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Ardath - The Story of a Dead Self
by Marie Corelli
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To Theos's imagination it looked a creature more sorrowful than fierce,—a poor charmed brute, that while netted in the drowsy woofs of its mistress Lysia's magnetic spell, seemed as though it dimly wondered why it should thus be raised aloft for the adoration of infatuated humankind. Its brilliant crest quivered and emitted little arrowy scintillations of lustre—the "god" was ill at ease in the midst of all his splendor, and two or three times bent back his gleaming neck as though desirous of descending to the level ground.

But when these hints of rebellion declared themselves in the tremors running through the scaly twists of his body, Lysia looked up, and at once, compelled as it were by involuntary attraction, "Nagaya the Divine" looked down. The strange, subtle, mesmeric, sleepy eyes of the woman met the glittering green, mournful eyes of the snake,—and thus the two beautiful creatures regarded each other steadfastly and with an apparent vague sympathy, till the "deity," evidently overcome by a stronger will than his own, and resigning himself to the inevitable, twisted his radiant head back again to the top of the ebony staff, and again surveyed the kneeling crowds of worshippers.

Presently his glistening jaws opened,—his tongue darted forth vibratingly,—and he gave vent to a low hissing sound, erecting and depressing his crest with extraordinary rapidity, so that it flashed like an aigrette of rare gems. Then, with slow and solemn step, the Priest Zel advanced to the front of the Shrine, and spreading out his hands in the manner of one pronouncing a benediction, said loudly and with emphasis:

"Nagaya the Divine doth hear the prayers of his people! "Nagaya the Supreme doth accept the offered Sacrifice! "BRING FORTH THE VICTIM!"

The last words were spoken with stern authoritativeness, and scarcely had they been uttered when the great entrance doors of the Temple flew open, and a procession of children appeared, strewing flowers and singing:

"O happy Bride, we bring thee unto joy and peace! "To thee are opened the Palaces of the Air, "The beautiful silent Palaces where the bright stars dwell "O happy Bride of Nagaya! how fair a fate is thine!"

Pausing, they flung wreaths and garlands among the people, and continued:

"O happy Bride! for thee are past all Sorrows and Sin, "Thou shalt never know shame, or pain or grief or the weariness of tears; "For thee no husband shall prove false, no children prove ungrateful; "O happy Bride of Nagaya! how glad a fate is thine. "O happy Bride! when thou art wedded to the beautiful god, the god of Rest,— "Thou shalt forget all trouble and dwell among sweet dreams for ever! "Thou art the blessed one, chosen for the love-embraces of Nagaya! "O happy Bride! ... how glorious a fate is thine!"

Thus they sang in the soft, strange vowel-language of Al-Kyris, and tripped along with that innocent, unthinking gayety usual to such young creatures, up to the centre aisle toward the Sanctuary. They were followed by four priests in scarlet robes and closely masked, . . and walking steadfastly between these, came a slim girl clad in white, veiled from head to foot and crowned with a wreath of lotus lilies. All the congregation, as though moved by an impulse, turned to look at her as she passed,—but her features were not as yet discernible through the mist-like draperies that enfolded her.

The singing children, always preceding her and scattering flowers, having arrived at the steps of the Shrine, grouped themselves on either side,—and the red garmented Priests, after having made several genuflections to the glittering Python that now, with reared neck and quivering fangs, seemed to watch everything that was going on with absorbed and crafty vigilance, proceeded to unveil the maiden martyr, and also to tie her slight hands behind her back by means of a knotted silver cord. Then in a firm voice the Priest Zel proclaimed:

"Behold the elected Bride of the Sun and the Divine Nagaya!

"She bears away from the city the burden of your sins, O ye people, and by her death the gods are satisfied!

"Rejoice greatly, for ye are absolved,—and by the Silver Veil and the Eye of Raphon we pronounce upon all here present the blessing of pardon and peace!"

As he spoke the girl turned round as though in obedience to some mechanical impulse, and fully confronted the multitude, . . her pale, pure face, framed in a shining aureole of rippling fair hair, floated before Theos's bewildered eyes like a vision seen indistinctly in a magic crystal, and he was for a moment uncertain of her identity; but quick as a flash Sah-luma's glance lighted upon her, and, with a cry of horror that sent desolate echoes through and through the arches of the Temple, he started from his seat, his arms outstretched, his whole frame convulsed and quivering.

"Niphrata! ... Niphrata! ..." and his rich voice shook with a passion of appeal, "O ye gods! ... what mad, blind, murderous cruelty! Zephoranim!" ... and he turned impetuously on the astonished monarch: "As thou livest crowned King I say this maid is MINE! ... and in the very presence of Nagaya, I swear she shall NOT die!"



CHAPTER XXVIII.

THE SACRIFICE.

A solemn silence ensued. Consternation and wrath were depicted on every countenance. The Sacred Service was interrupted! ... a defiance had been hurled as it were in the very teeth of the god Nagaya! ... and this horrible outrage to Religion and Law had been actually committed by the Laureate of the realm! It was preposterous, ... incredible! ... and the gaping crowds reached over each other's shoulders to stare at the offender, pressing forward eager, wondering, startled faces, which to Theos looked far more spectral than real, seen in the shimmering green radiance that was thrown flickering upon them from the luminous Arch above the Altar. The priests stood still in speechless indignation, . . Lysia moved not at all, nor raised her eyes; only her lips parted in a very slight cold smile.

Seized with mortal dread, Theos gazed helplessly at his reckless, beautiful poet friend, who with head erect and visage white as a waning moon, haughtily confronted his Sovereign and audaciously asserted his right to be heard, even in the Holy place of worship! The King was the first to break the breathless stillness: his words came harshly from his throat, . . and the great muscles in his neck seemed to swell visibly with his hardly controlled anger.

"Peace! ... Thou art suddenly distraught, Sah-luma! ..." he said, in half-smothered, fierce accents—"How darest thou uplift thy clamorous tongue thus wantonly before Nagaya, and interrupt the progress of his Sacred Ritual? ... check thy mad speech! ... if ever yonder maid were thine, 'tis certain she is thine no longer; ... she hath offered herself, a voluntary sacrifice, and the gods are pleased to claim what thou perchance hast failed to value!"

For all answer, Sah-luma flung himself desperately at the monarch's feet. "Zephoranim!" he cried again ... "I tell thee she is mine! ... mine, as truly mine as Love can make her! Oh, she is chaster than lily-buds in her sweet body! ... but in her spirit she is wedded—wedded to me, Sah-luma, whom thou, O King, hast ever delighted to honor! And now must I kneel to thee in vain?— thou whose victories I have sung, whose praises I have chanted in burning words that shall carry thy name forever with triumph, down to unborn generations? ... Wilt thou become inglorious? ... a warrior stricken strengthless by the mummeries of priestcraft,— the juggleries of a perishing creed? Thou art the ruler of Al- Kyris,—thou and thou only! Restore to me this innocent virgin- life that has scarcely yet begun to bloom! ... speak but the word and she is saved! ... and her timely rescue shall add lustre to the record of thy noblest deeds!"

His matchless voice, full of passionate pulsations, exercised for a moment a resistless influence and magnetic charm. The King's lowering brows relaxed,—and a gleam of pity passed like light across his countenance. Instinctively he extended his hand to raise Sah-luma from his humble attitude, as though, even in his wrath, he were conscious of the immense intellectual superiority of a great Poet to ever so great a King; and a thrill of involuntary compassion seemed at the same time to run sympathetically through the vast congregation. Theos drew a quick breath of relief, and glanced at Niphrata, ... how cold and unconcerned was her demeanor! ... Did she not hear Sah-luma's pleading in her behalf? ... No matter!—she would be saved, he thought, and all would yet be well!

And truly it now appeared as if mercy, and not cruelty, were to be the order of the hour, . . for just then the Priest Zel, after having exchanged a few inaudible words with Lysia, advanced again to the front of the Shrine and spoke in distinct tones of forced gentleness and bland forbearance:

"Hear me, O King, Princes and People! ... Whereas it has unhappily occurred, to the wonder and sorrow of many, that the holy Spouse of the divine Nagaya is delayed in her desired departure, by the unforeseen opposition and unedifying contumacy of Sah-luma, Poet Laureate of this realm; and lest it may be perchance imagined by the uninitiated, that the maiden is in any way unwilling to fulfil her glorious destiny, the High and Immaculate Priestess of the Shrine doth bid me here pronounce a respite; a brief interval wherein, if the King and the People be willing, he who is named Sah-luma shall, by virtue of his high renown, be permitted to address the Virgin-victim and ascertain her own wishes from her own lips. Injustice cannot dwell within this Sacred Temple,—and if, on trial, the maiden chooses the transitory joys of Earth in preference to the everlasting joys of the Palaces of the Sun, then in Nagaya's name shall she go free!—inasmuch as the god loves not a reluctant bride, and better no Sacrifice at all, than one that is grudgingly consummated!"

He ceased,—and Sah-luma sprang erect, his eyes sparkling, his whole demeanor that of a man unexpectedly disburdened from some crushing grief.

"Thanks be unto the benevolent destinies!" he exclaimed, flashing a quick glance of gratitude toward Lysia, . . the statuesque Lysia, on whose delicately curved lips the faintly derisive smile still lingered ... "And in return for the life of my Niphrata I will give a thousand jewels rare beyond all price to deck Nagaya's tabernacle!—and I will pour libations to the Sun for twenty days and nights, in token of my heart's requital for mercy well bestowed!"

Stooping he kissed the King's hand,—whereupon at a sign from Zel, one of the priests attired in scarlet unfastened Niphrata's bound hands, and led her, as one leads a blind child, straight up to where Sah-luma and Theos stood, close beside the King, who, together with many others, stared curiously upon her. How fixed and feverishly brilliant were her large dark-blue eyes! ... how set were the sensitive lines of her mouth!—how indifferent she seemed, how totally unaware of the Laureate's presence! The priest who brought her retired into the background, and she remained where he left her, quite mute and motionless. Oh, how every nerve in Theos's body throbbed with inexpressible agony as he beheld her thus! The wildest remorse possessed him, . . it was as though he looked on the dim picture of a ruin which he himself had recklessly wrought, . . and he could have groaned aloud in the horrible vagueness of his incomprehensible despair! Sah-luma caught the girl's hand, and peered into her white, still face.

"Niphrata! .. .Niphrata!" he said in a tremulous half-whisper, "I am here,—Sah-luma! ... Dost thou not know me!"

She sighed, . . a long, shivering sigh,—and smiled, . . what a strange, wistful, dying smile it was! ... but she made no answer.

"Niphrata!"—continued the Laureate, passionately pressing the little, cold fingers that lay so passively in his grasp.. "Look at me! ... I have come to save thee! ... to take thee home again, . . home to thy flowers, thy birds, thy harp, . . thy pretty chamber with its curtained nook, where thy friend Zoralin waits and weeps all day for thee! ... O ye gods!—how weak am I!".. and he fiercely dashed away the drops that glistened on his black silky lashes, . . "Come with me, sweet one! ..." he resumed tenderly— "Come!—Why art thou thus silent? ... thou whose voice hath many a time outrivalled the music of the nightingales! Hast thou no word for me, thy lord?—Come!".. and Theos, struggling to repress his own rising tears, heard his friend's accents sink into a still lower, more caressing cadence ... "Thou shalt never again have cause for grief, my Niphrata, never! ... We will never part! ... Listen! ... am I not he whom thou lovest?"

The poor child's set mouth trembled,—her beautiful sad eyes gazed at him uncomprehendingly.

"He whom I love is not here!".. she said in tired, soft tones; "I left him, but he followed me; and now, he waits for me...yonder!".. And she turned resolutely toward the Sanctuary, as though compelled to do so by some powerful mesmeric attraction, . . "See you not how fair he is!"...and she pointed with her disengaged hand to the formidable python, through whose huge coils ran the tremors of impatient and eager breathing, . . "How tenderly his eyes behold me! ... those eyes that I have worshipped so patiently, so faithfully, and yet that never lightened into love for me till now! O thou more than beloved!—How beautiful thou art, my adored one, my heart's idol!" and a look of pale exaltation lightened her features, as she fixed her wistful gaze, like a fascinated bird, on the shadowy recess whence the Serpent had emerged—"There,—there thou dost rest on a couch of fadeless roses!—how softly the moonlight enfolds thee with a radiance as of outspread wings!—I hear thy voice charming the silence! ... thou dost call me by my name, . . O once poor name made rich by thy sweet utterance! Yes, my beloved, I am ready! ... I come! I shall die in thy embraces, . . nay, I shall not die but sleep! ... and dream a dream of love that shall last forever and ever! No more sorrow ... no more tears, . . no more heartsick longings ..."

Here she stopped in her incoherent speech, and strove to release her hand from Sah-luma's, her blue eyes filling with infinite anxiety and distress.

"I pray thee, good stranger," she entreated with touching mildness,—"whosoever thou art, delay me not, but let me go! ... I am but a poor love-sorrowful maid on whom Love hath at last taken pity!—be gentle therefore, and hinder me not on my way to Sah- luma. I have waited for happiness so long! ... so long!"

Her young, plaintive voice quavered into a half sob,—and again she endeavored to break away from the Laureate's hold. But he, overcome by the excess of his own grief and agitation, seized her other hand, and drew her close up to him.

"Niphrata, Niphrata!" he cried despairingly. "What evil hath befallen thee? Where is thy sight.. thy memory? ... LOOK! ... Look straight in these eyes of mine, and read there my truth and tenderness! ... I am Sah-luma, thine own Sah-luma! ... thy poet, thy lover, thy master, thy slave, . . all that thou wouldst have me be, I am! Whither wouldst thou wander in search of me? Thou hast no further to go, dear heart, than these arms, . . thou art safe with me, my singing bird, . . come! ..Let me lead thee hence, and home!"

She watched him while he spoke, with a strange expression of distrust and uneasiness. Then, by a violent effort, she wrenched her hands from his clasp, and stood aloof, waving him back with an eloquent gesture of amazed reproach.

"Away!" she said, in firm accents of sweet severity,—"Thou art a demon that dost seek to tempt my soul to ruin! THOU Sah-luma!".. and she lifted her lily-crowned head with a movement of proud rejection.. "Nay! ... thou mayst wear his look, his smile, . . thou mayst even borrow the clear heaven-lustre of his eyes,—but I tell thee thou art fiend, not angel, and I will not follow thee into the tangled ways of sin! Oh, thou knowest not the meaning of true love, thou! ... There is treachery on thy lips, and thy tongue is trained to utter honeyed falsehood! Methinks thou hast wantonly broken many a faithful heart!—and made light jest of many a betrayed virgin's sorrow! And thou darest to call thyself MY Poet, . . MY Sah-luma, in whom there is no guile, and who would die a thousand deaths rather than wound the frailest soul that trusted him! ... Depart from me, thou hypocrite in Poet's guise! ... thou cruel phantom of my love! ... Back to that darkness where thou dost belong, and trouble not my peace!"

Sah-luma recoiled from her, amazed and stupefied. Theos clenched his hands together in a sort of physical effort to keep down the storm of emotions working within him,—for Niphrata's words burnt into his brain like fire, ..too well, too well he understood their full intensity of meaning! She loved the IDEAL Sah-luma, . . the Sah-luma of her own pure fancies and desires, . . NOT the REAL man as he was, with all his haughty egotism, vainglory, and vice,— vice in which he took more pride than shame. Perhaps she had never known him in his actual character,—she, like other women of her lofty and ardent type, had no doubt set up the hero of her life as a god in the shrine of her own holy and enthusiastic imagination, and had there endowed him with resplendent virtues, which he had never once deemed it worth his while to practise. Oh the loving hearts of women!—How much men have to answer for, when they voluntarily break these clear mirrors of affection, wherein they, all unworthy, have been for a time reflected angel-wise, with all the warmth and color of an innocently adoring passion shining about them like the prismatic rays in a vase of polished crystal! To Niphrata, Sah-luma remained as a sort of splendid divinity, for whom no devotion was too vast, too high, or too complete, . . better, oh surely far better that she should die in her beautiful self-deception, than live to see her elected idol descend to his true level, and openly display all the weaknesses of his volatile, flippant, godless, sensual, yet, alas! most fascinating and genius-gifted nature, . . a nature, which, overflowing as it was with potentialities of noble deeds, yet lacked sufficient intrinsic faith and force to accomplish them! This thought stung Theos like a sharp arrow-prick, and filled him with a strange, indescribable penitence; and he stood in dumb misery, remorsefully eyeing his friend's consternation, disappointment, and pained bewilderment, without being able to offer him the slightest consolation.

Sah-luma was indeed the very picture of dismay, . . if he had never suffered in his life before, surely he suffered now! Niphrata, the tender, the humbly adoring Niphrata, positively rejected him!— refused to recognize his actual presence, and turned insanely away from him toward some dream-ideal Sah-luma whom she fancied could only be found in that unexplored country bordered by the cold river of Death! Meanwhile, the silence in the Temple was intense, —the Priests were like so many wax figures fastened in fixed positions; the King, leaning slightly forward in his chair, had the appearance of a massively moulded image of bronze,—and to Theos's overwrought condition of mind, the only actually living things present seemed to be the monster Serpent whose scaly folds palpitated visibly in the strong light, . . and the hideous "Eye of Raphon," that blazed on Lysia's breast with a menacing stare, as of a wrathful ghoul. All at once a flash of comprehension lightened the Laureate's sternly perplexed face,—a bitter laugh broke from his lips.

"She has been drugged!" he cried fiercely, pointing to Niphrata's white and rigid form, . . "Poisoned by some deadly potion devised of devils, to twist and torture the quivering centres of the brain! Accursed work!—Will none undo it?" and springing forward nearer the Shrine, he raised his angry, impassioned eyes to the dark, inscrutable ones of the High Priestess, who met his troubled look with serene and irresponsive gravity ... "Is there no touch of human pity in things divine? ... no mercy in the icy fate that rules our destinies? ... This child knows naught of what she does; she hath been led astray in a moment of excitement and religious exaltation, . . her mind hath lost its balance,—her thoughts float disconnectedly on a sea of vague illusions, ... Ah! ... by the gods! ... I understand it all now!" and he suddenly threw himself on his knees, his appealing gaze resting, not on the Snake-Deity, but on the lovely countenance of Lysia, fair and brilliant as a summer morn, with a certain waving light of triumph about it, like the reflected radiance of sunbeams, ... "She is under the influence of Raphon! ... O withering madness! ... O cureless misery.. She is ruled by that most horrible secret force, unknown as yet to the outer world of men! ... and she hears things that are not, and sees what has no existence! O Lysia, Daughter of the Sun! ... I do beseech thee, by all the inborn gentleness of womanhood, unwind the Mystic Spell!"

A serious smile of feigned, sorrowful compassion parted the beautiful lips of the Priestess; but she gave no word or sign in answer,—and the weird Jewel on her breast at that moment shot forth a myriad scintillations as of pointed sharp steel. Some extraordinary power in it, or in Lysia herself, was manifestly at work,—for with a violent start Sah-luma rose from his knees, and staggered helplessly backward, . . one hand pressed to his eyes as though to shut out some blinding blaze of lightning! He seemed to be vaguely groping his way to his former place beside the King, and Theos, seeing this, quickly caught him by the arm and drew him thither, whispering anxiously the while:

"Sah-luma!-Sah-luma! ... What ails thee?"

The Laureate turned upon him a bewildered, piteous face, white with an intensity of speechless anguish.

"Nothing!"...he faltered,—"Nothing! ... 'tis over, . . the child must die!"...Then all suddenly the hard, drawn lines of his countenance relaxed,—great tears gathered in his eyes, and fell slowly one by one, . . and moving aside, he shrank away as far as possible into the shadow cast by a huge column close by.. "O Niphrata! ... Niphrata!".. Theos heard him say in a voice broken by despair.. "Why do I love thee only now, . . NOW, when thou art lost to me forever!"

The King looked after him half-compassionately, half-sullenly; but presently paid no further heed to his distress. Theos, however, kept near him, whispering whatever poor suggestions of comfort he could, in the extremity of his own grief, devise, . . a hopeless task,—for to all his offered solace Sah-luma made but the one reply:

"Oh let me weep! ... Let me weep for the untimely death of Innocence!"

And now the cithern-playing, which had ceased, commenced again, accompanied by the mysterious thrilling bass notes of the invisible organ-like instrument, whose sound resembled the roll and rush of huge billows breaking into foam. As the rich and solemn strains swept grandly through the spacious Temple, Niphrata stretched out her hands toward the High Priestess, a smile of wonderful beauty lighting up her fair child-face.

"Take me, O ye immortal gods!" she cried, her voice ringing in clear tune above all the other music.. "Take me and bear me away on your strong, swift wings to the Everlasting Palaces of Air, wherein all sorrows have end, and patient love meets at last its long-delayed reward! Take me.. for lo! I am ready to depart! My soul is wounded and weary of its prison,—it struggles to be free! O Destiny, I thank thee for thy mercy! ... I praise thee for the glory thou dost here unveil before mine eyes! Pardon my sins! ... accept my life! ... sanctify my love!"

A murmur of relief and rejoicing ran rippling through the listening crowds,—a weight seemed lifted from their minds, . . the victim was willing to die after all! ... the Sacrifice would be proceeded with. There was a slight pause,—during which the priests crossed and re-crossed the Sanctuary many times, one of them descending the steps to tie Niphrata's hands behind her back as before. In the immediate interest of the moment, Sah-luma and his hot interference seemed to be almost forgotten, . . a few people, indeed, cast injured and indignant looks toward the corner where he dejectedly leaned, and once the wrinkled, malicious head of old Zabastes peered at him, with an expression of incredulous amazement,—but otherwise no sympathy was manifested by any one for the popular Laureate's suffering and discomfiture. He was the nation's puppet, . . its tame bird, whose business was to sing when bidden, . . but he was not expected to have any voice in matters of religion or policy,—and still less was he supposed to intrude any of his own personal griefs on the public notice. Let him sing!— and sing well,—that was enough; but let him dare to be afflicted, and annoy others with his wants and troubles, why then he at once became uninteresting! ... he might even die for all anybody cared! This was the unspoken sullen thought that Theos, sensitive to the core on his friend's behalf, instinctively felt to be smouldering in the heart of the mighty multitude,—and he resented the half- implied, latent ungratefulness of the people with all his soul.

"Fools!".. he muttered under his breath,—"For you, and such as you, the wisest sages toil in vain! ... on you Art wastes her treasures of suggestive loveliness! ... low grovellers in earth, ye have no eyes for heaven! O ignorant, ungenerous, fickle hypocrites, whose ruling passion is the greed of gold!—Why should great men perish, that YE may live! ... And yet.. your acclamations make up the thing called Fame! Fame? ... Good God!— 'tis a brief shout in the universal clamor, scarce heard and soon forgotten!"

And filled with strange bitterness, he gazed disconsolately at Niphrata, who stood like one in a trance of ecstasy, patiently awaiting her doom, her lovely, innocent blue eyes gladly upturned to the long, jewel-like head of Nagaya, which twined round the summit of the ebony staff, seemed to peer down at her in a sort of drowsy reflectiveness. Then, all suddenly, Lysia spoke, . . how enchanting was the exquisite modulation of that slow, languid, silvery voice!

"Come hither, O Maiden fair, pure, and faithful! The desire of thy soul is granted! Before thee are the Gates of the Unknown World! Already they open to admit thee; Through their golden bars gleams the glory of thy future! Speak! ... What seest thou?"

A moment of breathless silence ensued,—all present seemed to be straining their ears to catch the victim's answer. It came,—soft and clear as a bell:

"I see a wondrous land o'er-canopied with skies of gold and azure: . . white flowers grow in the fragrant fields, . . there are many trees, . . I hear the warbling of many birds; . . I see fair faces that smile upon me and gentle hands that beckon! ... Figures that wear glistening robes, and carry garlands of roses and myrtle, pass slowly, singing as they go! ... How beautiful they are! How strange! ... how sweet!"

And as she uttered these words, in accents of dreamy delight, she ascended the first step of the Shrine. Theos, looking, held his breath in wonder and fear, while Sah-luma with a groan turned himself resolutely away, and, pressing his forehead against the great column where he stood, hid his eyes in his clasped hands.

The High Priestess continued:

"Come hither, O Maiden of chaste and patient life! Rejoice greatly, for thy virtue hath pleased the gods: The undiscovered marvels of the Stars are thine, Earth has no more control over thee: Heaven is thine absolute Heritage! ... Behold! the Ship of the Sun awaits thee! Speak! ... What seest thou?"

A soft cry of rapture came from the girl's lips.

"Oh, I see glory everywhere!".. she exclaimed.. "Light everywhere! ... Peace everywhere! ... O joy, joy! ... The face of my beloved shines upon me,—he calls, . . he bids me come to him! ... Ah! we shall be together at last, . . we twain shall be as one never to part, never to doubt, never to suffer more! O let me hasten to him! ... Why should I linger thus, when I would fain, be gone!"

And she sprang eagerly up the second and third steps of the Sanctuary, and faced Lysia,—her head thrown back, her blue eyes ablaze with excitement, her bosom heaving, and her delicate features transfigured and illumined by unspeakable inward delirious bliss. Just then the Priest Zel lifted the long, jewel- hilted knife from the black cushion where it had lain till now, and, crouching stealthily in the shadow behind Lysia, held it in both bands, pointed straight forward in a level line with Niphrata's breast. Thus armed, he waited, silent and immovable.

A slight shudder of morbid expectancy seemed to quiver through the vast congregation, . . but Theos's nerves were strung up to such a high pitch of frenzied horror that he could neither speak nor sigh,—motionless as a statue, he could only watch, with freezing blood, each detail of the extraordinary scene. Once more the High Priestess spoke:

"Come hither, O happy Maiden whose griefs are ended: The day of thy triumph and reward has dawned! For thee the Immortals unveiled the mysteries of being,— To thee, they openly declare all secrets ... To thee the hidden things of Wisdom are made manifest: For the last time ere thou leavest us, hear, and answer, . . Speak!—What seest thou?"

"LOVE!" replied Niphrata in a tone of thrilling and solemn tenderness.. "LOVE, the Eternal All, in which dark things are made light!—Love, that is never served in vain! ... LOVE wherein lost happiness is rediscovered and perfected! ... O DIVINE LOVE, by whom the passion of my heart is sanctified! Absorb me in the quenchless glory of thine Immortality! ... Draw me to Thyself, and let me find in Thee my Soul's completion!"

Her voice sank to a low prayerful emphasis, . . her look was as of a rapt angel waiting for wings. Lysia's gaze dwelt upon her with slow-dilating wonder and contempt.. such a devout and earnest supplication was evidently not commonly heard from the lips of Nagaya's victims. At that instant, too, Nagaya himself seemed curiously excited and disturbed,—his great glittering coils quivered so violently, as to shake the rod on which he was twined, . . and when his Priestess raised her mesmeric reproving eyes toward him, he bent back his head rebelliously, and sent a vehement hiss through the silence, like the noise made by the whirl of a scimitar.

Suddenly, and with deafening abruptness, a clap of thunder, short and sharp as a quick volley of musketry, crashed overhead,— accompanied by a strange circular sweep of lightning that blazed through the windows of the Temple, illumining it from end to end with a brilliant blue glare. The superstitious crowd exchanged startled looks of terror, . . the King moved uneasily and glanced frowningly about him,—it was plainly manifest that no one had forgotten the disastrous downfall of the Obelisk, ..and there seemed to be a contagion of alarm in the very air. But Lysia was perfectly self-possessed, . . in fact she appeared to accept the threat of a storm as an imposing, and by no means undesirable, adjunct to the mysteries of the Sacrificial Rite, for riveting her basilisk eyes on Niphrata, she said in firm, clear, decisive accents:

"The gods grow impatient! ... Wherefore, O Princess and People of Al-Kyris, let us hasten to appease their anger! Depart, O stainless Maid! ... depart hence, and betake thee to the Golden Throne of the Sun, our Lord and Ruler, . . and in the Name of Nagaya, may the shedding of thy virginal blood avert from us and ours the wrath of the Immortals! Linger no longer, . . Nagaya accepts thee! ... and the Hour strikes Death!"

With the last word a sullen bell boomed heavily through and through the Temple.. and, at once, . . like a frenzied bird or butterfly winging its way into scorching flame, . . Niphrata rushed forward with swift, unhesitating, dreadful precision straight on the knife outheld by the untrembling ruthless hands of the Priest Zel! One second,—and Theos sick with horror, saw her speeding thus, . . the next,—and the whole place was enveloped in dense darkness!



CHAPTER XXIX.

THE CUP OF WRATH AND TREMBLING.

A flash of time, . . an instant of black, horrid eclipse, too brief for the utterance of even a word or cry, ... and then,—with an appalling roar, as of the splitting of huge rocks and the tearing asunder of mighty mountains, the murky gloom was lifted, rent, devoured, and swept away on all sides by a sudden bursting forth of Fire! ... Fire leaped up alive in twenty different parts of the building, springing aloft in spiral coils from the marble pavement that yawned crashingly open to give the impetuous flames their rapid egress, . . fire climbed lithely round and round the immense carven columns, and ran, nimbly dancing and crackling its way among the painted and begemmed decorations of the dome, ... fire enwrapped the side-altars, and shrivelled the jewelled idols at a breath, . . fire unfastened and shook down the swinging-lamps, the garlands, the splendid draperies of silk and cloth-of-gold...fire —fire everywhere! ... and the madly affrighted multitude, stunned by the abrupt shock of terror, stood for a moment paralyzed and inert, . . then, with one desperate yell of wild brute fear and ferocity, they rushed headlong in a struggling, shrieking, cursing, sweltering swarm toward the great closed portals of the central aisle. As they did so, a tremendous weight of thunder seemed to descend solidly on the roof with a thudding burst as though a thousand walls had been battered down at one blow, . . the whole edifice rocked and trembled in the terrific reverberation, and almost simultaneously, the doors were violently jerked open, wrenched from their hinges, and hurled, all burning and split with flame, against the forward-fighting crowds! Several hundred fell under the fiery mass, a charred heap of corpses,—the raging remainder pressed on in frenzied haste, clambering over piles of burning dead,—trampling on scorched, disfigured faces that perhaps but a moment since had been dear to them,—each and all bent on forcing a way out to the open air. In the midst of the overwhelming awfulness of the scene, Theos still retained sufficient presence of mind to remember that, whatever happened, his first care must be for Sah-luma, . . always for Sah-luma, no matter who else perished! ... and he now held that beloved comrade closely clasped by the arm, while he eagerly glanced about him on every side for some outlet through which to make a good and swift escape.

The most immediate place of safety seemed to be the Inner Sanctuary of Nagaya, . . it was untouched by the flames, and its Titanic pillars of brass and bronze suggested, in their very massiveness, a nearly impregnable harbor of refuge. The King had fled thither, and now stood, like a statue of undaunted gloomy amazement, beside Lysia, who on her part appeared literally frozen with terror. Her large, startled eyes, roving here and there in helpless anxiety, alone gave any animation to the deathly, rigid whiteness of her face, and she still mechanically supported the Sacred Ebony Staff, without apparently being aware of the fact that the Snake Deity, convulsed through all his coils with fright, had begun to make there-from his rapid DESCENT. The priests, the virgins,—the poor, unhappy little singing children,—flocked hurriedly together, and darted to the back of the great Shrine, in the manifest intention of reaching some private way of egress known only to themselves,—but their attempts were evidently frustrated, for no sooner had they gone than they sped back again, their faces scorched and blackened, and uttering cries and woeful lamentations they flung themselves wildly among the struggling crowds in the main body of the Temple, and fought for life in the jaws of death, every one for Self, and no one for another! Volumes of smoke rolled up from the ground, in thick and suffocating clouds, accompanied by incessant sharp reports like the close firing of guns, . . jets of flame and showers of cinders broke forth fountain-like, scattering hot destruction on every hand, . . while a few flying sparks caught the end of the "Silver Veil"—and withered it into nothingness with one bright resolute flare!

Half maddened by the shrieks and dying groans that resounded everywhere about him, and yet all the time feeling as though he were some spectator set apart, and condemned to watch the progress of a ghastly phantasmagoria in Hell, Theos was just revolving in his mind whether it would or would not be possible to make a determined climb for escape through one of the tall painted windows, some of which were not yet reached by the fire, when, with a sudden passionate exclamation, Sah-luma broke from his hold and rushed to the Sanctuary. Quick as lightning, Theos followed him, . . followed him close, as he sprang up the steps and confronted Lysia with eager, outstretched arms. The dead Niphrita lay near him, . . fair as a sculptured saint, with the cruel wound of sacrifice in her breast,—but he seemed not to see that piteous corpse of Faithfulness! His grief for her death had been a mere transient emotion, . . his stronger earthly passions re-asserted their tempestuous sway,—and for sweet things perished and gone to heaven he had no further care. On Lysia, and on Lysia's living beauty alone, his eyes flamed their ardent glory.

"Come! ... Come!" he cried.. "Come, my love—my life! ... Let me save thee! ... Or if I cannot save thee, let us die together!"

Scarcely had the words left his lips, when the King, with a swift forward movement like the pounce of some desert-panther, turned fiercely upon him, . . amazement, jealousy, distrust, revenge, all gathering stormily in the black frown of his bent vindictive brows. His great chest heaved pantingly—his teeth glittered wolfishly through his jetty beard, . . and in the terrible nerve- tension of the moment, the fury of the spreading conflagration was forgotten, at any rate, by Theos, who, stricken numb and rigid by a shock of alarm too poignant for expression, stared aghast at the three figures before him...Sah-luma, Lysia, Zephoranim, . . especially Zephoranim, whose bursting wrath threatened to choke his utterance.

"What sayest thou, Sah-luma?" he demanded in a sort of ferocious gasping whisper ... "Repeat thy words! ... Repeat them!" ... and his hand clutched at his dagger-hilt, while his restless, lowering glance flashed from Lysia to the Laureate and from the Laureate back to Lysia again.. "Death encompasses us, . . this is no time for trifling! ... Speak!".. and his voice suddenly rose to a frantic shout of rage, "Speak! What is this woman to thee?"

"Everything!".. returned Sah-luma with prompt and passionate fearlessness, his glorious eyes blazing a proud defiance as he spoke.. "Everything that woman can be, or ever shall be, unto man! Call her by whatsoever name a foolish creed enjoins, . . Virgin- Daughter of the Sun, or High-Priestess of Nagaya,—she is nevertheless MINE!—and mine only! I am her lover!"

"THOU!" and with a hoarse cry, Zephoranim sprang upon, and seized him by the throat.. "Thou liest! I,—I, crowned King of Al-Kyris, I am her lover!—chosen by her out of all men! ... and dost thou dare to pretend that she hath preferred THEE, a mere singer of mad songs, to ME? ... Thou unscrupulous knave! ... I tell thee she is MINE! .. Dost hear me?—Mine.. mine.. MINE!" and he shrieked the last word out in a perfect hurricane of passion,—"My Queen.. my mistress!—heart of my heart!—soul of my soul! ... Let the city burn to ashes, and the whole land be utterly consumed, in death as in life Lysia is mine! ... and the gods themselves shall never part her from me!"

And suddenly releasing his grasp he hurled Sah-luma away as he might have hurled aside a toy figure,—and a peal of reckless musical laughter echoed mockingly through the vaulted shrine. It was Lysia's laughter! ... and Theos's blood grew cold as he heard its cruel, silvery ring ... even so had she laughed when Nir-jalis died!

Sah-luma reeled backward from the King's thrust, but did not fall,—white and trembling, with his sad and splendid features, frozen as it were into a sculptured mask of agonized beauty, he turned upon the treacherous woman he loved the silent challenge of his eloquent eyes. Oh, that look of piteous pain and wonder! a whole lifetime's wasted opportunities seemed concentrated in its unspeakable reproach! She met it with a sort of triumphant, tranquil indifference, . . an uncontrollable wicked smile curved the corners of her red lips, . . the sacred Ebony Staff had somehow slipped from her hands, and it now lay on the ground, the half- uncoiled Serpent still clinging to it, in glittering lengths that appeared to be quite motionless.

"Ah, Lysia, hast thou played me false?".. cried the unhappy Laureate at last, as with a quick, impulsive movement, he caught her round jewelled arm in a resolute grip.. "After all thy vows, thy endearments, thy embraces, hast thou betrayed me? Speak truly! ... Art thou not all in all to me? ... hast thou not given thyself body and soul into my keeping? To this braggart King I deign no answer—one word of thine will suffice! ... Be brave.. be faithful! ... Declare thy love for me, even as thou hast oft declared it a thousand remembered times!"

Over the face of the beautiful Priestess swept a strange expression of mingled fear, antagonism, loathing, and exultation. Her eyes wandered to the red tongued leaping flames that tossed in eddying rings round the Temple, running every second nearer to the place where she stood, and in that one glance she seemed to recognize the hopelessness of rescue and certainty of death. A careless, haughty acceptance of her fate manifested itself in the pallid resolve of her drawn features, . . but as she allowed her gaze to return and dwell on Sah-luma, the old, malicious mirth flushed and gave lustre to her loveliness, and she laughed again...a laugh of uttermost bitter scorn.

"Declare my love for thee!" she said in thrilling accents.. "Thou boaster! Let the gods, who have kindled this fiery end for us, bear witness to my hatred! I hate thee! ... Aye, even THEE!".. and she pointed at him jeeringly, as he recoiled from her in wide eyed anguish and amazement:—"No man have I ever loved, but thee have I hated most of all! All men have I despised for their folly, greed and vain-glory,—I have fought them with their own weapons of avarice, cunning, cruelty, and falsehood,—but THOU hast been even beneath MY contempt! 'Twas scarcely worth my while to fool thee, thou wert so easily fooled! ... 'Twas idle sport to rouse thy passions, they were so easily roused! Poet and Perjurer, . . Singer and Sophist! Thou to whom the Genius of Poesy was as a pearl set in a swine's snout! ... thou wert not worthy to be my dupe, seeing that thou camest to me already in bonds, the dupe of thine own Self! Niphrata loved thee,—and thou didst play with and torture her more unmercifully than wild beasts play with and torture their prey; . . but thou couldst never trifle with ME! O thou who hast taken so much pride in the breaking of many women's hearts, learn that thou hast never stirred one throb of passion in MINE! ... that I have loathed thy beauty while caressing thee, and longed to slay thee while embracing thee! ... and that even now I would I saw thee dead before me, ere I myself am forced to die!"

Pausing in the swift torrent of her words, her white breast heaved violently with the rise and fall of her panting breath,—her dark, brilliant eyes dilated, while the symbolic Jewel she wore, and the crown of serpents' heads in her streaming hair, seemed to glitter about her like so many points of lightning. At that instant one side of the Sanctuary split asunder, giving way to a bursting wreath of flames. Seeing this, she uttered a piercing cry, and stretched out her arms.

"Zephoranim! ... Save me!"

In a second, the King sprang toward her, but not before Sah-luma, wild with wrath, had interposed himself between them.

"Back!" he exclaimed passionately, addressing the infuriated monarch.. "While I live, Lysia is mine!—let her hate and deny me as she will!—and sooner than see her in thine arms, O King, I will slay her where she stands!"

His bold attitude was magnificent,—his countenance more than beautiful in its love betrayed despair, . . and for a moment the savage Zephoranim paused irresolute, his scowling brows bent on his erstwhile favorite Minstrel with an expression that hovered curiously between bitterest enmity and reluctant reverence. There seemed to be a struggling consciousness in his mind of the immortality of a Poet as compared with the evanescent power of a King,—and also a quick realization of the truth that, let his anger be what it would, they twain were partakers in the same evil, and were mutually deceived by the same false woman! But ere his saving sense of justice could prevail, a ripple of discordant, delirious laughter broke once more from Lysia's lips,—her eye shone vindictively,—her whole face became animated with a sudden glow of fiendish triumph.

"Zephoranim!" she cried, "Hero! ... Warrior! ... King! ... Thou who hast risked thy crown and throne and life for my sake and the love of me! ... Wilt lose me now? ... Wilt let me perish in these raging flames, to satisfy this wanton liar and unbeliever in the gods, to whose disturbance of the Holy Ritual we surely owe this present fiery disaster! Save me, O strong and noble Zephoranim! ... Save me, and with me save the city and the people! KILL SAH- LUMA!"

O barbarous, inexorable words!—they rang like a desolating knell in the ears of the bewildered, fear-stricken Theos, and startled him from his rigid trance of speechless misery. Uttering an inarticulate dull groan, he made a violent effort to rush forward —to serve as a living shield of defence to his adored friend, . . to ward off the imminent blow! Too late! too late! ... Zephoranim's dagger glittered in the air, and rapidly descended ... One gasping cry! ... and Sah-luma lay prone,—beautiful as a slain Adonis, . . the rich red blood pouring from his heart, and a faint, stern smile frozen on the proud lips whose dulcet singing-speech was now struck dumb forever! With a shriek of agony, Theos threw himself beside his murdered comrade, . . heedless of King, Priestess, flames, and all the out-breaking fury of earth and heaven, he bent above that motionless form, and gazed yearningly into the fair colorless face.

"Sah-luma! ... Sah-luma!"

No sign! ... No tremulous stir of breath! Dead—dead,—dead in his prime of years—dead in the zenith of his glory!—all the delicate, dreaming genius turned to dust and ashes! ... all the ardent light of inspiration quenched in the never-lifting darkness of the grave! ... and in the first delirious paroxysm of his grief Theos felt as though life, time, and the world were ended for him also, with this one suddenly destroyed existence!

"O thou mad King!" he cried fiercely, "Thou hast slain the chief wonder of thy realm and reign! Die now when thou wilt, thou shalt only he remembered as the murderer of Sah-luma! ... Sah-luma, whose name shall live when thine is covered in shameful oblivion!"

Zephoranim frowned,—and threw the blood-stained dagger from him.

"Peace, clamorous fool!" he said, "Sah-luma hath gone but a moment before me, . . as Poet he hath received precedence even in death! When the last hour comes for all of us, it matters not how we die, . . and whether I am hereafter remembered or forgotten I care not! I have lived as a man should live,—fearing nothing and conquered by none,—except perchance by Love, that hath brought many kings ere now to untimely ruin!" Here his moody eyes lighted on Lysia. "How many lovers hast thou had, fair soul?".. he demanded in a stern yet tremulous voice ... "A thousand? ... I would swear this dead Minstrel of mine was one,—for though I slew him at thy bidding I saw the truth in his dying eyes! ... No matter!— We shall meet in Hades,—and there we shall have ample time to urge our rival claims upon thy favor! Ah!".. and he suddenly laid his two strong hands on her white uncovered shoulders, and gazed at her reproachfully as she shrank a little beneath his close scrutiny, . . "Thou divine Traitress! Have I not challenged the very heavens for thy sake? ... and lo! the prophecy is fulfilled and Al-Kyris must fall! How many men would have loved thee as I have loved? ... None! not even this dead Sah-luma, slain like a dog to give thee pleasure! Come! ... Let me kiss thee once again ere death makes cold our lips! False or true, thou art nevertheless fair!—and the wrathful gods know best how I worship thy fairness!"

And folding his arms about her, he kissed her passionately. She clung to him like a lithe serpentine thing,—her eyes ablaze, her mouth quivering with suppressed hysterical laughter. Pointing to Sah-luma's body, she said in a strange excited whisper:

"Nay, hast thou slain him in very truth, Zephoranim! ... slain him utterly? For I have heard that poets cannot die,—they live when the whole world deems them dead,—they rise from their shut graves and re-invest the earth with all the secrets of past time, . . Oh! my brain reels! ... I talk mere madness! ... there is no afterwards of death!—No, no! No gods, no anything but blankness.. forgetfulness.. and silence! ... for us, and for all men! ... How good it is!—how excellently devised a jest! ... that the whole wide Universe should be but a cheat of time! ... a bubble blown into Space, to float, break, and perish,—all for the idle sport of some unknown and shapeless Devil-Mystery!"

Shuddering, half-laughing, half-weeping, she clasped her hands round the monarch's throat, and hid her wild eyes in his breast, while he, unnerved by her distraction and his own inward torture, glared about him on all sides for some glimmering chance of rescue, but could see none. The flames were now attacking the Shrine on every side like a besieging army,—their leaping darts of blue and crimson gleaming here and there with indescribable velocity, . . and still Theos knelt by Sah-luma's corpse in dry-eyed despair, endeavoring with feverish zeal to stanch the oozing blood with a strip torn from his own garments, and listening anxiously for the feeblest heart-throb, or smaller pulsation of smouldering life in the senseless stiffening clay.

All at once a hideous scream assailed his ears,—another, and yet another rang above the crackling roar of the gradually conquering fire, . . and half-lifting Sah-luma's body in his arms, he looked up...O horror, horror! his nerves contracted,—his blood seemed to turn to ice in his veins, . . his head swam giddily, . . and he thought the moment of his own death had come, for surely no man could behold the sight he saw and yet continue to live on! Lysia the captor was made captive at last! ..bound, helpless, imprisoned, and hopelessly doomed, ..Nagaya had claimed his own! The huge Snake, terrified beyond all control at the bursting breadth of fire environing the shrine, had turned in its brute fear to the mistress it had for years been accustomed to obey, and had now, with one stealthy noiseless spring, twisted its uppermost coil close about her waist, where its restless head, alarmed eyes, and darting fangs all glistened together like a blazing cluster of gems! the more she struggled to release herself from its deathful embrace, the tighter its body contracted and the more maddened with fright it became. Shriek upon shriek broke from her lips and pierced the suffocating air, . . while with all his great muscular force Zephoranim the King strove in desperate agony to tear her from the awful clutch of the monster he had but lately knelt to as divine! In vain, ..in vain! ... the strongest efforts were useless, ... the cruel, beautiful, pitiless Priestess of Nagaya was condemned to suffer the same frightful death she had so often mercilessly decreed for others! Closer and closer grew the fearful Python's constricting clasp, . . nearer and nearer swept the dancing battalion of destroying flames! ... For one fleeting breath of time Theos stared aghast at the horrid scene, . . then making a superhuman effort he raised Sah-luma's corpse entirely from the ground and staggered with his burden away, . . away from the burning Shrine, . . the funeral pyre, as it vaguely seemed to him, of a wasted Love and a dead passion!

* * * * * * *

Whither should he go! ... Down into the blazing area of the fast- perishing Temple? Surely no safety could be found there, where the fire was raging at its utmost height! ... yet he went on mechanically, as though urged forward by some force superior to his own, . . always clinging to the idea that his friend still lived and that if he could only reach some place of temporary shelter he might yet be able to restore him. It was possible the wound was not fatal, . . far more possible to his mind than that so gloriously famed a Poet should be dead!

So he dimly thought, while he stumbled dizzily along, . . his forehead wet with clammy dews, . . his limbs trembling under the weight he bore, . . his eyes half-blinded by the hot flying sparks and drifting smoke, . . and his soul shaken and appalled by the ghastly sights that met his view wheresoever he turned. Crushed and writhing bodies of men, women, and children, half-living, half-dead, . . heaps of corpses, fast blazing to ashes,—broken and falling columns, . . yawning gaps in the ground, from which were cast forth volleys of red cinders and streams of lava, ... all these multitudinous horrors surrounded him, as with uncertain, faltering steps he moved on like a sick man walking in sleep, carrying his precious burden! He knew nothing of where he was bound,—he saw no outlet anywhere—no corner wherein the Fire- fiend had not set up devouring dominion, . . but nevertheless he steadily continued his difficult progress, clasping Sah-luma's corpse with a strange tenacity, and concentrating all his attention on protecting it from the withering touch of the ravenous flames. All at once,—as he strove to force his way over a fallen altar from which the hideous presiding stone idol had toppled headlong, killing in its descent some twenty or thirty people whose bodies lay crushed beneath it,—a face horribly disfigured and tortured into a mere burnt sketch of its former likeness twisted itself up and peered at him, the face of Zabastes, the Critic. His protruding eyes glistened with something of their old malign expression as he perceived whose helpless form it was that was being carried by.

"What! ... is the famous Sah-luma gone?" he gasped, his words half choking him in their utterance as he stretched out a skinny hand and caught at Theos's garments ... "Good youth, stay! ... Stay! ... Why burden thyself with a corpse when thou mightest rescue a living man? Save ME! ... Save ME! ... I was the Poet's adverse Critic, and who but I should write his Eulogy now that he is no more! ... Pity! ... Pity, most courteous, gentle sir! ... Save me if only for the sake of Sah-luma's future honor! Thou knowest not how warmly, how generously, how nobly, I can praise the dead!"

Theos gazed down upon him in unspeakable, melancholy scorn, . . was it only through time-serving creatures such as this miserable Zabastes, that the after-glory of perished poets was proclaimed to the world? ... What then was the actual worth of Fame?

Shuddering, he wrenched himself away, and passed on silently, heedless of the savage curses the despairing scribe yelled after him as he went, and he involuntarily pressed the dead corpse of his beloved friend closer to his heart, as though he thought he could re-animate it by this mute expression of tenderness! Meanwhile the fire raged continuously,—the Temple was fast becoming a pillared mass of flames, . . and presently,—choked and giddy with the sulphurous vapors—he stopped abruptly, struggling for breath. His time had come at last, he thought, . . he with Sah- luma must die!

Just then a loud muttering and rolling of thunder swept in eddying vibrations round him, followed by a sharp, splitting noise, . . raising his aching eyes, he saw straight before him, a yawning gloomy archway, like the solemn portal of a funeral vault.. dark, yet with a white glimmer of steps leading outward, and a dim sparkle as of stars in heaven. A rush of new vigor inspired him at this sight, and he resumed his way, stumbling over countless corpses strewn among fallen blocks of marble,—and every now and then looking back in awful fascination to the fiery furnace of the body of the Temple, where of all the vast numbers that had lately crowded it from end to end, there were only a hundred or so remaining alive,—and these were fast perishing in frightful agony. The Shrine of Nagaya was enveloped in thick black smoke, crossed here and there by flashes of flame,—the bare outline of its Titanic architecture was scarcely discernible! Yet the thought of the dreadful end of Lysia, the loveliest woman he had ever seen, moved him now to no emotion whatever—save..gladness! Some deadly evil seemed burnt out of his life, . . moreover her command had slain Sah-luma! ... Enough! ... no fate however horrible, could be more so than she in her wanton wickedness deserved! ... But alas! her beauty! ... He dared not think of its subtle, slumberous charm! ... and stung to a new sense of desperation, he plunged recklessly toward the dusky aperture he had seen, which appeared to enlarge itself mysteriously as he approached, like the opening gateway of some magic cavern.

Suddenly a faint groan at his feet startled him,—and, looking down hastily, he perceived an unfortunate man lying half crushed under the ponderous fragment of a split column, which had fallen across his body in such manner that any attempt to extricate him would have been worse than useless. By the bright light of the leaping flames, Theos had no difficulty in recognizing the pallid countenance of his late acquaintance, the learned Professor of Positivism, Mira-Khabur, who was evidently very near his woeful and most positive end! Struck by an impulse of compassion he paused, . . yet what could he say? ..In such a case, where rescue was impossible, all comfort seemed mockery,—and while he stood silent and irresolute, he fancied the Professor smiled! It was a very ghastly smile,—nevertheless it hid in it a curious touch of bland and scrupulous inquiry.

"Is not this...a very.. remarkable occurrence?" ... asked a voice so feeble and far away that it was difficult to believe it came from the lips of the suffering sage. "Of course...it arises from...a volcanic eruption! ... and the mystery of the red river.. is.. solved!" Here an irrepressible moan of anguish broke through his heroic effort at equanimity;—"It is NOT a phenomenon!".. and a gleam of obstinate self-assertion lit up his poor glazing eyes, "Nothing is phenonmenal! ... only I am not able...to explain. ... I have no time...no time...to analyze.. my very ... singular...sensations!"

A rush of blood choked his utterance—his throat rattled, ... he was dead! ... and the dreary speculative smile froze on his mouth in the likeness of a solemn sneer. At that moment, a terrific swirling, surging noise, like the furious boiling of an underground whirlpool, rumbled heavily through the air, . . and lo! with a sudden, swift shock that sent Theos reeling forward and almost falling, under the burdensome weight he carried, the earth opened, . . disclosing a huge pit of black nothingness,—an enormous chasm,—into which, with an appalling clamor as of a hundred incessant peals of thunder, the whole main area of the Temple, together with its mass of dead and dying human beings, sank in less than five seconds!—the ground closing instantaneously over its prey with a sullen roar, as though it were some gigantic beast devouring food too long denied. And instead of the vanished fane arose a mighty Pillar of Fire! ... a vast increasing volume of scarlet and gold flame that spread outward and upward,—higher and higher, in tapering lines and dome-like curves of living light, . . while Theos, being hurled along resistlessly by the force of the convulsion, had reached, though he knew not how, the dark and quiet cell-like portal with its out-leading steps, . . the only visible last hope and chance of safety, . . and he now leaned against its cold stone arch, trembling in every limb, clasping the dead Sah-luma close, and looking back in affrighted awe at the tossing vortex of fury from which he had miraculously escaped. And,—as he looked,—a host of spectral faces seemed to rise whitely out of the flames and wonder at him! ... faces that were solemn, wistful, warning, and beseeching by turns! ... they drifted through the fire and smiled, and wept, and vanished, to reappear again and yet again! ... and as, with painfully beating heart, he strove to combat the terror that seized him at this strange spectacular delusion, all suddenly the heavy wreaths of smoke that had till now hung over the Inner Shrine of Nagaya parted like drapery drawn aside from a picture.. and for a brief breathing space of direst agony he saw Lysia once more,—Lysia, in a torture as horrible as any ever depicted in a bigot's idea of his enemy's Hell! Round and round her writhing form the sacred Serpent was twined in all his many coils,—with both hands she had grasped the creature's throat in her frenzy, striving to thrust back its quivering fangs from her breast, whereon the evil "Eye of Raphon" still gleamed distinctly with its adamantine chilly stare, . . at her feet lay the body of the King her lover, dead and wrapped in a ring of flames! ... Alone—all, all alone, she confronted Death in its most appalling shape.. her countenance was distorted, yet beautiful still with the beauty of a maddened Medusa, . . white and glittering as a fair ghost invoked from some deadly gulf of pain, she stood, a phantom-figure of mingled loveliness and horror, circled on every side by fire!

With wild, straining eyes Theos gazed upon her thus, ... for the last time! ... For with a crash that seemed to rend the very heavens, the great bronze columns surrounding her, which had, up to the present, resisted the repeated onslaughts of the flames, bent together all at once and fell in a melting ruin.. and the victorious fire roared loudly above them, enveloping the whole Shrine anew in dense clouds of smoke and jets of flame,—Lysia had perished! All that proud loveliness, that dazzling supremacy, that superb voluptuousness, that triumphant dominion, . . swept away into a heap of undiscoverable ashes! And Zephoranim's haughty spirit too had fled,—fled, stained with guilt and most unroyal dishonor, all for the sake of one woman's fairness—the fairness of body only—the brilliant mask of flesh that too often hides the hideousness of a devil's nature!

For one moment Theos remained stupefied by the sheer horror of the catastrophe,—then, recalling his bewildered wits to his aid, he peered anxiously through the archway where he rested, . . there seemed to be a dim red glow at the end of the downward-leading steps, as well as a dusky azure tint, like a patch of midnight sky. The Temple was now nothing but a hissing shrieking pyramid of flames,—the hot and blinding glare was almost too intense for his eyes to endure,—yet so fascinated was he by the sublime terror and grandeur of the spectacle, that he could scarcely make up his mind to turn away from it! The thought of Sah-luma, however, gave the needful spur to his flagging energies, and without pausing to consider where he might be going, he slowly and hesitatingly descended the steps before him, and presently reached a sort of small open court paved with black marble. Here he tenderly laid his burden down,—a burden grown weightier with each moment of its bearing,—and letting his aching arms drop listlessly at his sides, he looked up dreamily,—not all at once comprehending the cause of the vast lurid light that crimsoned the air like a wide aurora borealis everywhere about him, . . then,—as the truth suddenly flashed on his mind, he uttered a loud, irrepressible cry of amazement and awe!

Far as his gaze could see,—east, west, north, south, the whole city of Al-Kyris was in flames!—and the burning Temple of Nagaya was but a mere spark in the enormous breadth of the general conflagration! Palaces, domes, towers, and spires were tottering to red destruction, . . fire...fire everywhere! ... nothing but fire,—save when a furious gust of scorching wind blew aside the masses of cindery smoke, and showed glimpses of sky and the changeless shining of a few cold quiet stars. He cast one desperate glance from earth to heaven, . . how was it possible to escape from this kindling furnace of utter annihilation! ... Where all were manifestly doomed, how could HE expect to be saved! And moreover, if Sah-luma was indeed dead, what remained for him but to die also!

* * * * * * *

Calming the frenzy of his thoughts by a strong effort, he began to vaguely wonder why and how it happened that the place where he now was, . . this small and insignificant court,—had so far escaped the fire, and was as cool and sombre as a sacred tomb set apart for some hero, ... or Poet? Poet!—The word acted as a stimulant to his tired struggling brain, and he all at once remembered what Sah-luma had said to him at their first meeting: "There is but one Poet in Al-Kyris, and I am he!"

O true, true! Only one Poet! ... Only one glory of the great city, that now served him as funeral pyre!—only one name worth remembering in all its perishing history.. the name of SAH-LUMA! Sah-luma, the beautiful, the gifted, the famous, the beloved, . . he was dead! This thought, in its absorbing painfulness, straightway drove out all others,—and Theos, who had carried his comrade's corpse bravely and unshrinkingly through a fiery vortex of imminent peril, now sank on his knees all desolate and unnerved, his hot tears dropping fast on that fair, still, white face that he knew would never flush to the warmth of life again!

"Sah-luma! Sah-luma!" he whispered, "My friend ... My more than brother! Would I could have died for thee! ... Would thou couldst have lived to fulfil the nobler promise of thy genius! ... Better far thou hadst been spared to the world than I! ... for I am Nothing, . . but thou wert Everything!"

And taking the clay-cold hands in his own, he kissed them reverently, and, with an unconscious memory not born of his recent adventures, folded them on the dead Laureate's breast in the fashion of a Cross.

As he did this an icy spasm seemed to contract his heart, . . seized by a sudden insufferable anxiety, he stared like one spell-bound into Sah-luma's wide-open, fixed, and glassy eyes. Dead eyes! ... yet how full of mysterious significance! ... What—WHAT was their weird secret, their imminent meaning! ... Why did their dark and frozen depths appear to retain a strange, living undergleam of melting, sorrowful, beseeching sweetness? ... like the eyes of one who prays to be remembered, though changed after long absence! What hot and terrible delirium was this that snatched at his whirling brain as he bent closer and closer over the marble quiet countenance, and studied with a sort of fierce intentness every line of those delicate, classic features, on which high thought had left so marked an impress of dignity and power! What a, marvellous, half-reproachful, half-appealing smile lingered on the finely-curved set lips! ... How wonderful, how beautiful, how beloved beyond all words was this fair dead god of poesy on whom he gazed with such a passion of yearning!

Stooping more and more, he threw his arms round the senseless form, and partly lifting it from the ground, brought the wax- pallid face nearer to his own.. so near that the cold mouth almost touched his, . . then filled with an awful, unnamable misgiving, he scanned his murdered comrade's perished beauty in puzzled, vague bewilderment, much as an ignorant dullard might perplexedly scan the incomprehensible characters of some hieroglyphic scroll. And, as he looked, a sharp pang shot through him like a whizzing ball of fire, . . a convulsion of mental agony shook his limbs,—he could have shrieked aloud in the extremity of his torture, but the struggling cry died gasping in his throat. Still as stone he kept his strained, steadfast gaze fixed on Sah-luma's corpse, slowly absorbing the full horror of a tremendous Suggestion, that like a scorching lava-flood swept into every subtle channel of his brain. For the dead Sah-luma's eyes grew into the semblance of his own eyes! ... the dead Sah-luma's face smiled spectrally back at him in the image of his own face! ... it was as though he beheld the Picture of himself, slain and reflected in a magician's mirror! Round him the very heavens seemed given up to fire,—but he heeded it not,—the world might be at an end and the day of Judgment, proclaimed,—nothing would have stirred him from where he knelt, in that dreadful stillness of mystic martyrdom, drinking in the gradual, glimmering consciousness of a terrific Truth, . . the amazing, yet scarcely graspable solution of a supernatural Enigma, ... an enigma through which, like a man lost in the depths of a dark forest, he had wandered up and down, seeking light, yet finding none!

"O God!" he dumbly prayed. "Thou, with whom all things are possible, give eyes to this blind trouble of my heart! I am but as a grain of dust before thee, . . a poor perishable atom, devoid of simplest comprehension! ... Do Thou of Thy supernal pity teach me what I must know!"

As he thought out this unuttered petition, a tense cord seemed to snap suddenly in his brain, . . a rush of tears came to his relief, and through their salt and bitter haze the face of Sah-luma appeared to melt into a thin and spiritual brightness,—a mere aerial outline of what it had once been, . . the glazed dark eyes seemed to flash living lightning into his, . . the whole lost Personality of the dead Poet seemed to environ him with a mysterious, potent, incorporeal influence.. an influence that he felt he must now or never repel, reject, and utterly RESIST! ... With a shuddering cry, he tore his reluctant arms away from the beloved corpse, . . with trembling, tender fingers he closed and pressed down the white eyelids of those love-expressive eyes, and kissed the broad poetic brow!

"Whatever thou WERT or ART to me, Sah-luma, "he murmured in sobbing haste,—"thou knowest that I loved thee, though now I leave thee! Farewell!"—and his voice broke in its strong agony— "O how much easier to divide body from soul than part myself from thee! Sah-luma, beloved Sah-luma! God give thee rest! ... God pardon thy sins,—and mine!"

And he pressed his lips once more on the folded rigid hands; . . as he did so, he inadvertently touched the writing-tablet that hung from the dead Laureate's girdle. The red glow of the fire around him enabled him to see distinctly what was written on it, . . there were about twenty lines of verse, in exquisitely clear and fine caligraphy, ... and, as he read, he knew them well, . . they were the last lines of the poem "Nourhalma"!

He dared trust his own strength no longer, . . one wild, adoring, lingering, parting look at his dead rival in song, whom he had loved better than himself,—and then,—full of a nameless fear, he fled! ... fled recklessly, and with swift, mad fury as though demons followed in pursuit, . . fled through the burning city, as a lost and frenzied spirit might speed through the deserts of Hell! Everywhere about him resounded the crackling hiss of the flames, and the crash of falling buildings, . . mighty pinnacles and lofty domes melted and vanished before is eyes in a blaze of brilliant destruction! ... on—on he went, meeting confused, scattered crowds of people, whose rushing, white-garmented figures looked like ghosts flying before a storm, . . the cries and shrieks of women and children, and the groans of men were mingled with the restless roaring of lions and other wild beasts burnt out of their dens in the Royal Arena, the distant circle of which could be dimly seen, surrounded by fountain-like jets of fire. Some of these maddened animals ran against him, as he sped along the blazing thoroughfares,—but he made no attempt to avoid them, nor was he sensible of any other terror than that which was WITHIN HIMSELF and was purely mental. On! ... On!—Still on he went,—a desperate, lonely man, lost in a hideous nightmare of flame and fury, . . seeing nothing but one vast flying rout of molten red and gold, . . speaking to none, . . utterly reckless as to his own fate, . . only impelled on and on, but whither he knew not, nor cared to know!

All at once his, strength gave way...his nerves seemed to break asunder like so many over-wound harp-strings, . . a sudden silvery clanging of bells rang in his ears, and with them came a sound of multitudinous soft, small voices: "Kyrie Eleison! Kyrie Eleison!"

Hush! ... What was that? ... What did it mean? ... Halting abruptly, he gave a wild glance round him,—up to the sky, where the flaring flames spread in tangled lengths and webs of light, . . then, straight before him to the City of Al-Kyris, now a wondrous vision of redly luminous columns and cupolas, with the wet gleam of the river enfolding its blazing streets and towers: . . and while he yet beheld it, lo! IT RECEDED FROM HIS VIEW! Further, . . further!—further away, till it seemed nothing but the toppling and smoldering of heavy clouds after the conflagration of the sunset!

Hark, hark again! ... "Kyrie, Eleison! ... Kyrie, Eleison!" With a sense of reeling rapture and awe he listened, . . he understood! ... he found the NAME he had so long forgotten! "CHRIST, have mercy upon me!"...he cried, and in that one urgent supplication he uttered all the pent-up anguish of his soul! Blind and dizzy with the fevered whirl of his own emotions, he stumbled forward and fell! ... fell heavily over a block of stone, . . stunned by the shock, he lost consciousness, but only for a moment; . . a dull aching in his temples roused him,—and making a faint effort to rise, he turned slowly and languidly on his arm, . . and with a long, deep, shuddering sigh...AWOKE!

He was on the Field of Ardath. Dawn had just broken. The east was one wide, shimmering stretch of warm gold, and over it lay strips of blue and gray, like fragments of torn battle-banners. Above him sparkled the morning star, white and glittering as a silver lamp, among the delicate spreading tints of saffron and green, . . and beside him,—her clear, pure features flushed by the roseate splendor of the sky, her hands clasped on her breast, and her sweet eyes full of an infinite tenderness and yearning, knelt EDRIS!—Edris, his flower-crowned Angel, whom last he had seen drifting upward and away like a dove through the glory of the Cross in Heaven!



CHAPTER XXX.

SUNRISE.

Entranced in amazed ecstasy he lay quite quiet, . . afraid to speak or stir! This gentle Presence,—this fair, beseeching face, might vanish if he moved! So he dimly fancied, as he gazed up at her in mute wonder and worship, his devout eyes drinking in her saintly loveliness, from the deep burnished gold of her hair to the soft, white slimness of her prayerfully folded hands. And while he looked, old thoughts like home-returning birds began to hover round his soul,—sweet and dear remembrances, like the sunset lighting up the windows of an empty house, began to shine on the before semi-darkened nooks and crannies of his brain. Clearer and clearer grew the reflecting mirror of his consciousness,—trouble and perplexity seemed passing away forever from his mind, . . a great and solemn peace environed him, . . and he began to believe he had crossed the boundary of death and had entered at last into the Kingdom of Heaven! O let him not break this holy silence! ... Let him rest so, with all the glory of that Angel-visage shed like summer sunbeams over him! ... Let him absorb into his innermost being the exquisite tenderness of those innocent, hopeful, watchful, starry eyes whose radiance seemed to steal into the golden morning and give it a sacred poetry and infinite marvel of meaning! So he mused, gravely contented, ... while all through the brightening skies overhead, came the pale, pink flushing of the dawn, like a far fluttering and scattering of rose-leaves. Everything was so still that he could hear his own heart beating forth healthful and regular pulsations, . . but he was scarcely conscious of his own existence,—he was only aware of the vast, beautiful, halcyon calm that encircled him shelteringly and soothed all care away.

Gradually, however, this deep and delicious tranquillity began to yield to a sweeping rush of memory and comprehension, ... he knew WHO he was and WHERE he was,—though he did not as yet feel absolutely certain of life and life's so-called realities. For if the City of Al-Kyris, with all its vivid wonders, its distinct experiences, its brilliant pageantry, had been indeed a DREAM, then sorely it was possible he might be dreaming still! ... Nevertheless he was able to gather up the fragments of lost recollection consecutively enough to realize, by gentle degrees, his actual identity and position in the world, . . he was Theos Alwyn, . . a man of the nineteenth century after Christ. Ah! thank God for that! ... AFTER Christ! ... not one who had lived five thousand years BEFORE Christ's birth! ... And this quiet, patient Maiden at his side, . . who was she? A vision? ... or an actually existent Being? Unable to resist the craving desire of his heart, he spoke her name as he now remembered it, . . spoke it in a faint, awed whisper.

"Edris!"

"Theos, my Beloved!"

O sweet and thrilling voice! more musical than the singing of birds in a sun-filled Spring!

He raised himself a little, and looked at her more intently:—she smiled,—and that smile, so marvellous in its pensive peace and lofty devotion, was as though all the light of an unguessed paradise had suddenly flashed upon his soul!

"Edris!" he said again, trembling in the excess of mingled hope and fear ... "Hast thou then returned again from heaven, to lift me out of darkness? ... Tell me, fair Angel, do I wake or sleep? ... Are my senses deceived? Is this land a dream? ... Am I myself a dream, and thou the only manifest sweet Truth in a world of drifting shadows! ... Speak to me, gentle Saint! ... In what vast mystery have I been engulfed? ... in what timeless trance of soul- bewilderment? ... in what blind uncertainty and pain? ... O Sweet! ... resolve my wordless wonder! Where have I strayed? ... what have I seen? ... Ah, let not my rough speech fright thee back to Paradise! ... Stay with me! ... comfort me! ... I have lost thee so long! let me not lose thee now!"

Smiling still, she bent over him, and pressed her warm, delicate ringers lightly on his brow and lips. Then softly she rose and stood erect.

"Fear nothing, my beloved!" she answered, her silvery accents sending a throb of holy triumph through the air.. "Let no trouble disquiet thee, and no shadow of misgiving dim the brightness of thy waking moments! Thou hast slept ONE night on the Field of Ardath, in the Valley of Vision!—but lo! the Night is past!".. and she pointed toward the eastern horizon now breaking into waves of rosy gold, "Rise! and behold the dawning of thy new Day!"

Roused by her touch, and fired by her tone and the grand, unworldly dignity of her look and bearing, he sprang up, . . but as he met the full, pure splendor of her divine eyes, and saw, wavering round her hair, a shining aureole of amber radiance like a wreath of woven sunbeams, his spirit quailed within him, . . he remembered all his doubts of her,—his disbelief, . . and falling at her feet, he hid his face in a shame that was better than all glory,—a humiliation that was sweeter than all pride.

"Edris! Immortal Edris!".. he passionately prayed, "As thou art a crowned saint in Heaven, shed light on the chaos of my soul! From the depths of a penitence past thought and speech I plead with thee! Hear me, my Edris, thou who art so maiden-meek, so tender- patient! ... hear me, help me, guide me...I am all thine! Say, didst thou not summon me to meet thee here upon this wondrous Field of Ardath?—did I not come hither according to thy words?— and have I not seen things that I am not able to express or understand? Teach me, wise and beloved one! ... I doubt no more! I know Myself and Thee:—thou art an angel,—but I! ... alas, what am I? A grain of sand in thy sight and in God's, . . a mere Nothing, comprehending nothing,—unable even to realize the extent of my own nothingness! Edris, O Edris! ... THOU canst not love me! ... thou mayst pity me perchance, and pardon, and bless me gently in Christ's dear Name! ... but love! ... THY love! ... Oh let me not aspire to such heights of joy, where I have no place, no right, no worthiness!"

"No worthiness!" echoed Edris! ... what a rapture trembled through her sweet caressing voice!—"My Theos, who is so worthy to win back what is thine own, as thou? All Heaven has wondered at thy voluntary exile,—thy place in God's supernal Sphere has long been vacant, . . thy right to dwell there, none have questioned, ... thy throne is empty—thy crown unclaimed! Thou art an Angel even as I! ... but thou art in bonds while I am free! Ah, how sad and strange it is to me to see thee here thus fettered to the Sorrowful Star, when, countless aeons since, thou mightest have enjoyed full liberty in the Eternal Light of the everlasting Paradise!"

He listened, ... a strong, sweet hope began to kindle in him like flame, . . but he made no answer. Only he caught and kissed the edge of her garment, . . its soft gray cloudy texture brushed his lips with the odorous coolness of a furled roseleaf. She seemed to tremble at his action, ... but he dared not look up. Presently he felt the pulsing pressure of her hands upon his head! and a rush of strange, warm vigor thrilled through his veins like an electric flash of new and never-ending life.

"Thou wouldst seek after and know the truth!" she said, "Truth Celestial,—Truth Unchangeable, . . Truth that permeates and underlies all the mystic inward workings of the Universe, . . workings and secret laws unguessed by Man! Vast as Eternity is this Truth,—ungraspable in all its manifestations by the merely mortal intelligence, ... nevertheless thy spirit, being chastened to noble humility and repentance, hath risen to new heights of comprehension, whence thou canst partly penetrate into the wonders of worlds unseen. Did I not tell thee to 'LEARN FROM THE PERILS OF THE PAST, THE PERILS OF THE FUTURE'—and understandest thou not the lesson of the Vision of Al-Kyris? Thou hast seen the Dream- reflection of thy former Poet-fame and glory in old time,—THOU WERT SAH-LUMA!"

An agony of shame possessed him as he heard. His soul at once seized the solution of the mystery, . . his quickened thought plunged plummet-like straight through the depths of the bewildering phantasmagoria, in which mere reason had been of no practical avail, and straightway sounded its whole seemingly complex, but actually simple meaning! HE WAS SAH-LUMA! ... or rather, he HAD BEEN Sah-luma in some far stretch of long-receded time, ... and in his Dream of a single night, he had loved the brilliant Phantom of his Former Self more than his own present Identity! Not less remarkable was the fact that, in this strange Sleep-Mirage, he had imagined himself to be perfectly UNselfish, whereas all the while he had honored, flattered, and admired the more Appearance of Himself more than anything or everything in the world! Ay!—even his occasional reluctant reproaches to Himself in the ghostly impersonation of Sah-luma had been far more tender than severe!

O deep and bitter ingloriousness! ... O speechless degradation of all the higher capabilities of Man! to love one's own ephemeral Shadow-Existence so utterly as to exclude from thought and sympathy all other things whether human or divine! And was it not possible that this Spectre of Self might still be clinging to him? Was it dead with the Dream of Sah-luma? ... or had Sah-luma never truly died at all? ... and was the fine, fire-spun Essence that had formed the Spirit of the Laureate of Al-Kyris yet part of the living Substance of his present nature, ... he, a world- unrecognized English poet of the nineteenth century? Did all Sah- luma's light follies, idle passions, and careless cruelties remain inherent in him? Had he the same pride of intellect, the same vain-glory, the same indifference to God and Man? Oh, no, no! ... he shuddered at the thought! ... and his head sank lower and lower beneath the benediction touch of Her whose tenderness revived his noblest energies, and lit anew in his heart the pure, bright fire of heaven-encompassing Aspiration.

"THOU WERT SAH-LUMA!" went on the mildly earnest voice, "And all the wide, ungrudging fame given to Earth's great poets in ancient days, was thine! Thy name was on all men's mouths, ... thou wert honored by kings, ... thou wert the chief glory of a great people, ... great though misled by their own false opinions, ... and the City of Al-Kyris, of which thou wert the enshrined jewel, was mightier far than any now built upon the earth! Christ had not come to thee, save by dim types and vague prefigurements which only praying prophets could discern, ... but God had spoken to thy soul in quiet moments, and thou wouldst neither hear Him nor believe in Him! I had called thee, but thou wouldst not listen, ... thou didst foolishly prefer to hearken to the clamorous tempting of thine own beguiling human passions, and wert altogether deaf to an Angel's whisper! Things of the earth earthly gained dominion over thee ... by them thou wert led astray, deceived, and at last forsaken, ... the genius God gave thee thou didst misuse and indolently waste, ... thy brief life came, as thou hast seen, to sudden-piteous end,—and the proud City of thy dwelling was destroyed by fire! Not a trace of it was left to mark the spot where once it stood. The foundations of Babylon were laid above it, and no man guessed that it had ever been. And thy poems, ... the fruit of thy heaven-sent but carelessly accepted inspiration,—who is there that remembers them? ... No one! ... save THOU! THOU hast recovered them like sunken pearls from the profound ocean of limitless Memory, ... and to the world of To-day thou dost repeat the SELF-SAME MUSIC to which Al-Kyris listened entranced so many thousands of generations ago!"

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