"I assure you, mademoiselle, that not one of the pictures which are now being painted for the salons of Paris and London can possibly last a hundred years. I recently visited that Palace of Art, the South Kensington Museum, in London, and saw there a large fresco by Sir Frederick Leighton. It had just been completed, I was informed. It was already fading! Within a few years it will be a blur of indistinct outlines. I compared its condition with the cartoons of Raphael, and a superb Giorgione in the same building; these were as warm and bright as though recently painted. It is not Leighton's fault that his works are doomed to perish as completely off the canvas as though he had never traced them; it is his dire misfortune, and that of every other nineteenth-century painter, thanks to the magnificent institution of free trade, which has resulted in a vulgar competition of all countries and all classes to see which can most quickly jostle the other out of existence. But I am wearying you, mademoiselle—pardon me! To resume my own story. As I told you, I could think of nothing but the one subject of Colour; it haunted me incessantly. I saw in my dreams visions, of exquisite forms and faces that I longed to transfer to my canvas, but I could never succeed in the attempt. My hand seemed to have lost all skill. About this time my father died, and I, having no other relation in the world, and no ties of home to cling to, lived in utter solitude, and tortured my brain more and more with the one question that baffled and perplexed me. I became moody and irritable; I avoided intercourse with everyone, and at last sleep forsook my eyes. Then came a terrible season of feverish trouble, nervous dejection and despair. At times I would sit silently brooding; at others I started up and walked rapidly for hours, in the hope to calm the wild unrest that took possession of my brain. I was then living in Rome, in the studio that had been my father's. One evening—how well I remember it!—I was attacked by one of those fierce impulses that forbade me to rest or think or sleep, and, as usual, I hurried out for one of those long aimless excursions I had latterly grown accustomed to. At the open street-door stood the proprietress of the house, a stout, good-natured contadina, with her youngest child Pippa holding to her skirt. As she saw me approaching, she started back with an exclamation of alarm, and catching the little girl up in her arms, she made the sign of the cross rapidly. Astonished at this, I paused in my hasty walk, and said with as much calmness as I could muster:
"'What do you mean by that? Have I the evil-eye, think you?'
"Curly-haired Pippa stretched out her arms to me—I had often caressed the little one, and given her sweetmeats and toys—but her mother held her back with a sort of smothered scream, and muttered:
"'Holy Virgin! Pippa must not touch him; he is mad.'
"Mad? I looked at the woman and child in scornful amazement. Then without further words I turned, and went swiftly away down the street out of their sight. Mad! Was I indeed losing my reason? Was this the terrific meaning of my sleepless nights, my troubled thoughts, my strange inquietude? Fiercely I strode along, heedless whither I was going, till I found myself suddenly on the borders of the desolate Campagna. A young moon gleamed aloft, looking like a slender sickle thrust into the heavens to reap an over-abundant harvest of stars. I paused irresolutely. There was a deep silence everywhere. I felt faint and giddy: curious flashes of light danced past my eyes, and my limbs shook like those of a palsied old man. I sank upon a stone to rest, to try and arrange my scattered ideas into some sort of connection and order. Mad! I clasped my aching head between my hands, and brooded on the fearful prospect looming before me, and in the words of poor King Lear, I prayed in my heart:
"'O let me not be mad, not mad, sweet heavens!'
"PRAYER! There was another thought. How could I pray? For I was a sceptic. My father had educated me with broadly materialistic views; he himself was a follower of Voltaire, and with his finite rod he took the measure of Divinity, greatly to his own satisfaction. He was a good man, too, and he died with exemplary calmness in the absolute certainty of there being nothing in his composition but dust, to which he was as bound to return. He had not a shred of belief in anything but what he called the Universal Law of Necessity; perhaps this was why all his pictures lacked inspiration. I accepted his theories without thinking much about them, and I had managed to live respectably without any religious belief. But NOW—now with the horrible phantom of madness rising before me—my firm nerves quailed. I tried, I longed to PRAY. Yet to whom? To what? To the Universal Law of Necessity? In that there could be no hearing or answering of human petitions. I meditated on this with a kind of sombre ferocity. Who portioned out this Law of Necessity? What brutal Code compels us to be born, to live, to suffer, and to die without recompense or reason? Why should this Universe be an ever-circling Wheel of Torture? Then a fresh impetus came to me. I rose from my recumbent posture and stood erect; I trembled no more. A curious sensation of defiant amusement possessed me so violently that I laughed aloud. Such a laugh, too! I recoiled from the sound, as from a blow, with a shudder. It was the laugh of—a madman! I thought no more; I was resolved. I would fulfil the grim Law of Necessity to its letter. If Necessity caused my birth, it also demanded my death. Necessity could not force me to live against my will. Better eternal nothingness than madness. Slowly and deliberately I took from my vest a Milanese dagger of thin sharp steel—one that I always carried with me as a means of self-defence—I drew it from its sheath, and looked at the fine edge glittering coldly in the pallid moon-rays. I kissed it joyously; it was my final remedy! I poised it aloft with firm fingers—another instant and it would have been buried deep in my heart, when I felt a powerful grasp on my wrist, and a strong arm struggling with mine forced the dagger from my hand. Savagely angry at being thus foiled in my desperate intent, I staggered back a few paces and sullenly stared at my rescuer. He was a tall man, clad in a dark overcoat bordered with fur; he looked like a wealthy Englishman or American travelling for pleasure. His features were fine and commanding; his eyes gleamed with a gentle disdain as he coolly met my resentful gaze. When he spoke his voice was rich and mellifluous, though his accents had a touch in them of grave scorn.
"'So you are tired of your life, young man! All the more reason have you to live. Anyone can die. A murderer has moral force enough to jeer at his hangman. It is very easy to draw the last breath. It can be accomplished successfully by a child or a warrior. One pang of far less anguish than the toothache, and all is over. There is nothing heroic about it, I assure you! It is as common as going to bed; it is almost prosy. LIFE is heroism, if you like; but death is a mere cessation of business. And to make a rapid and rude exit off the stage before the prompter gives the sign is always, to say the least of it, ungraceful. Act the part out, no matter how bad the play. What say you?'
"And, balancing the dagger lightly on one finger, as though it were a paper-knife, he smiled at me with so much frank kindliness that it was impossible to resist him. I advanced and held out my hand.
"'Whoever you are,' I said, 'you speak like a true man. But you are ignorant of the causes which compelled me to—-' and a hard sob choked my utterance. My new acquaintance pressed my proffered hand cordially, but the gravity of his tone did not vary as he replied:
"'There is no cause, my friend, which compels us to take violent leave of existence, unless it be madness or cowardice.'
"'Aye, and what if it were madness?' I asked him eagerly. He scanned me attentively, and laying his fingers lightly on my wrist, felt my pulse.
"'Pooh, my dear sir!' he said; 'you are no more mad than I am. You are a little overwrought and excited—that I admit. You have some mental worry that consumes you. You shall tell me all about it. I have no doubt I can cure you in a few days.'
"Cure me? I looked at him in wonderment and doubt.
"'Are you a physician?' I asked.
"He laughed. 'Not I! I should be sorry to belong to the profession. Yet I administer medicines and give advice in certain cases. I am simply a remedial agent—not a doctor. But why do we stand here in this bleak place, which must be peopled by the ghosts of olden heroes? Come with me, will you? I am going to the Hotel Costanza, and we can talk there. As for this pretty toy, permit me to return it to you. You will not force it again to the unpleasant task of despatching its owner.'
"And he handed the dagger back to me with a slight bow. I sheathed it at once, feeling somewhat like a chidden child, as I met the slightly satirical gleam of the clear blue eyes that watched me.
"'Will you give me your name, signor?' I asked, as we turned from the Campagna towards the city.
"'With pleasure. I am called Heliobas. A strange name? Oh, not at all! It is pure Chaldee. My mother—as lovely an Eastern houri as Murillo's Madonna, and as devout as Santa Teresa—gave me the Christian saint's name of Casimir also, but Heliobas pur et simple suits me best, and by it I am generally known.'
"'You are a Chaldean?' I inquired.
"'Exactly so. I am descended directly from one of those "wise men of the East" (and, by the way, there were more than three, and they were not all kings), who, being wide awake, happened to notice the birth-star of Christ on the horizon before the rest of the world's inhabitants had so much as rubbed their sleepy eyes. The Chaldeans have been always quick of observation from time immemorial. But in return for my name, you will favour me with yours?'
"I gave it readily, and we walked on together. I felt wonderfully calmed and cheered—as soothed, mademoiselle, as I have noticed you yourself have felt when in MY company."
Here Cellini paused, and looked at me as though expecting a question; but I preferred to remain silent till I had heard all he had to say. He therefore resumed:
"We reached the Hotel Costanza, where Heliobas was evidently well known. The waiters addressed him as Monsieur le Comte; but he gave me no information as to this title. He had a superb suite of rooms in the hotel, furnished with every modern luxury; and as soon as we entered a light supper was served. He invited me to partake, and within the space of half an hour I had told him all my history—my ambition—my strivings after the perfection of colour—my disappointment, dejection, and despair—and, finally, the fearful dread of coming madness that had driven me to attempt my own life. He listened patiently and with unbroken attention. When I had finished, he laid one hand on my shoulder, and said gently:
"'Young man, pardon me if I say that up to the present your career has been an inactive, useless, selfish "kicking against the pricks," as St. Paul says. You set before yourself a task of noble effort, namely, to discover the secret of colouring as known to the old masters; and because you meet with the petty difficulty of modern trade adulteration in your materials, you think that there is no chance—that all is lost. Fie! Do you think Nature is overcome by a few dishonest traders? She can still give you in abundance the unspoilt colours she gave to Raphael and Titian; but not in haste—not if you vulgarly scramble for her gifts in a mood that is impatient of obstacle and delay. "Ohne hast, ohne rast," is the motto of the stars. Learn it well. You have injured your bodily health by useless fretfulness and peevish discontent, and with that we have first to deal. In a week's time, I will make a sound, sane man of you; and then I will teach you how to get the colours you seek—yes!' he added, smiling, 'even to the compassing of Correggio's blue.'
"I could not speak for joy and gratitude; I grasped my friend and preserver by the hand. We stood thus together for a brief interval, when suddenly Heliobas drew himself up to the full stateliness of his height and bent his calm eyes deliberately upon me. A strange thrill ran through me; I still held his hand.
"'Rest!' he said in slow and emphatic tones, 'Weary and overwrought frame, take thy full and needful measure of repose! Struggling and deeply injured spirit, be free of thy narrow prison! By that Force which I acknowledge within me and thee and in all created things, I command thee, REST!'
"Fascinated, awed, overcome by his manner, I gazed at him and would have spoken, but my tongue refused its office—my senses swam—my eyes closed—my limbs gave way—I fell senseless."
Cellini again paused and looked at me. Intent on his words, I would not interrupt him. He went on:
"When I say senseless, mademoiselle, I allude of course to my body. But I, myself—that is, my soul—was conscious; I lived, I moved, I heard, I saw. Of that experience I am forbidden to speak. When I returned to mortal existence I found myself lying on a couch in the same room where I had supped with Heliobas, and Heliobas himself sat near me reading. It was broad noonday. A delicious sense of tranquillity and youthful buoyancy was upon me, and without speaking I sprang up from my recumbent position and touched him on the arm. He looked up.
"'Well?' he asked, and his eyes smiled.
"I seized his hand, and pressed it reverently to my lips.
"'My best friend!' I exclaimed. 'What wonders have I not seen—what truths have I not learned—what mysteries!'
"'On all these things be silent,' replied Heliobas. 'They must not be lightly spoken of. And of the questions you naturally desire to ask me, you shall have the answers in due time. What has happened to you is not wonderful; you have simply been acted upon by scientific means. But your cure is not yet complete. A few days more passed with me will restore you thoroughly. Will you consent to remain so long in my company?'
"Gladly and gratefully I consented, and we spent the next ten days together, during which Heliobas administered to me certain remedies, external and internal, which had a marvellous effect in renovating and invigorating my system. By the expiration of that time I was strong and well—a sound and sane man, as my rescuer had promised I should be—my brain was fresh and eager for work, and my mind was filled with new and grand ideas of art. And I had gained through Heliobas two inestimable things—a full comprehension of the truth of religion, and the secret of human destiny; and I had won a LOVE so exquisite!"
Here Cellini paused, and his eyes were uplifted in a sort of wondering rapture. He continued after a pause:
"Yes, mademoiselle, I discovered that I was loved, and watched over and guided by ONE so divinely beautiful, so gloriously faithful, that mortal language fails before the description of such perfection!"
He paused again, and again continued:
"When he found me perfectly healthy again in mind and body, Heliobas showed me his art of mixing colours. From that hour all my works were successful. You know that my pictures are eagerly purchased as soon as completed, and that the colour I obtain in them is to the world a mystery almost magical. Yet there is not one among the humblest of artists who could not, if he chose, make use of the same means as I have done to gain the nearly imperishable hues that still glow on the canvases of Raphael. But of this there is no need to speak just now. I have told you my story, mademoiselle, and it now rests with me to apply its meaning to yourself. You are attending?"
"Perfectly," I replied; and, indeed, my interest at this point was so strong that I could almost hear the expectant beating of my heart. Cellini resumed:
"Electricity, mademoiselle, is, as you are aware, the wonder of our age. No end can be foreseen to the marvels it is capable of accomplishing. But one of the most important branches of this great science is ignorantly derided just now by the larger portion of society—I mean the use of human electricity; that force which is in each one of us—in you and in me—and, to a very large extent, in Heliobas. He has cultivated the electricity in his own system to such an extent that his mere touch, his lightest glance, have healing in them, or the reverse, as he chooses to exert his power—I may say it is never the reverse, for he is full of kindness, sympathy, and pity for all humanity. His influence is so great that he can, without speaking, by his mere presence suggest his own thoughts to other people who are perfect strangers, and cause them to design and carry out certain actions in accordance with his plans. You are incredulous? Mademoiselle, this power is in every one of us; only we do not cultivate it, because our education is yet so imperfect. To prove the truth of what I say, I, though I have only advanced a little way in the cultivation of my own electric force, even I have influenced YOU. You cannot deny it. By my thought, impelled to you, you saw clearly my picture that was actually veiled. By MY force, you replied correctly to a question I asked you concerning that same picture. By MY desire, you gave me, without being aware of it, a message from one I love when you said, 'Dieu vous garde!' You remember? And the elixir I gave you, which is one of the simplest remedies discovered by Heliobas, had the effect of making you learn what he intended you to learn—his name."
"He!" I exclaimed. "Why, he does not know me—he can have no intentions towards me!"
"Mademoiselle," replied Cellini gravely, "if you will think again of the last of your three dreams, you will not doubt that he HAS intentions towards you. As I told you, he is a PHYSICAL ELECTRICIAN. By that is meant a great deal. He knows by instinct whether he is or will be needed sooner or later. Let me finish what I have to say. You are ill, mademoiselle—ill from over-work. You are an improvisatrice—that is, you have the emotional genius of music, a spiritual thing unfettered by rules, and utterly misunderstood by the world. You cultivate this faculty, regardless of cost; you suffer, and you will suffer more. In proportion as your powers in music grow, so will your health decline. Go to Heliobas; he will do for you what he did for me. Surely you will not hesitate? Between years of weak invalidism and perfect health, in less than a fortnight, there can be no question of choice."
I rose from my seat slowly.
"Where is this Heliobas?" I asked. "In Paris?"
"Yes, in Paris. If you decide to go there, take my advice, and go alone. You can easily make some excuse to your friends. I will give you the address of a ladies' Pension, where you will be made at home and comfortable. May I do this?"
"If you please," I answered.
He wrote rapidly in pencil on a card of his own:
"MADAME DENISE, "36, Avenue du Midi, "Paris,"
and handed it to me. I stood still where I had risen, thinking deeply. I had been impressed and somewhat startled by Cellini's story; but I was in no way alarmed at the idea of trusting myself to the hands of a physical electrician such as Heliobas professed to be. I knew that there were many cases of serious illnesses being cured by means of electricity—that electric baths and electric appliances of all descriptions were in ordinary use; and I saw no reason to be surprised at the fact of a man being in existence who had cultivated electric force within himself to such an extent that he was able to use it as a healing power. There seemed to me to be really nothing extraordinary in it. The only part of Cellini's narration I did not credit was the soul-transmigration he professed to have experienced; and I put that down to the over-excitement of his imagination at the time of his first interview with Heliobas. But I kept this thought to myself. In any case, I resolved to go to Paris. The great desire of my life was to be in perfect health, and I determined to omit no means of obtaining this inestimable blessing. Cellini watched me as I remained standing before him in silent abstraction.
"Will you go?" he inquired at last.
"Yes; I will go," I replied. "But will you give me a letter to your friend?"
"Leo has taken it and all necessary explanations already," said Cellini, smiling; "I knew you would go. Heliobas expects you the day after to-morrow. His residence is Hotel Mars, Champs Elysees. You are not angry with me, mademoiselle? I could not help knowing that you would go."
I smiled faintly.
"Electricity again, I suppose! No, I am not angry. Why should I be? I thank you very much, signor, and I shall thank you more if Heliobas indeed effects my cure."
"Oh, that is certain, positively certain," answered Cellini; "you can indulge that hope as much as you like, mademoiselle, for it is one that cannot be disappointed. Before you leave me, you will look at your own picture, will you not?" and, advancing to his easel, he uncovered it.
I was greatly surprised. I thought he had but traced the outline of my features, whereas the head was almost completed. I looked at it as I would look at the portrait of a stranger. It was a wistful, sad-eyed, plaintive face, and on the pale gold of the hair rested a coronal of lilies.
"It will soon be finished," said Cellini, covering the easel again; "I shall not need another sitting, which is fortunate, as it is so necessary for you to go away. And now will you look at the 'Life and Death' once more?"
I raised my eyes to the grand picture, unveiled that day in all its beauty.
"The face of the Life-Angel there," went on Cellini quietly, "is a poor and feeble resemblance of the One I love. You knew I was betrothed, mademoiselle?"
I felt confused, and was endeavouring to find an answer to this when he continued:
"Do not trouble to explain, for I know how YOU knew. But no more of this. Will you leave Cannes to-morrow?"
"Yes. In the morning."
"Then good-bye, mademoiselle. Should I never see you again—-"
"Never see me again!" I interrupted. "Why, what do you mean?"
"I do not allude to your destinies, but to mine," he said, with a kindly look. "My business may call me away from here before you come back—our paths may lie apart—many circumstances may occur to prevent our meeting—so that, I repeat, should I never see you again, you will, I hope, bear me in your friendly remembrance as one who was sorry to see you suffer, and who was the humble means of guiding you to renewed health and happiness."
I held out my hand, and my eyes filled with tears. There was something so gentle and chivalrous about him, and withal so warm and sympathetic, that I felt indeed as if I were bidding adieu to one of the truest friends I should ever have in my life.
"I hope nothing will cause you to leave Cannes till I return to it," I said with real earnestness. "I should like you to judge of my restoration to health."
"There will be no need for that," he replied; "I shall know when you are quite recovered through Heliobas."
He pressed my hand warmly.
"I brought back the book you lent me," I went on; "but I should like a copy of it for myself. Can I get it anywhere?"
"Heliobas will give you one with pleasure," replied Cellini; "you have only to make the request. The book is not on sale. It was printed for private circulation only. And now, mademoiselle, we part. I congratulate you on the comfort and joy awaiting you in Paris. Do not forget the address—Hotel Mars, Champs Elysees. Farewell!"
And again shaking my hand cordially, he stood at his door watching me as I passed out and began to ascend the stairs leading to my room. On the landing I paused, and, looking round, saw him still there. I smiled and waved my hand. He did the same in response, once—twice; then turning abruptly, disappeared.
That afternoon I explained to Colonel and Mrs. Everard that I had resolved to consult a celebrated physician in Paris (whose name, however, I did not mention), and should go there alone for a few days. On hearing that I knew of a well-recommended ladies' Pension, they made no objection to my arrangements, and they agreed to remain at the Hotel de L—-till I returned. I gave them no details of my plans, and of course never mentioned Raffaello Cellini in connection with the matter. A nervous and wretchedly agitated night made me more than ever determined to try the means of cure proposed to me. At ten o'clock the following morning I left Cannes by express train for Paris. Just before starting I noticed that the lilies of the valley Cellini had given me for the dance had, in spite of my care, entirely withered, and were already black with decay—so black that they looked as though they had been scorched by a flash of lightning.
THE HOTEL MARS AND ITS OWNER.
It was between three and four o'clock in the afternoon of the day succeeding the night of my arrival in Paris, when I found myself standing at the door of the Hotel Mars, Champs Elysees. I had proved the Pension kept by Madame Denise to be everything that could be desired; and on my presentation of Raffaello Cellini's card of introduction, I had been welcomed by the maitresse de la maison with a cordial effusiveness that amounted almost to enthusiasm.
"Ce cher Cellini!" the cheery and pleasant little woman had exclaimed, as she set before me a deliciously prepared breakfast. "Je l'aime tant! Il a si bon coeur! et ses beaux yeux! Mon Dieu, comme un ange!"
As soon as I had settled the various little details respecting my room and attendance, and had changed my travelling-dress for a quiet visiting toilette, I started for the abode of Heliobas.
The weather was very cold; I had left the summer behind me at Cannes, to find winter reigning supreme in Paris. A bitter east wind blew, and a few flakes of snow fell now and then from the frowning sky. The house to which I betook myself was situated at a commanding corner of a road facing the Champs Elysees. It was a noble-looking building. The broad steps leading to the entrance were guarded on either side by a sculptured Sphinx, each of whom held, in its massive stone paws, a plain shield, inscribed with the old Roman greeting to strangers, "Salve!" Over the portico was designed a scroll which bore the name "Hotel Mars" in clearly cut capitals, and the monogram "C. H."
I ascended the steps with some hesitation, and twice I extended my hand towards the bell, desiring yet fearing to awaken its summons. I noticed it was an electric bell, not needing to be pulled but pressed; and at last, after many doubts and anxious suppositions, I very gently laid my fingers on the little button which formed its handle. Scarcely had I done this than the great door slid open rapidly without the least noise. I looked for the servant in attendance—there was none. I paused an instant; the door remained invitingly open, and through it I caught a glimpse of flowers. Resolving to be bold, and to hesitate no longer, I entered. As I crossed the threshold, the door closed behind me instantly with its previous swiftness and silence.
I found myself in a spacious hall, light and lofty, surrounded with fluted pillars of white marble. In the centre a fountain bubbled melodiously, and tossed up every now and then a high jet of sparkling spray, while round its basin grew the rarest ferns and exotics, which emitted a subtle and delicate perfume. No cold air penetrated here; it was as warm and balmy as a spring day in Southern Italy. Light Indian bamboo chairs provided with luxurious velvet cushions were placed in various corners between the marble columns, and on one of these I seated myself to rest a minute, wondering what I should do next, and whether anyone would come to ask me the cause of my intrusion. My meditations were soon put to flight by the appearance of a young lad, who crossed the hall from the left-hand side and approached me. He was a handsome boy of twelve or thirteen years of age, and he was attired in a simple Greek costume of white linen, relieved with a broad crimson silk sash. A small flat crimson cap rested on his thick black curls; this he lifted with deferential grace, and, saluting me, said respectfully:
"My master is ready to receive you, mademoiselle."
I rose without a word and followed him, scarcely permitting myself to speculate as to how his master knew I was there at all.
The hall was soon traversed, and the lad paused before a magnificent curtain of deep crimson velvet, heavily bordered with gold. Pulling a twisted cord that hung beside it, the heavy, regal folds parted in twain with noiseless regularity, and displayed an octagon room, so exquisitely designed and ornamented that I gazed upon it as upon some rare and beautiful picture. It was unoccupied, and my young escort placed a chair for me near the central window, informing me as he did so that "Monsieur le Comte" would be with me instantly; whereupon he departed.
Left alone, I gazed in bewilderment at the loveliness round me. The walls and ceiling were painted in fresco. I could not make out the subjects, but I could see faces of surpassing beauty smiling from clouds, and peering between stars and crescents. The furniture appeared to be of very ancient Arabian design; each chair was a perfect masterpiece of wood-carving, picked out and inlaid with gold. The sight of a semi-grand piano, which stood open, brought me back to the realization that I was living in modern times, and not in a dream of the Arabian Nights; while the Paris Figaro and the London Times—both of that day's issue—lying on a side-table, demonstrated the nineteenth century to me with every possible clearness. There were flowers everywhere in this apartment—in graceful vases and in gilded osier baskets—and a queer lop-sided Oriental jar stood quite near me, filled almost to overflowing with Neapolitan violets. Yet it was winter in Paris, and flowers were rare and costly.
Looking about me, I perceived an excellent cabinet photograph of Raffaello Cellini, framed in antique silver; and I rose to examine it more closely, as being the face of a friend. While I looked at it, I heard the sound of an organ in the distance playing softly an old familiar church chant. I listened. Suddenly I bethought myself of the three dreams that had visited me, and a kind of nervous dread came upon me. This Heliobas,—was I right after all in coming to consult him? Was he not perhaps a mere charlatan? and might not his experiments upon me prove fruitless, and possibly fatal? An idea seized me that I would escape while there was yet time. Yes! ... I would not see him to-day, at any rate; I would write and explain. These and other disjointed thoughts crossed my mind; and yielding to the unreasoning impulse of fear that possessed me, I actually turned to leave the room, when I saw the crimson velvet portiere dividing again in its regular and graceful folds, and Heliobas himself entered.
I stood mute and motionless. I knew him well; he was the very man I had seen in my third and last dream; the same noble, calm features; the same commanding presence; the same keen, clear eyes; the same compelling smile. There was nothing extraordinary about his appearance except his stately bearing and handsome countenance; his dress was that of any well-to-do gentleman of the present day, and there was no affectation of mystery in his manner. He advanced and bowed courteously; then, with a friendly look, held out his hand. I gave him mine at once.
"So you are the young musician?" he said, in those warm mellifluous accents that I had heard before and that I so well remembered. "My friend Raffaello Cellini has written to me about you. I hear you have been suffering from physical depression?"
He spoke as any physician might do who inquired after a patient's health. I was surprised and relieved. I had prepared myself for something darkly mystical, almost cabalistic; but there was nothing unusual in the demeanour of this pleasant and good-looking gentleman who, bidding me be seated, took a chair himself opposite to me, and observed me with that sympathetic and kindly interest which any well-bred doctor would esteem it his duty to exhibit. I became quite at ease, and answered all his questions fully and frankly. He felt my pulse in the customary way, and studied my face attentively. I described all my symptoms, and he listened with the utmost patience. When I had concluded, he leaned back in his chair and appeared to ponder deeply for some moments. Then he spoke.
"You know, of course, that I am not a doctor?"
"I know," I said; "Signer Cellini explained to me."
"Ah!" and Heliobas smiled. "Raffaello explained as much as he might; but not everything. I must tell you I have a simple pharmacopoeia of my own—it contains twelve remedies, and only twelve. In fact there me no more that are of any use to the human mechanism. All are made of the juice of plants, and six of them are electric. Raffaello tried you with one of them, did he not?"
As he put this question, I was aware of a keenly inquiring look sent from the eyes of my interrogator into mine.
"Yes," I answered frankly, "and it made me dream, and I dreamt of YOU."
Heliobas laughed lightly.
"So!—that is well. Now I am going in the first place to give you what I am sure will be satisfactory information. If you agree to trust yourself to my care, you will be in perfect health in a little less than a fortnight—but you must follow my rules exactly."
I started up from my seat.
"Of course!" I exclaimed eagerly, forgetting all my previous fear of him; "I will do all you advise, even if you wish to magnetize me as you magnetized Signor Cellini!"
"I never MAGNETIZED Raffaello," he said gravely; "he was on the verge of madness, and he had no faith whereby to save himself. I simply set him free for a time, knowing that his was a genius which would find out things for itself or perish in the effort. I let him go on a voyage of discovery, and he came back perfectly satisfied. That is all. You do not need his experience."
"How do you know?" I asked.
"You are a woman—your desire is to be well and strong, health being beauty—to love and to be beloved—to wear pretty toilettes and to be admired; and you have a creed which satisfies you, and which you believe in without proofs."
There was the slightest possible tinge of mockery in his voice as he said these words. A tumultuous rush of feelings overcame me. My high dreams of ambition, my innate scorn of the trite and commonplace, my deep love of art, my desires of fame—all these things bore down upon my heart and overcame it, and a pride too deep for tears arose in me and found utterance.
"You think I am so slight and weak a thing!" I exclaimed. "YOU, who profess to understand the secrets of electricity—you have no better instinctive knowledge of me than that! Do you deem women all alike—all on one common level, fit for nothing but to be the toys or drudges of men? Can you not realize that there are some among them who despise the inanities of everyday life—who care nothing for the routine of society, and whose hearts are filled with cravings that no mere human love or life can satisfy? Yes—even weak women are capable of greatness; and if we do sometimes dream of what we cannot accomplish through lack of the physical force necessary for large achievements, that is not our fault but our misfortune. We did not create ourselves. We did not ask to be born with the over-sensitiveness, the fatal delicacy, the highly-strung nervousness of the feminine nature. Monsieur Heliobas, you are a learned and far-seeing man, I have no doubt; but you do not read me aright if you judge me as a mere woman who is perfectly contented with the petty commonplaces of ordinary living. And as for my creed, what is it to you whether I kneel in the silence of my own room or in the glory of a lighted cathedral to pour out my very soul to ONE whom I know exists, and whom I am satisfied to believe in, as you say, without proofs, save such proofs as I obtain from my own inner consciousness? I tell you, though, in your opinion it is evident my sex is against me, I would rather die than sink into the miserable nonentity of such lives as are lived by the majority of women."
I paused, overcome by my own feelings. Heliobas smiled.
"So! You are stung!" he said quietly; "stung into action. That is as it should be. Resume your seat, mademoiselle, and do not be angry with me. I am studying you for your own good. In the meantime permit me to analyze your words a little. You are young and inexperienced. You speak of the 'over-sensitiveness, the fatal delicacy, the highly-strung nervousness of the feminine nature.' My dear lady, if you had lived as long as I have, you would know that these are mere stock phrases—for the most part meaningless. As a rule, women are less sensitive than men. There are many of your sex who are nothing but lumps of lymph and fatty matter—women with less instinct than the dumb beasts, and with more brutality. There are others who,—adding the low cunning of the monkey to the vanity of the peacock,—seek no other object but the furtherance of their own designs, which are always petty even when not absolutely mean. There are obese women whose existence is a doze between dinner and tea. There are women with thin lips and pointed noses, who only live to squabble over domestic grievances and interfere in their neighbours' business. There are your murderous women with large almond eyes, fair white hands, and voluptuous red lips, who, deprived of the dagger or the poison-bowl, will slay a reputation in a few lazily enunciated words, delivered with a perfectly high-bred accent. There are the miserly woman, who look after cheese-parings and candle-ends, and lock up the soap. There are the spiteful women whose very breath is acidity and venom. There are the frivolous women whose chitter-chatter and senseless giggle are as empty as the rattling of dry peas on a drum. In fact, the delicacy of women is extremely overrated—their coarseness is never done full justice to. I have heard them recite in public selections of a kind that no man would dare to undertake—such as Tennyson's 'Rizpah,' for instance. I know a woman who utters every line of it, with all its questionable allusions, boldly before any and everybody, without so much as an attempt at blushing. I assure you men are far more delicate than women—far more chivalrous—far larger in their views, and more generous in their sentiments. But I will not deny the existence of about four women in every two hundred and fifty, who may be, and possibly are, examples of what the female sex was originally intended to be—pure-hearted, self-denying, gentle and truthful—filled with tenderness and inspiration. Heaven knows my own mother was all this and more! And my sister is—. But let me speak to you of yourself. You love music, I understand—you are a professional artist?"
"I was," I answered, "till my state of health stopped me from working."
Heliobas bent his eyes upon me in friendly sympathy.
"You were, and you will be again, an improvisatrice" he went on. "Do you not find it difficult to make your audiences understand your aims?"
I smiled as the remembrance of some of my experiences in public came to my mind.
"Yes," I said, half laughing. "In England, at least, people do not know what is meant by IMPROVISING. They think it is to take a little theme and compose variations on it—the mere ABC of the art. But to sit down to the piano and plan a whole sonata or symphony in your head, and play it while planning it, is a thing they do not and will not understand. They come to hear, and they wonder and go away, and the critics declare it to be CLAP-TRAP."
"Exactly!" replied Heliobas. "But you are to be congratulated on having attained this verdict. Everything that people cannot quite understand is called CLAP-TRAP in England; as for instance the matchless violin-playing of Sarasate; the tempestuous splendor of Rubinstein; the wailing throb of passion in Hollmann's violoncello—this is, according to the London press, CLAP-TRAP; while the coldly correct performances of Joachim and the 'icily-null' renderings of Charles Halle are voted 'magnificent' and 'full of colour.' But to return to yourself. Will you play to me?"
"I have not touched the instrument for two months," I said; "I am afraid I am out of practice."
"Then you shall not exert yourself to-day," returned Heliobas kindly. "But I believe I can help you with your improvisations. You compose the music as you play, you tell me. Well, have you any idea how the melodies or the harmonies form themselves in your brain?"
"Not the least in the world," I replied.
"Is the act of thinking them out an effort to you?" he asked.
"Not at all. They come as though someone else were planning them for me."
"Well, well! I think I can certainly be of use to you in this matter as in others. I understand your temperament thoroughly. And now let me give you my first prescription."
He went to a corner of the room and lifted from the floor an ebony casket, curiously carved and ornamented with silver. This he unlocked. It contained twelve flasks of cut glass, stoppered with gold and numbered in order. He next pulled out a side drawer in this casket, and in it I saw several little thin empty glass tubes, about the size of a cigarette-holder. Taking two of these he filled them from two of the larger flasks, corked them tightly, and then turning to me, said:
"To-night, on going to bed, have a warm bath, empty the contents of the tube marked No. 1 into it, and then immerse yourself thoroughly for about five minutes. After the bath, put the fluid in this other tube marked 2, into a tumbler of fresh spring water, and drink it off. Then go straight to bed."
"Shall I have any dreams?" I inquired with a little anxiety.
"Certainly not," replied Heliobas, smiling. "I wish you to sleep as soundly as a year-old child. Dreams are not for you to-night. Can you come to me tomorrow afternoon at five o'clock? If you can arrange to stay to dinner, my sister will be pleased to meet you; but perhaps you are otherwise engaged?"
I told him I was not, and explained where I had taken rooms, adding that I had come to Paris expressly to put myself under his treatment.
"You shall have no cause to regret this journey," he said earnestly. "I can cure you thoroughly, and I will. I forget your nationality—you are not English?"
"No, not entirely. I am half Italian."
"Ah, yes! I remember now. But you have been educated in England?"
"I am glad it is only partly," remarked Heliobas. "If it had been entirely, your improvisations would have had no chance. In fact you never would have improvised. You would have played the piano like poor mechanical Arabella Goddard. As it is, there is some hope of originality in you—you need not be one of the rank and file unless you choose."
"I do not choose," I said.
"Well, but you must take the consequences, and they are bitter. A woman who does not go with her time is voted eccentric; a woman who prefers music to tea and scandal is an undesirable acquaintance; and a woman who prefers Byron to Austin Dobson is—in fact, no measure can gauge her general impossibility!" I laughed gaily. "I will take all the consequences as willingly as I will take your medicines," I said, stretching out my hand for the little vases which he gave me wrapped in paper. "And I thank you very much, monsieur. And"—here I hesitated. Ought I not to ask him his fee? Surely the medicines ought to be paid for?
Heliobas appeared to read my thoughts, for he said, as though answering my unuttered question:
"I do not accept fees, mademoiselle. To relieve your mind from any responsibility of gratitude to me, I will tell you at once that I never promise to effect a cure unless I see that the person who comes to be cured has a certain connection with myself. If the connection exists I am bound by fixed laws to serve him or her. Of course I am able also to cure those who are NOT by nature connected with me; but then I have to ESTABLISH a connection, and this takes time, and is sometimes very difficult to accomplish, almost as tremendous a task as the laying down of the Atlantic cable. But in your case I am actually COMPELLED to do my best for you, so you need be under no sense of obligation."
Here was a strange speech—the first really inexplicable one I had heard from his lips.
"I am connected with you?" I asked, surprised. "How? In what way?"
"It would take too long to explain to you just now," said Heliobas gently; "but I can prove to you in a moment that a connection DOES exist between YOUR inner self, and MY inner self, if you wish it."
"I do wish it very much," I answered.
"Then take my hand," continued Heliobas, stretching it out, "and look steadily at me."
I obeyed, half trembling. As I gazed, a veil appeared to fall from my eyes. A sense of security, of comfort, and of absolute confidence came upon me, and I saw what might be termed THE IMAGE OF ANOTHER FACE looking at me THROUGH or BEHIND the actual form and face of Heliobas. And that other face was his, and yet not his; but whatever it appeared to be, it was the face of a friend to ME, one that I was certain I had known long, long ago, and moreover one that I must have loved in some distant time, for my whole soul seemed to yearn towards that indistinct haze where smiled the fully recognised yet unfamiliar countenance. This strange sensation lasted but a few seconds, for Heliobas suddenly dropped my hand. The room swam round me; the walls seemed to rock; then everything steadied and came right again, and all was as usual, only I was amazed and bewildered.
"What does it mean?" I murmured.
"It means the simplest thing in nature," replied Heliobas quietly, "namely, that your soul and mine are for some reason or other placed on the same circle of electricity. Nothing more nor less. Therefore we must serve each other. Whatever I do for you, you have it in your power to repay me amply for hereafter."
I met the steady glance of his keen eyes, and a sense of some indestructible force within me gave me a sudden courage.
"Decide for me as you please," I answered fearlessly. "I trust you completely, though I do not know why I do so."
"You will know before long. You are satisfied of the fact that my touch can influence you?"
"Yes; most thoroughly."
"Very well. All other explanations, if you desire them, shall be given you in due time. In the power I possess over you and some others, there is neither mesmerism nor magnetism—nothing but a purely scientific fact which can be clearly and reasonably proved and demonstrated. But till you are thoroughly restored to health, we will defer all discussion. And now, mademoiselle, permit me to escort you to the door. I shall expect you to-morrow."
Together we left the beautiful room in which this interview had taken place, and crossed the hall. As we approached the entrance, Heliobas turned towards me and said with a smile:
"Did not the manoeuvres of my street-door astonish you?"
"A little," I confessed.
"It is very simple. The button you touch outside is electric; it opens the door and at the same time rings the bell in my study, thus informing me of a visitor. When the visitor steps across the threshold he treads, whether he will or no, on another apparatus, which closes the door behind him and rings another bell in my page's room, who immediately comes to me for orders. You see how easy? And from within it is managed in almost the same manner."
And he touched a handle similar to the one outside, and the door opened instantly. Heliobas held out his hand—that hand which a few minutes previously had exercised such strange authority over me.
"Good-bye, mademoiselle. You are not afraid of me now?"
I laughed. "I do not think I was ever really afraid of you," I said. "If I was, I am not so any longer. You have promised me health, and that promise is sufficient to give me entire courage."
"That is well," said Heliobas. "Courage and hope in themselves are the precursors of physical and mental energy. Remember to-morrow at five, and do not keep late hours to-night. I should advise you to be in bed by ten at the latest."
I agreed to this, and we shook hands and parted. I walked blithely along, back to the Avenue du Midi, where, on my arrival indoors, I found a letter from Mrs. Everard. She wrote "in haste" to give me the names of some friends of hers whom she had discovered, through the "American Register," to be staying at the Grand Hotel. She begged me to call upon them, and enclosed two letters of introduction for the purpose. She concluded her epistle by saying:
"Raffaello Cellini has been invisible ever since your departure, but our inimitable waiter, Alphonse, says he is very busy finishing a picture for the Salon—something that we have never seen. I shall intrude myself into his studio soon on some pretence or other, and will then let you know all about it. In the meantime, believe me,
"Your ever devoted friend, AMY."
I answered this letter, and then spent a pleasant evening at the Pension, chatting sociably with Madame Denise and another cheery little Frenchwoman, a day governess, who boarded there, and who had no end of droll experiences to relate, her enviable temperament being to always see the humorous side of life. I thoroughly enjoyed her sparkling chatter and her expressive gesticulations, and we all three made ourselves merry till bedtime. Acting on the advice of Heliobas, I retired early to my room, where a warm bath had been prepared in compliance with my orders. I uncorked the glass tube No. 1, and poured the colourless fluid it contained into the water, which immediately bubbled gently, as though beginning to boil. After watching it for a minute or two, and observing that this seething movement steadily continued, I undressed quickly and stepped in. Never shall I forget the exquisite sensation I experienced! I can only describe it as the poor little Doll's Dressmaker in "Our Mutual Friend" described her angel visitants, her "blessed children," who used to come and "take her up and make her light." If my body had been composed of no grosser matter than fire and air, I could not have felt more weightless, more buoyant, more thoroughly exhilarated than when, at the end of the prescribed five minutes, I got out of that marvellous bath of healing! As I prepared for bed, I noticed that the bubbling of the water had entirely ceased; but this was easy of comprehension, for if it had contained electricity, as I supposed, my body had absorbed it by contact, which would account for the movement being stilled. I now took the second little phial, and prepared it as I had been told. This time the fluid was motionless. I noticed it was very faintly tinged with amber. I drank it off—it was perfectly tasteless. Once in bed, I seemed to have no power to think any more—my eyes closed readily—the slumber of a year-old child, as Heliobas had said, came upon me with resistless and sudden force, and I remembered no more.
ZARA AND PRINCE IVAN.
The sun poured brilliantly into my room when I awoke the next morning. I was free from all my customary aches and pains, and a delightful sense of vigour and elasticity pervaded my frame. I rose at once, and, looking at my watch, found to my amazement that it was twelve o'clock in the day! Hastily throwing on my dressing-gown, I rang the bell, and the servant appeared.
"Is it actually mid-day?" I asked her. "Why did you not call me?"
The girl smiled apologetically.
"I did knock at mademoiselle's door, but she gave me no answer. Madame Denise came up also, and entered the room; but seeing mademoiselle in so sound a sleep, she said it was a pity to disturb mademoiselle."
Which statement good Madame Denise, toiling upstairs just then with difficulty, she being stout and short of breath, confirmed with many smiling nods of her head.
"Breakfast shall be served at the instant," she said, rubbing her fat hands together; "but to disturb you when you slept—ah, Heaven! the sleep of an infant—I could not do it! I should have been wicked!"
I thanked her for her care of me; I could have kissed her, she looked so motherly, and kind, and altogether lovable. And I felt so merry and well! She and the servant retired to prepare my coffee, and I proceeded to make my toilette. As I brushed out my hair I heard the sound of a violin. Someone was playing next door. I listened, and recognised a famous Beethoven Concerto. The unseen musician played brilliantly and withal tenderly, both touch and tone reminding me of some beautiful verses in a book of poems I had recently read, called "Love-Letters of a Violinist," in which the poet [FOOTNOTE: Author of the equally beautiful idyl, "Gladys the Singer," included in the new American copyright edition just issued.] talks of his "loved Amati," and says: "I prayed my prayer. I wove into my song
Fervour, and joy, and mystery, and the bleak, The wan despair that words could never speak. I prayed as if my spirit did belong To some old master who was wise and strong, Because he lov'd and suffered, and was weak.
"I trill'd the notes, and curb'd them to a sigh, And when they falter'd most, I made them leap Fierce from my bow, as from a summer sleep A young she-devil. I was fired thereby To bolder efforts—and a muffled cry Came from the strings as if a saint did weep.
"I changed the theme. I dallied with the bow Just time enough to fit it to a mesh Of merry tones, and drew it back afresh, To talk of truth, and constancy, and woe, And life, and love, and madness, and the glow Of mine own soul which burns into my flesh."
All my love for music welled freshly up in my heart; I, who had felt disinclined to touch the piano for months, now longed to try my strength again upon the familiar and responsive key-board. For a piano has never been a mere piano to me; it is a friend who answers to my thought, and whose notes meet my fingers with caressing readiness and obedience.
Breakfast came, and I took it with great relish. Then, to pass the day, I went out and called on Mrs. Everard's friends, Mr. and Mrs. Challoner and their daughters. I found them very agreeable, with that easy bonhomie and lack of stiffness that distinguishes the best Americans. Finding out through Mrs. Everard's letter that I was an "artiste" they at once concluded I must need support and patronage, and with impulsive large-heartedness were beginning to plan as to the best means of organizing a concert for me. I was taken by surprise at this, for I had generally found the exact reverse of this sympathy among English patrons of art, who were never tired of murmuring the usual platitudes about there being "so many musicians," "music was overdone," "improvising was not understood or cared for," etc., etc.
But these agreeable Americans, as soon as they discovered that I had not come for any professional reason to Paris, but only to consult a physician about my health, were actually disappointed.
"Oh, we shall persuade you to give a recital some time!" persisted the handsome smiling mother of the family. "I know lots of people in Paris. We'll get it up for you!"
I protested, half laughing, that I had no idea of the kind, but they were incorrigibly generous.
"Nonsense!" said Mrs. Challoner, arranging her diamond rings on her pretty white hand with pardonable pride. "Brains don't go for nothing in OUR country. As soon as you are fixed up in health, we'll give you a grand soiree in Paris, and we'll work up all our folks in the place. Don't tell me you are not as glad of dollars as any one of us."
"Dollars are very good," I admitted, "but real appreciation is far better."
"Well, you shall have both from us," said Mrs. Challoner. "And now, will you stop to luncheon?"
I accepted this invitation, given as it was with the most friendly affability, and enjoyed myself very much.
"You don't look ill," said the eldest Miss Challoner to me, later on. "I don't see that you want a physician."
"Oh, I am getting much better now," I replied; "and I hope soon to be quite well."
"Who's your doctor?"
I hesitated. Somehow the name of Heliobas would not come to my lips. Fortunately Mrs. Challoner diverted her daughter's attention at this moment by the announcement that a dressmaker was waiting to see her; and in the face of such an important visit, no one remembered to ask me again the name of my medical adviser.
I left the Grand Hotel in good time to prepare for my second visit to Heliobas. As I was going there to dinner I made a slightly dressy toilette, if a black silk robe relieved with a cluster of pale pink roses can be called dressy. This time I drove to the Hotel Mars, dismissing the coachman, however, before ascending the steps. The door opened and closed as usual, and the first person I saw in the hall was Heliobas himself, seated in one of the easy-chairs, reading a volume of Plato. He rose and greeted me cordially. Before I could speak a word, he said:
"You need not tell me that you slept well. I see it in your eyes and face. You feel better?"
My gratitude to him was so great that I found it difficult to express my thanks. Tears rushed to my eyes, yet I tried to smile, though I could not speak. He saw my emotion, and continued kindly:
"I am as thankful as you can be for the cure which I see has begun, and will soon be effected. My sister is waiting to see you. Will you come to her room?"
We ascended a flight of stairs thickly carpeted, and bordered on each side by tropical ferns and flowers, placed in exquisitely painted china pots and vases. I heard the distant singing of many birds mingled with the ripple and plash of waters. We reached a landing where the afterglow of the set sun streamed through a high oriel window of richly stained glass. Turning towards the left, Heliobas drew aside the folds of some azure satin hangings, and calling in a low voice "Zara!" motioned me to enter. I stepped into a spacious and lofty apartment where the light seemed to soften and merge into many shades of opaline radiance and delicacy—a room the beauty of which would at any other time have astonished and delighted me, but which now appeared as nothing beside the surpassing loveliness of the woman who occupied it. Never shall I behold again any face or form so divinely beautiful! She was about the medium height of women, but her small finely-shaped head was set upon so slender and proud a throat that she appeared taller than she actually was. Her figure was most exquisitely rounded and proportioned, and she came across the room to give me greeting with a sort of gliding graceful movement, like that of a stately swan floating on calm sunlit water. Her complexion was transparently clear—most purely white, most delicately rosy, Her eyes—large, luminous and dark as night, fringed with long silky black lashes—looked like
"Fairy lakes, where tender thoughts Swam softly to and fro."
Her rich black hair was arranged a la Marguerite, and hung down in one long loose thick braid that nearly reached the end of her dress, and she was attired in a robe of deep old gold Indian silk as soft as cashmere, which was gathered in round her waist by an antique belt of curious jewel-work, in which rubies and turquoises seemed to be thickly studded. On her bosom shone a strange gem, the colour and form of which I could not determine. It was never the same for two minutes together. It glowed with many various hues—now bright crimson, now lightning-blue, sometimes deepening into a rich purple or tawny orange. Its lustre was intense, almost dazzling to the eye. Its beautiful wearer gave me welcome with a radiant smile and a few cordial words, and drawing me by the hand to the low couch she had just vacated, made me sit down beside her. Heliobas had disappeared.
"And so," said Zara—how soft and full of music was her voice!—"so you are one of Casimir's patients? I cannot help considering that you are fortunate in this, for I know my brother's power. If he says he will cure you, you may be sure he means it. And you are already better, are you not?"
"Much better," I said, looking earnestly into the lovely star-like eyes that regarded me with such interest and friendliness. "Indeed, to-day I have felt so well, that I cannot realize ever having been ill."
"I am very glad," said Zara, "I know you are a musician, and I think there can be no bitterer fate than for one belonging to your art to be incapacitated from performance of work by some physical obstacle. Poor grand old Beethoven! Can anything be more pitiful to think of than his deafness? Yet how splendidly he bore up against it! And Chopin, too—so delicate in health that he was too often morbid even in his music. Strength is needed to accomplish great things—the double strength of body and soul."
"Are you, too, a musician?" I inquired.
"No. I love music passionately, and I play a little on the organ in our private chapel; but I follow a different art altogether. I am a mere imitator of noble form—I am a sculptress."
"You?" I said in some wonder, looking at the very small, beautifully formed white hand that lay passively on the edge of the couch beside me. "You make statues in marble like Michael Angelo?"
"Like Angelo?" murmured Zara; and she lowered her brilliant eyes with a reverential gravity. "No one in these modern days can approach the immortal splendour of that great master. He must have known heroes and talked with gods to be able to hew out of the rocks such perfection of shape and attitude as his 'David.' Alas! my strength of brain and hand is mere child's play compared to what HAS been done in sculpture, and what WILL yet be done; still, I love the work for its own sake, and I am always trying to render a resemblance of—"
Here she broke off abruptly, and a deep blush suffused her cheeks. Then, looking up suddenly, she took my hand impulsively, and pressed it.
"Be my friend," she said, with a caressing inflection in her rich voice, "I have no friends of my own sex, and I wish to love you. My brother has always had so much distrust of the companionship of women for me. You know his theories; and he has always asserted that the sphere of thought in which I have lived all my life is so widely apart from those in which other women exist—that nothing but unhappiness for me could come out of associating us together. When he told me yesterday that you were coming to see me to-day, I knew he must have discovered something in your nature that was not antipathetic to mine; otherwise he would not have brought you to me. Do you think you can like me?—perhaps LOVE me after a little while?"
It would have been a cold heart indeed that would not have responded to such a speech as this, uttered with the pleading prettiness of a loving child. Besides, I had warmed to her from the first moment I had touched her hand; and I was overjoyed to think that she was willing to elect me as a friend. I therefore replied to her words by putting my arm affectionately round her waist and kissing her. My beautiful, tender Zara! How innocently happy she seemed to be thus embraced! and how gently her fragrant lips met mine in that sisterly caress! She leaned her dark head for a moment on my shoulder, and the mysterious jewel on her breast flashed into a weird red hue like the light of a stormy sunset.
"And now we have drawn up, signed, and sealed our compact of friendship," she said gaily, "will you come and see my studio? There is nothing in it that deserves to last, I think; still, one has patience with a child when he builds his brick houses, and you must have equal patience with me. Come!"
And she led the way through her lovely room, which I now noticed was full of delicate statuary, fine paintings, and exquisite embroidery, while flowers were everywhere in abundance. Lifting the hangings at the farther end of the apartment, she passed, I following, into a lofty studio, filled with all the appurtenances of the sculptor's art. Here and there were the usual spectral effects which are always suggested to the mind by unfinished plaster models—an arm in one place, a head in another; a torso, or a single hand, protruding ghost-like from a fold of dark drapery. At the very end of the room stood a large erect figure, the outlines of which could but dimly be seen through its linen coverings; and to this work, whatever it was, Zara did not appear desirous of attracting my attention. She led me to one particular corner; and, throwing aside a small crimson velvet curtain, said:
"This is the last thing I have finished in marble. I call it 'Approaching Evening.'"
I stood silently before the statue, lost in admiration. I could not conceive it possible that the fragile little hand of the woman who stood beside me could have executed such a perfect work. She had depicted "Evening" as a beautiful nude female figure in the act of stepping forward on tip-toe; the eyes were half closed, and the sweet mouth slightly parted in a dreamily serious smile. The right forefinger was laid lightly on the lips, as though suggesting silence; and in the left hand was loosely clasped a bunch of poppies. That was all. But the poetry and force of the whole conception as carried out in the statue was marvellous.
"Do you like it?" asked Zara, half timidly.
"Like it!" I exclaimed. "It is lovely—wonderful! It is worthy to rank with the finest Italian masterpieces."
"Oh, no!" remonstrated Zara; "no, indeed! When the great Italian sculptors lived and worked—ah! one may say with the Scriptures, 'There were giants in those days.' Giants—veritable ones; and we modernists are the pigmies. We can only see Art now through the eyes of others who came before us. We cannot create anything new. We look at painting through Raphael; sculpture through Angelo; poetry through Shakespeare; philosophy through Plato. It is all done for us; we are copyists. The world is getting old—how glorious to have lived when it was young! But nowadays the very children are blase."
"And you—are not you blase to talk like that, with your genius and all the world before you?" I asked laughingly, slipping my arm through hers. "Come, confess!"
Zara looked at me gravely.
"I sincerely hope the world is NOT all before me," she said; "I should be very sorry if I thought so. To have the world all before you in the general acceptation of that term means to live long, to barter whatever genius you have for gold, to hear the fulsome and unmeaning flatteries of the ignorant, who are as ready with condemnation as praise—to be envied and maligned by those less lucky than you are. Heaven defend me from such a fate!"
She spoke with earnestness and solemnity; then, dropping the curtain before her statue, turned away. I was admiring the vine-wreathed head of a young Bacchante that stood on a pedestal near me, and was about to ask Zara what subject she had chosen for the large veiled figure at the farthest end of her studio, when we were interrupted by the entrance of the little Greek page whom I had seen on my first visit to the house. He saluted us both, and addressing himself to Zara, said:
"Monsieur le Comte desires me to tell you, madame, that Prince Ivan will be present at dinner."
Zara looked somewhat vexed; but the shade of annoyance flitted away from her fair face like a passing shadow, as she replied quietly:
"Tell Monsieur le Comte, my brother, that I shall be happy to receive Prince Ivan."
The page bowed deferentially and departed. Zara turned round, and I saw the jewel on her breast flashing with a steely glitter like the blade of a sharp sword.
"I do not like Prince Ivan myself," she said; "but he is a singularly brave and resolute man, and Casimir has some reason for admitting him to our companionship. Though I greatly doubt if—" Here a flood of music broke upon our ears like the sound of a distant orchestra. Zara looked at me and smiled. "Dinner is ready!" she announced; "but you must not imagine that we keep a band to play us to our table in triumph. It is simply a musical instrument worked by electricity that imitates the orchestra; both Casimir and I prefer it to a gong!"
And slipping her arm affectionately through mine, she drew me from the studio into the passage, and together we went down the staircase into a large dining-room, rich with oil-paintings and carved oak, where Heliobas awaited us. Close by him stood another gentleman, who was introduced to me as Prince Ivan Petroffsky. He was a fine-looking, handsome-featured young man, of about thirty, tall and broad-shouldered, though beside the commanding stature of Heliobas, his figure did not show to so much advantage as it might have done beside a less imposing contrast. He bowed to me with easy and courteous grace; but his deeply reverential salute to Zara had something in it of that humility which a slave might render to a queen. She bent her head slightly in answer, and still holding me by the hand, moved to her seat at the bottom of the table, while her brother took the head. My seat was at the right hand of Heliobas, Prince Ivan's at the left, so that we directly faced each other.
There were two men-servants in attendance, dressed in dark livery, who waited upon us with noiseless alacrity. The dinner was exceedingly choice; there was nothing coarse or vulgar in the dishes—no great heavy joints swimming in thin gravy a la Anglaise; no tureens of unpalatable sauce; no clumsy decanters filled with burning sherry or drowsy port. The table itself was laid out in the most perfect taste, with the finest Venetian glass and old Dresden ware, in which tempting fruits gleamed amid clusters of glossy dark leaves. Flowers in tall vases bloomed wherever they could be placed effectively; and in the centre of the board a small fountain played, tinkling as it rose and fell like a very faintly echoing fairy chime. The wines that were served to us were most delicious, though their flavour was quite unknown to me—one in especial, of a pale pink colour, that sparkled slightly as it was poured into my glass, seemed to me a kind of nectar of the gods, so soft it was to the palate. The conversation, at first somewhat desultory, grew more concentrated as the time went on, though Zara spoke little and seemed absorbed in her own thoughts more than once. The Prince, warmed with the wine and the general good cheer, became witty and amusing in his conversation; he was a man who had evidently seen a good deal of the world, and who was accustomed to take everything in life a la bagatelle. He told us gay stories of his life in St. Petersburg; of the pranks he had played in the Florentine Carnival; of his journey to the American States, and his narrow escape from the matrimonial clutches of a Boston heiress.
Heliobas listened to him with a sort of indulgent kindness, only smiling now and then at the preposterous puns the young man would insist on making at every opportunity that presented itself.
"You are a lucky fellow, Ivan," he said at last. "You like the good things of life, and you have got them all without any trouble on your own part. You are one of those men who have absolutely nothing to wish for."
Prince Ivan frowned and pulled his dark moustache with no very satisfied air.
"I am not so sure about that," he returned. "No one is contented in this world, I believe. There is always something left to desire, and the last thing longed for always seems the most necessary to happiness."
"The truest philosophy," said Heliobas, "is not to long for anything in particular, but to accept everything as it comes, and find out the reason of its coming."
"What do you mean by 'the reason of its coming'?" questioned Prince Ivan. "Do you know, Casimir, I find you sometimes as puzzling as Socrates."
"Socrates?—Socrates was as clear as a drop of morning dew, my dear fellow," replied Heliobas. "There was nothing puzzling about him. His remarks were all true and trenchant—hitting smartly home to the heart like daggers plunged down to the hilt. That was the worst of him—he was too clear—too honest—too disdainful of opinions. Society does not love such men. What do I mean, you ask, by accepting everything as it comes, and trying to find out the reason of its coming? Why, I mean what I say. Each circumstance that happens to each one of us brings its own special lesson and meaning—forms a link or part of a link in the chain of our existence. It seems nothing to you that you walk down a particular street at a particular hour, and yet that slight action of yours may lead to a result you wot not of. 'Accept the hint of each new experience,' says the American imitator of Plato—Emerson. If this advice is faithfully followed, we all have enough to occupy us busily from the cradle to the grave."
Prince Ivan looked at Zara, who sat quietly thoughtful, only lifting her bright eyes now and then to glance at her brother as he spoke.
"I tell you," he said, with sudden moroseness, "there are some hints that we cannot accept—some circumstances that we must not yield to. Why should a man, for instance, be subjected to an undeserved and bitter disappointment?"
"Because," said Zara, joining in the conversation for the first time, "he has most likely desired what he is not fated to obtain."
The Prince bit his lips, and gave a forced laugh.
"I know, madame, you are against me in all our arguments," he observed, with some bitterness in his tone. "As Casimir suggests, I am a bad philosopher. I do not pretend to more than the ordinary attributes of an ordinary man; it is fortunate, if I may be permitted to say so, that the rest of the word's inhabitants are very like me, for if everyone reached to the sublime heights of science and knowledge that you and your brother have attained—-"
"The course of human destiny would run out, and Paradise would be an established fact," laughed Heliobas. "Come, Ivan! You are a true Epicurean. Have some more wine, and a truce to discussions for the present." And, beckoning to one of the servants, he ordered the Prince's glass to be refilled.
Dessert was now served, and luscious fruits in profusion, including peaches, bananas, plantains, green figs, melons, pine-apples, and magnificent grapes, were offered for our choice. As I made a selection for my own plate, I became aware of something soft rubbing itself gently against my dress; and looking down, I saw the noble head and dark intelligent eyes of my old acquaintance Leo, whom I had last met at Cannes. I gave an exclamation of pleasure, and the dog, encouraged, stood up and laid a caressing paw on my arm.
"You know Leo, of course," said Heliobas, turning to me. "He went to see Raffaello while you were at Cannes. He is a wonderful animal—more valuable to me than his weight in gold."
Prince Ivan, whose transient moodiness had passed away like a bad devil exorcised by the power of good wine, joined heartily in the praise bestowed on this four-footed friend of the family.
"It was really through Leo," he said, "that you were induced to follow out your experiments in human electricity, Casimir, was it not?"
"Yes," replied Heliobas, calling the dog, who went to him immediately to be fondled. "I should never have been much encouraged in my researches, had he not been at hand. I feared to experimentalize much on my sister, she being young at the time—and women are always frail of construction—but Leo was willing and ready to be a victim to science, if necessary. Instead of a martyr he is a living triumph—are you not, old boy?" he continued, stroking the silky coat of the animal, who responded with a short low bark of satisfaction.
My curiosity was much excited by these remarks, and I said eagerly:
"Will you tell me in what way Leo has been useful to you? I have a great affection for dogs, and I never tire of hearing stories of their wonderful intelligence."
"I will certainly tell you," replied Heliobas. "To some people the story might appear improbable, but it is perfectly true and at the same time simple of comprehension. When I was a very young man, younger than Prince Ivan, I absorbed myself in the study of electricity—its wonderful powers, and its various capabilities. From the consideration of electricity in the different forms by which it is known to civilized Europe, I began to look back through history, to what are ignorantly called 'the dark ages,' but which might more justly be termed the enlightened youth of the world. I found that the force of electricity was well understood by the ancients—better understood by them, in fact, than it is by the scientists of our day. The 'MENE, MENE, TEKEL, UPHARSIN' that glittered in unearthly characters on the wall at Belshazzar's feast, was written by electricity; and the Chaldean kings and priests understood a great many secrets of another form of electric force which the world to-day scoffs at and almost ignores—I mean human electricity, which we all possess, but which we do not all cultivate within us. When once I realized the existence of the fact of human electric force, I applied the discovery to myself, and spared no pains to foster and educate whatever germ of this power lay within me. I succeeded with more ease and celerity than I had imagined possible. At the time I pursued these studies, Leo here was quite a young dog, full of the clumsy playfulness and untrained ignorance of a Newfoundland puppy. One day I was very busy reading an interesting Sanskrit scroll which treated of ancient medicines and remedies, and Leo was gambolling in his awkward way about the room, playing with an old slipper and worrying it with his teeth. The noise he made irritated and disturbed me, and I rose in my chair and called him by name, somewhat angrily. He paused in his game and looked up—his eyes met mine exactly. His head drooped; he shivered uneasily, whined, and lay down motionless. He never stirred once from the position he had taken, till I gave him permission—and remember, he was untrained. This strange behaviour led me to try other experiments with him, and all succeeded. I gradually led him up to the point I desired—that is, I FORCED HIM TO RECEIVE MY THOUGHT AND ACT UPON IT, as far as his canine capabilities could do, and he has never once failed. It is sufficient for me to strongly WILL him to do a certain thing, and I can convey that command of mine to his brain without uttering a single word, and he will obey me."
I suppose I showed surprise and incredulity in my face, for Heliobas smiled at me and continued:
"I will put him to the proof at any time you like. If you wish him to fetch anything that he is physically able to carry, and will write the name of whatever it is on a slip of paper, just for me to know what you require, I guarantee Leo's obedience."
I looked at Zara, and she laughed.
"It seems like magic to you, does it not?" she said; "but I assure you it is quite true."
"I am bound to admit," said Prince Ivan, "that I once doubted both Leo and his master, but I am quite converted. Here, mademoiselle," he continued, handing me a leaf from his pocket-book and a pencil—"write down something that you want; only don't send the dog to Italy on an errand just now, as we want him back before we adjourn to the drawing-room."
I remembered that I had left an embroidered handkerchief on the couch in Zara's room, and I wrote this down on the paper, which I passed to Heliobas. He glanced at it and tore it up. Leo was indulging himself with a bone under the table, but came instantly to his master's call. Heliobas took the dog's head between his two hands, and gazed steadily into the grave brown eyes that regarded him with equal steadiness. This interchange of looks lasted but a few seconds. Leo left the room, walking with an unruffled and dignified pace, while we awaited his return—Heliobas and Zara with indifference, Prince Ivan with amusement, and I with interest and expectancy. Two or three minutes elapsed, and the dog returned with the same majestic demeanour, carrying between his teeth my handkerchief. He came straight to me and placed it in my hand; shook himself, wagged his tail, and conveying a perfectly human expression of satisfaction into his face, went under the table again to his bone. I was utterly amazed, but at the same time convinced. I had not seen the dog since my arrival in Paris, and it was impossible for him to have known where to find my handkerchief, or to recognize it as being mine, unless through the means Heliobas had explained.
"Can you command human beings so?" I asked, with a slight tremor of nervousness.
"Not all," returned Heliobas quietly. "In fact, I may say, very few. Those who are on my own circle of power I can, naturally, draw to or repel from me; but those who are not, have to be treated by different means. Sometimes cases occur in which persons, at first NOT on my circle, are irresistibly attracted to it by a force not mine. Sometimes, in order to perform a cure, I establish a communication between myself and a totally alien sphere of thought; and to do this is a long and laborious effort. But it can be done."
"Then, if it can be done," said Prince Ivan, "why do you not accomplish it for me?"
"Because you are being forcibly drawn towards me without any effort on my part," replied Heliobas, with one of his steady, keen looks. "For what motive I cannot at present determine; but I shall know as soon as you touch the extreme edge of my circle. You are a long way off it yet, but you are coming in spite of yourself, Ivan."
The Prince fidgeted restlessly in his chair, and toyed with the fruit on his plate in a nervous manner.
"If I did not know you to be an absolutely truthful and honourable man, Casimir," he said, "I should think you were trying to deceive me. But I have seen what you can do, therefore I must believe you. Still I confess I do not follow you in your circle theory."
"To begin with," returned Heliobas, "the Universe is a circle. Everything is circular, from the motion of planets down to the human eye, or the cup of a flower, or a drop of dew. MY 'circle theory,' as you call it, applied to human electric force, is very simple; but I have proved it to be mathematically correct. Every human being is provided INTERNALLY and EXTERNALLY with a certain amount of electricity, which is as necessary to existence as the life-blood to the heart or fresh air to the lungs. Internally it is the germ of a soul or spirit, and is placed there to be either cultivated or neglected as suits the WILL of man. It is indestructible; yet, if neglected, it remains always a germ; and, at the death of the body it inhabits, goes elsewhere to seek another chance of development. If, on the contrary, its growth is fostered by a persevering, resolute WILL, it becomes a spiritual creature, glorious and supremely powerful, for which a new, brilliant, and endless existence commences when its clay chrysalis perishes. So much for the INTERNAL electrical force. The EXTERNAL binds us all by fixed laws, with which our wills have nothing whatever to do. (Each one of us walks the earth encompassed by an invisible electric ring—wide or narrow according to our capabilities. Sometimes our rings meet and form one, as in the case of two absolutely sympathetic souls, who labour and love together with perfect faith in each other. Sometimes they clash, and storm ensues, as when a strong antipathy between persons causes them almost to loathe each other's presence.) All these human electric rings are capable of attraction and repulsion. If a man, during his courtship of a woman, experiences once or twice a sudden instinctive feeling that there is something in her nature not altogether what he expected or desired, let him take warning and break off the attachment; for the electric circles do not combine, and nothing but unhappiness would come from forcing a union. I would say the same thing to a woman. If my advice were followed, how many unhappy marriages would be avoided! But you have tempted me to talk too much, Ivan. I see the ladies wish to adjourn. Shall we go to the smoking-room for a little, and join them in the drawing-room afterwards?"
We all rose.
"Well," said the Prince gaily, as he prepared to follow his host, "I realize one thing which gives me pleasure, Casimir. If in truth I am being attracted towards your electric circle, I hope I shall reach it soon, as I shall then, I suppose, be more en rapport with madame, your sister."
Zara's luminous eyes surveyed him with a sort of queenly pity and forbearance.
"By the time YOU arrive at that goal, Prince," she said calmly, "it is most probable that I shall have departed."
And with one arm thrown round my waist, she saluted him gravely, and left the room with me beside her.
"Would you like to see the chapel on your way to the drawing-room?" she asked, as we crossed the hall.
I gladly accepted this proposition, and Zara took me down a flight of marble steps, which terminated in a handsomely-carved oaken door. Pushing this softly open, she made the sign of the cross and sank on her knees. I did the same, and then looked with reverential wonder at the loveliness and serenity of the place. It was small, but lofty, and the painted dome-shaped roof was supported by eight light marble columns, wreathed with minutely-carved garlands of vine-leaves. The chapel was fitted up in accordance with the rites of the Catholic religion, and before the High Altar and Tabernacle burned seven roseate lamps, which were suspended from the roof by slender gilt chains. A large crucifix, bearing a most sorrowful and pathetic figure of Christ, was hung on one of the side walls; and from a corner altar, shining with soft blue and silver, an exquisite statue of the Madonna and Child was dimly seen from where we knelt. A few minutes passed, and Zara rose. Looking towards the Tabernacle, her lips moved as though murmuring a prayer, and then, taking me by the hand, she led me gently out. The heavy oaken door swung softly behind us as we ascended the chapel steps and re-entered the great hall.
"You are a Catholic, are you not?" then said Zara to me.
"Yes," I answered; "but—"
"But you have doubts sometimes, you would say! Of course. One always doubts when one sees the dissensions, the hypocrisies, the false pretences and wickedness of many professing Christians. But Christ and His religion are living facts, in spite of the suicide of souls He would gladly save. You must ask Casimir some day about these things; he will clear up all the knotty points for you. Here we are at the drawing-room door."
It was the same room into which I had first been shown. Zara seated herself, and made me occupy a low chair beside her.
"Tell me," she said, "can you not come here and stay with me while you are under Casimir's treatment?"
I thought of Madame Denise and her Pension.
"I wish I could," I said; "but I fear my friends would want to know where I am staying, and explanations would have to be given, which I do not feel disposed to enter upon."
"Why," went on Zara quietly, "you have only to say that you are being attended by a Dr. Casimir who wishes to have you under his own supervision, and that you are therefore staying in his house under the chaperonage of his sister."
I laughed at the idea of Zara playing the chaperon, and told her she was far too young and beautiful to enact that character.
"Do you know how old I am?" she asked, with a slight smile.
I guessed seventeen, or at any rate not more than twenty.
"I am thirty-eight," said Zara.
Thirty-eight! Impossible! I would not believe it. I could not. I laughed scornfully at such an absurdity, looking at her as she sat there a perfect model of youthful grace and loveliness, with her lustrous eyes and rose-tinted complexion.
"You may doubt me if you choose," she said, still smiling; "but I have told you the truth. I am thirty-eight years of age according to the world's counting. What I am, measured by another standard of time, matters not just now. You see I look young, and, what is more, I am young. I enjoy my youth. I hear that women of society at thirty-eight are often faded and blase—what a pity it is that they do not understand the first laws of self-preservation! But to resume what I was saying, you know now that I am quite old enough in the eyes of the world to chaperon you or anybody. You had better arrange to stay here. Casimir asked me to settle the matter with, you."
As she spoke, Heliobas and Prince Ivan entered. The latter looked flushed and excited—Heliobas was calm and stately as usual. He addressed himself to me at once.
"I have ordered my carriage, mademoiselle, to take you back this evening to the Avenue du Midi. If you will do as Zara tells you, and explain to your friends the necessity there is for your being under the personal supervision of your doctor, you will find everything will arrange itself very naturally. And the sooner you come here the better—in fact, Zara will expect you here to-morrow early in the afternoon. I may rely upon you?"
He spoke with a certain air of command, evidently expecting no resistance on my part. Indeed, why should I resist? Already I loved Zara, and wished to be more in her company; and then, most probably, my complete restoration to health would be more successfully and quickly accomplished if I were actually in the house of the man who had promised to cure me. Therefore I replied: