I rushed to the study-door, tore aside the velvet hangings, and faced Heliobas and Prince Ivan Petroffsky. They held drawn weapons, which they lowered at my sudden entrance, and paused irresolutely.
“What are you doing?” I cried, addressing myself to Heliobas. “With the dead body of your sister in the house you can fight! You, too!” and I looked reproachfully at Prince Ivan; “you also can desecrate the sanctity of death, and yet — you LOVED her!”
The Prince spoke not, but clenched his sword-hilt with a fiercer grasp, and glared wildly on his opponent. His eyes had a look of madness in them — his dress was much disordered — his hair wet with drops of rain — his face ghastly white, and his whole demeanour was that of a man distraught with grief and passion. But he uttered no word. Heliobas spoke; he was coldly calm, and balanced his sword lightly on his open hand as if it were a toy.
“This GENTLEMAN,” he said, with deliberate emphasis, “happened, on his way thither, to meet Dr. Morini, who informed him of the fatal catastrophe which has caused my sister’s death. Instead of respecting the sacredness of my solitude under the circumstances, he thrust himself rudely into my presence, and, before I could address him, struck me violently in the face, and accused me of being my sister’s murderer. Such conduct can only meet with one reply. I gave him his choice of weapons: he chose swords. Our combat has just begun — we are anxious to resume it; therefore if you, mademoiselle, will have the goodness to retire —-”
I interrupted him.
“I shall certainly not retire,” I said firmly. “This behaviour on both your parts is positive madness. Prince Ivan, please to listen to me. The circumstances of Zara’s death were plainly witnessed by me and others — her brother is as innocent of having caused it as I am.”
And I recounted to him quietly all that had happened during that fatal and eventful evening. He listened moodily, tracing out the pattern of the carpet with the point of his sword. When I had finished he looked up, and a bitter smile crossed his features.
“I wonder, mademoiselle,” he said, “that your residence in this accursed house has not taught you better. I quite believe all you say, that Zara, unfortunate girl that she was, received her death by a lightning-flash. But answer me this: Who made her capable of attracting atmospheric electricity? Who charged her beautiful delicate body with a vile compound of electrical fluid, so that she was as a living magnet, bound to draw towards herself electricity in all its forms? Who tampered with her fine brain and made her imagine herself allied to a spirit of air? Who but HE— HE! — yonder unscrupulous wretch! — he who in pursuit of his miserable science, practised his most dangerous experiments on his sister, regardless of her health, her happiness, her life! I say he is her murderer — her remorseless murderer, and a thrice-damned villain!”
And he sprang forward to renew the combat. I stepped quietly, unflinchingly between him and Heliobas.
“Stop!” I exclaimed; “this cannot go on. Zara herself forbids it!”
The Prince paused, and looked at me in a sort of stupefaction.
“Zara forbids it!” he muttered. “What do you mean?”
“I mean,” I went on, “that I have seen Zara since her death; I have spoken to her. She herself sent me here.”
Prince Ivan stared, and then burst into a fit of wild laughter.
“Little fool!” he cried to me; “he has maddened you too, then! You are also a victim! Miserable girl! out of my path! Revenge — revenge! while I am yet sane!”
Then pushing me roughly aside, he cast away his sword, and shouted to Heliobas:
“Hand to hand, villain! No more of these toy-weapons! Hand to hand!”
Heliobas instantly threw down his sword also, and rushing forward simultaneously, they closed together in savage conflict. Heliobas was the taller and more powerful of the two, but Prince Ivan seemed imbued with the spirit of a hundred devils, and sprang at his opponent’s throat with the silent breathless ferocity of a tiger. At first Heliobas appeared to be simply on the defensive, and his agile, skilful movements were all used to parry and ward off the other’s grappling eagerness. But as I watched the struggle, myself speechless and powerless, I saw his face change. Instead of its calm and almost indifferent expression, there came a look which was completely foreign to it — a look of savage determination bordering on positive cruelty. In a moment I saw what was taking place in his mind. The animal passions of the mere MAN were aroused — the spiritual force was utterly forgotten. The excitement of the contest was beginning to tell, and the desire of victory was dominant in the breast of him whose ideas were generally — and should have been now — those of patient endurance and large generosity. The fight grew closer, hotter, and more terrible. Suddenly the Prince swerved aside and fell, and within a second Heliobas held him down, pressing one knee firmly against his chest. From my point of observation I noted with alarm that little by little Ivan ceased his violent efforts to rise, and that he kept his eyes fixed on the overshadowing face of his foe with an unnatural and curious pertinacity. I stepped forward. Heliobas pressed his whole weight heavily down on the young man’s prostrate body, while with both hands he held him by the shoulders, and gazed with terrific meaning into his fast-paling countenance. Ivan’s lips turned blue; his eyes appeared to start from their sockets; his throat rattled. The spell that held me silent was broken; a flash of light, a flood of memory swept over my intelligence. I knew that Heliobas was exciting the whole battery of his inner electric force, and that thus employed for the purposes of vengeance, it must infallibly cause death. I found my speech at last.
“Heliobas!” I cried “Remember, remember Azul! When Death lies like a gift in your hand, withhold it. Withhold it, Heliobas; and give Life instead!”
He started at the sound of my voice, and looked up. A strong shudder shook his frame. Very slowly, very reluctantly, he relaxed his position; he rose from his kneeling posture on the Prince’s breast — he left him and stood upright. Ivan at the same moment heaved a deep sigh, and closed his eyes, apparently insensible.
Gradually one by one the hard lines faded out of the face of Heliobas, and his old expression of soft and grave beneficence came back to it as graciously as sunlight after rain. He turned to me, and bent his head in a sort of reverential salutation.
“I thank and bless you,” he said; “you reminded me in time! Another moment and it would have been too late. You have saved me.”
“Give him his life,” I said, pointing to Ivan.
“He has it,” returned Heliobas; “I have not taken it from him, thank God! He provoked me; I regret it. I should have been more patient with him. He will revive immediately. I leave him to your care. In dealing with him, I ought to have remembered that human passion like his, unguided by spiritual knowledge, was to be met with pity and forbearance. As it is, however, he is safe. For me, I will go and pray for Zara’s pardon, and that of my wronged Azul.”
As he uttered the last words, he started, looked up, and smiled.
“My beautiful one! Thou HAST pardoned me? Thou wilt love me still? Thou art with me, Azul, my beloved? I have not lost thee, oh my best and dearest! Wilt thou lead me? Whither? Nay — no matter whither — I come!”
And as one walking in sleep, he went out of the room, and I heard his footsteps echoing in the distance on the way to the chapel.
Left alone with the Prince, I snatched a glass of cold water from the table, and sprinkled some of it on his forehead and hands. This was quite sufficient to revive him; and he drew a long breath, opened his eyes, and stared wildly about him. Seeing no one but me he grew bewildered, and asked:
“What has happened?”
Then catching sight of the drawn swords lying still on the ground where they had been thrown, he sprang to his feet, and cried:
“Where is the coward and murderer?”
I made him sit down and hear with patience what I had to say. I reminded him that Zara’s health and happiness had always been perfect, and that her brother would rather have slain himself than her. I told him plainly that Zara had expected her death, and had prepared for it — had even bade me good-bye, although then I had not understood the meaning of her words. I recalled to his mind the day when Zara had used her power to repulse him.
“Disbelieve as you will in electric spiritual force,” I said. “Your message to her then through me was — TELL HER I HAVE SEEN HER LOVER.”
At these words a sombre shadow flitted over the Prince’s face.
“I tell you,” he said slowly, “that I believe I was on that occasion the victim of an hallucination. But I will explain to you what I saw. A superb figure, like, and yet unlike, a man, but of a much larger and grander form, appeared to me, as I thought, and spoke. ‘Zara is mine,’ it said —‘mine by choice; mine by freewill; mine till death; mine after death; mine through eternity. With her thou hast naught in common; thy way lies elsewhere. Follow the path allotted to thee, and presume no more upon an angel’s patience.’ Then this Strange majestic-looking creature, whose face, as I remember it, was extraordinarily beautiful, and whose eyes were like self-luminous stars, vanished. But, after all, what of it? The whole thing was a dream.”
“I am not so sure of that,” I said quietly, “But, Prince Ivan, now that you are calmer and more capable of resignation, will you tell me why you loved Zara?”
“Why!” he broke out impetuously. “Why, because it was impossible to help loving her.”
“That is no answer,” I replied. “Think! You can reason well if you like — I have heard you hold your own in an argument. What made you love Zara?”
He looked at me in a sort of impatient surprise, but seeing I was very much in earnest, he pondered a minute or so before replying.
“She was the loveliest woman I have ever seen!” he said at last, and in his voice there was a sound of yearning and regret.
“Is THAT all?” I queried, with a gesture of contempt. “Because her body was beautiful — because she had sweet kissing lips and a soft skin; because her hand was like a white flower, and her dark hair clustering over her brow reminded one of a misty evening cloud hiding moonlight; because the glance of her glorious eyes made the blood leap through your veins and sting you with passionate desire — are these the reasons of your so-called love? Oh, give it some other and lower name! For the worms shall feed on the fair flesh that won your admiration — their wet and slimy bodies shall trail across the round white arms and tender bosom — unsightly things shall crawl among the tresses of the glossy hair; and nothing, nothing shall remain of what you loved, but dust. Prince Ivan, you shudder; but I too loved Zara — I loved HER, not the perishable casket in which, like a jewel, she was for a time enshrined. I love her still — and for the being I love there is no such thing as death.”
The Prince was silent, and seemed touched. I had spoken with real feeling, and tears of emotion stood in my eyes.
“I loved her as a man generally loves,” he said, after a little pause. “Nay — more than most men love most women!”
“Most men are too often selfish in both their loves and hatreds,” I returned. “Tell me if there was anything in Zara’s mind and intelligence to attract you? Did you sympathize in her pursuits; did you admire her tastes; had you any ideas in common with her?”
“No, I confess I had not,” he answered readily. “I considered her to be entirely a victim to her brother’s scientific experiments. I thought, by making her my wife, to release her from such tyranny and give her rescue and refuge. To this end I found out all I could from — HIM”— he approached the name of Heliobas with reluctance —“and I made up my mind that her delicate imagination had been morbidly excited; but that marriage and a life like that led by other women would bring her to a more healthy state of mind.”
I smiled with a little scorn.
“Your presumption was almost greater than your folly, Prince,” I said, “that with such ideas as these in your mind you could dream of winning Zara for a wife. Do you think she could have led a life like that of other women? A frivolous round of gaiety, a few fine dresses and jewels, small-talk, society scandal, stale compliments — you think such things would have suited HER? And would she have contented herself with a love like yours? Come! Come and see how well she has escaped you!”
And I beckoned him towards the door. He hesitated.
“Where would you take me?” he asked.
“To the chapel. Zara’s body lies there.”
“No, no — not there! I cannot bear to look upon her perished loveliness — to see that face, once so animated, white and rigid — death in such a form is too horrible!”
And he covered his eyes with his hand — I saw tears slowly drop through his fingers. I gazed at him, half in wonder, half in pity.
“And yet you are a brave man!” I said.
These words roused him. He met my gaze with such a haggard look of woe that my heart ached for him. What comfort had he now? What joy could he ever expect? All his happiness was centred in the fact of BEING ALIVE— alive to the pleasures of living, and to the joys the world could offer to a man who was strong, handsome, rich, and accomplished — how could he look upon death as otherwise than a loathsome thing — a thing not to be thought of in the heyday of youthful blood and jollity — a doleful spectre, in whose bony hands the roses of love must fall and wither! With a sense of deep commiseration in me, I spoke again with great gentleness.
“You need not look upon Zara’s corpse unless you wish it, Prince,” I said. “To you, the mysteries of the Hereafter have not been unlocked, because there is something in your nature that cannot and will not believe in God. Therefore to you, death must be repellent. I know you are one of those for whom the present alone exists — you easily forget the past, and take no trouble for the future. Paris is your heaven, or St. Petersburg, or Vienna, as the fancy takes you; and the modern atheistical doctrines of French demoralization are in your blood. Nothing but a heaven-sent miracle could make you other than you are, and miracles do not exist for the materialist. But let me say two words more before you go from this house. Seek no more to avenge yourself for your love-disappointment on Heliobas — for you have really nothing to avenge. By your own confession you only cared for Zara’s body — that body was always perishable, and it has perished by a sudden but natural catastrophe. With her soul, you declare you had nothing in common — that was herself — and she is alive to us who love her as she sought to be loved. Heliobas is innocent of having slain her body; he but helped to cultivate and foster that beautiful Spirit which he knew to be HER— for that he is to be honored and commended. Promise me, therefore, Prince Ivan, that you will never approach him again except in friendship — indeed, you owe him an apology for your unjust accusation, as also your gratitude for his sparing your life in the recent struggle.”
The Prince kept his eyes steadily fixed upon me all the time I was speaking, and as I finished, he sighed and moved restlessly.
“Your words are compelling, mademoiselle,” he said; “and you have a strange attraction for me. I know I am not wrong in thinking that you are a disciple of Heliobas, whose science I admit, though I doubt his theories. I promise you willingly what you ask — nay, I will even offer him my hand if he will accept it.”
Overjoyed at my success, I answered: “He is in the chapel, but I will fetch him here.”
Over the Prince’s face a shadow of doubt, mingled with dread, passed swiftly, and he seemed to be forming a resolve in his own mind which was more or less distasteful to him. Whatever the feeling was he conquered it by a strong effort, and said with firmness:
“No; I will go to him myself. And I will look again upon — upon the face I loved. It is but one pang the more, and why should I not endure it?”
Seeing him thus inclined, I made no effort to dissuade him, and without another word I led the way to the chapel. I entered it reverently, he following me closely, with slow hushed footsteps. All was the same as I had left it, save that the servants of the household had gone to take some needful rest before the morning light called them to their daily routine of labour. Father Paul, too, had retired, and Heliobas alone knelt beside all that remained of Zara, his figure as motionless as though carved in bronze, his face hidden in his hands. As we approached, he neither stirred nor looked up, therefore I softly led the Prince to the opposite side of the bier, that he might look quietly on the perished loveliness that lay there at rest for ever. Ivan trembled, yet steadfastly gazed at the beautiful reposeful form, at the calm features on which the smile with which death had been received, still lingered — at the folded hands, the fading orange-blossoms — at the crucifix that lay on the cold breast like the final seal on the letter of life. Impulsively he stooped forward, and with a tender awe pressed his lips on the pale forehead, but instantly started back with the smothered, exclamation:
“O God! how cold!”
At the sound of his voice Heliobas rose up erect, and the two men faced each other, Zara’s dead body lying like a barrier betwixt them.
A pause followed — a pause in which I heard my own heart beating loudly, so great was my anxiety. Heliobas suffered a few moments to elapse, then stretched his hand across his sister’s bier.
“In HER name, let there be peace between us, Ivan,” he said in accents that were both gentle and solemn.
The Prince, touched to the quick, responded to these kindly words with eager promptness, and they clasped hands over the quiet and lovely form that lay there — a silent, binding witness of their reconciliation.
“I have to ask your pardon, Casimir,” then whispered Ivan. “I have also to thank you for my life.”
“Thank the friend who stands beside you,” returned Heliobas, in the same low tone, with a slight gesture towards me. “She reminded me of a duty in time. As for pardon, I know of no cause of offence on your part save what was perfectly excusable. Say no more; wisdom comes with years, and you are yet young.”
A long silence followed. We all remained looking wistfully down upon the body of our lost darling, in thought too deep for words or weeping. I then noticed that another humble mourner shared our watch — a mourner whose very existence I had nearly forgotten. It was the faithful Leo. He lay couchant on the stone floor at the foot of the bier, almost as silent as a dog of marble; the only sign of animation he gave being a deep sigh which broke from his honest heart now and then. I went to him and softly patted his shaggy coat. He looked up at me with big brown eyes full of tears, licked my hand meekly, and again laid his head down upon his two fore-paws with a resignation that was most pathetic.
The dawn began to peer faintly through the chapel windows — the dawn of a misty, chilly morning. The storm of the past night had left a sting in the air, and the rain still fell, though gently. The wind had almost entirely sunk into silence. I re-arranged the flowers that were strewn on Zara’s corpse, taking away all those that had slightly faded. The orange-blossom was almost dead, but I left that where it was — where the living Zara had herself placed it. As I performed this slight service, I thought, half mournfully, half gladly —
“Yes, Heaven is thine, but this
Is a world of sweets and sours —
Our flowers are merely FLOWERS;
And the shadow of thy perfect bliss
Is the sunshine of ours.”
Prince Ivan at last roused himself as from a deep and melancholy reverie, and, addressing himself to Heliobas, said softly:
“I will intrude no longer on your privacy, Casimir. Farewell! I shall leave Paris to-night.”
For all answer Heliobas beckoned him and me also out of the chapel. As soon as its doors closed behind us, and we stood in the centre hall, he spoke with affectionate and grave earnestness:
“Ivan, something tells me that you and I shall not meet again for many years, if ever. Therefore, when you say ‘farewell,’ the word falls upon my ears with double meaning. We are friends — our friendship is sanctified by the dead presence of one whom we both loved, in different ways; therefore you will take in good part what I now say to you. You know, you cannot disguise from yourself that the science I study is fraught with terrible truth and marvellous discoveries; the theories I deduce from it you disbelieve, because you are nearly a materialist. I say NEARLY— not quite. That ‘not quite’ makes me love you, Ivan: I would save the small bright spark that flickers within you from both escape and extinction. But I cannot — at least, not as yet. Still, in order that you may know that there is a power in me higher than ordinary human reason, before you go from me to-night hear my prophecy of your career. The world waits for you, Ivan — the world, all agape and glittering with a thousand sparkling toys; it waits greedy for your presence, ready to fawn upon you for a smile, willing to cringe to you for a nod of approval. And why? Because wealth is yours — vast, illimitable wealth. Aye — you need not start or look incredulous — you will find it as I say. You, whose fortune up to now has barely reached a poor four thousand per annum — you are at this moment the possessor of millions. Only last night a relative of yours, whose name you scarcely know, expired, leaving all his hoarded treasures to you. Before the close of this present day, on whose threshold we now stand, you will have the news. When you receive it remember me, and acknowledge that at least for once I knew and spoke the truth. Follow the broad road, Ivan, laid out before you — a road wide enough not only for you to walk in, but for the crowd of toadies and flatterers also, who will push on swiftly after you and jostle you on all sides; be strong of heart and merry of countenance! Gather the roses; press the luscious grapes into warm, red wine that, as you quaff it, shall make your blood dance a mad waltz in your veins, and fair women’s faces shall seem fairer to you than ever, their embraces more tender, their kisses more tempting! Spin the ball of Society like a toy in the palm of your hand! I see your life stretching before me like a brilliant, thread-like ephemeral ray of light! But in the far distance across it looms a shadow — a shadow that your power alone can never lift. Mark me, Ivan! When the first dread chill of that shadow makes itself felt, come to me — I shall yet be living. Come; for then no wealth can aid you — at that dark hour no boon companions can comfort. Come; and by our friendship so lately sworn — by Zara’s pure soul — by God’s existence, I will not die till I have changed that darkness over you into light eternal! — Fare you well!”
He caught the Prince’s hand, and wrung it hard; then, without further word, look, or gesture, turned and disappeared again within the chapel.
His words had evidently made a deep impression on the young nobleman, who gazed after his retreating figure with a certain awe not unmingled with fear.
I held out my hand in silent farewell. Ivan took it gently, and kissed it with graceful courtesy.
“Casimir told me that your intercession saved my life, mademoiselle,” he said. “Accept my poor thanks. If his present prophet-like utterances be true —-”
“Why should you doubt him?” I asked, with some impatience. “Can you believe in NOTHING?”
The Prince, still holding my hand, looked at me in a sort of grave perplexity.
“I think you have hit it,” he observed quietly. “I doubt everything except the fact of my own existence, and there are times when I am not even sure of that. But if, as I said before, the prophecy of my Chaldean friend, whom I cannot help admiring with all my heart, turns out to be correct, then my life is more valuable to me than ever with such wealth to balance it, and I thank you doubly for having saved it by a word in time.”
I withdrew my hand gently from his.
“You think the worth of your life increased by wealth?” Tasked.
“Naturally! Money is power.”
“And what of the shadow also foretold as inseparable from your fate?”
A faint smile crossed his features.
“Ah, pardon me! That is the only portion of Casimir’s fortune-telling that I am inclined to disbelieve thoroughly.”
“But,” I said, “if you are willing to accept the pleasant part of his prophecy, why not admit the possibility of the unpleasant occurring also?”
He shrugged his shoulders.
“In these enlightened times, mademoiselle, we only believe what is agreeable to us, and what suits our own wishes, tastes, and opinions. Ca va sans dire. We cannot be forced to accept a Deity against our reason. That is a grand result of modern education.”
“Is it?” and I looked at him with pity. “Poor human reason! It will reel into madness sometimes for a mere trifle — an overdose of alcohol will sometimes upset it altogether — what a noble omnipotent thing is human reason! But let me not detain you. Good-bye, and — as the greeting of olden times used to run — God save you!”
He bent his head with a light reverence.
“I believe you to be a good, sweet woman,” he said, “therefore I am grateful for your blessing. My mother,” and here his eyes grew dreamy and wistful —“poor soul! she died long ago — my mother would never let me retire to rest without signing the cross on my brow. Ah well, that is past! I should like, mademoiselle,” and his voice sank very low, “to send some flowers for — her — you understand?”
I did understand, and readily promised to lay whatever blossoms he selected tenderly above the sacred remains of that earthly beauty he had loved, as he himself said, “more than most men love most women.”
He thanked me earnestly, and seemed relieved and satisfied. Casting a look of farewell around the familiar hall, he wafted a parting kiss towards the chapel — an action which, though light, was full of tenderness and regret. Then, with a low salute, he left me. The street-door opened and closed after him in its usual noiseless manner. He was gone.
The morning had now fairly dawned, and within the Hotel Mars the work of the great mansion went on in its usual routine; but a sombre melancholy was in the atmosphere — a melancholy that not all my best efforts could dissipate. The domestics looked sullen and heavy-eyed; the only ones in their number who preserved their usual equanimity were the Armenian men-servants and the little Greek page. Preparations for Zara’s funeral went on apace; they were exceedingly simple, and the ceremony was to be quite private in character. Heliobas issued his orders, and saw to the carrying out of his most minute instructions in his usual calm manner; but his eyes looked heavy, and his fine countenance was rendered even more majestic by the sacred, resigned sorrow that lay upon it like a deep shadow. His page served him with breakfast in his private room: but he left the light meal untasted. One of the women brought me coffee; but the very thought of eating and drinking seemed repulsive, and I could not touch anything. My mind was busy with the consideration of the duty I had to perform — namely, to see the destruction of Zara’s colossal statue, as she had requested. After thinking about it for some time, I went to Heliobas and told him what I had it in charge to do. He listened attentively.
“Do it at once,” he said decisively. “Take my Armenians; they are discreet, obedient, and they ask no questions — with strong hammers they will soon crush the clay. Stay! I will come with you.” Then looking at me scrutinizingly, he added kindly: “You have eaten nothing, my child? You cannot? But your strength will give way — here, take this.” And lie held out a small glass of a fluid whose revivifying properties I well knew to be greater than any sustenance provided by an ordinary meal. I swallowed it obediently, and as I returned the empty glass to him he said: “I also have a commission in charge from Zara. You know, I suppose, that she was prepared for her death?”
“I did not know; but I think she must have been,” I answered.
“She was. We both were. We remained together in the chapel all day, saying what parting words we had to say to one another. We knew her death, or rather her release, was to occur at some hour that night; but in what way the end was destined to come, we knew not. Till I heard the first peals of thunder, I was in suspense; but after that I was no longer uncertain. You were a witness of the whole ensuing scene. No death could have been more painless than hers. But let me not forget the message she gave me for you.” Here he took from a secret drawer the electric stone Zara had always worn. “This jewel is yours,” he said. “You need not fear to accept it — it contains no harm! it will bring you no ill-fortune. You see how all the sparkling brilliancy has gone out of it? Wear it, and within a few minutes it will be as lustrous as ever. The life throbbing in your veins warms the electricity contained in it; and with the flowing of your blood, its hues change and glow. It has no power to attract; it can simply absorb and shine. Take it as a remembrance of her who loved you and who loves you still.”
I was still in my evening dress, and my neck was bare. I slipped the chain, on which hung the stone, round my throat, and watched the strange gem with some curiosity. In a few seconds a pale streak of fiery topaz flashed through it, which deepened and glowed into a warm crimson, like the heart of a red rose; and by the time it had become thoroughly warmed against my flesh, it glittered as brilliantly as ever.
“I will always wear it,” I said earnestly. “I believe it will bring me good fortune.”
“I believe it will,” returned Heliobas simply. “And now let us fulfil Zara’s other commands.”
On our way across the hall we were stopped by the page, who brought us a message of inquiry after Zara’s health from Colonel Everard and his wife, and also from the Challoners. Heliobas hastily wrote a few brief words in pencil, explaining the fatal result of the accident, and returned it to the messenger, giving orders at the same time that all the blinds should be pulled down at the windows of the house, that visitors might understand there was no admittance. We then proceeded to the studio, accompanied by the Armenians carrying heavy hammers. Reverently, and with my mind full of recollections of Zara’s living presence, I opened the familiar door. The first thing that greeted us was a most exquisitely wrought statue in white marble of Zara herself, full length, and arrayed in her customary graceful Eastern costume. The head was slightly raised: a look of gladness lighted up the beautiful features; and within the loosely clasped hands was a cluster of roses. Bound the pedestal were carved the words, “Omnia vincit Amor,” with Zara’s name and the dates of her birth and death. A little slip of paper lay at the foot of the statue, which Heliobas perceived, and taking it he read and passed it to me. The lines were in Zara’s handwriting, and ran as follows:
“To my beloved Casimir — my brother, my friend, my guide and teacher, to whom I owe the supreme happiness of my life in this world and the next — let this poor figure of his grateful Zara be a memento of happy days that are gone, only to be renewed with redoubled happiness hereafter.”
I handed back the paper silently, with tears in my eyes, and we turned our attention to the colossal figure we had come to destroy. It stood at the extreme end of the studio, and was entirely hidden by white linen drapery. Heliobas advanced, and by a sudden dexterous movement succeeded in drawing off the coverings with a single effort, and then we both fell back and gazed at the clay form disclosed in amazement. What did it represent? A man? a god? an angel? or all three united in one vast figure?
It was an unfinished work. The features of the face were undeclared, save the brow and eyes; and these were large, grand, and full of absolute wisdom and tranquil consciousness of power. I could have gazed on this wonderful piece of Zara’s handiwork for hours, but Heliobas called to the Armenian servants, who stood near the door awaiting orders, and commanded them to break it down. For once these well-trained domestics showed signs of surprise, and hesitated. Their master frowned. Snatching a hammer from one of them, he himself attacked the great statue as if it were a personal foe. The Armenians, seeing he was in earnest, returned to their usual habits of passive obedience, and aided him in his labour. Within a few minutes the great and beautiful figure lay in fragments on the floor, and these fragments were soon crushed into indistinguishable atoms. I had promised to witness this work of destruction, and witness it I did, but it was with pain and regret. When all was finished, Heliobas commanded his men to carry the statue of Zara’s self down to his own private room, and then to summon all the domestics of the household in a body to the great hall, as he wished to address them. I heard him give this order with some surprise, and he saw it. As the Armenians slowly disappeared, carrying with great care the marble figure of their late mistress, he turned to me, as he locked up the door of the studio, and said quietly:
“These ignorant folk, who serve me for money and food — money that they have eagerly taken, and food that they have greedily devoured — they think that I am the devil or one of the devil’s agents, and I am going to prove their theories entirely to their satisfaction. Come and see!”
I followed him, somewhat mystified. On the way downstairs he said:
“Do you know why Zara wished that statue destroyed?”
“No,” I said frankly; “unless for the reason that it was incomplete.”
“It always would have been incomplete,” returned Heliobas; “even had she lived to work at it for years. It was a daring attempt, and a fruitless one. She was trying to make a clay figure of one who never wore earthly form — the Being who is her Twin-Soul, who dominates her entirely, and who is with her now. As well might she have tried to represent in white marble the prismatic hues of the rainbow!”
We had now reached the hall, and the servants were assembling by twos and threes. They glanced at their master with looks of awe, as he took up a commanding position near the fountain, and faced them with a glance of calm scrutiny and attention. I drew a chair behind one of the marble columns and seated myself, watching everything with interest. Leo appeared from some corner or other, and laid his rough body down close at his master’s feet.
In a few minutes all the domestics, some twenty in number, were present, and Heliobas, raising his voice, spoke with a clear deliberate enunciation:
“I have sent for you all this morning, because I am perfectly aware that you have all determined to give me notice.”
A stir of astonishment and dismay ensued on the part of the small audience, and I heard one voice near me whisper:
“He IS the devil, or how could he have known it?”
The lips of Heliobas curled in a fine sarcastic smile. He went on:
“I spare you this trouble. Knowing your intentions, I take upon myself to dismiss you at once. Naturally, you cannot risk your characters by remaining in the service of the devil. For my own part, I wonder the devil’s money has not burnt your hands, or his food turned to poison in your mouths. My sister, your kind and ever-indulgent mistress, is dead. You know this, and it is your opinion that I summoned up the thunderstorm which caused her death. Be it so. Report it so, if you will, through Paris; your words do not affect me. You have been excellent machines, and for your services many thanks! As soon as my sister’s funeral is over, your wages, with an additional present, will be sent to you. You can then leave my house when you please; and, contrary to the usual custom of accepted devils, I am able to say, without perishing in the effort — God speed you all!”
The faces of those he addressed exhibited various emotions while he spoke — fear contending with a good deal of shame. The little Greek page stepped forward timidly.
“The master knows that I will never leave him,” he murmured, and his large eyes were moist with tears.
Heliobas laid a gentle hand on the boy’s dark curls, but said nothing. One of the four Armenians advanced, and with a graceful rapid gesture of his right hand, touched his head and breast.
“My lord will not surely dismiss US who desire to devote ourselves to his service? We are willing to follow my lord to the death if need be, for the sake of the love and honour we bear him.”
Heliobas looked at him very kindly.
“I am richer in friends than I thought myself to be,” he said quietly. “Stay then, by all means, Afra, you and your companions, since you have desired it. And you, my boy,” he went on, addressing the tearful page, “think you that I would turn adrift an orphan, whom a dying mother trusted to my care? Nay, child, I am as much your servant as you are mine, so long as your love turns towards me.”
For all answer the page kissed his hand in a sort of rapture, and flinging back his clustering hair from his classic brows, surveyed the domestics, who had taken their dismissal in silent acquiescence, with a pretty scorn.
“Go, all of you, scum of Paris!” he cried in his clear treble tones —“you who know neither God nor devil! You will have your money — more than your share — what else seek you? You have served one of the noblest of men; and because he is so great and wise and true, you judge him a fiend! Oh, so like the people of Paris — they who pervert all things till they think good evil and evil good! Look you! you have worked for your wages; but I have worked for HIM— I would starve with him, I would die for him! For to me he is not fiend, but Angel!”
Overcome by his own feelings the boy again kissed his master’s hand, and Heliobas gently bade him be silent. He himself looked round on the still motionless group of servants with an air of calm surprise.
“What are you waiting for?” he asked. “Consider yourselves dismissed, and at liberty to go where you please. Any one of you that chooses to apply to me for a character shall not lack the suitable recommendation. There is no more to say.”
A lively-looking woman with quick restless black eyes stepped forward.
“I am sure,” she said, with a mincing curtsey, “that we are very sorry if we have unintentionally wronged monsieur; but monsieur, who is aware of so many things, must know that many reports are circulated about monsieur that make one to shudder; that madame his sister’s death so lamentable has given to all, what one would say, the horrors; and monsieur must consider that poor servants of virtuous reputation —”
“So, Jeanne Claudet!” interrupted Heliobas, in a thrilling low tone. “And what of the child — the little waxen-faced helpless babe left to die on the banks of the Loire? But it did not die, Jeanne — it was rescued; and it shall yet live to loathe its mother!”
The woman uttered a shriek, and fainted.
In the feminine confusion and fuss that ensued, Heliobas, accompanied by his little page and the dog Leo, left the hall and entered his own private room, where for some time I left him undisturbed.
In the early part of the afternoon a note was brought to me. It was from Colonel Everard, entreating me to come as soon as possible to his wife, who was very ill.
“Since she heard of the death of that beautiful young lady, a death so fearfully sudden and unexpected,” wrote the Colonel, “she has been quite unlike herself — nervous, hysterical, and thoroughly unstrung. It will be a real kindness to her if you will come as soon as you can — she has such, a strong desire for your company.”
I showed this note at once to Heliobas. He read it, and said:
“Of course you must go. Wait till our simple funeral ceremony is over, and then — we part. Not for ever; I shall see you often again. For now I have lost Zara, you are my only female disciple, and I shall not willingly lose sight of you. You will correspond with me?”
“Gladly and gratefully,” I replied.
“You shall not lose by it. I can initiate you into many secrets that will be useful to you in your career. As for your friend Mrs. Everard, you will find that your presence will cure her. You have progressed greatly in electric force: the mere touch of your hand will soothe her, as you will find. But never be tempted to try any of the fluids of which you have the recipes on her, or on anybody but yourself, unless you write to me first about it, as Cellini did when he tried an experiment on you. As for your own bodily and spiritual health, you know thoroughly what to do — KEEP THE SECRET; and make a step in advance every day. By-and-by you will have double work.”
“How so?” I asked.
“In Zara’s case, her soul became dominated by a Spirit whose destiny was fulfilled and perfect, and who never could descend to imprisonment in earthly clay. Now, you will not be dominated — you will be simply EQUALIZED; that is, you will find the exact counterpart of your own soul dwelling also in human form, and you will have to impart your own force to that other soul, which will, in its turn, impart to yours a corresponding electric impetus. There is no union so lovely as such an one — no harmony so exquisite; it is like a perfect chord, complete and indissoluble. There are sevenths and ninths in music, beautiful and effective in their degrees; but perhaps none of them are so absolutely satisfying to the ear as the perfect chord. And this is your lot in life and in love, my child — be grateful for it night and morning on your bended knees before the Giver of all good. And walk warily — your own soul with that other shall need much thought and humble prayer. Aim onward and upward — you know the road — you also know, and you have partly seen, what awaits you at the end.”
After this conversation we spoke no more in private together. The rest of the afternoon was entirely occupied with the final preparations for Zara’s funeral, which was to take place at Pere-la-Chaise early the next morning. A large and beautiful wreath of white roses, lilies, and maiden-hair arrived from Prince Ivan; and, remembering my promise to him, I went myself to lay it in a conspicuous place on Zara’s corpse. That fair body was now laid in its coffin of polished oak, and a delicate veil of filmy lace draped it from head to foot. The placid expression of the features remained unchanged, save for a little extra rigidity of the flesh; the hands, folded over the crucifix, were stiff, and looked as though they were moulded in wax. I placed the wreath in position and paused, looking wistfully at that still and solemn figure. Father Paul, slowly entering from a side-door, came and stood beside me.
“She is happy!” he said; and a cheerful expression irradiated his venerable features.
“Did you also know she would die that night?” I asked softly.
“Her brother sent for me, and told me of her expected dissolution. She herself told me, and made her last confession and communion. Therefore I was prepared.”
“But did you not doubt — were you not inclined to think they might be wrong?” I inquired, with some astonishment.
“I knew Heliobas as a child,” the priest returned. “I knew his father and mother before him; and I have been always perfectly aware of the immense extent of his knowledge, and the value of his discoveries. If I were inclined to be sceptical on spiritual matters, I should not be of the race I am; for I am also a Chaldean.”
I said no more, and Father Paul trimmed the tapers burning round the coffin in devout silence. Again I looked at the fair dead form before me; but somehow I could not feel sad again. All my impulses bade me rejoice. Why should I be unhappy on Zara’s account? — more especially when the glories of the Central Sphere were yet fresh in my memory, and when I knew as a positive fact that her happiness was now perfect. I left the chapel with a light step and lighter heart, and went to my own room to pack up my things that all might be in readiness for my departure on the morrow. On my table I found a volume whose quaint binding I at once recognised —“The Letters of a Dead Musician.” A card lay beside it, on which was written in pencil:
“Knowing of your wish to possess this book, I herewith offer it for your acceptance. It teaches you a cheerful devotion to Art, and an indifference to the world’s opinions — both of which are necessary to you in your career. — HELIOBAS.”
Delighted with this gift, I opened the book, and found my name written on the fly-leaf, with the date of the month and year, and the words:
“La musica e il lamento dell’ amore o la preghiera a gli Dei.” (Music is the lament of love, or a prayer to the Gods.)
I placed this treasure carefully in a corner of my portmanteau, together with the parchment scrolls containing “The Electric Principle of Christianity,” and the valuables recipes of Heliobas; and as I did so, I caught sight of myself in the long mirror that directly faced me. I was fascinated, not by my own reflection, but by the glitter of the electric gem I wore. It flashed and glowed like a star, and was really lovely — far more brilliant than the most brilliant cluster of fine diamonds. I may here remark that I have been asked many questions concerning this curious ornament whenever I have worn it in public, and the general impression has been that it is some new arrangement of ornamental electricity. It is, however, nothing of the kind; it is simply a clear pebble, common enough on the shores of tropical countries, which has the property of absorbing a small portion of the electricity in a human body, sufficient to make it shine with prismatic and powerful lustre — a property which has only as yet been discovered by Heliobas, who asserts that the same capability exists in many other apparently lustreless stones which have been untried, and are therefore unknown. The “healing stones,” or amulets, still in use in the East, and also in the remote parts of the Highlands (see notes to Archibald Clerk’s translation of ‘Ossian’), are also electric, but in a different way — they have the property of absorbing DISEASE and destroying it in certain cases; and these, after being worn a suitable length of time, naturally exhaust what virtue they originally possessed, and are no longer of any use. Stone amulets are considered nowadays as a mere superstition of the vulgar and uneducated; but it must be remembered that superstition itself has always had for it a foundation some grain, however small and remote, of fact. I could give a very curious explanation of the formation of ORCHIDS, those strange plants called sometimes “Freaks of Nature,” as if Nature ever indulged in a “freak” of any kind! But I have neither time nor space to enter upon the subject now; indeed, if I were once to begin to describe the wonderful, amazing and beautiful vistas of knowledge that the wise Chaldean, who is still my friend and guide, has opened up and continues to extend before my admiring vision, a work of twenty volumes would scarce contain all I should have to say. But I have written this book merely to tell those who peruse it, about Heliobas, and what I myself experienced in his house; beyond this I may not go. For, as, I observed in my introduction, I am perfectly aware that few, if any, of my readers will accept my narrative as more than a mere visionary romance — or that they will admit the mysteries of life, death, eternity, and all the wonders of the Universe to be simply the NATURAL AND SCIENTIFIC OUTCOME OF A RING OF EVERLASTING ELECTRIC HEAT AND LIGHT; but whether they agree to it or no, I can say with Galileo, “E pur si muove!”
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:07