"I will do as you wish, monsieur. Having placed myself in your hands, I must obey. In this particular case," I added, looking at Zara, "obedience is very agreeable to me."
Heliobas smiled and seemed satisfied. He then took a small goblet from a side-table and left the room. Returning, however, almost immediately with the cup filled to the brim, he said, handing it to me:
"Drink this—it is your dose for to-night; and then you will go home, and straight to bed."
I drank it off at once. It was delicious in flavour—like very fine Chianti.
"Have you no soothing draught for me?" said Prince Ivan, who had been turning over a volume of photographs in a sullenly abstracted sort of way.
"No," replied Heliobas, with a keen glance at him; "the draught fitted for your present condition might soothe you too thoroughly."
The Prince looked at Zara, but she was mute. She had taken a piece of silk embroidery from a workbasket near her, and was busily employed with it. Heliobas advanced and laid his hand on the young man's arm.
"Sing to us, Ivan," he said, in a kind tone. "Sing us one of your wild Russian airs—Zara loves them, and this young lady would like to hear your voice before she goes."
The Prince hesitated, and then, with another glance at Zara's bent head, went to the piano. He had a brilliant touch, and accompanied himself with great taste and delicacy; but his voice was truly magnificent—a baritone of deep and mellow quality, sonorous, and at the same time tender. He sang a French rendering of a Slavonic love-song, which, as nearly as I can translate it into English, ran as follows:
"As the billows fling shells on the shore, As the sun poureth light on the sea, As a lark on the wing scatters song to the spring, So rushes my love to thee.
"As the ivy clings close to the tower, As the dew lieth deep in a flower, As the shadow to light, as the day unto night, So clings my wild soul to thee!
"As the moon glitters coldly alone, Above earth on her cloud-woven throne, As the rocky-bound cave repulses a wave, So thy anger repulseth me.
"As the bitter black frost of a night Slays the roses with pitiless might, As a sharp dagger-thrust hurls a king to the dust, So thy cruelty murdereth me.
"Yet in spite of thy queenly disdain, Thou art seared by my passion and pain; Thou shalt hear me repeat, till I die for it, sweet! 'I love thee! I dare to love THEE!'"
He ended abruptly and with passion, and rose from the piano directly.
I was enthusiastic in my admiration of the song and of the splendid voice which had given it utterance, and the Prince seemed almost grateful for the praise accorded him both by Heliobas and myself.
The page entered to announce that "the carriage was waiting for mademoiselle," and I prepared to leave. Zara kissed me affectionately, and whispering, "Come early to-morrow," made a graceful salute to Prince Ivan, and left the room immediately.
Heliobas then offered me his arm to take me to the carriage. Prince Ivan accompanied us. As the hall door opened in its usual noiseless manner, I perceived an elegant light brougham drawn by a pair of black horses, who were giving the coachman a great deal of trouble by the fretting and spirited manner in which they pawed the stones and pranced. Before descending the steps I shook hands with Heliobas, and thanked him for the pleasant evening I had passed.
"We will try to make all your time with us pass as pleasantly," he returned. "Good-night! What, Ivan," as he perceived the Prince attiring himself in his great-coat and hat, "are you also going?"
"Yes, I am off," he replied, with a kind of forced gaiety; "I am bad company for anyone to-night, and I won't inflict myself upon you, Casimir. Au revoir! I will put mademoiselle into the carriage if she will permit me."
We went down the steps together, Heliobas watching us from the open door. As the Prince assisted me into the brougham, he whispered:
"Are you one of them!"
I looked at him in bewilderment.
"One of them!" I repeated. "What do you mean?"
"Never mind," he muttered impatiently, as he made a pretence of covering me with the fur rugs inside the carriage: "if you are not now, you will be, or Zara would not have kissed you. If you ever have the chance ask her to think of me at my best. Good-night."
I was touched and a little sorry for him. I held out my hand in silence. He pressed it hard, and calling to the coachman, "36, Avenue du Midi," stood on the pavement bareheaded, looking singularly pale and grave in the starlight, as the carriage rolled swiftly away, and the door of the Hotel Mars closed.
A SYMPHONY IN THE AIR.
Within a very short time I became a temporary resident in the house of Heliobas, and felt myself to be perfectly at home there. I had explained to Madame Denise the cause of my leaving her comfortable Pension, and she had fully approved of my being under a physician's personal care in order to ensure rapid recovery; but when she heard the name of that physician, which I gave (in accordance with Zara's instructions) as Dr. Casimir, she held up her fat hands in dismay.
"Oh, mademoiselle," she exclaimed, "have you not dread of that terrible man? Is it not he that is reported to be a cruel mesmerist who sacrifices everybody—yes, even his own sister, to his medical experiments? Ah, mon Dieu! it makes me to shudder!"
And she shuddered directly, as a proof of her veracity. I was amused. I saw in her an example of the common multitude, who are more ready to believe in vulgar spirit-rapping and mesmerism than to accept an established scientific fact.
"Do you know Dr. Casimir and his sister?" I asked her.
"I have seen them, mademoiselle; perhaps once—twice—three times! It is true madame is lovely as an angel; but they say"—here she lowered her voice mysteriously—"that she is wedded to a devil! It is true, mademoiselle—all people say so. And Suzanne Michot—a very respectable young person, mademoiselle, from Auteuil—she was employed at one time as under-housemaid at Dr. Casimir's, and she had things to say—ah, to make the blood like ice!"
"What did she say?" I asked with a half smile.
"Well," and Madame Denise came close to me and looked confidential, "Suzanne—I assure you a most respectable girl—said that one evening she was crossing the passage near Madame Casimir's boudoir, and she saw a light like fire coming through the curtains of the portiere. And she stopped to listen, and she heard a strange music like the sound of harps. She ventured to go nearer—Suzanne is a brave girl, mademoiselle, and most virtuous—and to raise the curtain the smallest portion just to permit the glance of an eye. And—imagine what she saw."
"Well!" I exclaimed impatiently. "WHAT did she see?"
"Ah, mademoiselle, you will not believe me—but Suzanne Michot has respectable parents, and would not tell a lie—well, Suzanne saw her mistress, Madame Casimir, standing up near her couch with both arms extended as to embrace the air. Round her there was—believe it or not, mademoiselle, as you please—a ring of light like a red fire, which seemed to grow larger and redder always. All suddenly, madame grew pale and more pale, and then fell on her couch as one dead, and all the red fire went out. Suzanne had fear, and she tried to call out—but now see what happened to Suzanne! She was PUSHED from the spot, mademoiselle, pushed along as though by some strong personage; yet she saw no one till she reached her own door, and in her room she fainted from alarm. The very next morning Dr. Casimir dismissed her, with her full wages and a handsome present besides; but he LOOKED at her, Suzanne said, in a manner to make her tremble from head to foot. Now, mademoiselle, judge yourself whether it is fit for one who is suffering with nerves to go to so strange a house!"
I laughed. Her story had not the least effect upon me. In fact, I made up my mind that the so respectable and virtuous Suzanne Michot had been drinking some of her master's wine. I said:
"Your words only make me more desirous to go, Madame Denise. Besides, Dr. Casimir has already done me a great deal of good. You must have heard things of him that are not altogether bad, surely?"
The little woman reflected seriously, and then said, as with some reluctance:
"It is certainly true, mademoiselle, that in the quarter of the poor he is much beloved. Jean Duclos—he is a chiffonnier—had his one child dying of typhoid fever, and he was watching it struggling for breath; it was at the point to die. Monsieur le Comte Casimir, or Dr. Casimir—for he is called both—came in all suddenly, and in half an hour had saved the little one's life. I do not deny that he may have some good in him, and that he understands medicine; but there is something wrong—" And Madame Denise shook her head forlornly a great number of times.
None of her statements deterred me from my intention, and I was delighted when I found myself fairly installed at the Hotel Mars. Zara gave me a beautiful room next to her own; she had taken pains to fit it up herself with everything that was in accordance with my particular tastes, such as a choice selection of books; music, including many of the fascinating scores of Schubert and Wagner; writing materials; and a pretty, full-toned pianette. My window looked out on a small courtyard, which had been covered over with glass and transformed into a conservatory. I could enter it by going down a few steps, and could have the satisfaction of gathering roses and lilies of the valley, while outside the east wind blew and the cold snowflakes fell over Paris. I wrote to Mrs. Everard from my retreat, and I also informed the Challoners where they could find me if they wanted me. These duties done, I gave myself up to enjoyment. Zara and I became inseparables; we worked together, read together, and together every morning gave those finishing-touches to the ordering and arrangement of the household which are essentially feminine, and which not the wisest philosopher in all the world has been, or ever will be, able to accomplish successfully. We grew to love each other dearly, with that ungrudging, sympathizing, confiding friendship that is very rarely found between two women. In the meantime my cure went on rapidly. Every night on retiring to rest Heliobas prepared a medicinal dose for me, of the qualities of which I was absolutely ignorant, but which I took trustingly from his hand. Every morning a different little phial of liquid was placed in the bathroom for me to empty into the water of my daily bath, and every hour I grew better, brighter, and stronger. The natural vivacity of my temperament returned to me; I suffered no pain, no anxiety, no depression, and I slept as soundly as a child, unvisited by a single dream. The mere fact of my being alive became a joy to me; I felt grateful for everything—for my eyesight, my speech, my hearing, my touch—because all my senses seemed to be sharpened and invigorated and braced up to the keenest delight. This happy condition of my system did not come suddenly—sudden cures mean sudden relapses; it was a gradual, steady, ever-increasing, reliable recovery.
I found the society of Heliobas and his sister very fascinating. Their conversation was both thoughtful and brilliant, their manners were evenly gracious and kindly, and the life they led was a model of perfect household peace and harmony. There was never a fuss about anything: the domestic arrangements seemed to work on smoothly oiled wheels; the different repasts were served with quiet elegance and regularity; the servants were few, but admirably trained; and we all lived in an absolutely calm atmosphere, unruffled by so much as a breath of worry. Nothing of a mysterious nature went on, as far as I could see.
Heliobas passed the greater part of the day in his study—a small, plainly furnished room, the facsimile of the one I had beheld him in when I had dreamed those three dreams at Cannes. Whether he received many or few patients there I could not tell; but that some applied to him for advice I knew, as I often met strangers crossing the hall on their way in and out. He always joined us at dinner, and was invariably cheerful, generally entertaining us with lively converse and sparkling narrative, though now and then the thoughtful tendency of his mind predominated, and gave a serious tone to his remarks.
Zara was uniformly bright and even in her temperament. She was my very ideal of the Greek Psyche, radiant yet calm, pensive yet mirthful. She was full of beautiful ideas and poetical fancies, and so thoroughly untouched by the world and its aims, that she seemed to me just to poise on the earth like a delicate butterfly on a flower; and I should have been scarcely surprised had I seen her unfold a pair of shining wings and fly away to some other region. Yet in spite of this spirituelle nature, she was physically stronger and more robust than any other woman I ever saw. She was gay and active; she was never tired, never ailing, and she enjoyed life with a keen zest such as is unknown to the tired multitudes who toil on hopelessly and wearily, wondering, as they work, why they were born. Zara evidently had no doubts or speculations of this kind; she drank in every minute of her existence as if it were a drop of honey-dew prepared specially for her palate. I never could believe that her age was what she had declared it to be. She seemed to look younger every day; sometimes her eyes had that limpid, lustrous innocence that is seen in the eyes of a very little child; and, again, they would change and glow with the earnest and lofty thought of one who had lived through years of study, research, and discovery. For the first few days of my visit she did not work in her studio at all, but appeared to prefer reading or talking with me. One afternoon, however, when we had returned from a short drive in the Bois de Boulogne, she said half hesitatingly:
"I think I will go to work again to-morrow morning, if you will not think me unsociable."
"Why, Zara dearest!" I replied. "Of course I shall not think you unsociable. I would not interfere with any of your pursuits for the world."
She looked at me with a sort of wistful affection, and continued:
"But you must know I like to work quite alone, and though it may look churlish, still not even you must come into the studio. I never can do anything before a witness; Casimir himself knows that, and keeps away from me."
"Well!" I said, "I should be an ungrateful wretch if I could not oblige you in so small a request. I promise not to disturb you, Zara; and do not think for one moment that I shall be dull. I have books, a piano, flowers—what more do I want? And if I like I can go out; then I have letters to write, and all sorts of things to occupy me. I shall be quite happy, and I shall not come near you till you call me."
Zara kissed me.
"You are a dear girl," she said; "I hate to appear inhospitable, but I know you are a real friend—that you will love me as much away from you as near you, and that you have none of that vulgar curiosity which some women give way to, when what they desire to see is hidden from them. You are not inquisitive, are you?"
"The affairs of other people have never appeared so interesting to me that I have cared to bother myself about them," I replied. "Blue-Beard's Chamber would never have been unlocked had I been that worthy man's wife."
"What a fine moral lesson the old fairy-tale teaches!" said Zara. "I always think those wives of Blue-Beard deserved their fate for not being able to obey him in his one request. But in regard to your pursuits, dear, while I am at work in my studio, you can use the grand piano in the drawing-room when you please, as well as the little one in your own room; and you can improvise on the chapel organ as much as you like."
I was delighted at this idea, and thanked her heartily. She smiled thoughtfully.
"What happiness it must be for you to love music so thoroughly!" she said. "It fills you with enthusiasm. I used to dislike to read the biographies of musical people; they all seemed to find so much fault with one another, and grudged each other every little bit of praise wrung from the world's cold, death-doomed lips. It is to me pathetically absurd to see gifted persons all struggling along, and rudely elbowing each other out of the way to win—what? A few stilted commonplace words of approbation or fault-finding in the newspapers of the day, and a little clapping and shouting from a gathering of ordinary minded persons, who only clap and shout because it is possibly the fashion to do so. It is really ludicrous. If the music the musician offers to the public be really great, it will live by itself and defy praise or blame. Because Schubert died of want and sorrow, that does not interfere with the life of his creations. Because Wagner is voted impossible and absurd by many who think themselves good judges of musical art, that does not offer any obstacle to the steady spread of his fame, which is destined to become as universal as that of Shakespeare. Poor Joachim, the violinist, has got a picture in his private house, in which Wagner is painted as suffering the tortures of hell; can anything be more absurd, when we consider how soon the learned fiddler, who has occupied his life in playing other people's compositions, will be a handful of forgotten dust, while multitudes yet to come will shout their admiration of 'Tristran' and 'Parsifal.' Yes, as I said, I never cared for musical people much, till I met a friend of my brother's—a man whose inner life was an exquisite harmony."
"I know!" I interrupted her. "He wrote the 'Letters of a Dead Musician.'"
"Yes," said Zara. "I suppose you saw the book at Raffaello's studio. Good Raffaello Cellini! his is another absolutely ungrudging and unselfish spirit. But this musician that I speak of was like a child in humility and reverence. Casimir told me he had never sounded so perfect a nature. At one time he, too, was a little anxious for recognition and praise, and Casimir saw that he was likely to wreck himself on that fatal rock of poor ambition. So he took him in hand, and taught him the meaning of his work, and why it was especially given him to do; and that man's life became 'one grand sweet song.' But there are tears in your eyes, dear! What have I said to grieve you?"
And she caressed me tenderly. The tears were indeed thick in my eyes, and a minute or two elapsed before I could master them. At last I raised my head and endeavoured to smile.
"They are not sad tears, Zara," I said; "I think they come from a strong desire I have to be what you are, what your brother is, what that dead musician must have been. Why, I have longed, and do long for fame, for wealth, for the world's applause, for all the things which you seem to think so petty and mean. How can I help it? Is not fame power? Is not money a double power, strong to assist one's self and those one loves? Is not the world's favour a necessary means to gain these things?"
Zara's eyes gleamed with a soft and pitying gentleness.
"Do you understand what you mean by power?" she asked. "World's fame? World's wealth? Will these things make you enjoy life? You will perhaps say yes. I tell you no. Laurels of earth's growing fade; gold of earth's getting is good for a time, but it palls quickly. Suppose a man rich enough to purchase all the treasures of the world—what then? He must die and leave them. Suppose a poet or musician so famous that all nations know and love him: he too must die, and go where nations exist no longer. And you actually would grasp ashes and drink wormwood, little friend? Music, the heaven-born spirit of pure sound, does not teach you so!"
I was silent. The gleam of the strange jewel Zara always wore flashed in my eyes like lightning, and anon changed to the similitude of a crimson star. I watched it, dreamily fascinated by its unearthly glitter.
"Still," I said, "you yourself admit that such fame as that of Shakespeare or Wagner becomes a universal monument to their memories. That is something, surely?"
"Not to them," replied Zara; "they have partly forgotten that they ever were imprisoned in such a narrow gaol as this world. Perhaps they do not care to remember it, though memory is part of immortality."
"Ah!" I sighed restlessly; "your thoughts go beyond me, Zara. I cannot follow your theories."
"We will not talk about them any more," she said; "you must tell Casimir—he will teach you far better than I can."
"What shall I tell him?" I asked; "and what will he teach me?"
"You will tell him what a high opinion you have of the world and its judgments," said Zara, "and he will teach you that the world is no more than a grain of dust, measured by the standard of your own soul. This is no mere platitude—no repetition of the poetical statement 'THE MIND'S THE STANDARD OF THE MAN;' it is a fact, and can be proved as completely as that two and two make four. Ask Casimir to set you free."
"To set me free?" I asked, surprised.
"Yes!" and Zara looked at me brightly. "He will know if you are strong enough to travel!" And, nodding her head gaily to me, she left the room to prepare for the dinner-hour which was fast approaching.
I pondered over her words a good deal without arriving at any satisfactory conclusion as to the meaning of them. I did not resume the conversation with her, nor did I speak to Heliobas as yet, and the days went on smoothly and pleasantly till I had been nearly a week in residence at the Hotel Mars. I now felt perfectly well and strong, though Heliobas continued to give me his remedies regularly night and morning. I began an energetic routine of musical practice: the beautiful piano in the drawing-room answered readily to my touch, and many a delightful hour slipped by as I tried various new difficulties on the key-board, or worked out different combinations of harmony. I spent a great deal of my time at the organ in the little chapel, the bellows of which were worked by electricity, in a manner that gave not the least trouble, and was perfectly simple of management.
The organ itself was peculiarly sweet in tone, the "vox humana" stop especially producing an entrancingly rich and tender sound. The silence, warmth, and beauty of the chapel, with the winter sunlight streaming through its stained windows, and the unbroken solitude I enjoyed there, all gave fresh impetus to the fancies of my brain, and a succession of solemn and tender melodies wove themselves under my fingers as a broidered carpet is woven on the loom.
One particular afternoon, I was sitting at the instrument as usual, and my thoughts began to busy themselves with the sublime tragedy of Calvary. I mused, playing softly all the while, on the wonderful, blameless, glorious life that had ended in the shame and cruelty of the Cross, when suddenly, like a cloud swooping darkly across the heaven of my thoughts, came the suggestive question: "Is it all true? Was Christ indeed Divine—or is it all a myth, a fable—an imposture?" Unconsciously I struck a discordant chord on the organ—a faint tremor shook me, and I ceased playing. An uncomfortable sensation came over me, as of some invisible presence being near me and approaching softly, slowly, yet always more closely; and I hurriedly rose from my seat, shut the organ, and prepared to leave the chapel, overcome by a strange incomprehensible terror. I was glad when I found myself safely outside the door, and I rushed into the hall as though I were being pursued; yet the oddest part of my feeling was, that whoever thus pursued me, did so out of love, not enmity, and that I was almost wrong in running away. I leaned for a moment against one of the columns in the hall, trying to calm the excited beating of my heart, when a deep voice startled me:
"So! you are agitated and alarmed! Unbelief is easily scared!"
I looked up and met the calm eyes of Heliobas. He appeared to be taller, statelier, more like a Chaldean prophet or king than I had ever seen him before. There was something in his steady scrutiny of my face that put me to a sort of shame, and when he spoke again it was in a tone of mild reproof.
"You have been led astray, my child, by the conflicting and vain opinions of mankind. You, like many others in the world, delight to question, to speculate, to weigh this, to measure that, with little or no profit to yourself or your fellow-creatures. And you have come freshly from a land where, in the great Senate-house, a poor perishable lump of clay calling itself a man, dares to stand up boldly and deny the existence of God, while his compeers, less bold than he, pretend a holy displeasure, yet secretly support him—all blind worms denying the existence of the sun; a land where so-called Religion is split into hundreds of cold and narrow sects, gatherings assembled for the practice of hypocrisy, lip-service and lies—where Self, not the Creator, is the prime object of worship; a land, mighty once among the mightiest, but which now, like an over-ripe pear, hangs loosely on its tree, awaiting but a touch to make it fall! A land—let me not name it;—where the wealthy, high-fed ministers of the nation slowly argue away the lives of better men than themselves, with vain words of colder and more cruel force than the whirling spears of untaught savages! What have you, an ardent disciple of music, to do in such a land where favouritism and backstair influence win the day over even the merits of a Schubert? Supposing you were a second Beethoven, what could you do in that land without faith or hope? that land which is like a disappointed, churlish, and aged man with tottering feet and purblind eyes, who has long ago exhausted all enjoyment and sees nothing new under the sun. The world is wide—faith is yet extant—and the teachings of Christ are true. 'Believe and live; doubt and die!' That saying is true also."
I had listened to these words in silence; but now I spoke eagerly and impatiently, remembering what Zara had told me.
"Then," I said, "if I have been misguided by modern opinions—if I have unconsciously absorbed the doctrines of modern fashionable atheism—lead me right. Teach me what you know. I am willing to learn. Let me find out the reason of my life. SET ME FREE!"
Heliobas regarded me with earnest solemnity.
"Set you free!" he murmured, in a low tone. "Do you know what you ask?"
"No," I answered, with reckless fervour. "I do not know what I ask; but I feel that you have the power to show me the unseen things of another world. Did you not yourself tell me in our first interview that you had let Raffaello Cellini 'go on a voyage of discovery, and that he came back perfectly satisfied?' Besides, he told me his history. From you he has gained all that gives him peace and comfort. You possess electric secrets undreamt of by the world. Prove your powers upon me; I am not afraid."
Heliobas smiled. "Not afraid! And you ran out of the chapel just now as if you were pursued by a fiend! You must know that the only WOMAN I ever tried my greatest experiment upon is my sister Zara. She was trained and prepared for it in the most careful manner; and it succeeded. Now"—and Heliobas looked half-sad, half-triumphant—"she has passed beyond my power; she is dominated by one greater than I. But she cannot use her force for others; she can only employ it to defend herself. Therefore, I am willing to try you if you indeed desire it—to see if the same thing will occur to you as to Zara; and I firmly believe it will."
A slight tremor came over me; but I said with an attempt at indifference:
"You mean that I shall be dominated also by some great force or influence?"
"I think so," replied Heliobas musingly. "Your nature is more prone to love than to command. Try and follow me in the explanation I am going to give you. Do you know some lines by Shelley that run—
"'Nothing in the world is single, All things by a law divine In one another's being mingle— Why not I with thine?'"
"Yes," I said. "I know the lines well. I used to think them very sentimental and pretty."
"They contain," said Heliobas, "the germ of a great truth, as many of the most fanciful verses of the poets do. As the 'image of a voice' mentioned in the Book of Job hinted at the telephone, and as Shakespeare's 'girdle round the earth' foretold the electric telegraph, so the utterances of the inspired starvelings of the world, known as poets, suggest many more wonders of the universe than may be at first apparent. Poets must always be prophets, or their calling is in vain. Put this standard of judgment to the verse-writers of the day, and where would they be? The English Laureate is no seer: he is a mere relater of pretty stories. Algernon Charles Swinburne has more fire in him, and more wealth of expression, but he does not prophesy; he has a clever way of combining Biblical similes with Provengal passion—et voila tout! The prophets are always poor—the sackcloth and ashes of the world are their portion; and their bodies moulder a hundred years or more in the grave before the world finds out what they meant by their ravings. But apropos of these lines of Shelley. He speaks of the duality of existence. 'Nothing in the world is single.' He might have gone further, and said nothing in the universe is single. Cold and heat, storm and sunshine, good and evil, joy and sorrow—all go in pairs. This double life extends to all the spheres and above the spheres. Do you understand?"
"I understand what you say," I said slowly; "but I cannot see your meaning as applied to myself or yourself."
"I will teach you in a few words," went on Heliobas. "You believe in the soul?"
"Very well. Now realize that there is no soul on this earth that is complete, ALONE. Like everything else, it is dual. It is like half a flame that seeks the other half, and is dissatisfied and restless till it attains its object. Lovers, misled by the blinding light of Love, think they have reached completeness when they are united to the person beloved. Now, in very, very rare cases, perhaps one among a thousand, this desirable result is effected; but the majority of people are content with the union of bodies only, and care little or nothing about the sympathy or attachment between souls. There are people, however, who do care, and who never find their Twin-Flame or companion Spirit at all on earth, and never will find it. And why? Because it is not imprisoned in clay; it is elsewhere."
"Well?" I asked eagerly.
"Well, you seem to ask me by your eyes what this all means. I will apply it at once to myself. By my researches into human electrical science, I discovered that MY companion, MY other half of existence, though not on earth, was near me, and could be commanded by me; and, on being commanded, obeyed. With Zara it was different. She could not COMMAND—she OBEYED; she was the weaker of the two. With you, I think it will be the same thing. Men sacrifice everything to ambition; women to love. It is natural. I see there is much of what I have said that appears to have mystified you; it is no good puzzling your brain any more about it. No doubt you think I am talking very wildly about Twin-Flames and Spiritual Affinities that live for us in another sphere. You do not believe, perhaps, in the existence of beings in the very air that surrounds us, invisible to ordinary human eyes, yet actually akin to us, with a closer relationship than any tie of blood known on earth?"
I hesitated. Heliobas saw my hesitation, and his eyes darkened with a sombre wrath.
"Are you one of those also who must see in order to believe?" he said, half angrily. "Where do you suppose your music comes from? Where do you suppose any music comes from that is not mere imitation? The greatest composers of the world have been mere receptacles of sound; and the emptier they were of self-love and vanity, the greater quantity of heaven-born melody they held. The German Wagner—did he not himself say that he walked up and down in the avenues, 'trying to catch the harmonies as they floated in the air'? Come with me—come back to the place you left, and I will see if you, like Wagner, are able to catch a melody flying."
He grasped my unresisting arm, and led me, half-frightened, half-curious, into the little chapel, where he bade me seat myself at the organ.
"Do not play a single note," he said, "till you are compelled."
And standing beside me, Heliobas laid his hands on my head, then pressed them on my ears, and finally touched my hands, that rested passively on the keyboard.
He then raised his eyes, and uttered the name I had often thought of but never mentioned—the name he had called upon in my dream.
"Azul!" he said, in a low, penetrating voice, "open the gateways of the Air that we may hear the sound of Song!"
A soft rushing noise of wind answered his adjuration. This was followed by a burst of music, transcendently lovely, but unlike any music I had ever heard. There were sounds of delicate and entrancing tenderness such as no instrument made by human hands could produce; there was singing of clear and tender tone, and of infinite purity such as no human voices could be capable of. I listened, perplexed, alarmed, yet entranced. Suddenly I distinguished a melody running through the wonderful air-symphonies—a melody like a flower, fresh and perfect. Instinctively I touched the organ and began to play it; I found I could produce it note for note. I forgot all fear in my delight, and I played on and on in a sort of deepening rapture. Gradually I became aware that the strange sounds about me were dying slowly away; fainter and fainter they grew—softer—farther—and finally ceased. But the melody—that one distinct passage of notes I had followed out—remained with me, and I played it again and again with feverish eagerness lest it should escape me. I had forgotten the presence of Heliobas. But a touch on my shoulder roused me. I looked up and met his eyes fixed upon, me with a steady and earnest regard. A shiver ran through, me, and I felt bewildered.
"Have I lost it?" I asked.
"Lost what?" he demanded.
"The tune I heard—the harmonies."
"No," he replied; "at least I think not. But if you have, no matter. You will hear others. Why do you look so distressed?"
"It is lovely," I said wistfully, "all that music; but it is not MINE;" and tears of regret filled my eyes. "Oh, if it were only mine—my very own composition!"
Heliobas smiled kindly.
"It is as much yours as any thing belongs to anyone. Yours? why, what can you really call your own? Every talent you have, every breath you draw, every drop of blood flowing in your veins, is lent to you only; you must pay it all back. And as far as the arts go, it is a bad sign of poet, painter, or musician, who is arrogant enough to call his work his own. It never was his, and never will be. It is planned by a higher intelligence than his, only he happens to be the hired labourer chosen to carry out the conception; a sort of mechanic in whom boastfulness looks absurd; as absurd as if one of the stonemasons working at the cornice of a cathedral were to vaunt himself as the designer of the whole edifice. And when a work, any work, is completed, it passes out of the labourer's hands; it belongs to the age and the people for whom it was accomplished, and, if deserving, goes on belonging to future ages and future peoples. So far, and only so far, music is your own. But are you convinced? or do you think you have been dreaming all that you heard just now?"
I rose from the organ, closed it gently, and, moved by a sudden impulse, held out both my hands to Heliobas. He took them and held them in a friendly clasp, watching me intently as I spoke.
"I believe in YOU," I said firmly; "and I know thoroughly well that I was not dreaming; I certainly heard strange music, and entrancing voices. But in acknowledging your powers over something unseen, I must explain to you the incredulity I at first felt, which I believe annoyed you. I was made sceptical on one occasion, by attending a so-called spiritual seance, where they tried to convince me of the truth of table-turning—"
Heliobas laughed softly, still holding my hands.
"Your reason will at once tell you that disembodied spirits never become so undignified as to upset furniture or rap on tables. Neither do they write letters in pen and ink and put them under doors. Spiritual beings are purely spiritual; they cannot touch anything human, much less deal in such vulgar display as the throwing about of chairs, and the opening of locked sideboards. You were very rightly sceptical in these matters. But in what I have endeavoured to prove to you, you have no doubts, have you?"
"None in the world," I said. "I only ask you to go on teaching me the wonders that seem so familiar to you. Let me know all I may; and soon!" I spoke with trembling eagerness.
"You have been only eight days in the house, my child," said Heliobas, loosening my hands, and signing me to come out of the chapel with him; "and I do not consider you sufficiently strong as yet for the experiment you wish me to try upon you. Even now you are agitated. Wait one week more, and then you shall be—"
"What?" I asked impatiently.
"Lifted up," he replied. "Lifted up above this little speck called earth. But now, no more of this. Go to Zara; keep your mind well employed; study, read, and pray—pray much and often in few and simple words, and with as utterly unselfish a heart as you can prepare. Think that you are going to some high festival, and attire your soul in readiness. I do not say to you 'Have faith;' I would not compel your belief in anything against your own will. You wish to be convinced of a future existence; you seek proofs; you shall have them. In the meantime avoid all conversation with me on the subject. You can confide your desires to Zara if you like; her experience may be of use to you. You had best join her now. Au revoir!" and with a kind parting gesture, he left me.
I watched his stately figure disappear in the shadow of the passage leading to his own study, and then I hastened to Zara's room. The musical episode in the chapel had certainly startled me, and the words of Heliobas were full of mysterious meaning; but, strange to say, I was in no way rendered anxious or alarmed by the prospect I had before me of being "lifted up," as my physician had expressed it. I thought of Raffaello Cellini and his history, and I determined within myself that no cowardly hesitation or fear should prevent me from making the attempt to see what he professed to have seen. I found Zara reading. She looked up as I entered, and greeted me with her usual bright smile.
"You have had a long practice," she began; "I thought you were never coming."
I sat down beside her, and related at once all that had happened to me that afternoon. Zara listened with deep and almost breathless interest.
"You are quite resolved," she said, when I had concluded, "to let Casimir exert his force upon you?"
"I am quite resolved," I answered.
"And you have no fear?"
"None that I am just now conscious of."
Zara's eyes became darker and deeper in the gravity of her intense meditation. At last she said:
"I can help you to keep your courage firmly to the point, by letting you know at once what Casimir will do to you. Beyond that I cannot go. You understand the nature of an electric shock?"
"Yes," I replied.
"Well, there are different kinds of electric shocks—some that are remedial, some that are fatal. There are cures performed by a careful use of the electric battery—again, people are struck dead by lightning, which is the fatal result of electric force. But all this is EXTERNAL electricity; now what Casimir will use on you will be INTERNAL electricity."
I begged her to explain more clearly. She went on:
"You have internally a certain amount of electricity, which has been increased recently by the remedies prescribed for you by Casimir. But, however much you have, Casimir has more, and he will exert his force over your force, the greater over the lesser. You will experience an INTERNAL electric shock, which, like a sword, will separate in twain body and spirit. The spiritual part of you will be lifted up above material forces; the bodily part will remain inert and useless, till the life, which is actually YOU, returns to put its machinery in motion once more."
"But shall I return at all?" I asked half doubtfully.
"You must return, because God has fixed the limits of your life on earth, and no human power can alter His decree. Casimir's will can set you free for a time, but only for a time. You are bound to return, be it never so reluctantly. Eternal liberty is given by Death alone, and Death cannot be forced to come."
"How about suicide?" I asked.
"The suicide," replied Zara, "has no soul. He kills his body, and by the very act proves that whatever germ of an immortal existence he may have had once, has escaped from its unworthy habitation, and gone, like a flying spark, to find a chance of growth elsewhere. Surely your own reason proves this to you? The very animals have more soul than a man who commits suicide. The beasts of prey slay each other for hunger or in self-defence, but they do not slay themselves. That is a brutality left to man alone, with its companion degradation, drunkenness."
I mused awhile in silence.
"In all the wickedness and cruelty of mankind," I said, "it is almost a wonder that there is any spiritual existence left on earth at all. Why should God trouble Himself to care for such few souls as thoroughly believe in and love Him?—they can be but a mere handful."
"Such a mere handful are worth more than the world to him," said Zara gravely. "Oh, my dear, do not say such things as why should God trouble Himself? Why do you trouble yourself for the safety and happiness of anyone you love?"
Her eyes grew soft and tender, and the jewel she wore glimmered like moonlight on the sea. I felt a little abashed, and, to change the subject, I said:
"Tell me, Zara, what is that stone you always wear? Is it a talisman?"
"It belonged to a king," said Zara,—"at least, it was found in a king's coffin. It has been in our family for generations. Casimir says it is an electric stone—there are such still to be found in remote parts of the sea. Do you like it?"
"It is very brilliant and lovely," I said.
"When I die," went on Zara slowly, "I will leave it to you."
"I hope I shall have to wait a long time before I get it, then," I exclaimed, embracing her affectionately. "Indeed, I will pray never to receive it."
"You will pray wrongly," said Zara, smiling. "But tell me, do you quite understand from my explanation what Casimir will do to you?"
"I think I do."
"And you are not afraid?"
"Not at all. Shall I suffer any pain?"
"No actual pang. You will feel giddy for a moment, and your body will become unconscious. That is all."
I meditated for a few moments, and then looking up, saw Zara's eyes watching me with a wistful inquiring tenderness. I answered her look with a smile, and said, half gaily:
"L'audace, l'audace, et toujours l'audace! That must be my motto, Zara. I have a chance now of proving how far a woman's bravery can go, and I assure you I am proud of the opportunity. Your brother uttered some very cutting remarks on the general inaptitude of the female sex when I first made his acquaintance; so, for the honour of the thing, I must follow the path I have begun to tread. A plunge into the unseen world is surely a bold step for a woman, and I am determined to take it courageously."
"That is well," said Zara. "I do not think it possible for you ever to regret it. It is growing late—shall we prepare for dinner?"
I assented, and we separated to our different rooms. Before commencing to dress I opened the pianette that stood near my window, and tried very softly to play the melody I had heard in the chapel. To my joy it came at once to my fingers, and I was able to remember every note. I did not attempt to write it down—somehow I felt sure it would not escape me now. A sense of profound gratitude filled my heart, and, remembering the counsel given by Heliobas, I knelt reverently down and thanked God for the joy and grace of music. As I did so, a faint breath of sound, like a distant whisper of harps played in unison, floated past my ears,—then appeared to sweep round in ever-widening circles, till it gradually died away. But it was sweet and entrancing enough for me to understand how glorious and full of rapture must have been the star-symphony played on that winter's night long ago, when the angels chanted together, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace and good-will to Man!"
AN ELECTRIC SHOCK.
Prince Ivan Petroffsky was a constant visitor at the Hotel Mars, and I began to take a certain interest in him, not unmingled with pity, for it was evident that he was hopelessly in love with my beautiful friend Zara. She received him always with courtesy and kindness; but her behaviour to him was marked by a somewhat cold dignity, which, like a barrier of ice, repelled the warmth of his admiration and attention. Once or twice, remembering what he had said to me, I endeavoured to speak to her concerning him and his devotion; but she so instantly and decisively turned the conversation that I saw I should displease her if I persisted in it. Heliobas appeared to be really attached to the Prince, at which I secretly wondered; the worldly and frivolous young nobleman was of so entirely different a temperament to that of the thoughtful and studious Chaldean philosopher. Yet there was evidently some mysterious attraction between them—the Prince appeared to be profoundly interested in electric theories and experiments, and Heliobas never wearied of expounding them to so attentive a listener. The wonderful capabilities of the dog Leo also were brought into constant requisition for Prince Ivan's benefit, and without doubt they were most remarkable. This animal, commanded—or, I should say, brain-electrified—by Heliobas, would fetch anything that was named to him through his master's force, providing it was light enough for him to carry; and he would go into the conservatory and pluck off with his teeth any rare or common flower within his reach that was described to him by the same means. Spoken to or commanded by others, he was simply a good-natured intelligent Newfoundland; but under the authority of Heliobas, he became more than human in ready wit and quick obedience, and would have brought in a golden harvest to any great circus or menagerie.
He was a never-failing source of wonder and interest to me, and even more so to the Prince, who made him the subject of many an abstruse and difficult discussion with his friend Casimir. I noticed that Zara seemed to regret the frequent companionship of Ivan Petroffsky and her brother, and a shade of sorrow or vexation often crossed her fair face when she saw them together absorbed in conversation or argument.
One evening a strange circumstance occurred which startled and deeply impressed me. Prince Ivan had dined with us; he was in extraordinarily high spirits—his gaiety was almost boisterous, and his face was deeply flushed. Zara glanced at him half indignantly more than once when his laughter became unusually uproarious, and I saw that Heliobas watched him closely and half-inquiringly, as if he thought there was something amiss.
The Prince, however, heedless of his host's observant eye, tossed off glass after glass of wine, and talked incessantly. After dinner, when we all assembled in the drawing-room, he seated himself at the piano without being asked, and sang several songs. Whether he were influenced by drink or strong excitement, his voice at any rate showed no sign of weakness or deterioration. Never had I heard him sing so magnificently. He seemed possessed not by an angel but by a demon of song. It was impossible not to listen to him, and while listening, equally impossible not to admire him. Even Zara, who was generally indifferent to his music, became, on this particular night, fascinated into a sort of dreamy attention. He perceived this, and suddenly addressed himself to her in softened tones which bore no trace of their previous loudness.
"Madame, you honour me to-night by listening to my poor efforts. It is seldom I am thus rewarded!"
Zara flushed deeply, and then grew very pale.
"Indeed, Prince," she answered quietly, "you mistake me. I always listen with pleasure to your singing—to-night, perhaps, my mood is more fitted to music than is usual with me, and thus I may appear to you to be more attentive. But your voice always delights me as it must delight everybody who hears it."
"While you are in a musical mood then," returned Prince Ivan, "let me sing you an English song—one of the loveliest ever penned. I have set it to music myself, as such words are not of the kind to suit ordinary composers or publishers; they are too much in earnest, too passionate, too full of real human love and sorrow. The songs that suit modern drawing-rooms and concert-halls, as a rule, are those that are full of sham sentiment—a real, strong, throbbing HEART pulsing through a song is too terribly exciting for lackadaisical society. Listen!" And, playing a dreamy, murmuring prelude like the sound of a brook flowing through a hollow cavern, he sang Swinburne's "Leave-Taking," surely one of the saddest and most beautiful poems in the English language.
He subdued his voice to suit the melancholy hopelessness of the lines, and rendered it with so much intensity of pathetic expression that it was difficult to keep tears from filling the eyes. When he came to the last verse, the anguish of a wasted life seemed to declare itself in the complete despair of his low vibrating tones:
"Let us go hence and rest; she will not love. She shall not hear us if we sing hereof, Nor see love's ways, how sore they are and steep. Come hence, let be, lie still; it is enough. Love is a barren sea, bitter and deep; And though she saw all heaven in flower above, She would not love!"
The deep melancholy of the music and the quivering pathos of the deep baritone voice were so affecting that it was almost a relief when the song ceased. I had been looking out of the window at the fantastic patterns of the moonlight on the garden walk, but now I turned to see in Zara's face her appreciation of what we had just heard. To my surprise she had left the room. Heliobas reclined in his easy-chair, glancing up and down the columns of the Figaro; and the Prince still sat at the piano, moving his fingers idly up and down the keys without playing. The little page entered with a letter on a silver salver. It was for his master. Heliobas read it quickly, and rose, saying:
"I must leave you to entertain yourselves for ten minutes while I answer this letter. Will you excuse me?" and with the ever-courteous salute to us which was part of his manner, he left the room.
I still remained at the window. Prince Ivan still dumbly played the piano. There were a few minutes of absolute silence. Then the Prince hastily got up, shut the piano, and approached me.
"Do you know where Zara is?" he demanded in a low, fierce tone.
I looked at him in surprise and a little alarm—he spoke with so much suppressed anger, and his eyes glittered so strangely.
"No," I answered frankly. "I never saw her leave the room."
"I did," he said. "She slipped out like a ghost, or a witch, or an angel, while I was singing the last verse of Swinburne's song. Do you know Swinburne, mademoiselle?"
"No," I replied, wondering at his manner more and more. "I only know him, as you do, to be a poet."
"Poet, madman, or lover—all three should be one and the same thing," muttered the Prince, clenching and unclenching that strong right hand of his on which sparkled a diamond like a star. "I have often wondered if poets feel what they write—whether Swinburne, for instance, ever felt the weight of a dead cold thing within him HERE," slightly touching the region of his heart, "and realized that he had to drag that corpse of unburied love with him everywhere—even to the grave, and beyond—O God!—beyond the grave!" I touched him gently on the arm. I was full of pity for him—his despair was so bitter and keen.
"Prince Ivan," I said, "you are excited and overwrought. Zara meant no slight to you in leaving the room before your song was finished. I am quite sure of that. She is kindness itself—her nature is all sweetness and gentleness. She would not willingly offend you—"
"Offend me!" he exclaimed; "she could not offend me if she tried. She could tread upon me, stab me, slay me, but never offend me. I see you are sorry for me—and I thank you. I kiss your hand for your gentle pity, mademoiselle."
And he did so, with a knightly grace that became him well. I thought his momentary anger was passing, but I was mistaken. Suddenly he raised his arm with a fierce gesture, and exclaimed:
"By heaven! I will wait no longer. I am a fool to hesitate. I may wait a century before I draw out of Casimir the secret that would enable me to measure swords with my rival. Listen!" and he grasped my shoulder roughly. "Stay here, you! If Casimir returns, tell him I have gone for a walk of half an hour. Play to him—keep him occupied—be my friend in this one thing—I trust you. Let him not seek for Zara, or for me. I shall not be long absent."
"Stay!" I whispered hurriedly, "What are you going to do? Surely you know the power of Heliobas. He is supreme here. He could find out anything he chose. He could—-"
Prince Ivan looked at me fixedly.
"Will you swear to me that you actually do not know?"
"Know what?" I asked, perplexed.
He laughed bitterly, sarcastically.
"Did you ever hear that line of poetry which speaks of 'A woman wailing for her demon-lover'? That is what Zara does. Of one thing I am certain—she does not wail or wait long; he comes quickly."
"What do you mean?" I exclaimed, utterly mystified. "Who comes quickly? I am sure you do not know what you are talking about."
"I DO know," he replied firmly; "and I am going to prove my knowledge. Remember what I have asked you." And without another word or look, he threw open the velvet curtains of the portiere, and disappeared behind them.
Left to myself, I felt very nervous and excited. All sorts of odd fancies came into my head, and would not go away, but danced about like Will-o'-the-wisps on a morass. What did Prince Ivan mean? Was he mad? or had he drunk too much wine? What strange illusion had he in his mind about Zara and a demon? Suddenly a thought flashed upon me that made me tremble from head to foot. I remembered what Heliobas had said about twin flames and dual affinities; and I also reflected that he had declared Zara to be dominated by a more powerful force than his own. But then, I had accepted it as a matter of course that, whatever the force was, it must be for good, not evil, over a being so pure, so lovely and so intelligent as Zara.
I knew and felt that there were good and evil forces. Now, suppose Zara were commanded by some strange evil thing, unguessed at, undreamt of in the wildest night-mare? I shuddered as with icy cold. It could not be. I resolutely refused to admit such a fearful conjecture. Why, I thought to myself, with a faint smile, I was no better in my imaginings than the so virtuous and ever-respectable Suzanne Michot of whom Madame Denise had spoken. Still the hateful thought came back again and again, and refused to go away.
I went to my old place at the window and looked out. The moonlight fell in cold slanting rays; but an army of dark clouds were hurrying up from the horizon, looking in their weird shapes like the mounted Walkyres in Wagner's "Niebelungen Ring," galloping to Walhalla with the bodies of dead warriors slung before them. A low moaning wind had arisen, and was beginning to sob round the house like the Banshee. Hark! what was that? I started violently. Surely that was a faint shriek? I listened intently. Nothing but the wind rustling among some creaking branches.
"A woman wailing for her demon-lover."
How that line haunted me! And with, it there slowly grew up in my mind a black looming horror; an idea, vague and ghastly, that froze my blood and turned me faint and giddy. Suppose, when I had consented to be experimented upon by Heliobas—when my soul in the electric trance was lifted up to the unseen world—suppose an evil force, terrible and all-compelling, were to dominate ME and hold me forever and ever! I gasped for breath! Oh, so much the more need of prayer!
"Pray much and often, with as unselfish a heart as you can prepare."
Thus Heliobas had said; and I thought to myself, if all those who were on the brink of great sin or crime could only be brought to feel beforehand what I felt when facing the spectral dread of unknown evil, then surely sins would be fewer and crimes never committed. And I murmured softly, "Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil."
The mere utterance of these words seemed to calm and encourage me; and as I gazed up at the sky again, with its gathering clouds, one star, like a bright consoling eye, looked at me, glittering cheerfully amid the surrounding darkness.
More than ten minutes had elapsed since Prince Ivan had left the room, and there was no sound of returning footsteps. And where was Zara? I determined to seek her. I was free to go anywhere in the house, only avoiding her studio during her hours of work; and she never worked at night. I would go to her and confide all my strange thoughts and terrors to her friendly sympathy. I hurried through the hall and up the staircase quickly, and should have gone straight into Zara's boudoir had I not heard a sound of voices which caused me to stop precipitately outside the door. Zara was speaking. Her low, musical accents fell like a silver chime on the air.
"I have told you," she said, "again and again that it is impossible. You waste your life in the pursuit of a phantom; for a phantom I must be to you always—a mere dream, not a woman such as your love would satisfy. You are a strong man, in sound health and spirits; you care for the world and the things that are in it. I do not. You would make me happy, you say. No doubt you would do your best—your wealth and influence, your good looks, your hospitable and friendly nature would make most women happy. But what should I care for your family diamonds? for your surroundings? for your ambitions? The society of the world fills me with disgust and prejudice. Marriage, as the world considers it, shocks and outrages my self-respect; the idea of a bodily union without that of souls is to me repulsive and loathsome. Why, therefore, waste your time in seeking a love which does not exist, which never will exist for you?"
I heard the deep, passionate tones of Prince Ivan in answer:
"One light kindles another, Zara! The sunlight melts the snow! I cannot believe but that a long and faithful love may—nay, MUST—have its reward at last. Even according to your brother's theories, the emotion of love is capable of powerful attraction. Cannot I hope that my passion—so strong, so great, so true, Zara!—will, with patience, draw you, star of my life, closer and closer, till I at last call you mine?"
I heard the faint rustle of Zara's silk robe, as though she were moving farther from him.
"You speak ignorantly, Prince. Your studies with Casimir appear to have brought you little knowledge. Attraction! How can you attract what is not in your sphere? As well ask for the Moons of Jupiter or the Ring of Saturn! The laws of attraction and repulsion, Prince Ivan, are fixed by a higher authority than yours, and you are as powerless to alter or abate them by one iota, as a child is powerless to repel the advancing waves of the sea."
Prince Ivan spoke again, and his voice quivered, with suppressed anger.
"You may talk as you will, beautiful Zara; but you shall never persuade me against my reason. I am no dreamer; no speculator in aerial nothings; no clever charlatan like Casimir, who, because he is able to magnetize a dog, pretends to the same authority over human beings, and dares to risk the health, perhaps the very sanity, of his own sister, and that of the unfortunate young musician whom he has inveigled in here, all for the sake of proving his dangerous, almost diabolical, experiments. Oh, yes; I see you are indignant, but I speak truth. I am a plain man;—and if I am deficient in electric germs, as Casimir would say, I have plenty of common sense. I wish to rescue you, Zara. You are becoming a prey to morbid fancies; your naturally healthy mind is full of extravagant notions concerning angels and demons and what not; and your entire belief in, and enthusiasm for, your brother is a splendid advertisement for him. Let me tear the veil of credulity from your eyes. Let me teach you how good a thing it is to live and love and laugh like other people, and leave electricity to the telegraph-wires and the lamp-posts."
Again I heard the silken rustle of Zara's dress, and, impelled by a strong curiosity and excitement, I raised a corner of the curtain hanging over the door, and was able to see the room distinctly. The Prince stood, or rather lounged, near the window, and opposite to him was Zara; she had evidently retreated from him as far as possible, and held herself proudly erect, her eyes flashing with unusual brilliancy contrasted with the pallor of her face.
"Your insults to my brother, Prince," she said calmly, "I suffer to pass by me, knowing well to what a depth of wilful blind ignorance you are fallen. I pity you—and—I despise you! You are indeed a plain man, as you say—nothing more and nothing less. You can take advantage of the hospitality of this house, and pretend friendship to the host, while you slander him behind his back, and insult his sister in the privacy of her own apartment. Very manlike, truly; and perfectly in accordance with a reasonable being who likes to live and love and laugh according to the rule of society—a puppet whose wires society pulls, and he dances or dies as society pleases. I told you a gulf existed between us—you have widened it, for which I thank you! As I do not impose any of my wishes upon you, and therefore cannot request you to leave the room, you must excuse me if I retire elsewhere."
And she approached the entrance of her studio, which was opposite to where I stood; but the Prince reached it before her, and placed his back against it. His face was deathly pale, and his dark eyes blazed with wrath and love intermingled.
"No, Zara!" he exclaimed in a sort of loud whisper. "If you think to escape me so, you are in error. I came to you reckless and resolved! You shall be mine if I die for it!" And he strove to seize her in his arms. But she escaped him and stood at bay, her lips quivering, her bosom heaving, and her hands clenched.
"I warn you!" she exclaimed. "By the intense loathing I have for you; by the force which makes my spirit rise in arms against you, I warn you! Do not dare to touch me! If you care for your own life, leave me while there is time!"
Never had she looked so supremely, terribly beautiful. I gazed at her from my corner of the doorway, awed, yet fascinated. The jewel on her breast glowed with an angry red lustre, and shot forth dazzling opaline rays, as though it were a sort of living, breathing star. Prince Ivan paused—entranced no doubt, as I was, by her unearthly loveliness. His face flushed—he gave a low laugh of admiration. Then he made two swift strides forward and caught her fiercely in his embrace. His triumph was brief. Scarcely had his strong arm clasped her waist, when it fell numb and powerless—scarcely had his eager lips stooped towards hers, when he reeled and sank heavily on the ground, senseless! The spell that had held me a silent spectator of the scene was broken. Terrified, I rushed into the room, crying out:
"Zara, Zara! What have you done?"
Zara turned her eyes gently upon me—they were soft and humid as though recently filled with tears. All the burning scorn and indignation had gone out of her face—she looked pityingly at the prostrate form of her admirer.
"He is not dead," she said quietly. "I will call Casimir."
I knelt beside the Prince and raised his hand. It was cold and heavy. His lips were blue, and his closed eyelids looked as though, in the words of Homer, "Death's purple finger" had shut them fast forever. No breath—no pulsation of the heart. I looked fearfully at Zara. She smiled half sadly.
"He is not dead," she repeated.
"Are you sure?" I murmured. "What was it, Zara, that made him fall? I was at the door—I saw and heard everything."
"I know you did," said Zara gently; "and I am glad of it. I wished you to see and hear all."
"Is it a fit, do you think?" I asked again, looking sorrowfully at the sad face of the unfortunate Ivan, which seemed to me to have already graven upon it the stern sweet smile of those who have passed all passion and pain forever. "Oh, Zara! do you believe he will recover?" And tears choked my voice—tears of compassion and regret.
Zara came and kissed me.
"Yes, he will recover—do not fret, little one. I have rung my private bell for Casimir; he will be here directly. The Prince has had a shock—not a fatal one, as you will see. You look doubtful—are you afraid of me, dear?"
I gazed at her earnestly. Those clear childlike eyes—that frank smile—that gentle and dignified mien—could they accompany evil thoughts? No! I was sure Zara was good as she was lovely.
"I am not afraid of you, Zara," I said gravely; "I love you too well for that. But I am sorry for the poor Prince; and I cannot understand—-"
"You cannot understand why those who trespass against fixed laws should suffer?" observed Zara calmly. "Well, you will understand some day. You will know that in one way or another it is the reason of all suffering, both physical and mental, in the world."
I said no more, but waited in silence till the sound of a firm approaching footstep announced Heliobas. He entered the room quickly—glanced at the motionless form of the Prince, then at me, and lastly at his sister.
"Has he been long thus?" he asked in a low tone.
"Not five minutes," replied Zara.
A pitying and affectionate gentleness of expression filled his keen eyes.
"Reckless boy!" he murmured softly, as he stooped and laid one hand lightly on Ivan's breast. "He is the very type of misguided human bravery. You were too hard upon him, Zara!"
"He spoke against you," she said. "Of course he did," returned her brother with a smile. "And it was perfectly natural he should do so. Have I not read his thoughts? Do not I know that he considers me a false pretender and CHARLATAN? And have I not humoured him? In this he is no worse than any one of his race. Every great scientific discovery is voted impossible at the first start. Ivan is not to blame because he is like the rest of the world. He will be wiser in time."
"He attempted to force his desires," began Zara again, and her cheeks flushed indignantly.
"I know," answered her brother. "I foresaw how it would be, but was powerless to prevent it. He was wrong—but bold! Such boldness compels a certain admiration. This fellow would scale the stars, if he knew how to do it, by physical force alone."
I grew impatient, and interrupted these remarks.
"Perhaps he is scaling the stars now," I said; "or at any rate he will do so if death can show him the way."
Heliobas gave me a friendly glance.
"You also are growing courageous when you can speak to your physician thus abruptly," he observed quietly. "Death has nothing to do with our friend as yet, I assure you. Zara, you had better leave us. Your face must not be the first for Ivan's eyes to rest upon. You," nodding to me, "can stay."
Zara pressed my hand gently as she passed me, and entered her studio, the door of which closed behind her, and I heard the key turn in the lock. I became absorbed in the proceedings of Heliobas. Stooping towards the recumbent form of Prince Ivan, he took the heavy lifeless hands firmly in his own, and then fixed his eyes fully and steadily on the pale, set features with an expression of the most forcible calm and absolutely undeniable authority. Not one word did he utter, but remained motionless as a statue in the attitude thus assumed—he seemed scarcely to breathe—not a muscle of his countenance moved. Perhaps twenty or thirty seconds might have elapsed, when a warm tinge of colour came back to the apparently dead face—the brows twitched—the lips quivered and parted in a heavy sigh. The braised appearance of the eyelids gave place to the natural tint—they opened, disclosing the eyes, which stared directly into those of the compelling Master who thus forced their obedience. A strong shudder shook the young man's frame; his before nerveless hands grasped those of Heliobas with force and fervour, and still meeting that steady look which seemed to pierce the very centre of his system, Prince Ivan, like Lazarus of old, arose and stood erect. As he did so, Heliobas withdrew his eyes, dropped his hands and smiled.
"You are better, Ivan?" he inquired kindly.
The Prince looked about him, bewildered. He passed one hand across his forehead without replying. Then he turned slightly and perceived me in the window-embrasure, whither I had retreated in fear and wonderment at the marvellous power of Heliobas, thus openly and plainly displayed.
"Tell me," he said, addressing me, "have I been dreaming?"
I could not answer him. I was glad to see him recover, yet I was a little afraid. Heliobas pushed a chair gently towards him.
"Sit down, Ivan," he said quietly.
The Prince obeyed, and covered his face with his hand as though in deep and earnest meditation. I looked on in silence and wonderment. Heliobas spoke not another word, and together we watched the pensive figure in the chair, so absorbed in serious thought. Some minutes passed. The gentle tick of the clock in the outer hall grew almost obtrusive, so loud did it seem in the utter stillness that surrounded us. I longed to speak—to ask questions—to proffer sympathy—but dared not move or utter a syllable. Suddenly the Prince rose; his manner was calm and dignified, yet touched with a strange humility. He advanced to Heliobas, holding out his hand.
"Forgive me, Casimir!" he said simply.
Heliobas at once grasped the proffered palm within his own, and looked at the young man with an almost fatherly tenderness.
"Say no more, Ivan," he returned, his rich voice sounding more than usually mellow in its warmth and heartiness. "We must all learn before we can know, and some of our lessons are sharp and difficult. Whatever you have thought of me, remember I have not, and do not, blame you. To be offended with unbelievers is to show that you are not yourself quite sure of the faith to which you would compel them."
"I would ask you one thing," went on the Prince, speaking in a low tone. "Do not let me stay to fall into fresh errors. Teach me—guide me, Casimir; I will be the most docile of your pupils. As for Zara—"
He paused, as if overcome.
"Come with me," said Heliobas, taking his arm; "a glass of good wine will invigorate you. It is better to see Zara no more for a time. Let me take charge of you. You, mademoiselle," turning to me, "will be kind enough to tell Zara that the Prince has recovered, and sends her a friendly good-night. Will that message suffice?" he inquired of Ivan, with a smile.
The Prince looked at me with a sort of wistful gravity as I came forward to bid him farewell.
"You will embrace her," he said slowly, "without fear. Her eyes will rain sunshine upon you; they will not dart lightning. Her lips will meet yours, and their touch will be warm—not cold, as sharp steel. Yes; bid her good-night for me; tell her that an erring man kisses the hem of her robe, and prays her for pardon. Tell her that I understand; tell her I have seen her lover!"
"With these words, uttered distinctly and emphatically, he turned away with. Heliobas, who still held him by the arm in a friendly, half-protecting manner. The tears stood in my eyes. I called softly:
"Good-night, Prince Ivan!"
He looked back with a faint smile.
Heliobas also looked back and gave me an encouraging nod, which meant several things at once, such as "Do not be anxious," "He will be all right soon," and "Always believe the best." I watched their two figures disappear through the doorway, and then, feeling almost cheerful again, I knocked at the door of Zara's studio. She opened it at once, and came out. I delivered the Prince's message, word for word, as he had given it. She listened, and sighed deeply.
"Are you sorry for him, Zara?" I asked.
"Yes," she replied; "I am sorry for him as far as I can be sorry for anything. I am never actually VERY sorry for any circumstances, however grievous they may appear."
I was surprised at this avowal.
"Why, Zara," I said, "I thought you were so keenly sympathetic?"
"So I am sympathetic, but only with suffering ignorance—a dying bird that knows not why it should die—a withering rose that sees not the reason for its withering; but for human beings who wilfully blind themselves to the teachings of their own instincts, and are always doing what they know they ought not to do in spite of warning, I cannot say I am sorry. And for those who DO study the causes and ultimate results of their existence, there is no occasion to be sorry, as they are perfectly happy, knowing everything that happens to them to be for their advancement and justification."
"Tell me," I asked with a little hesitation, "what did Prince Ivan mean by saying he had seen your lover, Zara?"
"He meant what he said, I suppose," replied Zara, with sudden coldness. "Excuse me, I thought you said you were not inquisitive."
I could not bear this change of tone in her, and I clasped my arms tight about her and smiled in her face.
"You shall not get angry with ME, Zara. I am not going to be treated like poor Ivan. I have found out what you are, and how dangerous it is to admire you; but I do admire and love you. And I defy you to knock me down as unceremoniously as you did the Prince—you beautiful living bit of Lightning!"
Zara moved restlessly in my embrace, but I held her fast. At the last epithet I bestowed on her, she grew very pale; but her eyes resembled the jewels on her breast in their sheeny glitter.
"What have you found out?" she murmured. "What do you know?"
"I cannot say I KNOW," I went on boldly, still keeping my arms round her; "but I have made a guess which I think comes near the truth. Your brother has had the care of you ever since you were a little child, and I believe he has, by some method known only to himself, charged you with electricity. Yes, Zara," for she had started and tried to loosen my hold of her; "and it is that which keeps you young and fresh as a girl of sixteen, at an age when other women lose their bloom and grow wrinkles. It is that which gives you the power to impart a repelling shock to people you dislike, as in the case of Prince Ivan. It is that which gives you such an attractive force for those with whom you have a little sympathy—such as myself, for instance; and you cannot, Zara, with all your electric strength, unclasp my arms from your waist, because you have not the sentiment of repulsion towards me which would enable you to do it. Shall I go on guessing?"
Zara made a sign of assent—the expression of her face had softened, and a dimpling smile played round the corners of her mouth.
"Your lover," I went on steadily and slowly, "is a native of some other sphere—perhaps a creation of your own fancy—perhaps (for I will not be sceptical any more) a beautiful and all-powerful angelic spirit. I will not discuss this with you. I believe that when Prince Ivan fell senseless, he saw, or fancied he saw, that nameless being. And now," I added, loosening my clasp of her, "have I guessed well?"
Zara looked meditative.
"I do not know," she said, "why you should imagine—"
"Stop!" I exclaimed; "there is no imagination in the case. I have reasoned it out. Here is a book I found in the library on electric organs as they are discovered to exist in certain fish. Listen: 'They are nervous apparatuses which in the arrangement of their parts may be compared to a Voltaic pile. They develop electricity and give electrical discharges.'"
"Well!" said Zara.
"You say 'Well!' as if you did not know!" I exclaimed half-angrily, half-laughingly. "These fish have helped me to understand a great deal, I assure you. Your brother must have discovered the seed or commencement of electrical organs like those described, in the human body; and he has cultivated them in you and in himself, and has brought them to a high state of perfection. He has cultivated them in Raffaello Cellini, and he is beginning to cultivate them in me, and I hope most sincerely he will succeed. I think his theory is a magnificent one!"
Zara gazed seriously at me, and her large eyes seemed to grow darker with the intensity of her thought.
"Supposing you had reasoned out the matter correctly," she said—"and I will not deny that you have done a great deal towards the comprehension of it—have you no fear? do you not include some drawbacks in even Casimir's learning such a secret, and being able to cultivate and educate such a deadly force as that of electricity in the human being?"
"If it is deadly, it is also life-giving," I answered. "Remedies are also poisons. You laid the Prince senseless at your feet, but your brother raised him up again. Both these things were done by electricity. I can understand it all now; I see no obscurity, no mystery. And oh, what a superb discovery it is!"
"You enthusiast!" she said, "it is nothing new. It was well known to the ancient Chaldeans. It was known to Moses and his followers; it was practised in perfection by Christ and His disciples. To modern civilization it may seem a discovery, because the tendency Of all so-called progress is to forget the past. The scent of the human savage is extraordinarily keen—keener than that of any animal—he can follow a track unerringly by some odour he is able to detect in the air. Again, he can lay back his ears to the wind and catch a faint, far-off sound with, certainty and precision, and tell you what it is. Civilized beings have forgotten all this; they can neither smell nor hear with actual keenness. Just in the same way, they have forgotten the use of the electrical organs they all indubitably possess in large or minute degree. As the muscles of the arm are developed by practice, so can the wonderful internal electrical apparatus of man be strengthened and enlarged by use. The world in its youth knew this; the world in its age forgets, as an old man forgets or smiles disdainfully at the past sports of his childhood. But do not let us talk any more to-night. If you think your ideas of me are correct—-"
"I am sure they are!" I cried triumphantly.
Zara held out her arms to me.
"And you are sure you love me?" she asked.
I nestled into her embrace and kissed her.
"Sure!" I answered. "Zara, I love and honour you more than any woman I ever met or ever shall meet. And you love me—I know you do!"
"How can I help it?" she said. "Are you not one of us? Good-night, dearest! Sleep well!"
"Good-night!" I answered. "And remember Prince Ivan asked for your pardon."
"I remember!" she replied softly. "I have already pardoned him, and I will pray for him." And a sort of radiant pity and forbearance illumined her lovely features, as we parted for the night. So might an angel look on some repentant sinner pleading for Heaven's forgiveness.
I lay awake for some time that night, endeavouring to follow out the track of thought I had entered upon in my conversation with Zara. With such electricity as Heliobas practised, once admitting that human electric force existed, a fact which no reasoning person could deny, all things were possible. Even a knowledge of superhuman events might be attained, if there were anything in the universe that WAS superhuman; and surely it would be arrogant and ignorant to refuse to contemplate such a probability. At one time people mocked at the wild idea that a message could flash in a moment of time from one side of the Atlantic to the other by means of a cable laid under the sea; now that it is an established fact, the world has grown accustomed to it, and has ceased to regard it as a wonder. Granting human electricity to exist, why should not a communication be established, like a sort of spiritual Atlantic cable, between man and the beings of other spheres and other solar systems? The more I reflected on the subject the more lost I became in daring speculations concerning that other world, to which I was soon to be lifted. Then in a sort of half-doze, I fancied I saw an interminable glittering chain of vivid light composed of circles that were all looped one in another, which seemed to sweep round the realms of space and to tie up the sun, moon, and stars like flowers in a ribbon of fire. After much anxious and humble research, I found myself to be one of the smallest links in this great chain. I do not know whether I was grateful or afraid at this discovery, for sleep put an end to my drowsy fancies, and dropped a dark curtain over my waking dreams.
MY STRANGE DEPARTURE.
The next morning brought me two letters; one from Mrs. Everard, telling me that she and the Colonel had resolved on coming to Paris.
"All the nice people are going away from here," she wrote. "Madame Didier and her husband have started for Naples; and, to crown our lonesomeness, Raffaello Cellini packed up all his traps, and left us yesterday morning en route for Rome. The weather continues to be delicious; but as you seem to be getting on so well in Paris, in spite of the cold there, we have made up our minds to join you, the more especially as I want to renovate my wardrobe. We shall go straight to the Grand Hotel; and I am writing to Mrs. Challoner by this post, asking her to get us rooms. We are so glad you are feeling nearly recovered—of course, you must not leave your physician till you are quite ready. At any rate, we shall not arrive till the end of next week."
I began to calculate. During that strange interview in the chapel, Heliobas had said that in eight days more I should be strong enough to undergo the transmigration he had promised to effect upon me. Those eight days were now completed on this very morning. I was glad of this; for I did not care to see Mrs. Everard or anyone till the experiment was over. The other letter I received was from Mrs. Challoner, who asked me to give an "Improvisation" at the Grand Hotel that day fortnight.
When I went down to breakfast, I mentioned both these letters, and said, addressing myself to Heliobas:
"Is it not rather a sudden freak of Raffaello Cellini's to leave Cannes? We all thought he was settled for the winter there. Did you know he was going to Rome?"
"Yes," replied Heliobas, as he stirred his coffee abstractedly. "I knew he was going there some day this month; his presence is required there on business."
"And are you going to give the Improvisation this Mrs. Challoner asks you for?" inquired Zara.
I glanced at Heliobas. He answered for me.
"I should certainly give it if I were you," he said quietly: "there will be nothing to prevent your doing so at the date named."
I was relieved. I had not been altogether able to divest myself of the idea that I might possibly never come out alive from the electric trance to which I had certainly consented; and this assurance on the part of Heliobas was undoubtedly comforting. We were all very silent that morning; we all wore grave and preoccupied expressions. Zara was very pale, and appeared lost in thought. Heliobas, too, looked slightly careworn, as though he had been up all night, engaged in some brain-exhausting labour. No mention was made of Prince Ivan; we avoided his name by a sort of secret mutual understanding. When the breakfast was over, I looked with a fearless smile at the calm face of Heliobas, which appeared nobler and more dignified than ever with that slight touch of sadness upon it, and said softly:
"The eight days are accomplished!"
He met my gaze fully, with a steady and serious observation of my features, and replied:
"My child, I am aware of it. I expect you in my private room at noon. In the meantime speak to no one—not even to Zara; read no books; touch no note of music. The chapel has been prepared for you; go there and pray. When you see a small point of light touch the extreme edge of the cross upon the altar, it will be twelve o'clock, and you will then come to me."
With these words, uttered in a grave and earnest tone, he left me. A sensation of sudden awe stole upon me. I looked at Zara. She laid her finger on her lips and smiled, enjoining silence; then drawing my hand close within her own, she led me to the door of the chapel. There she took a soft veil of some white transparent fabric, and flung it over me, embracing and kissing me tenderly as she did so, but uttering no word. Taking my hand again, she entered the chapel with me, and accompanied me through what seemed a blaze of light and colour to the high altar, before which was placed a prie-dieu of crimson velvet. Motioning me to kneel, she kissed me once more through the filmy veil that covered me from head to foot; then turning noiselessly away she disappeared, and I heard the heavy oaken door close behind her. Left alone, I was able to quietly take note of everything around me. The altar before which I knelt was ablaze with lighted candles, and a wealth of the purest white flowers decorated it, mingling their delicious fragrance with the faintly perceptible odour of incense. On all sides of the chapel, in every little niche, and at every shrine, tapers were burning like fireflies in a summer twilight. At the foot of the large crucifix, which occupied a somewhat shadowy corner, lay a wreath of magnificent crimson roses. It would seem as though some high festival were about to be celebrated, and I gazed around me with a beating heart, half expecting some invisible touch to awaken the notes of the organ and a chorus of spirit-voices to respond with the "Gloria in excelsis Deo!" But there was silence—absolute, beautiful, restful silence. I strove to collect my thoughts, and turning my eyes towards the jewelled cross that surmounted the high altar, I clasped my hands, and began to wonder how and for what I should pray. Suddenly the idea struck me that surely it was selfish to ask Heaven for anything; would it not be better to reflect on all that had already been given to me, and to offer up thanks? Scarcely had this thought entered my mind when a sort of overwhelming sense of unworthiness came over me. Had I ever been unhappy? I wondered. If so, why? I began to count up my blessings and compare them with my misfortunes. Exhausted pleasure-seekers may be surprised to hear that I proved the joys of my life to have far exceeded my sorrows. I found that I had sight, hearing, youth, sound limbs, an appreciation of the beautiful in art and nature, and an intense power of enjoyment. For all these things, impossible of purchase by mere wealth, should I not give thanks? For every golden ray of sunshine, for every flower that blooms, for the harmonies of the wind and sea, for the singing of birds and the shadows of trees, should I not—should we not all give thanks? For is there any human sorrow so great that the blessing of mere daylight on the earth does not far exceed? We mortals are spoilt and petted children—the more gifts we have the more we crave; and when we burn or wound ourselves by our own obstinacy or carelessness, we are ungratefully prone to blame the Supreme Benefactor for our own faults. We don black mourning robes as a sort of sombre protest against Him for having removed some special object of our choice and love, whereas, if we believed in Him and were grateful to Him, we should wear dazzling white in sign of rejoicing that our treasure is safe in the land of perfect joy where we ourselves desire to be. Do we suffer from illness, loss of money, position, or friends, we rail against Fate—another name for God—and complain like babes who have broken their toys; yet the sun shines on, the seasons come and go, the lovely panorama of Nature unrolls itself all for our benefit, while we murmur and fret and turn our eyes away in anger.
Thinking of these things and kneeling before the altar, my heart became filled with gratitude; and no petition suggested itself to me save one, and that was, "Let me believe and love!" I thought of the fair, strong, stately figure of Christ, standing out in the world's history, like a statue of pure white marble against a dark background; I mused on the endurance, patience, forgiveness, and perfect innocence of that most spotless life which was finished on the cross, and again I murmured, "Let me believe and love!" And I became so absorbed in meditation that the time fled fast, till a sudden sparkle of flame flashing across the altar-steps caused me to look up. The jewelled cross had become a cross of fire. The point of light I had been, told to watch for had not only touched the extreme edge, but had crept down among all the precious stones and lit them up like stars. I afterwards learned that this effect was produced by means of a thin, electric wire, which, communicating with a timepiece constructed on the same system, illuminated the cross at sunrise, noon, and sunset. It was time for me to join Heliobas. I rose gently, and left the chapel with a quiet and reverent step, for I have always thought that to manifest hurry and impatience in any place set apart for the worship of the Creator is to prove yourself one of the unworthiest things created. Once outside the door I laid aside my veil, and then, with a perfectly composed and fearless mind, went straight to the Electrician's study. I shall never forget the intense quiet of the house that morning. The very fountain in the hall seemed to tinkle in a sort of subdued whisper. I found Heliobas seated at his table, reading. How my dream came vividly back to me, as I saw him in that attitude! I felt that I knew what he was reading. He looked up as I entered, and greeted me with a kindly yet grave smile. I broke silence abruptly.
"Your book is open," I said, "at a passage commencing thus: 'The universe is upheld solely by the Law of Love. A majestic invisible Protectorate governs the winds, the tides.' Is it not so?"
"It is so," returned Heliobas. "Are you acquainted with the book?"
"Only through the dream I had of you at Cannes," I answered. "I do think Signor Cellini had some power over me."