Two weeks later I stood on the deck of Lucio's yacht 'The Flame,'—a vessel whose complete magnificence filled me as well as all other beholders with bewildered wonderment and admiration. She was a miracle of speed, her motive power being electricity; and the electric engines with which she was fitted were so complex and remarkable as to baffle all would-be inquirers into the secret of their mechanism and potency. A large crowd of spectators gathered to see her as she lay off Southampton, attracted by the beauty of her shape and appearance,—some bolder spirits even came out in tugs and row-boats, hoping to be allowed to make a visit of inspection on board, but the sailors, powerfully-built men of a foreign and somewhat unpleasing type, soon intimated that the company of such inquisitive persons was undesirable and unwelcome. With white sails spread and a crimson flag flying from her mast, she weighed anchor at sunset on the afternoon of the day her owner and I joined her, and moving through the waters with delicious noiselessness and incredible rapidity, soon left far behind her the English shore, looking like a white line in the mist, or the pale vision of a land that might once have been. I had done a few quixotic things before departing from my native country,—for example, I had made a free gift of his former home, Willowsmere, to Lord Elton, taking a sort of sullen pleasure in thinking that he, the spendthrift nobleman, owed the restoration of his property to me.—to me who had never been either a successful linen draper or furniture man, but simply an author, one of 'those sort of people' whom my lord and my lady imagine they can 'patronize' and neglect again at pleasure without danger to themselves. The arrogant fools invariably forget what lasting vengeance can be taken for an unmerited slight by the owner of a brilliant pen! I was glad too, in a way, to realize that the daughter of the American railway-king would be brought to the grand old house to air her 'countess-ship,' and look at her prettily pert little physiognomy in the very mirror where Sibyl had watched herself die. I do not know why this idea pleased me, for I bore no grudge against Diana Chesney,— she was vulgar but harmless, and would probably make a much more popular chatelaine at Willowsmere Court than my wife had ever been. Among other things, I dismissed my man Morris, and made him miserable,—with the gift of a thousand pounds, to marry and start a business on. He was miserable because he could not make up his mind what business to adopt, his anxiety being to choose the calling that would 'pay' best,—and also, because, though he 'had his eye' upon several young women, he could not tell which among them would be likely to be least extravagant, and the most serviceable as a cook and housekeeper. The love of money and the pains of taking care of it, embittered his days as it embitters the days of most men, and my unexpected munificence towards him burdened him with such a weight of trouble as robbed him of natural sleep and appetite. I cared nothing for his perplexities, however, and gave him no advice, good or bad. My other servants I dismissed, each with a considerable gift of money, not that I particularly wished to benefit them, but simply because I desired them to speak well of me. And in this world it is very evident that the only way to get a good opinion is to pay for it! I gave orders to a famous Italian sculptor for Sibyl's monument, English sculptors having no conception of sculpture,—it was to be of exquisite design, wrought in purest white marble, the chief adornment being the centre-figure of an angel ready for flight, with the face of Sibyl faithfully copied from her picture. Because, however devilish a woman may be in her life-time, one is bound by all the laws of social hypocrisy to make an angel of her as soon as she is dead! Just before I left London I heard that my old college-friend 'Boffles,' John Carnngton, had met with a sudden end. Busy at the 'retorting' of his gold, he had been choked by the mercurial fumes and had died in hideous torment. At one time this news would have deeply affected me, but now, I was scarcely sorry. I had heard nothing of him since I had come into my fortune,—he had never even written to congratulate me. Always full of my own self-importance, I judged this as great neglect on his part, and now that he was dead I felt no more than any of us feel now-a-days at the loss of friends. And that is very little,—we have really no time to be sorry,—so many people are always dying !—and we are in such a desperate hurry to rush on to death ourselves! Nothing seemed to touch me that did not closely concern my own personal interest,—and I had no affections left, unless I may call the vague tenderness I had for Mavis Clare an affection. Yet, to be honest, this very emotion was after all nothing but a desire to be consoled, pitied and loved by her, —to be able to turn upon the world and say, "This woman whom you have lifted on your shield of honour and crowned with laurels,—she loves me—she is not yours, but mine!" Purely interested and purely selfish was the longing,—and it deserved no other name than selfishness.
My feelings for Rimanez too began at this time to undergo a curious change. The fascination I had for him, the power he exercised over me remained as great as ever, but I found myself often absorbed in a close study of him, strangely against my own will. Sometimes his every look seemed fraught with meaning,—his every gesture suggestive of an almost terrific authority. He was always to me the most attractive of beings, —nevertheless there was an uneasy sensation of doubt and fear growing up in my mind regarding him,—a painful anxiety to know more about him than he had ever told me,—and on rare occasions I experienced a sudden shock of inexplicable repulsion against him which like a tremendous wave threw me back with violence upon myself and left me half stunned with a dread of I knew not what. Alone with him, as it were, on the wide sea, cut off for a time from all other intercourse than that which we shared together, these sensations were very strong upon me. I began to note many things which I had been too blind or too absorbed in my own pursuits to observe before; the offensive presence of Amiel, who acted as chief steward on board the yacht, filled me now not only with dislike, but nervous apprehension,—the dark and more or less repulsive visages of the crew haunted me in my dreams ;—and one day, leaning over the vessel's edge and gazing blankly down into the fathomless water below, I fell to thinking of strange sorceries of the East, and stories of magicians who by the exercise of unlawful science did so make victims of men and delude them that their wills were entirely perverted and no longer their own. I do not know why this passing thought should have suddenly overwhelmed me with deep depression, —but when I looked up, to me the sky had grown dark, and the face of one of the sailors who was near me polishing the brass hand-rail, seemed singularly threatening and sinister. I moved to go to the other side of the deck, when a hand was gently laid on my shoulder from behind, and turning, I met the sad and splendid eyes of Lucio.
"Are you growing weary of the voyage, Geoffrey?" he asked—"weary of those two suggestions of eternity—the interminable sky, the interminable sea? I am afraid you are !— man easily gets fatigued with his own littleness and powerlessness when he is set afloat on a plank between air and ocean. Yet we are travelling as swiftly as electricity will bear us,— and, as worked in this vessel, it is carrying us at a far greater speed than you perhaps realize or imagine.''
I made no immediate answer, but taking his arm strolled slowly up and down. I felt he was looking at me, but I avoided meeting his gaze.
"You have been thinking of your wife?" he queried softly and, as I thought, sympathetically. "I have shunned,—for reasons you know of,—all allusion to the tragic end of so beautiful a creature. Beauty is, alas!—so often subject to hysteria! Yet—if you had any faith, you would believe she is an angel now."
I stopped short at this, and looked straight at him. There was a fine smile on his delicate mouth.
"An angel!" I repeated slowly—"or a devil? Which would you say she is ?—you, who sometimes declare that you believe in Heaven,—and Hell?"
He was silent, but the dreamy smile remained still on his lips.
"Come, speak !" I said roughly. "You can be frank with me, you know,—angel or devil—which?"
"My dear Geoffrey!" he remonstrated gently and with gravity—"a woman is always an angel,—both here and hereafter!''
I laughed bitterly. "If that is part of your faith I am sorry for you !''
"I have not spoken of my faith," he rejoined in colder accents, lifting his brilliant eyes to the darkening heaven. "I am not a Salvationist, that I should bray forth a creed to the sound of trump and drum."
"All the same, you have a creed," I persisted—"and I fancy it must be a strange one! If you remember, you promised to explain it to me"
"Are you ready to receive such an explanation?" he asked in a somewhat ironical tone. "No, my dear friend !—permit me to say you are not ready—not yet! My beliefs are too positive to be brought even into contact with your contradictions,—too frightfully real to submit to your doubts for a moment. You would at once begin to revert to the puny used-up old arguments of Voltaire, Schopenhauer and Huxley, —little atomic theories like grains of dust in the whirlwind of My knowledge! I can tell you I believe in God as a very Actual and Positive Being,—and that is presumably the first of the Church articles."
"You believe in God!" I echoed his words, staring at him stupidly. He seemed in earnest. In fact he had always seemed in earnest on the subject of Deity. Vaguely I thought of a woman in society whom I slightly knew,—an ugly woman, unattractive and mean-minded, who passed her time in entertaining semi-Royalties and pushing herself amongst them,— she had said to me one day—"I hate people who believe in God, don't you? The idea of a God makes me sick!"
"You believe in God !" I repeated again dubiously.
"Look!" he said, raising his hand towards the sky. "There, a few drifting clouds cover millions of worlds, impenetrable, mysterious, yet actual;—down there," and he pointed to the sea, "lurk a thousand things of which, though the ocean is a part of earth, human beings have not yet learned the nature. Between these upper and lower spaces of the Incomprehensible yet Absolute, you, a finite atom of limited capabilities stand, uncertain how long the frail thread of your life shall last, yet arrogantly balancing the question with your own poor brain, as to whether you,—you in your utter littleness and incompetency shall condescend to accept a God or not! I confess, that of all astonishing things in the Universe, this particular attitude of modern mankind is the most astonishing to me!"
"Your own attitude is?"
"The reluctant acceptance of such terrific knowledge as is forced upon me," he replied with a dark smile. "I do not say I have been an apt or a willing pupil,—I have had to suffer in learning what I know!"
"Do you believe in hell!" I asked him suddenly—"and in Satan, the Arch-Enemy of mankind ?''
He was silent for so long that I was surprised, the more so as he grew pale to the lips, and a curious, almost deathlike rigidity of feature gave his expression something of the ghastly and terrible. After a pause he turned his eyes upon me,—. an intense burning misery was reflected in them, though he smiled.
"Most assuredly I believe in hell! How can I do otherwise if I believe in heaven? If there is an Up there must be a Down; if there is Light, there must also be Darkness. And, … concerning the Arch-Enemy of mankind,—if half the stories reported of him be true, he must be the most piteous and pitiable figure in the Universe! What would be the sorrows of a thousand million worlds, compared to the sorrows of Satan !''
"Sorrows!" I echoed. "He is supposed to rejoice in the working of evil!"
"Neither angel nor devil can do that," he said slowly. "To rejoice in the working of evil is a temporary mania which affects man only. For actual joy to come out of evil, Chaos must come again, and God must extinguish Himself." He stared across the dark sea,—the sun had sunk, and one faint star twinkled through the clouds. "And so I again say —the sorrows of Satan! Sorrows immeasurable as eternity itself,—imagine them! To be shut out of Heaven !—to hear, all through the unending seons, the far-off voices of angels whom once he knew and loved !—to be a wanderer among deserts of darkness, and to pine for the light celestial that was formerly as air and food to his being,—and to know that Man's folly, Man's utter selfishness, Man's cruelty, keep him thus exiled, an outcast from pardon and peace! Man's nobleness may lift the Lost Spirit almost within reach of his lost joys,—but Man's vileness drags him down again,—easy was the torture of Sisyphus compared with the torture of Satan! No wonder that he loathes Mankind !—small blame to him if he seeks to destroy the puny tribe eternally,—little marvel that he grudges them their share of immortality! Think of it as a legend merely,"—and he turned upon me with a movement that was almost fierce,—" Christ redeemed Man,—and by his teaching, showed how it was possible for Man to redeem the Devill"
"I do not understand you," I said feebly, awed by the strange pain and passion of his tone.
"Do you not? Yet my meaning is scarcely obscure! If men were true to their immortal instincts and to the God that made them,—if they were generous, honest, fearless, faithful, reverent, unselfish, … if women were pure, brave, tender and loving,—can you not imagine that, in the strong force and fairness of such a world, 'Lucifer, son of the Morning' would be moved to love instead of hate?—that the closed doors of Paradise would be unbarred,—and that he, lifted towards his Creator on the prayers of pure lives, would wear again his Angel's crown? Can you not realize this, even by way of a legendary story?" *
"Why yes, as a legendary story the idea is beautiful,"—I admitted,—" and to me, as I told you once before, quite new. Still, as men are never likely to be honest, or women pure, I'm afraid the poor Devil stands a bad chance of ever getting redeemed!''
"I fear so too!" and he eyed me with a curious derision— "I very much fear so! And his chances being so slight, I rather respect him for being the Arch-Enemy of such a worthless race!" He paused a moment, then added—"I wonder how we have managed to get on such an absurd subject of conversation? It is dull and uninteresting, as all 'spiritual' themes invariably are. My object in bringing you out on this voyage is not to indulge in psychological argument, but to make you forget your troubles as much as possible, and enjoy the present while it lasts."
There was a vibration of compassionate kindness in his voice which at once moved me to an acute sense of self-pity, the worst enervator of moral force that exists. I sighed heavily.
"Truly I have suffered," I said—" more than most men!"
"More even than most millionaires deserve to suffer!" declared Lucio, with that inevitable touch of sarcasm which distinguished some of his friendliest remarks. "Money is supposed to make amends to a man for everything,—and even the wealthy wife of a certain Irish 'patriot' has not found it incompatible with affection to hold her moneybags close to herself while her husband has been declared a bankrupt. How she has 'idolized' him, let others say! Now, considering your cash-abundance, it must be owned the fates have treated you somewhat unkindly!"
The smile that was half-cruel and half-sweet radiated in his eyes as he spoke,—and again a singular revulsion of feeling against him moved me to dislike and fear. And yet,—how fascinating was his company! I could not but admit that the voyage with him to Alexandria on board 'The Flame' was one of positive enchantment and luxury all the way. There was nothing in a material sense left to wish for,—all that could appeal to the intelligence or the imagination had been thought of on board this wonderful yacht which sped like a fairy ship over the sea. Some of the sailors were skilled musicians, and on tranquil nights, or at sunset, would bring stringed instruments and discourse to our ears the most dulcet and ravishing melodies. Lucio himself too would often sing,—his luscious voice resounding, as it seemed, over all the visible sea and sky, with such passion as might have drawn an angel down to listen. Gradually my mind became impregnated with these snatches of mournful, fierce, or weird minor tunes,— and I began to suffer in silence from an inexplicable depression and foreboding sense of misery, as well as from another terrible feeling to which I could scarcely give a name,—a dreadful uncertainty of myself, as of one lost in a wilderness and about to die. I endured these fits of mental agony alone, —and in such dreary burning moments, believed I was going mad. I grew more and more sullen and taciturn, and when we at last arrived at Alexandria I was not moved to any particular pleasure. The place was new to me, but I was not conscious of novelty,—everything seemed flat, dull, and totally uninteresting. A heavy almost lethargic stupor chained my wits, and when we left the yacht in harbour and went on to Cairo, I was not sensible of any personal enjoyment in the journey, or interest in what I saw. I was only partially roused when we took possession of a luxurious dahabeah, which, with a retinue of attendants, had been specially chartered for us, and commenced our lotus-like voyage up the Nile. The reed-edged, sluggish yellow river fascinated me,—I used to spend long hours reclining at full length in a deck-chair, gazing at the flat shores, the blown sand-heaps, the broken columns and mutilated temples of the dead kingdoms of the past. One evening, thus musing, while the great golden moon climbed languidly up into the sky to stare at the wrecks of earthly ages I said—
"If one could only see these ancient cities as they once existed, what strange revelations might be made! Our modern marvels of civilization and progress might seem small trifles after all,—for I believe in our days we are only re-discovering what the peoples of old time knew."
Lucio drew his cigar from his mouth and looked at it meditatively. Then he glanced up at me with a half-smile—
"Would you like to see a city resuscitated?" he inquired. "Here, in this very spot, some six thousand years ago, a king reigned, with a woman not his queen, but his favourite (quite a lawful arrangement in those days), who was as famous for her beauty and virtue as this river is for its fructifying tide. Here civilization had progressed enormously,—with the one exception that it had not outgrown faith. Modern France and England have beaten the ancients in their scorn of God and creed, their contempt for divine things, their unnamable lasciviousness and blasphemy. This city"—and he waved his hand towards a dreary stretch of shore where a cluster of tall reeds waved above the monster fragment of a fallen column—" was governed by the strong pure faith of its people more than anything,—and the ruler of social things in it was a woman. The king's favourite was something like Mavis Clare in that she possessed genius,—she had also the qualities of justice, intelligence, love, truth and a most noble unselfishness,—she made this place happy. It was a paradise on earth while she lived,—when she died, its glory ended. So much can a woman do if she chooses,—so much does she not do, in her usual cow-like way of living!"
"How do you know all this you tell me of?" I asked him.
"By study of past records," he replied. I read what modern men declare they have no time to read. You are right in the idea that all 'new' things are only old things re-invented or re-discovered,—if you had gone a step further and said that some of men's present lives are only the continuation of their past, you would not have been wrong. Now, if you like, I can, by my science, show you the city that stood here long ago,—the 'City Beautiful' as its name is, translated from the ancient tongue."
I roused myself from my lounging attitude and looked at him amazedly. He met my gaze unmoved.
"You can show it to me!" I exclaimed. "How can you do such an impossible thing ?''
"Permit me to hypnotize you," he answered smiling. "My system of hypnotism is, very fortunately, not yet discovered by meddlesome inquirers into occult matters,—but it never fails of its effect,—and I promise you, you shall, under my influence, see not only the place, but the people."
My curiosity was strongly excited, and I became more eager to try the suggested experiment than I cared to openly show. I laughed, however, with affected indifference.
"I am perfectly willing !" I said. "All the same, I don't think you can hypnotize me,—I have much too strong a will
of my own "at which remark I saw a smile, dark and
saturnine, hover on his lips—" But you can make the attempt."
He rose at once, and signed to one of our Egyptian servants.
"Stop the dahabeah, Azimah," he said. "We will rest here for the night."
Azimah, a superb-looking Eastern in picturesque white garments, put his hands to his head in submission and retired to give the order. In another few moments the dahabeah had stopped. A great silence was around us,—the moonlight fell like yellow wine on the deck,—in the far distance, across the stretches of dark sand, a solitary column towered so clear-cut against the sky that it was almost possible to discern upon it the outline of a monstrous face. Lucio stood still, confronting me,—saying nothing, but looking me steadily through and through, with those wonderfully mystic, melancholy eyes that seemed to penetrate and burn my very flesh. I was attracted as a bird might be by the basilisk eyes of a snake,—yet I tried to smile and say something indifferent. My efforts were useless,—personal consciousness was slipping from me fast,—the sky, the water and the moon whirled round each other in a giddy chase for precedence;—I could not move, for my limbs seemed fastened to my chair with weights of iron, and I was for a few minutes absolutely powerless. Then suddenly my vision cleared (as I thought)—my senses grew vigorous and alert, … I heard the sound of solemn marching music, and there,—there in the full radiance of the moon, with a thousand lights gleaming from towers and cupolas, shone the 'City Beautiful'!