"A stranger I am indeed!" he said drearily—"A stranger to my very self and all my former belongings! Ask me no questions, good father, for, as I live, I cannot answer them! I am oppressed by a nameless and mysterious suffering, . . my brain is darkened,—my thoughts but half-formed and never wholly uttered, and I,—I who once deemed human intelligence and reason all-supreme, all-clear, all-absolute, am now compelled to use that reason reasonlessly, and to work with that intelligence in helpless ignorance as to what end my mental toil shall serve! Woeful and strange it is!— yet true; . . I am as a broken straw in a whirlwind,—or the pale ghost of my own identity groping for things forgotten in a land of shadows; . . I know not whence I came, nor whither I go! Nay, do not fear me,—I am not mad: I am conscious of my life, my strength, and physical well-being,—and though I may speak wildly, I harbor no ill-intent toward any man—my quarrel is with God alone!"
He paused,—then resumed in calmer accents,—"You judge rightly, reverend sir,—I am a stranger in Al-Kyris. I entered the city- gates this morning when the sun was high,—and ere noon I found courteous welcome and princely shelter,—I am the guest of the poet Sah-luma."
The old man looked at him half compassionately.
"Ah, Sah-luma is thine host?" he said with a touch of melancholy surprise in his tone—"Then wherefore art thou here? ... here in this dark abode where none may linger and escape with life? ... how earnest thou within the bounds of Lysid's fatal pleasaunce! ... Has the Laureate's friendship thus misguided thee?"
Theos hesitated before replying. He was again moved by that curious instinctive dread of hearing Sah-luma's name associated with any sort of reproach,—and his voice had a somewhat defiant ring as he answered:
"Nay, surely I am neither child nor woman that I should weakly yield to guidance or misleading! Some trifling matter of free-will remains to me in spite of mine affliction,—and that I have supped with Sah-luma at the Palace of the High Priestess, has been as much my choice as his example. Who among men would turn aside from high feasting and mirthful company? ... not I, believe me! ... and Sah-luma's desires herein were but the reflex of mine own. We came together through the woodland, and parted but a moment since..."
He stopped abruptly, startled by a sudden clash as of steel and the tramp-tramp of approaching feet. His aged companion caught him by the arm...
"Hush!" he whispered.. "Not a word more.. not a breath! ... or thy life must pay the penalty! Quick,—follow me close! ... step softly! ... there is a hiding-place near at hand where we may couch unseen till these dread visitants pass by."
Moving stealthily and with anxious precaution, he led the way to a niche hollowed deeply out in the thickness of the wall, and turning his lamp aside so that not the faintest glimmer of it could be perceived, he took Theos by the hand, and drew him into what seemed to be a huge cavernous recess, utterly dark and icy cold.
Here, crouching low in the furthest gloom, they both waited silently,—Theos ignorant as to the cause of the sudden alarm, and wondering vaguely what strange new circumstance was about to happen. The measured tramp-tramp of feet came nearer and nearer, and in another moment the flare of smoking torches illumined the vaulted passage, casting many a ruddy flicker and flash on the ivory-gleaming whiteness of the vast skeleton army that stood with such grim and pallid patience as though waiting for a marching signal.
Presently there appeared a number of half-naked men, carrying short axes stained with blood,—coarse, savage, cruel-looking brutes all, whose lowering faces bore the marks of a thousand unrepented crimes,—these were followed by four tall personages clad in flowing white robes and closely masked,—and finally there came a band of black slaves clothed in vivid scarlet, dragging between them two writhing, bleeding creatures,—one a man, the other a girl in her earliest youth, both convulsed by the evident last agonies of death.
Arrived at the centre of that part of the vault where the skeleton crowd was thickest, this horrible cortege halted, while one of the masked personages undid from his girdle a large bunch of keys. And now Theos, watching everything with dreadful interest from the obscure corner where he was, thanks to his unknown friend, successfully concealed, perceived for the first time a low, iron door, heavily barred, and surmounted by sharp spikes as long as drawn daggers. When this dreary portal was, with many a jarring groan and clang, slowly opened, such an awful cry broke from the lips of the tortured man as might have wrung compassion from the most hardened tyrant. Wresting himself fiercely out of the grasp of the slaves who held him, he struggled to his feet, while the blood poured from the cruel wounds that were inflicted all over his body, and raising his manacled hands aloft he cried..
"Mercy! ... mercy! ... not for me, but for her! ... for her, my love, my life, my tenderest little one! ... What is her crime, ye fiends? ... why do ye deem love a sin and passion a dishonor? ... Shall there be no more heart-longings because ye are cold? ... Spare her! ... she is so young, so fond, so innocent of all reproach save one, the shame of loving me! Spare her! ... or, if ye will not spare, slay her at once! ... now!—now, with swift compassionate sword, . . but cast her not alive into yon hideous serpent's den! ... not alive! ... ah no, no,—ye gods have pity! ..."
Here his voice broke and a sudden light passed over his agonized countenance. Gazing steadfastly at the girl, whose beautiful, white body now lay motionless on the cold stone, with a cloud of fair hair falling veil-like over it, his eyes seemed to strain themselves out of their sockets in the intensity of his eager regard, when all at once he gave vent to a wild peal of delirious laughter and exclaimed..
"Dead.. dead! ... Thanks be to the merciless gods for this one gift of grace at the last! Dead.. dead! ... O the blessed favor and freedom of death! ... Sweetheart, they can torture thee no more.. no more! ... Ah, devils that ye are!" and his voice grown frantically loud, pierced the gloomy arches with terrible resonance, as he saw the red-garmented slaves vainly endeavoring to rouse, with ferocious blows and thrusts, new life in the fair, stiffening corpse before them.. "This time ye are baffled! ... Baffled!—and I live to see your vanquishment! Give her to me!" and he stretched out his trembling arms ... "Give her...she is dead—and ye cannot offer to Nagaya any lifeless thing! I will weave her a shroud of her own gold hair—I will bury her softly away in the darkness—I will sing to her as I used to sing in the silent summer evenings, when we fancied our secret of forbidden love unknown,—and with my lips on hers, I will pray.. pray for the pardon of passion grown stronger...than...life! ..."
He ceased, and swaying forward, fell, . . a shiver ran through his limbs...one deep, gasping sigh...and all was over. The band of torturers gathered round the body, uttering fierce oaths and exclamations of dismay.
"Both dead!" said one of the individuals in white.. "'Tis a most fatal augury!"
"Fatal indeed!" said another, and turning to the men with the blood stained axes, he added angrily—"Ye were too swift and lavish of your weapons—ye should have let these criminals suffer slowly inch by inch, and yet have left them life enough wherewith to linger on in anguish many hours."
The wretches thus addressed looked sullen and humiliated, and approaching the two corpses, would have brutally inflicted fresh wounds on them, had not the seeming chief of the party interfered.
"Let be.. let be!" he said austerely—"Ye cannot cause the dead to feel, . . would that it were possible! Then might the glorious and god like thirst of vengeance in our great High Priestess be somewhat more appeased in this matter. For the unlawful communion of love between a vestal virgin and an anointed priest cannot be too utterly abhorred and condemned,—and these twain, who thus did foully violate their vows, have perished far too easily. The sanctity of the Temple has been outraged, . . Lysia will not be satisfied, . . and how shall we pacify her righteous wrath, concerning this too tranquil death of the undeserving and impure?"
Drawing all together in a close group they held a whispered consultation, and finally, appearing to have come to some sort of decision, they took up the dead bodies one after another, and flung them carelessly into the dark aperture lately unclosed. As they did this, a stealthy, rustling sound was heard, as of some great creature moving to and fro in the far interior, but they soon locked and barred the iron portal once more, and then took their departure rather hurriedly, leaving the vault by the way Theos had entered it—namely, up the stone stairway that led into Lysia's palace-gardens. As the last echo of their retreating steps died away and the last glimmer of their lurid torches vanished, Theos sprang out from his hiding-place,—his venerable companion slowly followed.
"Oh, God! Can such things be!" he cried loudly, reckless of all possible risk for himself as his voice rang penetratingly through the deep silence—"Were these brute-murderers actual men?—or but the wandering, grim shadows of some long past crime? ... Nay,— surely I do but dream!—and ghouls and demons born out of nightmare-sleep do vex my troubled spirit! Justice! ... justice for the innocent! ... Is there none in all Al-Kyris?"
"None!" replied the old man who stood beside him, lamp in hand, fixing his dark, melancholy eyes upon him as he spoke—"None! ... neither in Al-Kyris nor in any other great city on the peopled earth! Justice? ... I who am named Zuriel the Mystic, because of my tireless searching into things that are hidden from the unstudious and unthinking,—I know that Justice is an idle name,— an empty braggart-word forever on the mouths of kings and judges, but never in their hearts! Moreover,—what is guilt? ... What is innocence? Both must be defined according to the law of the realm wherein we dwell,—and from that law there can be no appeal. These men we lately saw were the chief priests and executioners of the Sacred Temple,—they have done no wrong—they have simply fulfilled their duty. The culprits slain deserved their fate,— they loved where loving was forbidden,—torture and death was the strictly ordained punishment, and herein was justice,—justice as portioned out by the Penal Code of the High Court of Council."
Theos heard, and gave an expressive gesture of loathing and contempt.
"O narrow jurisdiction! ... O short-sighted, false equity!" he exclaimed passionately. "Are there different laws for high and low? ... Must the weak and defenceless be condemned to death for the self-same sin committed openly by their more powerful brethren who yet escape scot-free? What of the High Priestess then? ... If these poor lover-victims merited their doom, why is not Lysia slain? ... Is not SHE a willingly violated vestal? ... doth SHE not count her lovers by the score? ... are not her vows long since broken? ... is not her life a life of wanton luxury and open shame? ... Why doth the Law, beholding these things, remain in her case dumb and ineffectual?"
"Hush, hush, my son!" said the aged Zuriel anxiously—"These stone walls hear thee far too loudly,—who knows but they may echo forth thy words to unsuspected listeners! Peace—peace! ... Lysia is as much Queen, as Zephoranim is King of Al-Kyris; and surely thou knowest that the sins of tyrants are accounted virtues, so long as they retain their ruling powers? The public voice pronounces Lysia chaste, and Zephoranim faithful; who then shall dare to disprove the verdict?—'Tis the same in all countries, near and far,—the law serves the strong, while professing to defend the weak. The rich man gains his cause,—the beggar loses it,—how can it be otherwise, while lust of gold prevails? Gold is the moving-force of this our era,—without it kings and ministers are impotent, and armies starve, . . with it, all things can be accomplished even to the concealment of the foulest crimes. Come, come! ..." and he laid one hand kindly on Theos's arm, "Thou hast a generous and fiery spirit, but thou shouldst never have been born into this planet if thou seekest such a thing as Justice! No man will ever deal true justice to his fellow man on earth, unless perhaps in ages to come, when the old creeds are swept away for a new, and a grander, wider, purer form of faith is accepted by the people. For religion in Al-Kyris to-day is a hollow mockery,—a sham, kept up partly from fear,—partly from motives of policy,—but every thinker is an atheist at heart, . . our splendid civilization is tottering towards its fall, . . and should the fore-doomed destruction of this city come to pass, vast ages of progress, discovery, and invention will be swept away as though they had never been!"
He paused and sighed,—then continued sorrowfully—"There is, there must be something wrong in the mechanism of life,—some little hitch that stops the even wheels,—some curious perpetual mischance that crosses us at every turn,—but I doubt not all is for the best, and will prove most truly so hereafter!"
"Hereafter!" echoes Theos bitterly ... "Thinkest thou that even God, repenting of the evil He hath done, will ever be able to compensate us by any future bliss, for all the needless anguish of the Present?"
Zuriel looked at him with a strange, almost spectral expression of mingled pity, fear, and misgiving, but he offered no reply to this home-thrust of a question. In grave silence and with slow, majestic tread he began to lead the way along through the dismal labyrinth of black, winding arches, holding his blue lamp aloft as he went, the better to lighten the dense gloom.
Theos followed him, silent also, and wrapped in stern, and mournful musings of his own, . . musings through which faint threads of pale recollection connected with his past glimmered hazily from time to time, perplexing rather than enlightening his bewildered brain.
Presently he found himself in a low, narrow vestibule illumined by the bright yet soft radiance of a suspended Star,—and here, coming close up with his guide and observing his dress and manner more attentively, he suddenly perceived a shining SOMETHING which the old man wore hanging from his neck and which flashed against the sable hue of his garment like a wandering moonbeam.
Stopping abruptly, he examined this ornament with straining, wistful gaze, . . and slowly, very slowly, recognized its fashion of construction,—it was a plain silver Cross—nothing more. Yet at sight of the sacred, strange, yet familiar Symbol, a chord seemed to snap in his brain,—tears rushed to his tired eyes, and with a sharp cry he fell on his knees, grasping his companion's robe wildly, as a drowning man grasps at a floating spar,—while the venerable Zuriel, startled at his action, stared down upon him in evident amazement and terror.
"Rescue! ... rescue!" he cried, ... "O thou blessed among men!— thou dost wear the Sign of Eternal Safety! ... the Sign of the Way, the Truth, and the Life! ... 'without the Way, there is no going, without the Truth there is no knowing, without the Life there is no living'! Now do I know thee for a saint in Al-Kyris,— for thou dost openly avow thyself a follower of the Divine Faith that fools despise, and selfish souls repudiate, . . ah, I do beseech thee, thou good and holy man, absolve me of my sin of Unbelief! Teach me! ... help me! ... and I will hear thy counsels with the meekness of a listening child! ..See you, I kneel! ... I pray! ... I, even I, am humiliated to the very dust of shame! I have no pride, . . I seek no glory, ... I do entreat, even as I once rejected the blessing of the Cross, whereby I shall regain my lost love,—my despised pardon,—my vanished peace!"
And, with pathetic earnestness, he raised his hands toward the silver emblem, and touched it tenderly, reverently, ... then as though unworthy, he bent his head low, and waited eagerly for a Name, . . a Name that he himself could not remember, . . a Name suggested by the Cross, but not declared. If that Name were once spoken in the form of a benediction, he felt instinctively that he would straightway be released from the mysterious spell of misery that bound his intelligence in such a grievous thrall. But not a word of consolation did his companion utter, . . on the contrary, he seemed agitated by the strangest surprise and alarm.
"Now may all the gods in Heaven defend thee, thou unhappy, desperate, distracted soul!" he said in trembling, affrighted accents. "Thou dost implore the blessing of a Faith unknown! ... a Mystery predicted but not yet fulfilled...a Creed that shall not be declared to men for full FIVE THOUSAND YEARS!"
THE CRIMSON RIVER.
At these unexpected words Theos sprang wildly to his feet. An awful darkness seemed to close in upon him,—and a chaotic confusion of memories began to whirl and drift through his mind like flotsam and jetsam tossed upon a storm-swept sea. The aged and shadowy-looking Zuriel stood motionless, watching him with something of timid pity and mild patience.
"FIVE THOUSAND YEARS!" he muttered hoarsely, pressing his hands into his aching brows, while his eyes again fixed themselves yearningly on the Cross.. "Five thousand years before. ... before WHAT?"
He caught the old man's arm, and in spite of himself, a laugh, wild, discordant, and out of all keeping with his inward emotions, broke from his parched lips,—"Thou doting fool!" he cried almost furiously,—"Why dost thou mock me then with this false image of a hope unrealized? ... Who gave thee leave to add more fuel to my flame of torment? ... What means this symbol to thine eyes? Speak.. speak! What admonition does it hold for thee? ... what promise? ... what menace? ... what warning? ... what love? ... Speak.. speak! O, shall I force confession from thy throat, or must I die unsatisfied and slain by speechless longing! What didst thou say? ... FIVE THOUSAND YEARS? ... Nay, by the gods, thou liest!"—and he pointed excitedly to the sacred Emblem,—"I tell thee that Holy Sign is as familiar to my suffering soul as the chiming of bells at sunset! ... as well known to my sight as the unfolding of flowers in the fields of spring! ... What shall be done or said of it, in. five thousand years, that has not already been said and done?"
Zuriel regarded him more compassionately than ever, with a penetrating, mournful expression in his serious dark eyes.
"Alas, alas, my son! thou art most grievously distraught!" he said in troubled tones. "Thy words but prove the dark disorder of thy wits,—may Heaven soon heal thee of thy mental wound! Restrain thy wild and wandering fancies? ... for surely thou canst not be familiar, as thou sayest with this silver Symbol, seeing that it is but the Talisman [Footnote: The Cross was held in singular veneration in the Temple of Serapis, and by many tribes in the East, ages before the coming of Christ] or Badge of the Mystic Brethren of Al-Kyris, and has no signification whatsoever save for the Elect. It was designed some twenty years ago by the inspired Chief of our Order, Khosrul, and such as are still his faithful disciples wear it as a record and constant reminder of his famous Prophecy."
Theos heard, and a dull apathy stole over him,—his recent excitement died out under a chilling weight of vague yet bitter disappointment.
"And this Prophecy?" he asked listlessly.. "What is its nature and whom doth it concern?"
"Nay, in very truth it is a strange and marvellous thing!" replied Zuriel, his calm voice thrilling with a mellow touch of fervor.. "Khosrul, 'tis said, has heard the angels whispering in Heaven, and his attentive ears have caught the echo of their distant speech.
"Thus spiritually instructed, he doth powerfully predict Salvation for the human race,—and doth announce, that in five thousand years or more, a God shall be moved by wondrous mercy to descend from Heaven, and take the form of Man, wherein, unknown, despised, rejected, he will live our life from commencement to finish, teaching, praying, and sanctifying by His Divine Presence the whole sin-burdened Earth. This done, He will consent to suffer a most cruel death, . . and the manner of His death will be that He shall hang, nailed hands and feet to a Cross, as though He were a common criminal, . . His holy brows shall be bound about with thorns,—and after hours of agony He, innocent of every sin, shall perish miserably—friendless, unpitied, and alone. But afterward, ... and mark you! this is the chiefest glory of all! ... He will rise again triumphant from the grave to prove his God-head, and to convince Mankind beyond all doubt an question, that there is indeed an immortal Hereafter,—an actual, free Eternity of Life, compared with which this our transient existence is a mere brief breathing-space of pause and probation, . . and then for evermore His sacred Name shall dominate and civilize the world..."
"What Name?".. interrupted Theos, with eager abruptness ... "Canst thou pronounce it?"
Zuriel shook his head.
"Not I, my son"—he answered gravely.. "Not even Khosrul can penetrate thus far! The Name of Him who is to come, is hidden deep among God's unfathomed silences! It should suffice thee that thou knowest now the sum and substance of the Prophecy. Would I might live to see the days when all shall be fulfilled! ... but alas, my remaining years are few upon the earth, and Heaven's time is not ours!"
He sighed,—and resumed his slow pacing onwards,—Theos walked beside him as a man may walk in sleep, uncertainly and with unseeing eyes, his heart beating loudly, and a sick sense of suffocation in his throat. What did it all mean? ... Had his life gone back in some strange way? ... or had he merely DREAMED of a former existence different to this one? He remembered now what Sah-luma had told him respecting Khosrul's "new" theory of a future religion,—a theory that to him had seemed so old, so old! —so utterly exhausted and worn threadbare! In what a cruel problem was he hopelessly involved!—what a useless, perplexed, confused being he had become! ... he who would once to have staked his life on the unflinching strength and capabilities of human reason! After a pause, . .
"Forgive me!" he said in a low tone, and speaking with some effort.. "forgive me and have patience with my laggard comprehension, . . I am perplexed at heart and slow of thought; wilt thou assure me faithfully, that this God-Man thou speakest of is not yet born on earth?"
The faintest shadow of a wondering smile flickered over the old man's wrinkled countenance, like the reflection of a passing taper-flame on a faded picture.
"My son, my son!" he murmured with compassionate tolerance—"Have I not told thee that five thousand years and more must pass away ere the prediction be accomplished? ... I marvel that so plain a truth should thus disquiet thee! Now, by my soul, thou lookest pallid as the dead! ... Come, let us hasten on more rapidly,—thy fainting spirits will revive in fresher air."
He hurried his pace as he spoke, and glided along with such a curious, stealthy noiselessness that by and by Theos began dubiously to wonder whether after all he were a real personage or a phantom? He noticed that his own figure seemed to possess much more substantiality and distinctness of outline than that of this mysterious Zuriel, whose very garments resembled floating cloud rather than actual, woven fabric. Was his companion then a fitting Spectre? ...
He smiled at the absurdity of the idea, and to change the drift of his own foolish fancies he asked suddenly,—"Concerning this wondrous city of Al-Kyris...is it of very ancient days, and long lineage?"
"The annals of its recorded history reach over a period of twelve thousand years"—replied Zuriel, . . "But 'tis the present fashion to count from the Deification of Nagaya or the Snake,—and, according to this, we are now in the nine hundred and eighty-ninth year of so-called Grace and Knowledge,—rather say Dishonor and Crime! ... for a crueler, more bloodthirsty creed than the worship of Nagaya never debased a people! Who shall number up the innocent victims that have been sacrificed in the great Temple of the Sacred Python!—and even on this very day which has just dawned, another holocaust is to be offered on the Veiled Shrine,—or so it hath been publicly proclaimed throughout the city,—and the crowd will flock to see a virgin's blood spilt on the accursed altars where Lysia, in all the potency of triumphant wickedness, presides. But if the auguries of the stars prevail, 'twill be for the last time!" Here he paused and looked fixedly at Theos. "Thou dost return straightway to Sah-luma ... is it not so?"
Theos bent his head in assent.
"Art thou true friend, or mere flatterer to that spoilt child of fair fame and fortune?"
"Friend!"—cried Theos with eager enthusiasm, ... "I would give my life to save his!"
"Aye, verily? ... is it so?" ... and Zuriel's melancholy eyes dwelt upon him with a strange and sombre wistfulness, ... "Then, as thou art a man, persuade him out of evil into good! ... rouse him to noble shame and nobler penitence for all those faults which mar his poet-genus and deprive it of immortal worth! ... urge him to depart from Al-Kyris while there is yet time ere the bolt of destruction falls! ... and, ... mark you well this final warning! ... bid him to-day avoid the Temple, and beware the King!"—
As he said this he stopped and extinguished the lamp he carried. There was no longer any need of it, for a broad patch of gray light fell through an aperture in the wall, showing a few rough, broken steps that led upwards,—and pointing to these he bade the bewildered Theos a kindly farewell.
"Thou wilt find Sah-luma's palace easily,"—he said—"Not a child in the streets but knows the way thither. Guard thy friend and be thyself also on guard against coming disaster,—and if thou art not yet resolved to die, escape from the city ere to-night's sun- setting. Soothe thy distempered fancies with thoughts of God, and cease not to pray for thy soul's salvation! Peace be with thee!"—
He raised his hands with an expressive gesture of benediction, and turning round abruptly disappeared. Where had he gone? ... how had he vanished? ... It was impossible to tell! ... he seemed to have melted away like a mist into utter nothingness! Profoundly perplexed, Theos ascended the steps before him, his mind anxiously revolving all the strange adventures of the night, while a dim sense of some unspeakable, coming calamity brooded darkly upon him.
The solemn admonitions he had just heard affected him deeply, for the reason that they appeared to apply so specially to Sah-luma,— and the idea that any evil fate was in store for the bright, beautiful creature, whom he had, oddly enough, learned to love more than himself, moved him to an almost womanish apprehension. In case of pressing necessity, could he exercise any authority over the capricious movements of the wilful Laureate, whose egotism was so absolute, whose imperious ways were so charming, whose commands were never questioned?
He doubted it! ... for Sah-luma was accustomed to follow the lead of his own immediate pleasure, in reckless scorn of consequences, —and it was not likely he would listen to the persuasions or exhortations, however friendly, of any one presuming to run counter to his wishes.
Again and again Theos asked himself—"If Sah-luma of his own accord, and despite all warning, deliberately rushed into deadly peril, could I, even loving him as I do, rescue him?"—And as he pondered on this, a strange answer shaped itself unbidden in his brain—an answer that seemed as though it were spoken aloud by some interior voice.. "No,—no!—ten thousand times no! You could not save him any more than you could save yourself from the results of your own misdoing! If you voluntarily choose evil, not all the forces in the world can lift you into good,—if you voluntarily choose danger, not all the gods can bring you into safety! FREE WILL is the divine condition attached to human life, and each man by thought, word, and deed, determines his own fate, and decides his own future!"
He sighed despondingly, ... a curious, vague contrition stirred within him, ... he felt as though HE were in some mysterious way to blame for all his poet-friend's short-comings!
In a few minutes he found himself on the broad marble embankment, close to the very spot from whence he had first beheld the beautiful High Priestess sailing slowly by in all her golden pomp and splendor, and as he thought of her now, a shudder, half of aversion, half of desire, quivered through him, flushing his brows with the warm uprising blood that yet burned rebelliously at the remembrance of her witching, perfect loveliness!
Here too he had met Sah-luma, . . ah Heaven!—how many things had happened since then! ... how much he had seen and heard! ... Enough, at any rate, to convince him, that the men and women of Al-Kyris were more or less the same as those of other great cities he seemed to have known in far-off, half-forgotten days,—that they plotted against each other, deceived each other, accused each other falsely, murdered each other, and were fools, traitors, and egotists generally, after the customary fashion of human pigmies, —that they set up a Sham to serve as Religion, Gold being their only god,—that the rich wantoned in splendid luxury, and wilfully neglected the poor,—that the King was a showy profligate, ruled by a treacherous courtesan, just like many other famous Kings and Princes, who, because of their stalwart, martial bearing, and a certain surface good-nature, manage to conceal their vices from the too lenient eyes of the subjects they mislead,—and that finally all things were evidently tending toward some great convulsion and upheaval possibly arising from discontent and dissension among the citizens themselves,—or, likelier still, from the sudden invasion of a foreign foe,—for any more terrific termination of events did not just then suggest itself to his imagination.
Absorbed in thought, he walked some paces along the embankment, before he perceived that a number of people were already assembled there,—men, women, and children, who, crowding eagerly together to the very edge of the parapet, appeared to be anxiously watching the waters below.
What unusual sight attracted them? ... and why were they all so silent as though struck dumb by some unutterable dismay? One or two, raising their heads, turned their pale, alarmed faces toward Theos as he approached, their eyes seeming to mutely inquire his opinion, concerning the alarming phenomenon which held them thus spellbound and fear-stricken.
He made his way quickly to where they stood, and looking where they looked, uttered a sharp, involuntary exclamation, ... the river, the clear, rippling river was RED AS BLOOD. Beneath the slowly breaking light of dawn, that streaked the heavens with delicate lines of silver-gray and daffodil, the whole visible length and breadth of the heaving waters shone with a darkly flickering crimson hue, deeper than the lustre of the deepest ruby, flowing sluggishly the while as though clogged with some thick and weedy slime.
As the sky brightened gradually into a pale, ethereal blue, so the tide became ruddier and more pronounced in color,—and presently, as though seized by a resistless panic, the group of staring, terrified bystanders broke up suddenly, and rushed away in various directions, covering their faces as they fled and uttering loud cries of lamentation and despair.
Theos alone remained behind, . . resting his folded arms on the sculptured balustrade, he gazed down, down into those crimson depths till their strange tint dazzled and confused his sight,— looking up for relief to the eastern horizon where the sun was just bursting out in full splendor from a pavilion of violet cloud, the red reflection was still before his eyes, so much so, that the very air seemed flushed with spreading fire.
And then like the sound of a tocsin ringing in his ears, the words of the Prophet Khosrul, as pronounced in the presence of the King, recurred to his memory with new and suggestive force. "BLOOD— BLOOD! 'TIS A SCARLET SEA WHEREIN LIKE A BROKEN AND EMPTY SHIP AL- KYRIS FOUNDERS,—FOUNDERS NEVER TO RISE AGAIN!"
Still painfully oppressed by an increasing sense of some swift- approaching disaster, his thoughts once more reverted anxiously to Sah-luma. He must be warned,—yes!—even if he disdained all warning! Yet, . . warn him against what? "BID HIM AVOID THE TEMPLE AND BEWARE THE KING!"
So had said Zuriel the Mystic,—but to the laurelled favorite of the monarch, and idol of the people, such an admonition would seem more than absurd! It was useless to talk to him about the prophecies of Khosrul,—he had heard them all, and laughed them to scorn.
"How can I"—then mused Theos disconsolately,—"How can I make him believe that some undeclared evil threatens him, when he is at the very pinnacle of fame and fortune with all Al-Kyris at his feet? ... He would never listen to me, ... nor would any persuasions of mine induce him to leave the city where his name is so glorious and his renown so firmly established. Of Lysia's treachery I may perhaps convince him, ... yet even in this attempt I may fail, and incur his hatred for my pains! If I had only myself to consider! ... "—And here his reflections suddenly took a strange, unbidden turn. If he had only himself to consider! ... well, what then! Was it not just within the bounds of probability that, under the same circumstances, he might be precisely as self-willed and as haughtily opinionated as the friend whose arrogance he deplored, yet could not alter?
So pointed a suggestion was not exactly suited to his immediate humor, and he felt curiously vexed with himself for indulging in such a foolish association of ideas! The positions were entirely different, he argued, angrily addressing the troublesome inward monitor that every now and then tormented him,—there was no resemblance whatever between himself, the unknown, unfamed wanderer in a strange land, and the brilliant Sah-luma, chosen Poet Laureate of the realm!
No resemblance, . . none at all! ... he reiterated over and over again in his own mind, . . except ... except, ... well! ... except in perhaps a few trifling touches of character and temper that were scarcely worth the noting! At this juncture, his uncomfortable reverie was interrupted by the sound of a harsh, metallic voice close behind him.
"What fools there are in the world!" said the voice in emphatic accents of supreme contempt—"What braying asses!—What earth- snouting swine! Saw you not yon crowd of whimpering idiots flying helter-skelter like chaff before the wind, weeping, wailing, and bemoaning their miserable little sins, scattering dust on their addled pates, and howling on their gods for mercy,—all forsooth! because for once in their unobserving lives they behold the river red instead of green! Ay me! 'tis a thing to laugh at, this crass, and brutish ignorance of the multitude,—no teaching will ever cleanse their minds from the cobwebs of vulgar superstition,—and I, in common with every wise and worthy sage of sound repute and knowledge, must needs waste all my scientific labors on a perpetually ungrateful public!"
Turning hastily round Theos confronted the speaker,—a tall, spare man with a pale, clean-shaven, intellectual face, small, shrewd, speculative eyes, and very straight, neatly parted locks,—a man on whose every lineament was expressed a profound belief in himself, and an equally profound scorn for the opinions of any one who might possibly presume to disagree with him. He smiled condescendingly as he met Theos's half-surprised, half-inquiring look, and saluted him with a gravely pompous air, which however, was not without a saving touch of that indescribable, easy grace which seemed to distinguish the manners of all the inhabitants of Al-Kyris. Theos returned the salutation with equal gravity, whereupon the new-comer waving his hand majestically, continued:
"You sir, I see, are young, . . and probably you are enrolled among the advanced students of one or other of our great collegiate institutions,—therefore the peculiar, though not at all unnatural tint of the river this morning, is of course no mystery to you, if, as I presume, you follow the Scientific Classes of Instruction in the Physiology of Nature, of Manifestation of Simple and Complex Motive Force, and the Perpetual Evolution of Atoms?"
Theos smiled,—the grandiloquent manner of this self-important individual amused him.
"Most worthy sir," he replied, "you form too favorable an opinion of my scholarly attainments! I am a stranger in Al-Kyris,—and know naught of its educational system, or the interior mechanism of its wondrous civilization! I come from far-off lands, where, if I remember rightly, much is taught and but little retained,—where petty pedagogues persist in dragging new generations of men through old and worn-out ruts of knowledge that future ages shall never have need of, . . and concerning even the progress of science, I confess to a certain incredulity, seeing that to my mind Science somewhat resembles a straight line drawn clear across country but leading, alas! to an ocean wherein all landmarks are lost and swallowed up in blankness. Over and over again the human race has trodden the same pathway of research,—over and over again has it stood bewildered and baffled on the shores of the same vast sea,— the most marvellous discoveries are after all mere child's play compared to the tremendous secrets that must remain forever unrevealed; and the poor and trifling comprehension of things that we, after a life-time of study, succeed in attaining, is only just sufficient to add to our already burdened existence the undesirable clogs of discontent and disappointed endeavor. We die,—in almost as much ignorance as we were born, . . and when we come face to face with the Last Dark Mystery, what shall our little wisdom profit us?"
With his arms folded in an attitude of enforced patience and complacent superiority, the other listened.
"Curious, . . curious!" he murmured in a mild sotto-voce,—"A would- be pessimist!—aye, aye,—'tis very greatly the fashion for young men in these days to assume the manner of elderly and exhausted cynics who have tried everything and approve of nothing! 'Tis a strange craze!—but, my good sir, let us keep to the subject at present under discussion. Like all unripe philosophers, you wander from the point. I did not ask you for your opinion concerning the uselessness or the efficiency of learning,—I merely sought to discover whether you, like the silly throng that lately scattered right and left of you, had any foolish forebodings respecting the transformed color of this river,—a color which, however seeming peculiar, arises, as all good scholars know, from causes that are perfectly simple and easily explainable."
Theos hesitated,—his eyes wandered involuntarily to the flowing tide, which now with the fully risen sun seemed more than ever brilliant and lurid in its sanguinary hue.
"Strange things have been said of late concerning Al-Kyris,—" he answered at last, slowly and after a thoughtful pause,—"Things that, though wild and vague, are not without certain dark presages and ominous suggestions. This crimson flood may be, as you say, the natural effect of purely natural causes,—yet, notwithstanding this, it seems to me a singular phenomenon—nay, even a weird and almost fatal augury?"
His companion laughed—a gentle, careless laugh of amused disdain.
"Phenomenon! ... augury! ..." he exclaimed shrugging his shoulders lightly ... "These words, my young friend, are terms that nowadays belong exclusively to the vocabulary of the uneducated masses; we,—and by WE, I mean scientists, and men of the highest culture,—have long ago rejected them as unmeaning and therefore unnecessary. Phenomenon is a particularly vile expression, serving merely to designate anything wonderful and uncommon,—whereas to the scientific eye, there is nothing left in the world that ought to excite so vulgar and barbarous an emotion as wonder, . . nothing so apparently rare that cannot be reduced at once from the ignorant exaggerations of enthusiasm to the sensible level of the commonplace? The so-called 'marvels' of nature have, thanks to the advancement of practical education, entirely ceased to affect by either surprise or admiration the carefully matured, mathematically adjusted, and technically balanced brain of the finished student or professor of Organic Evolution,—and as for the idea of 'auguries' or portents, nothing could well be more entirely at variance with our present system of progressive learning, whereby Human Reason is trained and taught to pulverize into indistinguishable atoms all supernatural propositions, and to gradually eradicate from the mind the absurd notion of a Deity or deities, whom it is necessary to propitiate in order to live well. Much time is of course required to elevate the multitude above all desire for a Religion,—but the seed has been sown, and the harvest will be reaped, and a glorious Era is fast approaching, when the free-thinking, free-speaking people of all nations shall govern themselves and rejoice in the grand and God-less Light of Universal Liberty?"
Somewhat heated by the fervor of his declamatory utterance, he passed his hand among his straight locks, whether to cool his forehead, or to show off the numerous jewelled rings on his fingers, it was difficult to say, and continued more calmly:
"No, young sir!—the color of this river,—a color which, I willingly admit, resembles the tint of flowing human blood,—has naught to do with foolish omens and forecasts of evil,—'tis simply caused by the influx of some foreign alluvial matter, probably washed down by storm from, the sides of the distant mountains whence these waters have their rising,—see you not how the tide is thick and heavy with an unfloatable cargo of red sand? Some sudden disturbance of the soil,—or a volcanic movement underneath the ocean,—or even a distant earthquake, . . any of these may be the reason."...
"May be?—why not say MUST be," observed Theos half ironically, "since learning makes you sure!"
His companion pressed the tips of his fingers delicately together, as though blandly deprecating this observation.
"Nay, nay!—none of us, however wise, can say 'MUST BE'"—he argued suavely—"It is not,—strictly speaking,—possible in this world to pronounce an incontestable certainty."
"Not even that two and two are four?" suggested Theos, smiling.
"Not even that!"...replied the other with perfect gravity— "Inasmuch as in the kingdom of Hypharus, whose borders touch ours, the inhabitants, also highly civilized, do count their quantities by a totally different method; and to them two and two are NOT four, the numbers two and four not being included in their system of figures. Thus,—a Professor from the Colleges of Hypharus could obstinately deny what to us seems the plainest fact known to common-sense,—yet, were I to argue against him I should never persuade him out of his theory,—nor could he move me one jot from mine. And viewed from our differing standpoints, therefore, the first simple multiplication of numbers could never be proved correct beyond all question!"
Theos glanced at him in wonder,—the man must be mad, he thought, since surely any one in his senses could see that two objects placed with other two must necessarily make four!
"I confess you surprise me greatly, sir!"—he said, and, in spite of himself, a little quiver of laughter shook his voice.. "What I asked was by way of jest,—and I never thought to hear so simple a subject treated with so much profound and almost doubting seriousness! See!"—and he picked up four small stones from the roadway—"Count these one by one, . . how many have you? Surely even a professor from Hypharus could find no more, and no less than four?"
Very deliberately, and with unruffled equanimity, the other took the pebbles in his hand, turned them over and over, and finally placed them in a row on the edge of the balustrade near which he stood.
"There SEEM to be four, . ." he then observed placidly—"But I would not swear to it,—nor to anything else of which the actuality is only supported by the testimony of my own eyes and sense of touch."
"Good heavens, man!" cried Theos, in amazement,—"But a moment since, you were praising the excellence of Reason, and the progressive system of learning that was to educate human beings into a contempt for the Supernatural and Spiritual, and yet almost in the same breath you tell me you cannot rely on the evidence of your own senses! Was there ever anything more utterly incoherent and irrational!"
And he flung the pebbles into the redly flowing river with a gesture of irritation and impatience. The scientist,—if scientist he could be called,—gazed at him abstractedly, and stroked his well-shaven chin with a somewhat dejected air. Presently heaving a deep sigh, he said:
"Alas, I have again betrayed myself! ... 'tis my fatal destiny! Always, by some unlooked-for mischance, I am compelled to avow what most I desire to conceal! Can you not understand, sir,"—and he laid his hand persuasively on Theos's arm,—"that a Theory may be one thing and one's own private opinion another? My Theory is my profession,—I live by it! Suppose I resigned it,—well, then I should also have to resign my present position in the Royal Institutional College,—my house, my servants, and my income. I advance the interests of pure Human Reason, because the Age has a tendency to place Reason as the first and highest attribute of Man,—and it would not pay me to pronounce my personal preference for the natural and vastly superior gift of Intellectual Instinct. I advise my scholars to become atheists, because I perceive they have a positive passion for Atheism, and it is not my business, nor would it be to my advantage to interfere with the declared predilections of my wealthiest patrons. Concerning my own ideas on these matters, they are absolutely NIL, ... I have no fixed principles,—because"—and his brows contracted in a puzzled line —"it is entirely out of my ability to fix anything! The whole world of manners and morals is in a state of perpetual ferment and consequent change,—equally restless and mutable is the world of Nature, for at any moment mountains may become plains, and plains mountains,—the dry land may be converted into oceans, and oceans into dry land, and so on forever. In this incessant shifting of the various particles that make up the Universe, how can you expect a man to hold fast to so unstable a thing as an idea! And, respecting the testimony offered by sight and sense, can YOU rely upon such slippery evidence?"
Theos moved uneasily,—a slight shiver ran through his veins, and a momentary dizziness seized him, as of one who gazing down from some lofty mountain-peak sees naught below but the white, deceptive blankness of a mist that veils the deeper deathful chasms from his eyes. COULD he rely on sight and sense...DARED he take oath that these frail guides of his intelligence could never be deceived? ... Doubtfully he mused on this, while his companion continued:
"For example, I look an arm's length into space, . . my eyes assure me that I behold nothing save empty air,—my touch corroborates the assertion of my eyes,—and yet, . . Science proves to me that every inch of that arm's length of supposed blank space is filled with thousands of minute living organisms that no human vision shall ever be able to note or examine! Wonder not, therefore, that I decline to express absolute confidence in any fact, however seemingly obvious, such as that two and two are four, and that I prefer to say the blood-red color of this river MAY be caused by an earth-tremor or a land-slip, rather than positively assert that it MUST be so; though I confess that, as far as my knowledge guides me, I incline to the belief that 'MUST be' is in this instance the correct term."
He sighed again, and rubbed his nose perplexedly. Theos glanced at him curiously, uncertain whether to laugh at or pity him.
"Then the upshot of all your learning, sir, . ." he said, . . "is that one can never be quite certain of anything?"
"Exactly so!"—replied the pensive sage with a grave shake of his head,—"Judged by the very finest lines of metaphysical argument, you cannot really be sure whether you behold in me a Person or a Phantasm! You THINK you see me,—I THINK I see you,—but after all it is only an IMPRESSION mutually shared,—an impression which like many another, less distinct, may be entirely erroneous! Ah, my dear young sir!—education is advancing at a very rapid rate, and the art of close analysis is reaching such a pitch of perfection that I believe we shall soon be able logically to prove, not only that we do not actually exist, but moreover that we never have existed! ... And herein, as I consider, will be the final triumph of philosophy!"
"A poor triumph!"—murmured Theos wearily. "What, in such a case, would become of all the nobler sentiments and passions of man,— love, hope, gratitude, duty, ambition?"
"They would be precisely the same as before"—rejoined the other complacently—"Only we should have learned to accept them merely as the means whereby to sustain the IMPRESSION that we live,—an impression which would always be agreeable, however delusive!"
Theos shrugged his shoulders. "You possess a peculiarly constituted mind, sir!"—he said—"And I congratulate you on the skill you display in following out a somewhat puzzling investigation to almost its last hand's-breadth of a conclusion,— but.. pardon me,—I should scarcely think the discussion of such debatable theories conducive to happiness!"
"Happiness!".. and the scientist smiled scornfully,—"'Tis a fool's term, and designates a state of being that can only pertain to foolishness! Show me a perfectly happy man, and I will show you an ignorant witling, light-headed, hardhearted, and of a most powerfully good digestion! Many such there be now wantoning among us, and the head and chief of them all is perhaps the most popular numskull in Al-Kyris, . . the Poet,—bah! ... let us say the braying Jack-ass in office,—the laurelled Sah-luma!"
Theos gave an indignant start,—the hot color flushed his brows, . . then he restrained himself by an effort.
"Control the fashion of your speech, I pray you, sir!" he said, with excessive haughtiness—"The noble Laureate is my friend and host,—I suffer no man to use his name unworthily in my presence!"
The sage drew back, and spread out his hands in a pacifying manner.
'Oh, I crave your pardon, good stranger!"—he murmured, with a kind of apologetic satire in his acrid voice,—"I crave it most abjectly! Yet to somewhat excuse the hastiness of my words, I would explain that a contempt for poets and poetry is now universal among persons of profound enlightenment and practical knowledge..."
"I am aware of it!" interrupted Theos swiftly and with passion—"I am aware that so-called 'wise' men, rooted in narrow prejudice, with a smattering of even narrower logic, presume, out of their immeasurable littleness, to decry and make mock of the truly great, who, thanks to God's unpurchasable gift of inspiration, can do without the study of books or the teaching of pedants,—who flare through the world flame-winged and full of song, like angels passing heavenward,—and whose voices, rich with music, not only sanctify the by-gone ages, but penetrate with echoing, undying sweetness the ages still to come! Contempt for poets!—Aye, 'tis common!—the petty, boastful pedagogues of surface learning ever look askance on these kings in exile, these emperors masked, these gods disguised! ... but humiliated, condemned, or rejected, they are still the supreme rulers of the human heart,—and a Love-Ode chanted in the Long-Ago by one such fire-lipped minstrel outlasts the history of many kingdoms!"
He spoke with rapid, almost unconscious fervor, and as he ended raised one hand with an enthusiastic gesture toward the now brilliant sapphire sky and glowing sun. The scientist looked at him furtively and smiled,—a bland, expostulatory smile.
"Oh, you are young!—you must be very young!" he said forbearingly.. "In a little time you will grow out of all this ill-judged fanaticism for an Art, the pursuance of which is really only wasted labor! Think of the absurdity of it!—what can be more foolish than the writing of verse to express or to encourage emotion in the human subject, when the great aim of education at the present day is to carefully eradicate emotion by degrees, till we succeed in completely suppressing it! An outburst of feeling is always vulgar,—the highest culture consists in being impassively equable of temperament, and absolutely indifferent to the attacks of either joy or sorrow. I should be inclined to ask you to consider this matter more seriously, and from the strictly common- sense point of view, did I not know that for you to undertake a course of useful meditation while you remain is Sah-luma's companionship would be impossible, . . quite impossible! Nevertheless our discourse has been so far interesting, that I shall be happy to meet you again and give you an opportunity for further converse should you desire it, . . ask for the Head Professor of Scientific Positivism, any day in the Strangers' Court of the Royal Institutional College, and I will at once receive you! My name is Mira-Khabur,—Professor Mira Khabur...at your service!"
And laying one hand on his breast he bowed profoundly.
"A Professor of Positivism who is himself never positive!"— observed Theos with a slight smile.
"Ah pardon!" returned the other gravely—"On the contrary, I am always positive! ... of the UNpositiveness of Positivism!"
And with this final vindication of his theories he made another stately obeisance and went his way. Theos looked after his tall, retreating figure half in sadness, half in scorn. This proudly incompetent, learned-ignorant Mira-Khabur was no uncommon character—surely there were many like him!
Somewhere in the world,—somewhere in far lands of which the memory was now as indistinct as the outline of receding shores blurred by a falling mist, Theos seemed painfully to call to mind certain cold-blooded casuists he had known, who had attempted to explain away the mysteries of life and death by rule and line calculations, and who for no other reason than their mathematically argued denial of God's existence had gained for themselves a temporary, spurious celebrity. Yes! ... surely he had met such men, . . but WHERE? Realizing, with a sort of shock, that he was quite as much in the dark as ever with regard to any real cognizance of his former place of abode and the manner of life he must have led before he entered this bewildering city of Al-Kyris, he roused himself abruptly, and resolutely banishing the heavy thoughts that threatened to oppress his soul, he began without further delay to direct his steps towards Sah-luma's palace.
He glanced once more at the river before leaving the embankment,— it was still blood red, and every now and then, between the sluggish ripples, multitudes of dead fish could be seen drifting along in shoals, and tangled in nets of slimy weed that at a little distance looked like the floating tresses of drowned women.
It was an uncanny sight, and though it might certainly be as the wise Mira Khabur had stated, the purely natural effect of purely natural causes, still those natural causes were not as yet explained satisfactorily. An earthquake or land-slip would perhaps account sufficiently for everything,—but then an inquiring mind would desire to know WHERE the earthquake or land-slip occurred,— and also WHY these supposed far-off disturbances should thus curiously affect the river surrounding Al-Kyris? Answers to such questions as these were not forthcoming either from Professor Mira-Khabur or any other sagacious pundit,—and Theos was therefore still most illogically and unscientifically puzzled as well as superstitiously uneasy.
Turning up a side street, he quickened his pace, in order to overtake a young vendor of wines whom he perceived sauntering along in front of him, balancing a flat tray, loaded with thin crystal flasks, on his head. How gloriously the sunshine quivered through those delicately tinted glass bottles, lighting up the glittering liquid contained within them!—why, they look more like soap-bubbles than anything else! ... and the boy who carried them moved with such a lazy, noiseless grace that he might have been taken for a dream-sylph rather than a human being!
"Hola, my lad!" called Theos, running after him.. "Tell me,—is this the way to the palace of the King's Laureate?"
The youth looked up,—what a beautiful creature he was, with his brilliant, dark eyes and dusky, warm complexion!
"Why ask for the King's Laureate?" he demanded with a pretty scorn,—"The PEOPLE'S Sah-luma lives yonder!"—and he pointed to a mass of towering palms from whose close and graceful frondage a white dome rose glistening in the clear air,—"Our Poet's fame is not the outgrowth of a mere king's favor, 'tis the glad and willing tribute of the Nation's love and praise! A truce to monarchs!—they will soon be at a discount in Al-Kyris!"
And with a flashing glance of defiance, and a saucy smile, he passed on, easily sauntering as before.
"A budding republican!" though Theos amusedly, as he pursued his course in the direction indicated. "That is how the 'liberty, equality, fraternity' system always begins—first among street- boys who think they ought to be gentlemen,—then among shopkeepers who persuade themselves that they deserve to be peers,—then comes a time of topsey-turveydom and fierce contention and by and by everything gets shaken together again in the form of a Republic, wherein the street-boys and shopkeepers are not a whit better off than they were under a monarchy—they become neither peers nor gentlemen, but stay exactly in their original places, with the disadvantage of finding their trade decidedly damaged by the change that has occurred in the national economy! Strange that the inhabitants of this world should make such a fuss about resisting tyranny and oppression, when each particular individual man, by custom and usage, tyrannizes over and oppresses his fellow-man to an extent that would be simply impossible to the fiercest kings!"
Thus meditating a few steps more brought him to the entrance of Sah-luma's princely abode,—the gates stood wide open, and a pleasant murmur of laughter and soft singing floated toward him across the splendid court where the great fountains were tossing up to the bright sky their straight, glistening columns of snowy spray. He listened,—and his heart leaped with an intense relief and joy,—Sah-luma, the beloved Sah-luma, was evidently at home and as yet unharmed,—these mirthful sounds betokened that all was well. The vague trouble and depression that had weighed upon his soul for hours now vanished completely, and hastening along, he sprang lightly up the marble stairs, and into the rainbow-colored, spacious hall, where the first person he saw was Zabastes the Critic.
"Ah, good Zabastes!" he cried gayly,—"Where is thy master Sah- luma? Has he returned in safety?"
"In safety?" croaked Zabastes with an accent of ironic surprise.. "To be sure! ... Is he a baby in swaddling-clothes that he cannot be trusted out alone to take care of himself? In safety?—aye! I warrant you he is safe enough, and silly enough, and lazy enough to please any one of his idiot flatterers, . . moreover my 'master!"—and he emphasized this word with indescribable bitterness—"hath slept as soundly as a swine, and hath duly bathed with the punctiliousness of a conceited swan, and being suitably combed, perfumed, attired, and throned as becomes his dainty puppetship, is now condescending to partake of vulgar food in the seclusion of his own apartment. Go thither and you shall find his verse-stringing Mightiness nobly enshrined as a god among a worshipping crowd of witless maidens,—he hath inquired for you many times, which is somewhat of a wonder, seeing that as a rule he concerns his mind with naught save himself! Furthermore, he is graciously pleased to be in a manner solicitous on behalf of the maiden Niphrata, who hath suddenly disappeared from the household, leaving no message to explain the cause of her evanishment. Hath seen her? ... No?"—and the old man thumped his stick petulantly on the floor as Theos shook his head in the negative—"'Tis the only feminine creature I ever had patience to speak with,—a modest wench and a gentle one, and were it not for her idolatrous adoration of Sah-luma, she would be fairly sensible withal. No matter!—she has gone; everything goes, even good women, and nothing lasts save folly, of which there shall surely never be an end!"
Here apparently conscious that he had shown more feeling in speaking of Niphrata than was usual with him, he looked up impatiently and waved his staff toward Sah-luma's study; "In, in, boy! In, to, the Chief of poets and prince of egotists! He waits your service,—he is all agape and thirsty for more flattery and delicate cajolement, ... stuff him with praise, good youth! ... and who knows but a portion of his mantle may descend on YOU hereafter and make of YOU as conceited and pretty a bantling bard for the glory of proud posterity!"
And chuckling audibly, he hobbled down a side passage, while Theos, half angry, half amused, crossed the hall quickly, and arrived at the door of the Laureate's private sanctum, where, gently drawing aside the silken draperies, he looked in for a moment without being himself perceived. What a picture he beheld! ... How perfection every shade of color in every line of detail! Sah-luma, reclining in a quaintly carved ebony chair, was toying with the fruit and wine set out before him on an ivory and gold stand,—his dress, simpler than it had been on the previous evening, was of fine white linen gathered loosely about his classic figure,—he wore neither myrtle-wreath nor jewels,—the expression of his face was serious, even noble, and his attitude was one of languid grace and unstudied ease that became him infinitely well. The maidens of his household waited near him,— some of them held flowers,—one, kneeling at a small lyre, seemed just about to strike a few chords, when Sah-luma silenced her by a light gesture:
"Peace, Zoralin!" he said softly.. "I cannot listen: thou hast not my Niphrata's tenderness!"
Zoralin, a beautiful, dark girl, with hair as black as night, and eyes that looked as though they held suppressed yet ever burning fire, let her hands instantly drop from the instrument, and sighing, shrank back a little in abashed silence. At that moment Theos advanced,—and the Laureate sprang up delightedly:
"Ah, at last, my friend!" he cried, enthusiastically clasping him by both hands,—"Where, in the name of all the gods, hast thou been roaming? How did we part?—by my soul I forget!—but no matter!—thou art here once more, and as I live, we will not separate again so easily! My noble Theos!" and he threw one arm affectionately around his neck—"I have missed thee more than I can tell these past few hours,—thou dost seem so sympathetically conjoined with me, that verily I think I am but half myself in thine absence! Come,—sit thee down and break thy fast! ... I almost feared thou hadst met with some mischance on thy way hither, and that I should have had to sally forth and rescue thee again even as I did yesternoon! Say, hast thou occupied thyself with so much friendly consideration on my behalf, as I have on thine?"
He laughed gayly as he spoke,—and Theos, looking into his bright, beautiful face, was for a moment too deeply moved by his own strange inward emotions, to utter a word in reply. WHY did he love Sah-luma so ardently, he wondered? WHY was it that every smile on that proud mouth, every glance of those flashing eyes, possessed such singular, overwhelming fascination for him? He could not tell,—but he readily yielded to the magic influence of his friend's extraordinary attractiveness, and sitting down beside him in the azure light and soft fragrance of his regal apartment, he experienced a sudden sense of rest, satisfaction, and completeness, such as may be felt by a man AT ONE WITH HIMSELF, and with all the world!
The assembled maidens had retired modestly into the background, while the Laureate had thus joyously greeted his returned guest; but now, at a signal from their lord, they again advanced, and taking up the glittering dishes of fruit and the flasks of wine, proffered them in turn to Theos with much deferential grace and courtesy. He was by no means slow in responding to the humble attentions of these fair ones, . . there was a sort of deliciously dreamy enchantment in being waited upon by such exquisitely lovely creatures! The passing touch of their little white hands that supported the heavy golden salvers seemed to add new savor to the luscious fare,—the timorous fire of their downcast eyes, softly sparkling through the veil of their long lashes, gave extra warmth to the ambrosial wine,—and he could not refrain from occasionally whispering a tender flattery or delicate compliment in the ear of one or other of his sylph-like servitors, though they all appeared curiously unmoved by his choicely worded adulation. Now and then a pale, flickering blush or sudden smile brightened their faces, but for the most part they maintained a demure and serious demeanor, as though possessed by the very spirit of invincible reserve. With Sah-luma it was otherwise,—they hovered about him like butterflies round a rose,—a thousand wistful, passionate glances darted upon him, when he, unconscious or indifferent, apparently saw nothing,—many a deep, involuntary sigh was stifled quickly ere it could escape between the rosy lips whose duty it was to wreathe themselves with smiles, and Theos noticing these things thought:
"Heavens! how this man is loved!—and yet ... he, out of all men, is perhaps the most ignorant of Love's true meaning!"
Scarcely had this reflection entered his mind than he became bitterly angry with himself for having indulged in it. How recreant, how base an idea! ... how incompatible with the adoring homage he felt for his friend! What!—Sah-luma,—a Poet, whose songs of Love were so perfect, so wildly sweet and soul- entrancing—HE, to be ignorant of Love's true meaning? ... Oh, impossible!—and a burning flush of shame rose to Theos's brow,— shame that he could have entertained such a blasphemy against his Idol for a moment! Then that curious, vague, soft contrition he had before experienced stole over him once again—a sudden moisture filled his eyes,—and turning abruptly toward his host he held out his own just filled goblet:
"Drink we the loving-cup together, Sah-luma!" he said, and his voice trembled a little with its own deep tenderness, . . "Pledge me thy faith as I do pledge thee mine! And for to-day at least let me enjoy thy boon companionship, . . who knows how soon we may be forced to part ... forever!" And he breathed the last word softly with a faint sigh.
Sah-luma looked at him with an expressive glance of bright surprise.
"Part?" he exclaimed joyously—"Nay, not we, my friend! ... Not till we find each other tiresome, . . not till we prove that our spirits, like over-mettlesome steeds, do chafe and fret one another too rudely in the harness of custom, . . wherefore then, and then only, 'twill be time to break loose at a gallop, and seek each one a wider pasture-land! Meanwhile, here's to thee!"—and bending his handsome head he readily drank a deep draught of the proffered wine.. "May all the gods hold fast our bond of friendship!"
And with a graceful salute he returned the jewelled cup half- empty. Theos at once drained off what yet remained within it, and then, leaning more confidentially over the Laureate's chair, he whispered:
"Hast thou in very truth forgotten thy rashness of last night, Sah-luma? Surely thou must guess how unquiet I have been concerning thee! Tell me, . . was thy hot pursuit in vain? ... or.. didst thou discover the King?"
"Peace!" and a quick frown darkened the smooth beauty of Sah- luma's face as he grasped Theos's arm hard to warn him into silence,—then forcing a smile he answered in the same low tone.. "'Twas not the King, . . it could not be! Thou wert mistaken ..."
"Nay but," persisted Theos gently—"convince me of mine error! Didst thou overtake and steadily confront yon armed and muffled stranger?"
"Not I!"—and Sah-luma shrugged his shoulders petulantly—"Sleep fell upon me suddenly when I left thee,—and methinks I must have wandered home like a shadow in a dream! Was I not drunk last night?—Aye!—and so in all likelihood wert thou! ... little could we be trusted to recognize either King or clown!"—He laughed,— then added—"Nevertheless I tell thee once again 'twas not the King, . . His Majesty hath too much at stake, to risk so dangerous a pleasantry!"
Theos heard, but he was dissatisfied and ill at ease, . . Sah-luma's careless contentment increased his own disquietude. Just then a curious-looking personage entered the apartment,—a gray-haired, dwarfish negro, who carried slung across his back a large bundle, consisting of several neatly rolled-up pieces of linen, one of which he presently detached from the rest and set down before the Laureate, who in return gave him a silver coin, at the same time asking jestingly:
"Is the news worth paying for to-day, Zibya?—or is it the same ill-written, clumsy chronicle of trumpery, common-place events?"
Zibya, slipping the coin he had received into a wide leathern pouch which hung from his girdle, appeared to meditate a moment,— then he replied:
"If the truth must be told, most illustrious, there is nothing whatever to interest the minds of the cultured. The cheap scribes of the Daily Circular cater chiefly for the mob, and do all in their power to foster morbid qualities of disposition and murderous tendencies among the lower orders; hence though there is nothing in the news-sheet pertaining to Literature or the Fine Arts, there is much concerning the sudden death of the young sculptor Nir-jalis, whose body was found flung on the banks of the river this morning."
Theos started, . . Sah-luma listened with placid indifference. "'Tis a case of self-slaughter"—pursued Zibya chattily.. "or so say the wise writers who are supposed to know everything, . . self-slaughter committed during a state of temporary insanity! Well, well! I myself would have had a different opinion."
"And a sagacious one no doubt!" interrupted Sah-luma coldly, and with a dangerous flash as of steel in his eyes.. "But.. be advised, good Zibya! ... give thine opinion no utterance!"
The old negro shrank back nervously, making numerous apologetic gestures, and waited in abashed silence till the Laureate's features regained their wonted soft serenity. Then he ventured to speak again,—though not without a little hesitation.
"Concerning the topics of the hour..." he murmured timorously.. "My lord is perhaps not aware that the river itself is a subject of much excited discussion,—the water having changed to a marvellous blood-color during the night, which singular circumstance hath caused a great panic among the populace. Even now, as I passed by the embankment, the crowd there was thick as a hive of swarming bees!"
He paused, but Sah-luma made no remark, and he continued more glibly, "Also, to-day's 'Circular' contains the full statement of the King's reward for the capture of the Prophet Khosrul, and the formal Programme of the Sacrificial Ceremonial announced to take place this evening in the Temple of Nagaya. All is set forth in the fine words of the petty public scribes, who needs must make as much as possible out of little,—and there is likewise a so-called facsimile of the King's signature, which will naturally be of supreme interest to the vulgar. Furthermore it is proclaimed that a grand Combat of wild beasts in the Royal Arena will follow immediately after the Service in the Temple is concluded,— methinks none will go to bed early, seeing there is so full a list of amusements!"
He paused again, somewhat out of breath,—and Sah-luma meanwhile unrolled the linen scroll he had purchased, which measured about twenty-four inches in length and twenty in width. Carefully ruled black and red lines divided it into nearly the same number of columns as those on the page of an ordinary newspaper, and it was covered with close writing, here and there embellished by bold, profusely ornamented headings. One of these, "Death of the Sculptor, Nir-jalis," seemed to burn into Theos's brain like letters of fire,—how was it, he wondered, that the body of that unfortunate victim had been found on the shore of the river, when he himself had seen it loaded with iron weights, and cast into the lake that formed part of Lysia's fatal garden? Presently Sah-luma passed the scroll to him with a smile, saying lightly:
"There, my friend, is a specimen of the true mob-literature! ... written to-day, forgotten to-morrow! 'Tis a droll thing to meditate upon, the ephemeral nature of all this pouring-out of unnecessary words and stale stock-phrases!—and, wouldst thou believe it, Theos! each little paid scribe that adds his poor quota to this ill-assorted trash deems himself wiser and greater far than any poet or philosopher dead or living! Why, in this very news-sheet I have seen the immortal works of the divine Hyspiros so hacked by the blunt knives of ignorant and vulgar criticism that, by my faith! ... were it not for contempt, one would be disposed to nail the hands of such trumpery scribblers to a post, and scourge their bare backs with thorny rods to cure them of their insolence! Nay, even my fool Zabastes hath found place in these narrow columns, to write his carping diatribes against me,— me, the King's Laureate! ... As I live, his cumbersome diction hath caused me infinite mirth, and I have laughed at his crabbed and feeble wit till my sides have ached most potently! Now get thee gone, fellow!—thou and thy news!"—and he nodded a good- humored dismissal to the deferential Zibya, who with his woolly gray head very much on one side stood listening gravely and approvingly to all that was said,—" Yet stay! ... has gossip whispered thee the name of the poor virgin self-destined for this evening's sacrifice?"
"No, my lord"—responded Zibya promptly—"'Tis veiled in deeper mystery than usual. I have inquired of many, but in vain,—and even the Chief Flamen of the Outside Court of the Temple, always drunk and garrulous as he is, can tell me naught of the holy victim's title or parentage. "Tis a passing fair wench!' said he, with a chuckle.. 'That is all I know concerning her ... a passing fair wench!' Ah!" and Zibya rolled up the whites of his eyes and sighed in a comically contemplative manner.. "If ever a Flamen deserved expulsion from his office, it is surely yon ancient, crafty, carnal-minded soul! ... so keen a glance for a woman's beauty is not a needful qualification for a servant of the Snake Divine! Methinks we have fallen upon evil days! ... maybe the crazed Prophet is right after all, and things are coming to an end!"
"Like thy discourse, I hope, Zibya!" observed Sah-luma, yawning and flinging himself lazily back on his velvet couch,—"Get hence, and serve thy customers with their cheap news, . . depend upon it, some of them are cursing thee mightily for thy delay! And if thou shouldst chance to meet the singing-maiden of my household, Niphrata, bid her make haste homeward,—she hath been absent since the break of morn,—too long for my contentment. Maybe I did unwisely to give the child her freedom,—as slave she would not have presumed to gad abroad thus wantonly, without her lord's permission. Say, if thou seest her, that I am wrathful,—the thought of mine anger will be as a swift wing to waft her hither like a trembling dove,—afraid, all penitent, and eager for my pardon! Remember! ... be sure thou tell her of my deep displeasure!"
Zibya bowed profoundly, his outspread hands almost touching the floor in the servility of his obeisance, and backed out of the room as humbly as though he were leaving the presence of royalty. When he had gone, Theos looked up from the news-scroll he was perusing:
"Is it not strange Niphrata should have left thee thus, Sah- luma?".. he said with a touch of anxiety in his tone ... "Maybe".. and he hesitated, conscious of a strange, unbidden remorse that suddenly and without any apparent reason overwhelmed his conscience.. "Maybe she was not happy?"...
"Not happy!" ejaculated Sah-luma amazedly, "Not happy with ME? ... not happy in MY house,—protected by MY patronage? Where then, if not here, could she find happiness?"
And his beautiful flashing eyes betokened his entire and naive astonishment at the mere supposition. Theos smiled involuntarily.. how, charming, after all was Sah-luma's sublime egotism!—how almost child-like was his confidence in himself and his own ability to engender joy! All at once the young girl Zoralin spoke,—her accents were low and timorous:
"May it please my lord Sah-luma to hear me..." she said and paused.
"Thy lord Sah-luma hears thee with pleasure, Zoralin," replied the Laureate gently. "Thou dost speak more sweetly than many a bird doth sing!"
A rich, warm blush crimsoned the maiden's cheeks at these dulcet words,—she drew a quick, uneasy breath, and then went on,—
"I love Niphrata!" she murmured in a soft tone of touching tenderness, . . "And I have watched her often when she deemed herself unseen, . . she has, methinks, shed many tears for sake of some deep, heart-buried sorrow! We have lived as sisters, sharing the same room, and the same couch of sleep, but alas! in spite of all my lord's most constant kindly favor, Niphrata is not happy, ..and.. and I have sometimes thought—" here her mellow voice sank into a nervous indistinctness—"that it may be because she loves my lord Sah-luma far too well!"
And as she said this she looked up with a sudden affright in her dark, lovely eyes, as though she were alarmed at her own presumption. Sah-luma met her troubled gaze calmly and with a bright smile of complacent vanity.
"And dost thou plead for thine absent friend, Zoralin?" ... he asked with just sufficient satire in his utterance to render it almost cruel.. "Am I to blame for the foolish fancies of all the amorous maidens in Al-Kyris? ... Many there be who love me, . . well,—what then?—Must I love many in return? Nay! Not so! the Poet is the worshiper of Ideal Beauty, and for him the brief passions of mortal men and women serve as mere pastime to while away an hour! But.. by my faith, thou hast gained wondrous boldness in thy speech to prate so glibly of the heart's emotion, —what knowest THOU concerning such things.. thou, who hast counted scarcely fifteen summers! ... hast thou caught contagion from Niphrata, and art thou too, sick of love?"
Oh, the dazzling smile with which he accompanied this poignant question! ... the pitiless, burning ardor he managed to convey into the sleeping brilliancy of his soft, poetic eyes! ... the beautiful languor of his attitude, as leaning his head back easily on one arm, he turned upon the shrinking girl a look that seemed intended to pierce into the very inmost recesses of her soul! The roseate color faded from her cheeks, . . white as a marble image she stood, her breath coming between her lips in quick, frightened gasps...
"My lord! ..." she stammered ... "I ..." Here her voice failed her, and suddenly covering her face with her hands, she broke into a passion of weeping. Sah-luma's delicate brows darkened into a close frown,—and he waved his hand with a petulant gesture of impatience.
"Ye gods! what fools are women!" he said wearily. "Ever hovering uncertainly on a narrow verge between silly smiles and sillier tears! As I live, they are most uncomfortable play-fellows!—and dwelling with them long would drive all the inspiration out of man, no matter how nobly he were gifted! Ye butterflies—ye little fluttering souls!" and beginning to laugh as readily as he had frowned, he addressed the other maidens, who, though they did not dare to move or speak, were evidently affected by the grief of their companion—"Go hence all!-and take this sensitive baby, Zoralin, into your charge, and console her for her fancied troubles—'tis a mere frenzy of feminine weakness, and will pass like an April shower. But, ... by the Sacred Veil!—if I saw much of woman's weeping, I would discard forever woman's company, and dwell in peaceful hermit fashion alone among the treetops! ... so heed the warning, pretty ones! ... Let me witness none of your tears if ye are wise,—or else say farewell to Sah-luma, and seek some less easy and less pleasing service!"
With this injunction he signed to them all to depart,—whereupon the awed and trembling girls noiselessly surrounded the still convulsively sobbing Zoralin, and gently leading her away, they quickly withdrew, each one making a profound obeisance to their imperious master ere leaving his presence. When they had finally disappeared Sah-luma heaved a sigh of relief.
"Can anything equal the perverseness of these frivolous feminine toys!" he murmured pettishly, turning his head round toward Theos as he spoke—"Was ever a more foolish child than Zoralin? ... Just as I would fain have consoled her for her pricking heartache, she must needs pour out a torrent of tear-drops to change my humor and quench her own delight! 'Tis the most irksome inconsistency!"
Theos glanced at him with a vague emotion of wonder and self- reproachful sadness.
"Nay, wouldst thou indeed have consoled her, Sah-luma?" he inquired gravely, "How?"
"How?" and Sah-luma laughed musically.. "My simple friend, dost thou ask me such a babe's question?"... He sprang from his couch, and standing erect, pushed his clustering dark hair off his wide, bold brows. . "Am I disfigured, aged, lame, or crooked-limbed? ... Cannot these arms embrace?—these lips engender kisses?—these eyes wax amorous? ... and shall not one brief hour of love with me console the weariest maid that ever pined for passion? ... Now, by my faith, how solemn is thy countenance! ... Art thou an anchorite, good Theos, and wouldst thou have me scourge my flesh and groan, because the gods have given me youth and vigorous manhood?"
He drew himself up with an inimitable gesture of pride,—his attitude was statuesque and noble,—and Theos looked at him as he would have looked at a fine picture, with a sense of critically satisfied admiration.
"Most assuredly I am no anchorite, Sah-luma!" he said smiling slightly, yet with a touch of sorrow in his voice. "But methinks the consolement thou wouldst offer to enamoured maids is far more dangerous than lasting! Thy love to them means ruin,—thy embraces shame,—thy unthinking passion death! What!—wilt thou be a spendthrift of desire?—wilt thou drain the fond souls of women as a bee drains the sweetness of flowers?—wilt thou, being honey- cloyed, behold them droop and wither around thee, and wilt thou leave them utterly destroyed and desolate? Hast thou no vestige of a heart, my friend? a poet-heart, to feel the misery of the world? ..the patient grief of all-appealing Nature, commingled with the dreadful, yet majestic silence of an unknown God? ... Oh, surely, thou hast this supremest gift of genius, . . this loving, enduring, faithful, sympathetic HEART! ... for without it, how shall thy fame be held long in remembrance? ... how shall thy muse-grown laurels escape decay? Tell me! ..." and leaning forward he caught his friend's hand in his eagerness.. "Thou art not made of stone, . . thou art human, . . thou art not exempt from mortal suffering ..."
"Not exempt—no!" interposed Sah-luma thoughtfully ... "But, as yet,—I have never really suffered!"
"Never really suffered!".. Theos dropped the hand he held, and an invisible barrier seemed to rise slowly up between him and his beautiful companion. Never really suffered! ... then he was no true poet after all, if he was ignorant of sorrow! If he could not spiritually enter into the pathos of speechless griefs and unshed tears,—if he could not absorb into his own being the prayers and plaints of all Creation, and utter them aloud in burning and immortal language, his calling was in vain, his election futile! This thought smote Theos with the strength of a sudden blow,—he sat silent, and weighed with a dreary feeling of disappointment to which he was unable to give any fitting expression.
"I have never really suffered ..." repeated Sah-luma slowly: . . "But—I have IMAGINED suffering! That is enough for me! The passions, the tortures, the despairs of imagination are greater far than the seeming REAL, petty afflictions with which human beings daily perplex themselves; indeed, I have often wondered.. "here his eyes grew more earnest and reflective ..." whether this busy working of the brain called 'Imagination' may not perhaps be a special phase or supreme effort of MEMORY, and that therefore we do not IMAGINE so much as we remember. For instance,—if we have ever lived before, our present recollection may, in certain exalted states of the mind, serve to bring back the shadow- pictures of things long gone by, . . good or evil deeds, . . scenes of love and strife, . . ethereal and divine events, in which we have possibly enacted each our different parts as unwittingly as we enact them here!".. He sighed and seemed somewhat troubled, but presently continued in a lighter tone.. "Yet, after all, it is not necessary for the poet to personally experience the emotions whereof he writes. The divine Hyspiros depicts murderers, cowards, and slaves in his sublime Tragedies,—but thinkest thou it was essential for him to become a murderer, coward, and slave himself in order to delineate these characters? And I ... I write of Love,—love spiritual, love eternal,—love fitted for the angels I have dreamt of—but not for such animals as men,—and what matters it that I know naught of such love, . . unless perchance I knew it years ago in some far-off fairer sphere! ... For me the only charm of worth in woman is beauty! ... Beauty! ... to its entrancing sway my senses all make swift surrender ..."
"Oh, too swift and too degrading a surrender!" interrupted Theos suddenly with reproachful vehemence ... "Thy words do madden patience!—Better a thousand times that thou shouldst perish, Sah- lama, now in the full plenitude of thy poet-glory, than thus confess thyself a prey to thine own passions,—a credulous victim of Lysia's treachery!"
For one second the Laureate stood amazed, . . the next, he sprang upon his guest and grasping him fiercely by the throat.
"Treachery?" he muttered with white lips.. "Treachery? ... Darest thou speak of treachery and Lysia in the same breath? ... O thou rash fool! dost thou blaspheme my lady's name and yet not fear to die?"
And his lithe brown fingers tightened their clutch. But Theos cared nothing for his own life,—some inward excitation of feeling kept him resolute and perfectly controlled.
"Kill me, Sah-luma!" he gasped—"Kill me, friend whom I love! ... death will be easy at thy hands! Deprive me of my sad existence, . . 'tis better so, than that I should have slain THEE last night at Lysia's bidding!"
At this, Sah-luma suddenly released his hold and started backward with a sharp cry of anguish, . . his face was pale, and his beautiful eyes grew strained and piteous.
"Slain ME! ... Me! ... at Lysia's bidding!" he murmured wildly.. "O ye gods, the world grows dark! is the sun quenched in heaven? ... At Lysia's bidding! ..Nay, . . by my soul, my sight is dimmed! ... I see naught but flaring red in the air, . . Why! ..." and he laughed discordantly.. "thou poor Theos, thou shalt use no dagger's point,—for lo! ... I am dead already! ... Thy words have killed me! Go, . . tell her how well her cruel mission hath sped,— my very soul is slain...at her bidding! Hasten to her, wilt thou!".. and his accents trembled with pathetic plaintiveness! ... "Say I am gone! ... lost! drawn into a night of everlasting blackness like a taper blown swiftly out by the wind, . . tell her that Sah-luma,—the poet Sah-luma, the foolish-credulous Sah-luma who loved her so madly is no more!"