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The Secret Power
by Marie Corelli
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He paled with anger and annoyance,—she still smiled.

"Do not be cross, AMICO!" she said, sweetly. "Think where we are!—in the wide spaces of heaven, pilgrims with the stars! This is no place for personal feeling of either disappointment or irritation. You asked me a while ago if I was tired—I thought I was Hot, but I am—very tired!—I am going to rest. And I trust you both to take care of me and the 'White Eagle'!"

"We are to make straight for Sicily?" he asked.

"Yes—straight for Sicily."

She retired into her sleeping-cabin and disappeared. The Marchese Rivardi looked at Gaspard questioningly.

"We must obey her, I suppose?"

"We could not think of disobeying!" returned Gaspard.

"She is a strange woman!" and as he spoke Rivardi gripped his steering-gear with a kind of vindictive force—"It seems absurd that we,—two men of fair intelligence and scientific attainment,—should be ruled by her whim,—her fancies—for after all she is made up of fancies—"

Gaspard shook his finger warningly.

"This air-ship is not a 'whim' or a 'fancy'"—he said, impressively—"It is the most wonderful thing of its kind ever invented! If it is given to the world it will revolutionise the whole system of aerial navigation. Here we are, flying at top speed in perfect ease and safety with no engine—nothing to catch fire—nothing to break or bust—and the whole mechanism mysteriously makes its own motive power as it goes. Radio-activity it may be—but its condensation and use for such a purpose is the secret invention of a woman—and surely we must admit her genius! As for our obedience—ECCELLENZA, we are both royally paid to obey!"

Rivardi flushed red.

"I know!" he said, curtly—"I never forget it. But money is not everything."

Gaspard's mobile French face lit up with a mirthful smile.

"It is most things!" he replied—"Without it even science is crippled. And this lady has so much of it!—it seems without end! Again,—it is seldom one meets with money and brains and beauty—all together!"

"Beauty?" Rivardi queried.

"Why, yes!—beauty that only flashes out at moments—of all beauty the most fascinating! A face that is always beautiful is fatiguing,—it is the changeful face with endless play of expression that enthralls,—or so it is to me!" And Gaspard gave an eloquent gesture—"This lady we both work for seems to have no lovers—but if she had, not one of them could ever forget her!"

Rivardi was silent.

"I should not wonder," ventured Gaspard, presently—"if—while we slept—she had seen her 'Brazen City'!"

Rivardi uttered something like an oath.

"Impossible!" he exclaimed—"She would have awakened us!"

"If she could, no doubt!" agreed Gaspard—"But if she could not, how then?"

For a moment Rivardi looked puzzled,—then he dismissed his companion's suggestion with a contemptuous shrug.

"Basta! There is no 'Brazen City'! When she heard the old tradition she was like a child with a fairy tale—a child who, reading of strawberries growing in the winter snow, goes out forthwith to find them—she did not really believe in it—but it pleased her to imagine she did. The mere sight of the arid empty desert has been enough for her."

"We certainly heard bells"—said Gaspard.

"In our brains! Such sounds often affect the nerves when flying for a long while at high speed. For all our cleverness we are only human. I have heard on the 'wireless,' sounds that do not seem of this world at all."

"So have I"—said Gaspard—"And though it may be my own brain talking, I'm not so obstinate in my own knowledge as to doubt a possible existing means of communication between one continent and another apart from OUR special 'wireless.' In fact I'm sure there is something of the kind,—though where it comes from and how it travels I cannot say. But certain people get news of occurring events somehow, from somewhere, long before it reaches Paris or London. I dare say the lady we are with could tell us something about it."

"Her powers are not limitless!" said Rivardi—"She is only a woman after all!"

Gaspard said no more, and there followed a silence,—a silence all the more tense and deep because of the amazing swiftness with which the "White Eagle" kept its steady level flight, making no sound despite the rapidity of its movement. Very gradually the darkness of night lifted, as it were, one corner of its sable curtain to show a grey peep-hole of dawn, and soon it became apparent that the ship was already far away from the mysterious land of Egypt—"The land shadowing with wings"—and was flying over the sea. There was something terrific in the complete noiselessness with which it sped through the air, and Rivardi, though now he had a good grip on his nerves, hardly dared allow himself to think of the adventurous business on which he was engaged. A certain sense of pride and triumph filled him, to realise that he had been selected from many applicants for the post he occupied—and yet with all his satisfaction there went a lurking spirit of envy and disappointed ambition. If he could win Morgana's love—if he could make the strange elfin creature with all her genius and inventive ability his own,—why then!—what then? He would share in her fame,—aye, more than share it, since it is the way of the world to give its honour to no woman whose life is connected with that of a man. The man receives the acknowledgment invariably, even if he has done nothing to deserve it, and herein is the reason why many gifted women do not marry, and prefer to stand alone in effort and achievement rather than have their hardly won renown filched from them by unjust hands. When Roger Seaton confessed to the girl Manella that his real desire was to bend and subdue Morgana's intellectuality to his own, he spoke the truth, not only for himself but for all men. Absolutely disinterested love for a brilliantly endowed woman would be difficult to find in any male nature,—men love what is inferior to themselves, not superior. Thus women who are endowed with more than common intellectual ability have to choose one of two alternatives—love, or what is called love, and child-bearing,—or fame, and lifelong loneliness.

The Marchese Rivardi, thinking along the usual line of masculine logic, had frequently turned over the problem of Morgana's complex character such as it appeared to him,—and had almost come to the conclusion that if he only had patience he would succeed in persuading her that wifehood and motherhood were more conducive to a woman's happiness than all the most amazing triumphs of scientific discovery and attainment. He was perfectly right according to simple natural law,—but he chose to forget that women's mental outlook has, in these modern days, been greatly widened,—whether for their gain or loss it is not yet easy to say. Even for men "much knowledge increaseth sorrow,"—and it may be hinted that women, with their often overstrung emotions and exaggerated sentiments, are not fit to plunge deeply into studies which tax the brain to its utmost capacity and try the nerves beyond the level of the calm which is essential to health. Though it has to be admitted that married life is less peaceful than hard study—and the bright woman who recently said, "A husband is more trying than any problem in Euclid," no doubt had good cause for the remark. Married or single, woman both physically and mentally is the greatest sufferer in the world—her time of youth and unthinking joy is brief, her martyrdom long—and it is hardly wonderful that she goes so often "to the bad" when there is so little offered to attract her towards the good.

Rivardi, letting himself go on the flood-tide of hope and ambition, pleased his mind with imaginary pictures of Morgana as his wife and as mother of his children, rehabilitating his fallen fortunes, restoring his once great house and building a fresh inheritance for its former renown. He saw no reason why this should not be,—yet—even while he indulged in his thoughts of her, he knew well enough that behind her small delicate personality there was a powerful intellectual "lens," so to speak, through which she examined the ins and outs of character in man or woman; and he felt that he was always more or less under this "lens," looked at as carefully as a scientist might study bacteria, and that as a matter of fact it was as unlikely as the descent of the moon-goddess to Endymion that she would ever submit herself to his possession. Nevertheless, he argued, stranger things had happened!

The grey peep of dawn widened into a silver rift, and the silver rift streamed into a bar of gold, and the gold broke up into long strands of blush pink and pale blue like festal banners hanging in heaven's bright pavilion, and the "White Eagle" flew on swiftly, steadily, securely, among all the glories of the dawn like a winged car for the conveyance of angels. And both Rivardi and Gaspard thought they were not far from the realisation of an angel when Morgana suddenly appeared at the door of her sleeping-cabin, attired in a fleecy-wool gown of purest white, her wonderful gold hair unbound and falling nearly to her feet.

"What a perfect morning!" she exclaimed—"All things seem new! And I have had such a good rest! The air is so pure and clean—surely we are over the sea?"

"We are some fifteen thousand feet above the Mediterranean"—answered Rivardi, looking at her as he spoke with unconcealed admiration;—never, he thought, had she seemed so charming, youthful and entirely lovable—"I am glad you have rested—you look quite refreshed and radiant. After all, it is a test of endurance—this journey to Egypt and back."

"Do you think so?" and Morgana smiled—"It should be nothing—it really is nothing! We ought to be quite ready and willing to travel like this for a week on end! But you and Gaspard are not yet absolutely sure of our motive power!—you cannot realise that as long as we keep going so long will our 'going' force be generated without effort—yet surely it is proved!"

Gaspard lifted his eyes towards her where she stood like a little white Madonna in a shrine.

"Yes, Madama, it is proved!" he said—"But the secret of its proving?—"

"Ah! That, for the present, remains locked up in the mystery box—here!" and she tapped her forehead with her finger—"The world is not ready for it. The world is a destructive savage, loving evil rather than good, and it would work mischief more than usefulness with such a force—if it knew! Now I will dress, and give you breakfast in ten minutes."

She waved a hand to them and disappeared, returning after a brief interval attired in her "aviation" costume and cap. Soon she had prepared quite a tempting breakfast on the table.

"Thermos coffee!" she said, gaily—"All hot and hot! We could have had Thermos tea, but I think coffee more inspiriting. Tea always reminds me of an afternoon at a country vicarage where good ladies sit round a table and talk of babies and rheumatism. Kind,—but so dull! Come—you must take it in turns—you, Marchese, first, while Gaspard steers—and Gaspard next—just as you did last night at what we called dinner, before you fell asleep! Men DO fall asleep after dinner you know!—it's quite ordinary. Married men especially!—I think they do it to avoid conversation with their wives!"

She laughed, and her eyes flashed mirthfully as Rivardi seated himself opposite to her at table.

"Well, I am not married"—he said, rather petulantly—"Nor is Gaspard. But some day we may fall into temptation and NOT be delivered from evil."

"Ah yes!" and Morgana shook her fair head at him with mock dolefulness—"And that will be very sad! Though nowadays it will not bind you to a fettered existence. Marriage has ceased to be a sacrament,—you can leave your wives as soon as you get tired of them,—or—they can leave YOU!"

Rivardi looked at her with reproach in his handsome face and dark eyes.

"You read the modern Press"—he said—"A pity you do!"

"Yes—it's a pity anyone reads it!"—she answered—"But what are we to read? If low-minded and illiterate scavengers are employed to write for the newspapers instead of well-educated men, we must put up with the mud the scavengers collect. We know well enough that every journal is more or less a calendar of lies,—all the same we cannot blind ourselves to the great change that has come over manners and morals—particularly in relation to marriage. Of course the Press always chronicles the worst items bearing on the subject—"

"The Press is chiefly to blame for it"—declared Rivardi.

"Oh, I think not!" and Morgana smiled as she poured out a second cup of coffee—"The Press cannot create a new universe. No—I think human nature alone is to blame—if blame there be. Human nature is tired."

"Tired?" echoed Rivardi—"In what way?"

"In every way!"—and a lovely light of tenderest pity filled her eyes as she spoke—"Tired of the same old round of working, mating, breeding and dying—for no results really worth having! Civilisation after civilisation has arisen—always with strife and difficulty, only to pass away, leaving, in many cases, scarce a memory. Human nature begins to weary of the continuous 'grind'—it demands the 'why' of its ceaseless labour. Latterly, poor striving men and women have been deprived of faith—they used to believe they had a loving Father in Heaven who cared for them,—but the monkeys of the race, the atheists, swinging from point to point of argument and chattering all the time, have persuaded them that they are as Tennyson once mournfully wrote—"

"Poor orphans of nothing—alone on that lonely shore, Born of the brainless Nature who knew not that which she bore!"

"Can we wonder then that they are tired?—tired of pursuing a useless quest? Human nature is craving for a change—for a newer world—a newer race,—and those who see that Nature is NOT 'brainless' but full of intelligent conception, are sure that the change will come!"

"And you are one of 'those who see'?—" said Rivardi, incredulously.

"I do not say I am,—that would be too much self-assertion"—she answered—"But I hope I am! I long to see the world endowed more richly with health and happiness. See how gloriously the sun has risen! In what splendour of light and air we are sailing! If we can do as much as this we ought to be able to do more!"

"We shall do more in time"—he said—"The advance of one step leads to another."

"In time!" echoed Morgana—"What time the human race has already taken to find out the simplest forces of nature! It is the horrible bulk of blank stupidity that hinders knowledge—the heavy obstinate bulk that declines to budge an inch out of its own fixity. Nowadays we triumph in our so-called 'discoveries' of wireless telegraphy and telephony, light-rays and other marvels—but these powers have always been with us from the beginning of things,—it is we, we only, who have refused to accept them as facts of the universe. Let us talk no more about it!—Stupidity is the only thing that moves me to despair!"

She rose from the little table, and called Gaspard to breakfast, while Rivardi went back to the business of steering. The day was now fully declared, and the great air-ship soared easily in a realm of ethereal blue—blue above, blue below—its vast wings moving up and down with perfect rhythm as if it were a living, sentient creature, revelling in the joys of flight. For the rest of the day Morgana was very silent, contenting herself to sit in her charming little rose-lined nest of a room, and read,—now and then looking out on the radiating space around her, and watching for the first slight downward movement of the "White Eagle" towards land. She had plenty to occupy her thoughts—and strange to say she did not consider as anything unexpected or remarkable, her brief communication with the "Brazen City." On the contrary it seemed quite a natural happening. Of course it had always been there, she said to herself,—only people were too dull and unenterprising to discover it,—besides, if they had ever found it (certain travellers having declared they had seen it in the distance) they would not have been allowed to approach it. This fact was the one point that chiefly dwelt in her mind—a secret of science which she puzzled her brain to fathom. What could be the unseen force that guarded the city?—girding it round with an unbreakable band from all exterior attack? A million bombs could not penetrate it,—so had said the Voice travelling to her ears on the mysterious Sound Ray. She thought of Shakespeare's lines on England—

"This precious stone set in the silver sea Which serves it in the office of a wall, Or as a moat defensive to a house Against the envy of less happy lands."

Modern science had made the sea useless as a "wall" or "moat defensive" against attacks from the air,—but if there existed an atmospheric or "etheric" force which could be utilised and brought to such pressure as to encircle a city or a country with a protective ring that should resist all effort to break it, how great a security would be assured "against the envy of less happy lands"! Here was a problem for study,—study of the intricate character which she loved—and she became absorbed in what she called "thinking for results," a form of introspection which she knew, from experience, sometimes let in unexpected light on the creative cells of the brain and impelled them to the evolving of hitherto untried suggestions. She sat quietly with a book before her, not reading, but bent on seeking ways and means for the safety and protection of nations,—as bent as Roger Seaton was on a force for their destruction. So the hours passed swiftly, and no interruption or untoward obstacle hindered the progress of the "White Eagle" as it careered through the halcyon blue of the calmest, loveliest sky that ever made perfect weather, till late afternoon when it began to glide almost insensibly downward towards earth. Then she roused herself from her long abstraction and looked through the window of her cabin, watching what seemed to be the gradual rising of the land towards the air-ship, showing in little green and brown patches like the squares of a chess-board,—then the houses and towns, tiny as children's toys—then the azure gleam of the sea and the boats dancing like bits of cork upon it,—then finally the plainer, broader view, wherein the earth with its woods and hills and rocky promontories appeared to heave up like a billow crowned with varying colours,—and so steadily, easily down to the pattern of grass and flowers from the centre of which the Palazzo d'Oro rose like a little white house for the abode of fairies.

"Well steered!" said Morgana, as the ship ran into its shed with the accuracy of a sword slipping into its sheath, and the soundless vibration of its mysterious motive-power ceased—"Home again safely!—and only away forty-eight hours! To the Sahara and back!—how far we have been, and what we have seen!"

"WE have seen nothing"—said Rivardi meaningly, as he assisted her to alight—"The seeing is all with YOU!"

"And the believing!" she answered, smiling—"All my thanks to you both for your skilful pilotage. You must be very tired—" here she gave her hand to them each in turn—"Again a thousand thanks! No air-ship could be better manned!"

"Or woman'd?" suggested Rivardi.

She laughed.

"IF you like! But I only steered while you slept. That is nothing! Good night!"

She left them, running up the garden path lightly like a child returning from a holiday, and disappeared.

"But that which she calls nothing"—said Gaspard as he watched her go—"is everything!"



CHAPTER XX

For some days after her adventurous voyage to the Great Desert and back Morgana chose to remain in absolute seclusion. Save for Lady Kingswood and her own household staff, she saw no one, and was not accessible even to Don Aloysius, who called several times, moved not only by interest, but genuine curiosity, to enquire how she fared. Many of the residents in the vicinity of the Palazzo d'Oro had gleaned scraps of information here and there concerning the wonderful air-ship which they had seen careering over their heads during its testing trials, and as a matter of course they had heard more than scraps in regard to its wealthy owner. But nowadays keen desire to know and to investigate has given place to a sort of civil apathy which passes for good form—that absolute indifferentism which is too much bored to care about other people's affairs, and which would not disturb itself if it heard of a neighbour deciding to cross the Atlantic in a washtub. "Nothing matters," is the general verdict on all events and circumstances. Nevertheless, the size, the swiftness and soundlessness of the "White Eagle" and the secrecy observed in its making, had somewhat moved the heavy lump of human dough called "society," and the whispered novelty of Morgana's invention had reached Rome and Paris, nay, almost London, without her consent or knowledge. So that she was more or less deluged with letters; and noted scientists, both in France and Italy, though all incredulous as to her attainment, made it a point of "business" to learn all they could about her, which was not much more than can be usually learned about any wealthy woman or man with a few whims to gratify. A murderer gains access to the whole press,—his look, his manner, his remarks, are all carefully noted and commented upon,—but a scientist, an explorer, a man or woman whose work is that of beneficence and use to humanity, is barely mentioned except in the way of a sneer. So it often chances that the public know nothing of its greatest till they have passed beyond the reach of worldly honour.

Morgana, however, had no desire that her knowledge or attainment should be admitted or praised. She was entirely destitute of ambition. She had read too much and studied too deeply to care for so-called "fame," which, as she knew, is the mere noise of one moment, to be lost in silence the next. She was self-centered and yet not selfish. She felt that to understand her own entity, its mental and physical composition, and the possibilities of its future development, was sufficient to fill her life—that life which she quite instinctively recognised as bearing within itself the seed of immortality. Her strange interview with the "Voice" from the City in the Desert, and the glimpse she had been permitted to see of the owner of that voice, had not so much surprised her as convinced her of a theory she had long held,—namely that there were other types of the human race existing, unknown to the generality of ordinary men and women—types that were higher in their organisation and mental capacity,—types which by reason of their very advancement kept themselves hidden and aloof from modern civilisation. And she forthwith plunged anew into the ocean of scientific problems, where she floated like a strong swimmer at ease with her mind upturned to the stars.

Yet she did not neglect the graceful comforts and elegancies of the Palazzo d'Oro, and life went on in that charming abode peacefully. Morgana always being the kindest of patrons to Lady Kingswood, and discoursing feminine commonplaces with her as though there were no other subjects of conversation in the world than embroidery and specific cures for rheumatism. She said little—indeed almost nothing,—of her aerial voyage to the East, except that she had enjoyed it, and that the Pyramids and the Sphinx were dwarfed into mere insignificant dots on the land as seen from the air,—she had apparently nothing more to describe, and Lady Kingswood was not sufficiently interested in air-travel to press enquiry. One bright sunny morning, after a week of her self-imposed seclusion, she announced her intention of calling at the monastery to see Don Aloysius.

"I have been rather rude"—she said—"Of course he has wanted to know how my flight to the East went off!—and I have given no sign and sent no message."

"He has called several times"—replied Lady Kingswood—"and I think he has been very much disappointed not to be received."

"Poor reverend Father!" and Morgana smiled—"He should not bother his mind about a woman! Well! I'm going to see him now."

Lady Kingswood looked at her critically. She was gowned in a simple white morning frock with touches of blue,—and she wore a broad-brimmed Tuscan straw hat with a fold of blue carelessly twined about it. She made a pretty picture—one of extraordinary youthfulness for any woman out of her 'teens—so much so that Lady Kingswood wondered if voyages in the air would be found to have a rejuvenating effect.

"They do not admit women into the actual monastery"—she went on—"Feminine frivolities are forbidden! But the ruined cloister is open to visitors and I shall ask to see Don Aloysius there."

She lightly waved adieu and went, leaving her amiable and contented chaperone to the soothing companionship of a strip of embroidery at which she worked with the leisurely tranquillity which such an occupation engenders.

The ruined cloister looked very beautiful that morning, with its crumbling arches crowned and festooned with roses climbing every way at their own sweet will, and Morgana's light figure gave just the touch of human interest to the solemn peacefulness of the scene. She waited but two or three minutes before Don Aloysius appeared—he had seen her arrive from the window of his own private library. He approached her slowly—there was a gravity in the expression of his face that almost amounted to coldness, and no smile lightened it as she met his keen, fixed glance.

"So you have come to me at last!" he said—"I have not merited your confidence till now! Why?"

His rich voice had a ring of deep reproach in its tone—and she was for a moment taken aback. Then her native self-possession and perfect assurance returned.

"Dear Father Aloysius, you do not want my confidence! You know all I can tell you!" she said—and drawing close to him she laid her hand on his arm—"Am I not right?"

A tremor shook him—gently he put her hand aside.

"You think I know!" he replied—"You imagine—"

"Oh, no, I imagine nothing!" and she smiled—"I am sure—yes, SURE!—that you have the secret of things that seem fabulous and yet are true! It was you who first told me of the Brazen City in the Great Desert,—you said it was a mere tradition—but you filled my mind with a desire to find it—"

"And you found it?" he interrupted, quickly—"You found it?"

"You know I did!" she replied—"Why ask the question? Messages on a Sound-Ray can reach YOU, as well as me!"

He moved to the stone bench which occupied a corner of the cloister and sat down. He was very pale and his eyes were feverishly bright. Presently he seemed to recover himself, and spoke more in his usual manner.

"Rivardi has been here every day"—he said—"He has talked of nothing but you. He told me that he and Gaspard fell suddenly asleep—for which they were grievously ashamed of themselves—and that you took control of the air-ship and turned it homeward before you had given them any chance to explore the desert—"

"Quite true!" she answered, tranquilly—"And—YOU knew all that before he told you! You knew that I was compelled to turn the ship homeward because it was not allowed to proceed! Dear Father Aloysius, you cannot hide yourself from me! You are one of the few who have studied the secrets of the approaching future,—the 'change' which is imminent—the 'world to come' which is coming! Yes!—and you are brave to live as you do in the fetters of a conventional faith when you have such a far wider outlook—"

He stopped her by a gesture, rising from where he sat and extending a hand of warning and authority.

"Child, beware what you say!" and his voice had a ring of sternness in its mellow tone—"If I know what you think I know, on what ground do you suppose I have built my knowledge? Only on that faith which you call 'conventional'—that faith which has never been understood by the world's majority! That faith which teaches of the God-in-Man, done to death by the Man WITHOUT God in him!—and who, nevertheless, by the spiritual strength of a resurrection from the grave, proves that there is no death but only continuous renewal of life! This is no mere 'convention' of faith,—no imaginary or traditional tale—it is pure scientific fact. The virginal conception of divinity in woman, and the transfiguration of manhood, these things are true—and the advance of scientific discovery will prove them so beyond all denial. We have held the faith, AS IT SHOULD BE HELD, for centuries,—and it has led us, and continues to lead us, to all we know."

"We?" queried Morgana, softly—"WE—of the Church?—or of the Brazen City?"

He looked at her for some moments without speaking. His tall fine figure seemed more than ever stately and imposing—and his features expressed a calm assurance and dignity of thought which gave them additional charm.

"Your question is bold!" he said—"Your enterprising spirit stops at nothing! You have learned much—you are resolved to learn more! Well,—I cannot prevent you,—nor do I see any reason why I should try! You are a resolved student,—you are also a woman:—a woman different to ordinary women and set apart from ordinary womanhood. So I say to you 'We of the Brazen City'—if you will! For more than three thousand years 'we' have existed—'we' have studied, 'we' have discovered—'we' have known. 'We,' the selected offspring of all the race that ever were born,—'we,' the pure blood of the earth,—'we,' the progenitors of the world TO BE,—'we' have lived, watching temporary civilisations rise and fall,—seeing generations born and die, because, like weeds, they have grown without any root of purpose save to smother their neighbours and destroy. 'We' remain as commanded, waiting for the full declaration and culmination of those forces which are already advancing to the end,—when the 'Kingdom' comes!"

Morgana moved close to him, and looked up at his grave, dark face beseechingly.

"Then why are you here?" she asked—"If you know,—if you were ever in the 'Brazen City' how did it happen that you left it? How could it happen?"

He smiled down into the jewel-blue of her clear eyes.

"Little child!" he said—"Brilliant soul, that rejoiced in the perception that gave you what you called 'the inside of a sun-ray,'—you, for whom the things which interest men and women of the moment are mere toys of poor invention—you, of all others, ought to know that when the laws of the universe are understood and followed, there can be no fetters on the true liberty of the subject? IF I were ever in the 'Brazen City'—mind! I say 'if'—there could be nothing to prevent my leaving it if I chose—"

She interrupted him by the uplifting of a hand.

"I was told"—she said slowly—"by a Voice that spoke to me—that if I went there I should have to stay there!"

"No doubt!" he answered—"For love would keep you!"

"Love!" she echoed.

"Even so! Such love as you have never dreamed of, dear soul weighted with millions of gold! Love!—the only force that pulls heaven to earth and binds them together!"

"But YOU—you—if you were in the Brazen City—"

"If!" he repeated, emphatically.

"If—yes! if"—she said—"If you were there, love did not hold YOU?"

"No!"

There was a silence. The sunshine burned down on the ancient grey flagstones of the cloister, and two gorgeous butterflies danced over the climbing roses that hung from the arches in festal wreaths of pink and white. A luminance deeper than that of the sun seemed to encircle the figures standing together—the one so elfin, light and delicate,—the other invested with a kind of inward royalty expressing itself outwardly in stateliness of look and bearing. Something mysteriously suggestive of super-humanity environed them; a spirit and personality higher than mortal. After some minutes Aloysius spoke again—

"The city is not a 'Brazen' City"—he said—"It has been called so by travellers who have seen its golden towers glistening afar off in a sudden refraction of light lasting but a few seconds. Gold often looks like brass and brass like gold, in human entities as in architectural results." He paused—then went on slowly and impressively—"Surely you remember,-you MUST remember, that it is written 'The city lieth four-square, and the length is as large as the breadth. The wall thereof is according to the measure of a man—that is, of the Angel. And the city is of pure gold.' Does that give you no hint of the measure of a man, that is, of the Angel?—of the 'new heavens and the new earth,' the old things being passed away? Dear child, you have studied deeply—you have adventured far and greatly!—continue your quest, but do not forget to take your guiding Light, the Faith which half the world and more ignores!"

She sprang to him impulsively and caught his hands.

"Oh, you must help me!" she cried—"You must teach me—I want to know what YOU know!—"

He held her gently and with reverent tenderness.

"I know no more than you,"—he answered—"you work by Science—I, by Faith, the bed-rock from Which all science proceeds—and we arrive at the same discoveries by different methods. I am a poor priest in the temple of the Divine, serving my turn—but I am not alone in service, for in every corner of the habitable globe there is one member of our 'City' who communicates with the rest. One!—but enough! To-day's commercial world uses old systems of wireless telegraphy and telephony which were known and done with thousands of years ago—but 'we' have the sound-ray—the light which carries music on its wings and creates form as it goes."

Here he released her hands.

"Knowing what you do know you have no need of my help"—he continued—"You have not found happiness yet, because that only comes through one source—Love. But I doubt not that God will give you that in His own good time." He paused—then went on—"As you go out, enter the chapel for a moment and send a prayer on the Sound-Ray to the Centre of all Knowledge,—the source of all discovery—have no fear but that it will arrive! The rest is for you to decide."

She hesitated.

"And—the Brazen City?" she queried.

"The Golden City!" he answered—"Well, you have had your experience! Your name is known there—and no doubt you can hear from it when you will."

"Do YOU hear from it?" she asked, pointedly.

He smiled gravely.

"I may not speak of what I hear"—he answered. "Nor may you!"

She was silent for a space—then looked up at him appealingly.

"The world is changed for me"—she said—"It will never be the same again! I do not seem to belong to it—other influences surround me,—how I live in it?—how shall I work—what shall I do?"

"You will do as you have always done—go your own way"—he replied—"The way which has led you to so much discovery and attainment. You must surely know in your own soul that you have been guided in that way—and your success is the result of allowing yourself to BE guided. In all things you will be guided now—have no fear for yourself! All will be well for you!"

"And for you?" she asked impulsively.

He smiled.

"Why think of me?" he said, gently—"I am nothing in your life—"

"You are!" she replied—"You are more than you imagine. I begin to realise—"

He held up his hand with a warning gesture.

"Hush!" he said—"There are things of which we must not speak!"

At that moment the monastery bell tolled the midday "Angelus." Don Aloysius bent his head—Morgana instinctively did the same. Within the building the deep voices of the brethren sounded, chanting,—

"Angelus Domini nuntiavit Maria Et concepit de Spiritu sancto."

As the salutation to heaven finished, the mellow music of the organ in the chapel sent a wave of solemn and prayerful tenderness on the air, and, moved by the emotion of the hour, Morgana's heart beat more quickly and tears filled her eyes.

"There must be beautiful music in the Golden City!" she said.

Don Aloysius smiled.

"There is! And when the other things of life give you pause to listen, you will often hear it!"

She smiled happily in response, and then, with a silent gesture of farewell, left the cloister and made her way to the chapel, part of which was kept open for public worship. It was empty, but the hidden organist was still playing. She went towards the High Altar and knelt in front of it. She was not of the Catholic faith,—she was truly of no faith at all save that which is taught by Science, which like a door opened in heaven shows all the wonders within,—but her keen sense of the beautiful was stirred by the solemn peace of the shut Tabernacle with the Cross above it, and the great lilies bending under their own weight of loveliness and fragrance on either side.

"It is the Symbol of a great Truth which is true for all time"—she thought, as she clasped her hands in an attitude of prayer—"And how sad and strange it is to feel that there are thousands among its best-intentioned worshippers and priests who have not discovered its mystic meaning. The God in Man, born of purity in woman! Is it only in the Golden City that they know?"

She raised her eyes in half unconscious appeal—and, as she did so, a brilliant Ray of light flashed downward from the summit of the Cross which surmounted the Altar, and remained extended slantwise towards her. She saw it,—and waited expectantly. Close to her ears a Voice spoke with extreme softness, yet very distinctly.

"Can you hear me?"

"Yes," she replied at once, with equal softness.

"Then, listen! I have a message for you!"

And Morgana listened,—listened intently,—the sapphire hue of the Ray lighting her gold hair, as she knelt, absorbed. What she heard filled her with a certain dread; and a tremor of premonition, like the darkness preceding storm, shook her nerves. But the inward spirit of her was as a warrior clothed in steel,—she was afraid of nothing—least of all of any event or incident passing for "supernatural," knowing beyond all doubt that the most seeming miraculous circumstances are all the result of natural movement and transmutation. There never had been anything surprising to her in the fact that light is a conveyor of sound; and that she was receiving a message by such means seemed no more extraordinary to her mind than receiving it by the accepted telephonic service. Every word spoken she heard with the closest attention—until—as though a cloud had suddenly covered it,—the "Sound-Ray" vanished, and the Voice ceased.

She rose at once from her knees, alert and ready for action—her face was pale, her lips set, her eyes luminous.

"I must not hesitate"—she said—"If I can save him I will!"

She left the chapel and hurried home, where as soon as she reached her own private room she wrote to the Marchese Rivardi the following note, which was more than unpleasantly startling to him when he received it.

"I shall need you and Gaspard for a long journey in the 'White Eagle.' Prepare everything in the way of provisioning and other necessary details. No time must be lost, and no expense need be spared. We must start as quickly as possible."

This message written, sealed and dispatched by one of her servants to the Marchese's villa, she sat for some moments lost in thought, wistfully looking out on her flower-filled gardens and the shimmering blue of the Mediterranean beyond.

"I may be too late!" she said, speaking aloud to herself—"But I will take the risk! He will not care—no!—a man like that cares for nothing but himself. He would have broken my life—(had I given him the chance!)—for the sake of an experiment. Now—if I can—I will rescue his for the sake of an ideal!"



CHAPTER XXI

"There shall be no more wars!—there CAN be none!"

Roger Seaton said these words aloud with defiant emphasis, addressing the dumb sky. It was early morning, but an intense heat had so scorched the earth that not the smallest drop of dew glittered on any leaf or blade of grass; it was all arid, brown and burned into a dryness as of fever. But Seaton was far too much engrossed with himself and his own business to note the landscape, or to be troubled by the suffocating closeness of the atmosphere,—he stood gazing with the idolatry of a passionate lover at a small, plain metal case, containing a dozen or more small plain metal cylinders, as small as women's thimbles, all neatly ranged side by side, divided from contact with one another by folded strips of cotton.

"There it is!" he went on, apostrophising the still air—"Complete,—perfected! If I sold that to any nation under the sun, that nation could rule the world!—could wipe out everything save itself and its own people! I have wrested the secret from the very womb of Nature!—it is mine—all mine! I would have given it to Britain—or to the United States—but neither will accept my terms—so therefore I hold it—I, only!—which is just as well! I—just I—am master of destiny!—the Power we call God, has put this tiling into my hands! What a marvel and shall I not use it? I will! Let Germany but stir an inch towards aggression, and Germany shall exist no longer!—The same with any other nation that starts a quarrel—I—I alone will settle it!"

His eyes blazed with the light of fanaticism—he was obsessed by the force of his own ideas and schemes, and the metal case on the table before him was, to his mind, time, life, present and future. He had arrived at that questionable point of intellectual attainment when man forgets that there is any existing force capable of opposing him, and imagines that he has but to go on in his own way to grasp all worlds and the secrets of their being. At this juncture, so often arrived at by many, a kind of super-sureness sets in, persuading the finite nature that it has reached the infinite. The whole mental organisation of the man thrilled with an awful consciousness of power. He said within himself "I hold the lives of millions at my mercy!"

Other thoughts—other dreams had passed away for the moment—he had forgotten life as it presents itself to the ordinary human being. Now and again a flitting vision of Morgana vaguely troubled him,—her intellectual capacity annoyed him, and yet he would have been glad to discuss with her the scientific unfolding of his great secret—she would understand it in all its bearings,—she might advise—Advice!—no!—he did not need the advice of a woman! As for Manella, he had not seen her since her last violent outburst of what he called "temper"—and he had no wish for her presence. For now he had a thing to do which was of paramount importance,—and this was, to deposit the treasured discovery of his life in a secret hiding-place he had found for it, till he should be ready to remove it to safer quarters—or—TILL HE RESOLVED TO USE IT. Had he been a religious man, of such humility as should accompany true religion, he would have prayed that its use should never be called upon,—but he had trained himself into an attitude of such complete indifferentism towards life and the things of life, that to him it seemed useless to pray for what did not matter. Sometimes the thought, appalling in its truth, flashed across his brain that the force he had discovered and condensed within small compass might as easily destroy half the world as a nation! The fabled thunderbolts of Jove were child's play compared with those plain-looking, thimble-like cylinders which contained such terrific power! A touch of hesitation—of pure human dread affected his nerves for the moment,—he shivered in the sultry air as with cold, and looked about him right and left as though suspecting some hidden witness of his actions. There was not so much as a bird or a butterfly in sight, and he drew a long deep breath of relief. The day was treading in the steps of dawn with the full blazonry of burning Californian sunlight, and away in the distance the ridges and peaks of distant mountains stood out sharply clear against the intense blue of the sky. There was great stillness everywhere,—a pause, as it seemed, in the mechanism of the universe. The twitter of a bird or the cry of some wild animal would have been a relief,—so Seaton felt, though accustomed to deep silence.

"Better get through with this at once"—he said, aloud—"Now that a safe place is prepared." Here he looked at his watch. "In a couple of hours they will be sending up from the Plaza to know if I want anything—Irish Jake or Manilla will be coming on some trivial matter—I'd better take the opportunity of complete secrecy while I can."

For the next few minutes or so he hesitated. With the sudden fancy that he had forgotten something, he turned out his pockets, looking for he scarcely knew what. The contents were mixed and various, and among them was a crumpled letter which he had received some days since from Sam Gwent. He smoothed it out carefully and re-read it, especially one passage—

"I think the States will never get involved in another war, but I am fairly sure Germany will. If she joins up with Russia look out for squalls. In your old country, which appears to be peopled by madmen, there's a writing chap who spent a fortnight in Russia, not long enough to know the ins and outs of a village, yet assuming to know everything about the biggest territory in Europe, and the press is puffing up his ignorance as if it were wisdom. Germany has her finger on the spot—so perhaps your stuff will come in useful. But don't forget that if you make up your mind to use it you will ruin America, commercially speaking. And many other countries besides. So think it well over,—more than a hundred times! Lydia Herbert, whom perhaps you remember, and perhaps you don't, has caught her 'ancient mariner'—that is to say, her millionaire,—and all fashionable New York is going to the wedding, including yours truly. I had expected Morgana Royal to grace the function, but I hear she is quite engrossed with the decoration and furnishing of her Sicilian palace, as well as with her advising artist, a very good-looking Marquis or Marchese as he is called. It is also whispered that she has invented a wonderful air-ship which has no engines, and creates its own motive power as it goes! Sounds rather tall talk!—but this is an age of wonders and we never know what next. There is a new Light Ray just out which prospects for gold, oil and all ores and minerals, and finds them in a fifty-mile circuit—so probably nobody need be poor for the future. When we've all got most things we want, and there's nothing left to work for, I wonder what the world will be worth!"

Seaton left off reading and thrust the letter again in his pocket.

"What will the world be worth?" he soliloquised—"Why, nothing!"

Suddenly struck by this thought, which had not always presented itself with such sharp and clear precision as now, he took time to consider it. Capital and Labour, the two forces which are much more prone to rend each other than to co-operate—these would both possibly be non-existent if Science had its full way. If gold, silver and other precious minerals could be "picked up" as on the fabled Tom Tiddler's ground, by a ray of light, then the striving for wealth would cease and work would be reduced to a minimum. The prospect was stupendous, but hardly entirely pleasing. If there were no need for effort, then the powers of mind and body would sink into inertia.

"What object should we live for?" he mused—"Merely to propagate our own kind and bring more effortless beings into the world to cumber it? The very idea is horrible! Work is the very blood and bone of existence—without it we should rot! But one must work for something or some one—wife?—children?—Useless labour!—for in nine cases out often the wife becomes a bore,—and the children grow up ungrateful. Why waste strength and feeling on either?"

Thus mentally arguing, the exquisite lines of Tennyson's "Lotus Eaters" suddenly rang in his memory like a chime of bells from the old English village where he had lived as a boy, when his mother, one of the past sweet "old-fashioned" women, used to read to him and teach him much of the best in literature,—

"Death is the end of life; ah, why Should life all labour be? Let us alone. Time driveth onward fast And in a little while our lips are dumb, Let us alone. What is it that will last? All things are taken from us and become Portions and parcels of the dreadful Past, Let us alone. What pleasure can we have To war with evil? Is there any peace In ever climbing up the climbing wave?"

An effortless existence would be the existence of such as these fabled Lotus Eaters—moreover, it was not possible it could go on, since all Nature shows effort without cessation. Roger Seaton knew this as all know it—but his soul's demand remained unsatisfied, for he sought to know the CAUSE of all the toil and trouble,—the "why" it should be. And at the back of his mind there was ever a teasing reminder of Morgana and her strange theories, some of which she had half imparted to him when their friendship had first begun. For her Tennyson's line—"Death is the end of life"—would be the statement of a foolish fallacy, as she held that there is no such thing as death, only failure to adapt the spirit to advancing and higher change in its physical organisation. To-day he remembered with curious clearness what she had said on this subject—

"Radio-activity is the chief secret of life. It is for us to learn how to absorb it into our systems as we grow,—to add by its means to our supplies of vitality and energy. It never gives out,—nor should we. The Nature-intention is that we should become better, stronger, more beautiful, more mentally and spiritually perfect—and that we do not fulfil this intention is our own fault. The decimation of the human race by wars and plagues and famines has always been traceable to human error. All accidents happen through those who make accidents possible,—diseases are bred through human dirt, greed, ignorance, and neglect. They are no part of the divine scheme of things. The plan is to advance and make progress from one point of excellence to another,—not to stop half way and turn back on the road. Humanity dies, because it will not learn how to live."

She had spoken these words with a quiet simplicity and earnestness that impressed him at the time as being almost child-like, considering the depth of thought into which she must have plunged, notwithstanding her youth and her sex—and on this morning of all others, this morning on which he had set himself a task for which he had made long and considerable preparation, he found himself half mechanically repeating her phrase—"Humanity dies because it will not learn how to live."

There was no fatalism,—no fixed destiny in this; only the force of Will was implied—the Will to learn,—the Will to know.

"And why should not humanity die?" he argued within himself—"If, in the long course of ages, it is proved that it will neither learn nor know,—why should it remain? Room should be made for a new race! A clever gardener can produce a perfectly beautiful flower from an insignificant and common weed,—surely this is a lesson to us that it may be possible to produce a god from a man!"

He bent his eyes lovingly on the case of small cylinders lying open before him;—the just risen sun brightened them to a glitter as of cold steel,—and for a moment he fancied they flashed upon him with an almost sinister gleam.

"Power of good or power of evil?" he questioned his inward spirit—"Who can decide? If it is good to destroy evil then the force is a good force—if it is evil to destroy good WITH evil, then it is an evil thing. But Nature makes no such particular discriminations—she destroys evil and good together at one blow. Why therefore should I—or anyone—offer to discriminate?—since evil is always the preponderating factor. When the 'Lusitania' was torpedoed neither God nor Nature interfered to save the innocent from the guilty—men, women and children were all plunged into the pitiless sea. I—as a part of Nature—if I destroy, I only follow her example. War is an evil,—an abominable crime—and those that attempt to make it should be swept from the face of the earth even if good and peace-loving units are swept along with them. This cannot be helped."

He went into his hut, and in a few minutes came out again clothed in thick garments of a dark, earth colour, and carrying a stout staff, steel-pointed at its end something after the fashion of a Swiss alpenstock. He brought with him a small metal box into which he placed the case of cylinders, covering it with a closely fitting lid. Then he put the package into a basket made of rough twigs and strips of bark, having a strong handle, to which he fastened a leather strap, and slung the whole thing over his shoulders like a knapsack. Then, casting another look round to make sure that there was no one about, he started to walk towards a steeper descent of the hill in a totally different direction from that which led to the "Plaza" hotel. He went swiftly, at a steady swinging pace,—and though his way took him among confused masses of rock, and fallen boulders, he thought nothing of these obstacles, vaulting lightly across them with the ease of a chamois, till he came to a point where there was a declivity running sheer down to invisible depths, from whence came the rumbling echo of falling water. In this almost perpendicular wall of rock were a few ledges, like the precarious rungs of a broken ladder, and down these he prepared to go. Clinging at first to the topmost edge of the precipice, he let himself down warily inch by inch till his figure entirely disappeared, sunken, as it were in darkness. As he vanished there was a sudden cry—a rush as of wings—and a woman sprang up from amid bushes where she had lain hidden,—it was Manella. For days and nights she had stolen away in the intervals of her work, to watch him—and nothing had chanced to excite her alarm till now—till now, when she had seen him emerge from his hut and pack up the mysterious box he carried,—and when she had heard him talking strangely to himself in a way she could not understand.

As soon as he started to walk she followed him, pushing through heavy brushwood and crawling along the ground where she could not be seen;—and now,—with dishevelled hair, and staring, terrified eyes she leaned over the edge of the precipice, baffled and desperate. Tearless sobs convulsed her throat,—

"Oh, God of mercy!" she moaned in suffocated accents—"How can I follow him down there! Oh, help me, Mary mother! Help me! I must—I must be with him!"

She gathered up her hair in a close coil and wound her skirts tightly about her, looking everywhere for a footing. She saw a deep cranny which had been hollowed out by some torrent of water—it cut sharply through the rock like a path,—she could risk that perhaps, she thought,—and yet her brain reeled—she felt sick and giddy—would it not be wiser to stay where she was and wait for the return of the reckless creature who had ventured all alone into one of the deepest canons of the whole country? While she hesitated she caught a sudden glimpse of him, stepping with apparent ease over huge heaps of stones and fallen pieces of rock at the bottom of the declivity,—she watched his movements in breathless suspense. On he went towards a vast aperture, shaped arch-wise like the entrance to a cavern—he paused a moment—then entered it. This was enough for Manella—her wild love and wilder terror gave her an almost supernatural strength and daring,—and all heedless now of results she sprang boldly towards the deep cutting in the rock, swinging herself from jagged point to point till—reaching the bottom of the declivity at last, bruised and bleeding, but undaunted,—she stopped, checked by a rushing stream which tumbled over great boulders and dashed its cold spray in her face. Looking about her she saw to her dismay that the vaulted cavern wherein Seaton had disappeared was on the other side of this stream—she stood almost opposite to it—but how to get across? Gazing despairingly in every direction she suddenly perceived the fallen trunk of a tree lying half in and half out of the brawling torrent—it was green with slippery moss and offered but a dangerous foothold,—nevertheless she resolved to attempt it.

"I said I would die for him!" she thought—"and I will!"

Getting astride the tree, it swayed under her,—but she found she could push one of the larger boughs forward to lengthen the extemporary bridge,—and so, as it were, riding the waters, which surged noisily around her, she managed by dint of super-human effort to reach the projection of pebbly shore where the entrance to the cavern yawned open before her, black and desolate. The sun in its full morning glory blazed slanting down upon the darkness of the canon, and as she stood shivering, wet through and utterly exhausted, wondering what next she should do, she caught sight of a form moving within the cave like a moving shadow, and ascending a steep natural stairway of columnar rocks piled one on top of the other. Affrighted as she was by the tomb-like aspect of the deep vault, she had not ventured so far that she should now shrink from further dangers or fail in her quest;—the cherished object of her constant watchful care was within that subterranean blackness,—for what purpose?—she did not dare to think! But there was an instinctive sense of dread foreknowledge upon her,—a warning of impending evil,—and had she not sworn to him—"If God struck you down to hell I would be there!" The entrance to the cavern looked like the mouth of hell itself, as she had seen it depicted in one of her Catholic early lesson books. There were serpents and dragons in the picture ready to devour the impenitent sinner,—there might be serpents and dragons in this cave, for all she knew! But what matter? If the man she loved were actually in hell she "would be there"—as she had said!—and would surely find it Heaven! And so,—seeing the mere outline of his form moving ghost-like in the gloom, it was to her a guiding presence,—a light amid darkness,—and when,—after a minute or two—her straining eyes perceived him climbing steadily up the steep and perilous rocks, seeming about to disappear altogether,—she mastered the tremor of her nerves and crept cautiously step by step into the sombre vault, blindly feeling her way through the damp, thick murkiness, reckless of all danger, and only bent on following him.



CHAPTER XXII

Of all the vagaries and humours of humanity when considered in crowds, there is nothing which appears more senseless and objectless than the way in which it congregates outside the door of a church at a fashionable or "society" wedding. The massed people pushing and shoving each other about have nothing whatever to do with either bride or bridegroom, the ceremony inside the sacred edifice has in most cases ceased to be a "sacrament"—and has become a mere show of dressed-up manikins and womenkins, many of the latter being mere OBJECT D'ART,—stands for the display of millinery. And yet—the crowds fight and jostle,—women scramble and scream,—all to catch a glimpse of the woman who is to be given to the man, and the man who has agreed to accept the woman. The wealthier the pair the wilder the frenzy to gaze upon them. Savages performing a crazy war-dance are decorous of behaviour in contrast with these "civilised" folk who tramp on each other's feet and are ready to squeeze each other into pulp for the chance of staring at two persons whom the majority of them have never seen before and are not likely to see again. The wedding of Miss Lydia Herbert with her "ancient mariner," a seventy-year-old millionaire reputed to be as wealthy as Rockefeller,—was one of these "sensations"—chiefly on account of the fact that every unmarried woman young and old, and every widow, had been hunting him in vain for fully five years. Miss Herbert had been voted "no chance," because she made no secret of her extravagant tastes in dress and jewels,—yet despite society croakers she had won the game. This in itself was interesting,—as the millionaire she had secured was known to be particularly close-fisted and parsimonious. Nevertheless he had shown remarkable signs of relaxing these tendencies; for he had literally showered jewels on his chosen bride, leaving no door open for any complaint in that quarter. Her diamonds were the talk of New York, and on the day of her wedding her gowns literally flashed like a firework with numerous dazzling points of light. "The Voice that breathed o'er Eden" had little to do with the magnificence of her attire, or with the brilliancy of the rose-wreathed bridesmaids, young girls of specially selected beauty and elegance who were all more or less disappointed in failing to win the millionaire themselves. For these youthful persons in their 'teens had social ambitions hidden in hearts harder than steel—"a good time" of self-indulgence and luxury was all they sought for in life—in fact, they had no conception of any higher ideal. The millionaire himself, though old, maintained a fairly middle-aged appearance—he was a thin, wiry, well-preserved man, his wizened and furrowed countenance chiefly showing the marks of Time's ploughshare. It would have been difficult to say why, out of all the feminine butterflies hovering around him, he had chosen Lydia Herbert,—but he was a shrewd judge of character in his way, and he had decided that as she was not in her first youth it would be more worth her while to conduct herself decorously as wife and housekeeper, and generally look after his health and comfort, than it would be for a less responsible woman. Then, she had "manner,"—her appearance was attractive and she wore her clothes well and stylishly. All this was enough for a man who wanted some one to attend to his house and entertain his friends, and he was perfectly satisfied with himself as he repeated after the clergyman the words, "With my body I thee worship, and with all my worldly goods I thee endow," knowing that "with his body" he had never worshipped anything, and that the "endowment" of his worldly goods was strictly limited to certain settlements. He felt himself to be superior to his old bachelor friend Sam Gwent, who supported him as "best man" at the ceremony, and who, as he stood, stiffly upright in immaculate "afternoon visiting attire" among the restlessly swaying, semi-whispering throng, was all the time thinking of the dusky night-gloom in the garden of the "Plaza" far away in California and a beautiful face set against the dark background of myrtle bushes exhaling rich perfume.

"What a startling contrast she would be to these dolls of fashion!" he thought—"What a sensation she would make! There's not a woman here who can compare with her! If I were only a bit younger I'd try my luck!—anyway I'm younger than to-day's bridegroom!—but she—Manella—would never look at any other man than Seaton, who doesn't care a rap for her or any other woman!" Here his thoughts took another turn.

"No," he repeated inwardly—"He doesn't care a rap for her or any other woman—except—perhaps—Morgana! And even if it were Morgana, it would be for himself and himself alone! While she—ah!—it would be a clever brain indeed that could worry out what SHE cares for! Nothing in this world, so far as I can see!"

Here the organ poured the rich strains of a soft and solemn prelude through the crowded church—the "sacred" part of the ceremony was over, and bride and bridegroom made their way to the vestry, there to sign the register in the presence of a selected group of friends. Sam Gwent was one of these,—and though he had attended many such functions before, he was more curiously impressed than usual by the unctuous and barefaced hypocrisy of the whole thing—the smiling humbug of the officiating clergy,—the affected delight of the "society" toadies fluttering like wasps round bride and bride-groom as though they were sweet dishes specially for stinging insects to feed upon, and in his mind he seemed to hear the warm, passionate voice of Manella in frank admission of her love for Seaton.

"It is good to love him!" she had said—"I am happy to love him. I wish only to serve him!"

This was primitive passion,—the passion of primitive woman for her mate whom she admitted to be stronger than herself, to whom she instinctively looked for shelter and protection, and round whose commanding force she sought to rear the lovely fabric of "Home,"—a state of feeling as far removed from the sentiments of modern women as the constellation of Orion is removed from earth. And Sam Gwent's fragmentary reflections flitting through his brain were more serious—one might say more romantic, than the consideration of dollars, which usually occupied all his faculties. He had always thought that there was a good deal in life which he had missed somehow, and which dollars could not purchase; and a certain irate contempt filled him for the man who, unlike himself, was in the prime of strength, and who, with all the glories of Nature about him and the love and beauty of an exquisite womanhood at his hand for possession, could nevertheless devote his energies to the science of destruction and the compassing of death without compunction, on the lines Roger Seaton had laid down as the remedy against all war.

"The kindest thing to think of him is that he's not quite sane,"—Gwent mused—"He has been obsessed by the horrible carnage of the Great War, and disgusted by the utter inefficiency of Governments since the armistice, and this appalling invention of his is the result."

The crashing chords of the Bridal March from "Lohengrin" put an end to his thoughts for the moment,—people began to crush and push out of church, or stand back on each other's toes to stare at the bride's diamonds as she moved very slowly and gracefully down the aisle on the arm of her elderly husband. She certainly looked very well,—and her smile suggested entire satisfaction with herself and the world. Press-camera men clambered about wherever they could find a footing, to catch and perpetuate that smile, which when enlarged and reproduced in newspapers would depict the grinning dental display so much associated with Woodrow Wilson and the Prince of Wales,—though more suggestive of a skull than anything else. Skulls invariably show their teeth, we know—but it has been left to the modern press-camera man to insist on the death-grin in faces that yet live. The crowd outside the church was far denser than the crowd within, and the fighting and scrambling for points of view became terrific, especially when the wedding guests' motor-cars began to make their way, with sundry hoots and snorts, through the densely packed mob. Women screamed,—some fainted—but none thought of giving way to others, or retiring from the wild scene of contest. Gwent judged it wisest to remain within the church portal till the crowd should clear, and there, safely ensconced, he watched the maddened mass of foolish sight-seers, all of whom had plainly left their daily avocations merely to stare at a man and woman wedded, with whom, personally, they had nothing whatever to do.

"People talk about unemployment!" he mused—"There's enough human material in this one street to make wealth for themselves and the whole community, yet they are idle by their own choice. If they had anything to do they wouldn't be here!"

He laughed grimly,—the utter stodginess and stupidity of humanity EN MASSE had of late struck him very forcibly, and he found every excuse for the so-called incapacity of Governments, seeing the kind of folk they are called upon to govern. He realised, as we all who read history, must do, that we are no worse and no better than the peoples of the past,—we are just as hypocritical, fraudulent, deceptive and cruel as ever they were in legalised torture-times, and just as ineradicably selfish. The pagans practised a religion which they did not truly believe in, and so do we. All through the ages God has been mocked;—all through the ages Divine vengeance has fallen on the mockers and the mockery.

"And after all," thought Gwent—"wars are as necessary as plagues to clear out a superabundant population, only most unfortunately Nature adopts such recklessness in her methods that it most often happens the best among us are taken, and the worst left. I tried to impress this on Seaton, whose system of destruction would involve the good as well as the bad—but these intellectual monsters of scientific appetite have no conscience and no sentiment. To prove their theories they would annihilate a continent."

Here a sudden ugly rush of the crowd, dangerous to both life and limb, pushed him back against the church portal with the force of a tidal wave,—it was not concerned with the bridal pair who had already driven away in their automobile, nor with the wedding guests who were following them to the great hotel where the bride's reception was held—it was caused by the wild dash of half a dozen or so of unkempt men and boys who tore a passage for themselves through the swaying mob of sightseers, waving newspapers aloft and shouting loudly with voices deep and shrill, clear and hoarse—

"Earthquake in California! Terrible loss of life! Thousands dead! Awful scenes! Earthquake in California!"

The people swayed again—then stopped in massed groups,—some clutching at the newsboys as they ran and buying the papers as fast as they could be sold, while all the time above the muffled roar of the city they sent their cries aloft, echoing near and far—

"Thousands dead! Awful scenes! Towns destroyed! Terrible Earthquake in California!"

Sam Gwent stepped out from the church portal, elbowing his way through the confusion,—the yells of the news vendors rang sharply in his ears and yet for the moment he scarcely grasped their meaning; "California" was the one word that caught him, as it were, with a hammer stroke,—then "Thousands dead!" Finding at last an open passage through the dispersing crowd, he went at something of a run after one of the newsboys, and snatched the last paper he had to sell out of his hand.

"What is it?" he demanded as he paid his money.

"Dunno!" the boy replied, breathlessly—"'Xpect everybody's dead down California way!"

Gwent unfolded the journal and stared at the great headlines, printed in fat black letters, still smelling strongly of printer's ink.

Appalling Earthquake In California!—Mountain Upheaval!—Towns Wiped Out!—Plaza Hotel Engulfed!—Frightful Loss of Life!

His eyes grew dim and dazzled—his brain swam,—he gazed up unseeingly at the blue sky, the tall "sky-scraper" houses, the sweep of human and vehicular traffic around him; and to his excited fancy the beautiful face of Manella came, like a phantom, between him and all else that was presented to his vision—that face warm and glowing with woman's tenderness—the splendid dark eyes aflame with love for a man whose indifference to her only strengthened her adoration and he seemed to hear the deep defiant voice of Roger Seaton ringing in his ears—

"Annihilation! A holocaust of microbes! I would—and could—wipe them off the face of the earth in twenty-four hours!" He could—and would!

"And by Heaven," said Gwent, within himself—"He's done it!"



CHAPTER XXIII

Struck by the hand of God! So men say when, after denying God's existence ail their lives, the seeming solid earth heaves up like a ship on a storm-billow, dragging down in its deep recoil their lives and habitations. An earthquake! Its irresistible rise and fall makes human beings more powerless than insects,—their houses and possessions have less stability than the spider's web which swings its frail threads across broken columns in greater safety than any man-made bridge of stone,—and terror, mad, hopeless, helpless terror, possesses every creature brought face to face with the dire cruelty of natural forces, which from the very beginning have played havoc with struggling mankind. Struck by the hand of God!—and with a merciless blow! All the sunny plains and undulating hills of the beautiful stretch of land in Southern California, in the centre of which the "Plaza" hotel and sanatorium had stood, were now unrecognisable,—the earth was torn asunder and thrown into vast heaps—great rocks and boulders were tumbled over each other pell-mell in appalling heights of confusion, and, for miles around, towns, camps and houses were laid in ruins. The scene was one of absolute horror,—there was no language to express or describe it—no word of hope or comfort that could be fitly used to lighten the blackness of despair and loss. Gangs of men were at relief work as soon as they could be summoned, and these busied themselves in extricating the dead, and rescuing the dying whose agonised cries and moans reproached the Power that made them for such an end,—and perhaps as terrible as any other sound was the savage roar and rush of a loosened torrent which came tearing furiously down from the cleft hills to the lower land, through the great canon beyond the site where the Plaza had stood,—a canon which had become enormously widened by the riving and the rending of the rocks, thus giving free passage to wild waters that had before been imprisoned in a narrow gorge. The persistent rush of the flood filled every inch of space with sound of an awful, even threatening character, suggesting further devastation and death. The men engaged in their dreadful task of lifting crushed corpses from under the stones that had fallen upon them, were almost overcome and rendered incapable of work by the appalling clamour, which was sufficient to torture the nerves of the strongest; and some of them, sickened at the frightful mutilation of the bodies they found gave up altogether and dropped from sheer fatigue and exhaustion into unconsciousness, despite the heroic encouragement of their director, a man well used to great emergencies. Late afternoon found him still organising and administering aid, with the assistance of two or three Catholic priests who went about seeking to comfort and sustain those who were passing "the line between." All the energetic helpers were prepared to work all night, delving into the vast suddenly made grave wherein were tumbled the living with the dead,—and it was verging towards sunset when one of the priests, chancing to raise his eyes from the chaos of earth around him to the clear and quiet sky, saw what at first he took to be a great eagle with outspread wings soaring slowly above the scene of devastation. It moved with singular lightness and ease,—now and then appearing to pause as though seeking some spot whereon to descend,—and after watching it for a minute or two he called the attention of some of the men around him to its appearance. They looked up wearily from their gruesome task of excavating the dead.

"That's an air-ship"—said one—"and a big thing, too!"

"An air-ship!" echoed the priest amazedly,—and then was silent, gazing at the shining expanse of sky through which the bird-shaped vessel made its leisurely way like the vision of a fairy tale more than any reality. There was something weirdly terrible in the contrast it made, moving so tranquilly through clear space in apparent safety, while down below on the so-called "solid" earth, all nature had been convulsed and overthrown. The wonderful result of human ingenuity as measured with the remorseless action of natural forces seemed too startling to be real to the mind of a Spanish priest who, despite all the evidences of triumphant materialism, still clung to the Cross and kept his simple, faithful soul high above the waves that threatened to engulf it. Turning anew to his melancholy duties, he bent over a dying youth just lifted from beneath a weight of stones that had crushed him. The boy's fast glazing eyes were upturned to the sky.

"See the angel coming?" he whispered, thickly—"Never used to believe in them!—but there's one sure enough! Glory—!" and his utterance ceased for ever.

The priest crossed his hands upon his breast and said a prayer—then again looked up to where the air-ship floated in the darkening blue. It was now directly over the canon,—immediately above the huge rift made by the earthquake, through which the clamorous rush of water poured. While he watched it, it suddenly stood still, then dived slowly as though bent on descending into the very depths of the gully. He could not forbear uttering an exclamation, which made all the men about him look in the direction where his own gaze was fixed.

"That air-ship's going to kingdom-come!" said one—"Nothing can save it if it takes to nose-diving down there!"

They all stared amazed—but the dreadful work on which they were engaged left them no time for consideration of any other matter. The priest watched a few minutes longer, more or less held spell-bound with a kind of terror, for he saw that without doubt the great vessel was either purposely descending or being drawn into the vast abyss yawning black beneath it, and that falling thus it must be inevitably doomed to destruction. Whoever piloted it must surely be determined to invite this frightful end to its voyage, for nothing was ever steadier or more resolute than its downward movement towards the whirling waters that rushed through the canon. All suddenly it disappeared, whelmed as it seemed in darkness and the roaring flood, and the watching priest made the sign of the cross in air murmuring—

"God have mercy on their souls!"

Had he been able to see what happened he might have thought that the confused brain of the dying boy who had imagined the air-ship to be an angel, was not so far wrong, for no romancer or teller of wild tales could have pictured a stranger or more unearthly sight than the wonderful "White Eagle" poised at ease amid the tossed-up clouds of spray flung from the seething mass of waters, while at her prow stood a woman fair as any fabled goddess—a woman reckless of all danger, and keenly on the alert, with bright eyes searching every nook and cranny that could be discerned through the mist. Clear above the roaring torrent her voice rang like a silver trumpet as she called her instructions to the two men who, equally defying every peril, had ventured on this journey at her command,—Rivardi and Gaspard.

"Let her down very gently inch by inch!" she cried; "It must be here that we should seek!"

In absolute silence they obeyed. Both had given themselves up for lost and were resigned and ready to meet death at any moment. From the first they had made no effort to resist Morgana's orders—she and they had left Sicily at a couple of hours' notice—and their three days' journey across the ocean had been accomplished without adventure or accident, at such a speed that it was hardly to be thought of without a thrill of horror. No information had been given them as to the object of their long and rapid aerial voyage,—and only now when the "White Eagle," swooping over California, reached the scene of the terrific devastation wrought by the earthquake did they begin to think they had submitted their wills and lives to the caprice of a madwoman. However, there was no drawing back,—nothing for it but still to obey,—for even in the stress and terror naturally excited by their amazing position, they did not fail to see that the great air-ship was steadily controlled, and that whatever was the force controlling it, it maintained its level, its mysterious vibrating discs still throbbing with vital and incessant regularity. Apparently nothing could disturb its equilibrium or shatter its mechanism. And, according to its woman-designer's command, they lowered it gently till it was, so to say, almost immersed in the torrent and covered with spray—indeed Morgana's light figure itself at the prow looked like a fair spirit risen from the waters rather than any form of flesh and blood, so wreathed and transfigured it was by the dust of the ceaseless foam. She stood erect, bent on a quest that seemed hopeless, watching every eddying curve of water,—every flickering ripple,—her eyes, luminous as stars, searched the black and riven rocks with an eager passion of discovery,—when all suddenly as she gazed, a thin ray of light,—pure gold in colour,—struck sharply like a finger-point on a shallow pool immediately below her. She looked and uttered a cry, beckoning to Rivardi.

"Come! Come!"

He hurried to her side, Gaspard following. The pool on which her eyes were fixed was shallow enough to show the pebbly bed beneath the water—and there lay apparently two corpses—one of a man, the other of a woman whose body was half flung across that of the man.

Morgana pointed to them.

"They must be brought up here!" she said, insistently—"You must lift them! We have emergency ropes and pulleys—it is easily done! Why do you hesitate?"

"Because you demand the impossible!" said Rivardi—"You send us to death to rescue the already dead!"

She turned upon him with wrath in her eyes.

"You refuse to obey me?"

What a face confronted him! White as marble, and as terrible in expression as that of a Medusa, it had a paralysing effect on his nerves, and he shrank and trembled at her glance.

"You refuse to obey me?" she repeated—"Then—if you do—I destroy this air-ship and ourselves in less than two minutes! Choose! Obey, and live!—disobey and die!"

He staggered back from her in terror at her looks, which gave her a supernatural beauty and authority. The "fey" woman was "fey" indeed!—and the powers with which superstition endows the fairy folk seemed now to invest her with irresistible influence.

"Choose!" she reiterated.

Without another word he turned to Gaspard, who in equal silence got out the ropes and pulleys of which she had spoken. The air-ship stopped dead—suspended immovably over the wild waters and almost hidden in spray; and though the strange vibration of its multitudinous discs continued in itself it was fixed as a rock. A smile sweet as sunshine after storm changed and softened Morgana's features as she saw Rivardi swing over the vessel's side to the pool below, while Gaspard unwound the gear by which he would be able to lift and support the drowned creatures he was bidden to bring.

"That's a true noble!" she exclaimed—"I knew your courage would not fail! Believe me, no harm shall come to you!"

Inspirited by her words, he flung himself down—and raising the body of the woman first, was entangled by the wet thick strands of her long dark hair which, like sea-weed, caught about his feet and hands and impeded his movements. He had time just to see a face white as marble under the hair,—then he had enough to do to fasten ropes round the body and push it upward while Gaspard pulled—both men doubting whether the weight of it would not alter the balance of the air-ship despite its extraordinary fixity of position. Morgana, bending over from the vessel, watched every action,—she showed neither alarm nor impatience nor anxiety—and when Gaspard said suddenly—

"It is easier than I thought it would be!" she merely smiled as if she knew. Another few moments and the drowned woman's body was hauled into the cabin of the ship, where Morgana knelt down beside it. Parting the heavy masses of dark hair that enshrouded it she looked—and saw what she had expected to see—the face of Manella Soriso. But it was the death-mask of a face—strangely beautiful—but awful in its white rigidity. Morgana bent over it anxiously, but only for a moment, drawing a small phial from her bosom she forced a few drops of the liquid it contained between the set lips, and with a tiny syringe injected the same at the pulseless wrist and throat. While she busied herself with these restorative measures, the second body,—that of the man,—was landed almost at her feet—and she found herself gazing in a sort of blank stupefaction at what seemed to be the graven image of Roger Seaton. No effigy of stone ever looked colder, harder, greyer than this inert figure of man,—uninjured apparently, for there were no visible marks of wounds or bruises upon his features, which appeared frozen into stiff rigidity, but a man as surely dead as death could make him! Morgana heard, as in a far-off dream, the Marchese Rivardi speaking—

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