"I have done your bidding because it was you who bade,"—he said, his voice shaking with the tremor and excitement of his daring effort—"And it was not so very difficult. But it is a vain rescue! They are past recall."
Morgana looked up from her awed contemplation of Seaton's rigid form. Her eyes were heavy with unshed tears.
"I think not,"—she said—"There is life in them—yes, there is life, though for the time it is paralysed. But"—here she gave him the loveliest smile of tenderness—"You brave Giulio!—you are exhausted and wet through—attend to yourself first—then you can help me with these unhappy ones—and you Gaspard,—Gaspard!"
"You have done so well!" she said—"Without fear or failure!"
"Only by God's mercy!" answered Gaspard—"If the rope had broken; if the ship had lost balance—"
"So many 'ifs' Gaspard? Have I not told you it CANNOT lose balance? And are not my words proved true? Now we have finished our rescue work we may go—we can start at once—"
He looked at her.
"There is more weight on board!" he said meaningly, "If we are to carry two dead bodies through the air, it may mean a heavenly funeral for all of us! The 'White Eagle' has not been tested for heavy transport."
She heard him patiently,—then turned to Rivardi and repeated her words—
"We can start at once. Steer upwards and onwards."
Like a man hypnotised he obeyed,—and in a few moments the air-ship, answering easily to the helm, rose lightly as a bubble from the depths of the canon, through the fiercely dashing showers of spray tossed by the foaming torrent, and soared aloft, high and ever higher, as swiftly as any living bird born for long and powerful flight. Night was falling; and through the dense purple shadows of the Californian sky a big white moon rose, bending ghost-like over the scene of destruction and chaos, lighting with a pale glare the tired and haggard faces of the relief men at their terrible work of digging out the living and the dead from the vast pits of earth into which they had been suddenly engulfed,—while far, far above them flew the "White Eagle," gradually lessening in size through distance till it looked no bigger than a dove on its homeward way. Some priests watching by a row of lifeless men, women and children killed in the earthquake, chanted the "Nunc Dimittis" as the evening grew darker,—and the only one among them who had first seen the air-ship over the canon, where it fell, as it were in the deep gulf surrounded by flood and foam, now raised his eyes in wonderment as he perceived it once more soaring at liberty towards the moon.
"Surely a miracle!" he ejaculated, under his breath—"An escape from destruction through God's mercy! God be praised!"
And he crossed himself devoutly, joining in the solemn chanting of his brethren, kneeling in the moonlight, which threw a ghastly lustre on the dead faces of the victims of the earthquake,—victims not "struck by the hand of God" but by the hand of man! And he who was responsible for the blow lay unconscious of having dealt it, and was borne through the air swiftly and safely away for ever from the tragic scene of the ruin and desolation he had himself wrought.
A great silence pervaded the Palazzo d'Oro,—the strained silence of an intense activity weighted with suspense. Servants moved about here and there with noiseless rapidity,—Don Aloysius was seen constantly pacing up and down the loggia absorbed in anxious thought and prayer, and the Marchese Rivardi came and went on errands of which he alone knew the import. Overhead the sky was brilliantly blue and cloudless,—the sun flashed a round shield of dazzling gold all day long on the breast of the placid sea,—but within the house, blinds were drawn to shade and temper the light for eyes that perhaps might never again open to the blessing and glory of the day. A full week had passed since the "White Eagle" had returned from its long and adventurous flight over the vast stretches of ocean, bearing with it the two human creatures cast down to death in the deep Californian canon,—and only one of them had returned to the consciousness of life,—the other still stayed on the verge of the "Great Divide." Morgana had safely landed the heavy burden of seeming death her ship had carried,—and simply stating to Lady Kingswood and her household staff that it was a case of rescue from drowning, had caused the two corpses—(such as they truly appeared)—to be laid, each in a separate chamber, surrounded with every means that could be devised or thought of for their resuscitation. In an atmosphere glowing with mild warmth, on soft beds they were placed, inert and white as frozen clay, their condition being apparently so hopeless that it seemed mere imaginative folly to think that the least breath could ever again part their set lips or the smallest pulsation of blood stir colour through their veins. But Morgana never wavered in her belief that they lived, and hour after hour, day after day she watched with untiring patience, administering the mysterious balm or portion which she kept preciously in her own possession,—and not till the fifth day of her vigil, when Manella showed faint signs of returning consciousness, did she send to Rome for a famous scientist and physician with whom she had frequently corresponded. She entrusted the dispatch of this message to Rivardi, saying—
"It is now time for further aid than mine. The girl will recover—but the man—the man is still in the darkness!"
And her eyes grew heavy with a cloud of sorrow and regret which softened her delicate beauty and made it more than ever unearthly.
"What are they—what is HE—to you?" demanded Rivardi jealously.
"My friend, there was a time when I should have considered that question an impertinence from you!" she said, tranquilly—"But yours is the great share of the rescue—and your magnificent bravery wins you my pardon,—for many things!" And she smiled as she saw him flush under her quiet gaze—"What is this man to me, you ask? Why nothing!—not now! Once he was everything,—though he never knew it. Some quality in him struck the keynote of the scale of life for me,—he was the great delusion of a dream! The delusion is ended—the dream is over! But for that he WAS to me, though only in my own thoughts, I have tried to save his life—not for myself, but for the woman who loves him."
"The woman we rescued with him?—the woman who is here?"
She bent her head in assent. Rivardi's eyes dwelt on her with greater tenderness than he had ever felt before,—she looked so frail and fairy-like, and withal so solitary. He took her little hand and gently kissed it with courteous reverence.
"Then—after all—you have known love!" he said in a low voice—"You have felt what it is,—though you have assumed to despise it?"
"My good Giulio, I DO despise most heartily what the world generally understands as love"—she replied; "There is no baser or more selfish sentiment!—a sentiment made up half of animal desire and half of a personal seeking for admiration, appreciation and self-gratification! Yes, Giulio!—it is so, and I despise it for all these attributes—in truth it is not what I understand or accept as love at all—"
"What DO you understand and accept?" he asked, softly.
Her eyes shone kindly as she raised them to his face.
"Not what you can ever give, Giulio!" she said—"Love—to my mind—is the spiritual part of our being—it should be the complete union of two souls that move as one,—like the two wings of a bird making the body subservient to the highest flights, even as far as heaven! The physical mating of man and woman is seldom higher than the physical mating of any other animals under the sun,—the animals know nothing beyond—but we—we ought to know something!" She paused, then went on—"There is sometimes a great loftiness even in the physical way of so-called 'love'—such passion as the woman we have rescued has for the man she was ready to die with,—a primitive passion of primitive woman at her best. Such feeling is out of date in these days—we have passed that boundary line—and a great unexplored world lies open before us—who can say what we may find there! Perhaps we shall discover what all women have sought for from the beginning of things—"
"And that is?" he asked.
"Happiness!" she replied—"The perfect happiness of life in love!"
He had held her hand till now, when he released it.
"I wish I could give it to you!" he said.
"You cannot, Giulio! I am not made for any man—as men go!"
"It is a pity you think so"—he said—"For—after all—you are just—a woman!"
"Am I?" she murmured,—and a strange flitting smile brightened her features—"Perhaps!—and yet—perhaps not! Who knows!"
She left him puzzled and uneasy. Somehow she always managed to evade his efforts to become more intimate in his relations with her. Generous and kind-hearted as she was, she held him at a distance, and maintained her own aloof position inexorably. A less intelligent man than Rivardi would have adopted the cynic's attitude and averred that her rejection of love and marriage arose from her own unlovableness and unmarriageableness, but he knew better than that. He was wise enough to perceive the rareness and delicacy of her physical and mental organisation and temperament,—a temperament so finely strung as to make all other women seem gross and material beside her. He felt and knew her to be both his moral and intellectual superior,—and this very fact rendered it impossible that he could ever master her mind and tame it down to the subservience of married life. That dauntless spirit of hers would never bend to an inferior,—not even love (if she could feel it) would move her thus far. And the man she had adventured across ocean to rescue—what was he? She confessed that she had loved him, though that love was past. And now she had set herself to watch night and day by his dead body (for dead he surely was in Rivardi's opinion) sparing no pains to recover what seemed beyond recovery; while one of the greatest mysteries of the whole mysterious affair was just this—How had she known the man's life was in danger?
All these questions Rivardi discussed with Don Aloysius, who listened to him patiently without committing himself to any reply. Whatever Morgana had confided to him—(and she had confided much)—he kept his own counsel.
Within forty-eight hours of Morgana's summons the famous specialist from Rome, Professor Marco Ardini, noted all over the world for his miraculous cures of those whom other physicians had given up as past curing, arrived. He heard the story of the rescue of a man and woman from drowning with emotionless gravity, more taken for the moment by Morgana herself, whom he had never seen before, but with whom he had corresponded on current questions of scientific importance. From the extremely learned and incisive tone of her letters he had judged her to be an elderly woman of profound scholarship who had spent the greater part of her life in study, and his astonishment at the sight of the small, dainty creature who received him in the library of the Palazzo d'Oro was beyond all verbal expression,—in fact, he took some minutes to recover from the magnetic "shock" of her blue eyes and wistful smile.
"I must be quite frank with you,"—she said, after a preliminary conversation with the great man in his own Italian tongue—"These two people have suffered their injuries by drowning—but not altogether. They are the victims of an earthquake,—and were thrown by the earth's upheaval into a deep chasm flooded by water—"
The Professor interrupted her.
"Pardon, Signora! There has been no recent earthquake in Europe."
She gave a little gesture of assent.
"Not in Europe—no! But in America—in California there has been a terrible one!"
"In California!" he echoed amazedly-"Gran' Dio! You do not mean to say that you brought these people from California, across that vast extent of ocean?"
"By air-ship—yes! Really nothing so very remarkable! You will not ask for further details just now, Professor!" and she laid her pretty hand coaxingly on his arm—"You and I both know how advisable it is to say as little as possible of our own work or adventures, while any subject is awaiting treatment and every moment counts! I will answer any question you may ask when you have seen my patients. The girl is a beautiful creature—she is beginning to regain consciousness—but the man I fear is past even YOUR skill. Come!"
She led the way and Professor Ardini followed, marvelling at her ethereal grace and beauty, and more than interested in the "case" on which his opinion was sought. Entering a beautiful room glowing with light and warmth and colour, he saw, lying on a bed and slightly propped up by pillows, a lovely girl, pale as ivory, with dark hair loosely braided on either side of her head. Her eyes were closed, and the long black lashes swept the cheeks in a curved fringe,—the lips were faintly red, and the breath parted them slowly and reluctantly. The Professor bent over her and listened,—her heart beat slowly but regularly,—he felt her pulse.
"She will live!"—he said—"There are no injuries?"
"None"—Morgana replied, as he put his questions—"Some few bruises—but no bones broken—nothing serious."
"You have examined her?"
"You have no nurses?"
"No. I and my house people are sufficient." Her tone became slightly peremptory. "There is no need for outside interference. Whatever your orders are, they shall be carried out."
He looked at her. His face was a somewhat severe one, furrowed with thought and care,—but when he smiled, a wonderful benevolence gave it an almost handsome effect. And he smiled now.
"You shall not be interfered with,"—he said—"You have done very well! Complete rest, nourishment and your care are all that this patient needs. She will be quite herself in a very short time. She is extraordinarily beautiful!"
"I wish you could see her eyes!" said Morgana.
Almost as if the uttered wish had touched some recess of her stunned brain, Manella's eyelids quivered and lifted,—the great dark glory of the stars of her soul shone forth for an instant, giving sudden radiance to the pallor of her features—then they closed again as in utter weariness.
"Magnificent!" said Ardini, under his breath—"And full of the vital light,—she will live!"
"And she will love!" added Morgana, softly.
The Professor looked at her enquiringly.
"The man she loves is in the next room"—she continued—"We rescued him with her—if it can be called a rescue. He is the worst case. Only you may be able to bring him back to consciousness,—I have done my best in vain. If YOU fail then we must give up hope."
She preceded him into the adjoining chamber; as he entered it after her he paused—almost intimidated, despite his long medical and surgical experience, by the stone-like figure of man that lay before him. It was as if one should have unearthed a statue, grey with time—a statue nobly formed, with a powerful head and severe features sternly set,—the growth of beard revealing, rather than concealing, the somewhat cruel contour of mouth and chin. The Professor walked slowly up to the bed and looked at this strange effigy of a human being for many minutes in silence,—Morgana watching him with strained but quiet suspense. Presently he touched the forehead—it was stone-cold—then the throat, stone-cold and rigid—he bent down and listened for the heart's pulsations,—not a flutter—not a beat! Drawing back from this examination he looked at Morgana,—she met his eyes with the query in her own which she emphasised by the spoken word—
"No!"—he answered—"I think not. It is very difficult for a man of this type to die at all. Granted favourable conditions—and barring accidents caused by the carelessness of others—he ought to be one of those destined to live for ever. But"—here he hesitated—"if I am right in my surmise,—of course it is only a first opinion—death would be the very best thing for him."
"Oh, why do you say that?" she asked, pitifully.
"Because the brain is damaged—hopelessly! This man—whoever he is—has been tampering with some chemical force he does not entirely understand,—his whole body is charged with its influence, and this it is that gives his form its unnatural appearance which, though death-like, is not death. If I leave him alone and untouched he will probably expire unconsciously in a few days,—but if—after what I have just told you—you wish me to set the life atoms going again,—even as a clock is wound up,—I can relax the tension which now paralyses the cells, muscles and nerves, and he will live—yes!—like most people without brains he will live a long time—probably too long!"
Morgana moved to the bedside and gazed with a solemn earnestness at the immobile, helpless form stretched out before her as though ready for burial. Her heart swelled with suppressed emotion,—she thought with anguish of the brilliant brain, the strong, self-sufficient nature brought to such ruin through too great an estimate of human capability. Tears rushed to her eyes—
"Oh, give him life!" she whispered—"Give him life for the sake of the woman who loves him more than life!"
The Professor gave her a quick, keen glance.
She shivered at the question as though struck by a cold wind,—then conquering the momentary weakness, answered—
"No. The girl you have just seen. He is her world!"
Ardini's brows met in a saturnine frown.
"Her world will be an empty one!" he said, with an expressive gesture—"A world without fruit or flower,—without light or song! A dreary world! But such as it is,—such as it is bound to be,—it can live on,—a life-in-death."
"Are you quite sure of this?" Morgana asked—"Can any of us, however wise, be quite sure of anything?"
His frown relaxed and his whole features softened. He took her hand and patted it kindly.
"Signora, you know as well as I do, that the universe and all within it represents law and order. A man is a little universe in himself—and if the guiding law of his system is destroyed, there is chaos and darkness. We scientists can say 'Let there be light,' but the fulfilled result 'and there was light' comes from God alone!"
"Why should not God help in this case?" she suggested.
"Ah, why!" and Ardini shrugged his shoulders—"How can I tell? My long experience has taught me that wherever the law has been broken God does NOT help! Who knows whether this frozen wreck of man has obeyed or disobeyed the law? I can do all that science allows—"
"And you will do it!" interrupted Morgana eagerly, "You will use your best skill and knowledge—everything you wish shall be at your service—name whatever fee your merit claims—"
He raised his hand with a deprecatory gesture.
"Money does not count with me, Signora!" he said—"Nor with you. The point with both of us in all our work is—success! Is it not so? Yes! And it is because I do not see a true success in this case that I hesitate; true success would mean the complete restoration of this man to life and intelligence,—but life without intelligence is no triumph for science. I can do all that science will allow—"
"And you WILL do this 'all'"—said Morgana, eagerly—"You will forego triumph for simple pity!—pity for the girl who would surely die if he were dead!—and perhaps after all, God may help the recovery!"
"It shall be as you wish, Signora! I must stay here two or three days—"
"As long as you find it necessary"—said Morgana—"All your orders shall be obeyed."
"Good! Send me a trustworthy man-servant who can help to move and support the patient, and we can get to work. I left a few necessary appliances in your hall—I should like them brought into this room—and then—" here he took her hand and pressed it kindly—"you can leave us to our task, and take some rest. You must be very tired."
"I am never tired"—she answered, gently—"I thank you in advance for all you are going to do!"
She left the room then, with one backward glance at the inert stiff figure on the bed,—and went to arrange matters with her household that the Professor's instructions should be strictly carried out. Lady Kingswood, deeply interested, heard her giving certain orders and asked—
"There is hope then? These two poor creatures will live?"
"I think so"—answered Morgana, with a thrill of sadness in her sweet voice—"They will live—pray God their lives may be worth living!"
She watched the man-servant whom she had chosen to wait on Ardini depart on his errand—she saw him open the door of the room where Seaton lay, and shut it—then there was a silence. Oppressed by a sudden heaviness of heart she thought of Manella, and entered her apartment softly to see how she fared. The girl's beautiful dark eyes were wide open and full of the light of life and consciousness. She smiled and stretched out her arms.
"It is my angel!" she murmured faintly—"My little white angel who came to me in the darkness! And this is Heaven!"
Swiftly and silently Morgana went to her side, and taking her outstretched arms put them round her own neck.
"Manella!" she said, tenderly—"Dear, beautiful Manella! Do you know me?"
The great loving eyes rested on her with glowing warmth and pleasure.
"Indeed I know you!" and Manella's voice, weak as that of a sick child, sounded ever so far away—"The little white lady of my dreams! Oh, I have wanted you!—wanted you so much! Why did you not come back sooner?"
Afraid to trouble her brain by the sudden shock of too rapidly recurring memories, Morgana made no reply, but merely soothed her with tender caresses, when all at once she made a violent struggle to rise from the bed.
"I must go!" she cried—"He is calling me! I must follow him—yes, even if he kills me for it—he is in danger!"
Morgana held her close and firmly.
"Hush, hush, dear!" she murmured—"Be quite still! He is safe—believe me! He is near you—in the next room!—out of all danger."
"Oh, no, it is not possible!" and the girl's eyes grew wild with terror—"He cannot be safe!—he is destroying himself! I have followed him every step of the way—I have watched him,—oh!—so long!—and he came out of the hut this morning—I was hidden among the trees—he could not see me—" she broke off, and a violent trembling shook her whole body. Morgana tried to calm her into silence, but she went on rambling incoherently. "There was something he carried as though it was precious to him—something that glittered like gold,—and he went away quickly—quickly to the canyon,—I followed him like a dog, crawling through the brushwood—I followed him across the deep water—to the cave where it was all dark—black as midnight!" She paused—then suddenly flung her arms round Morgana crying—"Oh, hold me!—hold me!—I am in this darkness trying to find him!—there!—there!—he turns and sees me by the light of a lamp he carries; he knows I have followed him, and he is angry! Oh, dear God, he is angry—he raises his arm to strike me!" She uttered a smothered shriek, and clung to Morgana in a kind of frenzy. "No mercy, no pity! That thing that glitters in his hand—it frightens me—what is it? I kneel to him on the cold stones—I pray him to forgive me—to come with me—but his arm is still raised to strike—he does not care—!"
Here a pale horror blanched her features—she drew herself away from Morgana's hold and put out her hands with the instinctive gesture of one who tries to escape falling from some great height. Morgana, alarmed at her looks, caught her again in her arms and held her tenderly, whereat a faint smile hovered on her lips and her distraught movements ceased.
"What is this?"—she asked—then murmured—"My little white lady, how did you come here? How could you cross the flood?—unless on wings? Ah!—you are a fairy and you can do all you wish to do—but you cannot save HIM!—it is too late! He will not save himself—and he does not care,—he does not care—neither for me nor you!"
She drooped her head against Morgana's shoulder and her eyes closed in utter exhaustion. Morgana laid her back gently on her pillows, and pouring a few drops of the cordial she had used before, and of which she had the sole secret, into a wineglassful of water, held it to her lips. She drank it obediently, evidently conscious now that she was being cared for. But she was still restless, and presently she sat up in a listening attitude, one hand uplifted.
"Listen!" she said in a low, awed tone—"Thunder! Do you hear it? God speaks!"
She lay down again passively and was silent for a long time. The hours passed and the day grew into late afternoon, and Morgana, patiently watchful, thought she slept. All suddenly she sprang up, wide-eyed and alert.
"What was that?" she cried—"I heard him call!"
Morgana, startled by her swift movement, stood transfixed—listening. The deep tones of a man's voice rang out loudly and defiantly—
"There shall be no more wars! There can be none! I say so! I am Master of the World!"
A brilliant morning broke over the flower-filled gardens of the Palazzo d'Oro, and the sea, stretched out in a wide radiance of purest blue shimmered with millions of tiny silver ripples brushed on its surface by a light wind as delicate as a bird's wing. Morgana stood in her rose-marble loggia, looking with a pathetic wistfulness at the beauty of the scene, and beside her stood Marco Ardini, scientist, surgeon and physician, looking also, but scarcely seeing, his whole thought being concentrated on the "case" with which he had been dealing.
"It is exactly as I at first told you,"—he said—"The man is strong in muscle and sinew,—but his brain is ruined. It can no longer control or command the body's mechanism,—therefore the body is practically useless. Power of volition is gone,—the poor fellow will never be able to walk again or to lift a hand. A certain faculty of speech is left,—but even this is limited to a few words which are evidently the result of the last prevailing thoughts impressed on the brain-cells. It is possible he will repeat those words thousands of times!—the oftener he repeats them the more he will like to say them."
"What are they?" Morgana asked in a tone of sorrow and compassion.
"Strange enough for a man in his condition"—replied Ardini—"And always the same. 'THERE SHALL BE NO MORE WARS! THERE CAN BE NONE! I SAY IT!—I ONLY! IT IS MY GREAT SECRET! I AM MASTER OF THE WORLD!' Poor devil! What a 'master of the world' is there!"
Morgana shuddered as with cold, shading her eyes from the radiant sunshine.
"Does he say nothing else?" she murmured—"Is there no name—no place—that he seems to remember?"
"He remembers nothing—he knows nothing"—answered Ardini—"He does not even realize me as a man—I might be a fish or a serpent for all his comprehension. One glance at his moveless eyes is enough to prove that. They are like pebbles in his head—without cognisance or expression. He mutters the words 'Great Secret' over and over again, and tacks it on to the other phrase of 'No more wars' in a semi-conscious sort of gabble,—this is, of course, the disordered action of the brain working to catch up and join together hopelessly severed fragments."
Morgana lifted her sea-blue eyes and looked with grave appeal into the severely intellectual, half-frowning face of the great Professor.
"Is there no hope of an ultimate recovery?" she asked—"With time and rest and the best of unceasing care, might not this poor brain right itself?"
"Medically and scientifically speaking, there is no hope,—none whatever"—he replied—"Though of course we all know that Nature's remedial methods are inexhaustible, and often, to the wisest of us, seem miraculous, because as yet we do not understand one tithe of her processes. But—in this case,—this strange and terrible case"—and he uttered the words with marked gravity,—"It is Nature's own force that has wrought the damage,—some powerful influence which the man has been testing has proved too much for him—and it has taken its own vengeance."
Morgana heard this with strained interest and attention.
"Tell me just what you mean,"—she said—"There is something you do not quite express—or else I am too slow to understand—"
Ardini took a few paces up and down the loggia and then halted, facing her in the attitude of a teacher preparing to instruct a pupil.
"Signora,"—he said—"When you began to correspond with me some years ago from America, I realised that I was in touch with a highly intelligent and cultivated mind. I took you to be many years older than you are, with a ripe scientific experience. I find you young, beautiful, and pathetic in the pure womanliness of your nature, which must be perpetually contending with an indomitable power of intellectuality and of spirituality,—spirituality is the strongest force of your being. You are not made like other women. This being so I can say to you what other women would not understand. Science is my life-subject, as it is yours,—it is a window set open in the universe admitting great light. But many of us foolishly imagine that this light emanates from ourselves as a result of our own cleverness, whereas it comes from that Divine Source of all things, which we call God. We refuse to believe this,—it wounds our pride. And we use the discoveries of science recklessly and selfishly—without gratitude, humbleness or reverence. So it happens that the first tendency of godless men is to destroy. The love of destruction and torture shows itself in the boy who tears off the wing of an insect, or kills a bird for the pleasure of killing. The boy is father of the man. And we come, after much ignorant denial and obstinacy, back to the inexorable truth that 'they who take the sword shall perish with the sword.' If we consider the 'sword' as a metaphor for every instrument of destruction, we shall see the force of its application—the submarine, for example, built for the most treacherous kind of sea-warfare—how often they that undertake its work are slain themselves! And so it is through the whole gamut of scientific discovery when it is used for inhuman and unlawful purposes. But when this same 'sword' is lifted to put an end to torture, disease, and the manifold miseries of life, then the Power that has entrusted it to mankind endows it with blessing and there are no evil results. I say this to you by way of explaining the view I am forced to take of this man whose strange case you ask me to deal with,—my opinion is that through chance or intention he has been playing recklessly with a great natural force, which he has not entirely understood, for some destructive purpose, and that it has recoiled on himself."
Morgana looked him steadily in the eyes.
"You may be right,"—she said—"He is—or was—one of the most brilliant of our younger scientists. You know his name—I have sent you from New York some accounts of his work—He is Roger Seaton, whose experiments in the condensation of radioactivity startled America some four or five years ago—"
"Roger Seaton!" he exclaimed—"What! The man who professed to have found a new power which would change the face of the world? ... He,—this wreck?—this blind, deaf lump of breathing clay? Surely he has not fallen on so horrible a destiny!"
Tears rushed to Morgana's eyes,—she could not answer. She could only bend her head in assent.
Profoundly moved, Ardini took her hand, and kissed it with sympathetic reverence.
"Signora," he said—"This is indeed a tragedy! You have saved this life at I know not what risk to yourself—and as I am aware what a life of great attainment it promised to be, you may be sure I will spare no pains to bring it back to normal conditions. But frankly I do not think it will be possible. There is the woman who loves him—her influence may do something—"
"If he ever loved her—yes"—and Morgana smiled rather sadly—"But if he did not—if the love is all on her side—"
Ardini shrugged his shoulders.
"A great love is always on the woman's side,"—he said—"Men are too selfish to love perfectly. In this case, of course, there is no emotion, no sentiment of any sort left in the mere hulk of man. But still I will continue my work and do my best."
He left her then,—and she stood for a while alone, gazing far out to the blue sea and sunlight, scarcely seeing them for the half-unconscious tears that blinded her eyes. Suddenly a Ray, not of the sun, shot athwart the loggia and touched her with a deep gold radiance. She saw it and looked up, listening.
The Voice quivered along the Ray like the touched string of an aeolian harp. She answered it in almost a whisper—
"You grieve for sorrows not your own," said the Voice—"And we love you for it. But you must not waste your tears on the errors of others. Each individual Spirit makes its own destiny, and no other but Itself can help Itself. You are one of the Chosen and Beloved!—You must fulfil the happiness you have created for your own soul! Come to us soon!" A thrill of exquisite joy ran through her.
"I will!" she said—"When my duties here are done."
The golden Ray decreased in length and brilliancy, and finally died away in a fine haze mingling with the air. She watched it till it vanished,—then with a sense of relief from her former sadness, she went into the house to see Manella. The girl had risen from her bed, and with the assistance of Lady Kingswood, who tended her with motherly care, had been arrayed in a loose white woollen gown, which, carelessly gathered round her, intensified by contrast the striking beauty of her dark eyes and hair, and ivory pale skin. As Morgana entered the room she smiled, her small even teeth gleaming like tiny pearls in the faint rose of her pretty mouth, and stretched out her hand.
"What has he said to you?" she asked—"Tell me! Is he not glad to see you?—to know he is with you?—safe with you in your home?"
Morgana sat down beside her.
"Dear Manella"—she answered, gently and with tenderest pity—"He does not know me. He knows nothing! He speaks a few words,—but he has no consciousness of what he is saying."
Manella looked at her wonderingly—
"Ah, that is because he is not himself yet"—she said—"The crash of the rocks—the pouring of the flood—this was enough to kill him—but he will recover in a little while and he will know you!—yes, he will know you, and he will thank God for life to see you!"
Her unselfish joy in the idea that the man she loved would soon recognise the woman he preferred to herself, was profoundly touching, and Morgana kissed the hand she held.
"Dear, I am afraid he will never know anything more in this world"—she said, sorrowfully—"Neither man nor woman! Nor can he thank God for a life which will be long, living death! Unless YOU can help him!"
"I?" and Manella's eyes dilated with brilliant eagerness; "I will give my life for his! What can I do?"
And then, with patient slowness and gentleness, little by little, Morgana told her all. Lady Kingswood, sitting in an arm-chair near the window, worked at her embroidery, furtive tears dropping now and again on the delicate pattern, as she heard the details of the tragic verdict given by one of Europe's greatest medical scientists on the hopelessness of ever repairing the damage wrought by the shock which had shaken a powerful brain into ruins. But it was wonderful to watch Manella's face as she listened. Sorrow, pity, tenderness, love, all in turn flashed their heavenly radiance in her eyes and intensified her beauty, and when she had heard all, she smiled as some lovely angel might smile on a repentant soul. Her whole frame seemed to vibrate with a passion of unselfish emotion.
"He will be my care!" she said—"The good God has heard my prayers and given him to me to be all mine!" She clasped her hands in a kind of ecstasy, "My life is for him and him alone! He will be my little child!—this big, strong, poor broken man!—and I will nurse him back to himself,—I will watch for every little sign of hope!—he shall learn to see through my eyes—to hear through my ears—to remember all that he has forgotten!..." Her voice broke in a half sob. Morgana put an arm about her.
"Manella, Manella!" she said—"You do not know what you say—you cannot understand the responsibility—it would make you a prisoner for life—"
"Oh, I understand!" and Manella shook back her dark hair with the little proud, decisive gesture characteristic of her temperament—"Yes!—and I wish to be so imprisoned! If we had not been rescued by you, we should have died together!—now you will help us to live together! Will you not? You are a little white angel—a fairy!—yes!—to me you are!—your heart is full of unspent love! You will let me stay with him always—always?—As his nurse?—his servant?—his slave?"
Morgana looked at her tenderly, touched to the quick by her eagerness and her beauty, now intensified by the glow of excitement which gave a roseate warmth to her cheeks and deeper darkness to her eyes. All ignorant and unsuspecting as she was of the world's malignity and cruel misjudgments, how could it be explained to her that a woman of such youth and loveliness, electing to dwell alone with a man, even if the man were a hopeless paralytic, would make herself the subject of malicious comment and pitiless scandal! Some reflection of this feeling showed itself in the expression of Morgana's face while she hesitated to answer, holding the girl's hand in her own and stroking it affectionately the while. Manella, gazing at her as a worshipper might gaze at a sacred picture, instinctively divined her thought.
"Ah? I know what you would say!" she exclaimed, "That I might bring shame to him by my companionship—always—yes!—that is possible!—wicked people would talk of him and judge him wrongly—"
"Oh, Manella, dear!" murmured Morgana—"Not him—not him—but YOU!"
"Me?" She tossed back her wealth of hair, and smiled—"What am I? Just a bit of dust in his path! I am nothing at all! I do not care what anybody says or thinks of ME!—what should it matter! But see!—to save HIM—let me be his wife!"
"His wife!" Morgana repeated the words in amazement, and Lady Kingswood, laying down her work, gazed at the two beautiful women, the one so spiritlike and fair, the other so human and queenly, in a kind of stupefaction, wondering if she had heard aright.
"His wife! Yes!"... Manella spoke with a thrill of exultation in her voice,—and she caught Morgana's hand and kissed it fondly—"His wife! It is the only way I can be his slave-woman! Let me marry him while he knows nothing, so that I may have the right to wait upon him and care for him! He shall never know! For—if he comes to himself again—please God he will!—as soon as that happens I will go away at once. He will never know!—he shall never learn who it is that has cared for him! You see? I shall never be really his wife—nor he my husband—only in name. And then—when he comes out of the darkness—when he is strong and well once more, he will go to YOU!—you whom he loves—"
Morgana silenced her by a gesture which was at once commanding and sweetly austere.
"Dear girl, he never loved me!" she said, gently—"He has always loved himself. Yes!—you know that as well as I do! Once—I fancied I loved HIM—but now I know my way of love is not his. Let us say no more of it! You wish to be his wife? Do you think what that means? He will never know he is your husband—never recognise you,—your life will be sacrificed to a helpless creature whose brain is gone—who will be unconscious of your care and utterly irresponsive. Oh, sweet, TOO loving Manella!—you must not pledge the best years of your youth and beauty to such a destiny!"
Manella's dark eyes flashed with passionate ardour and enthusiasm.
"I must—I must!" she said—"It is the work God gives me to do! Do you not see how it is with me? It is my one love—the best of my heart!—the pulse of my life! Youth and beauty!—what are they without him? Ill or well, he is all I care for, and if I may not care for him I will die! It is quite easy to die—to make an end!—but if there is any youth or beauty to spend, it will be better to spend it on love than in death! My white angel, listen and be patient with me! You ARE patient but still be more so!—you know there will be none in the world to care for him!—ah!—when he was well and strong he said that love would weary him—he did not think he would ever be helpless and ill!—ah, no!—but a broken brain is put away—out of sight—to be forgotten like a broken toy! He was at work on some wonderful invention—some great secret!—it will never be known now—not a soul will ever ask what has become of it or of him! The world does not care what becomes of anyone—it has no sympathy. Only those who love greatly have any pity!"
She clasped her hands and lifted them in an attitude of prayer, laying them against Morgana's breast.
"You will let me have my way—surely you will?" she pleaded—"You are a little angel of mercy, unlike any other woman I ever saw—so white and pure and sweet!—you understand it all! In his dreadful weakness and loneliness, God gives him to ME!—happy me, who am young and strong enough to care for him and attend upon him. I have no money,—perhaps he has none either, but I will work to keep him,—I am clever at my needle—I can embroider quite well—and I will manage to earn enough for us both." Her voice broke in a sob, and Morgana, the tears falling from her own eyes, drew her into a close embrace.
And she murmured plaintively again—
"His wife!—I must be his wife,—his serving-woman—then no one can forbid me to be with him! You will find some good priest to say the marriage service for us and give us God's benediction—it will mean nothing to him, because he cannot know or understand,—but to me it will be a holy sacrament!"
Then she broke down and wept softly till the pent-up passion of her heart was relieved, and Morgana, mastering her own emotion, had soothed her into quietude. Leaning back from her arm-chair where she had rested since rising from her bed, she looked up with an anxious appeal in her lovely eyes.
"Let me tell you something before I forget it again"—she said—"It is something terrible—the earthquake."
"Yes, yes, do not think of it now"—said Morgana, hastily, afraid that her mind would wander into painful mazes of recollection—"That is all over."
"Ah, yes! But you should know the truth! It was NOT an earthquake!" she persisted—"It was not God's doing! It was HIS work!"
And she indicated by a gesture the next room where Roger Seaton lay.
A cold horror ran through Morgana's blood. HIS work!—the widespread ruin of villages and townships,—the devastation of a vast tract of country—the deaths of hundreds of men, women and little children—HIS work? Could it be possible? She stood transfixed,—while Manella went on—
"I know it was his work!" she said—"I was warned by a friend of his who came to 'la Plaza' that he was working at something which might lose him his life. And so I watched. I told you how I followed him that morning—how I saw him looking at a box full of shining things that glittered like the points of swords,—how he put this box in a case and then in a basket, and slung the basket over his shoulder, and went down into the canon, and then to the cave where I found him. I called him—he heard, and held up a miner's lamp and saw me!—then—then, oh, dear God!—then he cursed me for following him,—he raised his arm to strike me, and in his furious haste to reach me he slipped on the wet, mossy stones. Something fell from his hand with a great crash like thunder—and there was a sudden glare of fire!—oh, the awfulness of that sound and that flame!—and the rocks rose up and split asunder—the ground shook and broke under me—and I remember no more—no more till I found myself here!—here with you!"
Morgana roused herself from the stupefaction of horror with which she had listened to this narration.
"Do not think of it any more!" she said in a low sad voice—"Try to forget it all. Yes, dear!—try to forget all the mad selfishness and cruelty of the man you love! Poor, besotted soul!—he has a bitter punishment!"
She could say no more then,—stooping, she kissed the girl on the white forehead between the rippling waves of dark hair, and strove to meet the searching eyes with a smile.
"Dear, beautiful angel, you will help me?" Manella pleaded—"You will help me to be his wife?"
And Morgana answered with pitiful tenderness.
And with a sign to Lady Kingswood to come nearer and sit by the girl as she lay among her pillows more or less exhausted, she herself left the room. As she opened the door on her way out, the strong voice of Roger Seaton rang out with singularly horrible harshness—
"There shall be no more wars! There can be none! I say it! My great secret! I am master of the world!"
Shuddering as she heard, she pressed her hands over her ears and hurried along the corridor. Her thoughts paraphrased the saying of Madame Roland on Liberty—"Oh, Science! what crimes are committed in thy name!" She was anxious to see and speak with Professor Ardini, but came upon the Marchese Rivardi instead, who met her at the door of the library and caught her by both hands.
"What is all this?" he demanded, insistently—"I MUST speak to you! You have been weeping! What is troubling you?"
She drew her hands gently away from his.
"Nothing, Giulio!" and she smiled kindly—"I grieve for the griefs of others—quite uselessly!—but I cannot help it!"
"There is no hope, then?" he said.
"None—not for the man"—she replied—"His body will live,—but his brain is dead."
Rivardi gave an expressive gesture.
"Horrible! Better he should die!"
"Yes, far better! But the girl loves him. She is an ardent Spanish creature—warm-hearted and simple as a child,—she believes"—and Morgana's eyes had a pathetic wistfulness—"she believes,—as all women believe when they love for the first time,—that love has a divine power next to that of God!—that it will work miracles of recovery when all seems lost. The disillusion comes, of course, sooner or later,—but it has to come of itself—not through any other influence. She—Manella Soriso—has resolved to be his wife."
"Gran' Dio!" Rivardi started back in utter amazement—"His wife?—That girl? Young, beautiful? She will chain herself to a madman? Surely you will not allow it!"
Morgana looked at him with a smile.
"Poor Giulio!" she said, softly—"You are a most unfortunate descendant of your Roman ancestors as far as we women are concerned! You fall in love with me—and you find I am not for you!—then you see a perfectly lovely woman whom you cannot choose but admire—and a little stray thought comes flying into your head—yes!—quite involuntarily!—that perhaps—only perhaps—her love might come your way! Do not be angry, my friend!—it was only a thought that moved you when you saw her the other day—when I called you to look at her as she recovered consciousness and lay on her bed like a sleeping figure of the loveliest of pagan goddesses! What man could have seen her thus without a thrill of tenderness!—and now you have to hear that all that beauty and warmth of youthful life is to be sacrificed to a stone idol!—(for the man she worships is little more!) ah, yes!—I am sorry for you, Giulio!—but can do nothing to prevent the sacrifice,—indeed, I have promised to assist it!"
Rivardi had alternately flushed and paled while she spoke,—her keen, incisive probing of his most secret fancies puzzled and vexed him,—but with a well-assumed indifference he waved aside her delicately pointed suggestions as though he had scarcely heard them, and said—
"You have promised to assist? Can you reconcile it to your conscience to let this girl make herself a prisoner for life?"
"I can!" she answered quietly—"For if she is opposed in her desire for such imprisonment she will kill herself. So it is wisest to let her have her way. The man she loves so desperately may die at any moment, and then she will be free. But meanwhile she will have the consolation of doing all she can for him, and the hope of helping him to recover; vain hope as it may be, there is a divine unselfishness in it. For she says that if he is restored to health she will go away at once and never let him know she is his wife."
Rivardi's handsome face expressed utter incredulity.
"Will she keep her word I wonder?"
"Marvellous woman!" and there was bitterness in his tone—"But women are all amazing when you come to know them! In love? in hate, in good, in evil, in cleverness and in utter stupidity, they are wonderful creatures! And you, amica bella, are perhaps the most wonderful of them all! So kind and yet so cruel!"
"Cruel?" she echoed.
"Yes! To me!"
She looked at him and smiled. That smile gave such a dreamy, spiritlike sweetness to her whole personality that for the moment she seemed to float before him like an aerial vision rather than a woman of flesh and blood, and the bold desire which possessed him to seize and clasp her in his arms was checked by a sense of something like fear. Her eyes rested on his with a full clear frankness.
"If I am cruel to you, my friend"—she said, gently, "it is only to be more kind!"
She left him then and went out. He saw her small, elfin figure pass among the chains of roses which at this season seemed to tie up the garden in brilliant knots of colour, and then go down the terraces, one by one, towards the monastic retreat half buried among pine and olive, where Don Aloysius governed his little group of religious brethren.
He guessed her intent.
"She will tell him all"—he thought—"And with his strange semi-religious, semi-scientific notions, it will be easy for her to persuade him to marry the girl to this demented creature who fills the house with his shouting 'There shall be no more wars!' I should never have thought her capable of tolerating such a crime!"
He turned to leave the loggia,—but paused as he perceived Professor Ardini advancing from the interior of the house, his hands clasped behind his back and his furrowed brows bent in gloomy meditation.
"You have a difficult case?" he queried.
"More than difficult!" replied Ardini—"Beyond human skill! Perhaps not beyond the mysterious power we call God."
Rivardi shrugged his shoulders. He was a sceptic of sceptics and his modern-world experiences had convinced him that what man could not do was not to be done at all.
"The latest remedy proposed by the Signora is—love!" he said, carelessly—"The girl who is here,—Manella Soriso—has made up her mind to be the wife of this unfortunate—"
Ardini gave an expressive gesture.
"Altro! If she has made up her mind, heaven itself will not move her! It will be a sublime sacrifice of one life for another,—what would you? Such sacrifices are common, though the world does not hear of them. In this instance there is no one to prevent it."
"You approve—you tolerate it?" exclaimed Rivardi angrily.
"I have no power to approve or to tolerate"—replied the scientist, coldly—"The matter is not one in which I have any right to interfere. Nor,—I think,—have YOU!—I have stated such facts as exist—that the man's brain is practically destroyed—but that owing to the strength of the life-centres he will probably exist in his present condition for a full term of years. To keep him so alive will entail considerable care and expense. He will need a male nurse—probably two—food of the best and absolutely tranquil surroundings. If the Signora, who is rich and generous, guarantees these necessities, and the girl who loves him desires to be his wife under such terrible conditions, I do not see how anyone can object to the marriage."
"Then he poor devil of a man will be married without his knowledge, and probably (if he had his senses) against his will!" said Rivardi.
Ardini bent his brows yet more frowningly.
"Just so!" he answered—"But he has neither knowledge nor will—nor is he likely ever to have them again. These great attributes of the god in man have been taken from him. Power and Will!—Will and Power!—the two wings of the Soul!—they are gone, probably for ever. Science can do nothing to bring them back, but I will not deny the possibility of other forces which might work a remedy on this ruin of a 'master of the world' as he calls himself! Therefore I say let the love-woman try her best!"
Don Aloysius sat in his private library,—a room little larger than a monastic cell, and at his feet knelt Morgana like a child at prayer. The rose and purple glow of the sunset fell aslant through a high oriel window of painted glass, shedding an aureole round her golden head, and intensified the fine, dark intellectual outline of the priest's features as he listened with fixed attention to the soft pure voice, vibrating with tenderness and pity as she told him of the love that sought to sacrifice itself for love's sake only.
"In your Creed and in mine,"—she said—"there is no union which is real or binding save the Spiritual,—and this may be consummated in some way beyond our knowledge when once the sacred rite is said. You need no explanation from me,—you who are a member and future denizen of the Golden City,—you, who are set apart to live long after these poor human creatures have passed away with the unthinking millions of the time—and you can have no hesitation to unite them as far as they CAN be united, so that they may at least be saved from the malicious tongues of an always evil-speaking world. You once asked me to tell you of the few moments of real happiness I have known,—this will be one of the keenest joys to me if I can satisfy this loving-hearted girl and aid her to carry out her self-chosen martyrdom. And you must help me!"
Gently Aloysius laid his hand on her bent head.
"It will be indeed a martyrdom!" he said, slowly, "Long and torturing! Think well of it!—a woman, youthful and beautiful, chained to a mere breathing image of man,—a creature who cannot recognise either persons or objects, who is helpless to move, and who will remain in that pitiable state all his life, if he lives!—dear child, are you convinced there is no other way?"
"Not for her!" Morgana replied—"She has set her soul to try if God will help her to restore him,—she will surround him with the constant influence of a perfectly devoted love. Dare we say there shall be no healing power in such an influence?—we who know so much of which the world is ignorant!"
He stroked her shining hair with a careful tenderness as one might stroke the soft plumage of a bird.
"And you?" he said, in a low tone—"What of you?"
She raised her eyes to his. A light of heaven's own radiance shone in those blue orbs—an angelic peace beyond all expression.
"What should there be of me except the dream come true?" she responded, smiling—"You know my plans,—you also know my destiny, for I have told you everything! You will be the controller of all my wealth, entrusted to carry out all my wishes, till it is time either for you to come where I am, or for me to return hither. We never know how or when that may be. But it has all seemed plain sailing for me since I saw the city called 'Brazen' but which WE know is Golden!—and when I found that you belonged to it, and were only stationed here for a short time, I knew I could give you my entire confidence. It is not as if we were of the passing world or its ways—we are of the New Race, and time does not count with us."
"Quite true," he said—"But for these persons in whom you are interested, time is still considered—and for the girl it will be long!"
"Not with such love as hers!" replied Morgana. "Each moment, each hour will be filled with hope and prayer and constant vigilance. Love makes all things easy! It is useless to contend with a fate which both the man and woman have made for themselves. He is—I should say he was a scientist, who discovered the means of annihilating any section of humanity at his own wish and will—he played with the fires of God and brought annihilation on himself. MY discovery—the force that moves my air-ship—the force that is the vital element of all who live in the Golden City—is the same as his!—but I use it for health and movement, progress and power—not for the destruction of any living soul! By one single false step he has caused the death and misery of hundreds of helpless human creatures—and this terror has recoiled on his own head. The girl Manella has no evil thought in her—she simply loves!—her love is ill placed, but she also has brought her own destiny on herself. You have worked—and so have I—WITH the universal force, not as the world does, AGAINST it,—and we have made OURSELVES what we are and what we SHALL BE. There is no other way either forward or backward,—you know there is not!" Here she rose from her knees and confronted him, a light aerial creature of glowing radiance and elfin loveliness—"And you must fulfil her wish—and mine!"
He rose also and stood erect, a noble figure of a man with a dignified beauty of mien and feature that seemed to belong to the classic age rather than ours.
"So be it!" he said—"I will carry out all your commands to the letter! May I just say that your generosity to Giulio Rivardi seems almost unnecessary? To endow him with a fortune for life is surely too indulgent! Does he merit such bounty at your hands?"
"Dear Father Aloysius, Giulio has lost his heart to me!" she said—"Or what he calls his heart! He should have some recompense for the loss! He wants to restore his old Roman villa—and when I am gone he will have nothing to distract him from this artistic work,—I leave him the means to do it! I hope he will marry—it is the best thing for him!"
She turned to go.
"And your own Palazzo d'Oro?—"
"Will become the abode of self-sacrificing love," she replied—"It could not be put to better use! It was a fancy of mine;—I love it and its gardens—and I should have tried to live there had I not found out the secret of a large and longer life!" She paused—then added—"To-morrow morning you will come?"
He bent his head.
With a salute of mingled reverence and affection she left him. He watched her go,—and hearing the bell begin to chime in the chapel for vespers, he lifted his eyes for a moment in silent prayer. A light flashed downward, playing on his hands like a golden ripple,—and he stood quietly expectant and listening. A Voice floated along the Ray—"You are doing well and rightly!" it said—"You will release her now from the strain of seeming to be what she is not. She is of the New Race, and her spirit is advanced too far to endure the grossness and materialism of the Old generation. She deserves all she has studied and worked for,—lasting life, lasting beauty, lasting love! Nothing must hinder her now!"
"Nothing shall!" he answered.
The Ray lessened in brilliancy and gradually diminished till it entirely vanished,—and Don Aloysius, with the rapt expression of a saint and visionary, entered the chapel where his brethren were already assembled, and chanted with them—
"Magna opera Domini; exquisita in omnes voluntates ejus!"
The next morning, all radiant with sunshine, saw the strangest of nuptial ceremonies,—one that surely had seldom, if ever, been witnessed before in all the strange happenings of human chance. Manella Soriso, pale as a white arum lily, her rich dark hair adorned with a single spray of orange-blossom gathered from the garden, stood trembling beside the bed where lay stretched out the immobile form of the once active, world-defiant Roger Seaton. His eyes, wide open and staring into vacancy, were, like dull pebbles, fixed in his head,—his face was set and rigid as a mask of clay—only his regular breathing gave evidence of life. Manella's pitiful gazing on this ruin of the man to whom she had devoted her heart and soul, her tender sorrow, her yearning beauty, might have almost moved a stone image to a thrill of response,—but not a flicker of expression appeared on the frozen features of that terrible fallen pillar of human self-sufficiency. Standing beside the bed with Manella was Marco Ardini, intensely watchful and eager to note even a quiver of the flesh or the tremor of a muscle,—and near him was Lady Kingswood, terrified yet enthralled by the scene, and anxious on behalf of Morgana, who looked statuesque and pensive like a small attendant angel close to Don Aloysius. He, in his priestly robes, read the marriage service with soft and impressive intonation, himself speaking the responses for the bride-groom,—and taking Manella's hand he placed it on Seaton's, clasping the two together, the one so yielding and warm, the other stiff as marble, and setting the golden marriage ring which Morgana had given, on the bride's finger. As he made the sign of the cross and uttered the final blessing, Manella sank on her knees and covered her face. There followed a tense silence—Aloysius laid his hand on her bent head—
"God help and bless you!" he said, solemnly—"Only the Divine Power can give you strength to bear the burden you have taken on yourself!"
But at his words she sprang up, her eyes glowing with a great joy.
"It is no burden!" she said—"I have prayed to be his slave—and now I am his wife! That is more than I ever dared to dream of!—for now I have the right to care for him, to work for him, and no one can separate me from him! What happiness for me! But I will not take a mean advantage of this—ah, no!—no good, Father! Listen!—I swear before you and the holy Cross you wear, that if he recovers he shall never know!—I will leave him at once without a word—he shall think I am a servant in his employ—or rather he shall not think at all about me for I will go where he can never find me, and he will be as free as ever he was! Yes, truly!—by the blessed Madonna I swear it! I will kill myself rather than let him know!"
She looked regally beautiful, her face flushed with the pride and love of her soul,—and in her newly gained privilege as a wife she bent down and kissed the pallid face that lay like the face of a corpse on the pillow before her.
"He is a poor wounded child just now!" she murmured, tenderly—"But I will care for him in his weakness and sorrow! The doctor will tell me what to do—and it shall all be done! I will neglect nothing—as for money, I have none—but I will work—"
Morgana put an arm about her.
"Dear, do not think of that!" she said—"For the present you will stay here—I am going on a journey very soon, and you and Lady Kingswood will take care of my house till I return. Be quite satisfied!—You will have all you want for him and for yourself. Professor Ardini will talk to you now and tell you everything—come away—"
But Manella was gazing intently at the figure on the bed—she saw its grey lips move. With startling suddenness a harsh voice smote the air—
"There shall be no more wars! There can be none! My Great Secret! I am Master of the World!"
She shrank and shivered, and a faint sobbing cry escaped her.
"Come!" said Morgana again,—and gently led her away. The spray of orange-blossom fell from her hair as she moved, and Don Aloyslus, stooping, picked it up. Marco Ardini saw his action.
"You will keep that as a souvenir of this strange marriage?" he said.
"No,—" and Don Aloysius touched the white fragrant flower with his crucifix—"I will lay it as a votive offering on the altar of the Eternal Virgin!"
* * * * *
About a fortnight later life at the Palazzo d'Oro had settled into organised lines of method and routine. Professor Ardini had selected two competent men attendants, skilled in surgery and medicine to watch Seaton's case with all the care trained nursing could give, and himself had undertaken to visit the patient regularly and report his condition. Seaton's marriage to Manella Soriso had been briefly announced in the European papers and cabled to the American Press, Senator Gwent being one of the first who saw it thus chronicled, much to his amazement.
"He has actually become sane at last!" he soliloquised, "And beauty has conquered science! I gave the girl good advice—I told her to marry him if she could,—and she's done it! I wonder how they escaped that earthquake? Perhaps that brought him to his senses! Well, well! I daresay I shall be seeing them soon over here—I suppose they are spending their honeymoon with Morgana. Curious affair! I'd like to know the ins and outs of it!"
"Have you seen that Roger Seaton is married?" was the question asked of him by every one he knew, especially by the flashing society butterfly once Lydia Herbert, who in these early days of her marriage was getting everything she could out of her millionaire—"And NOT to Morgana! Just think! What a disappointment for her!—I'm sure she was in love with him!"
"I thought so"—Gwent answered, cautiously—"And he with her! But—one never knows—"
"No, one never does!" laughed the fair Lydia—"Poor Morgana! Left on the stalk! But she's so rich it won't matter. She can marry anybody she likes."
"Marriage isn't everything," said Gwent—"To some it may be heaven,—but to others—"
"The worser place!"—agreed Lydia—"And Morgana is not like ordinary women. I wonder what she's doing, and when we shall see her again?"
"Yes—I wonder!" Gwent responded vaguely,—and the subject dropped.
They might have had more than ordinary cause to "wonder" had they been able to form even a guess as to the manner and intentions of life held by the strange half spiritual creature whom they imagined to be but an ordinary mortal moved by the same ephemeral aims and desires as the rest of the grosser world. Who,—even among scientists, accustomed as they are to study the evolution of grubs into lovely rainbow-winged shapes, and the transformation of ordinary weeds into exquisite flowers of perfect form and glorious colour, goes far enough or deep enough to realise similar capability of transformation in a human organism self-trained to so evolve and develop itself? Who, at this time of day,—even with the hourly vivid flashes kindled by the research lamps of science, reverts to former theories of men like De Gabalis, who held that beings in process of finer evolution and formation, and known as "elementals," nourishing their own growth into exquisite existence, through the radio-force of air and fire, may be among us, all unrecognised, yet working their way out of lowness to highness, indifferent to worldly loves, pleasures and opinions, and only bent on the attainment of immortal life? Such beliefs serve only as material for the scoffer and iconoclast,—nevertheless they may be true for all that, and may in the end confound the mockery of materialism which in itself is nothing but the deep shadow cast by a great light.
The strangest and most dramatic happenings have the knack of settling down into the commonplace,—and so in due course the days at the Palazzo d'Oro went on tranquilly,—Manella being established there and known as "la bella Signora Seaton" by the natives of the little surrounding villages, who were gradually brought to understand the helpless condition of her husband and pitied her accordingly. Lady Kingswood had agreed to stay as friend and protectress to the girl as long as Morgana desired it,—indeed she had no wish to leave the beautiful Sicilian home she had so fortunately found, and where she was treated with so much kindness and consideration.
There was no lack or stint of wealth to carry out every arranged plan, and Manella was too simple and primitive in her nature to question anything that her "little white angel" as she called her, suggested or commanded. Intensely grateful for the affectionate care bestowed upon her, she acquiesced in what she understood to be the methods of possible cure for the ruined man to whom she had bound her life.
"If he gets well—quite, quite well"—she said, lifting her splendid dark eyes to Morgana's blue as "love-in-a-mist" "I will go away and give him to you!"
And she meant it, having no predominant idea in her mind save that of making her elect beloved happy.
Meanwhile Morgana announced her intention of taking another aerial voyage in the "White Eagle"—much to the joy of Giulio Rivardi. Receiving his orders to prepare the wonderful air-ship for a long flight, he and Gaspard worked energetically to perfect every detail. Where he had previously felt a certain sense of fear as to the capabilities of the great vessel, controlled by a force of which Morgana alone had the secret, he was now full of certainty and confidence, and told her so.
"I am glad"—he said—"that you are leaving this place where you have installed people who to me seem quite out of keeping with it. That terrible man who shouts 'I am master of the world'!—ah, cara Madonna!—I did not work at your fairy Palazzo d'Oro for such an occupant!"
"I know you did not;"-=she answered, gently—"Nor did I intend it to be so occupied. I dreamed of it as a home of pleasure where I should dwell—alone! And you said it would be lonely!—you remember?"
"I said it was a place for love!" he replied.
"You were right! And love inhabits it—love of the purest, most unselfish nature—"
"Love that is a cruel martyrdom!" he interposed.
"True!" and her eyes shone with a strange brilliancy—"But love—as the world knows it—is never anything else! There, do not frown, my friend! You will never wear its crown of thorns! And you are glad I am going away?"
"Yes!—glad that you will have a change"—he said—"Your constant care and anxiety for these people whom we rescued from death must have tired you out unconsciously. You will enjoy a free flight through space,—and the ship is in perfect condition; she will carry you like an angel in the air!"
She smiled and gave him her hand.
"Good Giulio!—you are quite a romancist!—you talk of angels without believing in them!"
"I believe in them when I look at YOU!" he said, with all an Italian's impulsive gallantry.
"Very pretty of you!" and she withdrew her hand from his too fervent clasp,—"I feel sorry for myself that I cannot rightly appreciate so charming a compliment!"
"It is not a compliment"—he declared, vehemently; "It is a truth!"
Her eyes dwelt on him with a wistful kindness.
"You are what some people call 'a good fellow,' Giulio!" she said—"And you deserve to be very happy. I hope you will be so! I want you to prosper so that you may restore your grand old villa to its former beauty,—I also want you to marry—and bring up a big family"—here she laughed a little—"A family of sons and daughters who will be grateful to you, and not waste every penny you give them—though that is the modern way of sons and daughters."
She paused, smiling at his moody expression. "And you say everything is ready?—the 'White Eagle' is prepared for flight?"
"She will leave the shed at a moment's touch"—he answered—"when YOU supply the motive power!"
She nodded comprehensively, and thought a moment. "Come to me the day after to-morrow"—she said—"You will then have your orders."
"Is it to be a long flight this time?" he asked.
"Not so long as to California!" she answered—"But long enough!"
With that she left him. And he betook himself to the air-shed where the superb "White Eagle" rested all a-quiver for departure, palpitating, or so it seemed to him, with a strange eagerness for movement which struck him as unusual and "uncanny" in a mere piece of mechanism.
The next day moved on tranquilly. Morgana wrote many letters—and varied this occupation by occasionally sitting in the loggia to talk with Manella and Lady Kingswood, both of whom now seemed the natural inhabitants of the Palazzo d'Oro. She spoke easily of her intended air-trip,—so that they accepted her intention as a matter of course, Manella only entreating—"Do not be long away!" her lovely, eloquent eyes emphasising her appeal. Now and again the terrible cries of "There shall be no more wars! There can be none! My Great Secret! I am Master of the World!" rang through the house despite the closed doors,—cries which they feigned not to hear, though Manella winced with pain, as at a dagger thrust, each time the sounds echoed on the air.
And the night came,—mildly glorious, with a full moon shining in an almost clear sky—clear save for little delicate wings of snowy cloud drifting in the east like wandering shapes of birds that haunted the domain of sunrise. Giulio Rivardi, leaning out of one of the richly sculptured window arches of his half-ruined villa, looked at the sky with pleasurable anticipation of the morrow's intended voyage in the "White Eagle."
"The weather will be perfect!" he thought—"She will be pleased. And when she is pleased no woman can be more charming! She is not beautiful, like Manella—but she is something more than beautiful—she is bewitching! I wonder where she means to go!"
Suddenly a thought struck him,—a vivid impression coming from he knew not whence—an idea that he had forgotten a small item of detail in the air-ship which its owner might or might not notice, but which would certainly imply some slight forgetfulness on his part. He glanced at his watch,—it was close on midnight. Acting on a momentary impulse he decided not to wait till morning, but to go at once down to the shed and see that everything in and about the vessel was absolutely and finally in order. As he walked among the perfumed tangles of shrub and flower in his garden, and out towards the sea-shore he was impressed by the great silence everywhere around him. Everything looked like a moveless picture—a study in still life. Passing through a little olive wood which lay between his own grounds and the sea, he paused as he came out of the shadow of the trees and looked towards the height crowned by the Palazzo d'Oro, where from the upper windows twinkled a few lights showing the position of the room where the "master of the world" lay stretched in brainless immobility, waited upon by medical nurses ever on the watch, and a wife of whom he knew nothing, guarding him with the fixed devotion of a faithful dog rather than of a human being. Going onwards in a kind of abstract reverie, he came to a halt again on reaching the shore, enchanted by the dreamy loveliness of the scene. In an open stretch of dazzling brilliancy the sea presented itself to his eyes like a delicate network of jewels finely strung on swaying threads of silver, and he gazed upon it as one might gaze on the "fairy lands forlorn" of Keats in his enchanting poesy. Never surely, he thought, had he seen a night so beautiful,—so perfect in its expression of peace. He walked leisurely,—the long shed which sheltered the air-ship was just before him, its black outline silhouetted against the sky—but as he approached it more nearly, something caused him to stop abruptly and stare fixedly as though stricken by some sudden terror—then he dashed off at a violent run, till he came to a breathless halt, crying out—"Gran' Dio! It has gone!"
Gone! The shed was empty! No air-ship was there, poised trembling on its own balance all prepared for flight,—the wonderful "White Eagle" had unfurled its wings and fled! Whither? Like a madman he rushed up and down, shouting and calling in vain—it was after midnight and there was no one about to hear him. He started to run to the Palazzo d'Oro to give the alarm—but was held back—held by an indescribable force which he was powerless to resist. He struggled with all his might,—uselessly.
"Morganna!" he cried in a desperate voice—"Morganna!"
Running down to the edge of the sea he gazed across it and up to the wonderful sky through which the moon rolled lazily like a silver ball. Was there nothing to be seen there save that moon and the moon-dimmed stars? With eager straining eyes he searched every quarter of the visible space—stay! Was that a white dove soaring eastwards?—or a cloud sinking to its rest?
"Morgana!" he cried again, stretching out his arms in despair—"She has gone! And alone!"
Even as he spoke the dove-like shape was lost to sight beyond the shining of the evening star.
Several months ago the ruin of a great air-ship was found on the outskirts of the Great Desert so battered and broken as to make its mechanism unrecognisable. No one could trace its origin,—no one could discover the method of its design. There was no remnant of any engine, and its wings were cut to ribbons. The travellers who came upon its fragments half buried in the sand left it where they found it, deciding that a terrible catastrophe had overtaken the unfortunate aviators who had piloted it thus far. They spoke of it when they returned to Europe, but came upon no one who could offer a clue to its possible origin. These same travellers were those who a short time since filled a certain section of the sensational press with tales of a "Brazen City" seen from the desert in the distance, with towers and cupolas that shone like brass or like "the city of pure gold," revealed to St. John the Divine, where "in the midst of the street of it" is the Tree of Life. Such tales were and are received with scorn by the world's majority, for whom food and money constitute the chief interest of existence,—nevertheless tradition sometimes proves to be true, and dreams become realities. However this may be, Morgana lives,—and can make her voice heard when she will along the "Sound Ray"—that wonderful "wireless" which is soon to be declared to the world. For there is no distance that is not bridged by light,—and no separation of sounds that cannot be again brought into unison and harmony. "There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamed of in our philosophy,"—and the "Golden City" is one of those things! "Masters of the world" are poor creatures at best,—but the secret Makers of the New Race are the gods of the Future!