He could not tell,—but his mind was entirely ravished and possessed by an absorbing impression of white, sculptured calm,— and he was as startled as though he had been brusquely awakened from a deep sleep, when the loud plaudits of the people made him aware that Sarasate had finished his programme, and was departing from the scene of his triumphs. The frenzied shouts and encores, however brought him once more before the excited public, to play a set of Spanish dances, fanciful and delicate as the gamboling of a light breeze over rose-gardens and dashing fountains,—and when this wonder-music ceased, Alwyn woke from tranced rapture into enthusiasm, and joined in the thunders of applause with fervent warmth and zeal. Eight several times did the wearied, but ever affable, maestro ascend the platform to bow and smile his graceful acknowledgments, till the audience, satisfied with having thoroughly emphasized their hearty appreciation of his genius, permitted him to finally retire. Then the people flocked out of the hall in crowds, talking, laughing, and delightedly commenting upon the afternoon's enjoyment, the brief remarks exchanged by two Americans who were sauntering on immediately in front of Heliobas and Alwyn being perhaps the very pith and essence of the universal opinion concerning the great artist they had just heard.
"I tell you what he is," said one, "he's a demi-god!"
"Oh, don't halve it!" rejoined the other wittily, "he's the whole thing anyway!"
Once outside the hall and in the busy street, now rendered doubly brilliant by the deep saffron light of a gloriously setting sun, Heliobas prepared to take leave of his somewhat silent and preoccupied companion.
"I see you are still under the sway of the Ange-Demon," he remarked cheerfully, as he shook hands, "Is he not an amazing fellow? That bow of his is a veritable divining-rod, it finds out the fountain of Elusidis [Footnote: A miraculous fountain spoken of in old chronicles, whose waters rose to the sound of music, and, the music ceasing, sank again.] in each human heart,—it has but to pronounce a note, and straightway the hidden waters begin to bubble. But don't forget to read the newspaper accounts of this concert! You will see that the critics will make no allusion whatever to the enthusiasm of the audience, and that the numerous encores will not even be mentioned!"
"That is unfair," said Alwyn quickly. "The expression of the people's appreciation should always be chronicled."
"Of course!—but it never is, unless it suits the immediate taste of the cliques. Clique-Art, clique-Literature, clique-Criticism, keep all three things on a low ground that slopes daily more and more toward decadence. And the pity of it is, that the English get judged abroad chiefly by what their own journalists say of them,— thus, if Sarasate is coldly criticised, foreigners laugh at the 'UNmusical English,' whereas, the fact is that the nation itself is NOT unmusical, but its musical critics mostly are. They are very often picked out of the rank and file of the dullest Academy students and contrapuntists, who are incapable of understanding anything original, and therefore are the persons most unfitted to form a correct estimate of genius. However, it has always been so, and I suppose it always will be so,—don't you remember that when Beethoven began his grand innovations, a certain critic-ass-ter wrote of him, 'The absurdity of his effort is only equalled by the hideousness of its result'."
He laughed lightly, and once more shook hands, while Alwyn, looking at him wistfully, said:
"I wonder when we shall meet again?"
"Oh, very soon, I dare say," he rejoined. "The world is a wonderfully small place, after all, as men find when they jostle up against each other unexpectedly in the most unlikely corners of far countries. You may, if you choose, correspond with me, and that is a privilege I accord to few, I assure you!" He smiled, and then went on in a more serious tone, "You are, of course, welcome at our monastery whenever you wish to come, but, take my advice, do not wilfully step out of the sphere in which you are placed. Live IN society, it needs men of your stamp and intellectual calibre; show it a high and consistent example—let no eccentricity mar your daily actions—work at your destiny steadily, cheerfully, serenely, and leave the rest to God, and— the angels!"
There was a slight, tender inflection in his voice as he spoke the last words,—and Alwyn gave him a quick, searching glance. But his blue, penetrating eyes were calm and steadfast, full of their usual luminous softness and pathos, and there was nothing expressed in them but the gentlest friendliness.
"Well! I'm glad I may write to you, at any rate," said Alwyn at last, reluctantly releasing his hand. "It is possible I may not remain long in London; I want to finish my poem, and it gets on too slowly in the tumult of daily life in town."
"Then will you go abroad again?" inquired Heliobas.
"Perhaps. I may. Bonn, where I was once a student for a time. It is a peaceful, sleepy little place,—I shall probably complete my work easily there. Moreover, it will be like going back to a bit of my youth. I remember I first began to entertain all my dreams of poesy at Bonn."
"Inspired by the Seven Mountains and the Drachenfels!" laughed Heliobas. "No wonder you recalled the lost 'Sah-luma' period in the sight of the entrancing Rhine! Ah, Sir Poet, you have had your fill of fame! and I fear the plaudits of London will never be like those of Al-Kyris! No monarchs will honor you now, but rather despise! for the kings and queens of this age prefer financiers to Laureates! Now, wherever you wander, let me hear of your well- being and progress in contentment; when you write, address to our Dariel retreat, for though on my return from Mexico I shall probably visit Lemnos, my letters will always be forwarded. Adieu!"
"Adieu!" and their eyes met. A grave sweet smile brightened the Chaldean's handsome features.
"God remain with you, my friend!" he said, in a low, thrillingly earnest tone. "Believe me, you are elected to a strangely happy fate!—far happier than you at present know!"
With these words he turned and was gone,—lost to sight in the surging throng of passers-by. Alwyn looked eagerly after him, but saw him no more. His tall figure had vanished as utterly as any of the phantom shapes in Al-Kyris, only that, far from being spectre- like, he had seemed more actually a living personality than any of the people in the streets who were hurrying to and fro on their various errands of business or pleasure.
That same night when Alwyn related his day's adventure to Villiers, who heard it with the most absorbed interest, he was describing the effect of Sarasate's violin-playing, when all at once he was seized by the same curious, overpowering impression of white, lofty arches, stained windows, and jewel-like glimmerings of color, and he suddenly stopped short in the midst of his narrative.
"What's the matter?" asked Villiers, astonished. "Go on!—you were saying,—"
"That Sarasate is one of the divinest of God's wandering melodies," went on Alwyn, slowly and with a faint smile. "And that though, as a rule, musicians are forgotten when their music ceases, this Andalusian Orpheus in Thrace will be remembered long after his violin is laid aside, and he himself has journeyed to a sunnier land than Spain! But I am not master of my thoughts to- night, Villiers; my Chaldean friend has perhaps mesmerized me—who knows! and I have an odd fancy upon me. I should like to spend an hour in some great and beautiful cathedral, and see the light of the rising sun flashing through the stained windows across the altar!"
"Poet and dreamer!" laughed Villiers. "You can't gratify that whim in London; there's no 'great and beautiful' edifice of the kind here,—only the unfinished Oratory, Westminster Abbey, broken up into ugly pews and vile monuments, and the repellently grimy St. Paul's—so go to bed, old boy, and indulge yourself in some more 'visions,' for I assure you you'll never find any reality come up to your ideal of things in general."
"No?" and Alwyn smiled. "Strange that I see it in quite the reverse way! It seems to me, no ideal will ever come up to the splendor of reality!"
"But remember," said Villiers quickly, "YOUR reality is heaven,— a, 'reality' that is every one else's myth!"
"True! terribly true!".. and Alwyn's eyes darkened sorrowfully. "Yet the world's myth is the only Eternal Real, and for the shadows of this present Seeming we barter our immortal Substance!"
BY THE RHINE.
In the two or three weeks that followed his meeting with Heliobas, Alwyn made up his mind to leave London for a while. He was tired and restless,—tired of the routine society more or less imposed upon him,—restless because he had come to a standstill in his work—an invisible barrier, over which his creative fancy was unable to take its usual sweeping flight. He had an idea of seeking some quiet spot among mountains, as far remote as possible from the travelling world of men,—a peaceful place, where, with the majestic silence of Nature all about him, he might plead in lover-like retirement with his refractory Muse, and strive to coax her into a sweeter and more indulgent humor. It was not that thoughts were lacking to him,—what he complained of was the monotony of language and the difficulty of finding new, true, and choice forms of expression. A great thought leaps into the brain like a lightning flash; there it is, an indescribable mystery, warming the soul and pervading the intellect, but the proper expression of that thought is a matter of the deepest anxiety to the true poet, who, if he be worthy of his vocation, is bound not only to proclaim it to the world CLEARLY, but also clad in such a perfection of wording that it shall chime on men's ears with a musical sound as of purest golden bells. There are very few faultless examples of this felicitous utterance in English or in any literature, so few, indeed, that they could almost all be included in one newspaper column of ordinary print. Keats's exquisite line:
"AEea's Isle was wondering at the moon"..
in which the word "wondering" paints a whole landscape of dreamy enchantment, and the couplet in the "Ode to a Nightingale," that speaks with a delicious vagueness of
"Magic casements opening on the foam Of perilous seas in faery lands forlorn,"—
are absolutely unique and unrivalled, as is the exquisite alliteration taken from a poet of our own day:
"The holy lark, With fire from heaven and sunlight on his wing, Who wakes the world with witcheries of the dark, Renewed in rapture in the reddening air!"
Again from the same:
"The chords of the lute are entranced With the weight of the wonder of things";
"his skyward notes Have drenched the summer with the dews of song! ..."
this last line being certainly one of the most suggestive and beautiful in all poetical literature. Such expressions have the intrinsic quality of COMPLETENESS,—once said, we feel that they can never be said again;—they belong to the centuries, rather than the seasons, and any imitation of them we immediately and instinctively resent as an outrage.
And Theos Alwyn was essentially, and above all things, faithful to the lofty purpose of his calling,—he dealt with his art reverently, and not in rough haste and scrambling carelessness,— if he worked out any idea in rhyme, the idea was distinct and the rhyme was perfect,—he was not content, like Browning, to jumble together such hideous and ludicrous combinations as "high;— Humph!" and "triumph,"—moreover, he knew that what he had to tell his public must be told comprehensively, yet grandly, with all the authority and persuasiveness of incisive rhetoric, yet also with all the sweetness and fascination of a passioned love-song. Occupied with such work as this, London, with its myriad mad noises and vulgar distractions, became impossible to him,—and Villiers, his fidus Achates, who had read portions of his great poem and was impatient to see it finished, knowing, as he did, what an enormous sensation it would create when published, warmly seconded his own desire to gain a couple of months complete seclusion and tranquillity.
He left town, therefore, about the middle of May and started across the Channel, resolving to make for Switzerland by the leisurely and delightful way of the Rhine, in order to visit Bonn, the scene of his old student days. What days they had been!—days of dreaming, more than action, for he had always regarded learning as a pastime rather than a drudgery, and so had easily distanced his comrades in the race for knowledge. While they were flirting with the Lischen or Gretchen of the hour, he had willingly absorbed himself in study—thus he had attained the head of his classes with scarce an effort, and, in fact, had often found time hanging heavily on his hands for want of something more to do. He had astonished the university professors—but he had not astonished himself, inasmuch as no special branch of learning presented any difficulties to him, and the more he mastered the more dissatisfied he became. It had seemed such a little thing to win the honors of scholarship! for at that time his ambition was always climbing up the apparently inaccessible heights of fame,— fame, that he then imagined was the greatest glory any human being could aspire to. He smiled as he recollected this, and thought how changed he was since then! What a difference between the former discontented mutability of his nature, and the deep, unswerving calm of patience that characterized it now! Learning and scholarship? these were the mere child's alphabet of things,—and fame was a passing breath that ruffled for one brief moment the on-rushing flood of time—a bubble blown in the air to break into nothingness. Thus much wisdom he had acquired,—and what more? A great deal more! he had won the difficult comprehension of HIMSELF; he had grasped the priceless knowledge that man has no enemy save THAT WHICH IS WITHIN HIM, and that the pride of a rebellious Will is the parent Sin from which all others are generated. The old Scriptural saying is true for all time, that through pride the angels fell; and it is only through humility that they will ever rise again. Pride! the proud Will that is left FREE by Divine Law, to work for itself and answer for itself, and wreak upon its own head the punishment of its own errors,—the Will that once voluntarily crushed down, in the dust at the Cross of Christ, with these words truly drawn from the depths of penitence, "Lord, not as I will, but as Thou wilt!" is straightway lifted up from its humiliation, a supreme, stately Force, resistless, miraculous, world-commanding;—smoothing the way for all greatness and all goodness, and guiding the happy Soul from joy to joy, from glory to glory, till Heaven itself is reached and the perfection of all love and life begins. For true humility is not slavish, as some people imagine, but rather royal, since, while acknowledging the supremacy of God, it claims close kindred with Him, and is at once invested with all the diviner virtues. Fame and wealth, the two perishable prizes for which men struggle with one another in ceaseless and cruel combat, bring no absolute satisfaction in the end—they are toys that please for a time and then grow wearisome. But the conquering of Self is a battle in which each fresh victory bestows a deeper content, a larger happiness, a more perfect peace,—and neither poverty, sickness, nor misfortune can quench the courage, or abate the ardor, of the warrior who is absorbed in a crusade against his own worser passions. Egotism is the vice of this age,—the maxim of modern society is "each man for himself, and no one for his neighbor"—and in such a state of things, when personal interest or advantage is the chief boon desired, we cannot look for honesty in either religion, politics, or commerce. Nor can we expect any grand work to be done in art or literature. When pictures are painted and books are written for money only,—when laborers take no pleasure in labor save for the wage it brings,—when no real enthusiasm is shown in anything except the accumulation of wealth,—and when all the finer sentiments and nobler instincts of men are made subject to Mammon worship, is any one so mad and blind as to think that good can come of it? Nothing but evil upon evil can accrue from such a system,—and those who have prophetic eyes to see through the veil of events can perceive, even now, the not far distant end—namely, the ruin of the country that has permitted itself to degenerate into a mere nation of shopkeepers, —and something worse than ruin,—degradation!
It was past eight in the evening when Alwyn, after having spent a couple of days in bright little Brussels, arrived at Cologne. Most travelers know to their cost how noisy, narrow, and unattractive are the streets of this ancient Colonia Agrippina of the Romans,— how persistent and wearying is the rattle of the vehicles over the rough, cobbly stones—how irritating to the nerves is the incessant shrieking whistle and clank of the Rhine steamboats as they glide in, or glide out, from the cheerless and dirty pier. But at night, when these unpleasant sounds have partially subsided, and the lights twinkle in the shop-windows, and the majestic mass of the Cathedral casts its broad shadow on the moonlit Dom-Platz, and a few soldiers, with clanking swords and glittering spurs, come marching out from some dark stone archway, and the green gleam of the river sparkles along in luminous ripples,—then it is that a something weird and mystical creeps over the town, and the glamour of ancient historical memories begins to cling about its irregular buildings,—one thinks of the legendary Three Kings, and believes in them, too,—of St. Ursula and her company of virgins; of Marie de Medicis dying alone in that tumbled-down house in the Stern-gasse,—of Rubens, who, it is said, here first saw the light of this world,—of an angry Satan flinging his Teufelstein from the Seven Mountains in an impotent attempt to destroy the Dom; and gradually, the indestructible romantic spell of the Rhine steals into the spirit of common things that were unlovely by day, and makes the old city beautiful under the sacred glory of the stars.
Alwyn dined at his hotel, and then, finding it still too early to retire to rest, strolled slowly across the Platz, looking up at the sublime God's Temple above him, the stately Cathedral, with its wondrously delicate carvings and flying buttresses, on which the moonlight glittered like little points of pale flame. He knew it of old; many and many a time had he taken train from Bonn, for the sole pleasure of spending an hour in gazing on that splendid "sermon in stone,"—one of the grandest testimonies in the world of man's instinctive desire to acknowledge and honor, by his noblest design and work, the unseen but felt majesty of the Creator. He had a great longing to enter it now, and ascended the steps with that intention; but, much to his vexation, the doors were shut. He walked from the side to the principal entrance; that superb western frontage which is so cruelly blocked in by a dwarfish street of the commonest shops and meanest houses,—and found that also closed against him. Disappointed and sorry, he went back again to the side of the colossal structure, and stood on the top of the steps, close to the central barred doors, studying the sculptured saints in the niches, and feeling a sudden, singular impression of extreme LONELINESS,—a sense of being shut out, as it were, from some high festival in which he would gladly have taken part.
Not a cloud was in the sky, ... the evening was one of the most absolute calm, and a delicious warmth pervaded the air,—the warmth of a fully declared and balmy spring. The Platz was almost deserted,—only a few persons crossed it now and then, like flitting shadows,—and somewhere down in one of the opposite streets a long way off, there was a sound of men's voices singing a part-song. Presently, however, this distant music ceased, and a deep silence followed. Alwyn still remained in the sombre shade of the cathedral archway, arguing with himself against the foolish and unaccountable depression that had seized him, and watching the brilliant May moon soar up higher and higher in the heavens; when,—all at once, the throbbing murmur of the great organ inside the Dom startled him from pensive dreaminess into swift attention. He listened,—the rich, round notes thundered through the stillness with forceful and majestic harmony; anon, wierd tones, like the passionate lament of Sarasate's "Zigeunerweisen" floated around and above him: then, a silvery chorus of young voices broke forth in solemn unison:
"Kyrie Eleison! Christe Eleison! Kyrie Eleison!"
A faint cold tremor crept through his veins,—his heart beat violently,—again he vainly strove to open the great door. Was there a choir practising inside at this hour of the night? Surely not! Then,—from whence had this music its origin? Stooping, he bent his ear to the crevice of the closed portal,—but, as suddenly as they had begun, the harmonies ceased; and all was once more profoundly still.
Drawing a long, deep breath, he stood for a moment amazed and lost in thought—these sounds, he felt sure, were not of earth but of heaven! they had the same ringing sweetness as those he had heard on the Field of Ardath! What might they mean to him, here and now? Quick as a flash the answer came—DEATH! God had taken pity upon his solitary earth wanderings,—and the prayers of Edris had shortened his world-exile and probation! He was to die! and that solemn singing was the warning,—or the promise,—of his approaching end!
Yes! it must be so, he decided, as, with a strange, half-sad peace at his heart, he quietly descended the steps of the Dom,-he would perhaps be permitted to finish the work he was at present doing,— and then,—then, the poet-pen would be laid aside forever, chains would be undone, and he would be set at liberty! Such was his fixed idea. Was he glad of the prospect, he asked himself? Yes, and No! For himself he was glad; but in these latter days he had come to understand the thousand wordless wants and aspirations of mankind,—wants and aspirations to which only the Poet can give fitting speech; he had begun to see how much can be done to cheer and raise and ennoble the world by even ONE true, brave, earnest, and unselfish worker,—and he had attained to such a height in sympathetic comprehension of the difficulties and drawbacks of others, that he had ceased to consider himself at all in the question, either with regard to the Present or the immortal Future,—he was, without knowing it, in the simple, unconsciously perfect attitude of a Soul that is absolutely at one with God, and that thus, in involuntary God-likeness, is only happy in the engendering of happiness. He believed that, with the Divine help, he could do a lasting good for his fellow-men,—and to this cause he was willing to sacrifice everything that pertained to his own mere personal advantage. But now,—now,—or so he imagined,—he was not to be allowed to pursue his labors of love,—his trial was to end suddenly,—and he, so long banished from his higher heritage, was to be restored to it without delay,—restored and drawn back to the land of perfect loveliness where Edris, his Angel, waited for him, his saint, his queen, his bride!
A thrill of ecstatic joy rushed through him,—joy intermingled with an almost supernal pain. For he had not as yet said enough to the world,—the world of many afflictions,—the little Sorrowful Star covered with toiling, anxious, deluded God-forgetting millions, in every unit of which was a spark of Heavenly flame, a germ of the spiritual essence that makes the angel, if only fostered aright.
Lost in a deep reverie, his footsteps had led him unconsciously to the Rhine bridge,—paying the customary fee, he walked about half- way across it, and stood for a while listening to the incessant swift rush of the river beneath him. Lights twinkled from the boats moored on either side,—the moon poured down a wide shower of white beams on the rapid flood,—the city, dusky and dream- like, crowned with the majestic towers of the Dom, looked picturesquely calm and grand—it was a night of perfect beauty and wondrous peace. And he was to die!—to die and leave all this, the present fairness of the world,—he was to depart, with, as he felt, his message half unspoken,—he was to be made eternally happy, while many of the thousands he left behind were, through ignorance, wilfully electing to be eternally miserable! A great, almost divine longing to save ONE,—only ONE downward drifting soul, possessed him,—and the comprehension of Christ's Sacrifice was no longer a mystery! Yet he was so certain that death, sudden and speedy closely, awaited him that he seemed to feel it in the very air,—not like a coming chill of dread, but like the soft approach of some holy seraph bringing benediction. It mattered little to him that he was actually in the very plenitude of health and strength,—that perhaps in all his life he had never felt such a keen delight in the physical perfection of his manhood as now,—death, without warning and at a touch, could smite down the most vigorous, and to be so smitten, he believed, was his imminent destiny. And while he lingered on the bridge, fancy-perplexed between grief and joy, a small window opened in a quaint house that bent its bulging gables crookedly over the gleaming water, and a girl, holding a small lamp, looked out for a moment. Her face, fresh and smiling, was fair to see against the background of dense shadow,—the light she carried flashed like a star,—and leaning down from the lattice she sang half-timidly, half mischievously, the first two or three bars of the old song.. "Du, du, liegst in mein Herzen ... !" "Ah! Gute Nacht, Liebchen!" said a man's voice below.
"Gute Nacht! Schlafen sie wohl!"
A light laugh, and the window closed, "Good-night! Sleep well!" Love's best wish!—and for some sad souls life's last hope,—a "good-night and sleep well!" Poor tired World, for whose weary inhabitants oftentimes the greatest blessing is sleep! Good-night! sleep well! but the sleep implies waking.—waking to a morning of pleasure or sorrow,—or labor that is only lightened by,—Love! Love!—love divine,—love human,—and, sweetest love of all for us, as Christ has taught when both divine and human are mingled in one!
Alwyn, glancing up at the clustering stars, hanging like pendent fire-jewels above him, thought of this marvel-glory of Love,—this celestial visitant who, on noiseless pinions, comes flying divinely into the poorest homes, transfiguring common life with ethereal radiance, making toil easy, giving beauty to the plainest faces and poetry to the dullest brains. Love! its tremulous hand- clasp,—its rapturous kiss,—the speechless eloquence it gives to gentle eyes!—the grace it bestows on even the smallest gift from lover to beloved, were such gift but a handful of meadow blossoms tied with some silken threads of hair!
Not for the poet creator of "Nourhulma" such love any more,—had he not drained the cup of Passion to the dregs in the far Past, and tasted its mixed sweetness and bitterness to no purpose save self-indulgence? All that was over;—and yet, as he walked away from the bridge, back to his hotel in the quiet moonlight, he thought what a transcendent thing Love might be, even on earth, between two whose spirits were SPIRITUALLY AKIN,—whose lives were like two notes played in tuneful concord,—whose hearts beat echoing faith and tenderness to one another,—and who held their love as a sacred bond of union—a gift from God, not to be despoiled by that rough familiarity which surely brings contempt. And then before his fancy appeared to float the radiant visage of Edris, half-child, half-angel,—he seemed to see her beautiful eyes, so pure, so clear, so unshadowed by any knowledge of sin,— and the exquisite lines of a poet-contemporary, whose work he specially admired, occurred to him with singular suggestiveness:
"Oh, thou'lt confess that love from man to maid Is more than kingdoms,—more than light and shade In sky-built gardens where the minstrels dwell, And more than ransom from the bonds of Hell. Thou wilt, I say, admit the truth of this, And half relent that, shrinking from a kiss, Thou didst consign me to mine own disdain, Athwart the raptures of a vision'd bliss.
"I'll seek no joy that is not linked with thine, No touch of hope, no taste of holy wine, And after death, no home in any star, That is not shared by thee, supreme, afar
As here thou'rt first and foremost of all things! Glory is thine, and gladness, and the wings That wait on thought, when, in thy spirit-sway, Thou dost invest a realm unknown to kings!"
Had not she, Edris, consigned him to his "own disdain, Athwart the raptures of a visioned bliss?" Ay! truly and deservedly!—and this disdain of himself had now reached its culminating point,—namely, that he did not consider himself worthy of her love,—or worthy to do aught than sink again into far spaces of darkness and perpetually retrospective Memory, there to explore the uttermost depths of anguish, and count up his errors one by one from the very beginning of life, in every separate phase he had passed through, till he had penitently striven his best to atone for them all! Christ had atoned! yes,—but was it not almost base on his part to shield himself with that Divine Light and do nothing further? He could not yet thoroughly grasp the amazing truth that ONE ABSOLUTELY PURE act of faith in Christ, blots out Past Sin forever,—it seemed too marvellous and great a boon!
When he retired to rest that night he was fully and firmly PREPARED TO DIE. With this expectation upon him he was nevertheless happy and tranquil. The line—"Glory is thine, and gladness, and the wings" haunted him, and he repeated it over and over again without knowing why. Wings! the brilliant shafts of radiance that part angels from mortals,—wings, that, after all, are not really wings, but lambent rays of living lightning, of which neither painter nor poet has any true conception, . . long, dazzling rays such as encircled God's maiden, Edris, with an arch of roseate effulgence, so that the very air was sunset-colored in the splendor of her presence! How if she were a wingless angel,— made woman?
"Glory is thine, and gladness, and the wings!" And with the name of his angel-love upon his lips he closed his eyes and sank into a deep and dreamless slumber.
IN THE CATHEDRAL.
A booming, thunderous, yet mellow sound! a grand, solemn, sonorous swing of full and weighty rhythm, striking the air with deep, slowly measured resonance like the rolling of close cannon! Awake, all ye people!—Awake to prayer and praise! for the Night is past and sweet Morning reddens in the east, ... another Day is born,—a day in which to win God's grace and pardon,—another wonder of Light, Movement, Creation, Beauty, Love! Awake, awake! Be glad and grateful for the present joy of life,—this life, dear harbinger of life to come! open your eyes, ye drowsy mortals, to the divine blue of the beneficent sky, the golden beams of the sun, the color of flowers, the foliage of trees, the flash of sparkling waters!— open your ears to the singing of birds, the whispering of winds, the gay ripple of children's laughter, the soft murmurs of home affection,—for all these things are freely bestowed upon you with each breaking dawn, and will you offer unto God NO thanksgiving?— Awake! Awake! the Voice you have yourselves set in your high Cathedral towers reproaches your lack of love with its iron tongue, and summons you all to worship Him the Ever-Glorious, through whose mercy alone you live!
To and fro,—to and fro,—gravely persistent, sublimely eloquent, the huge, sustained, and heavy monotone went thudding through the stillness,—till, startled from his profound sleep by such loud, lofty, and incessant clangor, Alwyn turned on his pillow and listened, half-aroused, half-bewildered,—then, remembering where he was, he understood; it was the great Bell of the Dom pealing forth its first summons to the earliest Mass. He lay quiet for a little while, dreamily counting the number of reverberations each separate stroke sent quivering on the air,—but presently, finding it impossible to sleep again, he got up, and drawing aside the curtain looked out of the window of his room, which fronted on the Platz. Though it was not yet six o'clock, the city was all astir, —the Rhinelanders are an early working people, and to see the sun rise is not with them a mere fiction of poesy, but a daily fact. It was one of the loveliest of lovely spring mornings—the sky was clear as a pale, polished sapphire, and every little bib of delicate carving and sculpture on the Dom stood out from its groundwork with microscopically beautiful distinctness. And as his gaze rested on the perfect fairness of the day, a strange and sudden sense of rapturous anticipation possessed his mind,—he felt as one prepared for some high and exquisite happiness,—some great and wondrous celebration or feast of joy! The thoughts of death, on which he had brooded so persistently during the past yester-eve, had fled, leaving no trace behind,—only a keen and vigorous delight in life absorbed him now. It was good to be alive, even on this present earth! it was good to see, to feel, to know! and there was much to be thankful for in the mere capability of easy and healthful breathing!
Full of a singular light-heartedness, he hummed a soft tune to himself as he moved about his room,—his desire to view the interior of the Cathedral had not abated with sleep, but had rather augmented,—and he resolved to visit it now, while he had the chance of beholding it in all the impressive splendor of uncrowded tranquillity. For he knew that by the time he was dressed, the first Mass would be over,—the priests and people would be gone,—and he would be alone to enjoy the magnificence of the place in full poet-luxury,—the luxury of silence and solitude. He attired himself quickly, and with a vaguely nervous eagerness,—he was in almost as great a hurry to enter the Dom as he had been to arrive at the Field of Ardath! The same feverish impatience was upon him—impatience that he was conscious of, yet could not account for,—his fancy busied itself with a whole host of memories, and fragments of half-forgotten love-songs he had written in his youth, came back to him without his wish or will,— songs that he instinctively felt belonged to his Past, when as "Sah-luma" he had won golden opinions in Al-Kyris. And though they were but echoes, they seemed this morning to touch him with half- pleasing, half-tender suggestiveness,—two lines especially from the Idyl of Roses he had penned so long,—ah! so very long ago,— came floating through his brain like a message sent from some other world,—
"By the pureness of love shall our glory in loving increase, And the roses of passion for us are the lilies of peace."
The "lilies of peace" and the flowers of Ardath,—the "roses of passion" and the love of Edris, these were all mingled almost unconsciously in his thoughts, as with an inexplicable, happy sense of tremulous expectation,—expectation of he knew not what- he went, walking as one in haste, across the broad Platz and ascended the steps of the Cathedral. But the side-entrance was fast shut, as on the previous night,—he therefore made his rapid way round to the great western door. That stood open,—the bell had long ago ceased,—Mass was over,—and all was profoundly still.
Out of the warm sunlit air he stepped into the vast, cool, clear- obscure, white glory of the stately shrine,—with bared head and noiseless, reverent feet, he advanced a little way up the nave, and then stood motionless, every artistic perception in him satisfied, soothed, and entranced anew, as in his student-days, by the tranquil grandeur of the scene. What majestic silence! What hallowed peace! How jewel-like the radiance of the sun pouring through the rich stained glass on those superb carved pillars, that, like petrified stems of forest-trees, bear lightly up the lofty, vaulted roof to that vast height suggestive of a white sky rather than stone!
Moving on slowly further toward the altar, he was suddenly seized by an overpowering impression,—a memory that rushed upon him with a sort of shock, albeit it was only the memory of a tune!—a wild melody, haunting and passionate, rang in his eras,—the melody that Sarasate, the Orpheus of Spain, had evoked from the heart of his speaking violin,—the sobbing love-lament of the "Zigeunerweisen"—the weird minor-music that had so forcibly suggested—What? THIS VERY PLACE!—these snowy columns,—this sculptured sanctity—this flashing light of rose and blue and amber,—this wondrous hush of consecrated calm! What next? Dear God! Sweet Christ! what next? The face of Edris?—Would that heavenly countenance shine suddenly though those rainbow-colored beams that struck slantwise down toward him?—and should he presently hear her dulcet voice charming the silence into deeper ecstasy?
Overcome by a sensation that was something like fear, he stopped abruptly, and leaning against one of the quaint old oaken benches, strove to control the quick, excited throbbing of his heart,—then gradually, very gradually he become conscious that HE WAS NOT ALONE,—another besides himself was in the church,—another, whom it was necessary for him to see!
He could not tell how he first grew to be certain of this,—but he was soon so completely possessed by the idea, that for a moment he dared not raise his eyes, or move! Some invincible force held him there spell-bound, yet trembling in every limb,—and while he thus waited hesitatingly, the great organ woke up in a glory of tuneful utterance,—wave after wave of richest harmony rolled through the stately aisles and ... "Kyrie eleison! Kyrie eleison!" rang forth in loud, full, and golden-toned chorus!
Lifting his head, he stared wonderingly around him; not a living creature was visible in all the spacious width and length of the cathedral! His lips parted,—he felt as though he could scarcely breathe,—strong shudders ran through him, and he was penetrated by a pleasing terror that was almost a physical pang,—an agonized entrancement, like death or the desire of love! Presently, mastering himself by a determined effort, he advanced steadily with the absorbed air of one who is drawn along by magnetic power ... steadily and slowly up the nave, ... and as he went, the music surged more tumultuously among the vaulted arches,—there was a faint echo afar off, as of tinkling crystal bells; and at each onward step he gained a new access of courage, strength, firmness, and untrammelled ease, till every timorous doubt and fear had fled away, and he stood directly in front of the altar railing, gazing at the enshrined Cross, and seeing for the moment nothing save that Divine Symbol alone. And still the organ played, and still the voices sang,—he knew these sounds were not of earth, and he also knew that they were intended to convey a meaning to him,—but WHAT meaning?
All at once, moved by a sudden impulse, he turned toward the right hand side of the altar, where the great statue of St. Christopher stands, and where one of the loveliest windows in the world gleams like a great carven gem aloft, filtering the light through a myriad marvellous shades of color, and there he beheld, kneeling on the stone pavement, one solitary worshipper,—a girl. Her hands were clasped, and her face was bent upon them so that her features were not visible,—but the radiance from the window fell on her uncovered golden hair, encircling it with the glistening splendor of a heavenly nimbus,—and round her slight, devotional figure, rays of azure and rose jasper and emerald, flickered in wide and lustrous patterns, like the glow of the setting sun on a translucent sea. How very still she was! ... how fervently absorbed in prayer!
Vaguely startled, and thrilled by an electric, indefinable instinct, Alwyn went toward her with hushed and reverential tread, his eyes dwelling upon the drooping, delicate outline of her form with fascinated and eager attention. She was clad in gray,—a soft, silken, dove-like gray, that clung about her in picturesque, daintily draped folds,—he approached her still more nearly, and then could scarcely refrain from a loud cry of amazement! What flowers were those she wore at her breast!—so white, so star- like, so suggestive of paradise lilies new-gathered? Were they not the flowers of ARDATH? Dizzy with the sudden tumult of his own emotions, he dropped on his knees beside her,—she did not stir! Was she REAL?—or a phantom? Trembling violently, he touched her garment—it was of tangible, smooth texture, actual enough, if the sense of touch could be relied upon. In an agony of excitement and suspense he lost all remembrance of time, place, or custom,—her bewildering presence must be explained,—he must know who she was,—he must speak to her,—speak, if he died for it!
"Pardon me!" he whispered faintly, scarcely conscious of his own words; "I fancy,—I think,—we have met,—before! May I, . . dare I, . . ask your name?"
Slowly she unclasped her gently folded hands; slowly, very slowly, she lifted her bent head, and smiled at him! Oh, the lovely light upon her face! Oh, the angel glory of those strange, sweet eyes!
"My name is EDRIS!"—she said, and as the pure bell-like tone of her voice smote the air with its silvery sound, the mysterious music of the organ and the invisible singers throbbed away,— away,—away,—into softer and softer echoes, that died at last tremulously and with a sigh, as of farewell, into the deepest silence.
"EDRIS!"—In a trance of passionate awe and rapture he caught her hand,—the warm, delicate hand that yielded to his strong clasp in submissive tenderness,—pulsations of terror, pain, and wild joy, all commingled, rushed through him,—with adoring, wistful gaze he scanned every feature of that love-smiling countenance,—a countenance no longer lustrous with Heaven's blinding glory, but only most maiden-like and innocently fair,—dazzled, perplexed, and half afraid, he could not at once grasp the true comprehension of his ineffable delight! He had no doubt of her identity—he knew her well! she was his own heartworshipped Angel,—but on what errand had she wandered out of paradise? Had she come once more, as on the Field of Ardath, to comfort him for a brief space with the beauty of her visible existence, or did she bring from Heaven the warrant for his death?
"Edris!" he said, as softly as one may murmur a prayer, "Edris, my life, my love! Speak to me again! make me sure that I am not dreaming! Tell me where I have failed in my sworn faith since we parted; teach me how I must still further atone! Is this the hour appointed for my spirit's ransom?—has this dear and sacred hand I hold, brought me my quittance of earth?—and have I so soon won the privilege to die?"
As he spoke, she rose and stood erect, with all the glistening light of the stained window falling royally about her,—and he obeying her mute gesture, rose also and faced her in wondering ecstasy, half expecting to see her vanish suddenly in the sun-rays that poured through the Cathedral, even as she had vanished before like a white cloud absorbed in clear space. But no! She remained quiet as a tame bird,—her eyes met his with beautiful trust and tenderness,—and when she answered him, her low, sweet accents thrilled to his heart with a pathetic note of HUMAN affection, as well as of angelic sympathy!
"Theos, my Beloved, I am ALL THINE!" she said, a holy rapture vibrating through her exquisite voice.—"Thine now, in mortal life as in immortal!—one with thee in nature and condition,—pent up in perishable clay, even as thou art,—subject to sorrow, and pain, and weariness,—willing to share with thee thine earthly lot,—ready to take my part in thy grief or joy! By mine own choice have I come hither,—sinless, yet not exempt from sin, but safe in Christ! Every time thou hast renounced the desire of thine own happiness, so much the nearer hast thou drawn me to thee; every time thou hast prayed God for my peace, rather than thine own, so much the closer has my existence been linked with thine! And now, O my Poet, my lord, my king!—we are together forever more,—together in the brief Present, as in the eternal Future!— the solitary heaven-days of Edris are past, and her mission is not Death, but Love!"
Oh, the transcendent beauty of that warm flush upon her face!—the splendid hope, faith, and triumph of her attitude! What strange miracle was here accomplished!—an Angel had become human for the sake of love, even as light substantiates itself in the colors of flowers!—the Eden lily had consented to be gathered,—the paradise dove had fluttered down to earth! Breathless, bewildered, lifted to a height of transport beyond all words, Alwyn gazed upon her in entranced, devout silence,—the vast cathedral seemed to swing round and round in great glittering circles, and nothing was real, nothing steadfast, but that slight, sweet maiden in her soft gray robes, with the Ardath-blossoms gleaming white against her breast! Angel she was,—angel she ever would be,—and yet—what did she SEEM? Naught but:
"A child-like woman, wise and very fair, Crowned with the garland of her golden hair!"
This, and no more,—and yet in this was all earth and all heaven comprised!—He gazed and gazed, overwhelmed by the amazement of his own bliss,—he could have gazed upon her so in speechless ravishment for hours, when, with a gesture of infinite grace and appeal, she stretched out her hands toward him:
"Speak to me, dearest one!" she murmured wistfully—"Tell me,—am I welcome?"
"O exquisite humility!—O beautiful maiden-timid hesitation! Was she,—even she, God's Angel, so far removed from pride, as to be uncertain of her lover's reception of such a gift of love? Roused from his half-swooning sense of wonder, he caught those gentle hands, and laid them tenderly against his breast,—tremblingly, and all devoutly, he drew the lovely, yielding form into his arms, close to his heart,—with dazzled sight he gazed down into that pure, perfect face, those clear and holy eyes shining like new- created stars beneath the soft cloud of clustering fair hair!
"Welcome!" he echoed, in a tone that thrilled with passionate awe and ecstasy;—"My Edris! My Saint! My Queen! Welcome, more welcome than the first flowers seen after winter snows!—welcome, more welcome than swift rescue to one in dire peril!—welcome, my Angel, into the darkness of mortal things, which haply so sweet a Presence shall make bright! O sacred innocence that I am not worthy to shield! ... O sinless beauty that I am all unfitted to claim or possess! Welcome to my life, my heart, my soul! Welcome, sweet Trust, sweet Hope, sweet Love, that as Christ lives, I will never wrong, betray, or resign again through all the glory spaces of far Eternity!"
As he spoke, his arms closed more surely about her,—his lips met hers,—and in the mingled human and divine rapture of that moment, there came a rushing noise, as of thousands of wings beating the air, followed by a mighty wave of music that rolled approachingly and then departingly through and through the Cathedral arches—and a Voice, clear and resonant as a silver clarion, proclaimed aloud:
"Those whom GOD hath joined together, let no MAN put asunder!"
Then, with a surging, jubilant sound, like the sea in a storm, the music seemed to tread past in a measured march of stately harmony,—and presently there was silence once more,—the silence and sunshine of the morning pouring through the rose windows of the church and sparkling on the Cross above the Altar,—the silence of a love made perfect,—of twin souls made ONE!
And then Edris drew herself gently from her lover's embrace and raised her head,—putting her hand confidingly in his, a lovely smile played on her sweetly parted lips:
"Take me, Theos," she said softly, "Lead me,—into the World!"
* * * * * *
Slowly the great side-doors of the Cathedral swung back on their hinges,—and out on the steps in a glorious blaze of sunlight came Poet and Angel together. The one, a man in the full prime of splendid and vigorous manhood,—the other, a maiden, timid and sweet, robed in gray attire with a posy of white flowers at her throat. A simple girl, and most distinctly human,—the fresh, pure color reddened in her cheeks,—the soft springtide wind fanned her gold hair, and the sunbeams seemed to dance about her in a bright revel of amaze and curiosity. Her lustrous eyes dwelt on the busy Platz below with a vaguely compassionate wonder—a look that suggested some far foreknowledge of things, that at the same time were strangely unfamiliar. Hand in hand with her companion she stood,—while he, holding her fast, drunk in the pureness of her beauty, the love-light of her glance, the holy radiance of her smile, till every sense in him was spiritualized anew by the passionate faith and reverence in his heart, the marvellous glory that had fallen upon his life, the nameless rapture that possessed his soul!—To have knelt at her feet, and bowed his head before her in worshipping silence, would have been to follow the strongest impulse in him,—but she had given him a higher duty than this. He was to "LEAD HER,"—lead her "into the world!"—the dreary, dark world, so unfitted to receive such brightness,—she had come to him clad in all the sacred weakness of womanhood; and it was his proud privilege to guard and shelter her from evil,— from the evil in others, but chiefly from the evil in himself. No taint must touch that spotless life with which God had entrusted him!—sorrow might come—nay, MUST come, since, so long as humanity errs, so long must angels grieve,—sorrow, but not sin! A grand, awed sense of responsibility filled him,—a responsibility that he accepted with passionate gratitude and joy ... he had attained a vaster dignity than any king on any throne, ... and all the visible Universe was transfigured into a golden pageant of loveliness and light, fairer than the fabled Valley of Avilion!
Yet still he kept her close beside him on the steps of the mighty Dom, half-longing, half-hesitating to take her further, and ever and anon assailed by a dreamy doubt as to whether she might not even now pass away from him suddenly and swiftly, as a mist fading into heaven,—when all at once the sound of beating drums and martial trumpets struck loudly on the quiet morning air. A brilliant regiment of mounted Uhlans emerged from an opposite street, and cantered sharply across the Platz and over the Rhine- bridge, with streaming pennons, burnished helmets and accoutrements glistening in a long compact line of silvery white, that vanished as speedily as it had appeared, like a winding flash of meteor flame. Alwyn drew a deep, quick breath; the sight of those armed soldiers roused him to the fact that he was actually in the turmoil of present daily events,—that his supernal happiness was no vision, but REALITY,—that Edris, his Spirit- love, was with him in tangible human guise of flesh and blood,— though how such a mysterious marvel had been accomplished, he knew no more than scientists know how the lovely life of green leaf and perfect flower can still be existent in seeds that have lain dormant and dry in old tombs for thousands of years! And as he looked at her proudly,—adoringly,—she raised her beautiful, innocent, questioning eyes to his.
"This is a city?" she asked—"a city of men who labor for good, and serve each other?"
"Alas, not so, my sweet!" he answered, his voice trembling with its own infinite tenderness; "there is no city on the sad Earth where men do not labor for mere vanity's sake, and oppose each other!"
Her inquiring gaze softened into a celestial compassion.
"Come,—let us go!" she said gently. "We twain, made one in love and faith, must hasten to begin our work!—darkness gathers and deepens over the Sorrowful Star,—but we, perchance, with Christ's most holy Blessing, may help to lift the Shadows into Light!"
* * * * * * *
Away in a sheltered mountainous retreat, apart from the louder clamor of the world, the Poet and his heavenly companion dwell in peace together. Their love, their wondrous happiness, no mortal language can define,—for spiritual love perfected as far exceeds material passion as the steadfast glory of the sun outshines the nickering of an earthly taper. Few, very few, there are who recognize, or who attain, such joy,—for men chiefly occupy themselves with the SEMBLANCES of things, and therefore fail to grasp all high realities. Perishable beauty,—perishable fame,— these are mere appearances; imperishable Worth is the only positive and lasting good, and in the search for imperishable Worth alone, the seeker must needs encounter Angels unawares!
But for those whose pleasure it is to doubt and deny all spiritual life and being, the history of Theos Alwyn can be disposed of with much languid ease and cold logic, as a foolish chimera scarce worth narrating. Practically viewed, there is nothing wonderful in it, since it can all be traced to a powerful exertion of magnetic skill. Tranced into a dream bewilderment by the arts of the mystic Chaldean, Heliobas,—tricked into visiting the Field of Ardath, what more likely than that a real earth-born maiden, trained to her part, should have met the dreamer there, and, with the secret aid of the hermit Elezar, continued his strange delusion? What more fitting as a sequel to the whole, than that the same maiden should have been sent to him again in the great Rhine Cathedral, to complete the deception and satisfy his imagination by linking her life finally with his?—It is a perfectly simple explanation of what some credulous souls might be inclined to consider a mystery,—and let the dear, wise, oracular people who cannot admit any mystery in anything, and who love to trace all seeming miracles to clever imposture, accept this elucidation by all means,—they will be able to fit every incident of the story into such an hypothesis, with most admirable and consecutive neatness! Al-Kyris was truly a Vision,—the rest was,—What? Merely the working of a poetic imagination under mesmeric influence!
So be it! The Poet knows the truth,—but what are Poets? Only the Prophets and Seers! Only the Eyes of Time, which clearly behold Heaven's Fact beyond this world's Fable. Let them sing if they choose, and we will hear them in our idle hours,—we will give them a little of our gold,—a little of our grudging praise, together with much of our private practical contempt and misprisal! So say the unthinking and foolish—so will they ever say,—and hence it is, that though the fame of Theos Alwyn widens year by year, and his sweet clarion harp of Song rings loud warning, promise, hope, and consolation above the noisy tumult of the whirling age, people listen to him merely in vague wonderment and awe, doubting his prophet utterance, and loth to put away their sin. But he, never weary in well-doing, works on, ... ever regardless of Self, caring nothing for Fame, but giving all the riches of his thought for Love. Clear, grand, pure, and musical, his writings fill the time with hope and passionate faith and courage,—his inspiration fails not, and can never fail, since Edris is his fount of ecstasy,—his name, made glorious by God's blessing, shall never, as in his perished Past, be again forgotten!
And what of Edris? What of the "Flower-crowned Wonder" of the Field of Ardath, strayed for a while out of her native Heaven? Does the world know her marvellous origin? Perhaps the mystic Heliobas knows,—perhaps even good Frank Villiers has hazarded a reverent guess at his friend's great secret—but to the uninstructed, what does she seem?
Nothing but a WOMAN, MOST PURE WOMANLY; a woman whose influence on all is strangely sweet and lasting,—whose spirit overflows with tenderest sympathy for the many wants and sorrows of mankind,— whose voice charms away care,—whose smile engenders peace,—whose eyes, lustrous and thoughtful, are unclouded by any shadow of sin,—and on whose serene beauty the passing of years leaves no visible trace. That she is fair and wise, joyous, radiant, and holy is apparent to all,—but only the Poet, her lover and lord, her subject and servant, can tell how truly his Edris is not so much sweet woman as most perfect Angel! A Dream of Heaven made human! ... Let some of us hesitate ere we doubt the Miracle; for we are sleepers and dreamers all,—and the hour is close at hand when—we shall Wake.