A Romance of Two Worlds, by Marie Corelli

Chapter 3. Three Visions.

Roses, roses! An interminable chain of these royal blossoms, red and white, wreathed by the radiant fingers of small rainbow-winged creatures as airy as moonlight mist, as delicate as thistledown! They cluster round me with smiling faces and eager eyes; they place the end of their rose-garland in my hand, and whisper, “FOLLOW!” Gladly I obey, and hasten onward. Guiding myself by the fragrant chain I hold, I pass through a labyrinth of trees, whose luxuriant branches quiver with the flight and song of birds. Then comes a sound of waters; the riotous rushing of a torrent unchecked, that leaps sheer down from rocks a thousand feet high, thundering forth the praise of its own beauty as it tosses in the air triumphant crowns of silver spray. How the living diamonds within it shift, and change, and sparkle! Fain would I linger to watch this magnificence; but the coil of roses still unwinds before me, and the fairy voices still cry, “FOLLOW!” I press on. The trees grow thicker; the songs of the birds cease; the light around me grows pale and subdued. In the far distance I see a golden crescent that seems suspended by some invisible thread in the air. Is it the young moon? No; for as I gaze it breaks apart into a thousand points of vivid light like wandering stars. These meet; they blaze into letters of fire. I strain my dazzled eyes to spell out their meaning. They form one word — HELIOBAS. I read it. I utter it aloud. The rose-chain breaks at my feet, and disappears. The fairy voices die away on my ear. There is utter silence, utter darkness — save where that one NAME writes itself in burning gold on the blackness of the heavens.

 

The interior of a vast cathedral is opened before my gaze. The lofty white marble columns support a vaulted roof painted in fresco, from which are suspended a thousand lamps that emit a mild and steady effulgence. The great altar is illuminated; the priests, in glittering raiment, pace slowly to and fro. The large voice of the organ, murmuring to itself awhile, breaks forth in a shout of melody; and a boy’s clear, sonorous treble tones pierce the incense-laden air. “Credo!"— and the silver, trumpet-like notes fall from the immense height of the building like a bell ringing in a pure atmosphere —“Credo in unum Deum; Patrem omni-potentum, factorem coeli et terrae, visibilium omnium et invisibilium.”

The cathedral echoes with answering voices; and, involuntarily kneeling, I follow the words of the grand chant. I hear the music slacken; the notes of rejoicing change to a sobbing and remorseful wail; the organ shudders like a forest of pines in a tempest, “Crucifixus etiam pro nobis; passus et sepultus est.” A darkness grows up around me; my senses swim. The music altogether ceases; but a brilliant radiance streams through a side-door of the church, and twenty maidens, clad in white and crowned with myrtle, pacing two by two, approach me. They gaze at me with joyous eyes. “Art thou also one of us?” they murmur; then they pass onward to the altar, where again the lights are glimmering. I watch them with eager interest; I hear them uplift their fresh young voices in prayer and praise. One of them, whose deep blue eyes are full of lustrous tenderness, leaves her companions, and softly approaches me. She holds a pencil and tablet in her hand.

“Write!” she says, in a thrilling whisper; “and write quickly! for whatsoever thou shalt now inscribe is the clue to thy destiny.”

I obey her mechanically, impelled not by my own will, but by some unknown powerful force acting within and around me. I trace upon the tablet one word only; it is a name that startles me even while I myself write it down — HELIOBAS. Scarcely have I written it when a thick white cloud veils the cathedral from my sight; the fair maiden vanishes, and all is again still.

 

I am listening to the accents of a grave melodious voice, which, from its slow and measured tones, would seem to be in the action of reading or reciting aloud. I see a small room sparely furnished, and at a table covered with books and manuscripts is seated a man of noble features and commanding presence. He is in the full prime of life; his dark hair has no thread of silver to mar its luxuriance; his face is unwrinkled; his forehead unfurrowed by care; his eyes, deeply sunk beneath his shelving brows, are of a singularly clear and penetrating blue, with an absorbed and watchful look in them, like the eyes of one accustomed to gaze far out at sea. His hand rests on the open pages of a massive volume; he is reading, and his expression is intent and earnest — as if he were littering his own thoughts aloud, with the conviction and force of an orator who knows the truth of which he speaks:

“The Universe is upheld solely by the Law of Love. A majestic invisible Protectorate governs the winds, the tides, the incoming and outgoing of the seasons, the birth of the flowers, the growth of forests, the outpourings of the sunlight, the silent glittering of the stars. A wide illimitable Beneficence embraces all creation. A vast Eternal Pity exists for all sorrow, all sin. He who first swung the planets in the air, and bade them revolve till Time shall be no more — He, the Fountain-Head of Absolute Perfection, is no deaf, blind, capricious, or remorseless Being. To Him the death of the smallest singing-bird is as great or as little as the death of a world’s emperor. For Him the timeless withering of an innocent flower is as pitiful as the decay of a mighty nation. An infant’s first prayer to Him is heard with as tender a patience as the united petitions of thousands of worshippers. For in everything and around everything, from the sun to a grain of sand, He hath a portion, small or great, of His own most Perfect Existence. Should He hate His Creation, He must perforce hate Himself; and that Love should hate Love is an impossibility. Therefore He loves all His work; and as Love, to be perfect, must contain Pity, Forgiveness, and Forbearance, so doth He pity, forgive, and forbear. Shall a mere man deny himself for the sake of his child or friend? and shall the Infinite Love refuse to sacrifice itself — yea, even to as immense a humility as its greatness is immeasurable? Shall we deny those merciful attributes to God which we acknowledge in His creature, Man? O my Soul, rejoice that thou hast pierced the veil of the Beyond; that thou hast seen and known the Truth! that to thee is made clear the Reason of Life, and the Recompense of Death: yet while rejoicing, grieve that thou art not fated to draw more than a few souls to the comfort thou hast thyself attained!”

Fascinated by the speaker’s voice and countenance, I listen, straining my ears to catch every word that falls from his lips. He rises; he stands erect; he stretches out his hands as though in solemn entreaty.

“Azul!” he exclaims. “Messenger of my fate; thou who art a guiding spirit of the elements, thou who ridest the storm-cloud and sittest throned on the edge of the lightning! By that electric spark within me, of which thou art the Twin Flame, I ask of thee to send me this one more poor human soul; let me change its unrestfulness into repose, its hesitation to certainty, its weakness to strength, its weary imprisonment to the light of liberty! Azul!”

His voice ceases, his extended hands fall slowly, and gradually, gradually he turns his whole figure towards ME. He faces me — his intense eyes burn through me — his strange yet tender smile absorbs me. Yet I am full of unreasoning terror; I tremble — I strive to turn away from that searching and magnetic gaze. His deep, melodious tones again ring softly on the silence. He addresses me.

“Fearest thou me, my child? Am I not thy friend? Knowest thou not the name of HELIOBAS?”

At this word I start and gasp for breath; I would shriek, but cannot, for a heavy hand seems to close my mouth, and an immense weight presses me down. I struggle violently with this unseen Power — little by little I gain the advantage. One effort more! I win the victory — I wake!

 

“Sakes alive!” says a familiar voice; “you HAVE had a spell of sleep! I got home about two, nearly starving, and I found you here curled up ‘in a rosy infant slumber,’ as the song says. So I hunted up the Colonel and had lunch, for it seemed a sin to disturb you. It’s just struck four. Shall we have some tea up here?”

I looked at Mrs. Everard, and smiled assent. So I had been sleeping for two hours and a half, and I had evidently been dreaming all the time; but my dreams had been as vivid as realities. I felt still rather drowsy, but I was thoroughly rested and in a state of delicious tranquillity. My friend rang the bell for the tea, and then turned round and surveyed me with a sort of wonder.

“What have you done to yourself, child?” she said at last, approaching the bed where I lay, and staring fixedly at me.

“What do you mean?”

“Why, you look a different creature. When I left you this morning you were pale and haggard, a sort of die-away delicate invalid; now your eyes are bright; and your cheeks have quite a lovely colour in them; your lips, too, are the right tint. But perhaps,” and here she looked alarmed —“perhaps you’ve got the fever?”

“I don’t think so,” I said amusedly, and I stretched out my hand for her to feel.

“No, you haven’t,” she continued, evidently reassured; “your palm is moist and cool, and your pulse is regular. Well, you look spry, anyhow. I shouldn’t wonder if you made up your mind to have a dance to-night.”

“Dance?” I queried. “What dance, and where?”

“Well, Madame Didier, that jolly little furbelowed Frenchwoman with whom I was driving just now, has got up a regular party to-night —”

“Hans Breitmann gib a barty?” I interposed, with a mock solemn air of inquiry.

Amy laughed.

“Well, yes, it MAY be that kind of thing, for all I know to the contrary. Anyhow, she’s hired the band and ordered a right-down elegant supper. Half the folks in the hotel are going, and a lot of outsiders have got invitations. She asked if we couldn’t come — myself, the Colonel, and you. I said I could answer for myself and the Colonel, but not for you, as you were an invalid. But if you keep on looking as you do at present, no one will believe that there’s anything the matter with you. — Tea, Alphonse!”

This to a polite waiter, who was our special attendant, and who just then knocked at the door to know “madame’s ” orders.

Utterly disbelieving what my friend said in regard to my improved appearance, I rose from the bed and went to the dressing-table to look in the mirror and judge for myself. I almost recoiled from my own reflection, so great was my surprise. The heavy marks under my eyes, the lines of pain that had been for months deepening in my forehead, the plaintive droop of the mouth that had given me such an air of ill-health and anxiety — all were gone as if by magic. I saw a rose-tinted complexion, a pair of laughing, lustrous eyes, and, altogether, such a happy, mirthful young face smiled back at me, that I half doubted whether it was indeed myself I saw.

“There now!” cried Amy in triumph, watching me as I pushed my clustering hair from my brows, and examined myself more intently. “Did I not tell you so? The change in you is marvellous! I know what it is. You have been getting better unconsciously to yourself in this lovely air and scene, and the long afternoon sleep you’ve just had has completed the cure.”

I smiled at her enthusiasm, but was forced to admit that she was right as far as my actual looks went. No one would believe that I was, or ever had been, ill. In silence I loosened my hair and began to brush it and put it in order before the mirror, and as I did so my thoughts were very busy. I remembered distinctly all that had happened in the studio of Raffaello Cellini, and still more distinctly was I able to recall every detail of the three dreams that had visited me in my slumber. The NAME, too, that had been the key-note of them all I also remembered, but some instinct forbade me to utter it aloud. Once I thought, “Shall I take a pencil and write it down lest I forget it?” and the same instinct said “No.” Amy’s voluble chatter ran on like the sound of a rippling brook all the time I thus meditated over the occurrences of the day.

“Say, child!” she exclaimed; “will you go to the dance?”

“Certainly I will, with pleasure,” I answered, and indeed I felt as if I should thoroughly enjoy it.

“Brava! It will be real fun. There are no end of foreign titles coming, I believe. The Colonel’s a bit grumpy about it — he always is when he has to wear his dress suit. He just hates it. That man hasn’t a particle of vanity. He looks handsomer in his evening clothes than in anything else, and yet he doesn’t see it. But tell me,” and her pretty face became serious with a true feminine anxiety, “whatever will you wear? You’ve brought no ball fixings, have you?”

I finished twisting up the last coil of my hair, and turned and kissed her affectionately. She was the most sweet-tempered and generous of women, and she would have placed any one of her elaborate costumes at my disposal had I expressed the least desire in that direction. I answered:

“No, dear; I certainly have no regular ball ‘fixings,’ for I never expected to dance here, or anywhere for that matter. I did not bring the big trunks full of Parisian toilettes that you indulge in, you spoilt bride! Still I have something that may do. In fact it will have to do.”

“What is it? Have I seen it? Do show!” and her curiosity was unappeasable.

The discreet Alphonse tapped at the door again just at this moment.

“Entrez!” I answered; and our tea, prepared with the tempting nicety peculiar to the Hotel de L—— appeared. Alphonse set the tray down with his usual artistic nourish, and produced a small note from his vest-pocket.

“For mademoiselle,” he said with a bow; and as he handed it to me, his eyes opened wide in surprise. He, too, perceived the change in my appearance. But he was dignity itself, and instantly suppressed his astonishment into the polite impassiveness of a truly accomplished waiter, and gliding from the room on the points of his toes, as was his usual custom, he disappeared. The note was from Cellini, and ran as follows:


“If mademoiselle will be so good as to refrain from choosing any flowers for her toilette this evening, she will confer a favour on her humble friend and servant,

“RAFFAELLO CELLINI.”


I handed it to Amy, who was evidently burning with inquisitiveness to know its contents.

“Didn’t I say he was a queer young man?” she exclaimed, as she perused the missive attentively. “This is only his way of saying that he means to send you some flowers himself. But what puzzles me is to think how he could possibly know you were going to make any special ‘toilette’ this evening. It is really very mysterious when I come to think of it, for Madame Didier said plainly that she would not ask Cellini to the dance till she saw him at the table d’hote to-night.”

“Perhaps Alphonse has told him all about it,” I suggested.

My friend’s countenance brightened.

“Of course! That is it; and Mr. Cellini takes it for granted that a girl of your age would not be likely to refuse a dance. Still there is something odd about it, too. By-the-bye, I forgot to ask you how the picture got on?”

“Oh, very well, I believe,” I replied evasively. “Signor Cellini only made a slight outline sketch as a beginning.”

“And was it like you? — a really good resemblance?”

“I really did not examine it closely enough to be able to judge.”

“What a demure young person you are!” laughed Mrs. Everard. “Now, I should have rushed straight up to the easel and examined every line of what he was doing. You are a model of discretion, really! I shan’t be anxious about leaving you alone any more. But about your dress for to-night. Let me see it, there’s a good girl.”

I opened my trunk and took out a robe of ivory-tinted crepe. It was made with almost severe simplicity, and was unadorned, save by a soft ruffle of old Mechlin lace round the neck and sleeves. Amy examined it critically.

“Now, you would have looked perfectly ghastly in this last night, when you were as pale and hollow-eyed as a sick nun; but to-night,” and she raised her eyes to my face, “I believe you will do. Don’t you want the bodice cut lower?”

“No, thanks!” I said, smiling. “I will leave that to the portly dowagers — they will expose neck enough for half-a-dozen other women.”

My friend laughed.

“Do as you like,” she returned; “only I see your gown has short sleeves, and I thought you might like a square neck instead of that little simple Greek round. But perhaps it’s better as it is. The stuff is lovely; where did you get it?”

“At one of the London emporiums of Eastern art,” I answered. “My dear, your tea is getting cold.”

She laid the dress on the bed, and in doing so, perceived the antique-looking book with the silver clasps which I had left there.

“What’s this?” she asked, turning it round to discover its name. “‘Letters of a Dead Musician!’ What a shivery title! Is it morbid reading?”

“Not at all,” I replied, as I leaned comfortably back in an easy-chair and sipped my tea. “It is a very scholarly, poetical, and picturesque work. Signor Cellini lent it to me; the author was a friend of his.”

Amy looked at me with a knowing and half-serious expression.

“Say now — take care, take care! Aren’t you and Cellini getting to be rather particular friends — something a little beyond the Platonic, eh?”

This notion struck me as so absurd that I laughed heartily. Then, without pausing for one instant to think what I was saying, I answered with amazing readiness and frankness, considering that I really knew nothing about it:

“Why, my dear, Raffaello Cellini is betrothed, and he is a most devoted lover.”

A moment after I had uttered this assertion I was surprised at myself. What authority had I for saying that Cellini was betrothed? What did I know about it? Confused, I endeavoured to find some means of retracting this unfounded and rash remark, but no words of explanation would come to my lips that had been so ready and primed to deliver what might be, for all I knew, a falsehood. Amy did not perceive my embarrassment. She was pleased and interested at the idea of Cellini’s being in love.

“Really!” she exclaimed, “it makes him a more romantic character than ever! Fancy his telling you that he was betrothed! How delightful! I must ask him all about his chosen fair one. But I’m positively thankful it isn’t you, for I’m sure he’s just a little bit off his head. Even this book he has lent you looks like a wizard’s property;” and she fluttered the leaves of the “Dead Musician’s “ volume, turning them rapidly over in search of something attractive. Suddenly she paused and cried out: “Why, this is right-down awful! He must have been a regular madman! Just listen!” and she read aloud:

“‘How mighty are the Kingdoms of the Air! How vast they are — how densely populated — how glorious are their destinies — how all-powerful and wise are their inhabitants! They possess everlasting health and beauty — their movements are music — their glances are light — they cannot err in their laws or judgments, for their existence is love. Thrones, principalities, and powers are among them, yet all are equal. Each one has a different duty to perform, yet all their labours are lofty. But what a fate is ours on this low earth! For, from the cradle to the grave, we are watched by these spiritual spectators — watched with unflinching interest, unhesitating regard. O Angelic Spirits, what is there in the poor and shabby spectacle of human life to attract your mighty Intelligences? Sorrow, sin, pride, shame, ambition, failure, obstinacy, ignorance, selfishness, forgetfulness — enough to make ye veil your radiant faces in unpierceable clouds to hide forever the sight of so much crime and misery. Yet if there be the faintest, feeblest effort in our souls to answer to the call of your voices, to rise above the earth by force of the same will that pervades your destinies, how the sound of great rejoicing permeates those wide continents ye inhabit, like a wave of thunderous music; and ye are glad, Blessed Spirits! — glad with a gladness beyond that of your own lives, to feel and to know that some vestige, however fragile, is spared from the general wreck of selfish and unbelieving Humanity. Truly we work under the shadow of a “cloud of Witnesses.” Disperse, disperse, O dense yet brilliant multitudes! turn away from me your burning, truthful, immutable eyes, filled with that look of divine, perpetual regret and pity! Lo, how unworthy am I to behold your glory! and yet I must see and know and love you all, while the mad blind world rushes on to its own destruction, and none can avert its doom.’”

Here Amy threw down the book with a sort of contempt, and said to me:

“If you are going to muddle your mind with the ravings of a lunatic, you are not what I took you for. Why, it’s regular spiritualism! Kingdoms of the air indeed! And his cloud of witnesses! Rubbish!”

“He quotes the CLOUD OF WITNESSES from St. Paul,” I remarked.

“More shame for him!” replied my friend, with the usual inconsistent indignation that good Protestants invariably display when their pet corn, the Bible, is accidentally trodden on. “It has been very well said that the devil can quote Scripture, and this musician (a good job he IS dead, I’m sure) is perfectly blasphemous to quote the Testament in support of his ridiculous ideas! St. Paul did not mean by ‘a cloud of witnesses,’ a lot of ‘air multitudes’ and ‘burning, immutable eyes,’ and all that nonsense.”

“Well, what DID he mean?” I gently persisted.

“Oh, he meant — why, you know very well what he meant,” said Amy, in a tone of reproachful solemnity. “And I wonder at your asking me such a question! Surely you know your Bible, and you must be aware that St. Paul could never have approved of spiritualism.”

“‘And there are bodies celestial and bodies terrestrial, but one is the glory of the celestial?” I quoted with, a slight smile.

Mrs. Everard looked shocked and almost angry.

“My dear, I am ashamed of you! You are a believer in spirits, I do declare! Why, I thought Maskelyne and Cook had cured everybody of such notions; and now here’s this horrid book going to make you more nervous than ever. I shall have you getting up one night and shrieking about burning, immutable eyes looking at you.”

I laughed merrily as I rose to pick up the discarded volume from the floor.

“Don’t be afraid,” I said; “I’ll give back the book to Signor Cellini to-morrow, and I will tell him that you do not like the idea of my reading it, and that I am going to study the Bible instead. Come now, dear, don’t look cross!” and I embraced her warmly, for I liked her far too well to wish to offend her. “Let us concentrate our attention on our finery for to-night, when a ‘dense and brilliant multitude,’ not of air, but of the ‘earth earthy,’ will pass us under critical survey. I assure you I mean to make the best of my improved looks, as I don’t believe they will last. I dare say I shall be the ‘sick nun’ that you termed me again to-morrow.”

“I hope not, dearest,” said my friend kindly, returning my caress and forgetting her momentary ill-humour. “A jolly dance will do you good if you are careful to avoid over-exertion. But you are quite right, we must really fix our things ready for the evening, else we shall be all in a flurry at the last moment, and nothing riles the Colonel so much as to see women in a fuss. I shall wear my lace dress; but it wants seeing to. Will you help me?”

Readily assenting, we were soon deep in the arrangement of the numberless little mysteries that make up a woman’s toilette; and nothing but the most frivolous conversation ensued. But as I assisted in the sorting of laces, jewels, and other dainty appendages of evening costume, I was deep in earnest meditation. Reviewing in my own mind the various sensations I had experienced since I had tasted that Eastern wine in Cellini’s studio, I came to the conclusion that he must have tried an experiment on me with some foreign drug, of which he alone knew the properties. Why he should do this I could not determine; but that he had done it I was certain. Besides this, I felt sure that he personally exerted some influence upon me — a soothing and calming influence I was forced to admit — still, it could hardly be allowed to continue. To be under the control, however slight, of one who was almost a stranger to me, was, at the least, unnatural and unpleasant. I was bound to ask him a few plain questions. And, supposing Mrs. Everard were to speak to him about his being betrothed, and he were to deny it, and afterwards were to turn round upon me and ask what authority I had for making such a statement, what should I say? Convict myself of falsehood? However, it was no use to puzzle over the solution of this difficulty till it positively presented itself. At any rate, I determined I would ask him frankly, face to face, for some explanation of the strange emotions I had felt ever since meeting him; and thus resolved, I waited patiently for the evening.

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Last updated Thursday, March 13, 2014 at 21:43