"Heliobas!" I cried "Remember, remember Azul! When Death lies like a gift in your hand, withhold it. Withhold it, Heliobas; and give Life instead!"
He started at the sound of my voice, and looked up. A strong shudder shook his frame. Very slowly, very reluctantly, he relaxed his position; he rose from his kneeling posture on the Prince's breast—he left him and stood upright. Ivan at the same moment heaved a deep sigh, and closed his eyes, apparently insensible.
Gradually one by one the hard lines faded out of the face of Heliobas, and his old expression of soft and grave beneficence came back to it as graciously as sunlight after rain. He turned to me, and bent his head in a sort of reverential salutation.
"I thank and bless you," he said; "you reminded me in time! Another moment and it would have been too late. You have saved me."
"Give him his life," I said, pointing to Ivan.
"He has it," returned Heliobas; "I have not taken it from him, thank God! He provoked me; I regret it. I should have been more patient with him. He will revive immediately. I leave him to your care. In dealing with him, I ought to have remembered that human passion like his, unguided by spiritual knowledge, was to be met with pity and forbearance. As it is, however, he is safe. For me, I will go and pray for Zara's pardon, and that of my wronged Azul."
As he uttered the last words, he started, looked up, and smiled.
"My beautiful one! Thou HAST pardoned me? Thou wilt love me still? Thou art with me, Azul, my beloved? I have not lost thee, oh my best and dearest! Wilt thou lead me? Whither? Nay—no matter whither—I come!"
And as one walking in sleep, he went out of the room, and I heard his footsteps echoing in the distance on the way to the chapel.
Left alone with the Prince, I snatched a glass of cold water from the table, and sprinkled some of it on his forehead and hands. This was quite sufficient to revive him; and he drew a long breath, opened his eyes, and stared wildly about him. Seeing no one but me he grew bewildered, and asked:
"What has happened?"
Then catching sight of the drawn swords lying still on the ground where they had been thrown, he sprang to his feet, and cried:
"Where is the coward and murderer?"
I made him sit down and hear with patience what I had to say. I reminded him that Zara's health and happiness had always been perfect, and that her brother would rather have slain himself than her. I told him plainly that Zara had expected her death, and had prepared for it—had even bade me good-bye, although then I had not understood the meaning of her words. I recalled to his mind the day when Zara had used her power to repulse him.
"Disbelieve as you will in electric spiritual force," I said. "Your message to her then through me was—TELL HER I HAVE SEEN HER LOVER."
At these words a sombre shadow flitted over the Prince's face.
"I tell you," he said slowly, "that I believe I was on that occasion the victim of an hallucination. But I will explain to you what I saw. A superb figure, like, and yet unlike, a man, but of a much larger and grander form, appeared to me, as I thought, and spoke. 'Zara is mine,' it said—'mine by choice; mine by freewill; mine till death; mine after death; mine through eternity. With her thou hast naught in common; thy way lies elsewhere. Follow the path allotted to thee, and presume no more upon an angel's patience.' Then this Strange majestic-looking creature, whose face, as I remember it, was extraordinarily beautiful, and whose eyes were like self-luminous stars, vanished. But, after all, what of it? The whole thing was a dream."
"I am not so sure of that," I said quietly, "But, Prince Ivan, now that you are calmer and more capable of resignation, will you tell me why you loved Zara?"
"Why!" he broke out impetuously. "Why, because it was impossible to help loving her."
"That is no answer," I replied. "Think! You can reason well if you like—I have heard you hold your own in an argument. What made you love Zara?"
He looked at me in a sort of impatient surprise, but seeing I was very much in earnest, he pondered a minute or so before replying.
"She was the loveliest woman I have ever seen!" he said at last, and in his voice there was a sound of yearning and regret.
"Is THAT all?" I queried, with a gesture of contempt. "Because her body was beautiful—because she had sweet kissing lips and a soft skin; because her hand was like a white flower, and her dark hair clustering over her brow reminded one of a misty evening cloud hiding moonlight; because the glance of her glorious eyes made the blood leap through your veins and sting you with passionate desire—are these the reasons of your so-called love? Oh, give it some other and lower name! For the worms shall feed on the fair flesh that won your admiration—their wet and slimy bodies shall trail across the round white arms and tender bosom—unsightly things shall crawl among the tresses of the glossy hair; and nothing, nothing shall remain of what you loved, but dust. Prince Ivan, you shudder; but I too loved Zara—I loved HER, not the perishable casket in which, like a jewel, she was for a time enshrined. I love her still—and for the being I love there is no such thing as death."
The Prince was silent, and seemed touched. I had spoken with real feeling, and tears of emotion stood in my eyes.
"I loved her as a man generally loves," he said, after a little pause. "Nay—more than most men love most women!"
"Most men are too often selfish in both their loves and hatreds," I returned. "Tell me if there was anything in Zara's mind and intelligence to attract you? Did you sympathize in her pursuits; did you admire her tastes; had you any ideas in common with her?"
"No, I confess I had not," he answered readily. "I considered her to be entirely a victim to her brother's scientific experiments. I thought, by making her my wife, to release her from such tyranny and give her rescue and refuge. To this end I found out all I could from—HIM"—he approached the name of Heliobas with reluctance—"and I made up my mind that her delicate imagination had been morbidly excited; but that marriage and a life like that led by other women would bring her to a more healthy state of mind."
I smiled with a little scorn.
"Your presumption was almost greater than your folly, Prince," I said, "that with such ideas as these in your mind you could dream of winning Zara for a wife. Do you think she could have led a life like that of other women? A frivolous round of gaiety, a few fine dresses and jewels, small-talk, society scandal, stale compliments—you think such things would have suited HER? And would she have contented herself with a love like yours? Come! Come and see how well she has escaped you!"
And I beckoned him towards the door. He hesitated.
"Where would you take me?" he asked.
"To the chapel. Zara's body lies there."
"No, no—not there! I cannot bear to look upon her perished loveliness—to see that face, once so animated, white and rigid—death in such a form is too horrible!"
And he covered his eyes with his hand—I saw tears slowly drop through his fingers. I gazed at him, half in wonder, half in pity.
"And yet you are a brave man!" I said.
These words roused him. He met my gaze with such a haggard look of woe that my heart ached for him. What comfort had he now? What joy could he ever expect? All his happiness was centred in the fact of BEING ALIVE—alive to the pleasures of living, and to the joys the world could offer to a man who was strong, handsome, rich, and accomplished—how could he look upon death as otherwise than a loathsome thing—a thing not to be thought of in the heyday of youthful blood and jollity—a doleful spectre, in whose bony hands the roses of love must fall and wither! With a sense of deep commiseration in me, I spoke again with great gentleness.
"You need not look upon Zara's corpse unless you wish it, Prince," I said. "To you, the mysteries of the Hereafter have not been unlocked, because there is something in your nature that cannot and will not believe in God. Therefore to you, death must be repellent. I know you are one of those for whom the present alone exists—you easily forget the past, and take no trouble for the future. Paris is your heaven, or St. Petersburg, or Vienna, as the fancy takes you; and the modern atheistical doctrines of French demoralization are in your blood. Nothing but a heaven-sent miracle could make you other than you are, and miracles do not exist for the materialist. But let me say two words more before you go from this house. Seek no more to avenge yourself for your love-disappointment on Heliobas—for you have really nothing to avenge. By your own confession you only cared for Zara's body—that body was always perishable, and it has perished by a sudden but natural catastrophe. With her soul, you declare you had nothing in common—that was herself—and she is alive to us who love her as she sought to be loved. Heliobas is innocent of having slain her body; he but helped to cultivate and foster that beautiful Spirit which he knew to be HER—for that he is to be honored and commended. Promise me, therefore, Prince Ivan, that you will never approach him again except in friendship—indeed, you owe him an apology for your unjust accusation, as also your gratitude for his sparing your life in the recent struggle."
The Prince kept his eyes steadily fixed upon me all the time I was speaking, and as I finished, he sighed and moved restlessly.
"Your words are compelling, mademoiselle," he said; "and you have a strange attraction for me. I know I am not wrong in thinking that you are a disciple of Heliobas, whose science I admit, though I doubt his theories. I promise you willingly what you ask—nay, I will even offer him my hand if he will accept it."
Overjoyed at my success, I answered: "He is in the chapel, but I will fetch him here."
Over the Prince's face a shadow of doubt, mingled with dread, passed swiftly, and he seemed to be forming a resolve in his own mind which was more or less distasteful to him. Whatever the feeling was he conquered it by a strong effort, and said with firmness:
"No; I will go to him myself. And I will look again upon—upon the face I loved. It is but one pang the more, and why should I not endure it?"
Seeing him thus inclined, I made no effort to dissuade him, and without another word I led the way to the chapel. I entered it reverently, he following me closely, with slow hushed footsteps. All was the same as I had left it, save that the servants of the household had gone to take some needful rest before the morning light called them to their daily routine of labour. Father Paul, too, had retired, and Heliobas alone knelt beside all that remained of Zara, his figure as motionless as though carved in bronze, his face hidden in his hands. As we approached, he neither stirred nor looked up, therefore I softly led the Prince to the opposite side of the bier, that he might look quietly on the perished loveliness that lay there at rest for ever. Ivan trembled, yet steadfastly gazed at the beautiful reposeful form, at the calm features on which the smile with which death had been received, still lingered—at the folded hands, the fading orange-blossoms—at the crucifix that lay on the cold breast like the final seal on the letter of life. Impulsively he stooped forward, and with a tender awe pressed his lips on the pale forehead, but instantly started back with the smothered, exclamation:
"O God! how cold!"
At the sound of his voice Heliobas rose up erect, and the two men faced each other, Zara's dead body lying like a barrier betwixt them.
A pause followed—a pause in which I heard my own heart beating loudly, so great was my anxiety. Heliobas suffered a few moments to elapse, then stretched his hand across his sister's bier.
"In HER name, let there be peace between us, Ivan," he said in accents that were both gentle and solemn.
The Prince, touched to the quick, responded to these kindly words with eager promptness, and they clasped hands over the quiet and lovely form that lay there—a silent, binding witness of their reconciliation.
"I have to ask your pardon, Casimir," then whispered Ivan. "I have also to thank you for my life."
"Thank the friend who stands beside you," returned Heliobas, in the same low tone, with a slight gesture towards me. "She reminded me of a duty in time. As for pardon, I know of no cause of offence on your part save what was perfectly excusable. Say no more; wisdom comes with years, and you are yet young."
A long silence followed. We all remained looking wistfully down upon the body of our lost darling, in thought too deep for words or weeping. I then noticed that another humble mourner shared our watch—a mourner whose very existence I had nearly forgotten. It was the faithful Leo. He lay couchant on the stone floor at the foot of the bier, almost as silent as a dog of marble; the only sign of animation he gave being a deep sigh which broke from his honest heart now and then. I went to him and softly patted his shaggy coat. He looked up at me with big brown eyes full of tears, licked my hand meekly, and again laid his head down upon his two fore-paws with a resignation that was most pathetic.
The dawn began to peer faintly through the chapel windows—the dawn of a misty, chilly morning. The storm of the past night had left a sting in the air, and the rain still fell, though gently. The wind had almost entirely sunk into silence. I re-arranged the flowers that were strewn on Zara's corpse, taking away all those that had slightly faded. The orange-blossom was almost dead, but I left that where it was—where the living Zara had herself placed it. As I performed this slight service, I thought, half mournfully, half gladly—
"Yes, Heaven is thine, but this Is a world of sweets and sours— Our flowers are merely FLOWERS; And the shadow of thy perfect bliss Is the sunshine of ours."
Prince Ivan at last roused himself as from a deep and melancholy reverie, and, addressing himself to Heliobas, said softly:
"I will intrude no longer on your privacy, Casimir. Farewell! I shall leave Paris to-night."
For all answer Heliobas beckoned him and me also out of the chapel. As soon as its doors closed behind us, and we stood in the centre hall, he spoke with affectionate and grave earnestness:
"Ivan, something tells me that you and I shall not meet again for many years, if ever. Therefore, when you say 'farewell,' the word falls upon my ears with double meaning. We are friends—our friendship is sanctified by the dead presence of one whom we both loved, in different ways; therefore you will take in good part what I now say to you. You know, you cannot disguise from yourself that the science I study is fraught with terrible truth and marvellous discoveries; the theories I deduce from it you disbelieve, because you are nearly a materialist. I say NEARLY—not quite. That 'not quite' makes me love you, Ivan: I would save the small bright spark that flickers within you from both escape and extinction. But I cannot—at least, not as yet. Still, in order that you may know that there is a power in me higher than ordinary human reason, before you go from me to-night hear my prophecy of your career. The world waits for you, Ivan—the world, all agape and glittering with a thousand sparkling toys; it waits greedy for your presence, ready to fawn upon you for a smile, willing to cringe to you for a nod of approval. And why? Because wealth is yours—vast, illimitable wealth. Aye—you need not start or look incredulous—you will find it as I say. You, whose fortune up to now has barely reached a poor four thousand per annum—you are at this moment the possessor of millions. Only last night a relative of yours, whose name you scarcely know, expired, leaving all his hoarded treasures to you. Before the close of this present day, on whose threshold we now stand, you will have the news. When you receive it remember me, and acknowledge that at least for once I knew and spoke the truth. Follow the broad road, Ivan, laid out before you—a road wide enough not only for you to walk in, but for the crowd of toadies and flatterers also, who will push on swiftly after you and jostle you on all sides; be strong of heart and merry of countenance! Gather the roses; press the luscious grapes into warm, red wine that, as you quaff it, shall make your blood dance a mad waltz in your veins, and fair women's faces shall seem fairer to you than ever, their embraces more tender, their kisses more tempting! Spin the ball of Society like a toy in the palm of your hand! I see your life stretching before me like a brilliant, thread-like ephemeral ray of light! But in the far distance across it looms a shadow—a shadow that your power alone can never lift. Mark me, Ivan! When the first dread chill of that shadow makes itself felt, come to me—I shall yet be living. Come; for then no wealth can aid you—at that dark hour no boon companions can comfort. Come; and by our friendship so lately sworn—by Zara's pure soul—by God's existence, I will not die till I have changed that darkness over you into light eternal!—Fare you well!"
He caught the Prince's hand, and wrung it hard; then, without further word, look, or gesture, turned and disappeared again within the chapel.
His words had evidently made a deep impression on the young nobleman, who gazed after his retreating figure with a certain awe not unmingled with fear.
I held out my hand in silent farewell. Ivan took it gently, and kissed it with graceful courtesy.
"Casimir told me that your intercession saved my life, mademoiselle," he said. "Accept my poor thanks. If his present prophet-like utterances be true—-"
"Why should you doubt him?" I asked, with some impatience. "Can you believe in NOTHING?"
The Prince, still holding my hand, looked at me in a sort of grave perplexity.
"I think you have hit it," he observed quietly. "I doubt everything except the fact of my own existence, and there are times when I am not even sure of that. But if, as I said before, the prophecy of my Chaldean friend, whom I cannot help admiring with all my heart, turns out to be correct, then my life is more valuable to me than ever with such wealth to balance it, and I thank you doubly for having saved it by a word in time."
I withdrew my hand gently from his.
"You think the worth of your life increased by wealth?" Tasked.
"Naturally! Money is power."
"And what of the shadow also foretold as inseparable from your fate?"
A faint smile crossed his features.
"Ah, pardon me! That is the only portion of Casimir's fortune-telling that I am inclined to disbelieve thoroughly."
"But," I said, "if you are willing to accept the pleasant part of his prophecy, why not admit the possibility of the unpleasant occurring also?"
He shrugged his shoulders.
"In these enlightened times, mademoiselle, we only believe what is agreeable to us, and what suits our own wishes, tastes, and opinions. Ca va sans dire. We cannot be forced to accept a Deity against our reason. That is a grand result of modern education."
"Is it?" and I looked at him with pity. "Poor human reason! It will reel into madness sometimes for a mere trifle—an overdose of alcohol will sometimes upset it altogether—what a noble omnipotent thing is human reason! But let me not detain you. Good-bye, and—as the greeting of olden times used to run—God save you!"
He bent his head with a light reverence.
"I believe you to be a good, sweet woman," he said, "therefore I am grateful for your blessing. My mother," and here his eyes grew dreamy and wistful—"poor soul! she died long ago—my mother would never let me retire to rest without signing the cross on my brow. Ah well, that is past! I should like, mademoiselle," and his voice sank very low, "to send some flowers for—her—you understand?"
I did understand, and readily promised to lay whatever blossoms he selected tenderly above the sacred remains of that earthly beauty he had loved, as he himself said, "more than most men love most women."
He thanked me earnestly, and seemed relieved and satisfied. Casting a look of farewell around the familiar hall, he wafted a parting kiss towards the chapel—an action which, though light, was full of tenderness and regret. Then, with a low salute, he left me. The street-door opened and closed after him in its usual noiseless manner. He was gone.
The morning had now fairly dawned, and within the Hotel Mars the work of the great mansion went on in its usual routine; but a sombre melancholy was in the atmosphere—a melancholy that not all my best efforts could dissipate. The domestics looked sullen and heavy-eyed; the only ones in their number who preserved their usual equanimity were the Armenian men-servants and the little Greek page. Preparations for Zara's funeral went on apace; they were exceedingly simple, and the ceremony was to be quite private in character. Heliobas issued his orders, and saw to the carrying out of his most minute instructions in his usual calm manner; but his eyes looked heavy, and his fine countenance was rendered even more majestic by the sacred, resigned sorrow that lay upon it like a deep shadow. His page served him with breakfast in his private room: but he left the light meal untasted. One of the women brought me coffee; but the very thought of eating and drinking seemed repulsive, and I could not touch anything. My mind was busy with the consideration of the duty I had to perform—namely, to see the destruction of Zara's colossal statue, as she had requested. After thinking about it for some time, I went to Heliobas and told him what I had it in charge to do. He listened attentively.
"Do it at once," he said decisively. "Take my Armenians; they are discreet, obedient, and they ask no questions—with strong hammers they will soon crush the clay. Stay! I will come with you." Then looking at me scrutinizingly, he added kindly: "You have eaten nothing, my child? You cannot? But your strength will give way—here, take this." And lie held out a small glass of a fluid whose revivifying properties I well knew to be greater than any sustenance provided by an ordinary meal. I swallowed it obediently, and as I returned the empty glass to him he said: "I also have a commission in charge from Zara. You know, I suppose, that she was prepared for her death?"
"I did not know; but I think she must have been," I answered.
"She was. We both were. We remained together in the chapel all day, saying what parting words we had to say to one another. We knew her death, or rather her release, was to occur at some hour that night; but in what way the end was destined to come, we knew not. Till I heard the first peals of thunder, I was in suspense; but after that I was no longer uncertain. You were a witness of the whole ensuing scene. No death could have been more painless than hers. But let me not forget the message she gave me for you." Here he took from a secret drawer the electric stone Zara had always worn. "This jewel is yours," he said. "You need not fear to accept it—it contains no harm! it will bring you no ill-fortune. You see how all the sparkling brilliancy has gone out of it? Wear it, and within a few minutes it will be as lustrous as ever. The life throbbing in your veins warms the electricity contained in it; and with the flowing of your blood, its hues change and glow. It has no power to attract; it can simply absorb and shine. Take it as a remembrance of her who loved you and who loves you still."
I was still in my evening dress, and my neck was bare. I slipped the chain, on which hung the stone, round my throat, and watched the strange gem with some curiosity. In a few seconds a pale streak of fiery topaz flashed through it, which deepened and glowed into a warm crimson, like the heart of a red rose; and by the time it had become thoroughly warmed against my flesh, it glittered as brilliantly as ever.
"I will always wear it," I said earnestly. "I believe it will bring me good fortune."
"I believe it will," returned Heliobas simply. "And now let us fulfil Zara's other commands."
On our way across the hall we were stopped by the page, who brought us a message of inquiry after Zara's health from Colonel Everard and his wife, and also from the Challoners. Heliobas hastily wrote a few brief words in pencil, explaining the fatal result of the accident, and returned it to the messenger, giving orders at the same time that all the blinds should be pulled down at the windows of the house, that visitors might understand there was no admittance. We then proceeded to the studio, accompanied by the Armenians carrying heavy hammers. Reverently, and with my mind full of recollections of Zara's living presence, I opened the familiar door. The first thing that greeted us was a most exquisitely wrought statue in white marble of Zara herself, full length, and arrayed in her customary graceful Eastern costume. The head was slightly raised: a look of gladness lighted up the beautiful features; and within the loosely clasped hands was a cluster of roses. Bound the pedestal were carved the words, "Omnia vincit Amor," with Zara's name and the dates of her birth and death. A little slip of paper lay at the foot of the statue, which Heliobas perceived, and taking it he read and passed it to me. The lines were in Zara's handwriting, and ran as follows:
"To my beloved Casimir—my brother, my friend, my guide and teacher, to whom I owe the supreme happiness of my life in this world and the next—let this poor figure of his grateful Zara be a memento of happy days that are gone, only to be renewed with redoubled happiness hereafter."
I handed back the paper silently, with tears in my eyes, and we turned our attention to the colossal figure we had come to destroy. It stood at the extreme end of the studio, and was entirely hidden by white linen drapery. Heliobas advanced, and by a sudden dexterous movement succeeded in drawing off the coverings with a single effort, and then we both fell back and gazed at the clay form disclosed in amazement. What did it represent? A man? a god? an angel? or all three united in one vast figure?
It was an unfinished work. The features of the face were undeclared, save the brow and eyes; and these were large, grand, and full of absolute wisdom and tranquil consciousness of power. I could have gazed on this wonderful piece of Zara's handiwork for hours, but Heliobas called to the Armenian servants, who stood near the door awaiting orders, and commanded them to break it down. For once these well-trained domestics showed signs of surprise, and hesitated. Their master frowned. Snatching a hammer from one of them, he himself attacked the great statue as if it were a personal foe. The Armenians, seeing he was in earnest, returned to their usual habits of passive obedience, and aided him in his labour. Within a few minutes the great and beautiful figure lay in fragments on the floor, and these fragments were soon crushed into indistinguishable atoms. I had promised to witness this work of destruction, and witness it I did, but it was with pain and regret. When all was finished, Heliobas commanded his men to carry the statue of Zara's self down to his own private room, and then to summon all the domestics of the household in a body to the great hall, as he wished to address them. I heard him give this order with some surprise, and he saw it. As the Armenians slowly disappeared, carrying with great care the marble figure of their late mistress, he turned to me, as he locked up the door of the studio, and said quietly:
"These ignorant folk, who serve me for money and food—money that they have eagerly taken, and food that they have greedily devoured—they think that I am the devil or one of the devil's agents, and I am going to prove their theories entirely to their satisfaction. Come and see!"
I followed him, somewhat mystified. On the way downstairs he said:
"Do you know why Zara wished that statue destroyed?"
"No," I said frankly; "unless for the reason that it was incomplete."
"It always would have been incomplete," returned Heliobas; "even had she lived to work at it for years. It was a daring attempt, and a fruitless one. She was trying to make a clay figure of one who never wore earthly form—the Being who is her Twin-Soul, who dominates her entirely, and who is with her now. As well might she have tried to represent in white marble the prismatic hues of the rainbow!"
We had now reached the hall, and the servants were assembling by twos and threes. They glanced at their master with looks of awe, as he took up a commanding position near the fountain, and faced them with a glance of calm scrutiny and attention. I drew a chair behind one of the marble columns and seated myself, watching everything with interest. Leo appeared from some corner or other, and laid his rough body down close at his master's feet.
In a few minutes all the domestics, some twenty in number, were present, and Heliobas, raising his voice, spoke with a clear deliberate enunciation:
"I have sent for you all this morning, because I am perfectly aware that you have all determined to give me notice."
A stir of astonishment and dismay ensued on the part of the small audience, and I heard one voice near me whisper:
"He IS the devil, or how could he have known it?"
The lips of Heliobas curled in a fine sarcastic smile. He went on:
"I spare you this trouble. Knowing your intentions, I take upon myself to dismiss you at once. Naturally, you cannot risk your characters by remaining in the service of the devil. For my own part, I wonder the devil's money has not burnt your hands, or his food turned to poison in your mouths. My sister, your kind and ever-indulgent mistress, is dead. You know this, and it is your opinion that I summoned up the thunderstorm which caused her death. Be it so. Report it so, if you will, through Paris; your words do not affect me. You have been excellent machines, and for your services many thanks! As soon as my sister's funeral is over, your wages, with an additional present, will be sent to you. You can then leave my house when you please; and, contrary to the usual custom of accepted devils, I am able to say, without perishing in the effort—God speed you all!"
The faces of those he addressed exhibited various emotions while he spoke—fear contending with a good deal of shame. The little Greek page stepped forward timidly.
"The master knows that I will never leave him," he murmured, and his large eyes were moist with tears.
Heliobas laid a gentle hand on the boy's dark curls, but said nothing. One of the four Armenians advanced, and with a graceful rapid gesture of his right hand, touched his head and breast.
"My lord will not surely dismiss US who desire to devote ourselves to his service? We are willing to follow my lord to the death if need be, for the sake of the love and honour we bear him."
Heliobas looked at him very kindly.
"I am richer in friends than I thought myself to be," he said quietly. "Stay then, by all means, Afra, you and your companions, since you have desired it. And you, my boy," he went on, addressing the tearful page, "think you that I would turn adrift an orphan, whom a dying mother trusted to my care? Nay, child, I am as much your servant as you are mine, so long as your love turns towards me."
For all answer the page kissed his hand in a sort of rapture, and flinging back his clustering hair from his classic brows, surveyed the domestics, who had taken their dismissal in silent acquiescence, with a pretty scorn.
"Go, all of you, scum of Paris!" he cried in his clear treble tones—"you who know neither God nor devil! You will have your money—more than your share—what else seek you? You have served one of the noblest of men; and because he is so great and wise and true, you judge him a fiend! Oh, so like the people of Paris—they who pervert all things till they think good evil and evil good! Look you! you have worked for your wages; but I have worked for HIM—I would starve with him, I would die for him! For to me he is not fiend, but Angel!"
Overcome by his own feelings the boy again kissed his master's hand, and Heliobas gently bade him be silent. He himself looked round on the still motionless group of servants with an air of calm surprise.
"What are you waiting for?" he asked. "Consider yourselves dismissed, and at liberty to go where you please. Any one of you that chooses to apply to me for a character shall not lack the suitable recommendation. There is no more to say."
A lively-looking woman with quick restless black eyes stepped forward.
"I am sure," she said, with a mincing curtsey, "that we are very sorry if we have unintentionally wronged monsieur; but monsieur, who is aware of so many things, must know that many reports are circulated about monsieur that make one to shudder; that madame his sister's death so lamentable has given to all, what one would say, the horrors; and monsieur must consider that poor servants of virtuous reputation—"
"So, Jeanne Claudet!" interrupted Heliobas, in a thrilling low tone. "And what of the child—the little waxen-faced helpless babe left to die on the banks of the Loire? But it did not die, Jeanne—it was rescued; and it shall yet live to loathe its mother!"
The woman uttered a shriek, and fainted.
In the feminine confusion and fuss that ensued, Heliobas, accompanied by his little page and the dog Leo, left the hall and entered his own private room, where for some time I left him undisturbed.
In the early part of the afternoon a note was brought to me. It was from Colonel Everard, entreating me to come as soon as possible to his wife, who was very ill.
"Since she heard of the death of that beautiful young lady, a death so fearfully sudden and unexpected," wrote the Colonel, "she has been quite unlike herself—nervous, hysterical, and thoroughly unstrung. It will be a real kindness to her if you will come as soon as you can—she has such, a strong desire for your company."
I showed this note at once to Heliobas. He read it, and said:
"Of course you must go. Wait till our simple funeral ceremony is over, and then—we part. Not for ever; I shall see you often again. For now I have lost Zara, you are my only female disciple, and I shall not willingly lose sight of you. You will correspond with me?"
"Gladly and gratefully," I replied.
"You shall not lose by it. I can initiate you into many secrets that will be useful to you in your career. As for your friend Mrs. Everard, you will find that your presence will cure her. You have progressed greatly in electric force: the mere touch of your hand will soothe her, as you will find. But never be tempted to try any of the fluids of which you have the recipes on her, or on anybody but yourself, unless you write to me first about it, as Cellini did when he tried an experiment on you. As for your own bodily and spiritual health, you know thoroughly what to do—KEEP THE SECRET; and make a step in advance every day. By-and-by you will have double work."
"How so?" I asked.
"In Zara's case, her soul became dominated by a Spirit whose destiny was fulfilled and perfect, and who never could descend to imprisonment in earthly clay. Now, you will not be dominated—you will be simply EQUALIZED; that is, you will find the exact counterpart of your own soul dwelling also in human form, and you will have to impart your own force to that other soul, which will, in its turn, impart to yours a corresponding electric impetus. There is no union so lovely as such an one—no harmony so exquisite; it is like a perfect chord, complete and indissoluble. There are sevenths and ninths in music, beautiful and effective in their degrees; but perhaps none of them are so absolutely satisfying to the ear as the perfect chord. And this is your lot in life and in love, my child—be grateful for it night and morning on your bended knees before the Giver of all good. And walk warily—your own soul with that other shall need much thought and humble prayer. Aim onward and upward—you know the road—you also know, and you have partly seen, what awaits you at the end."
After this conversation we spoke no more in private together. The rest of the afternoon was entirely occupied with the final preparations for Zara's funeral, which was to take place at Pere-la-Chaise early the next morning. A large and beautiful wreath of white roses, lilies, and maiden-hair arrived from Prince Ivan; and, remembering my promise to him, I went myself to lay it in a conspicuous place on Zara's corpse. That fair body was now laid in its coffin of polished oak, and a delicate veil of filmy lace draped it from head to foot. The placid expression of the features remained unchanged, save for a little extra rigidity of the flesh; the hands, folded over the crucifix, were stiff, and looked as though they were moulded in wax. I placed the wreath in position and paused, looking wistfully at that still and solemn figure. Father Paul, slowly entering from a side-door, came and stood beside me.
"She is happy!" he said; and a cheerful expression irradiated his venerable features.
"Did you also know she would die that night?" I asked softly.
"Her brother sent for me, and told me of her expected dissolution. She herself told me, and made her last confession and communion. Therefore I was prepared."
"But did you not doubt—were you not inclined to think they might be wrong?" I inquired, with some astonishment.
"I knew Heliobas as a child," the priest returned. "I knew his father and mother before him; and I have been always perfectly aware of the immense extent of his knowledge, and the value of his discoveries. If I were inclined to be sceptical on spiritual matters, I should not be of the race I am; for I am also a Chaldean."
I said no more, and Father Paul trimmed the tapers burning round the coffin in devout silence. Again I looked at the fair dead form before me; but somehow I could not feel sad again. All my impulses bade me rejoice. Why should I be unhappy on Zara's account?—more especially when the glories of the Central Sphere were yet fresh in my memory, and when I knew as a positive fact that her happiness was now perfect. I left the chapel with a light step and lighter heart, and went to my own room to pack up my things that all might be in readiness for my departure on the morrow. On my table I found a volume whose quaint binding I at once recognised—"The Letters of a Dead Musician." A card lay beside it, on which was written in pencil:
"Knowing of your wish to possess this book, I herewith offer it for your acceptance. It teaches you a cheerful devotion to Art, and an indifference to the world's opinions—both of which are necessary to you in your career.—HELIOBAS."
Delighted with this gift, I opened the book, and found my name written on the fly-leaf, with the date of the month and year, and the words:
"La musica e il lamento dell' amore o la preghiera a gli Dei." (Music is the lament of love, or a prayer to the Gods.)
I placed this treasure carefully in a corner of my portmanteau, together with the parchment scrolls containing "The Electric Principle of Christianity," and the valuables recipes of Heliobas; and as I did so, I caught sight of myself in the long mirror that directly faced me. I was fascinated, not by my own reflection, but by the glitter of the electric gem I wore. It flashed and glowed like a star, and was really lovely—far more brilliant than the most brilliant cluster of fine diamonds. I may here remark that I have been asked many questions concerning this curious ornament whenever I have worn it in public, and the general impression has been that it is some new arrangement of ornamental electricity. It is, however, nothing of the kind; it is simply a clear pebble, common enough on the shores of tropical countries, which has the property of absorbing a small portion of the electricity in a human body, sufficient to make it shine with prismatic and powerful lustre—a property which has only as yet been discovered by Heliobas, who asserts that the same capability exists in many other apparently lustreless stones which have been untried, and are therefore unknown. The "healing stones," or amulets, still in use in the East, and also in the remote parts of the Highlands (see notes to Archibald Clerk's translation of 'Ossian'), are also electric, but in a different way—they have the property of absorbing DISEASE and destroying it in certain cases; and these, after being worn a suitable length of time, naturally exhaust what virtue they originally possessed, and are no longer of any use. Stone amulets are considered nowadays as a mere superstition of the vulgar and uneducated; but it must be remembered that superstition itself has always had for it a foundation some grain, however small and remote, of fact. I could give a very curious explanation of the formation of ORCHIDS, those strange plants called sometimes "Freaks of Nature," as if Nature ever indulged in a "freak" of any kind! But I have neither time nor space to enter upon the subject now; indeed, if I were once to begin to describe the wonderful, amazing and beautiful vistas of knowledge that the wise Chaldean, who is still my friend and guide, has opened up and continues to extend before my admiring vision, a work of twenty volumes would scarce contain all I should have to say. But I have written this book merely to tell those who peruse it, about Heliobas, and what I myself experienced in his house; beyond this I may not go. For, as, I observed in my introduction, I am perfectly aware that few, if any, of my readers will accept my narrative as more than a mere visionary romance—or that they will admit the mysteries of life, death, eternity, and all the wonders of the Universe to be simply the NATURAL AND SCIENTIFIC OUTCOME OF A RING OF EVERLASTING ELECTRIC HEAT AND LIGHT; but whether they agree to it or no, I can say with Galileo, "E pur si muove!"
It was a very simple and quiet procession that moved next day from the Hotel Mars to Pere-la-Chaise. Zara's coffin was carried in an open hearse, and was covered with a pall of rich white velvet, on which lay a royal profusion of flowers—Ivan's wreath, and a magnificent cross of lilies sent by tender-hearted Mrs. Challoner, being most conspicuous among them. The only thing a little unusual about it was that the funeral car was drawn by two stately WHITE horses; and Heliobas told me this had been ordered at Zara's special request, as she thought the solemn pacing through the streets of dismal black steeds had a depressing effect on the passers-by.
"And why," she had said, "should anybody be sad, when I in reality am so thoroughly happy?"
Prince Ivan Petroffsky had left Paris, but his carriage, drawn by two prancing Russian steeds, followed the hearse at a respectful distance, as also the carriage of Dr. Morini, and some other private persons known to Heliobas. A few people attended it on foot, and these were chiefly from among the very poor, some of whom had benefited by Zara's charity or her brother's medical skill, and had heard of the calamity through rumour, or through the columns of the Figaro, where it was reported with graphic brevity. The weather was still misty, and the fiery sun seemed to shine through tears as Father Paul, with his assistants, read in solemn yet cheerful tones the service for the dead according to the Catholic ritual. One of the chief mourners at the grave was the faithful Leo; who, without obtruding himself in anyone's way, sat at a little distance, and seemed, by the confiding look with which he turned his eyes upon his master, to thoroughly understand that he must henceforth devote his life entirely to him alone. The coffin was lowered, the "Requiem aeternam" spoken—all was over. Those assembled shook hands quietly with Heliobas, saluted each other, and gradually dispersed. I entered a carriage and drove back to the Hotel Mars, leaving Heliobas in the cemetery to give his final instructions for the ornamentation and decoration of his sister's grave.
The little page served me with some luncheon in my own apartment, and by the time all was ready for my departure, Heliobas returned. I went down to him in his study, and found him sitting pensively in his arm-chair, absorbed in thought. He looked sad and solitary, and my whole heart went out to him in gratitude and sympathy. I knelt beside him as a daughter might have done, and softly kissed his hand.
He started as though awakened suddenly from sleep, and seeing me, his eyes softened, and he smiled gravely.
"Are you come to say 'Good-bye,' my child?" he asked, in a kind tone. "Well, your mission here is ended!"
"Had I any mission at all," I replied, with a grateful look, "save the very selfish one which was comprised in the natural desire to be restored to health?"
Heliobas surveyed me for a few moments in silence.
"Were I to tell you," he said at last, "by what mystical authority and influence you were compelled to come here, by what a marvellously linked chain of circumstances you became known to me long before I saw you; how I was made aware that you were the only woman living to whose companionship I could trust my sister at a time when the society of one of her own sex became absolutely necessary to her; how you were marked out to me as a small point of light by which possibly I might steer my course clear of the darkness which threatened me—I say, were I to tell you all this, you would no longer doubt the urgent need of your presence here. It is, however, enough to tell you that you have fulfilled all that was expected of you, even beyond my best hopes; and in return for your services, the worth of which you cannot realize, whatever guidance I can give you in the future for your physical and spiritual life, is yours. I have done something for you, but not much—I will do more. Only, in communicating with me, I ask you to honour me with your full confidence in all matters pertaining to yourself and your surroundings—then I shall not be liable to errors of judgment in the opinions I form or the advice I give."
"I promise most readily," I replied gladly, for it seemed to me that I was rich in possessing as a friend and counsellor such a man as this student of the loftiest sciences.
"And now one thing more," he resumed, opening a drawer in the table near which he sat. "Here is a pencil for you to write your letters to me with. It will last about ten years, and at the expiration of that time you can have another. Write with it on any paper, and the marks will be like those of an ordinary drawing-pencil; but as fast as they are written they disappear. Trouble not about this circumstance—write all you have to say, and when you have finished your letter your closely covered pages shall seem blank. Therefore, were the eye of a stranger to look at them, nothing could be learned therefrom. But when they reach me, I can make the writing appear and stand out on these apparently unsullied pages as distinctly as though your words had been printed. My letters to you will also, when you receive them, appear blank; but you will only have to press them for about ten minutes in this"—and he handed me what looked like an ordinary blotting-book—"and they will be perfectly legible. Cellini has these little writing implements; he uses them whenever the distances are too great for us to amuse ourselves with the sagacity of Leo—in fact the journeys of that faithful animal have principally been to keep him in training."
"But," I said, as I took the pencil and book from his hand, "why do you not make these convenient writing materials public property? They would be so useful."
"Why should I build up a fortune for some needy stationer?" he asked, with a half-smile. "Besides, they are not new things. They were known to the ancients, and many secret letters, laws, histories, and poems were written with instruments such as these. In an old library, destroyed more than two centuries ago, there was a goodly pile of apparently blank parchment. Had I lived then and known what I know now, I could have made the white pages declare their mystery."
"Has this also to do with electricity?" I asked.
"Certainly—with what is called vegetable electricity. There is not a plant or herb in existence, but has almost a miracle hidden away in its tiny cup or spreading leaves—do you doubt it?"
"Not I!" I answered quickly. "I doubt nothing!"
Heliobas smiled gravely.
"You are right!" he said. "Doubt is the destroyer of beauty—the poison in the sweet cup of existence—the curse which mankind have brought on themselves. Avoid it as you would the plague. Believe in anything or everything miraculous and glorious—the utmost reach of your faith can with difficulty grasp the majestic reality and perfection of everything you can see, desire, or imagine. Mistrust that volatile thing called Human Reason, which is merely a name for whatever opinion we happen to adopt for the time—it is a thing which totters on its throne in a fit of rage or despair—there is nothing infinite about it. Guide yourself by the delicate Spiritual Instinct within you, which tells you that with God all things are possible, save that He cannot destroy Himself or lessen by one spark the fiery brilliancy of his ever-widening circle of productive Intelligence. But make no attempt to convert the world to your way of thinking—it would be mere waste of time."
"May I never try to instruct anyone in these things?" I asked.
"You can try, if you choose; but you will find most human beings like the herd of swine in the Gospel, possessed by devils that drive them headlong into the sea. You know, for instance, that angels and aerial spirits actually exist; but were you to assert your belief in them, philosophers (so-called) would scout your theories as absurd,—though their idea of a LONELY God, who yet is Love, is the very acme of absurdity. For Love MUST have somewhat to love, and MUST create the beauty and happiness round itself and the things beloved. But why point out these simple things to those who have no desire to see? Be content, child, that YOU have been deemed worthy of instruction—it is a higher fate for you than if you had been made a Queen."
The little page now entered, and told me that the carriage was at the door in waiting. As he disappeared again after delivering this message, Heliobas rose from his chair, and taking my two hands in his, pressed them kindly.
"One word more, little friend, on the subject of your career. I think the time will come when you will feel that music is almost too sacred a thing to be given away for money to a careless and promiscuous public. However this may be, remember that scarce one of the self-styled artists who cater for the crowd deserves to be called MUSICIAN in the highest sense of the word. Most of them seek not music, but money and applause; and therefore the art they profess is degraded by them into a mere trade. But you, when you play in public, must forget that PERSONS with little vanities and lesser opinions exist. Think of what you saw in your journey with Azul; and by a strong effort of your will, you can, if you choose, COMPEL certain harmonies to sound in your ears—fragments of what is common breathing air to the Children of the Ring, some of whom you saw—and you will be able to reproduce them in part, if not in entirety. But if you once admit a thought of Self to enter your brain, those aerial sounds will be silenced instantly. By this means, too, you can judge who are the true disciples of music in this world—those who, like Schubert and Chopin, suffered the heaven-born melodies to descend THROUGH them as though they were mere conductors of sound; or those who, feebly imitating other composers, measure out crotchets and quavers by rule and line, and flood the world with inane and perishable, and therefore useless, productions. And now,—farewell."
"Do you remain in Paris?" I asked.
"For a few days only. I shall go to Egypt, and in travelling accustom myself to the solitude in which I must dwell, now Zara has left me."
"You have Azul," I ventured to remark.
"Ah! but how often do I see her? Only when my soul for an instant is clear from all earthly and gross obstruction; and how seldom I can attain to this result while weighted with my body! But she is near me—that I know—faithful as the star to the mariner's compass!"
He raised his head as he spoke, and his eyes flashed. Never had I seen him look more noble or kingly. The inspired radiance of his face softened down into his usual expression of gentleness and courtesy, and he said, offering me his arm:
"Let me see you to the carriage. You know, it is not an actual parting with us—I intend that we shall meet frequently. For instance, the next time we exchange pleasant greetings will be in Italy."
I suppose I looked surprised; I certainly felt so, for nothing was further from my thoughts than a visit to Italy.
Heliobas smiled, and said in a tone that was almost gay:
"Shall I draw the picture for you? I see a fair city, deep embowered in hills and sheltered by olive-groves. Over it beams a broad sky, deeply blue; many soft bells caress the summer air. Away in the Cascine Woods a gay party of people are seated on the velvety moss; they have mandolins, and they sing for pure gaiety of heart. One of them, a woman with fair hair, arrayed in white, with a red rose at her bosom, is gathering the wild flowers that bloom around her, and weaving them into posies for her companions. A stranger, pacing slowly, book in hand, through the shady avenue, sees her—her eyes meet his. She springs up to greet him; he takes her hand. The woman is yourself; the stranger no other than your poor friend, who now, for a brief space, takes leave of you!"
So rapidly had he drawn up this picture, that the impression made on me was as though a sudden vision had been shown to me in a magic glass. I looked at him earnestly.
"Then our next meeting will be happy?" I said inquiringly.
"Of course. Why not? And the next—and the next after that also!" he answered.
At this reply, so frankly given, I was relieved, and accompanied him readily through the hall towards the street-door. Leo met us here, and intimated, as plainly as a human being could have done, his wish to bid me good-bye. I stooped and kissed his broad head and patted him affectionately, and was rewarded for these attentions by seeing his plume-like tail wave slowly to and fro—a sign of pleasure the poor animal had not betrayed since Zara's departure from the scene of her earthly imprisonment.
At the door the pretty Greek boy handed me a huge basket of the loveliest flowers.
"The last from the conservatory," said Heliobas. "I shall need no more of these luxuries."
As I entered the carriage he placed the flowers beside me, and again took my hand.
"Good-bye, my child!" he said, in earnest and kindly tones. "I have your address, and will write you all my movements. In any trouble, small or great, of your own, send to me for advice without hesitation. I can tell you already that I foresee the time when you will resign altogether the precarious and unsatisfactory life of a mere professional musician. You think no other career would be possible to you? Well, you will see! A few months will decide all. Good-bye again; God bless you!"
The carriage moved off, and Heliobas stood on the steps of his mansion watching it out of sight. To the last I saw his stately figure erect in the light of the winter sunshine—a figure destined from henceforth to occupy a prominent position in my life and memory. The regret I felt at parting from him was greatly mitigated by the assurance he gave me of our future meeting, a promise which has since been fulfilled, and is likely soon to be fulfilled again. That I have such a friend is an advantageous circumstance for me, for through his guidance I am able to judge accurately of many things occurring in the course of the daily life around me—things which, seemingly trivial, are the hints of serious results to come, which, I am thus permitted in part to foresee. There is a drawback, of course, and the one bitter drop in the cup of knowledge is, that the more I progress under the tuition of Heliobas, the less am I deceived by graceful appearances. I perceive with almost cruel suddenness the true characters of all those whom I meet. No smile of lip or eye can delude me into accepting mere surface-matter for real depth, and it is intensely painful for me to be forced to behold hypocrisy in the expression of the apparently devout—sensuality in the face of some radiantly beautiful and popular woman—vice under the mask of virtue—self-interest in the guise of friendship, and spite and malice springing up like a poisonous undergrowth beneath the words of elegant flattery or dainty compliment. I often wish I could throw a rose-coloured mist of illusion over all these things and still more earnestly do I wish I could in a single instance find myself mistaken. But alas! the fatal finger of the electric instinct within me points out unerringly the flaw in every human diamond, and writes "SHAM" across many a cunningly contrived imitation of intelligence and goodness. Still, the grief I feel at this is counterbalanced in part by the joy with which I quickly recognize real virtue, real nobility, real love; and when these attributes flash out upon me from the faces of human beings, my own soul warms, and I know I have seen a vision as of angels. The capability of Heliobas to foretell future events proved itself in his knowledge of the fate of the famous English hero, Gordon, long before that brave soldier met his doom. At the time the English Government sent him out on his last fatal mission, a letter from Heliobas to me contained the following passage:
"I see Gordon has chosen his destiny and the manner of his death. Two ways of dying have been offered him—one that is slow, painful, and inglorious; the other sudden, and therefore sweeter to a man of his temperament. He himself is perfectly aware of the approaching end of his career; he will receive his release at Khartoum. England will lament over him for a little while, and then he will be declared an inspired madman, who rushed recklessly on his own doom; while those who allowed him to be slain will be voted the wisest, the most just and virtuous in the realm."
This prophecy was carried out to the letter, as I fully believe certain things of which I am now informed will also be fulfilled. But though there are persons who pin their faith on "Zadkiel," I doubt if there are any who will believe in such a thing as ELECTRIC DIVINATION. The one is mere vulgar imposture, the other is performed on a purely scientific basis in accordance with certain existing rules and principles; yet I think there can be no question as to which of the two the public en masse is likely to prefer. On the whole, people do not mind being deceived; they hate being instructed, and the trouble of thinking for themselves is almost too much for them. Therefore "Zadkiel" is certain to flourish for many and many a long day, while the lightning instinct of prophecy dormant in every human being remains unused and utterly forgotten except by the rare few.
* * * * *
I have little more to say. I feel that those among my readers who idly turn over these pages, expecting to find a "NOVEL" in the true acceptation of the term, may be disappointed. My narrative is simply an "experience:" but I have no wish to persuade others of the central truth contained in it—namely, THE EXISTENCE OF POWERFUL ELECTRIC ORGANS IN EVERY HUMAN BEING, WHICH WITH PROPER CULTIVATION ARE CAPABLE OF MARVELLOUS SPIRITUAL FORCE. The time is not yet ripe for this fact to be accepted.
The persons connected with this story may be dismissed in a few words. When I joined my friend Mrs. Everard, she was suffering from nervous hysteria. My presence had the soothing effect Heliobas had assured me of, and in a very few days we started from Paris in company for England. She, with her amiable and accomplished husband, went back to the States a few months since to claim an immense fortune, which they are now enjoying as most Americans enjoy wealth. Amy has diamonds to her heart's content, and toilettes galore from Worth's; but she has no children, and from the tone of her letters to me, I fancy she would part with one at least of her valuable necklaces to have a small pair of chubby arms round her neck, and a soft little head nestling against her bosom.
Raffaello Cellini still lives and works; his paintings are among the marvels of modern Italy for their richness and warmth of colour—colour which, in spite of his envious detractors, is destined to last through ages. He is not very rich, for he is one of those who give away their substance to the poor and the distressed; but where he is known he is universally beloved. None of his pictures have yet been exhibited in England, and he is in no hurry to call upon the London critics for their judgment. He has been asked several times to sell his large picture, "Lords of our Life and Death," but he will not. I have never met him since our intercourse at Cannes, but I hear of him frequently through Heliobas, who has recently forwarded me a proof engraving of the picture "L'Improvisatrice," for which I sat as model. It is a beautiful work of art, but that it is like ME I am not vain enough to admit. I keep it, not as a portrait of myself, but as a souvenir of the man through whose introduction I gained the best friend I have.
News of Prince Ivan Petroffsky reaches me frequently. He is possessor of the immense wealth foretold by Heliobas; the eyes of Society greedily follows his movements; his name figures conspicuously in the "Fashionable Intelligence;" and the magnificence of his recent marriage festivities was for some time the talk of the Continent. He has married the only daughter of a French Duke—a lovely creature, as soulless and heartless as a dressmaker's stuffed model; but she carries his jewels well on her white bosom, and receives his guests with as much dignity as a well-trained major-domo. These qualities suffice to satisfy her husband at present; how long his satisfaction will last is another matter. He has not quite forgotten Zara; for on every recurring Jour des Morts, or Feast of the Dead, he sends a garland or cross of flowers to the simple grave in Pere-la-Chaise. Heliobas watches his career with untiring vigilance; nor can I myself avoid taking a certain interest in the progress of his fate. At the moment I write he is one of the most envied and popular noblemen in all the Royal Courts of Europe; and no one thinks of asking him whether he is happy. He MUST be happy, says the world; he has everything that is needed to make him so. Everything? yes—all except one thing, for which he will long when the shadow of the end draws near.
And now what else remains? A brief farewell to those who have perused this narrative, or a lingering parting word?
In these days of haste and scramble, when there is no time for faith, is there time for sentiment? I think not. And therefore there shall be none between my readers and me, save this—a friendly warning. Belief—belief in God—belief in all things noble, unworldly, lofty, and beautiful, is rapidly being crushed underfoot by—what? By mere lust of gain! Be sure, good people, be very sure that you are RIGHT in denying God for the sake of man—in abjuring the spiritual for the material—before you rush recklessly onward. The end for all of you can be but death; and are you quite positive after all that there is NO Hereafter? Is it sense to imagine that the immense machinery of the Universe has been set in motion for nothing? Is it even common reason to consider that the Soul of man, with all its high musings, its dreams of unseen glory, its longings after the Infinite, is a mere useless vapour, or a set of shifting molecules in a perishable brain? The mere fact of the EXISTENCE OF A DESIRE clearly indicates an EQUALLY EXISTING CAPACITY for the GRATIFICATION of that desire; therefore, I ask, would the WISH for a future state of being, which is secretly felt by every one of us, have been permitted to find a place in our natures, IF THERE WERE NO POSSIBLE MEANS OF GRANTING IT? Why all this discontent with the present—why all this universal complaint and despair and world-weariness, if there be NO HEREAFTER? For my own part, I have told you frankly WHAT I HAVE SEEN and WHAT I KNOW; but I do not ask you to believe me. I only say, IF—IF you admit to yourselves the possibility of a future and eternal state of existence, would it not be well for you to inquire seriously how you are preparing for it in these wild days? Look at society around you, and ask yourselves: Whither is our "PROGRESS" tending—Forward or Backward—Upward or Downward? Which way? Fight the problem out. Do not glance at it casually, or put it away as an unpleasant thought, or a consideration involving too much trouble—struggle with it bravely till you resolve it, and whatever the answer may be, ABIDE BY IT. If it leads you to deny God and the immortal destinies of your own souls, and you find hereafter, when it is too late, that both God and immortality exist, you have only yourselves to blame. We are the arbiters of our own fate, and that fact is the most important one of our lives. Our WILL is positively unfettered; it is a rudder put freely into our hands, and with it we can steer WHEREVER WE CHOOSE. God will not COMPEL our love or obedience. We must ourselves DESIRE to love and obey—DESIRE IT ABOVE ALL THINGS IN THE WORLD.
As for the Electric Origin of the Universe, a time is coming when scientific men will acknowledge it to be the only theory of Creation worthy of acceptance. All the wonders of Nature are the result of LIGHT AND HEAT ALONE—i.e., are the work of the Electric Ring I have endeavoured to describe, which MUST go on producing, absorbing and reproducing worlds, suns and systems for ever and ever. The Ring, in its turn, is merely the outcome of God's own personality—the atmosphere surrounding the World in which He has His existence—a World created by Love and for Love alone. I cannot force this theory on public attention, which is at present claimed by various learned professors, who give ingenious explanations of "atoms" and "molecules;" yet, even regarding these same "atoms," the mild question may be put: Where did the FIRST "atom" come from? Some may answer: "We call the first atom GOD." Surely it is as well to call Him a Spirit of pure Light as an atom? However, the fact of one person's being convinced of a truth will not, I am aware, go very far to convince others. I have related my "experience" exactly as it happened at the time, and my readers can accept or deny the theories of Heliobas as they please. Neither denial, acceptance, criticism, nor incredulity can affect ME personally, inasmuch as I am not Heliobas, but simply the narrator of an episode connected with him; and as such, my task is finished.
[In publishing these selections from letters received concerning the "Romance," I am in honour bound not to disclose the names of my correspondents, and this necessary reticence will no doubt induce the incredulous to declare that they are not genuine epistles, but mere inventions of my own. I am quite prepared for such a possible aspersion, and in reply, I can but say that I hold the originals in my possession, and that some of them have been read by my friend Mr. George Bentley, under whose auspices this book has been successfully launched on the sea of public favour. I may add that my correspondents are all strangers to me personally—not one of them have I ever met. A few have indeed asked me to accord them interviews, but this request I invariably deny, not wishing to set myself forward in any way as an exponent of high doctrine in which I am as yet but a beginner and student.—AUTHOR.]
"You must receive so many letters that I feel it is almost a shame to add to the number, but I cannot resist writing to tell you how very much your book, 'The Romance of Two Worlds,' has helped me. My dear friend Miss F——, who has written to you lately I believe, first read it to me, and I cannot tell you what a want in my life it seemed to fill up. I have been always interested in the so-called Supernatural, feeling very conscious of depths in my own self and in others that are usually ignored. ... I have been reading as many books as I could obtain upon Theosophy, but though thankful for the high thoughts I found in them, I still felt a great want—that of combining this occult knowledge with my own firm belief in the Christian religion. Your book seemed to give me just what I wanted—IT HAS DEEPENED AND STRENGTHENED MY BELIEF IN AND LOVE TO GOD AND HAS MADE THE NEW TESTAMENT A NEW BOOK TO ME. Things which I could not understand before seem clear in the light which your 'Vision' has thrown upon them, and I cannot remain satisfied without expressing to you my sincere gratitude. May your book be read by all who are ready to receive the high truths that it contains! With thanks, I remain, dear Madam,
"Yours sincerely, M. S."
"I am afraid you will think it very presumptuous of a stranger to address you, but I have lately read your book, 'A Romance of Two Worlds,' and have been much struck with it. It has opened my mind to such new impressions, and seems to be so much what I have been groping for so long, that I thought if you would be kind enough to answer this, I might get a firmer hold on those higher things and be at anchor at last. If you have patience to read so far, you will imagine I must be very much in earnest to intrude myself on you like this, but from the tone of your book I do not believe you would withdraw your hand where you could do good. ... I never thought of or read of the electric force (or spirit) in every human being before, but I do believe in it after reading your book, and YOU HAVE MADE THE NEXT WORLD A LIVING THING TO ME, and raised my feelings above the disappointments and trials of this life. ... Your book was put into my hands at a time when I was deeply distressed and in trouble about my future; but you have shown me how small a thing this future of OUR life is. ... Would it be asking too much of you to name any books you think might help me in this new vein of thought you have given me? Apologizing for having written, believe me yours sincerely,
"B. W. L."
[I answered to the best of my ability the writer of the above, and later on received another letter as follows:]
"Forgive my writing to you again on the subject of your 'Romance,' but I read it so often and think of it so much. I cannot say the wonderful change your book has wrought in my life, and though very likely you are constantly hearing of the good it has done, yet it cannot but be the sweetest thing you can hear—that the seed you have planted is bringing forth so much fruit. ... The Bible is a new book to me since your work came into my hands."
[The following terribly pathetic avowal is from a clergyman of the Church of England: ]
"Your book, the 'Romance of Two Worlds,' has stopped me on the brink of what is doubtless a crime, and yet I had come to think it the only way out of impending madness. I speak of self-destruction—suicide. And while writing the word, I beg of you to accept my gratitude for the timely rescue of my soul. Once I believed in the goodness of God—but of late years the cry of modern scientific atheism, 'There is NO God,' has rung in my ears till my brain has reeled at the desolation and nothingness of the Universe. No good, no hope, no satisfaction in anything—this world only with all its mockery and failure—and afterwards annihilation! Could a God design and create so poor and cruel a jest? So I thought—and the misery of the thought was more than I could bear. I had resolved to make an end. No one knew, no one guessed my intent, till one Sunday afternoon a friend lent me your book. I began to read, and never left it till I had finished the last page—then I knew I was saved. Life smiled again upon me in consoling colours, and I write to tell you that whatever other good your work may do and is no doubt doing, you have saved both the life and reason of one grateful human being. If you will write to me a few lines I shall be still more grateful, for I feel you can help me. I seem to have read Christ's mission wrong—but with patience and prayer it is possible to redeem my error. Once more thanking you, I am,
"Yours with more thankfulness than I can write,
"L. E. F."
[I lost no time in replying to this letter, and since then have frequently corresponded with the writer, from whose troubled mind the dark cloud has now entirely departed. And I may here venture to remark that the evils of "modern scientific atheism" are far more widely spread and deeply rooted than the majority of persons are aware of, and that many of the apparently inexplicable cases of self-slaughter on which the formal verdict, "Suicide during a state of temporary insanity," is passed, have been caused by long and hopeless brooding on the "nothingness of the Universe"—which, if it were a true theory, would indeed make of Creation a bitter, nay, even a senseless jest. The cruel preachers of such a creed have much to answer for. The murderer who destroys human life for wicked passion and wantonness is less criminal than the proudly learned, yet egotistical, and therefore densely ignorant scientist, who, seeking to crush the soul by his feeble, narrow-minded arguments, and deny its imperishable nature, dares to spread his poisonous and corroding doctrines of despair through the world, draining existence of all its brightness, and striving to erect barriers of distrust between the creature and the Creator. No sin can be greater than this; for it is impossible to estimate the measure of evil that may thus be brought into otherwise innocent and happy lives. The attitude of devotion and faith is natural to Humanity, while nothing can be more UNnatural and disastrous to civilization, morality and law, than deliberate and determined Atheism.—AUTHOR.]
"I dare say you have had many letters, but I must add mine to the number to thank you for your book, the 'Romance of Two Worlds.' I am deeply interested in the wonderful force we possess, all in a greater or lesser degree—call it influence, electricity, or what you will. I have thought much on Theosophy and Psychical Research—but what struck me in your book was the glorious selflessness inculcated and the perfect Majesty of the Divinity clear throughout—no sweeping away of the Crucified One. I felt a better woman for the reading of it twice: and I know others, too, who are higher and better women for such noble thoughts and teaching. ... People for the most part dream away their lives; one meets so few who really believe in electrical affinity, and I have felt it so often and for so long. Forgive my troubling you with this letter, but I am grateful for your labour of love towards raising men and women.
"I should like to know if Marie Corelli honestly believes the theory which she enunciates in her book, 'The Romance of Two Worlds:' and also if she has any proof on which to found that same theory?—if so, the authoress will greatly oblige an earnest seeker after Truth if she will give the information sought to
[I sent a brief affirmative answer to the above note; the "proof" of the theories set forth in the "Romance" is, as I have already stated, easily to be found in the New Testament. But there are those who do not and will not believe the New Testament, and for them there are no "proofs" of any existing spirituality in earth or heaven. "Having eyes they see not, and hearing they do not understand."—AUTHOR.]
"I have lately been reading with intense pleasure your 'Romance of Two Worlds,' and I must crave your forbearance towards me when I tell you that it has filled me with envy and wonder. I feel sure that many people must have plied you with questions on the subject already, but I am certain that you are too earnest and too sympathetic to feel bored by what is in no sense idle curiosity, but rather a deep and genuine longing to know the truth. ... To some minds it would prove such a comfort and such, a relief to have their vague longings and beliefs confirmed and made tangible, and, as you know, at the present day so-called Religion, which is often a mere mixture of dogma and superstition, is scarcely sufficient to do this. ... I might say a great deal more and weary your patience, which has already been tried, I fear. But may I venture to hope that you have some words of comfort and assurance out of your own experience to give me? With your expressed belief in the good influence which each may exert over the other, not to speak of a higher and holier incentive in the example of One (in whom you also believe) who bids us for His sake to 'Bear one another's burdens,' you cannot, I think, turn away in impatience from the seeking of a very earnest soul.
[I have received about fifty letters written in precisely the same tone as the above—all more or less complaining of the insufficiency of "so-called Religion, which is often a mere mixture of dogma and superstition"—and I ask—What are the preachers of Christ's clear message about that there should be such plaintively eager anxious souls as these, who are evidently ready and willing to live noble lives if helped and encouraged ever so little? Shame on those men who presume to take up the high vocation of the priesthood for the sake of self-love, self-interest, worldly advancement, money or position! These things are not among Christ's teachings. If there are members of the clergy who can neither plant faith, nor consolation, nor proper comprehension of God's infinite Beauty and Goodness in the hearts of their hearers, I say that their continuance in such sacred office is an offence to the Master whom they profess to serve. "It must needs be that offences come, but woe to that man by whom the offence cometh!" To such may be addressed the words, "Hypocrites! for ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men; ye neither go in yourselves, neither suffer ye them that are entering to go in."—AUTHOR.]
"I hope you will not think it great presumption my writing to you. My excuse must be that I so much want to believe in he great Spirit that 'makes for righteousness,' and I cannot! Your book puts it all so clearly that if I can only know it to be a true experience of your own, it will go a long way in dispersing the fog that modern writings surround one with. ...
"Apologizing for troubling you, I am faithfully yours,
"I trust you will pardon the liberty I take in writing to you. My excuse must be the very deep interest your book, 'A Romance of Two Worlds,' has excited in me. I, of course, understand that the STORY itself is a romance, but in reading it carefully it seems to me that it is a book written with a purpose. ... The Electric Creed respecting Religion seems to explain so much in Scripture which has always seemed to me impossible to accept blindly without explanation of any kind; and the theory that Christ came to die and to suffer for us as an Example and a means of communication with God, and not as a SACRIFICE, clears up a point which has always been to me personally a stumbling-block. I cannot say how grateful I shall be if you can tell me any means of studying this subject further; and trusting you will excuse me for troubling you, I am, Madam,
[Once more I may repeat that the idea of a sacrifice to appease God's anger is purely JEWISH, and has nothing whatever to do with Christianity according to Christ. He Himself says, "I am the WAY, the Truth, and the Life; no man cometh to the Father but BY ME." Surely these words are plain enough, and point unmistakably to a MEANS OF COMMUNICATION through Christ between the Creator and this world. Nowhere does the Divine Master say that God is so furiously angry that he must have the bleeding body of his own messenger, Christ, hung up before Him as a human sacrifice, as though He could only be pacified by the scent of blood! Horrible and profane idea! and one utterly at variance with the tenderness and goodness of "Our Father" as pictured by Christ in these gentle words—"Fear not, little flock; it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the Kingdom." Whereas that Christ should come to draw us closer to God by the strong force of His own Divinity, and by His Resurrection prove to us the reality of the next life, is not at all a strange or ungodlike mission, and ought to make us understand more surely than ever how infinitely pitying and forbearing is the All-Loving One, that He should, as it were, with such extreme affection show us a way by which to travel through darkness unto light. To those who cannot see this perfection of goodness depicted in Christ's own words, I would say in the terse Oriental maxim:
"Diving, and finding no pearls in the sea, Blame not the ocean, the fault is in THEE." AUTHOR.]
"I have lately been reading your remarkable book, 'A Romance of Two Worlds,' and I feel that I must write to you about it. I have never viewed Christianity in the broadly transfigured light you throw upon it, and I have since been studying carefully the four Gospels and comparing them with the theories in your book. The result has been a complete and happy change in my ideas of religion, and I feel now as if I had, like a leper of old, touched the robe of Christ and been healed of a long-standing infirmity. Will you permit me to ask if you have evolved this new and beneficent lustre from the Gospel yourself? or whether some experienced student in mystic matters has been your instructor? I hear from persons who have seen you that you are quite young, and I cannot understand how one of your sex and age seems able so easily to throw light on what to many has been, and is still, impenetrable darkness. I have been a preacher for some years, and I thought the Testament was old and familiar to me; but you have made it a new and marvellous book full of most precious meanings, and I hope I may be able to impart to those whom it is my duty to instruct, something of the great consolation and hope your writing has filled me with.
"Will you tell me what ground you have for the foundation of the religious theory contained in your book, 'A Romance of Two Worlds'? Is it a part of your own belief? I am MOST anxious to know this, and I am sure you will be kind enough to answer me. Till I read your book I thought myself an Agnostic, but now I am not quite sure of this. I do not believe in the Deity as depicted by the Churches. I CANNOT. Over and over again I have asked myself—If there is a God, why should He be angry? It would surely be easy for Him to destroy this world entirely as one would blow away an offending speck of dust, and it would be much better and BRAVER for Him to do this than to torture His creation. For I call life a torture and certainly a useless and cruel torture if it is to end in annihilation. I know I seem to be blasphemous in these remarks, yet if you only knew what I suffer sometimes! I desire, I LONG to believe. YOU seem so certain of your Creed—a Creed so noble, reasonable and humane—the God you depict so worthy of the adoration of a Universe. I BEG of you to tell me—DO you feel sure of this beneficent all-pervading Love concerning which you write so eloquently? I do not wish to seem an intruder on your most secret thought. I want to believe that YOU believe—and if I felt this, the tenor of my whole life might change. Help me if you can—I stand in real need of help. You may judge I am very deeply in earnest, or I should not have written to you.
"A. W. L."
* * * * *
Of such letters as these I have received enough to make a volume of themselves; but I think the ten I have selected are sufficient to show how ardent and inextinguishable is the desire or STRAINING UPWARD, like a flower to the light, of the human Soul for those divine things which nourish it. Scarcely a day passes without my receiving more of these earnest and often pathetic appeals for a little help, a little comfort, a little guidance, enough to make one's heart ache at the thought of so much doubt and desolation looming cloud-like over the troubled minds of many who would otherwise lead not only happy but noble and useful lives. When will the preachers learn to preach Christ simply—Christ without human dogmas or differences? When shall we be able to enter a building set apart for sacred worship—a building of finest architectural beauty, "glorious without and within," like the "King's Daughter" of David's psalm—glorious with, light, music, flowers, and art of the noblest kind (for Art is God's own inspiration to men, and through it He should be served), there to hear the pure, unselfish doctrine of Christ as He Himself preached it? For such a temple, the time has surely come—a nook sacred to God, and untainted by the breath of Mammon, where we could adore our Creator "in spirit and in truth." The evils of nineteenth-century cynicism and general flippancy of thought—great evils as they are and sure prognostications of worse evils to come—cannot altogether crush out the Divine flame burning in the "few" that are "chosen," though these few are counted as fools and dreamers. Yet they shall be proved wise and watchful ere long. The signs of the times are those that indicate an approaching great upheaval and change in human destinies. This planet we call ours is in some respects like ourselves: it was born; it has had its infancy, its youth, its full prime; and now its age has set in, and with age the first beginnings of decay. Absorbed once more into the Creative Circle IT MUST BE; and when again thrown forth among its companion-stars, our race will no more inhabit it. We shall have had our day—our little chance—we shall have lost or won. Christ said, "This generation shall not pass away till all My words be fulfilled," the word "generation" thus used meaning simply the human race. We put a very narrow limit to the significance of the Saviour's utterance when we imagine that the generation He alluded to implied merely the people living in His own day. In the depths of His Divine wisdom He was acquainted with all the secrets of the Past and Future; He had no doubt seen this very world peopled by widely different beings to ourselves, and knew that what we call the human race is only a passing tribe permitted for a time to sojourn here. What a strangely presumptuous idea is that which pervades the minds of the majority of persons—namely, that Mankind, as we know it, must be the highest form of creation, simply because it is the highest form WE can see! How absurd it is to be so controlled by our limited vision, when we cannot even perceive the minute wonders that a butterfly beholds, or pierce the sunlit air with anything like the facility possessed by the undazzled eyes of an upward-soaring bird! Nay, we cannot examine the wing of a common house-fly without the aid of a microscope—to observe the facial expression of our own actors on the stage we look through opera-glasses—to form any idea of the wonders of the stars we construct telescopes to assist our feeble and easily deluded sight; and yet—yet we continue to parcel out the infinite gradations of creative Force and Beauty entirely to suit our own private opinions, and conclude that WE are the final triumph of the Divine Artist's Supreme Intelligence! Alas! in very truth we are a sorry spectacle both to our soberly thinking selves and the Higher Powers, invited, as it were, to spend our life's brief day in one of God's gardens as His friends and guests, who certainly are not expected to abuse their Host's hospitality, and, ignoring Him, call themselves the owners and masters of the ground! For we are but wanderers beneath the sun; a "generation" which must most surely and rapidly "pass away" to make room for another; and as the work of the Universe is always progressive, that other will be of nobler capacity and larger accomplishment. So while we are here, let us think earnestly of the few brief chances remaining to us—they grow fewer every hour. On one side is the endless, glorious heritage of the purely aspiring, Immortal Spirit; on the other the fleeting Mirage of this our present Existence; and, midway between the two, the swinging pendulum of HUMAN WILL, which decides our fate. God does not choose for us, or compel our love—we are free to fashion out our own futures; but in making our final choice we cannot afford to waste one moment of our precious, unreturning time.