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Ardath - The Story of a Dead Self
by Marie Corelli
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A deep sigh, that was half a groan, broke from his lips, ... he could now take the measurement of his own utter littleness and incompetency! HE COULD CREATE NOTHING NEW! Everything he had written, as he fancied only just lately, had been written by himself before! The problem of the poem "Nourhalma" ... was explained, ... he had designed it when he had played his part on the stage of life as Sah-luma,—and perhaps not even then for the first time! In this pride-crushing knowledge there was only one consolation, ... namely, that if his Dream was a true reflection of his Past, and exact in details as he felt it must be, then "Nourhalma," had not been given to Al-Kyris, ... it had been composed, but not made public. Hence, so far, it was new to the world, though not new to himself. Yet he had considered it wondrously new! a "perfectly original" idea! ... Ah! who dares to boast of any idea as humanly "original" ... seeing that all ideas whatsoever must be referred back to God and admitted as His and His only! What is the wisest man that ever lived, but a small, pale, ill-reflecting mirror of the Eternal Thought that controls and dominates all things! ... He remembered with conscience- stricken confusion what pleasure he had felt, what placid satisfaction, what unqualified admiration, when listening to his own works recited by the ghost-presentment of his Former Self! ... pleasure that had certainly exceeded whatever pain he had suffered by the then enigmatical and perplexing nature of the incident. O what a foolish Atom he now seemed, viewed by the standard of his newly aroused higher consciousness! ... how poor and passive a slave to the glittering, beckoning Phantasm of his own perishable Fame!

Thus on the Field of Ardath he drained the cup of humility to the dregs,—the cup which like that offered to the Prophet of Holy Writ was "full as it were with water, but the color of it was like fire"—the water of tears.. the fire of faith, . . and with that prophet he might have said.. "When I had drunk of it, my heart uttered understanding, and wisdom grew in my breast, for my spirit strengthened my memory."

Meanwhile Edris, still keeping her gentle hands on his bent head, went on:

"In such wise didst thou, my Beloved, as the famous Sah-luma, mournfully perish.. and the nations remembered thee no more! But thy spiritual, indestructible Essence lived on, and wandered dismayed and forlorn through a myriad forms of existence in the depths of Perpetual Darkness which MUST be, even as the Everlasting Light IS. Thy immortal but perverted Will bore thee always further from God, . . further from Him, and so far from me, that thou wert at times beyond even an Angel's ken! Ages upon ages rolled away, . . the centuries between Earth and Earths purposed redemption passed, ... and, . . though in Heaven these measured spaces of time that appear so great to men are as a mere world's month of summer, . . still, to me, for once God's golden days seemed long! I had lost THEE! Thou wert my soul's other soul. my king!— my immortality's completion! ... and though thou wert, alas! a fallen brightness, yet I held fast to my one hope, . . the hope in thy diviner nature, which, though sorely overcome, WAS NOT, and COULD NOT BE wholly destroyed. I knew the fate in store for thee, . . I knew that thou with other erring spirits wert bound to live again on earth when Christ had built His Holy Way therefrom to Heaven,—and never did I cease for thy dear sake to wait and watch and pray! At last I found thee, ... but ah! how I trembled for thy destiny! To thee had been delivered, as to all the children of men, the final message of salvation.. the Message of Love and Pardon which made all the angels wonder! ... but thou didst utterly reject it—and with the same willful arrogance of thy former self, Sah-luma, thou wert blindly and desperately turning anew into darkness! O my Beloved, that darkness might have been eternal! ... and crowded with memories dating from the very beginning of life! ... Nay, let me not speak of that Supernal Agony, since Christ hath died to quench its terrors! ... Enough!—by happy chance, through my desire, thine own roused better will, and the strength of one who hath many friends in Heaven, thy spirit was released to temporary liberty, . . and in thy vision at Dariel, which was NO vision, but a Truth, I bade thee meet me here. And why? ... SOLELY TO TEST THY POWER OF OBEDIENCE TO A DIVINE IMPULSE UNEXPLAINABLE BY HUMAN REASON,—and I rejoiced as only angels can rejoice, when of thine own Free-Will thou didst keep the tryst I made with thee! Yet thou knewest me not! ... or rather thou WOULDST NOT KNOW ME, . . till I left thee! ... 'Tis ever the way of mortals, to doubt their angels in disguise!"

Her sweet accents shook with a liquid thrill suggestive of tears, —but he was silent. It seemed to him that he would be well content to hold his place forever, if forever he might hear her thus melodiously speak on! Had she not called him her "other soul, her king, her immortality's completion!"—and on those wondrous words of hers his spirit hung, impassioned, dazzled, and entranced beyond all Time and Space and Nature and Experience!

After a brief pause, during which his ravished mind floated among the thousand images and vague feelings of a whole Past and Future merged in one splendid and celestial Present, she resumed, always softly and with the same exquisite tenderness of tone:

"I left thee, Dearest, but a moment, ... and in that moment, He who hath himself shared in human sorrows and sympathies,—He who is the embodiment of the Essence of God's Love,—came to my aid. Plunging thy senses in deep sleep, as hath been done before to many a saint and prophet of old time here on this very field of Ardath,—he summoned up before thee the phantoms of a PORTION of thy Past, ... phantoms which, to thee, seemed far more real than the living presence of thy faithful Edris! ... alas, my Beloved! ... thou art not the only one on the Sorrowful Star who accepts a Dream for Reality and rejects Reality as a Dream!"

She paused again,—and again continued: "Nevertheless, in some degree thy Vision of Al-Kyris was true, inasmuch as thou wert shown therein as in a mirror, ONE phase, ONE only of thy former existence upon earth. The final episode was chosen,—as by the end of a man's days alone shall he be judged! As much as thy dreaming- sight was able to see,—as much as thy brain was able to bear, appeared before thee, ... but that thou, slumbering, wert yet a conscious Personality among Phantoms, and that these phantoms spoke to thee, charmed thee, bewildered thee, tempted thee, and swayed thee, . . this was the Divine Master's work upon thine own retrospective Thought and Memory. He gave the shadows of thy bygone life, seeming color, sense, motion, and speech,—He blotted out from thy remembrance His own Most Holy Name, . . and, shutting up the Present from thy gaze, He sent thy spirit back into the Past. There, thou, perplexed and sorrowful, didst painfully re- weave the last fragments of thy former history, . . and not till thou hadst abandoned the Shadow of Thyself, didst thou escape from the fear of destruction! Then, when apparently all alone, and utterly forsaken, a cloud of angels circled round thee, . . THEN, at thy first repentant cry for help, He who has never left an earnest prayer unanswered bade me descend hither, to waken and comfort thee! ... Oh, never was His bidding more joyously obeyed! Now I have plainly shown thee the interpretation of thy Dream, . . and dost thou not comprehend the intention of the Highest in manifesting it unto thee? Remember the words of God's Prophet of old:

"'Behold the Field thou thoughtest barren, how great a glory hath the moon unveiled! "'And I beheld and was sore amazed, for I was no longer Myself, but Another "'And the sword of death was in that Other's soul,—and yet that Other was but Myself in pain "'And I knew not the things which were once familiar, and my heart failed within me for very fear!'"

She spoke the quaint and mystic lines with a grave, pure, rhythmic utterance that was like the far-off singing of sweet psalmody;— and when she ceased, the stillness that followed seemed quivering with the rich vibrations of her voice, ... the very air was surely rendered softer and more delicate by such soul-moving sound!

But Theos, who had listened dumbly until now, began to feel a sudden sorrowful aching at his heart, a sense of coming desolation, . . a consciousness that she would soon depart again, and leave him and, with a mingled reverence and passion, he ventured to draw one of the fair hands that rested on his brows, down into his own clasp. He met with no resistance, and half- happy, half-agonized, he pressed his lips upon its soft and dazzling whiteness, while the longing of his soul broke forth in words of fervid, irrepressible appeal.

"Edris!" he implored.. "If thou dost love me give me my death! Here,—now, at thy feet where I kneel! ... of what avail is it for me to struggle in this dark and difficult world? ... O deprive me of this fluctuating breath called Life and let me live indeed! I understand.. I know all thou hast said,—I have learned my own sins as in a glass darkly,—I have lived on earth before, and as it seems, made no good use of life, ... and now: now I have found THEE! Then why must I lose thee? ... thou who camest to me so sweetly at the first? ... Nay, I cannot part from thee—I will not! ... If thou leavest me, I have no strength to follow thee; I shall but miss the way to thine abode!"

"Thou canst not miss the way!"—responded Edris softly, . . "Look up, my Theos,—be of good cheer, thou Poet to whom Heaven's greatest gifts of Song are now accorded! Look up and tell me, . . is not the way made plain?"

Slowly and in reverential fear, he obeyed, and raised his eyes, still holding her by the hand,—and saw behind her a distinctly marked shadow that seemed flung downward by the reflection of some brilliant light above, . . the shadow of a Cross, against which her delicate figure stood forth in shining outlines. Seeing, he understood,—but nevertheless his mind grew more and more disquieted. A thousand misgivings crowded upon him,—he thought of the world, . . he remembered what it was, . . he was living in an age of heresy and wanton unbelief, where not only Christ's Divinity was made blasphemous mock of, but where even God's existence was itself called in question.. and as for ANGELS! ... a sort of shock ran through his nerves as he reflected that though preachers preached concerning these supernatural beings,—though the very birth of Christ rested on Angels' testimony,—though poets wrote of them, and painters strove to delineate them on their most famous canvases, each and all thus PRACTICALLY DEMONSTRATING THE SECRET INSTINCTIVE INTUITION OF HUMANITY that such celestial Forms ARE,—yet it was most absolutely certain that not a man in the prosaic nineteenth century would, if asked, admit, to any actual belief in their existence! Inconsistent? ... yes!—but are not men more inconsistent than the very beasts of the field their tyranny controls? What, as a rule, DO men believe in? ... Themselves! ... only themselves! They are, in their own opinion, the Be-All and the End-All of everything! ... as if the Supreme Creative Force called God were incapable of designing any Higher Form of Thinking-Life than their pigmy bodies which strut on two legs and, with two eyes and a small, quickly staggered brain, profess to understand and weigh the whole foundation and plan of the Universe!

Growing swiftly conscious of all that in the Purgatory of the Present awaited him, Theos felt as though the earth-chasm that had swallowed up Al-Kyris in his dream had opened again before him, affrighting him with its black depth of nothingness and annihilation,—and in a sudden agony of self-distrust he gazed yearningly at the fair, wistful face above him, . . the divine beauty that was HIS after all, if he only knew how to claim it!— Something, he knew not what, filled him with a fiery restlessness,—a passion of protest and aspiration, which for a moment was so strong that it seemed to him he must, with one fierce effort, wrench himself free from the trammels of mortality, and straightway take upon him the majesty of immortal nature, and so bear his Angel love company whithersoever she went! Never had the fetters of flesh weighed upon him with such-heaviness! ... but, in spite of his feverish longing to escape, some authoritative yet gentle Force held him prisoner.

"God!" he muttered ... "Why am I thus bound?—why can I not be free?"

"Because thy time for freedom has not come!" said Edris, quickly answering his thought ... "Because thou hast work to do that is not yet done! Thy poet labors have, up till now, been merely REPETITION, ... the repetition of thy Former Self, ... Go! the tired world waits for a new Gospel of Poesy, ... a new song that shall rouse it from its apathy, and bring it closer unto God and all things high and fair! Write!—for the nations wait for a trumpet-voice of Truth! ... the great poets are dead, . . their spirits are in Heaven, . . and there is none to replace them on the Sorrowful Star save THOU! Not for Fame do thy work—nor for Wealth, . . but for Love and the Glory of God!—for Love of Humanity, for Love of the Beautiful, the Pure, the Holy! ... let the race of men hear one more faithful Apostle of the Divine Unseen, ere Earth is lost in the withering light of a larger Creation! Go! ... perform thy long-neglected mission,—that mission of all poets worthy the name.. TO RAISE THE WORLD! Thou shalt not lack strength nor fervor, so long as thou dost write for the benefit of others. Serve God and live!—serve Self and die! Such is the Eternal Law of Spheres Invisible, . . the less thou seest of Self, the more thou seest of Heaven! ... thrust Self away, and lo! God invests thee with His Presence! Go forth into the world, . . a King uncrowned, . . a Master of Song, . . and fear not that I, Edris, will forsake thee,—I, who have loved thee since the birth of Time!"

He met her beautiful, luminous, inspired eyes, with a sad interrogativeness in his own. What a hard fate was meted out to him! ... To teach the world that scoffed at teaching!—to rouse the gold-thirsting mass of men to a new sense of things divine! O vain task!—O dreary impossibility! ... Enough surely, to guide his own Will aright, without making any attempt to guide the wills of others!

Her mandate seemed to him almost cruel,—it was like driving him into a howling wilderness, when with one touch, one kiss, she might transport him into Paradise! If SHE were in the world, . . if SHE were always with him.. ah! then how different, how easy life would be! Again he thought of those strange entrancing words of hers.. "My other soul, . . my king.. my immortality's completion!"— and a sudden wild idea took swift possession of his brain.

"Edris!" he cried.. "If I may not yet come to thee, then come THOU to me! ... Dwell thou with me! ... O by the force of my love, which God knoweth, let me draw thee, thou fair Light, into my heart's gloom! Hear me while I swear my faith to thee as at some holy shrine! ... As I live, with all my soul I do accept thy Master Christ, as mine utmost good, and His Cross as my proudest glory! ... but yet, bethink thee, Edris, bethink thee of this world,—its wilful sin, its scorn of God, and all the evil that like a spreading thunder-cloud darkens it day by day! Oh, wilt thou leave me desolate and alone? ... Fight as I will, I shall often sink under blows, . . conquer as I may, I shall suffer the solitude of conquest, unless THOU art with me! Oh, speak!—is there no deeper divine intention in the marvellous destiny that has brought us together?—thou, pure Spirit, and I, weak Mortal? Has love, the primal mover of all things, no hold upon thee? ... If I am, as thou sayest, thy Beloved, loved by thee so long, even while forgetful of and unworthy of thy love, can I not NOW,—now when I am all thine,—persuade thee to compassionate the rest of my brief life on earth? ... Thou art in woman's shape here on this Field of Ardath,—and yet thou art not woman! Oh, could my love constrain thee in God's Name, to wear the mask of mortal body for my sake, would not our union even now make the Sorrowful Star seem fair? ... Love, love, love! Come to mine aid, and teach me how to shut the wings of this sweet bird of paradise in mine own breast! ... God! Spare her to me for one of Thy sweet moments which are our mortal years! ... Christ, who became a mere child for pity of us, let me learn from Thee the mystic spell that makes Thine angel mine!"

Carried away by his own forceful emotion he hardly knew what he said, . . but an unspeakable, dizzy joy flooded his soul, as he caught the look she gave him! ... a wild, sweet, amazed, half- tender, half-agonized, wholly HUMAN look, suggestive of the most marvellous possibilities! One effort and she released her hand from his, and moved a little apart, her eyes kindling with celestial sympathy in which there was the very faintest touch of self-surrender. Self-surrender? ... what! from an Angel to a mortal? ... Ah no! ... it could not be,—yet he felt filled all at once with a terrible sense of power that at the same time was mingled with the deepest humility and fear.

"Hush!"—she said, and her lovely, low voice was tremulous,— "Hush!—Thou dost speak as if we were already in God's World! I love thee, Theos! ... and truly, because thou art prisoned here, I love the sad Earth also! ... but dost thou think to what thou wouldst so eagerly persuade me? To live a mortal life? ... to die? ... to pass through the darkest phase of world-existence known in all the teeming spheres? Nay!".. and a look of pathetic sorrow came over her face.. "How could I, even for thee, my Theos, forsake my home in Heaven?"

Her last words were half-questioning, half-hesitating, ... her manner was as of one in doubt.. and Theos, kneeling still, surveyed her in worshipping silence. Then he suddenly remembered what the Monk and Mystic, Heliobas, had said to him at Dariel on the morning after his trance of soul-liberty: . . "If, as I conjecture, you have seen one of the fair inhabitants of higher spheres than ours, you would not drag her spiritual and death- unconscious brightness down to the level of the 'reality' of a mere human life? ... Nay, if you would you could not!" And now, strange to say, he felt that he COULD but WOULD NOT; and he was overcome with remorse and penitence for the egotistical nature of his own appeal.

"My love—my life!" he said brokenly,—"Forgive me,—forgive my selfish prayer! ... Self spoke,—not I, . . yet I had thought Self dead, and buried forever!" A faint sigh escaped him ... "Believe me, Sweet, I would not have thee lose one hour of Heaven's ecstasies, . . I would not have thee saddened by Earth's wilful miseries, ... no! not even for that lightning-moment which numbers up man's mortal days! Speed back to Angel-land, my Edris!—I will love thee till I die, and leave the Afterward to Christ. Be glad, thou fairest, dearest One! ... unfurl thy rainbow wings and fly from me! ... and wander singing through the groves of Heaven, making all Heaven musical, . . perchance in the silence of the night I may catch the echo of thy voice and fancy thou art near! And trust me, Edris! ... trust me! ... for my faith will not falter, ... my hope shall not waver, ... and though in the world I may, I MUST have tribulation, yet will I believe in Him who hath by simple love overcome the world!"

He ceased, . . a great quiet seemed to fall upon him,—the quiet of a deep and passive resignation.

Edris drew nearer to him,—timidly as a shy bird, yet with a wonderful smile quivering on her lips, and in the clear depths of her starry eyes. Very gently she placed her arms about his neck and looked down at him with divinely compassionate tenderness.

"Thou beloved one!" she said, "Thou whose spirit was formerly equal to mine, and to all angels, in God's sight though through pride it fell! Learn that thou art nearer to me now than thou hast been for a myriad ages! ... between us are renewed the strong, sweet ties that shall nevermore be broken, unless ..." and her voice faltered,—"Unless thou, of thine own Free Will, break them again in spite of all my prayers! For, BECAUSE thou art immortal even as I, though thou art pent up in mortality, even so must thy Will remain immortally unfettered, and what thou dost firmly elect to do, God will not prevent. The Dream of thy Past was a lesson, not a command,—thou art free to forget or remember it as thou wilt while on earth, since it is only AFTER Death that Memory is ineffaceable, and, with its companion Remorse, constitutes Hell. Obey God, or disobey Him,—He will not force thee either way, . . constrained love hath no value! Only this is the Universal Law,— that whosoever disobeys, his disobedience recoils on his own head as of Necessity it MUST,—whereas obedience is the working in perfect harmony with all Nature, and of equal Necessity brings its own reward. Cling to the Cross for one moment.. the moment called by mortals, Life, ... and it shall lift thee straightway into highest Heaven! There will I wait for thee,—and there thou shalt make me thine own forever!"

He sighed and gazed at her wistfully.

"Alas, my Edris! ... Not till then?" he murmured.

She bent over him and kissed his forehead,—a caress as brief and light as the passing flutter of a bird's wing.

"Not till then!"—she whispered—"Unless the longing of thy love compels!"

He started. What did she mean? ... His eyes flashed eager inquiry into hers, so soft and brilliantly clear, with the light of an eternal peace dwelling in their liquid, mysterious loveliness,— and meeting his questioning look, the angelic smile brightened more gloriously round her lips. But there was now something altogether unearthly in her beauty, ... a wondrous inward luminousness began to transfigure her face and form, . . he saw her garments whiten to a sparkling radiance as of sunbeams on snow, ... the halo round her bright hair deepened into flame-like glory —her stature grew loftier, and became as it were endowed with supreme and splendid majesty, . . and the exquisite fairness of her countenance waxed warmly transparent, with the delicate hue of a white rose, through which the pink color faintly flushes soft suggestions of ruddier life. His gaze dwelt upon her in unspeakable wondering adoration, mingled with a sense of irrepressible sorrow and heaviness of heart, ... he felt she was about to leave him, . . and was it not a parting of soul from soul?

Just then the Sun stepped royally forth from between the red and gold curtains of the east,—and in that blaze of earth's life- radiance her figure became resplendently invested with vivid rays of roseate lustre that far surpassed the amber shining of the Orb of day! Awed, dazzled, and utterly overcome, he yet strove to keep his straining eyes steadily upon her,—conscious that her smile still blessed him with its tenderness, ... he made a wild effort to drag himself nearer to her, . . to touch once more the glittering edge of her robe ... to detain her one little, little moment longer! Ah! how wistfully, how fondly she looked upon him! ... Almost it seemed as if she might, after all, consent to stay! ... He stretched out his arms with a pathetic gesture of love, fear, and soul-passionate supplication.

"Edris! ... Edris!".. he cried half despairingly. "Oh, by the strength of thine Angelhood have pity on the weakness of my Manhood!"

Surely she heard, or seemed to hear! ... and yet she gave no answer! ... No sign! ... No promise!—no gesture of farewell! ... only a look of divine, compassionating, perfect love, . . a look so pure, so penetrating, so true, so rapturous, that flesh and blood could bear the glory of her transfigured Presence no longer,—and blind with the burning effulgence of her beauty, he shut his eyes and covered his face. He knew now, if he had never known it before, what was meant by "an Angel standing in the sun!" [Footnote: Revelation, chap, xix., 17.] Moreover, he also knew that what Humanity calls "miracles" ARE possible, and DO happen,— and that instead of being violations of the Law of Nature as we understand it, they are but confirmations of that Law in its DEEPER DEPTHS,—depths which, controlled by Spiritual Force alone, have not as yet been sounded by the most searching scientists. And what is Material Force but the visible manifestation of the Spiritual behind it? ... He who accepts the Material and denies the Spiritual, is in the untenable position of one who admits an Effect and denies a Cause! And if both Spiritual and Material BE accepted, then how can we reasonably dare to set a limit to the manifestations of either the one or the other?

* * * * * * *

When he at last looked up, Edris had vanished! He was alone, . . alone on the Field of Ardath, ... the field that was "barren" in very truth, now she, his Angel, had been drawn away, as it seemed, into the sunlight, . . absorbed like a paradise-pearl into those rays of life-giving gold that lit and warmed the reddening earth and heaven!

Slowly and dizzily he rose to his feet, and gazed about him in vague bewilderment. He had passed ONE NIGHT on the field! One night only! ... and he felt as though he had lived through years of experience! Now, the VISION was ended, . . Edris, the REALITY, had fled, . . and the World was before him, . . the World, with all the unsatisfying things it grudgingly offers, . . the World in which Al-Kyris had been a "City Magnificent" in the centuries gone,—and in which he, too, had played his part before, and had won fame, to be forgotten as soon as dead! Fame! ... how he had longed and thirsted for it! ... and what a foolish, undesirable distinction it seemed to him now!

Steadying his thoughts by a few moments of calm reflection, he remembered what he had in charge to do, . . TO REDEEM HIS PAST. To use and expend whatever force was in him for the good, the help, the consolement, and the love of others, ... NOT to benefit himself! This was his task, . . and the very comprehension of it gave him a rush of vigor and virile energy that at once lifted the cloud of love-loneliness from his soul.

"My Edris!" he whispered.. "Thou shalt have no cause to weep for me in Heaven again! ... with God's help I will win back my lost heritage!"

As he spoke the words his eyes caught a glimpse of something white on the turf where, but a moment since, his Angel-love had stood,— he stooped toward it, . . it was one half-opened bud of the wonderful "Ardath-flowers" that had covered the field in such singular profusion on the previous night when she first appeared. One only! ... might he not gather it?

He hesitated, . . then very gently and reverently broke it off, and tenderly bore it to his lips. What a beautiful blossom it was! ... its fragrance was unlike that of any other flower,—its whiteness was more pure and soft than that of the rarest edelweiss on Alpine snows, and its partially disclosed golden centre had an almost luminous brightness. As he held it in his hand, all sorts of vague, delicious thoughts came sweeping across his brain, ... thoughts that seemed to set themselves to music wild and strange and NEW, and suggestive of the sweetest, noblest influences! A thrill of expectation stirred in him, as of great and good things to be done,—grand changes to be wrought in the complex web of human destiny, brought about by the quickening and development of a pure, unselfish, spiritual force, that might with saving benefit flow into the perplexed and weary intelligence of man; . . and cheered, invigorated, and conscious of a circling, widening, ever- present Supreme Power that with all-surrounding love was ever on the side of work done for love's sake, he gently shut the flower within his breast, resolving to carry it with him wheresoever he went as a token and proof of the "signs and wonders" of the Prophet's Field.

And now he prepared to quit the scene of his mystic Vision, in which he had followed with prescient pain the brief, bright career, the useless fame, the evil love-passion, and final fate of his Former Self,—and crossing the field with lingering tread, he looked back many times to the fallen block of stone where he had sat when he had first perceived God's maiden Edris, stepping softly through the bloom. When should he again meet her? Alas! ... not till Death, the beautiful and beneficent Herald of true Liberty, summoned him to those lofty heights of Paradise where she had habitation. Not till then, unless, ... unless, ... and his heart beat with a sudden tumult as he recollected her last words, . . "UNLESS THE LONGING OF THY LOVE COMPELS!"

Could love COMPEL her, he wondered, to come to him once more while yet he lived on earth? Perhaps! ... and yet if he indeed had such power of love, would it be generous or just to exert it? No! ... for to draw her down from Heaven to Earth seemed to him now a sort of sacrilege,—dearer to him was HER joy than his own! But suppose the possibility of her being actually HAPPY with him in mortal existence, ... suppose that Love, when absolutely pure, unselfishly mutual, helpful, and steadfast, had it in its gift to make even the Sorrowful Star a Heaven in miniature, what then?

He would not trust himself to think of this! ... the mere shadowy suggestion of such supreme delight filled him with a strong passion of yearning, to which in his accepted creed of Self- abnegation he dared not yield! Firmly restraining, resisting, and renouncing his own desires, he mentally raised a holy shrine for her in his soul, ... a shrine of pure faith, warm with eternal aspirations and bright with truth, wherein he hallowed the memory of her beauty with a sense of devout, love-like gladness. She was safe.. she was content, . . she blossomed flower-like in the highest gardens of God where all things fared well;—enough for him to worship her at a distance, . . to keep the clear reflection of her loveliness in his mind, ... and to live, so that he might deserve to follow and find her when his work on earth was done. Moreover, Heaven to him was no longer a vague, mythical realm, ill-defined by the prosy descriptions of church-preachers,—it was an actual WORLD to which HE was linked,—in which HE had possessions, of which HE was a native, and for the perpetuation and enlargement of whose splendor ALL worlds existed!

Arrived at the boundary of the field, the spot marked by the broken half-buried pillar of red granite Heliobas had mentioned, he paused—thinking dreamily of the words of Esdras, who in answer to his Angel-visitant's inquiry: "Why art thou disquieted?" had replied: "Because thou hast forsaken me, and yet I did according to thy words, and I went into the field, and lo! I have seen and yet see, that I am not able to express." Whereupon the Angel had said, "Stand up manfully and I will advise thee!"

"Stand up manfully!" Yes! ... this is what he, Theos Alwyn, meant to do. He would "stand up manfully" against the howling iconoclasm and atheism of the Age,—he would be Poet henceforth in the true meaning of the word, namely Maker, . . he would MAKE not BREAK the grand ideal hopes and heaven-climbing ambitions of Humanity! ... he would endeavor his utmost best to be that "Hierarch and Pontiff of the world"—as a modern rugged Apostle of Truth has nobly said,—"who Prometheus-like can shape new Symbols and bring new fire from heaven to fix them into the deep, infinite faculties of Man."

With a brief silent prayer, he turned away at last, and walked slowly, in the lovely silence of the early Eastern morning, back to the place from whence he had last night wandered,—the Hermitage of Elzear, near the Ruins of Babylon. He soon came in sight of it, and also perceived Elzear himself, stooping over a small plot of ground in front of his dwelling, apparently gathering herbs. When he approached, the old man looked up and smiled, giving him a silent, expressively courteous morning greeting,—by his manner it was evident that he thought his guest had merely been out for an early stroll ere the heat of the day set in. And yet Al-Kyris! ... How real had seemed that dream- existence in that dream-city! The figure of Elzear looked scarcely more substantial than the phantom-forms of Sah-luma, Zephoranim, Khosrul, Zuriel, or Zabastes,—while Lysia's exquisite face and seductive form, Niphrata's pensive beauty, and all the local characteristics of the place, were stamped on the dreamer's memory as faithfully as scenes flashed by the sun on the plates of photography! True, the pictures were perhaps now slightly fading into the similitude of pale negatives, . . but still, would not everything that happened in the ACTUAL world merge into that same undecided dimness with the lapse of time?

He thought so, . . and smiled at the thought, ... the transitory nature of earthly things was a subject for joy to him now,—not regret. With a kindly word or two to his venerable host, he went through the open door of the Hermitage, and entered the little room he had left only a few hours previously. It appeared to him as familiar and UNfamiliar as Al-Kyris itself! ... till raising his eyes he saw the great Crucifix against the wall,—the sacred Symbol whose meaning he had forgotten and hopelessly longed for in his Dream,—and from which, before his visit to the field of Ardath, he had turned with a sense of bitter scorn and proud rejection. But NOW! ... Now he gazed upon it in unspeakable remorse,—in tenderest desire to atone, ... the sweet, grave, patient Eyes of the holy Figure seemed to meet his with a wondrous challenge of love, longing, and most fraternal, sympathetic comprehension of his nature. ... he paused, looking, ... and the pre-eminently false words of George Herbert suddenly occurred to him, "Thy Saviour sentenced joy!" O blasphemy! ... SENTENCED joy? Nay!—rather re-created it, and invested it with divine certainties, beyond all temporal change or evanishment! ... Yielding to a swift impulse, he threw himself on his knees, and with clasped hands, leaned his brows against the feet of the sculptured Christ. There he rested in wordless peace,—his whole soul entranced in a divine passion of faith, hope, and love ... there with the "Ardath flower" in his breast, he consecrated his life to the Highest Good,—and there in absolute humility, and pure, child-like devotion, he crucified SELF forever!



PART III.—POET AND ANGEL.

"O Golden Hair! ... O Gladness of an Hour Made flesh and blood!"

* * * * *

"Who speaks of glory and the force of love And thou not near, my maiden-minded dove! With all the coyness, all the beauty sheen Of thy rapt face? A fearless virgin-queen, A queen of peace art thou,—and on thy head The golden light of all thy hair is shed Most nimbus-like, and most suggestive too Of youthful saints enshrined and garlanded."

* * * * *

"Our thoughts are free,—and mine have found at last Their apt solution; and from out the Past There seems to shine as 'twere a beacon-fire: And all the land is lit with large desire Of lambent glory; all the quivering sea Is big with waves that wait the Morn's decree As I, thy vassal, wait thy beckoning smile Athwart the splendors of my dreams of thee!"

—"A Lover's Litanies."—ERIC MACKAY.



CHAPTER XXXI.

FRESH LAURELS.

It was a dismal March evening. London lay swathed in a melancholy fog,—a fog too dense to be more than temporarily disturbed even by the sudden gusts of the bitter east wind. Rain fell steadily, sometimes changing to sleet, that drove in sharp showers on the slippery roads and pavements, bewildering the tired horses, and stirring up much irritation in the minds of those ill-fated foot- passengers whom business, certainly not pleasure, forced to encounter the inconveniences of the weather. Against one house in particular—an old-fashioned, irregular building situated in a somewhat out-of-the-way but picturesque part of Kensington—the cold, wet blast blew with specially keen ferocity, as though it were angered by the sounds within,—sounds that in truth rather resembled its own cross groaning. Curious short grunts and plaintive cries, interspersed with an occasional pathetic long- drawn whine, suggested dimly the idea that somebody was playing, or trying to play, on a refractory stringed instrument, the well- worn composition known as Raff's "Cavatina." And, in fact, had the vexed wind been able to break through the wall and embody itself into a substantial being, it would have discovered the producer of the half-fierce, half-mournful noise, in the person of the Honorable Frank Villiers, who, with that amazingly serious ardor so often displayed by amateur lovers of music, was persistently endeavoring to combat the difficulties of the violoncello. He adored his big instrument,—the more unmanageable it became in his hands, the more he loved it. Its grumbling complaints at his unskilful touch delighted him,—when he could succeed in awakening a peevish dull sob from its troubled depths, he felt a positive thrill of almost professional triumph,—and he refused to be daunted in his efforts by the frequently barbaric clamor his awkward bowing wrung from the tortured strings. He tried every sort of music, easy and intricate—and his happiest hours were those when, with glass in eye and brow knitted in anxious scrutiny, he could peer his way through the labyrinth of a sonata or fantasia much too complex for any one but a trained artist, enjoying to the full the mental excitement of the discordant struggle, and comfortably conscious that as his residence was "detached," no obtrusive neighbor could either warn him to desist, or set up an opposition nuisance next door by constant practice on the distressingly over-popular piano. One thing very much in his favor was, that he never manifested any desire to perform in public. No one had ever heard him play, . . he pursued his favorite amusement in solitude, and was amply satisfied, if when questioned on the subject of music, he could find an opportunity to say with a conscious-modest air, "MY instrument is the 'cello." That was quite enough self-assertion for him, . . and if any one ever urged him to display his talent, he would elude the request with such charming grace and diffidence, that many people imagined he must really be a great musical genius who only lacked the necessary insolence and aplomb to make that genius known.

The 'cello apart, Villiers was very generally recognized as a discerning dilettante in most matters artistic. He was an excellent judge of literature, painting, and sculpture, . . his house, though small, was a perfect model of taste in design and adornment, . . he knew where to pick up choice bits of antique furniture, dainty porcelain, bronzes, and wood-carvings, while in the acquisition of rare books he was justly considered a notable connoisseur. His delicate and fastidious instincts were displayed in the very arrangement of his numerous volumes, ... none were placed on such high shelves as to be out of hand reach, . . all were within close touch and ready to command, ranged in low, carved oak cases or on revolving stands, ... while a few particularly rare editions and first folios were shut in curious little side niches with locked glass-doors, somewhat resembling small shrines such as are used for the reception of sacred relics. The apartment he called his "den"—where he now sat practising the "Cavatina" for about the two-hundredth time—was perhaps the most fascinating nook in the whole house, inasmuch as it contained a little bit of everything, arranged with that perfect attention to detail which makes each object, small and great, appear not only ornamental, but positively necessary. In one corner a quaint old jar overflowed with the brightness of fresh yellow daffodils; in another a long, tapering Venetian vase held feathery clusters of African grass and fern, . . here the medallion of a Greek philosopher or Roman Emperor gleamed whitely against the sombrely painted wall; there a Rembrandt portrait flashed out from the semi-obscure background of some rich, carefully disposed fold of drapery,—while a few admirable casts from the antique lit up the deeper shadows of the room, such as the immortally youthful head of the Apollo Belvedere, the wisely serene countenance of the Pallas Athene that Goethe loved, and the Cupid of Praxiteles.

Judging from his outward appearance only, few would have given Villiers credit for being the man of penetrative and almost classic refinement he really was,—he looked far more athletic than aesthetic. Broad-shouldered and deep-chested, with a round, blunt head firmly set on a full, strong throat, he had, on the whole, a somewhat obstinate and pugilistic air which totally belied his nature. His features, open and ruddy, were, without being handsome, decidedly attractive—the mouth was rather large, yet good-tempered; the eyes bright, blue, and sparklingly suggestive of a native inborn love of humor. There was something fresh and piquant in the very expression of naive bewilderment with which he now adjusted his eyeglass—a wholly unnecessary appendage—and set himself strenuously to examine anew the chords of that extraordinary piece of music which others thought so easy and which he found so puzzling, . . he could manage the simple melody fairly well, but the chords!

"They are the very devil!".. he murmured plaintively, staring at the score, and hitching up his unruly instrument more securely against his knee, . . "Perhaps the bow wants a little rosin."

This was one of his minor weaknesses,—he would never quite admit that false notes were his own fault. "They COULDN'T be, you know!" he mildly argued, addressing the obtrusive neck of the 'cello, which had a curious, stubborn way of poking itself into his chin, and causing him to wonder how it got there, . . surely the manner in which he held it had nothing to do with this awkward occurrence! "I'm not such a fool as not to understand how to find the right notes, after all my practice! There's something wrong with the strings,—or the bridge has gone awry,—or"—and this was his last resource—"the bow wants more rosin!"

Thus he hugged himself in deliciously wilful ignorance of his own shortcomings, and shut his ears to the whispered reproaches of musical conscience. Had he been married his wife would no doubt have lost no time in enlightening him,—she would have told him he was a wretched player, that his scrapings on the 'cello were enough to drive one mad, and sundry other assurances of the perfectly conjugal type of frankness,—but as it chanced he was a happy bachelor, a free and independent man with more than sufficient means to gratify his particular tastes and whims. He was partner in a steadily prosperous banking concern, and had just enough to do to keep him pleasantly and profitably occupied. Asked why he did not marry, he replied with blunt and almost brutal honesty, that he had never yet met a woman whose conversation he could stand for more than an hour.

"Silly or clever," he said, "they are all possessed of the same infinite tedium. Either they say nothing, or they say everything; they are always at the two extremes, and announce themselves as dunces or blue-stockings. One wants the just medium,—the dainty commingling of simplicity and wisdom that shall yet be pure womanly,—and this is precisely the jewel 'far above rubies' that one cannot find. I've given up the search long ago, and am entirely resigned to my lot. I like women very well—I may say very much—as friends, but to take one on chance as a comrade for life! ... No, thank you!"

Such was his fixed opinion and consequent rejection of matrimony; and for the rest, he studied art and literature and became an authority on both; so much so that on one occasion he kept a goodly number of people away from visiting the Royal Academy Exhibition, he having voted it a "disgrace to Art."

"English artists occupy the last grade in the whole school of painting," he had said indignantly, with that decisive manner of his which somehow or other carried conviction, . . "The very Dutch surpass them; and instead of trying to raise their standard, each year sees them grovelling in lower depths. The Academy is becoming a mere gallery of portraits, painted to please the caprices of vain men and women, at a thousand or two thousand guineas apiece; ugly portraits, too, woodeny portraits, utterly uninteresting portraits of prosaic nobodies. Who cares to see 'No. 154. Mrs. Flummery in her presentation-dress'.. except Mrs. Flummery's own particular friends? ... or '283. Miss Smox, eldest daughter of Professor A. T. Smox,' or '516. Baines Bryce, Esq.'? ... Who IS Baines Bryce? ... Nobody ever heard of him before. He may be a retired pork-butcher for all any one knows! Portraits, even of celebrities, are a mistake. Take Algernon Charles Swinburne, for instance, the man who, when left to himself, writes some of the grandest lines in the English language, HE had his portrait in the Academy, and everybody ran away from it, it was such an unutterable hideous disappointment. It was a positive libel of course, . . Swinburne has fine eyes and a still finer brow, but instead of idealizing the POET in him, the silly artist painted him as if he had no more intellectual distinction than a bill- sticker! ... English art! ... pooh! ... don't speak to me about it! Go to Spain, Italy, Bavaria—see what THEY can do, and then say a Miserere for the sins of the R A's!"

Thus he would talk, and his criticisms carried weight with a tolerably large circle of influential and wealthy persons, who when they called upon him, and saw the perfection of his house and the rarity of his art collections, came at once to the conclusion that it would be wise, as well as advantageous to themselves, to consult him before purchasing pictures, books, statues, or china, so that he occupied the powerful position of being able with a word to start an artist's reputation or depreciate it, as he chose,—a distinction he had not desired, and which was often a source of trouble to him, because there were so few, so very few, whose work he felt he could conscientiously approve and encourage. He was eminently good-natured and sympathetic; he would not give pain to others without being infinitely more pained himself; and yet, for all his amiability, there was a stubborn instinct in him which forbade him to promote, by word or look, the fatal nineteenth century spread of mediocrity. Either a thing must be truly great and capable of being measured by the highest standards, or for him it had no value. This rule he carried out in all branches of art,—except his own 'cello-playing. That was NOT great,—that would never be great,—but it was his pet pastime; he chose it in preference to the billiards, betting, and bar-lounging that make up the amusements of the majority of the hopeful manhood of London, and, as has already been said, he never inflicted it upon others.

He rubbed the rosin now thoughtfully up and down his bow, and glanced at the quaint old clock—an importation from Nurnberg— that ticked solemnly in one corner near the deep bay-window, across which the heavy olive green plush curtains were drawn, to shut out the penetrating chill of the wind. It wanted ten minutes to nine. He had given orders to his man servant that he was on no account to be disturbed that evening, . . no matter what visitors called for him, none were to be admitted. He had made up his mind to have a long and energetic practice, and he felt a secret satisfaction as he heard the steady patter of the rain outside, . . the very weather favored his desire for solitude,—no one was likely to venture forth on such a night.

Still gravely rubbing his brow, his eyes travelled from the clock in the corner to a photograph on the mantel-shelf—the photograph of a man's face, dark, haughty, beautiful, yet repellent in its beauty, and with a certain hard sternness in its outline—the face of Theos Alwyn. From this portrait his glance wandered to the table, where, amid a picturesque litter of books and papers, lay a square, simply bound volume, with an ivory leaf-cutter thrust in it to mark the place where the reader left off, and its title plainly lettered in gold at the back—"NOURHALMA."

"I wonder where he is!" ... he mused, his thoughts naturally reverting to the author of the book.. "He cannot know what all London knows, or surely he would be back here like a shot! It is six months ago now since I received his letter and that poem in manuscript from Tiflis in Armenia,—and not another line has he sent to tell me of his whereabouts! Curious fellow he is! ... but, by Jove, what a genius! No wonder he has besieged Fame and taken it by storm! I don't remember any similar instance, except that of Byron, in which such an unprecedented reputation was made so suddenly! And in Byron's case it was more the domestic scandal about him than his actual merit that made him the rage, . . now the world knows literally nothing about Alwyn's private life or character—there's no woman in his history that I know of—no vice, ... he hasn't outraged the law, upset morals, flouted at decency, or done anything that according to modern fashions OUGHT to have made him famous—no! ... he has simply produced a perfect poem, stately, grand, pure, and pathetic,—and all of a sudden some secret spring in the human heart is touched, some long-closed valve opened, and lo and behold, all intellectual society is raving about him,—his name is in everybody's mouth, his book in every one's hands. I don't altogether like his being made the subject of a 'craze';—experience shows me it's a kind of thing that doesn't last. In fact, it CAN'T last.. the reaction invariably sets in. And the English public is, of all publics, the most insane in its periodical frenzies, and the most capricious. Now, it is all agog for a 'shilling sensational'—then it discusses itself hoarse over a one-sided theological novel made up out of theories long ago propounded and exhaustively set forth by Voltaire, and others of his school,—anon it revels in the gross descriptions of shameless vice depicted in an 'accurately translated' romance of the Paris slums,—now it writes thousands of letters to a black man, to sympathize With him because he has been CALLED black!—could anything be more absurd! ... it has even followed the departure of an elephant from the Zoo in weeping crowds! However, I wish all the crazes to which it is subject were as harmless and wholesome as the one that has seized it for Alwyn's book,—for if true poetry were brought to the front, instead of being, as it often is, sneered at and kept in the background, we should have a chance of regaining the lost Divine Art, that, wherever it has been worthily followed, has proved the glory of the greatest nations. And then we should not have to put up with such detestable inanities as are produced every day by persons calling themselves poets, who are scarcely fit to write mottoes for dessert crackers, . . and we might escape for good and all from the infliction of 'magazine-verse,' which is emphatically a positive affront to the human intelligence. Ah me! what wretched upholders we are of Shakespeare's standard! ... Keats was our last splendor,—then there is an unfilled gap, bridged in part by Tennyson.. ... and now comes Alwyn blazing abroad like a veritable meteor,—only I believe he will do more than merely flare across the heavens,—he promises to become a notable fixed star."

Here he smiled, somewhat pleased with his own skill in metaphor, and having rubbed his bow enough, he drew it lingeringly across the 'cello strings. A long, sweet, shuddering sound rewarded him, like the upward wave of a wind among high trees, and he heard it with much gratification. He would try the Cavatina again now, he decided, and bringing his music-stand closer, he settled himself in readiness to begin. Just then the Nurnberg clock commenced striking the hour, accompanying each stroke with a very soft and mellow little chime of bells that sent fairy-like echoes through the quiet room. A bright flame started up from the glowing fire in the grate, flinging ruddy flashes along the walls,—a rattling gust of rain dashed once at the windows,—the tuneful clock ceased, and all was still. Villiers waited a moment; then with heedful earnestness, started the first bar of Raff's oft-murdered composition, when a knock at the door disturbed him and considerably ruffled his equanimity.

"Come in!" he called testily.

His man-servant appeared, a half-pleased, half-guilty look on his staid countenance.

"Please, sir, a gentleman called—"

"Well!—you said I was out?"

"No, sir! leastways I thought you might be at home to him, sir!"

"Confound you!" exclaimed Villiers petulantly, throwing down his bow in disgust,—"What business had you to think anything about it? ... Didn't I tell you I wasn't at home to ANYBODY?"

"Come, come, Villiers!".. said a mellow voice outside, with a ripple of suppressed laughter in its tone, . . "Don't be inhospitable! I'm sure you are at home to ME!"

And passing by the servant, who at once retired, the speaker entered the apartment, lifted his hat, and smiled. Villiers sprang from his chair in delighted astonishment.

"Alwyn!" he cried; and the two friends—whose friendship dated from boyhood—clasped each other's hands heartily, and were for a moment both silent,—half-ashamed of those affectionate emotions to which impulsive women may freely give vent, but to which men may not yield without being supposed to lose somewhat of the dignity of manhood.

"By Jove!" said Villiers at last, drawing a deep breath. "This IS a surprise! Only a few minutes ago I was considering whether we should not have to note you down in the newspaper as one of the 'mysterious disappearances' grown common of late! Where do you come from, old fellow?"

"From Paris just directly," responded Alwyn, divesting himself of his overcoat, and stepping outside the door to hang it on an evidently familiar nail in the passage, and then re-entering,— "But from Bagdad in the first instance. I visited that city, sacred to fairy-lore, and from thence journeyed to Damascus like one of our favorite merchants in the Arabian Nights,—then I went to Beyrout, and Alexandria, from which latter place I took ship homeward, stopping at delicious Venice while on my way."

"Then you did the Holy Land, I suppose?" queried Villiers, regarding him with sudden and growing inquisitiveness.

"My dear fellow, certainly NOT! The Holy Land, invested by touts, and overrun by tourists, would neither appeal to my imagination nor my sentiments—and in its present state of vulgar abuse and unchristian sacrilege, it is better left unseen by those who wish to revere its associations, . . don't you think so?"

He smiled as he put the question, and drawing up an old-fashioned oak chair to the fire, seated himself. Villiers meanwhile stared at him in unmitigated amazement, . . what had come to the fellow, he wondered? How had he managed to invest himself with such an overpowering distinction of look and grace of bearing? He had always been a handsome man,—yes, but there was certainly something more than handsome about him now. There was a singular magnetism in the flash of the fine soft eyes, a marvellous sweetness in the firm lines of the perfect mouth, a royal grandeur and freedom in the very poise of his well-knit figure and noble head, that certainly had not before been apparent in him. Moreover, that was an odd remark for him to make about "wishing to revere" the associations of the Holy Land,—very odd, considering his formerly skeptical theories!

Rousing himself from his momentary bewilderment, Villiers remembered the duties of hospitality.

"Have you dined, Alwyn?" he asked, with his hand on the bell.

"Excellently!" was the response, accompanied by a bright upward glance; "I went to that big hotel opposite the Park, had dinner, left the surplus of my luggage in charge, selected one small portmanteau, took a hansom and came on here, resolved to pass one night at least under your roof ..."

"One night!" interrupted Villiers; "You're very much mistaken, if you think you are going to get off so easily! You'll not escape from me for a month, I tell you! Consider yourself a prisoner!"

"Good! Send for the luggage to-morrow!" laughed Alwyn, flinging himself back in his chair in an attitude of lazy comfort, "I give in!—I resign myself to my fate! But what of the 'cello?"

And he pointed to the bulgy-looking casket of sweet sleeping sounds—sleeping generally so far as Villiers was concerned, but ready to wake at the first touch of the master-hand. Villiers glanced at it with a comical air of admiring vanquishment.

"Oh, never mind the 'cello!" he said indifferently, "that can bear being put by for a while. It's a most curious instrument,— sometimes it seems to sound better when I have let it rest a little. Just like a human thing, you know—it gets occasionally tired of me, I suppose! But I say, why didn't you come straight here, bag, baggage, and all? ... What business had you to stop on the way at any hotel? ... Do you call that friendship?"

Alwyn laughed at his mock injured tone.

"I apologize, Villiers! ... I really do! But I felt it would be scarcely civil of me to come down upon you for bed, board, and lodging, without giving you previous notice, and at the same time I wanted to take you by surprise, as I DID. Besides I wasn't sure whether I should find you in town—of course I knew I should be welcome if you were!"

"Rather!" assented Villiers shortly and with affected gruffness.. "If you were sure of nothing else in this world, you might be sure of that!".. He paused squared his shoulders, and put up his eyeglass, through which he scanned his friend with such a persistently scrutinizing air, that Alwyn was somewhat amused.

"What are you staring at me for?" he demanded gayly,—"Am I so bronzed?"

"Well—you ARE rather brown," admitted Villiers slowly ... "But that doesn't surprise me. The fact is, it's very odd and I can't altogether explain it, but somehow I find you changed, . . positively very much changed too!"

"Changed? In appearance, do you mean? How?"

"'Look here upon this picture and on this,'" quoted Villiers dramatically, taking down Alwyn's portrait from the mantleshelf, and mentally comparing it with the smiling original. "No two heads were ever more alike, and yet more distinctly UNlike. Here"—and he tapped the photograph—"you have the appearance of a modern Timon or Orestes.. but now, as you actually ARE, I see more resemblance in your face to THAT"—and he pointed to the serene and splendid bust of the "Apollo"—"than to this 'counterfeit presentment,' of your former self."

Alwyn flushed,—not so much at the implied compliment, as at the words "FORMER SELF." But quickly shaking off his embarrassment, he glanced round at the "Apollo" and lifted his eyebrows incredulously.

"Then all I can say, my dear boy, is, that that eyeglass of yours represents objects to your own view in a classic light which is entirely deceptive, for I fail to trace the faintest similitude between my own features and that of the sunborn Lord of Laurels."

"Oh, YOU may not trace it," said Villiers calmly, "but nevertheless others will. Some people say that no man knows what he really is like, and that even his own reflection in the glass deceives him. Besides, it is not so much the actual contour for the features that impresses one, it is the LOOK,—you have the LOOK of the Greek god, the look of conscious power and inward happiness."

He spoke seriously, thoughtfully,—surveying his friend with a vague feeling of admiration akin to reverence.

Alwyn stooped, and stirred the fire into a brighter blaze. "Well, so far, my looks do not belie me," he said gently, after a pause.. "I AM conscious of both power and joy!"

"Why, naturally!" and Villiers laid one hand affectionately on his shoulder.. "Of course the face of the whole world has changed for you, now that you have won such tremendous fame!"

"FAME!"—Alwyn sprang upright so suddenly that Villiers was quite startled,—"Fame! Who says I am famous?" And his eyes flashed forth an amazed, almost haughty resentment.

His friend stared—then laughed outright.

"Who says it? ... Why, all London says it. Do you mean to tell me, Alwyn, that you've not seen the English papers and magazines, containing all the critical reviews and discussions on your poem of 'Nourhalma?"

Alwyn winced at the title,—what a host of strange memories it recalled!

"I have seen nothing," he replied hurriedly, "I have made it a point to look at no papers, lest I should chance on my own name coupled, as it has been before, with the languid abuse common to criticism in this country. Not that I should have cared,—NOW! ..." and a slight smile played on his lips.. "In fact I have ceased to care. Moreover, as I know modern success in literature is chiefly commanded by the praise of a 'clique,' or the services of 'log-rollers,' and as I am not included in any of the journalistic rings, I have neither hoped nor expected any particular favor or recognition from the public."

"Then," said Villiers excitedly, seizing him by the hand, "let me be the first to congratulate you! It is often the way that when we no longer specially crave a thing, that thing is suddenly thrust upon us whether we will or no,—and so it has happened in YOUR case. Learn, therefore, my dear fellow, that your poem, which you sent to me from Tiflis, and which was published under my supervision about four months ago, has already run through six editions, and is now in its seventh. Seven editions of a poem,—-a POEM, mark you!—in four months, isn't bad, . . moreover, the demand continues, and the long and the short of it is, that your name is actually at the present moment the most celebrated in all London, —in fact, you are very generally acknowledged the greatest poet of the day! And," continued Villiers, wringing his friend's hand with uncommon fervor.. "I say, God bless you, old boy! If ever a man deserved success, YOU do! 'Nourhalma' is magnificent!—such a genius as yours will raise the literature of the age to a higher standard than it has known since the death of Adonais [Footnote: Keats.] You can't imagine how sincerely I rejoice at your triumph!"

Alwyn was silent,—he returned his companion's cordial hand- pressure almost unconsciously. He stood, leaning against the mantelpiece, and looking gravely down into the fire. His first emotion was one of repugnance,—of rejection, . . what did he need of this will-o'-the-wisp called Fame, dancing again across his path,—this transitory torch of world-approval! Fame in London! ... What was it, what COULD it be, compared to the brilliancy of the fame he had once enjoyed as Laureate of Al-Kyris! As this thought passed across his mind, he gave a quick interrogative glance at Villiers, who was observing him with much wondering intentness, and his handsome face lighted with sudden laughter.

"Dear old boy!" he said, with a very tender inflection in his mellow, mirthful voice—"You are the best of good fellows, and I thank you heartily for your news, which, if it seems satisfactory to you, ought certainly to be satisfactory to me! But tell me frankly, if I am as famous as you say, how did I become so? ... how was it worked up?"

"Worked up!" Villiers was completely taken back by the oddity of this question.

"Come!" continued Alwyn persuasively, his fine eyes sparkling with mischievous good-humor.. "You can't make me believe that 'All England' took to me suddenly of its own accord,—it is not so romantic, so poetry-loving, so independent, or so generous as THAT! How was my 'celebrity' first started? If my book,—which has all the disadvantage of being a poem instead of a novel,—has so suddenly leaped into high favor and renown, why, then, some leading critic or other must have thought that I myself was dead!"

The whimsical merriment of his face seemed to reflect itself on that of Villiers.

"You're too quick-witted, Alwyn, positively you are!" he remonstrated with a frankly humorous smile.. "But as it happens, you're perfectly right! Not ONE critic, but THREE,—three of our most influential men, too—thought you WERE dead!—and that 'Nourhalma' was a posthumous work of PERISHED GENIUS!"



CHAPTER XXXII.

ZABASTESISM AND PAULISM.

The delighted air of triumphant conviction with which Alwyn received this candid statement was irresistible, and Villiers's attempt at equanimity entirely gave way before it. He broke into a roar of laughter,—laughter in which his friend joined,—and for a minute or two the room rang with the echoes of their mutual mirth.

"It wasn't MY doing," said Villiers at last, when he could control himself a little,—"and even now I don't in the least know how the misconception arose! 'Nourhalma' was published, according to your instructions, as rapidly as it could be got through the press, and I had no preliminary 'puffs' or announcements of any kind circulated in the papers. I merely advertised it with a notable simplicity, thus: 'Nourhalma. A Love-Legend of the Past. A Poem. By Theos Alwyn.' That was all. Well, when it came out, copies of it were sent, according to custom, round to all the leading newspaper offices, and for about three weeks after its publication I saw not a word concerning it anywhere. Meanwhile I went on advertising. One day at the Constitutional Club, while glancing over the Parthenon, I suddenly spied in it a long review, occupying four columns, and headed 'A Wonder-Poem'; and just out of curiosity, I began to read it. I remember—in fact I shall never forget,—its opening sentence, . . it was so original!" and he laughed again. "It commenced thus: 'It has been truly said that those whom the gods love die young!' and then on it went, dragging in memories of Chatterton and Shelley and Keats, till I found myself yawning and wondering what the deuce the writer was driving at. Presently, about the end of the second column, I came to the assertion that 'the posthumous poem of "Nourhalma" must be admitted as one of the most glorious productions in the English language.' This woke me up considerably, and I read on, groping my way through all sorts of wordy phrases and used-up arguments, till my mind gradually grasped the fact that the critic of the Parthenon had evidently never heard of Theos Alwyn before, and being astonished, and perhaps perplexed, by the original beauty and glowing style of 'Nourhalma,' had jumped, without warrant, to the conclusion that its author must be dead. The wind-up of his lengthy dissertation was, as far as I can recollect, as follows:

"'It is a thousand pities this gifted poet is no more. Splendid as the work of his youthful genius is, there is no doubt but that, had he lived, he would have endowed the world anew with an inheritance of thought worthy of the grandest master-minds.' Well, when I had fully realized the situation, I began to think to myself, Shall I enlighten this Sir Oracle of the Press, and tell him the 'DEAD' author he so enthusiastically eulogizes, is alive and well, or was so, at any rate, the last time I heard from him? I debated the question seriously, and, after much cogitation, decided to leave him, for the present, in ignorance. First of all, because critics like to consider themselves the wisest men in the world, and hate to be told anything,—secondly, because I rather enjoyed the fun. The publisher of 'Nourhalma'—a very excellent fellow—sent me the critique, and wrote asking me whether it was true that the author of the poem was really dead, and if not, whether he should contradict the report. I waited a bit before answering that letter, and while I waited two more critiques appeared in two of the most assertively pompous and dictatorial journals of the day, echoing the eulogies of the Parthenon, declaring 'this dead poet' worthy 'to rank with the highest of the Immortals,' and a number of other similar grandiose declarations. One reviewer took an infinite deal of pains to prove 'that if the genius of Theos Alwyn had only been spared to England, he must have infallibly been elected Poet Laureate as soon as the post became vacant, and that too, without a single dissentient voice, save such as were raised in envy or malice. But, being dead '— continued this estimable scribe—'all we can say is that he yet speaketh, and that "Nourhalma" is a poem of which the literary world cannot be otherwise than justly proud. Let the tears that we shed for this gifted singer's untimely decease be mingled with gratitude for the priceless value of the work his creative genius has bequeathed to us!'"

Here Villiers paused, his blue eyes sparkling with inward amusement, and looked at Alwyn, whose face, though perfectly serene, had now the faintest, softest shadow of a grave pathos hovering about it.

"By this time," he continued.. "I thought we had had about enough sport, so I wrote off to the publisher to at once contradict the erroneous rumor. But now that publisher had HIS story to tell. He called upon me, and with a blandly persuasive air, said, that as 'Nourhalma' was having an extraordinary sale, was it worth while to deny the statement of your death just yet? ... He was very anxious, . . but I was firm, . . and lest he should waver, I wrote several letters myself to the leading journals, to establish the certainty, so far as I was aware, of your being in the land of the living. And then what do you think happened?"

Alwyn met his bright, satirical glance with a look that was half- questioning, half-wistful, but said nothing.

"It was the most laughable, and at the same time the most beautifully instructive, lesson ever taught by the whole annals of journalism! The Press turned round like a weathercock with the wind, and exhausted every epithet of abuse they could find in the dictionaries. 'Nourhalma' was a 'poor, ill-conceived work,'—'an outrage to intellectual perception,'—'a good idea, spoilt in the treatment; an amazingly obscure attempt at sublimity'—et cetera, . . but there! you can yourself peruse all the criticisms, both favorable and adverse, for I have acted the part of the fond granny to you in the careful cutting out and pasting of everything I could find written concerning you and your work in a book devoted to the purpose, . . and I believe I've missed nothing. Mark you, however, the Parthenon never reversed its judgment, nor did the other two leading journals of literary opinion,—it wouldn't do for such bigwigs to confess they had blundered, you know! ... and the vituperation of the smaller fry was just the other weight in the balance which made the thing equal. The sale of 'Nourhalma' grew fast and furious; all expenses were cleared three times over, and at the present moment the publisher is getting conscientiously anxious (for some publishers are more conscientious than some authors will admit!) to hand you over a nice little check for an amount which is not to be despised in this workaday world, I assure you!"

"I did not write for money,"—interrupted Alwyn quietly.. "Nor shall I ever do so."

"Of course not," assented Villiers promptly. "No poet, and indeed no author whatsoever, who lays claim to a fraction of conscience, writes for money ONLY. Those with whom money is the first consideration debase their Art into a coarse huckstering trade, and are no better than contentious bakers and cheesemongers, who jostle each other in a vulgar struggle as to which shall sell perishable goods at the highest profit. None of the lasting works of the world were written so. Nevertheless, if the public voluntarily choose to lavish what they can of their best on the author who imparts to them inspired thoughts and noble teachings, then that author must not be churlish, or slow to accept the gratitude implied. I think the most appropriate maxim for a poet to address to his readers is, 'Freely ye have received, freely give.'"

There was a moment's silence. Alwyn resumed his seat in the chair near the fire, and Villiers, leaning one arm on the mantelpiece, still stood, looking down upon him.

"Such, my dear fellow," he went on complacently.. "is the history of the success of 'Nourhalma.' It certainly began with the belief that you were no longer able to benefit by the eulogy received.— but all the same that eulogy has been uttered and cannot be UNuttered. It has led all the lovers of the highest literature to get the book for themselves, and to prove your actual worth, independently of press opinions,—and the result is an immense and steadily widening verdict in your favor. Speaking personally, I have never read anything that gave me quite so much artistic pleasure as this poem of yours except 'Hyperion,'—only 'Hyperion' is distinctly classical, while 'Nourhalma' takes us back into some hitherto unexplored world of antique paganism, which, though essentially pagan, is wonderfully full of pure and lofty sentiment. When did the idea first strike you?"

"A long time ago!" returned Alwyn with a slight, serious smile—"I assure you it is by no means original!"

Villiers gave him a quick, surprised glance.

"No? Well, it seems to me singularly original!" he said.. "In fact, one of your critics says you are TOO original! Mind you, Alwyn, that is a very serious fault in this imitative age!"

Alwyn laughed a little. His thoughts were very busy. Again in imagination he beheld the burning "Temple of Nagaya" in his Dream of Al-Kyris,—again he saw himself carrying the corpse of his FORMER Self through fire and flame,—and again he heard the last words of the dying Zabastes—"I was the Poet's adverse Critic, and who but I should write his Eulogy? 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!"

True! ... How easy to praise the poor, deaf, stirless clay when sense and spirit have fled from it forever! No fear to spoil a corpse by flattery,—the heavily sealed-up eyes can never more unclose to lighten with glad hope or fond ambition; the quiet heart cannot leap with gratitude or joy at that "word spoken in due season" which aids its noblest aspirations to become realized! The DEAD poet?—Press the cold clods of earth over him, and then rant above his grave,—tell him how great he was, what infinite possibilities were displayed in his work, what excellence, what merit, what subtlety of thought, what grace of style! Rant and rave!—print reams of acclaiming verbosity, pronounce orations, raise up statues, mark the house he lived and starved in, with a laudatory medallion, and print his once-rejected stanzas in every sort of type and fashion, from the cheap to the costly,—teach the multitude how worthy he was to be loved, and honored,—and never fear that he will move from his rigid and chill repose to be happy for once in his life, and to learn with amazement that the world he toiled so patiently for is actually learning to be grateful for his existence! Once dead and buried he can be safely made glorious,—he cannot affront us either with his superior intelligence, or make us envy the splendors of his fame!

Some such thoughts as these passed through Alwyn's mind as he dreamily gazed into the red hollows of the fire, and reconsidered all that his friend had told him. He had no personal acquaintances on the press,—no literary club or clique to haul him up into the top-gallant mast of renown by persistent puffery; he was not related, even distantly, to any great personage, either statesman, professor, or divine—he had not the mysterious recommendation of being a "university man"; none of the many "wheels" within wheels which are nowadays so frequently set in motion to make up a momentary literary furore, were his to command,—and yet—the Parthenon had praised him! ... Wonder of wonders! The Parthenon was a singularly obtuse journal, which glanced at the whole world of letters merely through the eyes of three or four men of distinctly narrow and egotistical opinions, and these three or four men kept it as much as possible to themselves, using its columns chiefly for the purpose of admiring one another. As a consequence of this restricted arrangement, very few outsiders could expect to be noticed for their work, unless they were in the "set," or at least had occasionally dined with one of the mystic Three or Four, . . and so it had chanced that Alwyn's first venture into literature had been totally disregarded by the Parthenon. In fact, that first venture, being a small and unobtrusive book, had, most probably, been thrown into the waste-paper basket, or sold for a few pence to the second-hand dealer. And now,—now because he had been imagined DEAD,—the Parthenon's leading critic had singled him out and held him up for universal admiration!

Well, well! ... after all, Nourhalma WAS a posthumous work,—it had been written before, ages since, when he, as Sah-luma, had perished ere he had had time to give it to the world! He had merely REMEMBERED it.. drawn it forth again, as it were, from the dim, deep vistas of past deeds;—so those who had reviewed it as the production of one dead in youth, were right in their judgment, though they did not know it! ... It was old,—nothing but repetition,—but now he had something new and true and passionate to say, . . something that, if God pleased, it should be his to utter with the clearness and forcibleness common to the Greek thunderers of yore, who spoke out what was in them, grandly, simply, and with the fearless majesty of thought that reeked nothing of opinions. Oh, he would rouse the hearts of men from paltry greed and covetousness, . . from lust, and hatred, and all things evil,—no matter if he lost his own life in the effort, he would still do his utmost best to lift, if only in a small degree, the deepening weight of self-wrought agony from self-blinded mankind! Yes! ... he must work to fulfil the commands and deserve the blessings of Edris!

Edris! ... ah, the memory of her pure angel-loveliness rushed upon him like a flood of invigorating warmth and light, and when he looked up from his brief reverie, his countenance, beautiful, and kindling with inward ardor, affected Villiers strangely,—almost as a very grand and perfect strain of music might affect and unsteady one's nerves. The attraction he had always felt for his poet-friend deepened to quite a fervent intensity of admiration, but he was not the man to betray his feelings outwardly, and to shake off his emotion he rushed into speech again.

"By the by, Alwyn, your old acquaintance, Professor Moxall, is very much 'down' on your book. You know he doesn't write reviews, except on matters connected with evolutionary phenomena, but I met him the other day, and he was quite upset about you. 'Too transcendental'! he said, dismally shaking his bald pate to and fro—'The whole poem is a vaporous tissue of absurd impossibilities! Ah dear, dear me! what a terrible falling-off in a young man of such hopeful ability! I thought he had done with poetry forever!—I took the greatest pains to prove to him what a ridiculous pastime it was, and how unworthy to be considered for a moment seriously as an ART,—and he seemed to understand my reasoning thoroughly. Indeed he promised to be one of our most powerful adherents, . . he had an excellent grasp of the material sciences, and a fine contempt for religion. Why, with such a quick, analytical brain as his, he might have carried on Darwin's researches to an extremer point of the origination of species than has yet been reached! All a ruin, sir! a positive ruin,—a man who will in cold blood write such lines as these ...

'"Grander is Death than Life, and sweeter far The splendors of the Infinite Future, than our eyes, Weary with tearful watching, yet can see"—

condemns himself as a positive lunatic! And young Alwyn too!—he who had so completely recognized the foolishness and futility of expecting any other life than this one! Good heavens! ... "Nourhalma," as I understand it, is a sort of pagan poem—but with such incredible ideas and sentiments as are expressed in it, the author might as well go and be a Christian at once!' And with that he hobbled off, for it was Sunday afternoon, and he was on his way to St. George's Hall to delight the assembled skeptics, by telling them in an elaborate lecture what absurd animalculae they all were!"

Alwyn smiled. There was a soft light in his eyes, an expression of serene contentment on his face.

"Poor old Moxall!" he said gently—"I am sorry for him! He makes life very desolate, both for himself and others who accept his theories. I'm afraid his disappointment in me will have to continue, . . for as it happens I AM a Christian,—that is, so far as I can, in my unworthiness, be a follower of a faith so grand, and pure, and TRUE!"

Villiers started, . . his month opened in sheer astonishment, . . he could scarcely believe his own ears, and he uttered some sound between a gasp and an exclamation of incredulity. Alwyn met his widely wondering gaze with a most sweet and unembarrassed calm.

"How amazed you look!" he observed, half playfully,—"Religion must be at a very low ebb, if in a so-called Christian country you are surprised to hear a man openly acknowledge himself a disciple of the Christian creed!"

There was a brief pause, during which the chiming clock rang out the hour musically on the stillness. Then Villiers, still in a state of most profound bewilderment, sat down deliberately in a chair opposite Alwyn's, and placed one hand familiarly on his knee.

"Look here, old fellow," he said impressively, "do you really MEAN it! ... Are you 'going over' to some Church or other?"

Alwyn laughed—his friend's anxiety was so genuine.

"Not I!"—he responded promptly.. "Don't be alarmed, Villiers,—I am not a 'convert' to any particular set FORM of faith,—what I care for is the faith itself. One can follow and serve Christ without any church dogma. He has Himself told us plainly, in words simple enough for a child to understand, what He would have us to do, . . and though I, like many others, must regret the absence of a true Universal Church where the servants of Christ may meet altogether without a shadow of difference in opinion, and worship Him as He should be worshipped, still that is no reason why I should refrain from endeavoring to fulfil, as far as in me lies, my personal duty toward Him. The fact is, Christianity has never yet been rightly taught, grasped or comprehended,—moreover, as long as men seek through it their own worldly advantage, it never will be,—so that the majority of the people are really as yet ignorant of its true spiritual meaning, thanks to the quarrels and differences of sects and preachers. But, notwithstanding the unhappy position of religion at the present day, I repeat, I am a Christian, if love for Christ, and implicit belief in Him, can make me so."

He spoke simply, and without the slightest affectation of reserve. Villiers was still puzzled.

"I thought, Alwyn," he ventured to say presently with some little diffidence,—"that you entirely rejected the idea of Christ's Divinity, as a mere superstition?"

"In dense ignorance of the extent of God's possibilities, I certainly did so," returned Alwyn quietly,—"But I have had good reason to see that my own inability to comprehend supernatural causes was entirely to blame for that rejection. Are we able to explain all the numerous and complex variations and manifestations of Matter? No. Then why do we dare to doubt the certainly conceivable variations and manifestations of Spirit? ... The doctrine of a purely HUMAN Christ is untenable,—a Creed founded on that idea alone would make no way with the immortal aspirations of the soul, . . what link could there be between a mere man like ourselves and heaven? None whatever,—it needs the DIVINE in Christ to overleap the darkness of the grave, . . to serve us as the Symbol of certain Resurrection, to teach us that this life is not the ALL, but only ONE loop in the chain of existence, . . only ONE of the 'many mansions' in the Father's House. Human teachers of high morals there have always been in the world,—Confucius, Buddha, Zoroaster, Socrates, Plato, . . there is no end to them, and their teachings have been valuable so far as they went, but even Plato's majestic arguments in favor of the Immortality of the Soul fall short of anything sure and graspable. There were so many prefigurements of what WAS to come, . . just as the sign of the Cross was used in the Temple of Serapis, and was held in singular mystic veneration by various tribes of Egyptians, Arabians, and Indians, ages before Christ came. And now that these prefigurements have resolved themselves into an actual Divine Symbol, the doubting world still hesitates, and by this hesitation paralyzes both its Will and Instinct—so that it fails to cut out the core of Christianity's true solution, or to learn what Christ really meant when He said 'I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life, —no man cometh to the Father but by Me.' Have you ever considered the particular weight of that word 'MAN' in that text? It is rightly specified that 'no MAN cometh '—for there are hosts of other beings, in other universes, who are not of our puny race, and who do not need to be taught either the way, truth, or life, as they know all three, and have never lost their knowledge from the beginning."

His voice quivered a little, and he paused,—Villiers watched him with a strange sense of ever-deepening fascination and wonder.

"I have lately studied the whole thing carefully,".. he resumed presently, . . "and I see no reason why we, who call ourselves a progressive generation, should revert back to the old theory of Corinthus, who, as early as sixty-seven years after Christ, denied His Divinity. There is nothing new in the hypothesis—it is no more original than the doctrine of evolution, which was skilfully enough handled by Democritus, and probably by many another before him. Voltaire certainly threshed out the subject exhaustively, . . and I think Carlyle's address to him on the uselessness of his work is one of the finest of its kind. Do you remember it?"

Villiers shook his head in the negative, whereupon Alwyn rose, and glancing along an evidently well-remembered book-shelf, took from thence "Sartor Resartus"—and turned over the pages quickly.

"Here it is,"—and he read out the following passage.. "'Cease, my much-respected Herr von Voltaire, . . shut thy sweet voice; for the task appointed thee seems finished. Sufficiently hast thou demonstrated this proposition, considerable or otherwise: That the Mythus of the Christian Religion looks not in the eighteenth century as it did in the eighth. Alas, were thy six-and-thirty quartos, and the six-and-thirty thousand other quartos and folios and flying sheets or reams, printed before and since on the same subject, all needed to convince us of so little! But what next? Wilt thou help us to embody the Divine Spirit of that Religion in a new Mythus, in a new vehicle and vesture, that our Souls, otherwise too like perishing, may live? What! thou hast no faculty in that kind? Only a torch for burning and no hammer for building? Take our thanks then—and thyself away!'"

Villiers smiled, and straightened himself in military fashion, as was his habit when particularly gratified.

"Excellent old Teufelsdrockh!" he murmured sotto-voce—"He had a rugged method of explaining himself, but it was decisive enough, in all conscience!"

"Decisive, and to the point,".. assented Alwyn, putting the book back in its place, and then confronting his friend.—"And he states precisely what is wanted by the world to-day,—wanted pressingly, eagerly, . . namely that the 'Divine Spirit' of the Christian Religion should be set forth in a 'new vehicle and vesture' to keep pace with the advancing inquiry and scientific research of man. And truly for this, it need only be expounded according to its old, pure, primal, spiritual intention, and then, the more science progresses the more true will it be proved. Christ distinctly claimed His Divinity, and everywhere gave manifestations of it. Of course it can be said that these manifestations rest on TESTIMONY,—and that the 'testimony' was drawn up afterward and is a spurious invention—but we have no more proof that it IS spurious than we have of [Footnote: See Chapter XIII. "In Al-Kyris"—the allusion to "Oruzel."] Homer's Iliad being a compilation of several writers and not the work of a Homer at all. Nothing—not even the events of the past week—can be safely rested on absolute, undiffering testimony, inasmuch as no two narrators tell the same story alike. But all the same we HAVE the Iliad,—it cannot be taken from us by any amount of argument, . . and we have the FRUITS of Christ's gospel, half obscured as it is, visible among us. Everywhere civilization of a high and aspiring order has followed Christianity even at the cost of blood and tears, ..slavery has been abolished, and women lifted from unspeakable degradation to honor and reverence,—and had men been more reasonable and self-controlled, the purifying work would have been done peacefully and without persecution. It was St. Paul's preaching that upset all the beautiful, pristine simplicity of the faith,—it is very evident he had no 'calling or election' such as he pretended, . . I wonder Jeremy Bentham's conclusive book on the subject is not more universally known. Paul's sermonizing gave rise to a thousand different shades of opinion and argument, —and for a mere hair's-breadth of needless discussion, nation has fought against nation, and man against man, till the very name of religion has been made a ghastly mockery. That, however, is not the fault of Christianity, but the fault of those who PROFESS to follow it, like Paul, while merely following a scheme of their own personal advantage or convenience, . . and the result of it all is that at this very moment, there is not a church in Christendom where Christ's actual commands are really and to the letter fulfilled."

"Strong!" ejaculated Villiers with a slight smile.. "Mustn't say that before a clergyman!"

"Why not?" demanded Alwyn.. "Why should not clerics be told, once and for all, how ill they perform their sacred mission? Look at the wilderness of spreading Atheism to-day! ... and look at the multitudes of men and women who are hungering and thirsting for a greater comprehension of spiritual things than they have hitherto had!—and yet the preachers trudge drowsily on in the old ruts they have made for themselves, and give neither sympathy nor heed to the increasing pain, feverish bewilderment, and positive WANT of those they profess to guide. Concerning science, too, what is the good of telling a toiling, more or less suffering race, that there are eighteen millions of suns in the Milky Way, and that viewed by the immensity of the Universe, man is nothing but a small, mean, and perishable insect? Humanity hears the statement with dull, perplexed brain, and its weight of sorrow is doubled,— it demands at once, why, if an insect, its insect life should BE at all, if nothing is to come of it but weariness and woe? The marvels of scientific discovery offer no solace to the huge Majority of the Afflicted, unless we point the lesson that the Soul of Man is destined to live through more than these wonders; and that the millions of planetary systems in the Milky Way are but the ALPHA BETA of the sublime Hereafter which is our natural heritage, if we will but set ourselves earnestly to win it. Moreover, we should not foolishly imagine that we are to lead good lives MERELY for the sake of some suggested reward or wages,—no, —but simply because in practising progressive good we are equalizing ourselves and placing ourselves in active working harmony with the whole progressive good of the Creator's plan. We have no more right to do a deliberately evil thing, than a musician has a right to spoil a melody by a false note on his instrument. Why should we willfully JAR God's music, of which we are a part? I tell you that religion, as taught to-day, is rather one of custom and fear than love and confidence,—men cower and propitiate, when they should be full of thankfulness and praise,— and as for any reserve on these matters, I have none,—in fact, I fail to see why truth, . . spiritual truth, . . should not be openly proclaimed now, even as it is sure to be proclaimed hereafter."

His manner had warmed with his words, and he lifted his head with an involuntary gesture of eloquent resolve, his eyes flashing splendid scorn for all things hypocritical and mean. Villiers looked at him, feeling curiously moved and impressed by his fervent earnestness.

"Well, I was right in one thing, at any rate, Alwyn"—he said softly.. "you ARE changed,—there's not a doubt about it! But it seems to me the change is distinctly for the better. It does my heart good to hear you speak with such distinct and manly emphasis on a subject, which, though it is one of the burning questions of the day, is too often treated irreverently, or altogether dismissed with a few sentences of languid banter or cheap sarcasm.

"As regards myself personally, I must say that a man without faith in anything but himself, has always seemed to me exactly in keeping with the description given of an atheist by Lady Ashburton to Carlyle,—namely 'a person who robs himself, not only of clothes, but of flesh as well, and walks about the world in his bones.' And, oddly enough in spite of all the controversies going on about Christianity, I have always really worshipped Christ in my heart of hearts, . . and yet.. I CAN'T go to church! I seem to lose the idea of Him altogether there: . . but".. and his frank face took upon itself a dreamy light of deep feeling—"there are times when, walking alone in the fields, or through a very quiet grove of trees, or on the sea-shore, I begin to think of His majestic life and death, and the immense, unfailing sympathy He showed for every sort of human suffering, and then I can really believe in him as Divine friend, comrade, Teacher, and King, and I am scarcely able to decide which is the deepest emotion in my mind toward Him—love, or reverence."

He paused,—Alwyn's eyes rested upon him with a quick, comprehensive friendliness,—in one exchange of looks the two men became mutually aware of the strong undercurrents of thought that lay beneath each other's individual surface history, and that perhaps had never been so clearly recognized before,—and a kind of swift, speechless, satisfactory agreement between their two separate natures seemed suddenly drawn up, ratified, and sealed in a glance.

"I have often thought," continued Villiers more lightly, and smiling as he spoke—"that we are all angels or devils,—angels in our best moments, devils in our worst. If we could only keep the best moments always uppermost! 'Ah, poor deluded human nature!' as old Moxall says,—while in the same breath he contradicts himself by asserting that human Reason is the only infallible means of ascertaining anything! How it can be 'deluded' and 'infallible' at the same time, I can't quite understand! But, Alwyn, you haven't told me how you like the 'get-up' of your book?"

And he handed the volume in question to its author, who turned it over with the most curious air of careless recognition—in his fancy he again saw Zabastes writing each line of it down to Sah- luma's dictation!

"It's very well printed"—he said at last,—"and very tastefully bound. You have superintended the work con amore, Villiers, . . and I am as obliged to you as friendship will let me be. You know what that means?"

"It means no obligation at all"—declared Villiers gayly.. "because friends who are the least worthy the name take delight in furthering each other's interests and have no need to be thanked for doing what is particularly agreeable to them. You really like the appearance of it, then? But you've got the sixth edition. This is the first."

And he took up from a side-table a quaint small quarto, bound is a very superb imitation of old embossed leather, which Alwyn, beholding, was at once struck by the resemblance it bore to the elaborate designs that had adorned the covers of the papyrus volumes possessed by his Shadow-Self, Sahluma!

"This is very sumptuous!" he said with a dreamy smile—"It looks quite antique!"

"Doesn't it!" exclaimed Villiers, delighted—"I had it copied from a first edition of Petrarca which happens to be in my collection. This specimen of 'Nourhalma' has become valuable and unique. It was published at ten-and-six, and can't be got anywhere under five or six guineas, if for that. Of course a copy of each edition has been set aside for YOU."

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