I was utterly abased—no, not utterly; for my self-contempt still vented itself—not in forgiveness, but in universal hatred and defiance. Suddenly I perceived my cousin, laughing and jesting with a party of fashionable young specials: I shrank from him; and yet, I know not why, drew as near him as I could, unobserved—near enough to catch the words.
"Upon my honour, Locke, I believe you are a Chartist yourself at heart."
"At least I am no Communist," said he, in a significant tone. "There is one little bit of real property which I have no intention of sharing with my neighbours."
"What, the little beauty somewhere near Cavendish Square?"
"That's my business."
"Whereby you mean that you are on your way to her now? Well, I am invited to the wedding, remember."
He pushed on laughingly, without answering. I followed him fast—"near Cavendish Square!"—the very part of the town where Lillian lived! I had had, as yet, a horror of going near it; but now an intolerable suspicion scourged me forward, and I dogged his steps, hiding behind pillars, and at the corners of streets, and then running on, till I got sight of him again. He went through Cavendish Square, up Harley Street—was it possible? I gnashed my teeth at the thought. But it must be so. He stopped at the dean's house, knocked, and entered without parley.
In a minute I was breathless on the door-step, and knocked. I had no plan, no object, except the wild wish to see my own despair. I never thought of the chances of being recognized by the servants, or of anything else, except of Lillian by my cousin's side.
The footman came out smiling, "What did I want?"
"Well you needn't be in such a hurry!" (with a significant grin). "Mr. Locke's likely to be busy for a few minutes yet, I expect."
Evidently the man did not know me.
"Tell him that—that a person wishes to speak to him on particular business." Though I had no more notion what that business was than the man himself.
"Sit down in the hall."
And I heard the fellow, a moment afterwards, gossiping and laughing with the maids below about the "young couple."
To sit down was impossible; my only thought was—where was Lillian?
Voices in an adjoining room caught my ear. His! yes—and hers too—soft and low. What devil prompted me to turn eavesdropper? to run headlong into temptation? I was close to the dining-room door, but they were not there—evidently they were in the back room, which, as I knew, opened into it with folding-doors. I—I must confess all.—Noiselessly, with craft like a madman's, I turned the handle, slipped in as stealthily as a cat—the folding-doors were slightly open. I had a view of all that passed within. A horrible fascination seemed to keep my eyes fixed on them, in spite of myself. Honour, shame, despair, bade me turn away, but in vain.
I saw them.—How can I write it? Yet I will.—I saw them sitting together on the sofa. Their arms were round each other. Her head lay upon his breast; he bent over her with an intense gaze, as of a basilisk, I thought; how do I know that it was not the fierceness of his love? Who could have helped loving her?
Suddenly she raised her head, and looked up in his face—her eyes brimming with tenderness, her cheeks burning with mingled delight and modesty—their lips met, and clung together.... It seemed a life—an eternity—before they parted again. Then the spell was broken, and I rushed from the room.
Faint, giddy, and blind, I just recollect leaning against the wall of the staircase. He came hastily out, and started as he saw me. My face told all.
"What? Eavesdropping?" he said, in a tone of unutterable scorn. I answered nothing, but looked stupidly and fixedly in his face, while he glared at me with that keen, burning, intolerable eye. I longed to spring at his throat, but that eye held me as the snake's holds the deer. At last I found words.
"Traitor! everywhere—in everything—tricking me—supplanting me—in my friends—in my love!"
"Your love? Yours?" And the fixed eye still glared upon me. "Listen, cousin Alton! The strong and the weak have been matched for the same prize: and what wonder, if the strong man conquers? Go and ask Lillian how she likes the thought of being a Communist's love!"
As when, in a nightmare, we try by a desperate effort to break the spell, I sprang forward, and struck at him, he put my hand by carelessly, and felled me bleeding to the ground. I recollect hardly anything more, till I found myself thrust into the street by sneering footmen, and heard them call after me "Chartist" and "Communist" as I rushed along the pavement, careless where I went.
I strode and staggered on through street after street, running blindly against passengers, dashing under horses' heads, heedless of warnings and execrations, till I found myself, I know not how, on Waterloo Bridge. I had meant to go there when I left the door. I knew that at least—and now I was there.
I buried myself in a recess of the bridge, and stared around and up and down.
I was alone—deserted even by myself. Mother, sister, friends, love, the idol of my life, were all gone. I could have borne that. But to be shamed, and know that I deserved it; to be deserted by my own honour, self-respect, strength of will—who can bear that?
I could have borne it, had one thing been left—faith in my own destiny—the inner hope that God had called me to do a work for him.
"What drives the Frenchman to suicide?" I asked myself, arguing ever even in the face of death and hell—"His faith in nothing but his own lusts and pleasures; and when they are gone, then comes the pan of charcoal—and all is over. What drives the German? His faith in nothing but his own brain. He has fallen down and worshipped that miserable 'Ich' of his, and made that, and not God's will, the centre and root of his philosophy, his poetry, and his self-idolizing aesthetics; and when it fails him, then for prussic acid, and nonentity. Those old Romans, too—why, they are the very experimentum crucis of suicide! As long as they fancied that they had a calling to serve the state, they could live on and suffer. But when they found no more work left for them, then they could die—as Porcia died—as Cato—as I ought. What is there left for me to do? outcast, disgraced, useless, decrepit—"
I looked out over the bridge into the desolate night. Below me the dark moaning river-eddies hurried downward. The wild west-wind howled past me, and leapt over the parapet downward. The huge reflexion of Saint Paul's, the great tap-roots of light from lamp and window that shone upon the lurid stream, pointed down—down—down. A black wherry shot through the arch beneath me, still and smoothly downward. My brain began to whirl madly—I sprang upon the step.—A man rushed past me, clambered on the parapet, and threw up his arms wildly.—A moment more, and he would have leapt into the stream. The sight recalled me to my senses—say, rather, it reawoke in me the spirit of manhood. I seized him by the arm, tore him down upon the pavement, and held him, in spite of his frantic struggles. It was Jemmy Downes! Gaunt, ragged, sodden, blear-eyed, drivelling, the worn-out gin-drinker stood, his momentary paroxysm of strength gone, trembling and staggering.
"Why won't you let a cove die? Why won't you let a cove die? They're all dead—drunk, and poisoned, and dead! What is there left?"—he burst out suddenly in his old ranting style—"what is there left on earth to live for? The prayers of liberty are answered by the laughter of tyrants; her sun is sunk beneath the ocean wave, and her pipe put out by the raging billows of aristocracy! Those starving millions of Kennington Common—where are they? Where? I axes you," he cried fiercely, raising his voice to a womanish scream—"where are they?"
"Gone home to bed, like sensible people; and you had better go too."
"Bed! I sold ours a month ago; but we'll go. Come along, and I'll show you my wife and family; and we'll have a tea-party—Jacob's Island tea. Come along!
"Flea, flea, unfortunate flea! Bereft of his wife and his small family!"
He clutched my arm, and dragging me off towards the Surrey side, turned down Stamford Street.
I followed half perforce; and the man seemed quite demented—whether with gin or sorrow I could not tell. As he strode along the pavement, he kept continually looking back, with a perplexed terrified air, as if expecting some fearful object.
"The rats!—the rats! don't you see 'em coming out of the gullyholes, atween the area railings—dozens and dozens?"
"No; I saw none."
"You lie; I hear their tails whisking; there's their shiny hats a glistening, and every one on 'em with peelers' staves! Quick! quick! or they'll have me to the station-house."
"Nonsense!" I said; "we are free men! What are the policemen to us?"
"You lie!" cried he, with a fearful oath, and a wrench at my arm which almost threw me down. "Do you call a sweater's man a free man?"
"You a sweater's man?"
"Ay!" with another oath. "My men ran away—folks said I drank, too; but here I am; and I, that sweated others, I'm sweated myself—and I'm a slave! I'm a slave—a negro slave, I am, you aristocrat villain!"
"Mind me, Downes; if you will go quietly, I will go with you; but if you do not let go of my arm, I give you in charge to the first policeman I meet."
"Oh, don't, don't!" whined the miserable wretch, as he almost fell on his knees, gin-drinkers' tears running down his face, "or I shall be too late.—And then, the rats'll get in at the roof, and up through the floor, and eat 'em all up, and my work too—the grand new three-pound coat that I've been stitching at this ten days, for the sum of one half-crown sterling—and don't I wish I may see the money? Come on, quick; there are the rats, close behind!" And he dashed across the broad roaring thoroughfare of Bridge Street, and hurrying almost at a run down Tooley Street, plunged into the wilderness of Bermondsey.
He stopped at the end of a miserable blind alley, where a dirty gas-lamp just served to make darkness visible, and show the patched windows and rickety doorways of the crazy houses, whose upper stories were lost in a brooding cloud of fog; and the pools of stagnant water at our feet; and the huge heap of cinders which filled up the waste end of the alley—a dreary, black, formless mound, on which two or three spectral dogs prowled up and down after the offal, appearing and vanishing like dark imps in and out of the black misty chaos beyond.
The neighbourhood was undergoing, as it seemed, "improvements" of that peculiar metropolitan species which consists in pulling down the dwellings of the poor, and building up rich men's houses instead; and great buildings, within high temporary palings, had already eaten up half the little houses; as the great fish, and the great estates, and the great shopkeepers, eat up the little ones of their species—by the law of competition, lately discovered to be the true creator and preserver of the universe. There they loomed up, the tall bullies, against the dreary sky, looking down, with their grim, proud, stony visages, on the misery which they were driving out of one corner, only to accumulate and intensify it in another.
The house at which we stopped was the last in the row; all its companions had been pulled down; and there it stood, leaning out with one naked ugly side into the gap, and stretching out long props, like feeble arms and crutches, to resist the work of demolition.
A group of slatternly people were in the entry, talking loudly, and as Downes pushed by them, a woman seized him by the arm.
"Oh! you unnatural villain!—To go away after your drink, and leave all them poor dear dead corpses locked up, without even letting a body go in to stretch them out!"
"And breeding the fever, too, to poison the whole house!" growled one.
"The relieving officer's been here, my cove," said another, "and he's gone for a peeler and a search warrant to break open the door, I can tell you!"
But Downes pushed past unheeding, unlocked a door at the end of the passage, thrust me in, locked it again, and then rushed across the room in chase of two or three rats, who vanished into cracks and holes.
And what a room! A low lean-to with wooden walls, without a single article of furniture; and through the broad chinks of the floor shone up as it were ugly glaring eyes, staring at us. They were the reflexions of the rushlight in the sewer below. The stench was frightful—the air heavy with pestilence. The first breath I drew made my heart sink, and my stomach turn. But I forgot everything in the object which lay before me, as Downes tore a half-finished coat off three corpses laid side by side on the bare floor.
There was his little Irish wife:—dead—and naked; the wasted white limbs gleamed in the lurid light; the unclosed eyes stared, as if reproachfully, at the husband whose drunkenness had brought her there to kill her with the pestilence; and on each side of her a little, shrivelled, impish, child-corpse,—the wretched man had laid their arms round the dead mother's neck—and there they slept, their hungering and wailing over at last for ever; the rats had been busy already with them—but what matter to them now?
"Look!" he cried; "I watched 'em dying! Day after day I saw the devils come up through the cracks, like little maggots and beetles, and all manner of ugly things, creeping down their throats; and I asked 'em, and they said they were the fever devils."
It was too true; the poisonous exhalations had killed them. The wretched man's delirium tremens had given that horrible substantiality to the poisonous fever gases.
Suddenly Downes turned on me, almost menacingly. "Money! money! I want some gin!"
I was thoroughly terrified—and there was no shame in feeling fear, locked up with a madman far my superior in size and strength, in so ghastly a place. But the shame and the folly too, would have been in giving way to my fear; and with a boldness half assumed, half the real fruit of excitement and indignation at the horrors I beheld, I answered—
"If I had money, I would give you none. What do you want with gin? Look at the fruits of your accursed tippling. If you had taken my advice, my poor fellow," I went on, gaining courage as I spoke, "and become a water-drinker, like me—"
"Curse you and your water-drinking! If you had had no water to drink or wash with for two years but that—that," pointing to the foul ditch below—"if you had emptied the slops in there with one hand, and filled your kettle with the other—"
"Do you actually mean that that sewer is your only drinking water?"
"Where else can we get any? Everybody drinks it; and you shall, too—you shall!" he cried, with a fearful oath, "and then see if you don't run off to the gin-shop, to take the taste of it out of your mouth. Drink? and who can help drinking, with his stomach turned with such hell-broth as that—or such a hell's blast as this air is here, ready to vomit from morning till night with the smells? I'll show you. You shall drink a bucket full of it, as sure as you live, you shall."
And he ran out of the back door, upon a little balcony, which hung over the ditch.
I tried the door, but the key was gone, and the handle too. I beat furiously on it, and called for help. Two gruff authoritative voices were heard in the passage.
"Let us in; I'm the policeman!"
"Let me out, or mischief will happen!"
The policeman made a vigorous thrust at the crazy door; and just as it burst open, and the light of his lantern streamed into the horrible den, a heavy splash was heard outside.
"He has fallen into the ditch!"
"He'll be drowned, then, as sure as he's a born man," shouted one of the crowd behind.
We rushed out on the balcony. The light of the policeman's lantern glared over the ghastly scene—along the double row of miserable house-backs, which lined the sides of the open tidal ditch—over strange rambling jetties, and balconies, and sleeping-sheds, which hung on rotting piles over the black waters, with phosphorescent scraps of rotten fish gleaming and twinkling out of the dark hollows, like devilish grave-lights—over bubbles of poisonous gas, and bloated carcases of dogs, and lumps of offal, floating on the stagnant olive-green hell-broth—over the slow sullen rows of oily ripple which were dying away into the darkness far beyond, sending up, as they stirred, hot breaths of miasma—the only sign that a spark of humanity, after years of foul life, had quenched itself at last in that foul death. I almost fancied that I could see the haggard face staring up at me through the slimy water; but no, it was as opaque as stone.
I shuddered and went in again, to see slatternly gin-smelling women stripping off their clothes—true women even there—to cover the poor naked corpses; and pointing to the bruises which told a tale of long tyranny and cruelty; and mingling their lamentations with stories of shrieks and beating, and children locked up for hours to starve; and the men looked on sullenly, as if they too were guilty, or rushed out to relieve themselves by helping to find the drowned body. Ugh! it was the very mouth of hell, that room. And in the midst of all the rout, the relieving officer stood impassive, jotting down scraps of information, and warning us to appear the next day, to state what we knew before the magistrates. Needless hypocrisy of law! Too careless to save the woman and children from brutal tyranny, nakedness, starvation!—Too superstitious to offend its idol of vested interests, by protecting the poor man against his tyrants, the house-owning shopkeepers under whose greed the dwellings of the poor become nests of filth and pestilence, drunkenness and degradation. Careless, superstitious, imbecile law!—leaving the victims to die unhelped, and then, when the fever and the tyranny has done its work, in thy sanctimonious prudishness, drugging thy respectable conscience by a "searching inquiry" as to how it all happened—lest, forsooth, there should have been "foul play!" Is the knife or the bludgeon, then, the only foul play, and not the cesspool and the curse of Rabshakeh? Go through Bermondsey or Spitalfields, St. Giles's or Lambeth, and see if there is not foul play enough already—to be tried hereafter at a more awful coroner's inquest than thou thinkest of!
It must have been two o'clock in the morning before I reached my lodgings. Too much exhausted to think, I hurried to my bed. I remember now that I reeled strangely as I went up-stairs. I lay down, and was asleep in an instant.
How long I had slept I know not, when I awoke with a strange confusion and whirling in my brain, and an intolerable weight and pain about my back and loins. By the light of the gas-lamp I saw a figure standing at the foot of my bed. I could not discern the face, but I knew instinctively that it was my mother. I called to her again and again, but she did not answer. She moved slowly away, and passed out through the wall of the room.
I tried to follow her, but could not. An enormous, unutterable weight seemed to lie upon me. The bedclothes grew and grew before me, and upon me, into a vast mountain, millions of miles in height. Then it seemed all glowing red, like the cone of a volcano. I heard the roaring of the fires within, the rattling of the cinders down the heaving slope. A river ran from its summit; and up that river-bed it seemed I was doomed to climb and climb for ever, millions and millions of miles upwards, against the rushing stream. The thought was intolerable, and I shrieked aloud. A raging thirst had seized me. I tried to drink the river-water: but it was boiling hot—sulphurous—reeking of putrefaction. Suddenly I fancied that I could pass round the foot of the mountain; and jumbling, as madmen will, the sublime and the ridiculous, I sprang up to go round the foot of my bed, which was the mountain.
I recollect lying on the floor. I recollect the people of the house, who had been awoke by my shriek and my fall, rushing in and calling to me. I could not rise or answer. I recollect a doctor; and talk about brain fever and delirium. It was true. I was in a raging fever. And my fancy, long pent-up and crushed by circumstances, burst out in uncontrollable wildness, and swept my other faculties with it helpless away over all heaven and earth, presenting to me, as in a vast kaleidoscope, fantastic symbols of all I had ever thought, or read, or felt.
That fancy of the mountain returned; but I had climbed it now. I was wandering along the lower ridge of the Himalaya. On my right the line of snow peaks showed like a rosy saw against the clear blue morning sky. Raspberries and cyclamens were peeping through the snow around me. As I looked down the abysses, I could see far below, through the thin veils of blue mist that wandered in the glens, the silver spires of giant deodars, and huge rhododendrons glowing like trees of flame. The longing of my life to behold that cradle of mankind was satisfied. My eyes revelled in vastness, as they swept over the broad flat jungle at the mountain foot, a desolate sheet of dark gigantic grasses, furrowed with the paths of the buffalo and rhinoceros, with barren sandy water-courses, desolate pools, and here and there a single tree, stunted with malaria, shattered by mountain floods; and far beyond, the vast plains of Hindostan, enlaced with myriad silver rivers and canals, tanks and rice-fields, cities with their mosques and minarets, gleaming among the stately palm-groves along the boundless horizon. Above me was a Hindoo temple, cut out of the yellow sandstone. I climbed up to the higher tier of pillars among monstrous shapes of gods and fiends, that mouthed and writhed and mocked at me, struggling to free themselves from their bed of rock. The bull Nundi rose and tried to gore me; hundred-handed gods brandished quoits and sabres round my head; and Kali dropped the skull from her gore-dripping jaws, to clutch me for her prey. Then my mother came, and seizing the pillars of the portico, bent them like reeds: an earthquake shook the hills—great sheets of woodland slid roaring and crashing into the valleys—a tornado swept through the temple halls, which rocked and tossed like a vessel in a storm: a crash—a cloud of yellow dust which filled the air—choked me—blinded me—buried me—
* * * * *
And Eleanor came by, and took my soul in the palm of her hand, as the angels did Faust's, and carried it to a cavern by the seaside, and dropped it in; and I fell and fell for ages. And all the velvet mosses, rock flowers, and sparkling spars and ores, fell with me, round me, in showers of diamonds, whirlwinds of emerald and ruby, and pattered into the sea that moaned below, and were quenched; and the light lessened above me to one small spark, and vanished; and I was in darkness, and turned again to my dust.
* * * * *
And I was at the lowest point of created life; a madrepore rooted to the rock, fathoms below the tide-mark; and worst of all, my individuality was gone. I was not one thing, but many things—a crowd of innumerable polypi; and I grew and grew, and the more I grew the more I divided, and multiplied thousand and ten thousandfold. If I could have thought, I should have gone mad at it; but I could only feel.
And I heard Eleanor and Lillian talking, as they floated past me through the deep, for they were two angels; and Lillian said, "When will he be one again?"
And Eleanor said, "He who falls from the golden ladder must climb through ages to its top. He who tears himself in pieces by his lusts, ages only can make him one again. The madrepore shall become a shell, and the shell a fish, and the fish a bird, and the bird a beast; and then he shall become a man again, and see the glory of the latter days."
* * * * *
And I was a soft crab, under a stone on the sea-shore. With infinite starvation, and struggling, and kicking, I had got rid of my armour, shield by shield, and joint by joint, and cowered, naked and pitiable, in the dark, among dead shells and ooze. Suddenly the stone was turned up; and there was my cousin's hated face laughing at me, and pointing me out to Lillian. She laughed too, as I looked up, sneaking, ashamed, and defenceless, and squared up at him with my soft useless claws. Why should she not laugh? Are not crabs, and toads, and monkeys, and a hundred other strange forms of animal life, jests of nature—embodiments of a divine humour, at which men are meant to laugh and be merry? But, alas! my cousin, as he turned away, thrust the stone back with his foot, and squelched me flat.
* * * * *
And I was a remora, weak and helpless, till I could attach myself to some living thing; and then I had power to stop the largest ship. And Lillian was a flying fish, and skimmed over the crests of the waves on gauzy wings. And my cousin was a huge shark, rushing after her, greedy and open-mouthed; and I saw her danger, and clung to him, and held him back; and just as I had stopped him, she turned and swam back into his open jaws.
* * * * *
Sand—sand—nothing but sand! The air was full of sand drifting over granite temples, and painted kings and triumphs, and the skulls of a former world; and I was an ostrich, flying madly before the simoon wind, and the giant sand pillars, which stalked across the plains, hunting me down. And Lillian was an Amazon queen, beautiful, and cold, and cruel; and she rode upon a charmed horse, and carried behind her on her saddle a spotted ounce, which, was my cousin; and, when I came near her, she made him leap down and course me. And we ran for miles and for days through the interminable sand, till he sprung on me, and dragged me down. And as I lay quivering and dying, she reined in her horse above me, and looked down at me with beautiful, pitiless eyes; and a wild Arab tore the plumes from my wings, and she took them and wreathed them in her golden hair. The broad and blood-red sun sank down beneath the sand, and the horse and the Amazon and the ostrich plumes shone blood-red in his lurid rays.
* * * * *
I was a mylodon among South American forests—a vast sleepy mass, my elephantine limbs and yard-long talons contrasting strangely with the little meek rabbit's head, furnished with a poor dozen of clumsy grinders, and a very small kernel of brains, whose highest consciousness was the enjoyment of muscular strength. Where I had picked up the sensation which my dreams realized for me, I know not: my waking life, alas! had never given me experience of it. Has the mind power of creating sensations for itself? Surely it does so, in those delicious dreams about flying which haunt us poor wingless mortals, which would seem to give my namesake's philosophy the lie. However that may be, intense and new was the animal delight, to plant my hinder claws at some tree-foot deep into the black rotting vegetable-mould which steamed rich gases up wherever it was pierced, and clasp my huge arms round the stem of some palm or tree-fern; and then slowly bring my enormous weight and muscle to bear upon it, till the stem bent like a withe, and the laced bark cracked, and the fibres groaned and shrieked, and the roots sprung up out of the soil; and then, with a slow circular wrench, the whole tree was twisted bodily out of the ground, and the maddening tension of my muscles suddenly relaxed, and I sank sleepily down upon the turf, to browse upon the crisp tart foliage, and fall asleep in the glare of sunshine which streamed through the new gap in the green forest roof. Much as I had envied the strong, I had never before suspected the delight of mere physical exertion. I now understood the wild gambols of the dog, and the madness which makes the horse gallop and strain onwards till he drops and dies. They fulfil their nature, as I was doing, and in that is always happiness.
But I did more—whether from mere animal destructiveness, or from the spark of humanity which was slowly rekindling in me, I began to delight in tearing up trees for its own sake. I tried my strength daily on thicker and thicker boles. I crawled up to the high palm-tops, and bowed them down by my weight. My path through the forest was marked, like that of a tornado, by snapped and prostrate stems and withering branches. Had I been a few degrees more human, I might have expected a retribution for my sin. I had fractured my own skull three or four times already. I used often to pass the carcases of my race, killed, as geologists now find them, by the fall of the trees they had overthrown; but still I went on, more and more reckless, a slave, like many a so-called man, to the mere sense of power.
One day I wandered to the margin of the woods, and climbing a tree, surveyed a prospect new to me. For miles and miles, away to the white line of the smoking Cordillera, stretched a low rolling plain; one vast thistle-bed, the down of which flew in grey gauzy clouds before a soft fitful breeze; innumerable finches fluttered and pecked above it, and bent the countless flower-heads. Far away, one tall tree rose above the level thistle-ocean. A strange longing seized me to go and tear it down. The forest leaves seemed tasteless; my stomach sickened at them; nothing but that tree would satisfy me; and descending, I slowly brushed my way, with half-shut eyes, through the tall thistles which buried even my bulk.
At last, after days of painful crawling, I dragged my unwieldiness to the tree-foot. Around it the plain was bare, and scored by burrows and heaps of earth, among which gold, some in dust, some in great knots and ingots, sparkled everywhere in the sun, in fearful contrast to the skulls and bones which lay bleaching round. Some were human, some were those of vast and monstrous beasts. I knew (one knows everything in dreams) that they had been slain by the winged ants, as large as panthers, who snuffed and watched around over the magic treasure. Of them I felt no fear; and they seemed not to perceive me, as I crawled, with greedy, hunger-sharpened eyes, up to the foot of the tree. It seemed miles in height. Its stem was bare and polished like a palm's, and above a vast feathery crown of dark green velvet slept in the still sunlight. But wonders of wonders! from among the branches hung great sea-green lilies, and, nestled in the heart of each of them, the bust of a beautiful girl. Their white bosoms and shoulders gleamed rosy-white against the emerald petals, like conch-shells half-hidden among sea-weeds, while their delicate waists melted mysteriously into the central sanctuary of the flower. Their long arms and golden tresses waved languishingly downward in the breeze; their eyes glittered like diamonds; their breaths perfumed the air. A blind ecstasy seized me—I awoke again to humanity, and fiercely clasping the tree, shook and tore at it, in the blind hope of bringing nearer to me the magic beauties above: for I knew that I was in the famous land of Wak-Wak, from which the Eastern merchants used to pluck those flower-born beauties, and bring them home to fill the harems of the Indian kings. Suddenly I heard a rustling in the thistles behind me, and looking round saw again that dreaded face—my cousin!
He was dressed—strange jumble that dreams are!—like an American backwoodsman. He carried the same revolver and bowie-knife which he had showed me the fatal night that he intruded on the Chartist club. I shook with terror; but he, too, did not see me. He threw himself on his knees, and began fiercely digging and scraping for the gold.
The winged ants rushed on him, but he looked up, and "held them with his glittering eye," and they shrank back abashed into the thistle covert; while I strained and tugged on, and the faces of the dryads above grew sadder and older, and their tears fell on me like a fragrant rain.
Suddenly the tree-bole cracked—it was tottering. I looked round, and saw that my cousin knelt directly in the path of its fall. I tried to call to him to move; but how could a poor edentate like myself articulate a word? I tried to catch his attention by signs—he would not see. I tried, convulsively, to hold the tree up, but it was too late; a sudden gust of air swept by, and down it rushed, with a roar like a whirlwind, and leaving my cousin untouched, struck me full across the loins, broke my backbone, and pinned me to the ground in mortal agony. I heard one wild shriek rise from the flower fairies, as they fell each from the lily cup, no longer of full human size, but withered, shrivelled, diminished a thousand-fold, and lay on the bare sand, like little rosy humming-birds' eggs, all crushed and dead.
The great blue heaven above me spoke, and cried, "Selfish and sense-bound! thou hast murdered beauty!"
The sighing thistle-ocean answered, and murmured, "Discontented! thou hast murdered beauty!"
One flower fairy alone lifted up her tiny cheek from the gold-strewn sand, and cried, "Presumptuous! thou hast murdered beauty!"
It was Lillian's face—Lillian's voice! My cousin heard it too, and turned eagerly; and as my eyes closed in the last death-shiver, I saw him coolly pick up the little beautiful figure, which looked like a fragment of some exquisite cameo, and deliberately put it away in his cigar-case, as he said to himself, "A charming tit-bit for me, when I return from the diggings"!
* * * * *
When I awoke again, I was a baby-ape in Bornean forests, perched among fragrant trailers and fantastic orchis flowers; and as I looked down, beneath the green roof, into the clear waters paved with unknown water-lilies on which the sun had never shone, I saw my face reflected in the pool—a melancholy, thoughtful countenance, with large projecting brow—it might have been a negro child's. And I felt stirring in me, germs of a new and higher consciousness—yearnings of love towards the mother ape, who fed me and carried me from tree to tree. But I grew and grew; and then the weight of my destiny fell upon me. I saw year by year my brow recede, my neck enlarge, my jaw protrude; my teeth became tusks; skinny wattles grew from my cheeks—the animal faculties in me were swallowing up the intellectual. I watched in myself, with stupid self-disgust, the fearful degradation which goes on from youth to age in all the monkey race, especially in those which approach nearest to the human form. Long melancholy mopings, fruitless stragglings to think, were periodically succeeded by wild frenzies, agonies of lust and aimless ferocity. I flew upon my brother apes, and was driven off with wounds. I rushed howling down into the village gardens, destroying everything I met. I caught the birds and insects, and tore them to pieces with savage glee. One day, as I sat among the boughs, I saw Lillian coming along a flowery path—decked as Eve might have been, the day she turned from Paradise. The skins of gorgeous birds were round her waist; her hair was wreathed with fragrant tropic flowers. On her bosom lay a baby—it was my cousin's. I knew her, and hated her. The madness came upon me. I longed to leap from the bough and tear her limb from limb; but brutal terror, the dread of man which is the doom of beasts, kept me rooted to my place. Then my cousin came—a hunter missionary; and I heard him talk to her with pride of the new world of civilization and Christianity which he was organizing in that tropic wilderness. I listened with a dim jealous understanding—not of the words, but of the facts. I saw them instinctively, as in a dream. She pointed up to me in terror and disgust, as I sat gnashing and gibbering overhead. He threw up the muzzle of his rifle carelessly, and fired—I fell dead, but conscious still. I knew that my carcase was carried to the settlement; and I watched while a smirking, chuckling surgeon dissected me, bone by bone, and nerve by nerve. And as he was fingering at my heart, and discoursing sneeringly about Van Helmont's dreams of the Archaeus, and the animal spirit which dwells within the solar plexus, Eleanor glided by again, like an angel, and drew my soul out of the knot of nerves, with one velvet finger-tip.
* * * * *
Child-dreams—more vague and fragmentary than my animal ones; and yet more calm, and simple, and gradually, as they led me onward through a new life, ripening into detail, coherence, and reflection. Dreams of a hut among the valleys of Thibet—the young of forest animals, wild cats, and dogs, and fowls, brought home to be my playmates, and grow up tame around me. Snow-peaks which glittered white against the nightly sky, barring in the horizon of the narrow valley, and yet seeming to beckon upwards, outwards. Strange unspoken aspirations; instincts which pointed to unfulfilled powers, a mighty destiny. A sense, awful and yet cheering, of a wonder and a majesty, a presence and a voice around, in the cliffs and the pine forests, and the great blue rainless heaven. The music of loving voices, the sacred names of child and father, mother, brother, sister, first of all inspirations.—Had we not an All-Father, whose eyes looked down upon us from among those stars above; whose hand upheld the mountain roots below us? Did He not love us, too, even as we loved each other?
* * * * *
The noise of wheels crushing slowly through meadows of tall marigolds and asters, orchises and fragrant lilies. I lay, a child, upon a woman's bosom. Was she my mother, or Eleanor, or Lillian? Or was she neither, and yet all—some ideal of the great Arian tribe, containing in herself all future types of European women? So I slept and woke, and slept again, day after day, week after week, in the lazy bullock-waggon, among herds of grey cattle, guarded by huge lop-eared mastiffs; among shaggy white horses, heavy-horned sheep, and silky goats; among tall, bare-limbed men, with stone axes on their shoulders, and horn bows at their backs. Westward, through the boundless steppes, whither or why we knew not; but that the All-Father had sent us forth. And behind us the rosy snow-peaks died into ghastly grey, lower and lower as every evening came; and before us the plains spread infinite, with gleaming salt-lakes, and ever fresh tribes of gaudy flowers. Behind us dark lines of living beings streamed down the mountain slopes; around us dark lines crawled along the plains—all westward, westward ever.—The tribes of the Holy Mountain poured out like water to replenish the earth and subdue it—lava-streams from the crater of that great soul-volcano—Titan babies, dumb angels of God, bearing with them in their unconscious pregnancy the law, the freedom, the science, the poetry, the Christianity of Europe and the world.
Westward ever—who could stand against us? We met the wild asses on the steppe, and tamed them, and made them our slaves. We slew the bison herds, and swam broad rivers on their skins. The Python snake lay across our path; the wolves and the wild dogs snarled at us out of their coverts; we slew them and went on. The forest rose in black tangled barriers: we hewed our way through them and went on. Strange giant tribes met us, and eagle-visaged hordes, fierce and foolish; we smote them hip and thigh, and went on, westward ever. Days and weeks and months rolled on, and our wheels rolled on with them. New alps rose up before us; we climbed and climbed them, till, in lonely glens, the mountain walls stood up, and barred our path.
Then one arose and said, "Rocks are strong, but the All-Father is stronger. Let us pray to Him to send the earthquakes, and blast the mountains asunder."
So we sat down and prayed, but the earthquake did not come.
Then another arose and said, "Rocks are strong, but the All-Father is stronger. If we are the children of the All-Father, we, too, are stronger than the rocks. Let us portion out the valley, to every man an equal plot of ground; and bring out the sacred seeds, and sow, and build, and come up with me and bore the mountain."
And all said, "It is the voice of God. We will go up with thee, and bore the mountain; and thou shalt be our king, for thou art wisest, and the spirit of the All-Father is on thee; and whosoever will not go up with thee shall die as a coward and an idler."
So we went up; and in the morning we bored the mountain, and at night we came down and tilled the ground, and sowed wheat and barley, and planted orchards. And in the upper glens we met the mining dwarfs, and saw their tools of iron and copper, and their rock-houses and forges, and envied them. But they would give us none of them: then our king said—
"The All-Father has given all things and all wisdom. Woe to him who keeps them to himself: we will teach you to sow the sacred seeds; and do you teach us your smith-work or you die."
Then the dwarf's taught us smith-work; and we loved them, for they were wise; and they married our sons and daughters; and we went on boring the mountain.
Then some of us arose and said, "We are stronger than our brethren, and can till more ground than they. Give us a greater portion of land, to each according to his power."
But the king said, "Wherefore? that ye may eat and drink more than your brethren? Have you larger stomachs, as well as stronger arms? As much as a man needs for himself, that he may do for himself. The rest is the gift of the All-Father, and we must do His work therewith. For the sake of the women and the children, for the sake of the sick and the aged, let him that is stronger go up and work the harder at the mountain." And all men said, "It is well spoken."
So we were all equal—for none took more than he needed; and we were all free, because we loved to obey the king by whom the spirit spoke; and we were all brothers, because we had one work, and one hope, and one All-Father.
But I grew up to be a man; and twenty years were past, and the mountain was not bored through; and the king grew old, and men began to love their flocks and herds better than quarrying, and they gave up boring through the mountain. And the strong and the cunning said, "What can we do with all this might of ours?" So, because they had no other way of employing it, they turned it against each other, and swallowed up the heritage of the weak: and a few grew rich, and many poor; and the valley was filled with sorrow, for the land became too narrow for them.
Then I arose and said, "How is this?" And they said, "We must make provision for our children."
And I answered, "The All-Father meant neither you nor your children to devour your brethren. Why do you not break up more waste ground? Why do you not try to grow more corn in your fields?"
And they answered, "We till the ground as our forefathers did: we will keep to the old traditions."
And I answered, "Oh ye hypocrites! have ye not forgotten the old traditions, that each man should have his equal share of ground, and that we should go on working at the mountain, for the sake of the weak and the children, the fatherless and the widow?"
And they answered nought for a while.
Then one said, "Are we not better off as we are? We buy the poor man's ground for a price, and we pay him his wages for tilling it for us—and we know better how to manage it than he."
And I said, "Oh ye hypocrites! See how your lie works! Those who were free are now slaves. Those who had peace of mind are now anxious from day to day for their daily bread. And the multitude gets poorer and poorer, while ye grow fatter and fatter. If ye had gone on boring the mountain, ye would have had no time to eat up your brethren."
Then they laughed and said, "Thou art a singer of songs, and a dreamer of dreams. Let those who want to get through the mountain go up and bore it; we are well enough here. Come now, sing us pleasant songs, and talk no more foolish dreams, and we will reward thee."
Then they brought out a veiled maiden, and said, "Look! her feet are like ivory, and her hair like threads of gold; and she is the sweetest singer in the whole valley. And she shall be thine, if thou wilt be like other people, and prophesy smooth things unto us, and torment us no more with talk about liberty, equality, and brotherhood; for they never were, and never will be, on this earth. Living is too hard work to give in to such fancies."
And when the maiden's veil was lifted, it was Lillian. And she clasped me round the neck, and cried, "Come! I will be your bride, and you shall be rich and powerful; and all men shall speak well of you, and you shall write songs; and we will sing them together, and feast and play from dawn to dawn."
And I wept; and turned me about, and cried, "Wife and child, song and wealth, are pleasant; but blessed is the work which the All-Father has given the people to do. Let the maimed and the halt and the blind, the needy and the fatherless, come up after me, and we will bore the mountain."
But the rich drove me out, and drove back those who would have followed me. So I went up by myself, and bored the mountain seven years, weeping; and every year Lillian came to me, and said, "Come, and be my husband, for my beauty is fading, and youth passes fast away." But I set my heart steadfastly to the work.
And when seven years were over, the poor were so multiplied, that the rich had not wherewith to pay their labour. And there came a famine in the land, and many of the poor died. Then the rich said, "If we let these men starve, they will turn on us, and kill us, for hunger has no conscience, and they are all but like the beasts that perish." So they all brought, one a bullock, another a sack of meal, each according to his substance, and fed the poor therewith; and said to them, "Behold our love and mercy towards you!" But the more they gave, the less they had wherewithal to pay their labourers; and the more they gave, the less the poor liked to work; so that at last they had not wherewithal to pay for tilling the ground, and each man had to go and till his own, and knew not how; so the land lay waste, and there was great perplexity.
Then I went down to them and said, "If you had hearkened to me, and not robbed your brethren of their land, you would never have come into this strait; for by this time the mountain would have been bored through."
Then they cursed the mountain, and me, and Him who made them, and came down to my cottage at night, and cried, "One-sided and left-handed! father of confusion, and disciple of dead donkeys, see to what thou hast brought the land, with thy blasphemous doctrines! Here we are starving, and not only we, but the poor misguided victims of thy abominable notions!"
"You have become wondrous pitiful to the poor," said I, "since you found that they would not starve that you might wanton."
Then once more Lillian came to me, thin and pale, and worn. "See, I, too, am starving! and you have been the cause of it; but I will forgive all if you will help us but this once."
"How shall I help you?"
"You are a poet and an orator, and win over all hearts with your talk and your songs. Go down to the tribes of the plain, and persuade them to send us up warriors, that we may put down these riotous and idle wretches; and you shall be king of all the land, and I will be your slave, by day and night."
But I went out, and quarried steadfastly at the mountain.
And when I came back the next evening, the poor had risen against the rich, one and all, crying, "As you have done to us, so will we do to you;" and they hunted them down like wild beasts, and slew many of them, and threw their carcases on the dunghill, and took possession of their land and houses, and cried, "We will be all free and equal as our forefathers were, and live here, and eat and drink, and take our pleasure."
Then I ran out, and cried to them, "Fools I will you do as these rich did, and neglect the work of God? If you do to them as they have done to you, you will sin as they sinned, and devour each other at the last, as they devoured you. The old paths are best. Let each man, rich or poor, have his equal share of the land, as it was at first, and go up and dig through the mountain, and possess the good land beyond, where no man need jostle his neighbour, or rob him, when the land becomes too small for you. Were the rich only in fault? Did not you, too, neglect the work which the All-Father had given you, and run every man after his own comfort? So you entered into a lie, and by your own sin raised up the rich man to be your punishment. For the last time, who will go up with me to the mountain?"
Then they all cried with one voice, "We have sinned! We will go up and pierce the mountain, and fulfil the work which God set to our forefathers."
We went up, and the first stroke that I struck a crag fell out; and behold, the light of day! and far below us the good land and large, stretching away boundless towards the western sun.
* * * * *
I sat by the cave's mouth at the dawning of the day. Past me the tribe poured down, young and old, with their waggons, and their cattle, their seeds, and their arms, as of old—yet not as of old—wiser and stronger, taught by long labour and sore affliction. Downward they streamed from the cave's mouth into the glens, following the guidance of the silver water-courses; and as they passed me, each kissed my hands and feet, and cried, "Thou hast saved us—thou hast given up all for us. Come and be our king!"
"Nay," I said, "I have been your king this many a year; for I have been the servant of you all."
I went down with them into the plain, and called them round me. Many times they besought me to go with them and lead them.
"No," I said, "I am old and grey-headed, and I am not as I have been. Choose out the wisest and most righteous among you, and let him lead you. But bind him to yourselves with an oath, that whenever he shall say to you, 'Stay here, and let us sit down and build, and dwell here for ever,' you shall cast him out of his office, and make him a hewer of wood and a drawer of water, and choose one who will lead you forwards in the spirit of God."
The crowd opened, and a woman came forward into the circle. Her face was veiled, but we all knew her for a prophetess. Slowly she stepped into the midst, chanting a mystic song. Whether it spoke of past, present, or future, we knew not; but it sank deep into all our hearts.
"True freedom stands in meekness— True strength in utter weakness— Justice in forgiveness lies— Riches in self-sacrifice— Own no rank but God's own spirit— Wisdom rule!—and worth inherit! Work for all, and all employ— Share with all, and all enjoy— God alike to all has given, Heaven as Earth, and Earth as Heaven, When the laud shall find her king again, And the reign of God is come."
We all listened, awe-struck. She turned to us and continued:
"Hearken to me, children of Japhet, the unresting!
"On the holy mountain of Paradise, in the Asgard of the Hindoo-Koh, in the cup of the four rivers, in the womb of the mother of nations, in brotherhood, equality, and freedom, the sons of men were begotten, at the wedding of the heaven and the earth. Mighty infants, you did the right you knew not of, and sinned not, because there was no temptation. By selfishness you fell, and became beasts of prey. Each man coveted the universe for his own lusts, and not that he might fulfil in it God's command to people and subdue it. Long have you wandered—and long will you wander still. For here you have no abiding city. You shall build cities, and they shall crumble; you shall invent forms of society and religion, and they shall fail in the hour of need. You shall call the lands by your own names, and fresh waves of men shall sweep you forth, westward, westward ever, till you have travelled round the path of the sun, to the place from whence you came. For out of Paradise you went, and unto Paradise you shall return; you shall become once more as little children, and renew your youth like the eagle's. Feature by feature, and limb by limb, ye shall renew it; age after age, gradually and painfully, by hunger and pestilence, by superstitions and tyrannies, by need and blank despair, shall you be driven back to the All-Father's home, till you become as you were before you fell, and left the likeness of your father for the likeness of the beasts. Out of Paradise you came, from liberty, equality, and brotherhood, and unto them you shall return again. You went forth in unconscious infancy—you shall return in thoughtful manhood.—You went forth in ignorance and need—you shall return in science and wealth, philosophy and art. You went forth with the world a wilderness before you—you shall return when it is a garden behind you. You went forth selfish-savages—you shall return as the brothers of the Son of God.
"And for you," she said, looking on me, "your penance is accomplished. You have learned what it is to be a man. You have lost your life and saved it. He that gives up house, or land, or wife, or child, for God's sake, it shall be repaid him an hundred-fold. Awake!"
Surely I knew that voice. She lifted her veil. The face was Lillian's? No!—Eleanor's!
Gently she touched my hand—I sank down into soft, weary happy sleep.
The spell was snapped. My fever and my dreams faded away together, and I woke to the twittering of the sparrows, and the scent of the poplar leaves, and the sights and sounds of childhood, and found Eleanor and her uncle sitting by my bed, and with them Crossthwaite's little wife.
I would have spoken, but Eleanor laid her finger on her lips, and taking her uncle's arm, glided from the room. Katie kept stubbornly a smiling silence, and I was fain to obey my new-found guardian angels.
What need of many words? Slowly, and with relapses into insensibility, I passed, like one who recovers from drowning, through the painful gate of birth into another life. The fury of passion had been replaced by a delicious weakness. The thunder-clouds had passed roaring down the wind, and the calm bright holy evening was come. My heart, like a fretful child, had stamped and wept itself to sleep. I was past even gratitude; infinite submission and humility, feelings too long forgotten, absorbed my whole being. Only I never dared meet Eleanor's eye. Her voice was like an angel's when she spoke to me—friend, mother, sister, all in one. But I had a dim recollection of being unjust to her—of some bar between us.
Katie and Crossthwaite, as they sat by me, tender and careful nurses both, told me, in time, that to Eleanor I owed all my comforts. I could not thank her—the debt was infinite, inexplicable. I felt as if I must speak all my heart or none; and I watched her lavish kindness with a sort of sleepy, passive wonder, like a new-born babe.
At last, one day, my kind nurses allowed me to speak a little. I broached to Crossthwaite the subject which filled my thoughts. "How came I here? How came you here? and Lady Ellerton? What is the meaning of it all?"
"The meaning is, that Lady Ellerton, as they call her, is an angel out of heaven. Ah, Alton! she was your true friend, after all, if you had but known it, and not that other one at all."
I turned my head away.
"Whisht—howld then, Johnny darlint! and don't go tormenting the poor dear sowl, just when he's comin' round again."
"No, no! tell me all. I must—I ought—I deserve to bear it. How did she come here?"
"Why then, it's my belief, she had her eye on you ever since you came out of that Bastille, and before that, too; and she found you out at Mackaye's, and me with you, for I was there looking after you. If it hadn't been for your illness, I'd have been in Texas now, with our friends, for all's up with the Charter, and the country's too hot, at least for me. I'm sick of the whole thing together, patriots, aristocrats, and everybody else, except this blessed angel. And I've got a couple of hundred to emigrate with; and what's more, so have you."
"Why, when poor dear old Mackaye's will was read, and you raving mad in the next room, he had left all his stock-in-trade, that was, the books, to some of our friends, to form a workmen's library with, and L400 he'd saved, to be parted between you and me, on condition that we'd G.T.T., and cool down across the Atlantic, for seven years come the tenth of April."
So, then, by the lasting love of my adopted father, I was at present at least out of the reach of want! My heart was ready to overflow at my eyes; but I could not rest till I had heard more of Lady Ellerton. What brought her here, to nurse me as if she had been a sister?
"Why, then, she lives not far off by. When her husband died, his cousin got the estate and title, and so she came, Katie tells me, and lived for one year down somewhere in the East-end among the needlewomen; and spent her whole fortune on the poor, and never kept a servant, so they say, but made her own bed and cooked her own dinner, and got her bread with her own needle, to see what it was really like. And she learnt a lesson there, I can tell you, and God bless her for it. For now she's got a large house here by, with fifty or more in it, all at work together, sharing the earnings among themselves, and putting into their own pockets the profits which would have gone to their tyrants; and she keeps the accounts for them, and gets the goods sold, and manages everything, and reads to them while they work, and teaches them every day."
"And takes her victuals with them," said Katie, "share and share alike. She that was so grand a lady, to demane herself to the poor unfortunate young things! She's as blessed a saint as any a one in the Calendar, if they'll forgive me for saying so."
"Ay! demeaning, indeed! for the best of it is, they're not the respectable ones only, though she spends hundreds on them—"
"And sure, haven't I seen it with my own eyes, when I've been there charing?"
"Ay, but those she lives with are the fallen and the lost ones—those that the rich would not set up in business, or help them to emigrate, or lift them out of the gutter with a pair of tongs, for fear they should stain their own whitewash in handling them."
"And sure they're as dacent as meself now, the poor darlints! It was misery druv 'em to it, every one; perhaps it might hav' druv me the same way, if I'd a lot o' childer, and Johnny gone to glory—and the blessed saints save him from that same at all at all!"
"What! from going to glory?" said John.
"Och, thin, and wouldn't I just go mad if ever such ill luck happened to yees as to be taken to heaven in the prime of your days, asthore?"
And she began sobbing and hugging and kissing the little man; and then suddenly recollecting herself, scolded him heartily for making such a "whillybaloo," and thrust him out of my room, to recommence kissing him in the next, leaving me to many meditations.
THE TRUE DEMAGOGUE.
I used to try to arrange my thoughts, but could not; the past seemed swept away and buried, like the wreck of some drowned land after a flood. Ploughed by affliction to the core, my heart lay fallow for every seed that fell. Eleanor understood me, and gently and gradually, beneath her skilful hand, the chaos began again to bloom with verdure. She and Crossthwaite used to sit and read to me—from the Bible, from poets, from every book which could suggest soothing, graceful, or hopeful fancies. Now out of the stillness of the darkened chamber, one or two priceless sentences of a Kempis, or a spirit-stirring Hebrew psalm, would fall upon my ear: and then there was silence again; and I was left to brood over the words in vacancy, till they became a fibre of my own soul's core. Again and again the stories of Lazarus and the Magdalene alternated with Milton's Penseroso, or with Wordsworth's tenderest and most solemn strains. Exquisite prints from the history of our Lord's life and death were hung one by one, each for a few days, opposite my bed, where they might catch my eye the moment that I woke, the moment before I fell asleep. I heard one day the good dean remonstrating with her on the "sentimentalism" of her mode of treatment.
"Poor drowned butterfly!" she answered, smiling, "he must be fed with honey-dew. Have I not surely had practice enough already?"
"Yes, angel that you are!" answered the old man. "You have indeed had practice enough!" And lifting her hand reverentially to his lips, he turned and left the room.
She sat down by me as I lay, and began to read from Tennyson's Lotus-Eaters. But it was not reading—it was rather a soft dreamy chant, which rose and fell like the waves of sound on an AEolian harp.
"There is sweet music here that softer falls Than petals from blown roses on the grass, Or night dews on still waters between wails Of shadowy granite, in a gleaming pass; Music that gentler on the spirit lies Than tired eyelids upon tired eyes; Music that brings sweet sleep down from the blissful skies. Here are cool mosses deep, And through the moss the ivies creep, And in the stream the long-leaved flowers weep, And from the craggy ledge the poppy hangs in sleep.
"Why are we weigh'd upon with heaviness, And utterly consumed with sharp distress, While all things else have rest from weariness? All things have rest: why should we toil alone? We only toil, who are the first of things, And make perpetual moan, Still from one sorrow to another thrown: Nor ever fold our wings. And cease from wanderings; Nor steep our brows in slumber's holy balm, Nor hearken what the inner spirit sings, 'There is no joy but calm!' Why should we only toil, the roof and crown of things?"
My soul was an enchanted boat Which, like a sleeping swan, did float Upon the silver waves of her sweet singing.
Half-unconscious, I looked up. Before me hung a copy of Raffaelle's cartoon of the Miraculous Draught of Fishes. As my eye wandered over it, it seemed to blend into harmony with the feelings which the poem had stirred. I seemed to float upon the glassy lake. I watched the vista of the waters and mountains, receding into the dreamy infinite of the still summer sky. Softly from distant shores came the hum of eager multitudes; towers and palaces slept quietly beneath the eastern sun. In front, fantastic fishes, and the birds of the mountain and the lake, confessed His power, who sat there in His calm godlike beauty, His eye ranging over all that still infinity of His own works, over all that wondrous line of figures, which seemed to express every gradation of spiritual consciousness, from the dark self-condemned dislike of Judas's averted and wily face, through mere animal greediness to the first dawnings of surprise, and on to the manly awe and gratitude of Andrew's majestic figure, and the self-abhorrent humility of Peter, as he shrank down into the bottom of the skiff, and with convulsive palms and bursting brow seemed to press out from his inmost heart the words, "Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!" Truly, pictures are the books of the unlearned, and of the mis-learned too. Glorious Raffaelle! Shakspeare of the South! Mighty preacher, to whose blessed intuition it was given to know all human hearts, to embody in form and colour all spiritual truths, common alike to Protestant and Papist, to workman and to sage—oh that I may meet thee before the throne of God, if it be but to thank thee for that one picture, in which thou didst reveal to me, in a single glance, every step of my own spiritual history!
She seemed to follow my eyes, and guess from them the workings of my heart; for now, in a low, half-abstracted voice, as Diotima may have talked of old, she began to speak of rest and labour, of death and life; of a labour which is perfect rest—of a daily death, which is but daily birth—of weakness, which is the strength of God; and so she wandered on in her speech to Him who died for us. And gradually she turned to me. She laid one finger solemnly on my listless palm, as her words and voice became more intense, more personal. She talked of Him, as Mary may have talked just risen from His feet. She spoke of Him as I had never heard Him spoken of before—with a tender passionate loyalty, kept down and softened by the deepest awe. The sense of her intense belief, shining out in every lineament of her face, carried conviction to my heart more than ten thousand arguments could do. It must be true!—Was not the power of it around her like a glory? She spoke of Him as near us—watching us—in words of such vivid eloquence that I turned half-startled to her, as if I expected to see Him standing by her side.
She spoke of Him as the great Reformer; and yet as the true conservative; the inspirer of all new truths, revealing in His Bible to every age abysses of new wisdom, as the times require; and yet the vindicator of all which is ancient and eternal—the justifier of His own dealings with man from the beginning. She spoke of Him as the true demagogue—the champion of the poor; and yet as the true King, above and below all earthly rank; on whose will alone all real superiority of man to man, all the time-justified and time-honoured usages of the family, the society, the nation, stand and shall stand for ever.
* * * * *
And then she changed her tone; and in a voice of infinite tenderness she spoke of Him as the Creator, the Word, the Inspirer, the only perfect Artist, the Fountain of all Genius.
She made me feel—would that His ministers had made me feel it before, since they say that they believe it—that He had passed victorious through my vilest temptations, that He sympathized with my every struggle.
She told me how He, in the first dawn of manhood, full of the dim consciousness of His own power, full of strange yearning presentiments about His own sad and glorious destiny, went up into the wilderness, as every youth, above all every genius, must, there to be tempted of the devil. She told how alone with the wild beasts, and the brute powers of nature, He saw into the open secret—the mystery of man's twofold life, His kingship over earth, His sonship under God: and conquered in the might of His knowledge. How He was tempted, like every genius, to use His creative powers for selfish ends—to yield to the lust of display and singularity, and break through those laws which He came to reveal and to fulfil—to do one little act of evil, that He might secure thereby the harvest of good which was the object of His life: and how He had conquered in the faith that He was the Son of God. She told me how He had borne the sorrows of genius; how the slightest pang that I had ever felt was but a dim faint pattern of His; how He, above all men, had felt the agony of calumny, misconception, misinterpretation; how He had fought with bigotry and stupidity, casting His pearls before swine, knowing full well what it was to speak to the deaf and the blind; how He had wept over Jerusalem, in the bitterness of disappointed patriotism, when He had tried in vain to awaken within a nation of slavish and yet rebellious bigots the consciousness of their glorious calling....
It was too much—I hid my face in the coverlet, and burst out into long, low, and yet most happy weeping. She rose and went to the window, and beckoned Katie from the room within.
"I am afraid," she said, "my conversation has been too much for him."
"Showers sweeten the air," said Katie; and truly enough, as my own lightened brain told me.
Eleanor—for so I must call her now—stood watching me for a few minutes, and then glided back to the bedside, and sat down again.
"You find the room quiet?"
"Wonderfully quiet. The roar of the city outside is almost soothing, and the noise of every carriage seems to cease suddenly just as it becomes painfully near."
"We have had straw laid down," she answered, "all along this part of the street."
This last drop of kindness filled the cup to overflowing: a veil fell from before my eyes—it was she who had been my friend, my guardian angel, from the beginning!
"You—you—idiot that I have been! I see it all now. It was you who laid that paper to catch my eye on that first evening at D * * *!—you paid my debt to my cousin!—you visited Mackaye in his last illness!"
She made a sign of assent.
"You saw from the beginning my danger, my weakness!—you tried to turn me from my frantic and fruitless passion!—you tried to save me from the very gulf into which I forced myself!—and I—I have hated you in return—cherished suspicions too ridiculous to confess, only equalled by the absurdity of that other dream!"
"Would that other dream have ever given you peace, even if it had ever become reality?"
She spoke gently, slowly, seriously; waiting between each question for the answer which I dared not give.
"What was it that you adored? a soul or a face? The inward reality or the outward symbol, which is only valuable as a sacrament of the loveliness within?"
"Ay!" thought I, "and was that loveliness within? What was that beauty but a hollow mask?" How barren, borrowed, trivial, every thought and word of hers seemed now, as I looked back upon them, in comparison with the rich luxuriance, the startling originality, of thought, and deed, and sympathy, in her who now sat by me, wan and faded, beautiful no more as men call beauty, but with the spirit of an archangel gazing from those clear, fiery eyes! And as I looked at her, an emotion utterly new to me arose; utter trust, delight, submission, gratitude, awe—if it was love, it was love as of a dog towards his master....
"Ay," I murmured, half unconscious that I spoke aloud, "her I loved, and love no longer; but you, you I worship, and for ever!"
"Worship God," she answered. "If it shall please you hereafter to call me friend, I shall refuse neither the name nor its duties. But remember always, that whatsoever interest I feel in you, and, indeed, have felt from the first time I saw your poems, I cannot give or accept friendship upon any ground so shallow and changeable as personal preference. The time was when I thought it a mark of superior intellect and refinement to be as exclusive in my friendships as in my theories. Now I have learnt that that is most spiritual and noble which is also most universal. If we are to call each other friends, it must be for a reason which equally includes the outcast and the profligate, the felon, and the slave."
"What do you mean?" I asked, half disappointed.
"Only for the sake of Him who died for all alike."
Why did she rise and call Crossthwaite from the next room where he was writing? Was it from the womanly tact and delicacy which feared lest my excited feelings might lead me on to some too daring expression, and give me the pain of a rebuff, however gentle; or was it that she wished him, as well as me, to hear the memorable words which followed, to which she seemed to have been all along alluring me, and calling up in my mind, one by one, the very questions to which she had prepared the answers?
"That name!" I answered. "Alas! has it not been in every age the watchword, not of an all-embracing charity, but of self-conceit and bigotry, excommunication and persecution?"
"That is what men have made it; not God, or He who bears it, the Son of God. Yes, men have separated from each other, slandered each other, murdered each other in that name, and blasphemed it by that very act. But when did they unite in any name but that? Look all history through—from the early churches, unconscious and infantile ideas of God's kingdom, as Eden was of the human race, when love alone was law, and none said that aught that he possessed was his own, but they had all things in common—Whose name was the, bond of unity for that brotherhood, such as the earth had never seen—when the Roman lady and the Negro slave partook together at the table of the same bread and wine, and sat together at the feet of the Syrian tent-maker?—'One is our Master, even Christ, who sits at the right hand of God, and in Him we are all brothers.' Not self-chosen preference for His precepts, but the overwhelming faith in His presence, His rule, His love, bound those rich hearts together. Look onward, too, at the first followers of St. Bennet and St. Francis, at the Cameronians among their Scottish hills, or the little persecuted flock who in a dark and godless time gathered around Wesley by pit mouths and on Cornish cliffs—Look, too, at the great societies of our own days, which, however imperfectly, still lovingly and earnestly do their measure of God's work at home and abroad; and say, when was there ever real union, co-operation, philanthropy, equality, brotherhood, among men, save in loyalty to Him—Jesus, who died upon the cross?"
And she bowed her head reverently before that unseen Majesty; and then looked up at us again—Those eyes, now brimming full of earnest tears, would have melted stonier hearts than ours that day.
"Do you not believe me? Then I must quote against you one of your own prophets—a ruined angel—even as you might have been.
"When Camille Desmoulins, the revolutionary, about to die, as is the fate of such, by the hands of revolutionaries, was asked his age, he answered, they say, that it was the same as that of the 'bon sans-culotte Jesus.' I do not blame those who shrink from that speech as blasphemous. I, too, have spoken hasty words and hard, and prided myself on breaking the bruised reed, and quenching the smoking flax. Time was when I should have been the loudest in denouncing poor Camille; but I have long since seemed to see in those words the distortion of an almighty truth—a truth that shall shake thrones, and principalities, and powers, and fill the earth with its sound, as with the trump of God; a prophecy like Balaam's of old—'I shall see Him, but not nigh; I shall behold Him, but not near.'... Take all the heroes, prophets, poets, philosophers—where will you find the true demagogue—the speaker to man simply as man—the friend of publicans and sinners, the stern foe of the scribe and the Pharisee—with whom was no respect of persons—where is he? Socrates and Plato were noble; Zerdusht and Confutzee, for aught we know, were nobler still; but what were they but the exclusive mystagogues of an enlightened few, like our own Emersons and Strausses, to compare great with small? What gospel have they, or Strauss, or Emerson, for the poor, the suffering, the oppressed? The People's Friend? Where will you find him, but in Jesus of Nazareth?"
"We feel that; I assure you, we feel that," said Crossthwaite. "There are thousands of us who delight in His moral teaching, as the perfection of human excellence."
"And what gospel is there in a moral teaching? What good news is it to the savage of St. Giles, to the artizan, crushed by the competition of others and his own evil habits, to tell him that he can be free—if he can make himself free?—That all men are his equals—if he can rise to their level, or pull them down to his?—All men his brothers—if he can only stop them from devouring him, or making it necessary for him to devour them? Liberty, equality, and brotherhood? Let the history of every nation, of every revolution—let your own sad experience speak—have they been aught as yet but delusive phantoms—angels that turned to fiends the moment you seemed about to clasp them? Remember the tenth of April, and the plots thereof, and answer your own hearts!"
Crossthwaite buried his face in his hands.
"What!" I answered, passionately, "will you rob us poor creatures of our only faith, our only hope on earth? Let us be deceived, and deceived again, yet we will believe! We will hope on in spite of hope. We may die, but the idea lives for ever. Liberty, equality, and fraternity must come. We know, we know, that they must come; and woe to those who seek to rob us of our faith!"
"Keep, keep your faith," she cried; "for it is not yours, but God's, who gave it! But do not seek to realize that idea for yourselves."
"Why, then, in the name of reason and mercy?"
"Because it is realized already for you. You are free; God has made you free. You are equals—you are brothers; for He is your king who is no respecter of persons. He is your king, who has bought for you the rights of sons of God. He is your king, to whom all power is given in heaven and earth; who reigns, and will reign, till He has put all enemies under His feet. That was Luther's charter,—with that alone he freed half Europe. That is your charter, and mine; the everlasting ground of our rights, our mights, our duties, of ever-gathering storm for the oppressor, of ever-brightening sunshine for the oppressed. Own no other. Claim your investiture as free men from none but God. His will, His love, is a stronger ground, surely, than abstract rights and ethnological opinions. Abstract rights? What ground, what root have they, but the ever-changing opinions of men, born anew and dying anew with each fresh generation?—while the word of God stands sure—'You are mine, and I am yours, bound to you in an everlasting covenant.'
"Abstract rights? They are sure to end, in practice, only in the tyranny of their father—opinion. In favoured England here, the notions of abstract right among the many are not so incorrect, thanks to three centuries of Protestant civilization; but only because the right notions suit the many at this moment. But in America, even now, the same ideas of abstract right do not interfere with the tyranny of the white man over the black. Why should they? The white man is handsomer, stronger, cunninger, worthier than the black. The black is more like an ape than the white man—he is—the fact is there; and no notions of an abstract right will put that down: nothing but another fact—a mightier, more universal fact—Jesus of Nazareth died for the negro as well as for the white. Looked at apart from Him, each race, each individual of mankind, stands separate and alone, owing no more brotherhood to each other than wolf to wolf, or pike to pike—himself a mightier beast of prey—even as he has proved himself in every age. Looked at as he is, as joined into one family in Christ, his archetype and head, even the most frantic declamations of the French democrat, about the majesty of the people, the divinity of mankind, become rational, reverent, and literal. God's grace outrivals all man's boasting—'I have said, ye are gods, and ye are all the children of the Most Highest:'—'children of God, members of Christ, of His body, of His flesh, and of His bones,'—'kings and priests to God,'—free inheritors of the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of prudence and courage, of reverence and love, the spirit of Him who has said, 'Behold, the days come, when I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh, and no one shall teach his brother, saying, Know the Lord, for all shall know Him, from the least even unto the greatest. Ay, even on the slaves and on the handmaidens in those days will I pour out my spirit, saith the Lord!'"
"And that is really in the Bible?" asked Crossthwaite.
"Ay"—she went on, her figure dilating, and her eyes flashing, like an inspired prophetess—"that is in the Bible! What would you more than that? That is your charter; the only ground of all charters. You, like all mankind, have had dim inspirations, confused yearnings after your future destiny, and, like all the world from the beginning, you have tried to realize, by self-willed methods of your own, what you can only do by God's inspiration, by God's method. Like the builders of Babel in old time, you have said, 'Go to, let us build us a city and a tower, whose top shall reach to heaven'—And God has confounded you as he did them. By mistrust, division, passion, and folly, you are scattered abroad. Even in these last few days, the last dregs of your late plot have exploded miserably and ludicrously—your late companions are in prison, and the name of Chartist is a laughing-stock as well as an abomination."
"Good Heavens! Is this true?" asked I, looking at Crossthwaite for confirmation.
"Too true, dear boy, too true: and if it had not been for these two angels here, I should have been in Newgate now!"
"Yes," she went on. "The Charter seems dead, and liberty further off than ever."
"That seems true enough, indeed," said I, bitterly.
"Yes. But it is because Liberty is God's beloved child, that He will not have her purity sullied by the touch of the profane. Because He loves the people, He will allow none but Himself to lead the people. Because He loves the people, He will teach the people by afflictions. And even now, while all this madness has been destroying itself, He has been hiding you in His secret place from the strife of tongues, that you may have to look for a state founded on better things than acts of parliament, social contracts, and abstract rights—a city whose foundations are in the eternal promises, whose builder and maker is God."
She paused.—"Go on, go on," cried Crossthwaite and I in the same breath.
"That state, that city, Jesus said, was come—was now within us, had we eyes to see. And it is come. Call it the church, the gospel, civilization, freedom, democracy, association, what you will—I shall call it by the name by which my Master spoke of it—the name which includes all these, and more than these—the kingdom of God. 'Without observation,' as he promised, secretly, but mightily, it has been growing, spreading, since that first Whitsuntide; civilizing, humanizing, uniting this distracted earth. Men have fancied they found it in this system or in that, and in them only. They have cursed it in its own name, when they found it too wide for their own narrow notions. They have cried, 'Lo here!' and 'Lo there!' 'To this communion!' or 'To that set of opinions.' But it has gone its way—the way of Him who made all things, and redeemed all things to Himself. In every age it has been a gospel to the poor, In every age it has, sooner or later, claimed the steps of civilization, the discoveries of science, as God's inspirations, not man's inventions. In every age, it has taught men to do that by God which they had failed in doing without Him. It is now ready, if we may judge by the signs of the times, once again to penetrate, to convert, to reorganize, the political and social life of England, perhaps of the world; to vindicate democracy as the will and gift of God. Take it for the ground of your rights. If, henceforth, you claim political enfranchisement, claim it not as mere men, who may be villains, savages, animals, slaves of their own prejudices and passions; but as members of Christ, children of God, inheritors of the kingdom of heaven, and therefore bound to realize it on earth. All other rights are mere mights—mere selfish demands to become tyrants in your turn. If you wish to justify your Charter, do it on that ground. Claim your share in national life, only because the nation is a spiritual body, whose king is the Son of God; whose work, whose national character and powers, are allotted to it by the Spirit of Christ. Claim universal suffrage, only on the ground of the universal redemption of mankind—the universal priesthood of Christians. That argument will conquer, when all have failed; for God will make it conquer. Claim the disenfranchisement of every man, rich or poor, who breaks the laws of God and man, not merely because he is an obstacle to you, but because he is a traitor to your common King in heaven, and to the spiritual kingdom of which he is a citizen. Denounce the effete idol of property-qualification, not because it happens to strengthen class interests against you, but because, as your mystic dream reminded you, and, therefore, as you knew long ago, there is no real rank, no real power, but worth; and worth consists not in property, but in the grace of God. Claim, if you will, annual parliaments, as a means of enforcing the responsibility of rulers to the Christian community, of which they are to be, not the lords, but the ministers—the servants of all. But claim these, and all else for which you long, not from man, but from God, the King of men. And therefore, before you attempt to obtain them, make yourselves worthy of them—perhaps by that process you will find some of them have become less needful. At all events, do not ask, do not hope, that He will give them to you before you are able to profit by them. Believe that he has kept them from you hitherto, because they would have been curses, and not blessings. Oh! look back, look back, at the history of English Radicalism for the last half century, and judge by your own deeds, your own words; were you fit for those privileges which you so frantically demanded? Do not answer me, that those who had them were equally unfit; but thank God, if the case be indeed so, that your incapacity was not added to theirs, to make confusion worse confounded! Learn a new lesson. Believe at last that you are in Christ, and become new creatures. With those miserable, awful farce tragedies of April and June, let old things pass away, and all things become new. Believe that your kingdom is not of this world, but of One whose servants must not fight. He that believeth, as the prophet says, will not make haste. Beloved suffering brothers! are not your times in the hand of One who loved you to the death, who conquered, as you must do, not by wrath, but by martyrdom? Try no more to meet Mammon with his own weapons, but commit your cause to Him who judges righteously, who is even now coming out of His place to judge the earth, and to help the fatherless and poor unto their right, that the man of the world may be no more exalted against them—the poor man of Nazareth, crucified for you!"