Prince Ivan Petroffsky was a constant visitor at the Hotel Mars, and I began to take a certain interest in him, not unmingled with pity, for it was evident that he was hopelessly in love with my beautiful friend Zara. She received him always with courtesy and kindness; but her behaviour to him was marked by a somewhat cold dignity, which, like a barrier of ice, repelled the warmth of his admiration and attention. Once or twice, remembering what he had said to me, I endeavoured to speak to her concerning him and his devotion; but she so instantly and decisively turned the conversation that I saw I should displease her if I persisted in it. Heliobas appeared to be really attached to the Prince, at which I secretly wondered; the worldly and frivolous young nobleman was of so entirely different a temperament to that of the thoughtful and studious Chaldean philosopher. Yet there was evidently some mysterious attraction between them — the Prince appeared to be profoundly interested in electric theories and experiments, and Heliobas never wearied of expounding them to so attentive a listener. The wonderful capabilities of the dog Leo also were brought into constant requisition for Prince Ivan’s benefit, and without doubt they were most remarkable. This animal, commanded — or, I should say, brain-electrified — by Heliobas, would fetch anything that was named to him through his master’s force, providing it was light enough for him to carry; and he would go into the conservatory and pluck off with his teeth any rare or common flower within his reach that was described to him by the same means. Spoken to or commanded by others, he was simply a good-natured intelligent Newfoundland; but under the authority of Heliobas, he became more than human in ready wit and quick obedience, and would have brought in a golden harvest to any great circus or menagerie.
He was a never-failing source of wonder and interest to me, and even more so to the Prince, who made him the subject of many an abstruse and difficult discussion with his friend Casimir. I noticed that Zara seemed to regret the frequent companionship of Ivan Petroffsky and her brother, and a shade of sorrow or vexation often crossed her fair face when she saw them together absorbed in conversation or argument.
One evening a strange circumstance occurred which startled and deeply impressed me. Prince Ivan had dined with us; he was in extraordinarily high spirits — his gaiety was almost boisterous, and his face was deeply flushed. Zara glanced at him half indignantly more than once when his laughter became unusually uproarious, and I saw that Heliobas watched him closely and half-inquiringly, as if he thought there was something amiss.
The Prince, however, heedless of his host’s observant eye, tossed off glass after glass of wine, and talked incessantly. After dinner, when we all assembled in the drawing-room, he seated himself at the piano without being asked, and sang several songs. Whether he were influenced by drink or strong excitement, his voice at any rate showed no sign of weakness or deterioration. Never had I heard him sing so magnificently. He seemed possessed not by an angel but by a demon of song. It was impossible not to listen to him, and while listening, equally impossible not to admire him. Even Zara, who was generally indifferent to his music, became, on this particular night, fascinated into a sort of dreamy attention. He perceived this, and suddenly addressed himself to her in softened tones which bore no trace of their previous loudness.
“Madame, you honour me to-night by listening to my poor efforts. It is seldom I am thus rewarded!”
Zara flushed deeply, and then grew very pale.
“Indeed, Prince,” she answered quietly, “you mistake me. I always listen with pleasure to your singing — to-night, perhaps, my mood is more fitted to music than is usual with me, and thus I may appear to you to be more attentive. But your voice always delights me as it must delight everybody who hears it.”
“While you are in a musical mood then,” returned Prince Ivan, “let me sing you an English song — one of the loveliest ever penned. I have set it to music myself, as such words are not of the kind to suit ordinary composers or publishers; they are too much in earnest, too passionate, too full of real human love and sorrow. The songs that suit modern drawing-rooms and concert-halls, as a rule, are those that are full of sham sentiment — a real, strong, throbbing HEART pulsing through a song is too terribly exciting for lackadaisical society. Listen!” And, playing a dreamy, murmuring prelude like the sound of a brook flowing through a hollow cavern, he sang Swinburne’s “Leave-Taking,” surely one of the saddest and most beautiful poems in the English language.
He subdued his voice to suit the melancholy hopelessness of the lines, and rendered it with so much intensity of pathetic expression that it was difficult to keep tears from filling the eyes. When he came to the last verse, the anguish of a wasted life seemed to declare itself in the complete despair of his low vibrating tones:
“Let us go hence and rest; she will not love.
She shall not hear us if we sing hereof,
Nor see love’s ways, how sore they are and steep.
Come hence, let be, lie still; it is enough.
Love is a barren sea, bitter and deep;
And though she saw all heaven in flower above,
She would not love!”
The deep melancholy of the music and the quivering pathos of the deep baritone voice were so affecting that it was almost a relief when the song ceased. I had been looking out of the window at the fantastic patterns of the moonlight on the garden walk, but now I turned to see in Zara’s face her appreciation of what we had just heard. To my surprise she had left the room. Heliobas reclined in his easy-chair, glancing up and down the columns of the Figaro; and the Prince still sat at the piano, moving his fingers idly up and down the keys without playing. The little page entered with a letter on a silver salver. It was for his master. Heliobas read it quickly, and rose, saying:
“I must leave you to entertain yourselves for ten minutes while I answer this letter. Will you excuse me?” and with the ever-courteous salute to us which was part of his manner, he left the room.
I still remained at the window. Prince Ivan still dumbly played the piano. There were a few minutes of absolute silence. Then the Prince hastily got up, shut the piano, and approached me.
“Do you know where Zara is?” he demanded in a low, fierce tone.
I looked at him in surprise and a little alarm — he spoke with so much suppressed anger, and his eyes glittered so strangely.
“No,” I answered frankly. “I never saw her leave the room.”
“I did,” he said. “She slipped out like a ghost, or a witch, or an angel, while I was singing the last verse of Swinburne’s song. Do you know Swinburne, mademoiselle?”
“No,” I replied, wondering at his manner more and more. “I only know him, as you do, to be a poet.”
“Poet, madman, or lover — all three should be one and the same thing,” muttered the Prince, clenching and unclenching that strong right hand of his on which sparkled a diamond like a star. “I have often wondered if poets feel what they write — whether Swinburne, for instance, ever felt the weight of a dead cold thing within him HERE,” slightly touching the region of his heart, “and realized that he had to drag that corpse of unburied love with him everywhere — even to the grave, and beyond — O God! — beyond the grave!” I touched him gently on the arm. I was full of pity for him — his despair was so bitter and keen.
“Prince Ivan,” I said, “you are excited and overwrought. Zara meant no slight to you in leaving the room before your song was finished. I am quite sure of that. She is kindness itself — her nature is all sweetness and gentleness. She would not willingly offend you —”
“Offend me!” he exclaimed; “she could not offend me if she tried. She could tread upon me, stab me, slay me, but never offend me. I see you are sorry for me — and I thank you. I kiss your hand for your gentle pity, mademoiselle.”
And he did so, with a knightly grace that became him well. I thought his momentary anger was passing, but I was mistaken. Suddenly he raised his arm with a fierce gesture, and exclaimed:
“By heaven! I will wait no longer. I am a fool to hesitate. I may wait a century before I draw out of Casimir the secret that would enable me to measure swords with my rival. Listen!” and he grasped my shoulder roughly. “Stay here, you! If Casimir returns, tell him I have gone for a walk of half an hour. Play to him — keep him occupied — be my friend in this one thing — I trust you. Let him not seek for Zara, or for me. I shall not be long absent.”
“Stay!” I whispered hurriedly, “What are you going to do? Surely you know the power of Heliobas. He is supreme here. He could find out anything he chose. He could —-”
Prince Ivan looked at me fixedly.
“Will you swear to me that you actually do not know?”
“Know what?” I asked, perplexed.
He laughed bitterly, sarcastically.
“Did you ever hear that line of poetry which speaks of ‘A woman wailing for her demon-lover’? That is what Zara does. Of one thing I am certain — she does not wail or wait long; he comes quickly.”
“What do you mean?” I exclaimed, utterly mystified. “Who comes quickly? I am sure you do not know what you are talking about.”
“I DO know,” he replied firmly; “and I am going to prove my knowledge. Remember what I have asked you.” And without another word or look, he threw open the velvet curtains of the portiere, and disappeared behind them.
Left to myself, I felt very nervous and excited. All sorts of odd fancies came into my head, and would not go away, but danced about like Will-o’-the-wisps on a morass. What did Prince Ivan mean? Was he mad? or had he drunk too much wine? What strange illusion had he in his mind about Zara and a demon? Suddenly a thought flashed upon me that made me tremble from head to foot. I remembered what Heliobas had said about twin flames and dual affinities; and I also reflected that he had declared Zara to be dominated by a more powerful force than his own. But then, I had accepted it as a matter of course that, whatever the force was, it must be for good, not evil, over a being so pure, so lovely and so intelligent as Zara.
I knew and felt that there were good and evil forces. Now, suppose Zara were commanded by some strange evil thing, unguessed at, undreamt of in the wildest night-mare? I shuddered as with icy cold. It could not be. I resolutely refused to admit such a fearful conjecture. Why, I thought to myself, with a faint smile, I was no better in my imaginings than the so virtuous and ever-respectable Suzanne Michot of whom Madame Denise had spoken. Still the hateful thought came back again and again, and refused to go away.
I went to my old place at the window and looked out. The moonlight fell in cold slanting rays; but an army of dark clouds were hurrying up from the horizon, looking in their weird shapes like the mounted Walkyres in Wagner’s “Niebelungen Ring,” galloping to Walhalla with the bodies of dead warriors slung before them. A low moaning wind had arisen, and was beginning to sob round the house like the Banshee. Hark! what was that? I started violently. Surely that was a faint shriek? I listened intently. Nothing but the wind rustling among some creaking branches.
“A woman wailing for her demon-lover.”
How that line haunted me! And with, it there slowly grew up in my mind a black looming horror; an idea, vague and ghastly, that froze my blood and turned me faint and giddy. Suppose, when I had consented to be experimented upon by Heliobas — when my soul in the electric trance was lifted up to the unseen world — suppose an evil force, terrible and all-compelling, were to dominate ME and hold me forever and ever! I gasped for breath! Oh, so much the more need of prayer!
“Pray much and often, with as unselfish a heart as you can prepare.”
Thus Heliobas had said; and I thought to myself, if all those who were on the brink of great sin or crime could only be brought to feel beforehand what I felt when facing the spectral dread of unknown evil, then surely sins would be fewer and crimes never committed. And I murmured softly, “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”
The mere utterance of these words seemed to calm and encourage me; and as I gazed up at the sky again, with its gathering clouds, one star, like a bright consoling eye, looked at me, glittering cheerfully amid the surrounding darkness.
More than ten minutes had elapsed since Prince Ivan had left the room, and there was no sound of returning footsteps. And where was Zara? I determined to seek her. I was free to go anywhere in the house, only avoiding her studio during her hours of work; and she never worked at night. I would go to her and confide all my strange thoughts and terrors to her friendly sympathy. I hurried through the hall and up the staircase quickly, and should have gone straight into Zara’s boudoir had I not heard a sound of voices which caused me to stop precipitately outside the door. Zara was speaking. Her low, musical accents fell like a silver chime on the air.
“I have told you,” she said, “again and again that it is impossible. You waste your life in the pursuit of a phantom; for a phantom I must be to you always — a mere dream, not a woman such as your love would satisfy. You are a strong man, in sound health and spirits; you care for the world and the things that are in it. I do not. You would make me happy, you say. No doubt you would do your best — your wealth and influence, your good looks, your hospitable and friendly nature would make most women happy. But what should I care for your family diamonds? for your surroundings? for your ambitions? The society of the world fills me with disgust and prejudice. Marriage, as the world considers it, shocks and outrages my self-respect; the idea of a bodily union without that of souls is to me repulsive and loathsome. Why, therefore, waste your time in seeking a love which does not exist, which never will exist for you?”
I heard the deep, passionate tones of Prince Ivan in answer:
“One light kindles another, Zara! The sunlight melts the snow! I cannot believe but that a long and faithful love may — nay, MUST— have its reward at last. Even according to your brother’s theories, the emotion of love is capable of powerful attraction. Cannot I hope that my passion — so strong, so great, so true, Zara! — will, with patience, draw you, star of my life, closer and closer, till I at last call you mine?”
I heard the faint rustle of Zara’s silk robe, as though she were moving farther from him.
“You speak ignorantly, Prince. Your studies with Casimir appear to have brought you little knowledge. Attraction! How can you attract what is not in your sphere? As well ask for the Moons of Jupiter or the Ring of Saturn! The laws of attraction and repulsion, Prince Ivan, are fixed by a higher authority than yours, and you are as powerless to alter or abate them by one iota, as a child is powerless to repel the advancing waves of the sea.”
Prince Ivan spoke again, and his voice quivered, with suppressed anger.
“You may talk as you will, beautiful Zara; but you shall never persuade me against my reason. I am no dreamer; no speculator in aerial nothings; no clever charlatan like Casimir, who, because he is able to magnetize a dog, pretends to the same authority over human beings, and dares to risk the health, perhaps the very sanity, of his own sister, and that of the unfortunate young musician whom he has inveigled in here, all for the sake of proving his dangerous, almost diabolical, experiments. Oh, yes; I see you are indignant, but I speak truth. I am a plain man; — and if I am deficient in electric germs, as Casimir would say, I have plenty of common sense. I wish to rescue you, Zara. You are becoming a prey to morbid fancies; your naturally healthy mind is full of extravagant notions concerning angels and demons and what not; and your entire belief in, and enthusiasm for, your brother is a splendid advertisement for him. Let me tear the veil of credulity from your eyes. Let me teach you how good a thing it is to live and love and laugh like other people, and leave electricity to the telegraph-wires and the lamp-posts.”
Again I heard the silken rustle of Zara’s dress, and, impelled by a strong curiosity and excitement, I raised a corner of the curtain hanging over the door, and was able to see the room distinctly. The Prince stood, or rather lounged, near the window, and opposite to him was Zara; she had evidently retreated from him as far as possible, and held herself proudly erect, her eyes flashing with unusual brilliancy contrasted with the pallor of her face.
“Your insults to my brother, Prince,” she said calmly, “I suffer to pass by me, knowing well to what a depth of wilful blind ignorance you are fallen. I pity you — and — I despise you! You are indeed a plain man, as you say — nothing more and nothing less. You can take advantage of the hospitality of this house, and pretend friendship to the host, while you slander him behind his back, and insult his sister in the privacy of her own apartment. Very manlike, truly; and perfectly in accordance with a reasonable being who likes to live and love and laugh according to the rule of society — a puppet whose wires society pulls, and he dances or dies as society pleases. I told you a gulf existed between us — you have widened it, for which I thank you! As I do not impose any of my wishes upon you, and therefore cannot request you to leave the room, you must excuse me if I retire elsewhere.”
And she approached the entrance of her studio, which was opposite to where I stood; but the Prince reached it before her, and placed his back against it. His face was deathly pale, and his dark eyes blazed with wrath and love intermingled.
“No, Zara!” he exclaimed in a sort of loud whisper. “If you think to escape me so, you are in error. I came to you reckless and resolved! You shall be mine if I die for it!” And he strove to seize her in his arms. But she escaped him and stood at bay, her lips quivering, her bosom heaving, and her hands clenched.
“I warn you!” she exclaimed. “By the intense loathing I have for you; by the force which makes my spirit rise in arms against you, I warn you! Do not dare to touch me! If you care for your own life, leave me while there is time!”
Never had she looked so supremely, terribly beautiful. I gazed at her from my corner of the doorway, awed, yet fascinated. The jewel on her breast glowed with an angry red lustre, and shot forth dazzling opaline rays, as though it were a sort of living, breathing star. Prince Ivan paused — entranced no doubt, as I was, by her unearthly loveliness. His face flushed — he gave a low laugh of admiration. Then he made two swift strides forward and caught her fiercely in his embrace. His triumph was brief. Scarcely had his strong arm clasped her waist, when it fell numb and powerless — scarcely had his eager lips stooped towards hers, when he reeled and sank heavily on the ground, senseless! The spell that had held me a silent spectator of the scene was broken. Terrified, I rushed into the room, crying out:
“Zara, Zara! What have you done?”
Zara turned her eyes gently upon me — they were soft and humid as though recently filled with tears. All the burning scorn and indignation had gone out of her face — she looked pityingly at the prostrate form of her admirer.
“He is not dead,” she said quietly. “I will call Casimir.”
I knelt beside the Prince and raised his hand. It was cold and heavy. His lips were blue, and his closed eyelids looked as though, in the words of Homer, “Death’s purple finger” had shut them fast forever. No breath — no pulsation of the heart. I looked fearfully at Zara. She smiled half sadly.
“He is not dead,” she repeated.
“Are you sure?” I murmured. “What was it, Zara, that made him fall? I was at the door — I saw and heard everything.”
“I know you did,” said Zara gently; “and I am glad of it. I wished you to see and hear all.”
“Is it a fit, do you think?” I asked again, looking sorrowfully at the sad face of the unfortunate Ivan, which seemed to me to have already graven upon it the stern sweet smile of those who have passed all passion and pain forever. “Oh, Zara! do you believe he will recover?” And tears choked my voice — tears of compassion and regret.
Zara came and kissed me.
“Yes, he will recover — do not fret, little one. I have rung my private bell for Casimir; he will be here directly. The Prince has had a shock — not a fatal one, as you will see. You look doubtful — are you afraid of me, dear?”
I gazed at her earnestly. Those clear childlike eyes — that frank smile — that gentle and dignified mien — could they accompany evil thoughts? No! I was sure Zara was good as she was lovely.
“I am not afraid of you, Zara,” I said gravely; “I love you too well for that. But I am sorry for the poor Prince; and I cannot understand —-”
“You cannot understand why those who trespass against fixed laws should suffer?” observed Zara calmly. “Well, you will understand some day. You will know that in one way or another it is the reason of all suffering, both physical and mental, in the world.”
I said no more, but waited in silence till the sound of a firm approaching footstep announced Heliobas. He entered the room quickly — glanced at the motionless form of the Prince, then at me, and lastly at his sister.
“Has he been long thus?” he asked in a low tone.
“Not five minutes,” replied Zara.
A pitying and affectionate gentleness of expression filled his keen eyes.
“Reckless boy!” he murmured softly, as he stooped and laid one hand lightly on Ivan’s breast. “He is the very type of misguided human bravery. You were too hard upon him, Zara!”
“He spoke against you,” she said. “Of course he did,” returned her brother with a smile. “And it was perfectly natural he should do so. Have I not read his thoughts? Do not I know that he considers me a false pretender and CHARLATAN? And have I not humoured him? In this he is no worse than any one of his race. Every great scientific discovery is voted impossible at the first start. Ivan is not to blame because he is like the rest of the world. He will be wiser in time.”
“He attempted to force his desires,” began Zara again, and her cheeks flushed indignantly.
“I know,” answered her brother. “I foresaw how it would be, but was powerless to prevent it. He was wrong — but bold! Such boldness compels a certain admiration. This fellow would scale the stars, if he knew how to do it, by physical force alone.”
I grew impatient, and interrupted these remarks.
“Perhaps he is scaling the stars now,” I said; “or at any rate he will do so if death can show him the way.”
Heliobas gave me a friendly glance.
“You also are growing courageous when you can speak to your physician thus abruptly,” he observed quietly. “Death has nothing to do with our friend as yet, I assure you. Zara, you had better leave us. Your face must not be the first for Ivan’s eyes to rest upon. You,” nodding to me, “can stay.”
Zara pressed my hand gently as she passed me, and entered her studio, the door of which closed behind her, and I heard the key turn in the lock. I became absorbed in the proceedings of Heliobas. Stooping towards the recumbent form of Prince Ivan, he took the heavy lifeless hands firmly in his own, and then fixed his eyes fully and steadily on the pale, set features with an expression of the most forcible calm and absolutely undeniable authority. Not one word did he utter, but remained motionless as a statue in the attitude thus assumed — he seemed scarcely to breathe — not a muscle of his countenance moved. Perhaps twenty or thirty seconds might have elapsed, when a warm tinge of colour came back to the apparently dead face — the brows twitched — the lips quivered and parted in a heavy sigh. The braised appearance of the eyelids gave place to the natural tint — they opened, disclosing the eyes, which stared directly into those of the compelling Master who thus forced their obedience. A strong shudder shook the young man’s frame; his before nerveless hands grasped those of Heliobas with force and fervour, and still meeting that steady look which seemed to pierce the very centre of his system, Prince Ivan, like Lazarus of old, arose and stood erect. As he did so, Heliobas withdrew his eyes, dropped his hands and smiled.
“You are better, Ivan?” he inquired kindly.
The Prince looked about him, bewildered. He passed one hand across his forehead without replying. Then he turned slightly and perceived me in the window-embrasure, whither I had retreated in fear and wonderment at the marvellous power of Heliobas, thus openly and plainly displayed.
“Tell me,” he said, addressing me, “have I been dreaming?”
I could not answer him. I was glad to see him recover, yet I was a little afraid. Heliobas pushed a chair gently towards him.
“Sit down, Ivan,” he said quietly.
The Prince obeyed, and covered his face with his hand as though in deep and earnest meditation. I looked on in silence and wonderment. Heliobas spoke not another word, and together we watched the pensive figure in the chair, so absorbed in serious thought. Some minutes passed. The gentle tick of the clock in the outer hall grew almost obtrusive, so loud did it seem in the utter stillness that surrounded us. I longed to speak — to ask questions — to proffer sympathy — but dared not move or utter a syllable. Suddenly the Prince rose; his manner was calm and dignified, yet touched with a strange humility. He advanced to Heliobas, holding out his hand.
“Forgive me, Casimir!” he said simply.
Heliobas at once grasped the proffered palm within his own, and looked at the young man with an almost fatherly tenderness.
“Say no more, Ivan,” he returned, his rich voice sounding more than usually mellow in its warmth and heartiness. “We must all learn before we can know, and some of our lessons are sharp and difficult. Whatever you have thought of me, remember I have not, and do not, blame you. To be offended with unbelievers is to show that you are not yourself quite sure of the faith to which you would compel them.”
“I would ask you one thing,” went on the Prince, speaking in a low tone. “Do not let me stay to fall into fresh errors. Teach me — guide me, Casimir; I will be the most docile of your pupils. As for Zara —”
He paused, as if overcome.
“Come with me,” said Heliobas, taking his arm; “a glass of good wine will invigorate you. It is better to see Zara no more for a time. Let me take charge of you. You, mademoiselle,” turning to me, “will be kind enough to tell Zara that the Prince has recovered, and sends her a friendly good-night. Will that message suffice?” he inquired of Ivan, with a smile.
The Prince looked at me with a sort of wistful gravity as I came forward to bid him farewell.
“You will embrace her,” he said slowly, “without fear. Her eyes will rain sunshine upon you; they will not dart lightning. Her lips will meet yours, and their touch will be warm — not cold, as sharp steel. Yes; bid her good-night for me; tell her that an erring man kisses the hem of her robe, and prays her for pardon. Tell her that I understand; tell her I have seen her lover!”
“With these words, uttered distinctly and emphatically, he turned away with. Heliobas, who still held him by the arm in a friendly, half-protecting manner. The tears stood in my eyes. I called softly:
“Good-night, Prince Ivan!”
He looked back with a faint smile.
Heliobas also looked back and gave me an encouraging nod, which meant several things at once, such as “Do not be anxious,” “He will be all right soon,” and “Always believe the best.” I watched their two figures disappear through the doorway, and then, feeling almost cheerful again, I knocked at the door of Zara’s studio. She opened it at once, and came out. I delivered the Prince’s message, word for word, as he had given it. She listened, and sighed deeply.
“Are you sorry for him, Zara?” I asked.
“Yes,” she replied; “I am sorry for him as far as I can be sorry for anything. I am never actually VERY sorry for any circumstances, however grievous they may appear.”
I was surprised at this avowal.
“Why, Zara,” I said, “I thought you were so keenly sympathetic?”
“So I am sympathetic, but only with suffering ignorance — a dying bird that knows not why it should die — a withering rose that sees not the reason for its withering; but for human beings who wilfully blind themselves to the teachings of their own instincts, and are always doing what they know they ought not to do in spite of warning, I cannot say I am sorry. And for those who DO study the causes and ultimate results of their existence, there is no occasion to be sorry, as they are perfectly happy, knowing everything that happens to them to be for their advancement and justification.”
“Tell me,” I asked with a little hesitation, “what did Prince Ivan mean by saying he had seen your lover, Zara?”
“He meant what he said, I suppose,” replied Zara, with sudden coldness. “Excuse me, I thought you said you were not inquisitive.”
I could not bear this change of tone in her, and I clasped my arms tight about her and smiled in her face.
“You shall not get angry with ME, Zara. I am not going to be treated like poor Ivan. I have found out what you are, and how dangerous it is to admire you; but I do admire and love you. And I defy you to knock me down as unceremoniously as you did the Prince — you beautiful living bit of Lightning!”
Zara moved restlessly in my embrace, but I held her fast. At the last epithet I bestowed on her, she grew very pale; but her eyes resembled the jewels on her breast in their sheeny glitter.
“What have you found out?” she murmured. “What do you know?”
“I cannot say I KNOW,” I went on boldly, still keeping my arms round her; “but I have made a guess which I think comes near the truth. Your brother has had the care of you ever since you were a little child, and I believe he has, by some method known only to himself, charged you with electricity. Yes, Zara,” for she had started and tried to loosen my hold of her; “and it is that which keeps you young and fresh as a girl of sixteen, at an age when other women lose their bloom and grow wrinkles. It is that which gives you the power to impart a repelling shock to people you dislike, as in the case of Prince Ivan. It is that which gives you such an attractive force for those with whom you have a little sympathy — such as myself, for instance; and you cannot, Zara, with all your electric strength, unclasp my arms from your waist, because you have not the sentiment of repulsion towards me which would enable you to do it. Shall I go on guessing?”
Zara made a sign of assent — the expression of her face had softened, and a dimpling smile played round the corners of her mouth.
“Your lover,” I went on steadily and slowly, “is a native of some other sphere — perhaps a creation of your own fancy — perhaps (for I will not be sceptical any more) a beautiful and all-powerful angelic spirit. I will not discuss this with you. I believe that when Prince Ivan fell senseless, he saw, or fancied he saw, that nameless being. And now,” I added, loosening my clasp of her, “have I guessed well?”
Zara looked meditative.
“I do not know,” she said, “why you should imagine —”
“Stop!” I exclaimed; “there is no imagination in the case. I have reasoned it out. Here is a book I found in the library on electric organs as they are discovered to exist in certain fish. Listen: ‘They are nervous apparatuses which in the arrangement of their parts may be compared to a Voltaic pile. They develop electricity and give electrical discharges.’”
“Well!” said Zara.
“You say ‘Well!’ as if you did not know!” I exclaimed half-angrily, half-laughingly. “These fish have helped me to understand a great deal, I assure you. Your brother must have discovered the seed or commencement of electrical organs like those described, in the human body; and he has cultivated them in you and in himself, and has brought them to a high state of perfection. He has cultivated them in Raffaello Cellini, and he is beginning to cultivate them in me, and I hope most sincerely he will succeed. I think his theory is a magnificent one!”
Zara gazed seriously at me, and her large eyes seemed to grow darker with the intensity of her thought.
“Supposing you had reasoned out the matter correctly,” she said —“and I will not deny that you have done a great deal towards the comprehension of it — have you no fear? do you not include some drawbacks in even Casimir’s learning such a secret, and being able to cultivate and educate such a deadly force as that of electricity in the human being?”
“If it is deadly, it is also life-giving,” I answered. “Remedies are also poisons. You laid the Prince senseless at your feet, but your brother raised him up again. Both these things were done by electricity. I can understand it all now; I see no obscurity, no mystery. And oh, what a superb discovery it is!”
“You enthusiast!” she said, “it is nothing new. It was well known to the ancient Chaldeans. It was known to Moses and his followers; it was practised in perfection by Christ and His disciples. To modern civilization it may seem a discovery, because the tendency Of all so-called progress is to forget the past. The scent of the human savage is extraordinarily keen — keener than that of any animal — he can follow a track unerringly by some odour he is able to detect in the air. Again, he can lay back his ears to the wind and catch a faint, far-off sound with, certainty and precision, and tell you what it is. Civilized beings have forgotten all this; they can neither smell nor hear with actual keenness. Just in the same way, they have forgotten the use of the electrical organs they all indubitably possess in large or minute degree. As the muscles of the arm are developed by practice, so can the wonderful internal electrical apparatus of man be strengthened and enlarged by use. The world in its youth knew this; the world in its age forgets, as an old man forgets or smiles disdainfully at the past sports of his childhood. But do not let us talk any more to-night. If you think your ideas of me are correct —-”
“I am sure they are!” I cried triumphantly.
Zara held out her arms to me.
“And you are sure you love me?” she asked.
I nestled into her embrace and kissed her.
“Sure!” I answered. “Zara, I love and honour you more than any woman I ever met or ever shall meet. And you love me — I know you do!”
“How can I help it?” she said. “Are you not one of us? Good-night, dearest! Sleep well!”
“Good-night!” I answered. “And remember Prince Ivan asked for your pardon.”
“I remember!” she replied softly. “I have already pardoned him, and I will pray for him.” And a sort of radiant pity and forbearance illumined her lovely features, as we parted for the night. So might an angel look on some repentant sinner pleading for Heaven’s forgiveness.
I lay awake for some time that night, endeavouring to follow out the track of thought I had entered upon in my conversation with Zara. With such electricity as Heliobas practised, once admitting that human electric force existed, a fact which no reasoning person could deny, all things were possible. Even a knowledge of superhuman events might be attained, if there were anything in the universe that WAS superhuman; and surely it would be arrogant and ignorant to refuse to contemplate such a probability. At one time people mocked at the wild idea that a message could flash in a moment of time from one side of the Atlantic to the other by means of a cable laid under the sea; now that it is an established fact, the world has grown accustomed to it, and has ceased to regard it as a wonder. Granting human electricity to exist, why should not a communication be established, like a sort of spiritual Atlantic cable, between man and the beings of other spheres and other solar systems? The more I reflected on the subject the more lost I became in daring speculations concerning that other world, to which I was soon to be lifted. Then in a sort of half-doze, I fancied I saw an interminable glittering chain of vivid light composed of circles that were all looped one in another, which seemed to sweep round the realms of space and to tie up the sun, moon, and stars like flowers in a ribbon of fire. After much anxious and humble research, I found myself to be one of the smallest links in this great chain. I do not know whether I was grateful or afraid at this discovery, for sleep put an end to my drowsy fancies, and dropped a dark curtain over my waking dreams.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:07