A Romance of Two Worlds
Author of "Thelma," "Ardath," "Vendetta," Etc.
PROLOGUE I. AN ARTIST'S STUDIO. II. THE MYSTERIOUS POTION. III. THREE VISIONS. IV. A DANCE AND A PROMISE. V. CELLINI'S STORY. VI. THE HOTEL MARS AND ITS OWNER. VII. ZARA AND PRINCE IVAN. VIII. A SYMPHONY IN THE AIR. IX. AN ELECTRIC SHOCK. X. MY STRANGE DEPARTURE. XI. A MINIATURE CREATION. XII. SECRETS OF THE SUN AND MOON. XIII. SOCIABLE CONVERSE. XIV. THE ELECTRIC CREED. XV. DEATH BY LIGHTNING. XVI. A STRUGGLE FOR THE MASTERY. XVII. CONCLUSION. APPENDIX
A ROMANCE OF TWO WORLDS.
We live in an age of universal inquiry, ergo of universal scepticism. The prophecies of the poet, the dreams of the philosopher and scientist, are being daily realized—things formerly considered mere fairy-tales have become facts—yet, in spite of the marvels of learning and science that are hourly accomplished among us, the attitude of mankind is one of disbelief. "There is no God!" cries one theorist; "or if there be one, I can obtain no proof of His existence!" "There is no Creator!" exclaims another. "The Universe is simply a rushing together of atoms." "There can be no immortality," asserts a third. "We are but dust, and to dust we shall return." "What is called by idealists the SOUL," argues another, "is simply the vital principle composed of heat and air, which escapes from the body at death, and mingles again with its native element. A candle when lit emits flame; blow out the light, the flame vanishes—where? Would it not be madness to assert the flame immortal? Yet the soul, or vital principle of human existence, is no more than the flame of a candle."
If you propound to these theorists the eternal question WHY?—why is the world in existence? why is there a universe? why do we live? why do we think and plan? why do we perish at the last?—their grandiose reply is, "Because of the Law of Universal Necessity." They cannot explain this mysterious Law to themselves, nor can they probe deep enough to find the answer to a still more tremendous WHY—namely, WHY, is there a Law of Universal Necessity?—but they are satisfied with the result of their reasonings, if not wholly, yet in part, and seldom try to search beyond that great vague vast Necessity, lest their finite brains should reel into madness worse than death. Recognizing, therefore, that in this cultivated age a wall of scepticism and cynicism is gradually being built up by intellectual thinkers of every nation against all that treats of the Supernatural and Unseen, I am aware that my narration of the events I have recently experienced will be read with incredulity. At a time when the great empire of the Christian Religion is being assailed, or politely ignored by governments and public speakers and teachers, I realize to the fullest extent how daring is any attempt to prove, even by a plain history of strange occurrences happening to one's self, the actual existence of the Supernatural around us; and the absolute certainty of a future state of being, after the passage through that brief soul-torpor in which the body perishes, known to us as Death.
In the present narration, which I have purposely called a "romance," I do not expect to be believed, as I can only relate what I myself have experienced. I know that men and women of to-day must have proofs, or what they are willing to accept as proofs, before they will credit anything that purports to be of a spiritual tendency;—something startling—some miracle of a stupendous nature, such as according to prophecy they are all unfit to receive. Few will admit the subtle influence and incontestable, though mysterious, authority exercised upon their lives by higher intelligences than their own—intelligences unseen, unknown, but felt. Yes! felt by the most careless, the most cynical; in the uncomfortable prescience of danger, the inner forebodings of guilt—the moral and mental torture endured by those who fight a protracted battle to gain the hardly-won victory in themselves of right over wrong—in the thousand and one sudden appeals made without warning to that compass of a man's life, Conscience—and in those brilliant and startling impulses of generosity, bravery, and self-sacrifice which carry us on, heedless of consequences, to the performance of great and noble deeds, whose fame makes the whole world one resounding echo of glory—deeds that we wonder at ourselves even in the performance of them—acts of heroism in which mere life goes for nothing, and the Soul for a brief space is pre-eminent, obeying blindly the guiding influence of a something akin to itself, yet higher in the realms of Thought.
There are no proofs as to why such things should be; but that they are, is indubitable. The miracles enacted now are silent ones, and are worked in the heart and mind of man alone. Unbelief is nearly supreme in the world to-day. Were an angel to descend from heaven in the middle of a great square, the crowd would think he had got himself up on pulleys and wires, and would try to discover his apparatus. Were he, in wrath, to cast destruction upon them, and with fire blazing from his wings, slay a thousand of them with the mere shaking of a pinion, those who were left alive would either say that a tremendous dynamite explosion had occurred, or that the square was built on an extinct volcano which had suddenly broken out into frightful activity. Anything rather than believe in angels—the nineteenth century protests against the possibility of their existence. It sees no miracle—it pooh-poohs the very enthusiasm that might work them.
"Give a positive sign," it says; "prove clearly that what you say is true, and I, in spite of my Progress and Atom Theory, will believe." The answer to such a request was spoken eighteen hundred years and more ago. "A faithless and perverse generation asketh for a sign, and no sign shall be given unto them."
Were I now to assert that a sign had been given to ME—to me, as one out of the thousands who demand it—such daring assurance on my part would meet with the most strenuous opposition from all who peruse the following pages; each person who reads having his own ideas on all subjects, and naturally considering them to be the best if not the only ideas worth anything. Therefore I wish it to be plainly understood that in this book I personally advocate no new theory of either religion or philosophy; nor do I hold myself answerable for the opinions expressed by any of my characters. My aim throughout is to let facts speak for themselves. If they seem strange, unreal, even impossible, I can only say that the things of the invisible world must always appear so to those whose thoughts and desires are centred on this life only.
AN ARTIST'S STUDIO.
In the winter of 188-, I was afflicted by a series of nervous ailments, brought on by overwork and overworry. Chief among these was a protracted and terrible insomnia, accompanied by the utmost depression of spirits and anxiety of mind. I became filled with the gloomiest anticipations of evil; and my system was strung up by slow degrees to such a high tension of physical and mental excitement, that the quietest and most soothing of friendly voices had no other effect upon me than to jar and irritate. Work was impossible; music, my one passion, intolerable; books became wearisome to my sight; and even a short walk in the open air brought with it such lassitude and exhaustion, that I soon grew to dislike the very thought of moving out of doors. In such a condition of health, medical aid became necessary; and a skilful and amiable physician, Dr. R——, of great repute in nervous ailments, attended me for many weeks, with but slight success. He was not to blame, poor man, for his failure to effect a cure. He had only one way of treatment, and he applied it to all his patients with more or less happy results. Some died, some recovered; it was a lottery on which my medical friend staked his reputation, and won. The patients who died were never heard of more—those who recovered sang the praises of their physician everywhere, and sent him gifts of silver plate and hampers of wine, to testify their gratitude. His popularity was very great; his skill considered marvellous; and his inability to do ME any good arose, I must perforce imagine, out of some defect or hidden obstinacy in my constitution, which was to him a new experience, and for which he was unprepared. Poor Dr. R——! How many bottles of your tastily prepared and expensive medicines have I not swallowed, in blind confidence and blinder ignorance of the offences I thus committed against all the principles of that Nature within me, which, if left to itself, always heroically struggles to recover its own proper balance and effect its own cure; but which, if subjected to the experimental tests of various poisons or drugs, often loses strength in the unnatural contest and sinks exhausted, perhaps never to rise with actual vigour again. Baffled in his attempts to remedy my ailments, Dr. R—— at last resorted to the usual plan adopted by all physicians when their medicines have no power. He recommended change of air and scene, and urged my leaving London, then dark with the fogs of a dreary winter, for the gaiety and sunshine and roses of the Riviera. The idea was not unpleasant to me, and I determined to take the advice proffered. Hearing of my intention, some American friends of mine, Colonel Everard and his charming young wife, decided to accompany me, sharing with me the expenses of the journey and hotel accommodation. We left London all together on a damp foggy evening, when the cold was so intense that it seemed to bite the flesh like the sharp teeth of an animal, and after two days' rapid journey, during which I felt my spirits gradually rising, and my gloomy forebodings vanishing slowly one by one, we arrived at Cannes, and put up at the Hotel de L——. It was a lovely place, and most beautifully situated; the garden was a perfect wilderness of roses in full bloom, and an avenue of orange-trees beginning to flower cast a delicate fragrance on the warm delicious air.
Mrs. Everard was delighted.
"If you do not recover your health here," she said half laughingly to me on the second morning after our arrival, "I am afraid your case is hopeless. What sunshine! What a balmy wind! It is enough to make a cripple cast away his crutches and forget he was ever lame. Don't you think so?"
I smiled in answer, but inwardly I sighed. Beautiful as the scenery, the air, and the general surroundings were, I could not disguise from myself that the temporary exhilaration of my feelings, caused by the novelty and excitement of my journey to Cannes, was slowly but surely passing away. The terrible apathy, against which I had fought for so many months, was again creeping over me with its cruel and resistless force. I did my best to struggle against it; I walked, I rode, I laughed and chatted with Mrs. Everard and her husband, and forced myself into sociability with some of the visitors at the hotel, who were disposed to show us friendly attention. I summoned all my stock of will-power to beat back the insidious physical and mental misery that threatened to sap the very spring of my life; and in some of these efforts I partially succeeded. But it was at night that the terrors of my condition manifested themselves. Then sleep forsook my eyes; a dull throbbing weight of pain encircled my head like a crown of thorns; nervous terrors shook me from head to foot; fragments of my own musical compositions hummed in my ears with wearying persistence—fragments that always left me in a state of distressed conjecture; for I never could remember how they ended, and I puzzled myself vainly over crotchets and quavers that never would consent to arrange themselves in any sort of finale. So the days went on; for Colonel Everard and his wife, those days were full of merriment, sight-seeing, and enjoyment. For me, though outwardly I appeared to share in the universal gaiety, they were laden with increasing despair and wretchedness; for I began to lose hope of ever recovering my once buoyant health and strength, and, what was even worse, I seemed to have utterly parted with all working ability. I was young, and up to within a few months life had stretched brightly before me, with the prospect of a brilliant career. And now what was I? A wretched invalid—a burden to myself and to others—a broken spar flung with other fragments of ship wrecked lives on the great ocean of Time, there to be whirled away and forgotten. But a rescue was approaching; a rescue sudden and marvellous, of which, in my wildest fancies, I had never dreamed.
Staying in the same hotel with us was a young Italian artist, Raffaello Cellini by name. His pictures were beginning to attract a great deal of notice, both in Paris and Rome: not only for their faultless drawing, but for their wonderfully exquisite colouring. So deep and warm and rich were the hues he transferred to his canvases, that others of his art, less fortunate in the management of the palette, declared he must have invented some foreign compound whereby he was enabled to deepen and brighten his colours for the time being; but that the effect was only temporary, and that his pictures, exposed to the air for some eight or ten years, would fade away rapidly, leaving only the traces of an indistinct blur. Others, more generous, congratulated him on having discovered the secrets of the old masters. In short, he was admired, condemned, envied, and flattered, all in a breath; while he himself, being of a singularly serene and unruffled disposition, worked away incessantly, caring little or nothing for the world's praise or blame.
Cellini had a pretty suite of rooms in the Hotel de L——, and my friends Colonel and Mrs. Everard fraternized with him very warmly. He was by no means slow to respond to their overtures of friendship, and so it happened that his studio became a sort of lounge for us, where we would meet to have tea, to chat, to look at the pictures, or to discuss our plans for future enjoyment. These visits to Cellini's studio, strange to say, had a remarkably soothing and calming effect upon my suffering nerves. The lofty and elegant room, furnished with that "admired disorder" and mixed luxuriousness peculiar to artists, with its heavily drooping velvet curtains, its glimpses of white marble busts and broken columns, its flash and fragrance of flowers that bloomed in a tiny conservatory opening out from the studio and leading to the garden, where a fountain bubbled melodiously—all this pleased me and gave me a curious, yet most welcome, sense of absolute rest. Cellini himself had a fascination for me, for exactly the same reason. As an example of this, I remember escaping from Mrs. Everard on one occasion, and hurrying to the most secluded part of the garden, in order to walk up and down alone in an endeavour to calm an attack of nervous agitation which had suddenly seized me. While thus pacing about in feverish restlessness, I saw Cellini approaching, his head bent as if in thought, and his hands clasped behind his back. As he drew near me, he raised his eyes—they were clear and darkly brilliant—he regarded me steadfastly with a kindly smile. Then lifting his hat with the graceful reverence peculiar to an Italian, he passed on, saying no word. But the effect of his momentary presence upon me was remarkable—it was ELECTRIC. I was no longer agitated. Calmed, soothed and almost happy, I returned to Mrs. Everard, and entered into her plans for the day with so much alacrity that she was surprised and delighted.
"If you go on like this," she said, "you will be perfectly well in a month."
I was utterly unable to account for the remedial influence Raffaello Cellini's presence had upon me; but such as it was I could not but be grateful for the respite it gave me from nervous suffering, and my now daily visits to the artist's studio were a pleasure and a privilege not to be foregone. Moreover, I was never tired of looking at his pictures. His subjects were all original, and some of them were very weird and fantastic. One large picture particularly attracted me. It was entitled "Lords of our Life and Death." Surrounded by rolling masses of cloud, some silver-crested, some shot through with red flame, was depicted the World, as a globe half in light, half in shade. Poised above it was a great Angel, upon whose calm and noble face rested a mingled expression of deep sorrow, yearning pity, and infinite regret. Tears seemed to glitter on the drooping lashes of this sweet yet stern Spirit; and in his strong right hand he held a drawn sword—the sword of destruction—pointed forever downwards to the fated globe at his feet. Beneath this Angel and the world he dominated was darkness—utter illimitable darkness. But above him the clouds were torn asunder, and through a transparent veil of light golden mist, a face of surpassing beauty was seen—a face on which youth, health, hope, love, and ecstatic joy all shone with ineffable radiance. It was the personification of Life—not life as we know it, brief and full of care—but Life Immortal and Love Triumphant. Often and often I found myself standing before this masterpiece of Cellini's genius, gazing at it, not only with admiration, but with a sense of actual comfort. One afternoon, while resting in my favourite low chair opposite the picture, I roused myself from a reverie, and turning to the artist, who was showing some water-colour sketches to Mrs. Everard, I said abruptly:
"Did you imagine that face of the Angel of Life, Signor Cellini, or had you a model to copy from?"
He looked at me and smiled.
"It is a moderately good portrait of an existing original," he said.
"A woman's face then, I suppose? How very beautiful she must be!"
"Actual beauty is sexless," he replied, and was silent. The expression of his face had become abstracted and dreamy, and he turned over the sketches for Mrs. Everard with an air which showed his thoughts to be far away from his occupation.
"And the Death Angel?" I went on. "Had you a model for that also?"
This time a look of relief, almost of gladness, passed over his features.
"No indeed," he answered with ready frankness; "that is entirely my own creation."
I was about to compliment him on the grandeur and force of his poetical fancy, when he stopped me by a slight gesture of his hand.
"If you really admire the picture," he said, "pray do not say so. If it is in truth a work of art, let it speak to you as art only, and spare the poor workman who has called it into existence the shame of having to confess that it is not above human praise. The only true criticism of high art is silence—silence as grand as heaven itself."
He spoke with energy, and his dark eyes flashed. Amy (Mrs. Everard) looked at him curiously.
"Say now!" she exclaimed, with a ringing laugh, "aren't you a little bit eccentric, signor? You talk like a long-haired prophet! I never met an artist before who couldn't stand praise; it is generally a matter of wonder to me to notice how much of that intoxicating sweet they can swallow without reeling. But you're an exception, I must admit. I congratulate you!"
Cellini bowed gaily in response to the half-friendly, half-mocking curtsey she gave him, and, turning to me again, said:
"I have a favour to ask of you, mademoiselle. Will you sit to me for your portrait?"
"I!" I exclaimed, with astonishment. "Signor Cellini, I cannot imagine why you should wish so to waste your valuable time. There is nothing in my poor physiognomy worthy of your briefest attention."
"You must pardon me, mademoiselle," he replied gravely, "if I presume to differ from you. I am exceedingly anxious to transfer your features to my canvas. I am aware that you are not in strong health, and that your face has not that roundness and colour formerly habitual to it. But I am not an admirer of the milkmaid type of beauty. Everywhere I seek for intelligence, for thought, for inward refinement—in short, mademoiselle, you have the face of one whom the inner soul consumes, and, as such, may I plead again with you to give me a little of your spare time? YOU WILL NOT REGRET IT, I ASSURE YOU."
These last words were uttered in a lower tone and with singular impressiveness. I rose from my seat and looked at him steadily; he returned me glance for glance, A strange thrill ran through me, followed by that inexplicable sensation of absolute calm that I had before experienced. I smiled—I could, not help smiling.
"I will come to-morrow," I said.
"A thousand thanks, mademoiselle! Can you be here at noon?"
I looked inquiringly at Amy, who clapped her hands with delighted enthusiasm.
"Of course! Any time you like, signor. We will arrange our excursions so that they shall not interfere with the sittings. It will be most interesting to watch the picture growing day by day. What will you call it, signor? By some fancy title?"
"It will depend on its appearance when completed," he replied, as he threw open the doors of the studio and bowed us out with his usual ceremonious politeness.
"Au revoir, madame! A demain, mademoiselle!" and the violet velvet curtains of the portiere fell softly behind us as we made our exit.
"Is there not something strange about that young man?" said Mrs. Everard, as we walked through the long gallery of the Hotel de L—— back to our own rooms. "Something fiendish or angelic, or a little of both qualities mixed up?"
"I think he is what people term PECULIAR, when they fail to understand the poetical vagaries of genius," I replied. "He is certainly very uncommon."
"Well!" continued my friend meditatively, as she contemplated her pretty mignonne face and graceful figure in a long mirror placed attractively in a corner of the hall through which we were passing; "all I can say is that I wouldn't let him paint MY portrait if he were to ask ever so! I should be scared to death. I wonder you, being so nervous, were not afraid of him."
"I thought you liked him," I said.
"So I do. So does my husband. He's awfully handsome and clever, and all that—but his conversation! There now, my dear, you must own he is slightly QUEER. Why, who but a lunatic would say that the only criticism of art is silence? Isn't that utter rubbish?"
"The only TRUE criticism," I corrected her gently.
"Well, it's all the same. How can there be any criticism at all in silence? According to his idea when we admire anything very much we ought to go round with long faces and gags on our mouths. That would be entirely ridiculous! And what was that dreadful thing he said to you?"
"I don't quite understand you," I answered; "I cannot remember his saying anything dreadful."
"Oh, I have it now," continued Amy with rapidity; "it was awful! He said you had the FACE OF ONE WHOM THE SOUL CONSUMES. You know that was most horribly mystical! And when he said it he looked—ghastly! What did he mean by it, I wonder?"
I made no answer; but I thought I knew. I changed the conversation as soon as possible, and my volatile American friend was soon absorbed in a discussion on dress and jewellery. That night was a blessed one for me; I was free from all suffering, and slept as calmly as a child, while in my dreams the face of Cellini's "Angel of life" smiled at me, and seemed to suggest peace.
THE MYSTERIOUS POTION.
The next day, punctually at noon, according to my promise, I entered the studio. I was alone, for Amy, after some qualms of conscience respecting chaperonage, propriety, and Mrs. Grundy, had yielded to my entreaties and gone for a drive with some friends. In spite of the fears she began to entertain concerning the Mephistophelian character of Raffaello Cellini, there was one thing of which both she and I felt morally certain: namely, that no truer or more honourable gentleman than he ever walked on the earth. Under his protection the loveliest and loneliest woman that ever lived would have been perfectly safe—as safe as though she were shut up, like the princess in the fairy-tale, in a brazen tower, of which only an undiscoverable serpent possessed the key. When I arrived, the rooms were deserted, save for the presence of a magnificent Newfoundland dog, who, as I entered, rose, and shaking his shaggy body, sat down before me and offered me his huge paw, wagging his tail in the most friendly manner all the while, I at once responded to his cordial greeting, and as I stroked his noble head, I wondered where the animal had come from; for though—we had visited Signor Cellini's studio every day, there had been no sign or mention of this stately, brown-eyed, four-footed companion. I seated myself, and the dog immediately lay down at my feet, every now and then looking up at me with an affectionate glance and a renewed wagging of his tail. Glancing round the well-known room, I noticed that the picture I admired so much was veiled by a curtain of Oriental stuff, in which were embroidered threads of gold mingled with silks of various brilliant hues. On the working easel was a large square canvas, already prepared, as I supposed, for my features to be traced thereon. It was an exceedingly warm morning, and though the windows as well as the glass doors of the conservatory were wide open, I found the air of the studio very oppressive. I perceived on the table a finely-wrought decanter of Venetian glass, in which clear water sparkled temptingly. Rising from my chair, I took an antique silver goblet from the mantelpiece, filled it with the cool fluid, and was about to drink, when the cup was suddenly snatched from my hands, and the voice of Cellini, changed from its usual softness to a tone both imperious and commanding, startled me.
"Do not drink that," he said; "you must not! You dare not! I forbid you!"
I looked up at him in mute astonishment. His face was very pale, and his large dark eyes shone with suppressed excitement. Slowly my self-possession returned to me, and I said calmly:
"YOU forbid me, signor? Surely you forget yourself. What harm have I done in helping myself to a simple glass of water in your studio? You are not usually so inhospitable."
While I spoke his manner changed, the colour returned to his face, and his eyes softened—he smiled.
"Forgive me, mademoiselle, for my brusquerie. It is true I forgot myself for a moment. But you were in danger, and——"
"In danger!" I exclaimed incredulously.
"Yes, mademoiselle. This," and he held up the Venetian decanter to the light, "is not water simply. If you will observe it now with the sunshine beating full against it, I think you will perceive peculiarities in it that will assure you of my veracity."
I looked as he bade me, and saw, to my surprise, that the fluid was never actually still for a second. A sort of internal bubbling seemed to work in its centre, and curious specks and lines of crimson and gold flashed through it from time to time.
"What is it?" I asked; adding with a half-smile, "Are you the possessor of a specimen of the far-famed Aqua Tofana?"
Cellini placed the decanter carefully on a shelf, and I noticed that he chose a particular spot for it, where the rays of the sun could fall perpendicularly upon the vessel containing it. Then turning to me, he replied:
"Aqua Tofana, mademoiselle, is a deadly poison, known to the ancients and also to many learned chemists of our day. It is a clear and colourless liquid, but it is absolutely still—as still as a stagnant pool. What I have just shown you is not poison, but quite the reverse. I will prove this to you at once." And taking a tiny liqueur glass from a side table, he filled it with the strange fluid and drank it off, carefully replacing the stopper in the decanter.
"But, Signor Cellini," I urged, "if it is so harmless, why did you forbid my tasting it? Why did you say there was danger for me when I was about to drink it?"
"Because, mademoiselle, for YOU it would be dangerous. Your health is weak, your nerves unstrung. That elixir is a powerful vivifying tonic, acting with great rapidity on the entire system, and rushing through the veins with the swiftness of ELECTRICITY. I am accustomed to it; it is my daily medicine. But I was brought to it by slow, and almost imperceptible degrees. A single teaspoonful of that fluid, mademoiselle, administered to anyone not prepared to receive it, would be instant death, though its actual use is to vivify and strengthen human life. You understand now why I said you were in danger?"
"I understand," I replied, though in sober truth I was mystified and puzzled.
"And you forgive my seeming rudeness?"
"Oh, certainly! But you have aroused my curiosity. I should like to know more about this strange medicine of yours."
"You shall know more if you wish," said Cellini, his usual equable humour and good spirits now quite restored. "You shall know everything; but not to-day. We have too little time. I have not yet commenced your picture. And I forgot—you were thirsty, and I was, as you said, inhospitable. You must permit me to repair my fault."
And with a courteous salute he left the room, to return almost immediately with a tumbler full of some fragrant, golden-coloured liquid, in which lumps of ice glittered refreshingly. A few loose rose-leaves were scattered on the top of this dainty-looking beverage.
"You may enjoy this without fear," said he, smiling; "it will do you good. It is an Eastern wine, unknown to trade, and therefore untampered with. I see you are looking at the rose-leaves on the surface. That is a Persian custom, and I think a pretty one. They float away from your lips in the action of drinking, and therefore they are no obstacle."
I tasted the wine and found it delicious, soft and mellow as summer moonlight. While I sipped it the big Newfoundland, who had stretched himself in a couchant posture on the hearth-rug ever since Cellini had first entered the room, rose and walked majestically to my side and rubbed his head caressingly against the folds of my dress.
"Leo has made friends with you, I see," said Cellini. "You should take that as a great compliment, for he is most particular in his choice of acquaintance, and most steadfast when he has once made up his mind. He has more decision of character than many a statesman."
"How is it we have never seen him before?" I inquired. "You never told us you had such a splendid companion."
"I am not his master," replied the artist. "He only favours me with a visit occasionally. He arrived from Paris last night, and came straight here, sure of his welcome. He does not confide his plans to me, but I suppose he will return to his home when he thinks it advisable. He knows his own business best."
"What a clever dog! Does he journey on foot, or does he take the train?"
"I believe he generally patronizes the railway. All the officials know him, and he gets into the guard's van as a matter of course. Sometimes he will alight at a station en route, and walk the rest of the way. But if he is lazily inclined, he does not stir till the train reaches its destination. At the end of every six months or so, the railway authorities send the bill of Leo's journeyings in to his master, when it is always settled without difficulty."
"And who IS his master?" I ventured to ask.
Cellini's face grew serious and absorbed, and his eyes were full of grave contemplation as he answered:
"His master, mademoiselle, is MY master—one who among men, is supremely intelligent; among teachers, absolutely unselfish; among thinkers, purely impersonal; among friends, inflexibly faithful. To him I owe everything—even life itself. For him no sacrifice, no extreme devotion would be too great, could I hope thereby to show my gratitude. But he is as far above human thanks or human rewards as the sun is above the sea. Not here, not now, dare I say to him, MY FRIEND, BEHOLD HOW MUCH I LOVE THEE! such language would be all too poor and unmeaning; but hereafter—who knows?——" and he broke off abruptly with a half-sigh. Then, as if forcing himself to change the tenor of his thoughts, he continued in a kind tone: "But, mademoiselle, I am wasting your time, and am taking no advantage of the favour you have shown me by your presence to-day. Will you seat yourself here?" and he placed an elaborately carved oaken settee in one corner of the studio, opposite his own easel. "I should be sorry to fatigue you at all," he went on; "do you care for reading?"
I answered eagerly in the affirmative, and he handed me a volume bound in curiously embossed leather, and ornamented with silver clasps. It was entitled "Letters of a Dead Musician."
"You will find clear gems of thought, passion, and feeling in this book," said Cellini; "and being a musician yourself, you will know how to appreciate them. The writer was one of those geniuses whose work the world repays with ridicule and contempt. There is no fate more enviable!"
I looked at the artist with some surprise as I took the volume he recommended, and seated myself in the position he indicated; and while he busied himself in arranging the velvet curtains behind me as a background, I said:
"Do you really consider it enviable, Signor Cellini, to receive the world's ridicule and contempt?"
"I do indeed," he replied, "since it is a certain proof that the world does not understand you. To achieve something that is above human comprehension, THAT is greatness. To have the serene sublimity of the God-man Christ, and consent to be crucified by a gibing world that was fated to be afterwards civilized and dominated by His teachings, what can be more glorious? To have the magnificent versatility of a Shakespeare, who was scarcely recognized in his own day, but whose gifts were so vast and various that the silly multitudes wrangle over his very identity and the authenticity of his plays to this hour—what can be more triumphant? To know that one's own soul can, if strengthened and encouraged by the force of will, rise to a supreme altitude of power—is not that sufficient to compensate for the little whining cries of the common herd of men and women who have forgotten whether they ever had a spiritual spark in them, and who, straining up to see the light of genius that burns too fiercely for their earth-dimmed eyes, exclaim: 'WE see nothing, therefore there CAN be nothing.' Ah, mademoiselle, the knowledge of one's own inner Self-Existence is a knowledge surpassing all the marvels of art and science!"
Cellini spoke with enthusiasm, and his countenance seemed illumined by the eloquence that warmed his speech. I listened with a sort of dreamy satisfaction; the visual sensation of utter rest that I always experienced in this man's presence was upon me, and I watched him with interest as he drew with quick and facile touch the outline of my features on his canvas.
Gradually he became more and more absorbed in his work; he glanced at me from time to time, but did not speak, and his pencil worked rapidly. I turned over the "Letters of a Dead Musician" with some curiosity. Several passages struck me as being remarkable for their originality and depth of thought; but what particularly impressed me as I read on, was the tone of absolute joy and contentment that seemed to light up every page. There were no wailings over disappointed ambition, no regrets for the past, no complaints, no criticism, no word for or against the brothers of his art; everything was treated from a lofty standpoint of splendid equality, save when the writer spoke of himself, and then he became the humblest of the humble, yet never abject, and always happy.
"O Music!" he wrote, "Music, thou Sweetest Spirit of all that serve God, what have I done that thou shouldst so often visit me? It is not well, O thou Lofty and Divine One, that thou shouldst stoop so low as to console him who is the unworthiest of all thy servants. For I am too feeble to tell the world how soft is the sound of thy rustling pinions, how tender is the sighing breath of thy lips, how beyond all things glorious is the vibration of thy lightest whisper! Remain aloft, thou Choicest Essence of the Creator's Voice, remain in that pure and cloudless ether, where alone thou art fitted to dwell. My touch must desecrate thee, my voice affright thee. Suffice it to thy servant, O Beloved, to dream of thee and die!"
Meeting Cellini's glance as I finished reading these lines, I asked:
"Did you know the author of this book, signor?"
"I knew him well," he replied; "he was one of the gentlest souls that ever dwelt in human clay. As ethereal in his music as John Keats in his poetry, he was one of those creatures born of dreams and rapture that rarely visit this planet. Happy fellow! What a death was his!"
"How did he die?" I inquired.
"He was playing the organ in one of the great churches of Rome on the day of the Feast of the Virgin. A choir of finely trained voices sang to his accompaniment his own glorious setting of the "Regina Coeli." The music was wonderful, startling, triumphant—ever rising in power and majesty to a magnificent finale, when suddenly a slight crash was heard; the organ ceased abruptly, the singers broke off. The musician was dead. He had fallen forward on the keys of the instrument, and when they raised him, his face was fairer than the face of any sculptured angel, so serene was its expression, so rapt was its smile. No one could tell exactly the cause of his death—he had always been remarkably strong and healthy. Everyone said it was heart-disease—it is the usual reason assigned by medical savants for these sudden departures out of the world. His loss was regretted by all, save myself and one other who loved him. We rejoiced, and still do rejoice, at his release."
I speculated vaguely on the meaning of these last words, but I felt disinclined to ask any more questions, and Cellini, probably seeing this, worked on at his sketch without further converse. My eyes were growing heavy, and the printed words in the "Dead Musician's Letters" danced before my sight like active little black demons with thin waving arms and legs. A curious yet not unpleasant drowsiness stole over me, in which I heard the humming of the bees at the open window, the singing of the birds, and the voices of people in the hotel gardens, all united in one continuous murmur that seemed a long way off. I saw the sunshine and the shadow—I saw the majestic Leo stretched full length near the easel, and the slight supple form of Raffaello Cellini standing out in bold outline against the light; yet all seemed shifting and mingling strangely into a sort of wide radiance in which there was nothing but varying tints of colour. And could it have been my fancy, or did I actually SEE the curtain fall gradually away from my favourite picture, just enough for the face of the "Angel of Life" to be seen smiling down upon me? I rubbed my eyes violently, and started to my feet at the sound of the artist's voice.
"I have tried your patience enough for to-day," he said, and his words sounded muffled, as though they were being spoken through, a thick wall. "You can leave me now if you like."
I stood before him mechanically, still holding the book he had lent me clasped in my hand. Irresolutely I raised my eyes towards the "Lords of our Life and Death." It was closely veiled. I had then experienced an optical illusion. I forced myself to speak—to smile—to put back the novel sensations that were overwhelming me.
"I think," I said, and I heard myself speak as though I were somebody else at a great distance off—"I think, Signor Cellini, your Eastern wine has been too potent for me. My head is quite heavy, and I feel dazed."
"It is mere fatigue and the heat of the day," he replied quietly. "I am sure you are not too DAZED, as you call it, to see your favourite picture, are you?"
I trembled. Was not that picture veiled? I looked—there was no curtain at all, and the faces of the two Angels shone out of the canvas with intense brilliancy! Strange to say, I felt no surprise at this circumstance, which, had it occurred a moment previously, would have unquestionably astonished and perhaps alarmed me. The mistiness of my brain suddenly cleared; I saw everything plainly; I heard distinctly; and when I spoke, the tone of my voice sounded as full and ringing as it had previously seemed low and muffled. I gazed steadfastly at the painting, and replied, half smiling:
"I should be indeed 'far gone,' as the saying is, if I could not see that, signor! It is truly your masterpiece. Why have you never exhibited it?"
"Can YOU ask that?" he said with impressive emphasis, at the same time drawing nearer and fixing upon me the penetrating glance of his dark fathomless eyes. It then seemed to me that some great inner force compelled me to answer this half-inquiry, in words of which I had taken no previous thought, and which, as I uttered them, conveyed no special meaning to my own ears.
"Of course," I said slowly, as if I were repeating a lesson, "you would not so betray the high trust committed to your charge."
"Well said!" replied Cellini; "you are fatigued, mademoiselle. Au revoir! Till to-morrow!" And, throwing open the door of his studio, he stood aside for me to pass out. I looked at him inquiringly.
"Must I come at the same time to-morrow?" I asked.
"If you please."
I passed my hand across my forehead perplexedly, I felt I had something else to say before I left him. He waited patiently, holding back with one hand the curtains of the portiere.
"I think I had a parting word to give you," I said at last, meeting his gaze frankly; "but I seem to have forgotten what it was." Cellini smiled gravely.
"Do not trouble to think about it, mademoiselle. I am unworthy the effort on your part."
A flash of vivid light crossed my eyes for a second, and I exclaimed eagerly:
"I remember now! It was 'Dieu vous garde' signor!"
He bent his head reverentially.
"Merci mille fois, mademoiselle! Dieu vous garde—vous aussi. Au revoir."
And clasping my hand with a light yet friendly pressure, he closed the door of his room behind me. Once alone in the passage, the sense of high elation and contentment that had just possessed me began gradually to decrease. I had not become actually dispirited, but a languid feeling of weariness oppressed me, and my limbs ached as though I had walked incessantly for many miles. I went straight to my own room. I consulted my watch; it was half-past one, the hour at which the hotel luncheon was usually served. Mrs. Everard had evidently not returned from her drive. I did not care to attend the table d'hote alone; besides, I had no inclination to eat. I drew down the window-blinds to shut out the brilliancy of the beautiful Southern sunlight, and throwing myself on my bed I determined to rest quietly till Amy came back. I had brought the "Letters of a Dead Musician" away with me from Cellini's studio, and I began to read, intending to keep myself awake by this means. But I found I could not fix my attention on the page, nor could I think at all connectedly. Little by little my eyelids closed; the book dropped from my nerveless hand; and in a few minutes I was in a deep and tranquil slumber.
Roses, roses! An interminable chain of these royal blossoms, red and white, wreathed by the radiant fingers of small rainbow-winged creatures as airy as moonlight mist, as delicate as thistledown! They cluster round me with smiling faces and eager eyes; they place the end of their rose-garland in my hand, and whisper, "FOLLOW!" Gladly I obey, and hasten onward. Guiding myself by the fragrant chain I hold, I pass through a labyrinth of trees, whose luxuriant branches quiver with the flight and song of birds. Then comes a sound of waters; the riotous rushing of a torrent unchecked, that leaps sheer down from rocks a thousand feet high, thundering forth the praise of its own beauty as it tosses in the air triumphant crowns of silver spray. How the living diamonds within it shift, and change, and sparkle! Fain would I linger to watch this magnificence; but the coil of roses still unwinds before me, and the fairy voices still cry, "FOLLOW!" I press on. The trees grow thicker; the songs of the birds cease; the light around me grows pale and subdued. In the far distance I see a golden crescent that seems suspended by some invisible thread in the air. Is it the young moon? No; for as I gaze it breaks apart into a thousand points of vivid light like wandering stars. These meet; they blaze into letters of fire. I strain my dazzled eyes to spell out their meaning. They form one word—HELIOBAS. I read it. I utter it aloud. The rose-chain breaks at my feet, and disappears. The fairy voices die away on my ear. There is utter silence, utter darkness,—save where that one NAME writes itself in burning gold on the blackness of the heavens.
* * * * *
The interior of a vast cathedral is opened before my gaze. The lofty white marble columns support a vaulted roof painted in fresco, from which are suspended a thousand lamps that emit a mild and steady effulgence. The great altar is illuminated; the priests, in glittering raiment, pace slowly to and fro. The large voice of the organ, murmuring to itself awhile, breaks forth in a shout of melody; and a boy's clear, sonorous treble tones pierce the incense-laden air. "Credo!"—and the silver, trumpet-like notes fall from the immense height of the building like a bell ringing in a pure atmosphere—"Credo in unum Deum; Patrem omni-potentum, factorem coeli et terrae, visibilium omnium et invisibilium."
The cathedral echoes with answering voices; and, involuntarily kneeling, I follow the words of the grand chant. I hear the music slacken; the notes of rejoicing change to a sobbing and remorseful wail; the organ shudders like a forest of pines in a tempest, "Crucifixus etiam pro nobis; passus et sepultus est." A darkness grows up around me; my senses swim. The music altogether ceases; but a brilliant radiance streams through a side-door of the church, and twenty maidens, clad in white and crowned with myrtle, pacing two by two, approach me. They gaze at me with joyous eyes. "Art thou also one of us?" they murmur; then they pass onward to the altar, where again the lights are glimmering. I watch them with eager interest; I hear them uplift their fresh young voices in prayer and praise. One of them, whose deep blue eyes are full of lustrous tenderness, leaves her companions, and softly approaches me. She holds a pencil and tablet in her hand.
"Write!" she says, in a thrilling whisper; "and write quickly! for whatsoever thou shalt now inscribe is the clue to thy destiny."
I obey her mechanically, impelled not by my own will, but by some unknown powerful force acting within and around me. I trace upon the tablet one word only; it is a name that startles me even while I myself write it down—HELIOBAS. Scarcely have I written it when a thick white cloud veils the cathedral from my sight; the fair maiden vanishes, and all is again still.
* * * * *
I am listening to the accents of a grave melodious voice, which, from its slow and measured tones, would seem to be in the action of reading or reciting aloud. I see a small room sparely furnished, and at a table covered with books and manuscripts is seated a man of noble features and commanding presence. He is in the full prime of life; his dark hair has no thread of silver to mar its luxuriance; his face is unwrinkled; his forehead unfurrowed by care; his eyes, deeply sunk beneath his shelving brows, are of a singularly clear and penetrating blue, with an absorbed and watchful look in them, like the eyes of one accustomed to gaze far out at sea. His hand rests on the open pages of a massive volume; he is reading, and his expression is intent and earnest—as if he were littering his own thoughts aloud, with the conviction and force of an orator who knows the truth of which he speaks:
"The Universe is upheld solely by the Law of Love. A majestic invisible Protectorate governs the winds, the tides, the incoming and outgoing of the seasons, the birth of the flowers, the growth of forests, the outpourings of the sunlight, the silent glittering of the stars. A wide illimitable Beneficence embraces all creation. A vast Eternal Pity exists for all sorrow, all sin. He who first swung the planets in the air, and bade them revolve till Time shall be no more—He, the Fountain-Head of Absolute Perfection, is no deaf, blind, capricious, or remorseless Being. To Him the death of the smallest singing-bird is as great or as little as the death of a world's emperor. For Him the timeless withering of an innocent flower is as pitiful as the decay of a mighty nation. An infant's first prayer to Him is heard with as tender a patience as the united petitions of thousands of worshippers. For in everything and around everything, from the sun to a grain of sand, He hath a portion, small or great, of His own most Perfect Existence. Should He hate His Creation, He must perforce hate Himself; and that Love should hate Love is an impossibility. Therefore He loves all His work; and as Love, to be perfect, must contain Pity, Forgiveness, and Forbearance, so doth He pity, forgive, and forbear. Shall a mere man deny himself for the sake of his child or friend? and shall the Infinite Love refuse to sacrifice itself—yea, even to as immense a humility as its greatness is immeasurable? Shall we deny those merciful attributes to God which we acknowledge in His creature, Man? O my Soul, rejoice that thou hast pierced the veil of the Beyond; that thou hast seen and known the Truth! that to thee is made clear the Reason of Life, and the Recompense of Death: yet while rejoicing, grieve that thou art not fated to draw more than a few souls to the comfort thou hast thyself attained!"
Fascinated by the speaker's voice and countenance, I listen, straining my ears to catch every word that falls from his lips. He rises; he stands erect; he stretches out his hands as though in solemn entreaty.
"Azul!" he exclaims. "Messenger of my fate; thou who art a guiding spirit of the elements, thou who ridest the storm-cloud and sittest throned on the edge of the lightning! By that electric spark within me, of which thou art the Twin Flame, I ask of thee to send me this one more poor human soul; let me change its unrestfulness into repose, its hesitation to certainty, its weakness to strength, its weary imprisonment to the light of liberty! Azul!"
His voice ceases, his extended hands fall slowly, and gradually, gradually he turns his whole figure towards ME. He faces me—his intense eyes burn through me—his strange yet tender smile absorbs me. Yet I am full of unreasoning terror; I tremble—I strive to turn away from that searching and magnetic gaze. His deep, melodious tones again ring softly on the silence. He addresses me.
"Fearest thou me, my child? Am I not thy friend? Knowest thou not the name of HELIOBAS?"
At this word I start and gasp for breath; I would shriek, but cannot, for a heavy hand seems to close my mouth, and an immense weight presses me down. I struggle violently with this unseen Power—little by little I gain the advantage. One effort more! I win the victory—I wake!
* * * * *
"Sakes alive!" says a familiar voice; "you HAVE had a spell of sleep! I got home about two, nearly starving, and I found you here curled up 'in a rosy infant slumber,' as the song says. So I hunted up the Colonel and had lunch, for it seemed a sin to disturb you. It's just struck four. Shall we have some tea up here?"
I looked at Mrs. Everard, and smiled assent. So I had been sleeping for two hours and a half, and I had evidently been dreaming all the time; but my dreams had been as vivid as realities. I felt still rather drowsy, but I was thoroughly rested and in a state of delicious tranquillity. My friend rang the bell for the tea, and then turned round and surveyed me with a sort of wonder.
"What have you done to yourself, child?" she said at last, approaching the bed where I lay, and staring fixedly at me.
"What do you mean?"
"Why, you look a different creature. When I left you this morning you were pale and haggard, a sort of die-away delicate invalid; now your eyes are bright; and your cheeks have quite a lovely colour in them; your lips, too, are the right tint. But perhaps," and here she looked alarmed—"perhaps you've got the fever?"
"I don't think so," I said amusedly, and I stretched out my hand for her to feel.
"No, you haven't," she continued, evidently reassured; "your palm is moist and cool, and your pulse is regular. Well, you look spry, anyhow. I shouldn't wonder if you made up your mind to have a dance to-night."
"Dance?" I queried. "What dance, and where?"
"Well, Madame Didier, that jolly little furbelowed Frenchwoman with whom I was driving just now, has got up a regular party to-night—"
"Hans Breitmann gib a barty?" I interposed, with a mock solemn air of inquiry.
"Well, yes, it MAY be that kind of thing, for all I know to the contrary. Anyhow, she's hired the band and ordered a right-down elegant supper. Half the folks in the hotel are going, and a lot of outsiders have got invitations. She asked if we couldn't come—myself, the Colonel, and you. I said I could answer for myself and the Colonel, but not for you, as you were an invalid. But if you keep on looking as you do at present, no one will believe that there's anything the matter with you.—Tea, Alphonse!"
This to a polite waiter, who was our special attendant, and who just then knocked at the door to know "madame's" orders.
Utterly disbelieving what my friend said in regard to my improved appearance, I rose from the bed and went to the dressing-table to look in the mirror and judge for myself. I almost recoiled from my own reflection, so great was my surprise. The heavy marks under my eyes, the lines of pain that had been for months deepening in my forehead, the plaintive droop of the mouth that had given me such an air of ill-health and anxiety—all were gone as if by magic. I saw a rose-tinted complexion, a pair of laughing, lustrous eyes, and, altogether, such a happy, mirthful young face smiled back at me, that I half doubted whether it was indeed myself I saw.
"There now!" cried Amy in triumph, watching me as I pushed my clustering hair from my brows, and examined myself more intently. "Did I not tell you so? The change in you is marvellous! I know what it is. You have been getting better unconsciously to yourself in this lovely air and scene, and the long afternoon sleep you've just had has completed the cure."
I smiled at her enthusiasm, but was forced to admit that she was right as far as my actual looks went. No one would believe that I was, or ever had been, ill. In silence I loosened my hair and began to brush it and put it in order before the mirror, and as I did so my thoughts were very busy. I remembered distinctly all that had happened in the studio of Raffaello Cellini, and still more distinctly was I able to recall every detail of the three dreams that had visited me in my slumber. The NAME, too, that had been the key-note of them all I also remembered, but some instinct forbade me to utter it aloud. Once I thought, "Shall I take a pencil and write it down lest I forget it?" and the same instinct said "No." Amy's voluble chatter ran on like the sound of a rippling brook all the time I thus meditated over the occurrences of the day.
"Say, child!" she exclaimed; "will you go to the dance?"
"Certainly I will, with pleasure," I answered, and indeed I felt as if I should thoroughly enjoy it.
"Brava! It will be real fun. There are no end of foreign titles coming, I believe. The Colonel's a bit grumpy about it,—he always is when he has to wear his dress suit. He just hates it. That man hasn't a particle of vanity. He looks handsomer in his evening clothes than in anything else, and yet he doesn't see it. But tell me," and her pretty face became serious with a true feminine anxiety, "whatever will you wear? You've brought no ball fixings, have you?"
I finished twisting up the last coil of my hair, and turned and kissed her affectionately. She was the most sweet-tempered and generous of women, and she would have placed any one of her elaborate costumes at my disposal had I expressed the least desire in that direction. I answered:
"No, dear; I certainly have no regular ball 'fixings,' for I never expected to dance here, or anywhere for that matter. I did not bring the big trunks full of Parisian toilettes that you indulge in, you spoilt bride! Still I have something that may do. In fact it will have to do."
"What is it? Have I seen it? Do show!" and her curiosity was unappeasable.
The discreet Alphonse tapped at the door again just at this moment.
"Entrez!" I answered; and our tea, prepared with the tempting nicety peculiar to the Hotel de L——, appeared. Alphonse set the tray down with his usual artistic nourish, and produced a small note from his vest-pocket.
"For mademoiselle," he said with a bow; and as he handed it to me, his eyes opened wide in surprise. He, too, perceived the change in my appearance. But he was dignity itself, and instantly suppressed his astonishment into the polite impassiveness of a truly accomplished waiter, and gliding from the room on the points of his toes, as was his usual custom, he disappeared. The note was from Cellini, and ran as follows:
"If mademoiselle will be so good as to refrain from choosing any flowers for her toilette this evening, she will confer a favour on her humble friend and servant,
I handed it to Amy, who was evidently burning with inquisitiveness to know its contents.
"Didn't I say he was a queer young man?" she exclaimed, as she perused the missive attentively. "This is only his way of saying that he means to send you some flowers himself. But what puzzles me is to think how he could possibly know you were going to make any special 'toilette' this evening. It is really very mysterious when I come to think of it, for Madame Didier said plainly that she would not ask Cellini to the dance till she saw him at the table d'hote to-night."
"Perhaps Alphonse has told him all about it," I suggested.
My friend's countenance brightened.
"Of course! That is it; and Mr. Cellini takes it for granted that a girl of your age would not be likely to refuse a dance. Still there is something odd about it, too. By-the-bye, I forgot to ask you how the picture got on?"
"Oh, very well, I believe," I replied evasively. "Signor Cellini only made a slight outline sketch as a beginning."
"And was it like you?—a really good resemblance?"
"I really did not examine it closely enough to be able to judge."
"What a demure young person you are!" laughed Mrs. Everard. "Now, I should have rushed straight up to the easel and examined every line of what he was doing. You are a model of discretion, really! I shan't be anxious about leaving you alone any more. But about your dress for to-night. Let me see it, there's a good girl."
I opened my trunk and took out a robe of ivory-tinted crepe. It was made with almost severe simplicity, and was unadorned, save by a soft ruffle of old Mechlin lace round the neck and sleeves. Amy examined it critically.
"Now, you would have looked perfectly ghastly in this last night, when you were as pale and hollow-eyed as a sick nun; but to-night," and she raised her eyes to my face, "I believe you will do. Don't you want the bodice cut lower?"
"No, thanks!" I said, smiling. "I will leave that to the portly dowagers—they will expose neck enough for half-a-dozen other women."
My friend laughed.
"Do as you like," she returned; "only I see your gown has short sleeves, and I thought you might like a square neck instead of that little simple Greek round. But perhaps it's better as it is. The stuff is lovely; where did you get it?"
"At one of the London emporiums of Eastern art," I answered. "My dear, your tea is getting cold."
She laid the dress on the bed, and in doing so, perceived the antique-looking book with the silver clasps which I had left there.
"What's this?" she asked, turning it round to discover its name. "'Letters of a Dead Musician!' What a shivery title! Is it morbid reading?"
"Not at all," I replied, as I leaned comfortably back in an easy-chair and sipped my tea. "It is a very scholarly, poetical, and picturesque work. Signor Cellini lent it to me; the author was a friend of his."
Amy looked at me with a knowing and half-serious expression.
"Say now—take care, take care! Aren't you and Cellini getting to be rather particular friends—something a little beyond the Platonic, eh?"
This notion struck me as so absurd that I laughed heartily. Then, without pausing for one instant to think what I was saying, I answered with amazing readiness and frankness, considering that I really knew nothing about it:
"Why, my dear, Raffaello Cellini is betrothed, and he is a most devoted lover."
A moment after I had uttered this assertion I was surprised at myself. What authority had I for saying that Cellini was betrothed? What did I know about it? Confused, I endeavoured to find some means of retracting this unfounded and rash remark, but no words of explanation would come to my lips that had been so ready and primed to deliver what might be, for all I knew, a falsehood. Amy did not perceive my embarrassment. She was pleased and interested at the idea of Cellini's being in love.
"Really!" she exclaimed, "it makes him a more romantic character than ever! Fancy his telling you that he was betrothed! How delightful! I must ask him all about his chosen fair one. But I'm positively thankful it isn't you, for I'm sure he's just a little bit off his head. Even this book he has lent you looks like a wizard's property;" and she fluttered the leaves of the "Dead Musician's" volume, turning them rapidly over in search of something attractive. Suddenly she paused and cried out: "Why, this is right-down awful! He must have been a regular madman! Just listen!" and she read aloud:
"'How mighty are the Kingdoms of the Air! How vast they are—how densely populated—how glorious are their destinies—how all-powerful and wise are their inhabitants! They possess everlasting health and beauty—their movements are music—their glances are light—they cannot err in their laws or judgments, for their existence is love. Thrones, principalities, and powers are among them, yet all are equal. Each one has a different duty to perform, yet all their labours are lofty. But what a fate is ours on this low earth! For, from the cradle to the grave, we are watched by these spiritual spectators—watched with unflinching interest, unhesitating regard. O Angelic Spirits, what is there in the poor and shabby spectacle of human life to attract your mighty Intelligences? Sorrow, sin, pride, shame, ambition, failure, obstinacy, ignorance, selfishness, forgetfulness—enough to make ye veil your radiant faces in unpierceable clouds to hide forever the sight of so much crime and misery. Yet if there be the faintest, feeblest effort in our souls to answer to the call of your voices, to rise above the earth by force of the same will that pervades your destinies, how the sound of great rejoicing permeates those wide continents ye inhabit, like a wave of thunderous music; and ye are glad, Blessed Spirits!—glad with a gladness beyond that of your own lives, to feel and to know that some vestige, however fragile, is spared from the general wreck of selfish and unbelieving Humanity. Truly we work under the shadow of a "cloud of Witnesses." Disperse, disperse, O dense yet brilliant multitudes! turn away from me your burning, truthful, immutable eyes, filled with that look of divine, perpetual regret and pity! Lo, how unworthy am I to behold your glory! and yet I must see and know and love you all, while the mad blind world rushes on to its own destruction, and none can avert its doom.'"
Here Amy threw down the book with a sort of contempt, and said to me:
"If you are going to muddle your mind with the ravings of a lunatic, you are not what I took you for. Why, it's regular spiritualism! Kingdoms of the air indeed! And his cloud of witnesses! Rubbish!"
"He quotes the CLOUD OF WITNESSES from St. Paul," I remarked.
"More shame for him!" replied my friend, with the usual inconsistent indignation that good Protestants invariably display when their pet corn, the Bible, is accidentally trodden on. "It has been very well said that the devil can quote Scripture, and this musician (a good job he IS dead, I'm sure) is perfectly blasphemous to quote the Testament in support of his ridiculous ideas! St. Paul did not mean by 'a cloud of witnesses,' a lot of 'air multitudes' and 'burning, immutable eyes,' and all that nonsense."
"Well, what DID he mean?" I gently persisted.
"Oh, he meant—why, you know very well what he meant," said Amy, in a tone of reproachful solemnity. "And I wonder at your asking me such a question! Surely you know your Bible, and you must be aware that St. Paul could never have approved of spiritualism."
"'And there are bodies celestial and bodies terrestrial, but one is the glory of the celestial?" I quoted with, a slight smile.
Mrs. Everard looked shocked and almost angry.
"My dear, I am ashamed of you! You are a believer in spirits, I do declare! Why, I thought Maskelyne and Cook had cured everybody of such notions; and now here's this horrid book going to make you more nervous than ever. I shall have you getting up one night and shrieking about burning, immutable eyes looking at you."
I laughed merrily as I rose to pick up the discarded volume from the floor.
"Don't be afraid," I said; "I'll give back the book to Signor Cellini to-morrow, and I will tell him that you do not like the idea of my reading it, and that I am going to study the Bible instead. Come now, dear, don't look cross!" and I embraced her warmly, for I liked her far too well to wish to offend her. "Let us concentrate our attention on our finery for to-night, when a 'dense and brilliant multitude,' not of air, but of the 'earth earthy,' will pass us under critical survey. I assure you I mean to make the best of my improved looks, as I don't believe they will last. I dare say I shall be the 'sick nun' that you termed me again to-morrow."
"I hope not, dearest," said my friend kindly, returning my caress and forgetting her momentary ill-humour. "A jolly dance will do you good if you are careful to avoid over-exertion. But you are quite right, we must really fix our things ready for the evening, else we shall be all in a flurry at the last moment, and nothing riles the Colonel so much as to see women in a fuss. I shall wear my lace dress; but it wants seeing to. Will you help me?"
Readily assenting, we were soon deep in the arrangement of the numberless little mysteries that make up a woman's toilette; and nothing but the most frivolous conversation ensued. But as I assisted in the sorting of laces, jewels, and other dainty appendages of evening costume, I was deep in earnest meditation. Reviewing in my own mind the various sensations I had experienced since I had tasted that Eastern wine in Cellini's studio, I came to the conclusion that he must have tried an experiment on me with some foreign drug, of which he alone knew the properties. Why he should do this I could not determine; but that he had done it I was certain. Besides this, I felt sure that he personally exerted some influence upon me—a soothing and calming influence I was forced to admit—still, it could hardly be allowed to continue. To be under the control, however slight, of one who was almost a stranger to me, was, at the least, unnatural and unpleasant. I was bound to ask him a few plain questions. And, supposing Mrs. Everard were to speak to him about his being betrothed, and he were to deny it, and afterwards were to turn round upon me and ask what authority I had for making such a statement, what should I say? Convict myself of falsehood? However, it was no use to puzzle over the solution of this difficulty till it positively presented itself. At any rate, I determined I would ask him frankly, face to face, for some explanation of the strange emotions I had felt ever since meeting him; and thus resolved, I waited patiently for the evening.
A DANCE AND A PROMISE.
Our little French friend, Madame Didier, was not a woman to do things by halves. She was one of those rare exceptions among Parisian ladies—she was a perfectly happy wife; nay, more, she was in love with her own husband, a fact which, considering the present state of society both in France and England, rendered her almost contemptible in the eyes of all advanced thinkers. She was plump and jolly in appearance; round-eyed and brisk as a lively robin. Her husband, a large, mild-faced placid man—"mon petit mari," as she called him—permitted her to have her own way in everything, and considered all she did as perfectly well done. Therefore, when she had proposed this informal dance at the Hotel de L——, he made no objection, but entered into her plans with spirit; and, what was far more important, opened his purse readily to her demands for the necessary expenses. So nothing was stinted; the beautiful ballroom attached to the hotel was thrown open, and lavishly decorated with flowers, fountains, and twinkling lights; an awning extended from its windows right down the avenue of dark ilex-trees, which were ornamented with Chinese lanterns; an elegant supper was laid out in the large dining-room, and the whole establishment was en fete. The delicious strains of a Viennese band floated to our ears as Colonel Everard, his wife, and myself descended the staircase on our way to the scene of revelry; and suggestions of fairyland were presented to us in the graceful girlish forms, clad in light, diaphanous attire, that flitted here and there, or occasionally passed us. Colonel Everard marched proudly along with the military bearing that always distinguished him, now and then glancing admiringly at his wife, who, indeed, looked her very best. Her dress was of the finest Brussels lace, looped over a skirt of the palest shell-pink satin; deep crimson velvet roses clustered on her breast, and nestled in her rich hair; a necklace of magnificent rubies clasped her neck, and the same jewels glittered on her round white arms. Her eyes shone with pleasurable excitement, and the prettiest colour imaginable tinted her delicate cheeks.
"When an American woman is lovely, she is very lovely," I said. "You will be the belle of the room to-night, Amy!"
"Nonsense!" she replied, well pleased, though, at my remark. "You must remember I have a rival in yourself."
I shrugged my shoulders incredulously.
"It is not like you to be sarcastic," I said. "You know very well I have the air of a resuscitated corpse."
The Colonel wheeled round suddenly, and brought us all up to a standstill before a great mirror.
"If YOU are like a resuscitated corpse, I'll throw a hundred dollars into the next mud-pond," he observed. "Look at yourself."
I looked, at first indifferently, and then with searching scrutiny. I saw a small, slender girl, clad in white, with a mass of gold hair twisted loosely up from her neck, and fastened with a single star of diamonds. A superb garniture of natural lilies of the valley was fastened on this girl's shoulder; and, falling loosely across her breast, lost itself in the trailing folds of her gown. She held a palm-leaf fan entirely covered with lilies of the valley, and a girdle of the same flowers encircled her waist. Her face was serious, but contented; her eyes were bright, but with an intense and thoughtful lustre; and her cheeks were softly coloured, as though a west wind had blown freshly against them. There was nothing either attractive or repulsive about her that I could see; and yet—I turned away from the mirror hastily with a faint smile.
"The lilies form the best part of my toilette," I said.
"That they do," asserted Amy, with emphasis. "They are the finest specimens I ever saw. It was real elegant of Mr. Cellini to send them all fixed up ready like that, fan and all. You must be a favourite of his!"
"Come, let us proceed," I answered, with some abruptness. "We are losing time."
In a few seconds more we entered the ballroom, and were met at once by Madame Didier, who, resplendent in black lace and diamonds, gave us hearty greeting. She stared at me with unaffected amazement.
"Mon dieu!" she exclaimed—her conversation with us was always a mixture of French and broken English—"I should not 'ave know zis young lady again! She 'ave si bonne mine. You veel dance, sans doute?"
We readily assented, and the usual assortment of dancing-men of all ages and sizes was brought forward for our inspection; while the Colonel, being introduced to a beaming English girl of some seventeen summers, whirled her at once into the merry maze of dancers, who were spinning easily round to the lively melody of one of Strauss's most fascinating waltzes. Presently I also found myself circling the room with an amiable young German, who ambled round with a certain amount of cleverness, considering that he was evidently ignorant of the actual waltz step; and I caught a glimpse now and then of Amy's rubies as they flashed past me in the dance—she was footing it merrily with a handsome Austrian Hussar. The room was pleasantly full—not too crowded for the movements of the dancers; and the whole scene was exceedingly pretty and animated. I had no lack of partners, and I was surprised to find myself so keenly alive to enjoyment, and so completely free from my usual preoccupied condition of nervous misery I looked everywhere for Raffaello Cellini, but he was not to be seen. The lilies that I wore, which he had sent me, seemed quite unaffected by the heat and glare of the gaslight—not a leaf drooped, not a petal withered; and their remarkable whiteness and fragrance elicited many admiring remarks from those with whom I conversed. It was growing very late; there were only two more waltzes before the final cotillon. I was standing near the large open window of the ballroom, conversing with one of my recent partners, when a sudden inexplicable thrill shot through me from head to foot. Instinctively I turned, and saw Cellini approaching. He looked remarkably handsome, though his face was pale and somewhat wearied in expression. He was laughing and conversing gaily with two ladies, one of whom was Mrs. Everard; and as he came towards me he bowed courteously, saying:
"I am too much honoured by the kindness mademoiselle has shown in not discarding my poor flowers."
"They are lovely," I replied simply; "and I am very much obliged to you, signor, for sending them to me."
"And how fresh they keep!" said Amy, burying her little nose in the fragrance of my fan; "yet they have been in the heat of the room all the evening."
"They cannot perish while mademoiselle wears them," said Cellini gallantly. "Her breath is their life."
"Bravo!" cried Amy, clapping her hands. "That is very prettily said, isn't it?"
I was silent. I never could endure compliments. They are seldom sincere, and it gives me no pleasure to be told lies, however prettily they may be worded. Signor Cellini appeared to divine my thoughts, for he said in a lower tone:
"Pardon me, mademoiselle; I see my observation displeased you; but there is more truth in it than you perhaps know."
"Oh, say!" interrupted Mrs. Everard at this juncture; "I am SO interested, signor, to hear you are engaged! I suppose she is a dream of beauty?"
The hot colour rushed to my cheeks, and I bit my lips in confusion and inquietude. What WOULD he answer? My anxiety was not of long duration. Cellini smiled, and seemed in no way surprised. He said quietly:
"Who told you, madame, that I am engaged?"
"Why, she did, of course!" went on my friend, nodding towards me, regardless of an imploring look I cast at her. "And said you were perfectly devoted!"
"She is quite right," replied Cellini, with another of those rare sweet smiles of his; "and you also are right, madame, in your supposition: my betrothed is a Dream of Beauty."
I was infinitely relieved. I had not, then, been guilty of a falsehood. But the mystery remained: how had I discovered the truth of the matter at all? While I puzzled my mind over this question, the other lady who had accompanied Mrs. Everard spoke. She was an Austrian of brilliant position and attainments.
"You quite interest me, signor!" she said. "Is your fair fiancee here to-night?"
"No, madame," replied Cellini; "she is not in this country."
"What a pity!" exclaimed Amy. "I want to see her real bad. Don't you?" she asked, turning to me.
I raised my eyes and met the dark clear ones of the artist fixed full upon me.
"Yes," I said hesitatingly; "I should like to meet her. Perhaps the chance will occur at some future time."
"There is not the slightest doubt about that," said Cellini. "And now, mademoiselle, will you give me the pleasure of this waltz with you? or are you promised to another partner?"
I was not engaged, and I at once accepted his proffered arm. Two gentlemen came hurriedly up to claim Amy and her Austrian friend; and for one brief moment Signor Cellini and I stood alone in a comparatively quiet corner of the ballroom, waiting for the music to begin. I opened my lips to ask him a question, when he stopped me by a slight gesture of his hand.
"Patience!" he said in a low and earnest tone. "In a few moments you shall have the opportunity you seek."
The band burst forth just then in the voluptuous strains of a waltz by Gung'l, and together we floated away to its exquisite gliding measure. I use the word FLOATED, advisedly, for no other term could express the delightful sensation I enjoyed. Cellini was a superb dancer. It seemed to me that our feet scarcely touched the floor, so swiftly, so easily and lightly we sped along. A few rapid turns, and I noticed we were nearing the open French windows, and, before I well realized it, we had stopped dancing and were pacing quietly side by side down the ilex avenue, where the little lanterns twinkled like red fireflies and green glow-worms among the dark and leafy branches.
We walked along in silence till we reached the end of the path. There, before us, lay the open garden, with its broad green lawn, bathed in the lovely light of the full moon, sailing aloft in a cloudless sky. The night was very warm, but, regardless of this fact, Cellini wrapped carefully round me a large fleecy white burnous that he had taken from a chair where it was lying, on his way through the avenue.
"I am not cold," I said, smiling.
"No; but you will be, perhaps. It is not wise to run any useless risks."
I was again silent. A low breeze rustled in the tree-tops near us; the music of the ballroom reached us only in faint and far echoes; the scent of roses and myrtle was wafted delicately on the balmy air; the radiance of the moon softened the outlines of the landscape into a dreamy suggestiveness of its reality. Suddenly a sound broke on our ears—a delicious, long, plaintive trill; then a wonderful shower of sparkling roulades; and finally, a clear, imploring, passionate note repeated many times. It was a nightingale, singing as only the nightingales of the South can sing. I listened entranced.
"'Thou wast not born for death, immortal Bird! No hungry generations tread thee down; The voice I hear this passing night was heard In ancient days by emperor and clown,'"
quoted Cellini in earnest tones.
"You admire Keats?" I asked eagerly.
"More than any other poet that has lived," he replied. "His was the most ethereal and delicate muse that ever consented to be tied down to earth. But, mademoiselle, you do not wish to examine me as to my taste in poetry. You have some other questions to put to me, have you not?"
For one instant I hesitated. Then I spoke out frankly, and answered:
"Yes, signor. What was there in that wine you gave me this morning?"
He met my searching gaze unflinchingly.
"A medicine," he said. "An excellent and perfectly simple remedy made of the juice of plants, and absolutely harmless."
"But why," I demanded, "why did you give me this medicine? Was it not wrong to take so much responsibility upon yourself?"
"I think not. If you are injured or offended, then I was wrong; but if, on the contrary, your health and spirits are ever so little improved, as I see they are, I deserve your thanks, mademoiselle."
And he waited with an air of satisfaction and expectancy. I was puzzled and half-angry, yet I could not help acknowledging to myself that I felt better and more cheerful than I had done for many months. I looked up at the artist's dark, intelligent face, and said almost humbly:
"I DO thank you, signor. But surely you will tell me your reasons for constituting yourself my physician without even asking my leave."
He laughed, and his eyes looked very friendly.
"Mademoiselle, I am one of those strangely constituted beings who cannot bear to see any innocent thing suffer. It matters not whether it be a worm in the dust, a butterfly in the air, a bird, a flower, or a human creature. The first time I saw you I knew that your state of health precluded you from the enjoyment of life natural to your sex and age. I also perceived that the physicians had been at work upon you trying to probe into the causes of your ailment, and that they had signally failed. Physicians, mademoiselle, are very clever and estimable men, and there are a few things which come within the limit of their treatment; but there are also other things which baffle their utmost profundity of knowledge. One of these is that wondrous piece of human machinery, the nervous system; that intricate and delicate network of fine threads—electric wires on which run the messages of thought, impulse, affection, emotion. If these threads or wires become, from any subtle cause, entangled, the skill of the mere medical practitioner is of no avail to undo the injurious knot, or to unravel the confused skein. The drugs generally used in such cases are, for the most part, repellent to the human blood and natural instinct, therefore they are always dangerous, and often deadly. I knew, by studying your face, mademoiselle, that you were suffering as acutely as I, too, suffered some five years ago, and I ventured to try upon you a simple vegetable essence, merely to see if you were capable of benefiting by it. The experiment has been so far successful; but——"
He paused, and his face became graver and more abstracted.
"But what?" I queried eagerly.
"I was about to say," he continued, "that the effect is only transitory. Within forty-eight hours you must naturally relapse into your former prostrate condition, and I, unfortunately, am powerless to prevent it."
I sighed wearily, and a feeling of disappointment oppressed me. Was it possible that I must again be the victim of miserable dejection, pain, and stupor?
"You can give me another dose of your remedy," I said.
"That I cannot, mademoiselle," he answered regretfully; "I dare not, without further advice and guidance."
"Advice and guidance from whom?" I inquired.
"From the friend who cured me of my long and almost hopeless illness," said Cellini. "He alone can tell me whether I am right in my theories respecting your nature and constitution."
"And what are those theories?" I asked, becoming deeply interested in the conversation.
Cellini was silent for a minute or so; he seemed absorbed in a sort of inward communion with himself. Then he spoke with impressiveness and gravity:
"In this world, mademoiselle, there are no two natures alike, yet all are born with a small portion of Divinity within them, which we call the Soul. It is a mere spark smouldering in the centre of the weight of clay with which we are encumbered, yet it is there. Now this particular germ or seed can be cultivated if we will—that is, if we desire and insist on its growth. As a child's taste for art or learning can be educated into high capabilities for the future, so can the human Soul be educated into so high, so supreme an attainment, that no merely mortal standard of measurement can reach its magnificence. With much more than half the inhabitants of the globe, this germ of immortality remains always a germ, never sprouting, overlaid and weighted down by the lymphatic laziness and materialistic propensities of its shell or husk—the body. But I must put aside the forlorn prospect of the multitudes in whom the Divine Essence attains to no larger quantity than that proportioned out to a dog or bird—I have only to speak of the rare few with whom the soul is everything—those who, perceiving and admitting its existence within them, devote all their powers to fanning up their spark of light till it becomes a radiant, burning, inextinguishable flame. The mistake made by these examples of beatified Humanity is that they too often sacrifice the body to the demands of the spirit. It is difficult to find the medium path, but it can be found; and the claims of both body and soul can be satisfied without sacrificing the one to the other. I beg your earnest attention, mademoiselle, for what I say concerning THE RARE FEW WITH WHOM THE SOUL IS EVERYTHING. YOU are one of those few, unless I am greatly in error. And you have sacrificed your body so utterly to your spirit that the flesh rebels and suffers. This will not do. You have work before you in the world, and you cannot perform it unless you have bodily health as well as spiritual desire. And why? Because you are a prisoner here on earth, and you must obey the laws of the prison, however unpleasant they may be to you. Were you free as you have been in ages past and as you will be in ages to come, things would be different; but at present you must comply with the orders of your gaolers—the Lords of Life and Death."
I heard him, half awed, half fascinated. His words were full of mysterious suggestions.
"How do you know I am of the temperament you describe?" I asked in a low voice.
"I do not know, mademoiselle; I can only guess. There is but one person who can perhaps judge of you correctly,—a man older than myself by many years—whose life is the very acme of spiritual perfection—whose learning is vast and unprejudiced. I must see and speak to him before I try any more of my, or rather his, remedies. But we have lingered long enough out here, and unless you have something more to say to me, we will return to the ballroom. You will otherwise miss the cotillon;" and he turned to retrace the way through the illuminated grove.
But a sudden thought had struck me, and I resolved to utter it aloud. Laying my hand on his arm and looking him full in the face, I said slowly and distinctly:
"This friend of yours that you speak of—is not his name HELIOBAS?"
Cellini started violently; the blood rushed up to his brows and as quickly receded, leaving him paler than before. His dark eyes glowed with suppressed excitement—his hand trembled. Recovering himself slowly, he met my gaze fixedly; his glance softened, and he bent his head with an air of respect and reverence.
"Mademoiselle, I see that you must know all. It is your fate. You are greatly to be envied. Come to me to-morrow, and I will tell you everything that is to be told. Afterwards your destiny rests in your own hands. Ask nothing more of me just now."
He escorted me without further words back to the ballroom, where the merriment of the cotillon was then at its height. Whispering to Mrs. Everard as I passed her that I was tired and was going to bed, I reached the outside passage, and there, turning to Cellini, I said gently:
"Good-night, signor. To-morrow at noon I will come."
"Good-night, mademoiselle! To-morrow at noon you will find me ready."
With that he saluted me courteously and turned away. I hurried up to my own room, and on arriving there I could not help observing the remarkable freshness of the lilies I wore. They looked as if they had just been gathered. I unfastened them all from my dress, and placed them carefully in water; then quickly disrobing, I was soon in bed. I meditated for a few minutes on the various odd occurrences of the day; but my thoughts soon grew misty and confused, and I travelled quickly off into the Land of Nod, and thence into the region of sleep, where I remained undisturbed by so much as the shadow of a dream.
The following morning at the appointed hour, I went to Cellini's studio, and was received by him with a sort of gentle courtesy and kindliness that became him very well. I was already beginning to experience an increasing languor and weariness, the sure forerunner of what the artist had prophesied—namely, a return of all my old sufferings. Amy, tired out by the dancing of the previous night, was still in bed, as were many of those who had enjoyed Madame Didier's fete; and the hotel was unusually quiet, almost seeming as though half the visitors had departed during the night. It was a lovely morning, sunny and calm; and Cellini, observing that I looked listless and fatigued, placed a comfortable easy-chair for me near the window, from whence I could see one of the prettiest parterres of the garden, gay with flowers of every colour and perfume. He himself remained standing, one hand resting lightly on his writing-table, which was strewn with a confusion of letters and newspapers.
"Where is Leo?" I asked, as I glanced round the room in search of that noble animal.
"Leo left for Paris last night," replied Cellini; "he carried an important despatch for me, which I feared to trust to the post-office."
"Is it safer in Leo's charge?" I inquired, smiling, for the sagacity of the dog amused as well as interested me.
"Much safer! Leo carries on his collar a small tin case, just large enough to contain several folded sheets of paper. When he knows he has that box to guard during his journeys, he is simply unapproachable. He would fight any one who attempted to touch it with the ferocity of a hungry tiger, and there is no edible dainty yet invented that could tempt his appetite or coax him into any momentary oblivion of his duty. There is no more trustworthy or faithful messenger."
"I suppose you have sent him to your friend—his master," I said.
"Yes. He has gone straight home to—Heliobas."
This name now awakened in me no surprise or even curiosity. It simply sounded homelike and familiar. I gazed abstractedly out of the window at the brilliant blossoms in the garden, that nodded their heads at me like so many little elves with coloured caps on, but I said nothing. I felt that Cellini watched me keenly and closely. Presently he continued:
"Shall I tell you everything now, mademoiselle?"
I turned towards him eagerly.
"If you please," I answered.
"May I ask you one question?"
"How and where did you hear the name of Heliobas?"
I looked up hesitatingly.
"In a dream, signor, strange to say; or rather in three dreams. I will relate them to you."
And I described the visions I had seen, being careful to omit no detail, for, indeed, I remembered everything with curious distinctness.
The artist listened with grave and fixed attention. When I had concluded he said:
"The elixir I gave you acted more potently than even I imagined it would. You are more sensitive than I thought. Do not fatigue yourself any more, mademoiselle, by talking. With your permission I will sit down here opposite to you and tell you my story. Afterwards you must decide for yourself whether you will adopt the method of treatment to which I owe my life, and something more than my life—my reason."
He turned his own library-chair towards me, and seated himself. A few moments passed in silence; his expression was very earnest and absorbed, and he regarded my face with a sympathetic interest which touched me profoundly. Though I felt myself becoming more and more enervated and apathetic as the time went on, and though I knew I was gradually sinking down again into my old Slough of Despond, yet I felt instinctively that I was somehow actively concerned in what was about to be said, therefore I forced myself to attend closely to every word uttered. Cellini began to speak in low and quiet tones as follows:
"You must be aware, mademoiselle, that those who adopt any art as a means of livelihood begin the world heavily handicapped—weighted down, as it were, in the race for fortune. The following of art is a very different thing to the following of trade or mercantile business. In buying or selling, in undertaking the work of import or export, a good head for figures, and an average quantity of shrewd common sense, are all that is necessary in order to win a fair share of success. But in the finer occupations, whose results are found in sculpture, painting, music and poetry, demands are made upon the imagination, the emotions, the entire spiritual susceptibility of man. The most delicate fibres of the brain are taxed; the subtle inner workings of thought are brought into active play; and the temperament becomes daily and hourly more finely strung, more sensitive, more keenly alive to every passing sensation. Of course there are many so-called 'ARTISTS' who are mere shams of the real thing; persons who, having a little surface-education in one or the other branch of the arts, play idly with the paint-brush, or dabble carelessly in the deep waters of literature,—or borrow a few crotchets and quavers from other composers, and putting them together in haste, call it ORIGINAL COMPOSITION. Among these are to be found the self-called 'professors' of painting; the sculptors who allow the work of their 'ghosts' to be admired as their own; the magazine-scribblers; the 'smart' young leader-writers and critics; the half-hearted performers on piano or violin who object to any innovation, and prefer to grind on in the unemotional, coldly correct manner which they are pleased to term the 'classical'—such persons exist, and will exist, so long as good and evil are leading forces of life. They are the aphides on the rose of art. But the men and women I speak of as ARTISTS are those who work day and night to attain even a small degree of perfection, and who are never satisfied with their own best efforts. I was one of these some years ago, and I humbly assert myself still to be of the same disposition; only the difference between myself then and myself now is, that THEN I struggled blindly and despairingly, and NOW I labour patiently and with calmness, knowing positively that I shall obtain what I seek at the duly appointed hour. I was educated as a painter, mademoiselle, by my father, a good, simple-hearted man, whose little landscapes looked like bits cut out of the actual field and woodland, so fresh and pure were they. But I was not content to follow in the plain path he first taught me to tread. Merely correct drawing, merely correct colouring, were not sufficient for my ambition. I had dazzled my eyes with the loveliness of Correggio's 'Madonna,' and had marvelled at the wondrous blue of her robe—a blue so deep and intense that I used to think one might scrape away the paint till a hole was bored in the canvas and yet not reach the end of that fathomless azure tint; I had studied the warm hues of Titian; I had felt ready to float away in the air with the marvellous 'Angel of the Annunciation'—and with all these thoughts in me, how could I content myself with the ordinary aspiration of modern artists? I grew absorbed in one subject—Colour. I noted how lifeless and pale the colouring of to-day appeared beside that of the old masters, and I meditated deeply on the problem thus presented to me. What was the secret of Correggio—of Fra Angelico—of Raphael? I tried various experiments; I bought the most expensive and highly guaranteed pigments. In vain, for they were all adulterated by the dealers! Then I obtained colours in the rough, and ground and mixed them myself; still, though a little better result was obtained, I found trade adulteration still at work with the oils, the varnishes, the mediums—in fact, with everything that painters use to gain effect in their works. I could nowhere escape from vicious dealers, who, to gain a miserable percentage on every article sold, are content to be among the most dishonest men in this dishonest age.