dear papa, and then you and I can be married, and
it will be all very nice indeed."
At this I started away.
"No," said I, indignantly, "it won't be nice. I'm engaged to be
married to Almah, and I'm not going to give her up."
"Oh, but she gives you up, you know," said Layelah, quietly.
"Well, but I'm not going to be given up."
"Why, how unreasonable you are, you foolish boy!" said Layelah,
in her most caressing manner. "You have nothing at all to do with
At this I was in fresh despair, and then a new thought came,
which I seized upon.
"See here," said I, "why can't I marry both of you? I'm engaged
to Almah, and I love her better than all the world. Let me marry
her and you too."
At this Layelah laughed long and merrily. Peal after peal of
laughter, musical and most merry, burst from her. It was
contagious; I could not help joining in, and so we both sat
laughing. It was a long time before we regained our
"Why, that's downright bigamy!" exclaimed Layelah with fresh
laughter. "Why, Atam-or, you're mad!" and so she went off again in
fresh peals of laughter. It was evident that my proposal was not at
all shocking, but simply comical, ridiculous, and inconceivable in
its absurdity. It was to her what the remark of some despairing
beauty would be among us who, when pressed by two lovers should
express a confused willingness to marry both. It was evident that
Layelah accepted it as a ludicrous jest.
Laughter was all very well, of course; but I was serious and
felt that I ought not to part with Layelah without some better
understanding, and so I once more made an effort.
"All this," said I, in a mournful tone, "is a mere mockery. What
have I to say about love and marriage? If you loved me as you say,
you would not laugh, but weep. You forget what I am. What am I? A
victim, and doomed—doomed to a hideous fate—a fate of horror
unutterable. You cannot even begin to imagine the anguish with
which I look forward to that fate which impends over me and Almah.
Marriage—idle word! What have I to do with marriage? What has
Almah? There is only one marriage before us—the dread marriage with
death! Why talk of love to the dying? The tremendous ordeal, the
sacrifice, is before us and after that there remains the hideous
At this Layelah sprang up, with her whole face and attitude full
of life and energy.
"I know, I know," said she, quickly; "I have arranged for all.
Your life shall be saved. Do you think that I have consented to
your death? Never! You are mine. I will save you. I will show you
what we can do. You shall escape."
"Can you really save me?" I cried.
"What! in spite of the whole nation?"
Layelah laughed scornfully.
"I can save you," said she. "We can fly. There are other nations
beside ours. We can find some land among the Gojin where we can
live in peace. The Gojin are not like us."
"But Almah?" said I.
The face of Layelah clouded.
"I can only save you," said she.
"Then I will stay and die with Almah," said I, obstinately.
"What!" said Layelah, "do you not fear death?"
"Of course I do," said I; "but I'd rather die than lose
"But it's impossible to save both of you."
"Then leave me and save Almah," said I.
"What! would you give up your life for Almah?"
"Yes, and a thousand lives," said I.
"Why," said Layelah, "now you talk just like the Kosekin. You
might as well be one of us. You love death for the sake of Almah.
Why not be more like the Kosekin, and seek after a separation from
Layelah was not at all offended at my declaration of love for
Almah. She uttered these words in a lively tone, and then said that
it was time for her to go.