The next morning brought me two letters; one from Mrs. Everard, telling me that she and the Colonel had resolved on coming to Paris.
“All the nice people are going away from here,” she wrote. “Madame Didier and her husband have started for Naples; and, to crown our lonesomeness, Raffaello Cellini packed up all his traps, and left us yesterday morning en route for Rome. The weather continues to be delicious; but as you seem to be getting on so well in Paris, in spite of the cold there, we have made up our minds to join you, the more especially as I want to renovate my wardrobe. We shall go straight to the Grand Hotel; and I am writing to Mrs. Challoner by this post, asking her to get us rooms. We are so glad you are feeling nearly recovered — of course, you must not leave your physician till you are quite ready. At any rate, we shall not arrive till the end of next week.”
I began to calculate. During that strange interview in the chapel, Heliobas had said that in eight days more I should be strong enough to undergo the transmigration he had promised to effect upon me. Those eight days were now completed on this very morning. I was glad of this; for I did not care to see Mrs. Everard or anyone till the experiment was over. The other letter I received was from Mrs. Challoner, who asked me to give an “Improvisation” at the Grand Hotel that day fortnight.
When I went down to breakfast, I mentioned both these letters, and said, addressing myself to Heliobas:
“Is it not rather a sudden freak of Raffaello Cellini’s to leave Cannes? We all thought he was settled for the winter there. Did you know he was going to Rome?”
“Yes,” replied Heliobas, as he stirred his coffee abstractedly. “I knew he was going there some day this month; his presence is required there on business.”
“And are you going to give the Improvisation this Mrs. Challoner asks you for?” inquired Zara.
I glanced at Heliobas. He answered for me.
“I should certainly give it if I were you,” he said quietly: “there will be nothing to prevent your doing so at the date named.”
I was relieved. I had not been altogether able to divest myself of the idea that I might possibly never come out alive from the electric trance to which I had certainly consented; and this assurance on the part of Heliobas was undoubtedly comforting. We were all very silent that morning; we all wore grave and preoccupied expressions. Zara was very pale, and appeared lost in thought. Heliobas, too, looked slightly careworn, as though he had been up all night, engaged in some brain-exhausting labour. No mention was made of Prince Ivan; we avoided his name by a sort of secret mutual understanding. When the breakfast was over, I looked with a fearless smile at the calm face of Heliobas, which appeared nobler and more dignified than ever with that slight touch of sadness upon it, and said softly:
“The eight days are accomplished!”
He met my gaze fully, with a steady and serious observation of my features, and replied:
“My child, I am aware of it. I expect you in my private room at noon. In the meantime speak to no one — not even to Zara; read no books; touch no note of music. The chapel has been prepared for you; go there and pray. When you see a small point of light touch the extreme edge of the cross upon the altar, it will be twelve o’clock, and you will then come to me.”
With these words, uttered in a grave and earnest tone, he left me. A sensation of sudden awe stole upon me. I looked at Zara. She laid her finger on her lips and smiled, enjoining silence; then drawing my hand close within her own, she led me to the door of the chapel. There she took a soft veil of some white transparent fabric, and flung it over me, embracing and kissing me tenderly as she did so, but uttering no word. Taking my hand again, she entered the chapel with me, and accompanied me through what seemed a blaze of light and colour to the high altar, before which was placed a prie-dieu of crimson velvet. Motioning me to kneel, she kissed me once more through the filmy veil that covered me from head to foot; then turning noiselessly away she disappeared, and I heard the heavy oaken door close behind her. Left alone, I was able to quietly take note of everything around me. The altar before which I knelt was ablaze with lighted candles, and a wealth of the purest white flowers decorated it, mingling their delicious fragrance with the faintly perceptible odour of incense. On all sides of the chapel, in every little niche, and at every shrine, tapers were burning like fireflies in a summer twilight. At the foot of the large crucifix, which occupied a somewhat shadowy corner, lay a wreath of magnificent crimson roses. It would seem as though some high festival were about to be celebrated, and I gazed around me with a beating heart, half expecting some invisible touch to awaken the notes of the organ and a chorus of spirit-voices to respond with the “Gloria in excelsis Deo!” But there was silence — absolute, beautiful, restful silence. I strove to collect my thoughts, and turning my eyes towards the jewelled cross that surmounted the high altar, I clasped my hands, and began to wonder how and for what I should pray. Suddenly the idea struck me that surely it was selfish to ask Heaven for anything; would it not be better to reflect on all that had already been given to me, and to offer up thanks? Scarcely had this thought entered my mind when a sort of overwhelming sense of unworthiness came over me. Had I ever been unhappy? I wondered. If so, why? I began to count up my blessings and compare them with my misfortunes. Exhausted pleasure-seekers may be surprised to hear that I proved the joys of my life to have far exceeded my sorrows. I found that I had sight, hearing, youth, sound limbs, an appreciation of the beautiful in art and nature, and an intense power of enjoyment. For all these things, impossible of purchase by mere wealth, should I not give thanks? For every golden ray of sunshine, for every flower that blooms, for the harmonies of the wind and sea, for the singing of birds and the shadows of trees, should I not — should we not all give thanks? For is there any human sorrow so great that the blessing of mere daylight on the earth does not far exceed? We mortals are spoilt and petted children — the more gifts we have the more we crave; and when we burn or wound ourselves by our own obstinacy or carelessness, we are ungratefully prone to blame the Supreme Benefactor for our own faults. We don black mourning robes as a sort of sombre protest against Him for having removed some special object of our choice and love, whereas, if we believed in Him and were grateful to Him, we should wear dazzling white in sign of rejoicing that our treasure is safe in the land of perfect joy where we ourselves desire to be. Do we suffer from illness, loss of money, position, or friends, we rail against Fate — another name for God — and complain like babes who have broken their toys; yet the sun shines on, the seasons come and go, the lovely panorama of Nature unrolls itself all for our benefit, while we murmur and fret and turn our eyes away in anger.
Thinking of these things and kneeling before the altar, my heart became filled with gratitude; and no petition suggested itself to me save one, and that was, “Let me believe and love!” I thought of the fair, strong, stately figure of Christ, standing out in the world’s history, like a statue of pure white marble against a dark background; I mused on the endurance, patience, forgiveness, and perfect innocence of that most spotless life which was finished on the cross, and again I murmured, “Let me believe and love!” And I became so absorbed in meditation that the time fled fast, till a sudden sparkle of flame flashing across the altar-steps caused me to look up. The jewelled cross had become a cross of fire. The point of light I had been, told to watch for had not only touched the extreme edge, but had crept down among all the precious stones and lit them up like stars. I afterwards learned that this effect was produced by means of a thin, electric wire, which, communicating with a timepiece constructed on the same system, illuminated the cross at sunrise, noon, and sunset. It was time for me to join Heliobas. I rose gently, and left the chapel with a quiet and reverent step, for I have always thought that to manifest hurry and impatience in any place set apart for the worship of the Creator is to prove yourself one of the unworthiest things created. Once outside the door I laid aside my veil, and then, with a perfectly composed and fearless mind, went straight to the Electrician’s study. I shall never forget the intense quiet of the house that morning. The very fountain in the hall seemed to tinkle in a sort of subdued whisper. I found Heliobas seated at his table, reading. How my dream came vividly back to me, as I saw him in that attitude! I felt that I knew what he was reading. He looked up as I entered, and greeted me with a kindly yet grave smile. I broke silence abruptly.
“Your book is open,” I said, “at a passage commencing thus: ‘The universe is upheld solely by the Law of Love. A majestic invisible Protectorate governs the winds, the tides.’ Is it not so?”
“It is so,” returned Heliobas. “Are you acquainted with the book?”
“Only through the dream I had of you at Cannes,” I answered. “I do think Signor Cellini had some power over me.”
“Of course he had in your then weak state. But now that you are as strong as he is, he could not influence you at all. Let us be brief in our converse, my child. I have a few serious things to say to you before you leave me, on your celestial journey.”
I trembled slightly, but took the chair he pointed out to me — a large easy-chair in which one could recline and sleep.
“Listen,” continued Heliobas; “I told you, when you first came here, that whatever I might do to restore you to health, you would have it in your power to repay me amply. You ARE restored to health; will you give me my reward?”
“I would and will do anything to prove my gratitude to you,” I said earnestly. “Only tell me how.”
“You are aware,” he went on, “of my theories respecting the Electric Spirit or Soul in Man. It is progressive, as I have told you — it begins as a germ — it goes on increasing in power and beauty for ever, till it is great and pure enough to enter the last of all worlds — God’s World. But there are sometimes hindrances to its progression — obstacles in its path, which cause it to recoil and retire a long way back — so far back occasionally that it has to commence its journey over again. Now, by my earnest researches, I am able to study and watch the progress of my own inner force or soul. So far, all has been well — prayerfully and humbly I may say I believe all has been well. But I foresee an approaching shadow — a difficulty — a danger — which, if it cannot be repelled or passed in some way, threatens to violently push back my advancing spiritual nature, so that, with much grief and pain, I shall have to re-commence the work that I had hoped was done. I cannot, with all my best effort, discover WHAT this darkening obstacle is — but YOU, yes, YOU”— for I had started up in surprise —“you, when you are lifted up high enough to behold these things, may, being perfectly unselfish in this research, attain to the knowledge of it and explain it to me, when you return. In trying to probe the secret for myself, it is of course purely for my own interest; and nothing clear, nothing satisfactory can be spiritually obtained, in which selfishness has ever so slight a share. You, if indeed I deserve your gratitude for the aid I have given you — you will be able to search out the matter more certainly, being in the position of one soul working for another. Still, I cannot compel you to do this for me — I only ask, WILL you?”
His entreating and anxious tone touched me keenly; but I was amazed and perplexed, and could not yet realize what strange thing was going to happen to me. But whatever occurred I was resolved to give a ready consent to his request, therefore I said firmly:
“I will do my best, I promise you. Remember that I do not know, I cannot even guess where I am going, or what strange sensations will overcome me; but if I am permitted to have any recollection of earth at all, I will try to find out what you ask.”
Heliobas seemed satisfied, and rising from his chair, unlocked a heavily-bound iron safe. From this he took a glass flask of a strange, ever-moving, glittering fluid, the same in appearance as that which Raffaello Cellini had forbidden me to drink. He then paused and looked searchingly at me.
“Tell me,” he said in an authoritative tone, “tell me WHY you wish to see what to mortals is unseen? What motive have you? What ulterior plan?”
I hesitated. Then I gathered my strength together and answered decisively:
“I desire to know why this world, this universe exists; and also wish to prove, if possible, the truth and necessity of religion. And I think I would give my life, if it were worth anything, to be certain of the truth of Christianity.”
Heliobas gazed in my face with a sort of half-pity, half-censure.
“You have a daring aim,” he said slowly, “and you are a bold seeker. But shame, repentance and sorrow await you where you are going, as well as rapture and amazement. ’I WOULD GIVE MY LIFE IF IT WERE WORTH ANYTHING.’ That utterance has saved you — otherwise to soar into an unexplored wilderness of spheres, weighted by your own doubts and guided solely by your own wild desires, would be a fruitless journey.”
I felt abashed as I met his steady, scrutinizing eyes.
“Surely it is well to wish to know the reason of things?” I asked, with some timidity.
“The desire of knowledge is a great virtue, certainly,” he replied; “it is not truly felt by one in a thousand. Most persons are content to live and die, absorbed in their own petty commonplace affairs, without troubling themselves as to the reasons of their existence. Yet it is almost better, like these, to wallow in blind ignorance than wantonly to doubt the Creator because He is unseen, or to put a self-opinionated construction on His mysteries because He chooses to veil them from our eyes.”
“I do not doubt!” I exclaimed earnestly. “I only want to make sure, and then perhaps I may persuade others.”
“You can never compel faith,” said Heliobas calmly. “You are going to see wonderful things that no tongue or pen can adequately describe. Well, when you return to earth again, do you suppose you can make people believe the story of your experiences? Never! Be thankful if you are the possessor of a secret joy yourself, and do not attempt to impart it to others, who will only repel and mock you.”
“Not even to one other?” I asked hesitatingly.
A warm, kindly smile seemed to illuminate his face as I put this question.
“Yes, to one other, the other half of yourself — you may tell all things,” he said. “But now, no more converse. If you are quite ready, drink this.”
He held out to me a small tumbler filled with the sparkling volatile liquid he had poured from the flask. For one moment my courage almost forsook me, and an icy shiver ran through my veins. Then I bethought myself of all my boasted bravery; was it possible that I should fail now at this critical moment? I allowed myself no more time for reflection, but took the glass from his hand and drained its contents to the last drop. It was tasteless, but sparkling and warm on the tongue. Scarcely had I swallowed it, when a curiously light, dizzy sensation overcame me, and the figure of Heliobas standing before me seemed to assume gigantic proportions. I saw his hands extend — his eyes, like lamps of electric flame, burned through and through me — and like a distant echo, I heard the deep vibrating tones of his voice uttering the following words:
“Azul! Azul! Lift up this light and daring spirit unto thyself; be its pioneer upon the path it must pursue; suffer it to float untrammelled through the wide and glorious Continents of Air; give it form and force to alight on any of the vast and beautiful spheres it may desire to behold; and if worthy, permit it to gaze, if only for a brief interval, upon the supreme vision of the First and Last of worlds. By the force thou givest unto me, I free this soul; do thou, Azul, quickly receive it!”
A dense darkness now grew thickly around me —-I lost all power over my limbs — I felt myself being lifted up forcibly and rapidly, up, up, into some illimitable, terrible space of blackness and nothingness. I could not think, move, or cry out — I could only feel that I was rising, rising, steadily, swiftly, breathlessly . . . when suddenly a long quivering flash of radiance, like the fragment of a rainbow, struck dazzlingly across my sight. Darkness? What had I to do with darkness? I knew not the word — I was only conscious of light — light exquisitely pure and brilliant — light through which I stepped as easily as a bird flies in air. Perfectly awake to my sensations, I felt somehow that there was nothing remarkable in them — I seemed to be at home in some familiar element. Delicate hands held mine — a face far lovelier than the loveliest face of woman ever dreamed by poet or painter, smiled radiantly at me, and I smiled back again. A voice whispered in strange musical murmurs, such as I well seemed to know and comprehend:
“Gaze behind thee ere the picture fades.”
I obeyed, half reluctantly, and saw as a passing shadow in a glass, or a sort of blurred miniature painting, the room where Heliobas stood, watching some strange imperfect shape, which I seemed faintly to recognise. It looked like a small cast in clay, very badly executed, of the shape I at present wore; but it was incomplete, as though the sculptor had given it up as a failure and gone away, leaving it unfinished.
“Did I dwell in that body?” I mused to myself, as I felt the perfection of my then state of being. “How came I shut in such a prison? How poor a form — how destitute of faculties — how full of infirmities — how limited in capabilities — how narrow in all intelligence — how ignorant — how mean!”
And I turned for relief to the shining companion who held me, and obeying an impulse suddenly imparted, I felt myself floating higher and higher till the last limits of the atmosphere surrounding the Earth were passed, and fields of pure and cloudless ether extended before us. Here we met myriads of creatures like ourselves, all hastening in various directions — all lovely and radiant as a dream of the fairies. Some of these beings were quite tiny and delicate — some of lofty stature and glorious appearance: their forms were human, yet so refined, improved, and perfected, that they were unlike, while so like humanity.
“Askest thou nothing?” whispered the voice beside me.
“Tell me,” I answered, “what I must know.”
“These spirits that we behold,” went on the voice, “are the guardians of all the inhabitants of all the planets. Their labours are those of love and penitence. Their work is to draw other souls to God — to attract them by warnings, by pleading, by praying. They have all worn the garb of mortality themselves, and they teach mortals by their own experience. For these radiant creatures are expiating sins of their own in thus striving to save others — the oftener they succeed the nearer they approach to Heaven. This is what is vaguely understood on your earth as purgatory; the sufferings of spirits who love and long for the presence of their Creator, and who yet are not pure enough to approach Him. Only by serving and saving others can they obtain at last their own joy. Every act of ingratitude and forgetfulness and wickedness committed by a mortal, detains one or another of these patient workers longer away from Heaven — imagine then what a weary while many of them have to wait.”
I made no answer, and we floated on. Higher and higher — higher and higher — till at last my guide, whom I knew to be that being whom Heliobas had called Azul, bade me pause. We were floating close together in what seemed a sea of translucent light. From this point I could learn something of the mighty workings of the Universe. I gazed upon countless solar systems, that like wheels within wheels revolved with such rapidity that they seemed all one wheel. I saw planets whirl around and around with breathless swiftness, like glittering balls flung through the air — burning comets flared fiercely past like torches of alarm for God’s wars against Evil — a marvellous procession of indescribable wonders sweeping on for ever in circles, grand, huge, and immeasurable. And as I watched the superb pageant, I was not startled or confused — I looked upon it as anyone might look on any quiet landscape scene in what we know of Nature. I scarcely could perceive the Earth from whence I had come — so tiny a speck was it — nothing but a mere pin’s point in the burning whirl of immensities. I felt, however, perfectly conscious of a superior force in myself to all these enormous forces around me — I knew without needing any explanation that I was formed of an indestructible essence, and that were all these stars and systems suddenly to end in one fell burst of brilliant horror, I should still exist — I should know and remember and feel — should be able to watch the birth of a new Universe, and take my part in its growth and design.
“Remind me why these wonders exist,” I said, turning to my guide, and speaking in those dulcet sounds which were like music and yet like speech; “and why amid them all the Earth is believed by its inhabitants to have merited destruction, and yet to have been found worthy of redemption?”
“Thy last question shall be answered first,” replied Azul. “Seest thou yonder planet circled with a ring? It is known to the dwellers on Earth, of whom when in clay thou art one, as Saturn. Descend with me!”
And in a breath of time we floated downwards and alighted on a broad and beautiful plain, where flowers of strange shape and colour grew in profusion. Here we were met by creatures of lofty stature and dazzling beauty, human in shape, yet angelic in countenance. They knelt to us with reverence and joy, and then passed on to their toil or pleasure, whichever invited them, and I looked to Azul for explanation.
“To these children of the Creator,” said that radiant guide, “is granted the ability to see and to converse with the spirits of the air. They know them and love them, and implore their protection. In this planet sickness and old age are unknown, and death comes as a quiet sleep. The period of existence is about two hundred years, according to the Earth’s standard of time; and the process of decay is no more unlovely than the gentle withering of roses. The influence of the electric belt around their world is a bar to pestilence and disease, and scatters health with light. All sciences, arts, and inventions known on Earth are known here, only to greater perfection. The three important differences between the inhabitants of this planet and those who dwell on Earth are these: first they have no rulers in authority, as each one perfectly governs himself; second, they do not marry, as the law of attraction which draws together any two of opposite sexes, holds them fast in inviolable fidelity; thirdly, there is no creature in all the immensity of this magnificent sphere who has ever doubted, or who ever will doubt, the existence of the Creator.”
A thrill of fiery shame seemed to dart through my spiritual being as I heard this, and I made no answer. Some fairy-like little creatures, the children of the Saturnites, as I supposed, here came running towards us and knelt down, reverently clasping their hands in prayer. They then gathered flowers and flung them on that portion of ground where we stood, and gazed at us fearlessly and lovingly, as they might have gazed at some rare bird or butterfly.
Azul signed to me, and we rose while yet in their sight, and soaring through the radiance of the ring, which was like a sun woven into a circle, we soon left Saturn far behind us, and alighted on Venus. Here seas, mountains, forests, lakes, and meadows were one vast garden, in which the bloom and verdure of all worlds seemed to find a home. Here were realized the dreams of sculptors and painters, in the graceful forms and exquisite faces of the women, and the splendid strength and godlike beauty of the men. A brief glance was sufficient to show me that the moving spring of all the civilization of this radiant planet was the love of Nature and Art united. There were no wars — for there were no different nations. All the inhabitants were like one vast family; they worked for one another, and vied with each other in paying homage to those of the loftiest genius among them. They had one supreme Monarch to whom they all rendered glad obedience; and he was a Poet, ready to sacrifice his throne with joy as soon as his people should discover a greater than he. For they all loved not the artist but the Art; and selfishness was a vice unknown. Here, none loved or were wedded save those who had spiritual sympathies, and here, too, no creature existed who did not believe in and worship the Creator. The same state of things existed in Jupiter, the planet we next visited, where everything was performed by electricity. Here persons living hundreds of miles apart could yet converse together with perfect ease through an electric medium; ships ploughed the seas by electricity; printing, an art of which the dwellers on Earth are so proud, was accomplished by electricity — in fact, everything in the way of science, art, and invention known to us was also known in Jupiter, only to greater perfection, because tempered and strengthened by an electric force which never failed. From Jupiter, Azul guided me to many other fair and splendid worlds — yet none of them were Paradise; all had some slight drawback — some physical or spiritual ailment, as it were, which had to be combated with and conquered. All the inhabitants of each star longed for something they had not — something better, greater, and higher — and therefore all had discontent. They could not realize their best desires in the state of existence they then were, therefore they all suffered disappointment. They were all compelled to work in some way or another; they were all doomed to die. Yet, unlike the dwellers on Earth, they did not, because their lives were more or less constrained and painful, complain of or deny the goodness of God — on the contrary, they believed in a future state which should be as perfect as their present one was imperfect; and the chief aim and object of all their labours was to become worthy of attaining that final grand result — Eternal Happiness and Peace.
“Readest thou the lesson in these glowing spheres, teeming with life and learning?” murmured Azul to me, as we soared swiftly on together. “Know that not one smallest world in all the myriad systems circling before thee, holds a single human creature who doubts his Maker. Not one! except thine own doomed star! Behold it yonder — sparkling feebly, like a faint flame amid sunshine — how poor a speck it is — how like a scarcely visible point in all the brilliancy of the ever-revolving wheel of Life! Yet there dwell the dwarfs of clay — the men and women who pretend to love while they secretly hate and despise one another. There, wealth is a god, and the greed of gain a virtue. There, genius starves, and heroism dies unrewarded. There, faith is martyred, and unbelief elected sovereign monarch of the people. There, the sublime, unreachable mysteries of the Universe are haggled over by poor finite minds who cannot call their lives their own. There, nation wars against nation, creed against creed, soul against soul. Alas, fated planet! how soon shalt thou be extinct, and thy place shall know thee no more!”
I gazed earnestly at my radiant guide. “If that is true,” I said, “why then should we have a legend that God, in the person of one called Christ, came to die for so miserable and mean a race of beings?”
Azul answered not, but turned her luminous eyes upon me with a sort of wide dazzling wonder. Some strange impelling force bore me onward, and before I could realize it I was alone. Alone, in a vast area of light through which I floated, serene and conscious of power. A sound falling from a great height reached me; it was first like a grand organ-chord, and then like a voice, trumpet-clear and far-echoing.
“Spirit that searchest for the Unseen,” it said, “because I will not that no atom of true worth should perish, unto thee shall be given a vision — unto thee shall be taught a lesson thou dreamest not of. THOU shalt create; THOU shalt design and plan; THOU shalt be worshipped, and THOU shalt destroy! Rest therefore in the light and behold the things that are in the light, for the tune cometh when all that seemeth clear and visible now shall be but darkness. And they that love me not shall have no place of abode in that hour!”
The voice ceased. Awed, yet consoled, I listened for it again. There was no more sound. Around me was illimitable light — illimitable silence. But a strange scene unfolded itself swiftly before me — a sort of shifting dream that was a reality, yet so wonderfully unreal — a vision that impressed itself on every portion of my intelligence; a kind of spirit-drama in which I was forced to enact the chief part, and where a mystery that I had deemed impenetrable was made perfectly clear and simple of comprehension.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:52