Zanoni, by Edward Bulwer-Lytton

Chapter 1

Therefore the Genii were painted with a platter full of garlands and flowers in one hand, and a whip in the other.

Alexander Ross, “Mystag. Poet.”

According to the order of the events related in this narrative, the departure of Zanoni and Viola from the Greek isle, in which two happy years appear to have been passed, must have been somewhat later in date than the arrival of Glyndon at Marseilles. It must have been in the course of the year 1791 when Viola fled from Naples with her mysterious lover, and when Glyndon sought Mejnour in the fatal castle. It is now towards the close of 1793, when our story again returns to Zanoni. The stars of winter shone down on the lagunes of Venice. The hum of the Rialto was hushed — the last loiterers had deserted the Place of St. Mark’s, and only at distant intervals might be heard the oars of the rapid gondolas, bearing reveller or lover to his home. But lights still flitted to and fro across the windows of one of the Palladian palaces, whose shadow slept in the great canal; and within the palace watched the twin Eumenides that never sleep for Man — Fear and Pain.

“I will make thee the richest man in all Venice, if thou savest her.”

“Signor,” said the leech; “your gold cannot control death, and the will of Heaven, signor, unless within the next hour there is some blessed change, prepare your courage.”

Ho — ho, Zanoni! man of mystery and might, who hast walked amidst the passions of the world, with no changes on thy brow, art thou tossed at last upon the billows of tempestuous fear? Does thy spirit reel to and fro? — knowest thou at last the strength and the majesty of Death?

He fled, trembling, from the pale-faced man of art — fled through stately hall and long-drawn corridor, and gained a remote chamber in the palace, which other step than his was not permitted to profane. Out with thy herbs and vessels. Break from the enchanted elements, O silvery-azure flame! Why comes he not — the Son of the Starbeam! Why is Adon–Ai deaf to thy solemn call? It comes not — the luminous and delightsome Presence! Cabalist! are thy charms in vain? Has thy throne vanished from the realms of space? Thou standest pale and trembling. Pale trembler! not thus didst thou look when the things of glory gathered at thy spell. Never to the pale trembler bow the things of glory: the soul, and not the herbs, nor the silvery-azure flame, nor the spells of the Cabala, commands the children of the air; and THY soul, by Love and Death, is made sceptreless and discrowned!

At length the flame quivers — the air grows cold as the wind in charnels. A thing not of earth is present — a mistlike, formless thing. It cowers in the distance — a silent Horror! it rises; it creeps; it nears thee — dark in its mantle of dusky haze; and under its veil it looks on thee with its livid, malignant eyes — the thing of malignant eyes!

“Ha, young Chaldean! young in thy countless ages — young as when, cold to pleasure and to beauty, thou stoodest on the old Firetower, and heardest the starry silence whisper to thee the last mystery that baffles Death — fearest thou Death at length? Is thy knowledge but a circle that brings thee back whence thy wanderings began! Generations on generations have withered since we two met! Lo! thou beholdest me now!”

“But I behold thee without fear! Though beneath thine eyes thousands have perished; though, where they burn, spring up the foul poisons of the human heart, and to those whom thou canst subject to thy will, thy presence glares in the dreams of the raving maniac, or blackens the dungeon of despairing crime, thou art not my vanquisher, but my slave!”

“And as a slave will I serve thee! Command thy slave, O beautiful Chaldean! Hark, the wail of women! — hark, the sharp shriek of thy beloved one! Death is in thy palace! Adon–Ai comes not to thy call. Only where no cloud of the passion and the flesh veils the eye of the Serene Intelligence can the Sons of the Starbeam glide to man. But I can aid thee! — hark!” And Zanoni heard distinctly in his heart, even at that distance from the chamber, the voice of Viola calling in delirium on her beloved one.

“Oh, Viola, I can save thee not!” exclaimed the seer, passionately; “my love for thee has made me powerless!”

“Not powerless; I can gift thee with the art to save her — I can place healing in thy hand!”

“For both? — child and mother — for both?”

“Both!”

A convulsion shook the limbs of the seer — a mighty struggle shook him as a child: the Humanity and the Hour conquered the repugnant spirit.

“I yield! Mother and child — save both!”

. . . .

In the dark chamber lay Viola, in the sharpest agonies of travail; life seemed rending itself away in the groans and cries that spoke of pain in the midst of frenzy; and still, in groan and cry, she called on Zanoni, her beloved. The physician looked to the clock; on it beat: the Heart of Time — regularly and slowly — Heart that never sympathised with Life, and never flagged for Death! “The cries are fainter,” said the leech; “in ten minutes more all will be past.”

Fool! the minutes laugh at thee; Nature, even now, like a blue sky through a shattered temple, is smiling through the tortured frame. The breathing grows more calm and hushed; the voice of delirium is dumb — a sweet dream has come to Viola. Is it a dream, or is it the soul that sees? She thinks suddenly that she is with Zanoni, that her burning head is pillowed on his bosom; she thinks, as he gazes on her, that his eyes dispel the tortures that prey upon her — the touch of his hand cools the fever on her brow; she hears his voice in murmurs — it is a music from which the fiends fly. Where is the mountain that seemed to press upon her temples? Like a vapour, it rolls away. In the frosts of the winter night, she sees the sun laughing in luxurious heaven — she hears the whisper of green leaves; the beautiful world, valley and stream and woodland, lie before, and with a common voice speak to her, “We are not yet past for thee!” Fool of drugs and formula, look to thy dial-plate! — the hand has moved on; the minutes are with Eternity; the soul thy sentence would have dismissed, still dwells on the shores of Time. She sleeps: the fever abates; the convulsions are gone; the living rose blooms upon her cheek; the crisis is past! Husband, thy wife lives; lover, thy universe is no solitude! Heart of Time, beat on! A while, a little while — joy! joy! joy! — father, embrace thy child!

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