The next morning Zara came herself to awaken me, looking as fresh and lovely as a summer morning. She embraced me very tenderly, and said:
“I have been talking for more than an hour with Casimir. He has told me everything. What wonders you have seen! And are you not happy, dearest? Are you not strong and satisfied?”
“Perfectly!” I replied. “But, O Zara! what a pity that all the world should not know what we know!”
“All have not a desire for knowledge,” replied Zara. “Even in your vision of the garden you possessed, there were only a few who still sought you; for those few you would have done anything, but for the others your best efforts were in vain.”
“They might not have been always in vain,” I said musingly.
“No, they might not,” agreed Zara. “That is just the case of the world to-day. While there is life in it, there is also hope. And talking of the world, let me remind you that you are back in it now, and must therefore be hampered with tiresome trivialities. Two of these are as follows; First, here is a letter for you, which has just come; secondly, breakfast will be ready in twenty minutes!”
I looked at her smiling face attentively. She was the very embodiment of vigorous physical health and beauty; it seemed like a dream to remember her in the past night, guarded by that invincible barrier, the work of no mortal hand. I uttered nothing, however, of these thoughts, and responding to her evident gaiety of heart, I smiled also.
“I will be down punctually at the expiration of the twenty minutes,” I said. “I assure you, Zara, I am quite sensible of the claims of earthly existence upon me. For instance, I am very hungry, and I shall enjoy breakfast immensely if you will make the coffee.”
Zara, who among her other accomplishments had the secret of making coffee to perfection, promised laughingly to make it extra well, and flitted from the room, singing softly as she went a fragment of the Neapolitan Stornello:
“Fior di mortelle
Queste manine tue son tanto belle!
Fior di limone
Ti voglio far morire di passione
Salta! lari — lira.”
The letter Zara had brought me was from Mrs. Everard, announcing that she would arrive in Paris that very day, Sunday.
“By the time you get this note,” so ran her words, “we shall have landed at the Grand Hotel. Come and see us at once, if you can. The Colonel is anxious to judge for himself how you are looking. If you are really recovered sufficiently to leave your medical pension, we shall be delighted to have you with us again. I, in particular, shall be glad, for it is real lonesome when the Colonel is out, and I do hate to go shopping by myself, So take pity upon your affectionate
Seated at breakfast, I discussed this letter with Heliobas and Zara, and decided that I would call at the Grand Hotel that morning.
“I wish you would come with me, Zara,” I said wistfully.
To my surprise, she answered:
“Certainly I will, if you like. But we will attend High Mass at Notre Dame first. There will be plenty of time for the call afterwards.”
I gladly agreed to this, and Heliobas added with cheerful cordiality:
“Why not ask your friends to dine here to-morrow? Zara’s call will be a sufficient opening formality; and you yourself have been long enough with us now to know that any of your friends will be welcome here. We might have a pleasant little party, especially if you add Mr. and Mrs. Challoner and their daughters to the list. And I will ask Ivan.”
I glanced at Zara when the Prince’s name was uttered, but she made no sign of either offence or indifference.
“You are very hospitable,” I said, addressing Heliobas; “but I really see no reason why you should throw open your doors to my friends, unless, indeed, you specially desire to please me.”
“Why, of course I do!” he replied heartily; and Zara looked up and smiled.
“Then,” I returned, “I will ask them to come. What am I to say about my recovery, which I know is little short of miraculous?”
“Say,” replied Heliobas, “that you have been cured by electricity. There is nothing surprising in such a statement nowadays. But say nothing of the HUMAN electric force employed upon you — no one would believe you, and the effort to persuade unpersuadable people is always a waste of time.”
An hour after this conversation Zara and I were in the cathedral of Notre Dame. I attended the service with very different feelings to those I had hitherto experienced during the same ceremony. Formerly my mind had been distracted by harassing doubts and perplexing contradictions; now everything had a meaning for me — high, and solemn, and sweet. As the incense rose, I thought of those rays of connecting light I had seen, on which prayers travel exactly as sound travels through the telephone. As the grand organ pealed sonorously through the fragrant air, I remembered the ever youthful and gracious Spirits of Music, one of whom, Aeon, had promised to be my friend. Just to try the strength of my own electric force, I whispered the name and looked up. There, on a wide slanting ray of sunlight that fell directly across the altar was the angelic face I well remembered! — the delicate hands holding the semblance of a harp in air! It was but for an instant I saw it — one brief breathing-space in which its smile mingled with the sunbeams and then it vanished. But I knew I was not forgotten, and the deep satisfaction of my soul poured itself in unspoken praise on the flood of the “Sanctus! Sanctus!” that just then rolled triumphantly through the aisles of Notre Dame. Zara was absorbed in silent prayer throughout the Mass; but at its conclusion, when we came out of the cathedral, she was unusually gay and elate. She conversed vivaciously with me concerning the social merits and accomplishments of the people we were going to visit; while the brisk walk through the frosty air brightened her eyes and cheeks into warmer lustre, so that on our arrival at the Grand Hotel she looked to my fancy even lovelier than usual.
Mrs. Everard did not keep us waiting long in the private salon to which we were shown. She fluttered down, arrayed in a wonderful “art” gown of terra-cotta and pale blue hues cunningly intermixed, and proceeded to hug me with demonstrative fervour. Then she held me a little distance off, and examined me attentively.
“Do you know,” she said, “you are simply in lovely condition! I never would have believed it. You are actually as plump and pink as a peach. And you are the same creature that wailed and trembled, and had palpitations and headaches and stupors! Your doctor must be a perfect magician. I think I must consult him, for I am sure I don’t look half as well as you do.”
And indeed she did not. I thought she had a tired, dragged appearance, but I would not say so. I knew her well, and I was perfectly aware that though she was fascinating and elegant in every way, her life was too much engrossed in trifles ever to yield her healthy satisfaction.
After responding warmly to her affectionate greeting, I said:
“Amy, you must allow me to introduce the sister of my doctor to you. Madame Zara Casimir — Mrs. Everard.”
Zara, who had moved aside a little way out of delicacy, to avoid intruding on our meeting, now turned, and with her own radiant smile and exquisite grace, stretched out her little well-gloved hand.
“I am delighted to know you!” she said, in those sweet penetrating accents of hers which were like music. “YOUR friend,” here indicating me by a slight yet tender gesture, “has also become mine; but I do not think we shall be jealous, shall we?”
Mrs. Everard made some attempt at a suitable reply, but she was so utterly lost in admiration of Zara’s beauty, that her habitual self-possession almost deserted her. Zara, however, had the most perfect tact, and with it the ability of making herself at home anywhere, and we were soon all three talking cheerfully and without constraint. When the Colonel made his appearance, which he did very shortly, he too was “taken off his feet,” as the saying is, by Zara’s loveliness, and the same effect was produced on the Challoners, who soon afterwards joined us in a body. Mrs. Challoner, in particular, seemed incapable of moving her eyes from the contemplation of my darling’s sweet face, and I glowed with pride and pleasure as I noted how greatly she was admired. Miss Effie Challoner alone, who was, by a certain class of young men, considered “doocid pretty, with go in her,” opposed her stock of physical charms to those of Zara, with a certain air of feminine opposition; but she was only able to keep this barrier up for a little time. Zara’s winning power of attraction was too much for her, and she, like all present, fell a willing captive to the enticing gentleness, the intellectual superiority, and the sympathetic influence exercised by the evenly balanced temperament and character of the beautiful woman I loved so well.
After some desultory and pleasant chat, Zara, in the name of her brother and herself, invited Colonel and Mrs. Everard and the Challoner family to dine at the Hotel Mars next day — an invitation which was accepted by all with eagerness. I perceived at once that every one of them was anxious to know more of Zara and her surroundings — a curiosity which I could not very well condemn. Mrs. Everard then wanted me to remain with her for the rest of the afternoon; but an instinctive feeling came upon me, that soon perhaps I should have to part from Heliobas and Zara, and all the wonders and delights of their household, in order to resume my own working life — therefore I determined I would drain my present cup of pleasure to the last drop. So I refused Amy’s request, pleading as an excuse that I was still under my doctor’s authority, and could not indulge in such an excitement as an afternoon in her society without his permission. Zara bore me out in this assertion, and added for me to Mrs. Everard:
“Indeed, I think it will be better for her to remain perfectly quiet with us for a day or two longer; then she will be thoroughly cured, and free to do as she likes.”
“Well!” said Mrs. Challoner; “I must say she doesn’t look as if anything were the matter with her. In fact, I never saw two more happy, healthy-looking girls than you both. What secret do you possess to make yourselves look so bright?”
“No secret at all,” replied Zara, laughing; “we simply follow the exact laws of health, and they suffice.”
Colonel Everard, who had been examining me critically and asking me a few questions, here turned to Zara and said:
“Do you really mean to say, Madame Casimir, that your brother cured this girl by electricity?”
“Purely so!” she answered earnestly.
“Then it’s the most wonderful recovery I ever saw. Why, at Cannes, she was hollow-eyed, pale, and thin as a willow-wand; now she looks — well, she knows how she is herself — but if she feels as spry as she looks, she’s in first-rate training!”
“I DO feel spry, Colonel,” I said. “Life seems to me like summer sunshine.”
“Brava!” exclaimed Mr. Challoner. He was a staid, rather slow Kentuckian who seldom spoke; and when he did, seemed to find it rather an exertion. “If there’s one class of folk I detest more than another, it is those all-possessed people who find life unsuited to their fancies. Nobody asked them to come into it — nobody would miss them if they went out of it. Being in it, it’s barely civil to grumble at the Deity who sent them along here. I never do it myself if I can help it.”
We laughed, and Mrs. Challoner’s eyes twinkled.
“In England, dear, for instance,” she said, with a mischievous glance at her spouse —“in England you never grumbled, did you?”
Mr. Challoner looked volumes — his visage reddened, and he clenched his broad fist with ominous vigour.
“Why, by the Lord!” he said, with even more than his usual deliberate utterance, “in England the liveliest flea that ever gave a triumphal jump in air would find his spirits inclined to droop! I tell you, ma’am,” he continued, addressing himself to Zara, whose merry laugh rang out like a peal of little golden bells at this last remark —“I tell you that when I walked in the streets of London I used to feel as if I were one of a band of criminals. Every person I met looked at me as if the universe were about to be destroyed next minute, and they had to build another up right away without God to help ’em!”
“Well, I believe I agree with you,” said Colonel Everard. “The English take life too seriously. In their craze for business they manage to do away with pleasure altogether. They seem afraid to laugh, and they even approach the semblance of a smile with due caution.”
“I’m free to confess,” added his wife, “that I’m not easily chilled through. But an English ‘at home’ acts upon me like a patent refrigerator — I get regularly frozen to the bone!”
“Dear me!” laughed Zara; “you give very bad accounts of Shakespeare’s land! It must be very sad!”
“I believe it wasn’t always so,” pursued Colonel Everard; “there are legends which speak of it as Merrie England. I dare say it might have been merry once, before it was governed by shopkeepers; but now, you must get away from it if you want to enjoy life. At least such is my opinion. But have you never been in England, Madame Casimir? You speak English perfectly.”
“Oh, I am a fairly good linguist,” replied Zara, “thanks to my brother. But I have never crossed the Channel.”
The Misses Challoner looked politely surprised; their father’s shrewd face wore an expression of grim contentment.
“Don’t cross it, ma’am,” he said emphatically, “unless you have a special desire to be miserable. If you want to know how Christians love one another and how to be made limply and uselessly wretched, spend a Sunday in London.”
“I think I will not try the experiment, Mr. Challoner,” returned Zara gaily. “Life is short, and I prefer to enjoy it.”
“Say,” interrupted Mrs. Challoner, turning to me at this juncture, “now you are feeling so well, would it be asking you too much to play us a piece of your own improvising?”
I glanced at the grand piano, which occupied a corner of the salon where we sat, and hesitated. But at a slight nod from Zara, I rose, drew off my gloves, and seated myself at the instrument. Passing my hands lightly over the keys, I wandered through a few running passages; and as I did so, murmured a brief petition to my aerial friend Aeon. Scarcely had I done this, when a flood of music seemed to rush to my brain and thence to my fingers, and I played, hardly knowing what I played, but merely absorbed in trying to give utterance to the sounds which were falling softly upon my inner sense of hearing like drops of summer rain on a thirsty soil. I was just aware that I was threading the labyrinth of a minor key, and that the result was a network of delicate and tender melody reminding me of Heinrich Heine’s words:
“Lady, did you not hear the nightingale sing? A beautiful silken voice — a web of happy notes — and my soul was taken in its meshes, and strangled and tortured thereby.”
A few minutes, and the inner voice that conversed with me so sweetly, died away into silence, and at the same time my fingers found their way to the closing chord. As one awaking from a dream, I looked up. The little group of friendly listeners were rapt in the deepest attention; and when I ceased, a murmur of admiration broke from them all, while Zara’s eyes glistened with sympathetic tears.
“How can you do it?” asked Mrs. Challoner in good-natured amazement. “It seems to me impossible to compose like that while seated at the piano, and without taking previous thought!”
“It is not MY doing,” I began; “it seems to come to me from —”
But I was checked by a look from Zara, that gently warned me not to hastily betray the secret of my spiritual communion with the unseen sources of harmony. So I smiled and said no more. Inwardly I was full of a great rejoicing, for I knew that however well I had played in past days, it was nothing compared to the vigour and ease which were now given to me — a sort of unlocking of the storehouse of music, with freedom to take my choice of all its vast treasures.
“Well, it’s what WE call inspiration,” said Mr. Challoner, giving my hand a friendly grasp; “and wherever it comes from, it must be a great happiness to yourself as well as to others.”
“It is,” I answered earnestly. “I believe few are so perfectly happy in music as I am.”
Mrs. Everard looked thoughtful.
“No amount of practice could make ME play like that,” she said; “yet I have had two or three masters who were supposed to be first-rate. One of them was a German, who used to clutch his hair like a walking tragedian whenever I played a wrong note. I believe he got up his reputation entirely by that clutch, for he often played wrong notes himself without minding it. But just because he worked himself into a sort of frenzy when others went wrong, everybody praised him, and said he had such an ear and was so sensitive that he must be a great musician. He worried me nearly to death over Bach’s ‘Well-tempered Klavier’— all to no purpose, for I can’t play a note of it now, and shouldn’t care to if I could. I consider Bach a dreadful old bore, though I know it is heresy to say so. Even Beethoven is occasionally prosy, only no one will be courageous enough to admit it. People would rather go to sleep over classical music than confess they don’t like it.”
“Schubert would have been a grander master than Beethoven, if he had only lived long enough,” said Zara; “but I dare say very few will agree with me in such an assertion. Unfortunately most of my opinions differ from those of everyone else.”
“You should say FORTUNATELY, madame,” said Colonel Everard, bowing gallantly; “as the circumstance has the happy result of making you perfectly original as well as perfectly charming.”
Zara received this compliment with her usual sweet equanimity, and we rose to take our leave. As we were passing out, Amy Everard drew me back and crammed into the pocket of my cloak a newspaper.
“Read it when you are alone,” she whispered; “and you will see what Raffaello Cellini has done with the sketch he made of you.”
We parted from these pleasant Americans with cordial expressions of goodwill, Zara reminding them of their engagement to visit her at her own home next day, and fixing the dinner-hour for half-past seven.
On our return to the Hotel Mars, we found Heliobas in the drawing-room, deep in converse with a Catholic priest — a fine-looking man of venerable and noble features. Zara addressed him as “Father Paul,” and bent humbly before him to receive his blessing, which he gave her with almost parental tenderness. He seemed, from his familiar manner with them, to be a very old friend of the family.
On my being introduced to him, he greeted me with gentle courtesy, and gave me also his simple unaffected benediction. We all partook of a light luncheon to-gether, after which repast Heliobas and Father Paul withdrew together. Zara looked after their retreating figures with a sort of meditative pathos in her large eyes; and then she told me she had something to finish in her studio — would I excuse her for about an hour? I readily consented, for I myself was desirous of passing a little time in solitude, in order to read the manuscripts Heliobas had given me. “For,” thought I, “if there is anything in them not quite clear to me, he will explain it, and I had better take advantage of his instruction while I can.”
As Zara and I went upstairs together, we were followed by Leo — a most unusual circumstance, as that faithful animal was generally in attendance on his master. Now, however, he seemed to have something oppressive on his mind, for he kept close to Zara, and his big brown eyes, whenever he raised them to her face, were full of intense melancholy. His tail drooped in a forlorn way, and all the vivacity of his nature seemed to have gone out of him.
“Leo does not seem well,” I said, patting the dog’s beautiful silky coat, an attention to which he responded by a heavy sigh and a wistful gaze approaching to tears. Zara looked at him.
“Poor Leo!” she murmured caressingly. “Perhaps he feels lonely. Do you want to come with your mistress to-day, old boy? So you shall. Come along — cheer up, Leo!”
And, nodding to me, she passed into her studio, the dog following her. I turned into my own apartment, and then bethought myself of the newspaper Mrs. Everard had thrust into my pocket. It was a Roman journal, and the passage marked for my perusal ran as follows:
“The picture of the Improvisatrice, painted by our countryman Signor Raffaello Cellini, has been purchased by Prince N—— for the sum of forty thousand francs. The Prince generously permits it to remain on view for a few days longer, so that those who have not yet enjoyed its attraction, have still time to behold one of the most wonderful pictures of the age. The colouring yet remains a marvel to both students and connoisseurs, and the life-like appearance of the girl’s figure, robed in its clinging white draperies ornamented with lilies of the valley, is so strong, that one imagines she will step out of the canvas and confront the bystanders. Signor Cellini must now be undoubtedly acknowledged as one of the greatest geniuses of modern times.”
I could see no reason, as I perused this, to be sure that I had served as the model for this successful work of art, unless the white dress and the lilies of the valley, which I had certainly worn at Cannes, were sufficient authority for forming such a conclusion. Still I felt quite a curiosity about the picture — the more so as I could foresee no possible chance of my ever beholding it. I certainly should not go to Rome on purpose, and in a few days it would be in the possession of Prince N——a personage whom in all probability I should never know. I put the newspaper carefully by, and then turned my mind to the consideration of quite another subject — namely, the contents of my parchment documents. The first one I opened was that containing the private instructions of Heliobas to myself for the preservation of my own health, and the cultivation of the electric force within me. These were so exceedingly simple, and yet so wonderful in their simplicity, that I was surprised. They were based upon the plainest and most reasonable common-sense arguments — easy enough for a child to understand. Having promised never to make them public, it is impossible for me to give the slightest hint of their purport; but I may say at once, without trespassing the bounds of my pledged word, that if these few concise instructions were known and practised by everyone, doctors would be entirely thrown out of employment, and chemists’ shops would no longer cumber the streets. Illness would be very difficult of attainment — though in the event of its occurring each individual would know how to treat him or herself — and life could be prolonged easily and comfortably to more than a hundred years, barring, of course, accidents by sea, rail and road, or by deeds of violence. But it will take many generations before the world is UNIVERSALLY self-restrained enough to follow such plain maxims as those laid down for me in the writing of my benefactor, Heliobas — even if it be ever self-restrained at all, which, judging from the present state of society, is much to be doubted. Therefore, no more of the subject, on which, indeed, I am forbidden to speak.
The other document, called “The Electric Principle of Christianity,” I found so curious and original, suggesting so many new theories concerning that religion which has civilized a great portion of humanity, that, as I am not restrained by any promise on this point, I have resolved to give it here in full. My readers must not be rash enough to jump to the conclusion that I set it forward as an explanation or confession of my own faith; my creed has nothing to do with anyone save myself. I simply copy the manuscript I possess, as the theory of a deeply read and widely intelligent man, such as Heliobas undoubtedly WAS and IS; a man, too, in whose veins runs the blood of the Chaldean kings — earnest and thoughtful Orientals, who were far wiser in their generation perhaps than we, with all our boasted progress, are in ours. The coincidences which have to do with electrical science will, I believe, be generally admitted to be curious if not convincing. To me, of course, they are only fresh proofs of WHAT I KNOW, because I HAVE SEEN THE GREAT ELECTRIC CIRCLE, and know its power (guided as it is by the Central Intelligence within) to be capable of anything, from the sending down of a minute spark of instinct into the heart of a flower, to the perpetual manufacture and re-absorption of solar systems by the million million. And it is a circle that ever widens without end. What more glorious manifestation can there be of the Creator’s splendour and wisdom! But as to how this world of ours span round in its own light littleness farther and farther from the Radiant Ring, till its very Sun began to be re-absorbed, and till its Moon disappeared and became a mere picture — till it became of itself like a small blot on the fair scroll of the Universe, while its inhabitants grew to resent all heavenly attraction; and how it was yet thought worth God’s patience and tender consideration, just for the sake of a few human souls upon it who still remembered and loved Him, to give it one more chance before it should be drawn back into the Central Circle like a spark within a fire — all this is sufficiently set forth in the words of Heliobas, quoted in the next chapter.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:52