Zanoni, by Edward Bulwer-Lytton

Chapter 4

Ich fuhle Dich mir nahe;

Die Einsamkeit belebt;

Wie uber seinen Welten

Der Unsichtbare schwebt.

Uhland.

(I feel thee near to me,

The loneliness takes life — As over its world

The Invisible hovers.)

From this state of restlessness and agitation rather than continuous action, Glyndon was aroused by a visitor who seemed to exercise the most salutary influence over him. His sister, an orphan with himself, had resided in the country with her aunt. In the early years of hope and home he had loved this girl, much younger than himself, with all a brother’s tenderness. On his return to England, he had seemed to forget her existence. She recalled herself to him on her aunt’s death by a touching and melancholy letter: she had now no home but his — no dependence save on his affection; he wept when he read it, and was impatient till Adela arrived.

This girl, then about eighteen, concerned beneath a gentle and calm exterior much of the romance or enthusiasm that had, at her own age, characterised her brother. But her enthusiasm was of a far purer order, and was restrained within proper bounds, partly by the sweetness of a very feminine nature, and partly by a strict and methodical education. She differed from him especially in a timidity of character which exceeded that usual at her age, but which the habit of self-command concealed no less carefully than that timidity itself concealed the romance I have ascribed to her.

Adela was not handsome: she had the complexion and the form of delicate health; and too fine an organisation of the nerves rendered her susceptible to every impression that could influence the health of the frame through the sympathy of the mind. But as she never complained, and as the singular serenity of her manners seemed to betoken an equanimity of temperament which, with the vulgar, might have passed for indifference, her sufferings had so long been borne unnoticed that it ceased to be an effort to disguise them. Though, as I have said, not handsome, her countenance was interesting and pleasing; and there was that caressing kindness, that winning charm about her smile, her manners, her anxiety to please, to comfort, and to soothe which went at once to the heart, and made her lovely — because so loving.

Such was the sister whom Glyndon had so long neglected, and whom he now so cordially welcomed. Adela had passed many years a victim to the caprices, and a nurse to the maladies, of a selfish and exacting relation. The delicate and generous and respectful affection of her brother was no less new to her than delightful. He took pleasure in the happiness he created; he gradually weaned himself from other society; he felt the charm of home. It is not surprising, then, that this young creature, free and virgin from every more ardent attachment, concentrated all her grateful love on this cherished and protecting relative. Her study by day, her dream by night, was to repay him for his affection. She was proud of his talents, devoted to his welfare; the smallest trifle that could interest him swelled in her eyes to the gravest affairs of life. In short, all the long-hoarded enthusiasm, which was her perilous and only heritage, she invested in this one object of her holy tenderness, her pure ambition.

But in proportion as Glyndon shunned those excitements by which he had so long sought to occupy his time or distract his thoughts, the gloom of his calmer hours became deeper and more continuous. He ever and especially dreaded to be alone; he could not bear his new companion to be absent from his eyes: he rode with her, walked with her, and it was with visible reluctance, which almost partook of horror, that he retired to rest at an hour when even revel grows fatigued. This gloom was not that which could be called by the soft name of melancholy — it was far more intense; it seemed rather like despair. Often after a silence as of death — so heavy, abstracted, motionless, did it appear — he would start abruptly, and cast hurried glances around him — his limbs trembling, his lips livid, his brows bathed in dew. Convinced that some secret sorrow preyed upon his mind, and would consume his health, it was the dearest as the most natural desire of Adela to become his confidant and consoler. She observed, with the quick tact of the delicate, that he disliked her to seem affected by, or even sensible of, his darker moods. She schooled herself to suppress her fears and her feelings. She would not ask his confidence — she sought to steal into it. By little and little she felt that she was succeeding. Too wrapped in his own strange existence to be acutely observant of the character of others, Glyndon mistook the self-content of a generous and humble affection for constitutional fortitude; and this quality pleased and soothed him. It is fortitude that the diseased mind requires in the confidant whom it selects as its physician. And how irresistible is that desire to communicate! How often the lonely man thought to himself, “My heart would be lightened of its misery, if once confessed!” He felt, too, that in the very youth, the inexperience, the poetical temperament of Adela, he could find one who would comprehend and bear with him better than any sterner and more practical nature. Mervale would have looked on his revelations as the ravings of madness, and most men, at best, as the sicklied chimeras, the optical delusions, of disease. Thus gradually preparing himself for that relief for which he yearned, the moment for his disclosure arrived thus:—

One evening, as they sat alone together, Adela, who inherited some portion of her brother’s talent in art, was employed in drawing, and Glyndon, rousing himself from meditations less gloomy than usual, rose, and affectionately passing his arm round her waist, looked over her as she sat. An exclamation of dismay broke from his lips — he snatched the drawing from her hand: “What are you about? — what portrait is this?”

“Dear Clarence, do you not remember the original? — it is a copy from that portrait of our wise ancestor which our poor mother used to say so strongly resembled you. I thought it would please you if I copied it from memory.”

“Accursed was the likeness!” said Glyndon, gloomily. “Guess you not the reason why I have shunned to return to the home of my fathers! — because I dreaded to meet that portrait! — because — because — but pardon me; I alarm you!”

“Ah, no — no, Clarence, you never alarm me when you speak: only when you are silent! Oh, if you thought me worthy of your trust; oh, if you had given me the right to reason with you in the sorrows that I yearn to share!”

Glyndon made no answer, but paced the room for some moments with disordered strides. He stopped at last, and gazed at her earnestly. “Yes, you, too, are his descendant; you know that such men have lived and suffered; you will not mock me — you will not disbelieve! Listen! hark! — what sound is that?”

“But the wind on the house-top, Clarence — but the wind.”

“Give me your hand; let me feel its living clasp; and when I have told you, never revert to the tale again. Conceal it from all: swear that it shall die with us — the last of our predestined race!”

“Never will I betray your trust; I swear it — never!” said Adela, firmly; and she drew closer to his side. Then Glyndon commenced his story. That which, perhaps, in writing, and to minds prepared to question and disbelieve, may seem cold and terrorless, became far different when told by those blanched lips, with all that truth of suffering which convinces and appalls. Much, indeed, he concealed, much he involuntarily softened; but he revealed enough to make his tale intelligible and distinct to his pale and trembling listener. “At daybreak,” he said, “I left that unhallowed and abhorred abode. I had one hope still — I would seek Mejnour through the world. I would force him to lay at rest the fiend that haunted my soul. With this intent I journeyed from city to city. I instituted the most vigilant researches through the police of Italy. I even employed the services of the Inquisition at Rome, which had lately asserted its ancient powers in the trial of the less dangerous Cagliostro. All was in vain; not a trace of him could be discovered. I was not alone, Adela.” Here Glyndon paused a moment, as if embarrassed; for in his recital, I need scarcely say that he had only indistinctly alluded to Fillide, whom the reader may surmise to be his companion. “I was not alone, but the associate of my wanderings was not one in whom my soul could confide — faithful and affectionate, but without education, without faculties to comprehend me, with natural instincts rather than cultivated reason; one in whom the heart might lean in its careless hours, but with whom the mind could have no commune, in whom the bewildered spirit could seek no guide. Yet in the society of this person the demon troubled me not. Let me explain yet more fully the dread conditions of its presence. In coarse excitement, in commonplace life, in the wild riot, in the fierce excess, in the torpid lethargy of that animal existence which we share with the brutes, its eyes were invisible, its whisper was unheard. But whenever the soul would aspire, whenever the imagination kindled to the loftier ends, whenever the consciousness of our proper destiny struggled against the unworthy life I pursued, then, Adela — then, it cowered by my side in the light of noon, or sat by my bed — a Darkness visible through the Dark. If, in the galleries of Divine Art, the dreams of my youth woke the early emulation — if I turned to the thoughts of sages; if the example of the great, if the converse of the wise, aroused the silenced intellect, the demon was with me as by a spell. At last, one evening, at Genoa, to which city I had travelled in pursuit of the mystic, suddenly, and when least expected, he appeared before me. It was the time of the Carnival. It was in one of those half-frantic scenes of noise and revel, call it not gayety, which establish a heathen saturnalia in the midst of a Christian festival. Wearied with the dance, I had entered a room in which several revellers were seated, drinking, singing, shouting; and in their fantastic dresses and hideous masks, their orgy seemed scarcely human. I placed myself amongst them, and in that fearful excitement of the spirits which the happy never know, I was soon the most riotous of all. The conversation fell on the Revolution of France, which had always possessed for me an absorbing fascination. The masks spoke of the millennium it was to bring on earth, not as philosophers rejoicing in the advent of light, but as ruffians exulting in the annihilation of law. I know not why it was, but their licentious language infected myself; and, always desirous to be foremost in every circle, I soon exceeded even these rioters in declamations on the nature of the liberty which was about to embrace all the families of the globe — a liberty that should pervade not only public legislation, but domestic life; an emancipation from every fetter that men had forged for themselves. In the midst of this tirade one of the masks whispered me —

“‘Take care. One listens to you who seems to be a spy!’

“My eyes followed those of the mask, and I observed a man who took no part in the conversation, but whose gaze was bent upon me. He was disguised like the rest, yet I found by a general whisper that none had observed him enter. His silence, his attention, had alarmed the fears of the other revellers — they only excited me the more. Rapt in my subject, I pursued it, insensible to the signs of those about me; and, addressing myself only to the silent mask who sat alone, apart from the group, I did not even observe that, one by one, the revellers slunk off, and that I and the silent listener were left alone, until, pausing from my heated and impetuous declamations, I said —

“‘And you, signor — what is your view of this mighty era? Opinion without persecution; brotherhood without jealousy; love without bondage —’

“‘And life without God,’ added the mask as I hesitated for new images.

“The sound of that well-known voice changed the current of my thought. I sprang forward, and cried —

“‘Imposter or Fiend, we meet at last!’

“The figure rose as I advanced, and, unmasking, showed the features of Mejnour. His fixed eye, his majestic aspect, awed and repelled me. I stood rooted to the ground.

“‘Yes,’ he said solemnly, ‘we meet, and it is this meeting that I have sought. How hast thou followed my admonitions! Are these the scenes in which the Aspirant for the Serene Science thinks to escape the Ghastly Enemy? Do the thoughts thou hast uttered — thoughts that would strike all order from the universe — express the hopes of the sage who would rise to the Harmony of the Eternal Spheres?’

“‘It is thy fault — it is thine!’ I exclaimed. ‘Exorcise the phantom! Take the haunting terror from my soul!’

“Mejnour looked at me a moment with a cold and cynical disdain which provoked at once my fear and rage, and replied —

“‘No; fool of thine own senses! No; thou must have full and entire experience of the illusions to which the Knowledge that is without Faith climbs its Titan way. Thou pantest for this Millennium — thou shalt behold it! Thou shalt be one of the agents of the era of Light and Reason. I see, while I speak, the Phantom thou fliest, by thy side; it marshals thy path; it has power over thee as yet — a power that defies my own. In the last days of that Revolution which thou hailest, amidst the wrecks of the Order thou cursest as Oppression, seek the fulfilment of thy destiny, and await thy cure.’

“At that instant a troop of masks, clamorous, intoxicated, reeling, and rushing, as they reeled, poured into the room, and separated me from the mystic. I broke through them, and sought him everywhere, but in vain. All my researches the next day were equally fruitless. Weeks were consumed in the same pursuit — not a trace of Mejnour could be discovered. Wearied with false pleasures, roused by reproaches I had deserved, recoiling from Mejnour’s prophecy of the scene in which I was to seek deliverance, it occurred to me, at last, that in the sober air of my native country, and amidst its orderly and vigorous pursuits, I might work out my own emancipation from the spectre. I left all whom I had before courted and clung to — I came hither. Amidst mercenary schemes and selfish speculations, I found the same relief as in debauch and excess. The Phantom was invisible; but these pursuits soon became to me distasteful as the rest. Ever and ever I felt that I was born for something nobler than the greed of gain — that life may be made equally worthless, and the soul equally degraded by the icy lust of avarice, as by the noisier passions. A higher ambition never ceased to torment me. But, but,” continued Glyndon, with a whitening lip and a visible shudder, “at every attempt to rise into loftier existence, came that hideous form. It gloomed beside me at the easel. Before the volumes of poet and sage it stood with its burning eyes in the stillness of night, and I thought I heard its horrible whispers uttering temptations never to be divulged.” He paused, and the drops stood upon his brow.

“But I,” said Adela, mastering her fears and throwing her arms around him — “but I henceforth will have no life but in thine. And in this love so pure, so holy, thy terror shall fade away.”

“No, no!” exclaimed Glyndon, starting from her. “The worst revelation is to come. Since thou hast been here, since I have sternly and resolutely refrained from every haunt, every scene in which this preternatural enemy troubled me not, I— I— have — Oh, Heaven! Mercy — mercy! There it stands — there, by thy side — there, there!” And he fell to the ground insensible.

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