Zanoni, by Edward Bulwer-Lytton

Chapter 16

Ardua vallatur duris sapientia scrupis.

Hadr. Jun., “Emblem.” xxxvii.

(Lofty wisdom is circled round with rugged rocks.)

We must go back some hours in the progress of this narrative. It was the first faint and gradual break of the summer dawn; and two men stood in a balcony overhanging a garden fragrant with the scents of the awakening flowers. The stars had not yet left the sky — the birds were yet silent on the boughs: all was still, hushed, and tranquil; but how different the tranquillity of reviving day from the solemn repose of night! In the music of silence there are a thousand variations. These men, who alone seemed awake in Naples, were Zanoni and the mysterious stranger who had but an hour or two ago startled the Prince di — in his voluptuous palace.

“No,” said the latter; “hadst thou delayed the acceptance of the Arch-gift until thou hadst attained to the years, and passed through all the desolate bereavements that chilled and seared myself ere my researches had made it mine, thou wouldst have escaped the curse of which thou complainest now — thou wouldst not have mourned over the brevity of human affection as compared to the duration of thine own existence; for thou wouldst have survived the very desire and dream of the love of woman. Brightest, and, but for that error, perhaps the loftiest, of the secret and solemn race that fills up the interval in creation between mankind and the children of the Empyreal, age after age wilt thou rue the splendid folly which made thee ask to carry the beauty and the passions of youth into the dreary grandeur of earthly immortality.”

“I do not repent, nor shall I,” answered Zanoni. “The transport and the sorrow, so wildly blended, which have at intervals diversified my doom, are better than the calm and bloodless tenor of thy solitary way — thou, who lovest nothing, hatest nothing, feelest nothing, and walkest the world with the noiseless and joyless footsteps of a dream!”

“You mistake,” replied he who had owned the name of Mejnour — “though I care not for love, and am dead to every PASSION that agitates the sons of clay, I am not dead to their more serene enjoyments. I carry down the stream of the countless years, not the turbulent desires of youth, but the calm and spiritual delights of age. Wisely and deliberately I abandoned youth forever when I separated my lot from men. Let us not envy or reproach each other. I would have saved this Neapolitan, Zanoni (since so it now pleases thee to be called), partly because his grandsire was but divided by the last airy barrier from our own brotherhood, partly because I know that in the man himself lurk the elements of ancestral courage and power, which in earlier life would have fitted him for one of us. Earth holds but few to whom Nature has given the qualities that can bear the ordeal. But time and excess, that have quickened his grosser senses, have blunted his imagination. I relinquish him to his doom.”

“And still, then, Mejnour, you cherish the desire to revive our order, limited now to ourselves alone, by new converts and allies. Surely — surely — thy experience might have taught thee, that scarcely once in a thousand years is born the being who can pass through the horrible gates that lead into the worlds without! Is not thy path already strewed with thy victims? Do not their ghastly faces of agony and fear — the blood-stained suicide, the raving maniac — rise before thee, and warn what is yet left to thee of human sympathy from thy insane ambition?”

“Nay,” answered Mejnour; “have I not had success to counterbalance failure? And can I forego this lofty and august hope, worthy alone of our high condition — the hope to form a mighty and numerous race with a force and power sufficient to permit them to acknowledge to mankind their majestic conquests and dominion, to become the true lords of this planet, invaders, perchance, of others, masters of the inimical and malignant tribes by which at this moment we are surrounded: a race that may proceed, in their deathless destinies, from stage to stage of celestial glory, and rank at last amongst the nearest ministrants and agents gathered round the Throne of Thrones? What matter a thousand victims for one convert to our band? And you, Zanoni,” continued Mejnour, after a pause — “you, even you, should this affection for a mortal beauty that you have dared, despite yourself, to cherish, be more than a passing fancy; should it, once admitted into your inmost nature, partake of its bright and enduring essence — even you may brave all things to raise the beloved one into your equal. Nay, interrupt me not. Can you see sickness menace her; danger hover around; years creep on; the eyes grow dim; the beauty fade, while the heart, youthful still, clings and fastens round your own — can you see this, and know it is yours to —”

“Cease!” cried Zanoni, fiercely. “What is all other fate as compared to the death of terror? What, when the coldest sage, the most heated enthusiast, the hardiest warrior with his nerves of iron, have been found dead in their beds, with straining eyeballs and horrent hair, at the first step of the Dread Progress — thinkest thou that this weak woman — from whose cheek a sound at the window, the screech of the night-owl, the sight of a drop of blood on a man’s sword, would start the colour — could brave one glance of — Away! the very thought of such sights for her makes even myself a coward!”

“When you told her you loved her — when you clasped her to your breast, you renounced all power to foresee her future lot, or protect her from harm. Henceforth to her you are human, and human only. How know you, then, to what you may be tempted; how know you what her curiosity may learn and her courage brave? But enough of this — you are bent on your pursuit?”

“The fiat has gone forth.”

“And tomorrow?”

“To-morrow, at this hour, our bark will be bounding over yonder ocean, and the weight of ages will have fallen from my heart! I compassionate thee, O foolish sage — THOU hast given up THY youth!”

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Last updated Wednesday, March 12, 2014 at 13:31