The blue sea,—the blue sky!—and God's sunshine over all! To this I woke, after a long period of unconsciousness, and found myself afloat on a wide ocean, fast bound to a wooden spar. So strongly knotted were my bonds that I could not stir either hand or foot, … and after one or two ineffectual struggles to move I gave up the attempt, and lay submissively resigned to my fate, face upturned, and gazing at the infinite azure depths above me, while the heaving breath of the sea rocked me gently to and fro like an infant in its mother's arms. Alone with God and Nature, I, a poor human wreck, drifted,—lost, yet found! Lost on this vast sea which soon should serve my body as a sepulchre, … but found, inasmuch as I was fully conscious of the existence and awakening of the Immortal Soul within me,—that divine, actual and imperishable essence, which now I recognised as being all that is valuable in a man in the sight of his Creator. I was to die soon and surely;—this I thought as the billows swayed me in their huge cradle, running in foamy ripples across my bound body, and dashing cool spray upon my brows,—what could I do now, doomed and helpless as I was, to retrieve my wasted past? Nothing! save repent,—and could repentance at so late an hour fit the laws of eternal justice? Humbly and sorrowfully I considered, . . to me had been given a terrific and unprecedented experience of the awful Reality of the Spirit-world around us,—and now I was cast out on the sea as a thing worthless, I felt that the brief time remaining to me of life in this present sphere was indeed my "last probation," as that Supernatural Wonder, the declared Enemy of mankind, whom still in my thoughts I called Lucio, had declared.
"If I dared,—after a life's denial and blasphemy,—turn to Christ!" I said,—"would He,—the Divine Brother and Friend of man,—reject me?"
I whispered the question to the sky and sea, … solemn silence seemed to invest the atmosphere, and marvellous calm. No other answer came than this, … a deep and charmed peace, that insensibly stole over my fretting conscience, my remorseful soul, my aching heart, my tired mind. I remembered certain words heard long ago and lightly forgotten. "Him who cometh unto Me will I in no wise cast out." Looking up to the clear heavens and radiant sun, I smiled; and with a complete abandonment of myself and my fears to the Divine Will, I murmured the words that in my stress of mystic agony had so far saved me—
"God only! Whatsoever He shall choose for me in life, in death, and after death, is best."
And closing my eyes, I resigned my life to the mercy of the soft waves, and with the sunbeams warm upon my face, I slept.
I woke again with an icy shudder and cry,—rough cheery voices sounded in my ears,—strong hands were at work busily unfastening the cords with which I was bound, … I was on the deck of a large steamer, surrounded by a group of men,— and all the glory of the sunset fired the seas. Questions were poured upon me, … I could not answer them, for my tongue was parched and blistered, … lifted upright upon my feet by sturdy arms, I could not stand for sheer exhaustion. Dimly, and in feeble dread I stared around me, was
this great vessel with smoking funnels and grinding engines another devil's craft set sailing round the world! Too weak to find a voice I made dumb signs of terrified inquiry, … a broad-shouldered, bluff-looking man came forward, whose keen eyes rested on me with kindly compassion.
"This is an English vessel," he said. "We are bound foi Southampton. Our helmsman saw you floating ahead,—wi stopped and sent a boat for rescue. Where were you wrecked? Any more of the crew afloat?"
I gazed at him but could not speak. The strangest thoughts crowded into my brain, moving me to wild tears and laughter. England! The word struck clashing music on my mind, and set all my pulses trembling. England! The little spot upon the little world, most loved and honoured of all men, save those who envy its worth! I made some gesture, whether of
joy or mad amazement I know not, had I been able to
speak I could have related nothing that those men around me could have comprehended or believed, … then I sank back again in a dead swoon.
They were very good to me, all those English sailors. The captain gave me his own cabin,—the ship's doctor attended me with a zeal that was only exceeded by his curiosity to know where I came from, and the nature of the disaster that had befallen me. But I remained dumb, and lay inert and feeble in my berth, grateful for the care bestowed upon me, as well as for the temporary exhaustion that deprived me of speech. For I had enough to do with my own thoughts, —thoughts far too solemn and weighty for utterance. I was saved,—I was given another chance of life in the world,—and I knew why. My one absorbing anxiety now was to retrieve my wasted time, and to do active good where hitherto I had done nothing.
The day came at last, when I was sufficiently recovered to be able to sit on deck and watch with eager eyes the approaching coast-line of England. I seemed to have lived a century since I left it,—aye, almost an eternity,—for time is what the Soul makes it, and no more. I was an object of interest and attention among all the passengers on board, for as yet I had not broken silence. The weather was calm and bright, … the sun shone gloriously,—and far off the pearly rim of Shakespeare's 'happy isle' glistened jewel-like upon the edge of the sea. The captain came and looked at me,—nodded encouragingly,—and after a moment's hesitation, said—
"Glad to see you out on deck! Almost yourself again, eh?"
I silently assented with a faint smile.
"Perhaps," he continued, "as we're so near home, you'll let me know your name? It's not often we pick up a man alive and drifting in mid-Atlantic.''
In mid-Atlantic! What force had flung me there I dared not think, … nor whether it was hellish or divine.
"My name?" I murmured, surprised into speech,—how odd it was I had never thought of myself lately as having a name or any other thing belonging to me !" Why certainly! Geoffrey Tempest is my name."
The captain's eyes opened widely.
"Geoffrey Tempest! Dear me! … The Mr Tempest ?— the great millionaire that was?" It was now my turn to stare.
"That was /" I repeated. "What do you mean?"
"Have you not heard?" he asked excitedly.
"Heard? I have heard nothing since I left England some months ago—with a friend, on board his yacht … we went on a long voyage and … a strange one! … we were wrecked, … you know the rest, and how I owe my life to your rescue. But of news I am ignorant … "
"Good heavens!" he interrupted quickly. "Bad news travels fast, as a rule, they say,—but you have missed it … and I confess I don't like to be the bearer of it … "
He broke off, and his genial face looked troubled. I smiled,—yet wondered.
"Pray speak out!" I said. "I don't think you can tell me anything that will deeply affect me,—now. I know the best and worst of most things in the world, I assure you!"
He eyed me dubiously;—then, going into his smokingcabin, he brought me out an American newspaper seven days old. He handed it to me, pointing to its leading columns without a word. There I saw in large type—" A Millionaire Ruined! Enormous Frauds! Monster Forgeries I Gigantic Swindle! On the track of Bentham and Ellis!"
My brain swam for a minute,—then I read on steadily, and soon grasped the situation. The respectable pair of lawyers whom I had implicitly relied on for the management of all my business affairs in my absence, had succumbed to the temptation of having so much cash in charge for investment,—and had become a pair of practised swindlers. Dealing with the same bank as myself, they had forged my name so cleverly that the genuineness of the signature had never been even suspected,—and, after drawing enormous sums in this way, and investing in various 'bubble' companies with which they personally were concerned, they had finally absconded, leaving me well-nigh as poor as I was when I first heard of my inherited fortune. I put aside the paper, and looked up at the good captain who stood watching me with sympathetic anxiety.
"Thank you!" I said. "These thieves were my trusted lawyers,—and I can cheerfully say that I am much more sorry for them than I am for myself. A thief is always a thief,—a poor man, if he be honest, is at any rate the thief s superior. The money they have stolen will bring them misery rather than pleasure,—of that I am convinced. If this account be correct, they have already lost large sums in bogus companies,—and the man Bentham, whom I thought the very acme of shrewd caution, has sunk an enormous amount of capital in a worn-out gold-mine. Their forgeries must have been admirably done!—a sad waste of time and cleverness. It appears too that the investments I have myself made are not worth much;—well, well!—it does not matter much,—I must begin the world again, that's all." He looked amazed.
"I don't think you quite realize your own misfortune, Mr Tempest," he said. "You take it too quietly by half. You'll think worse of it presently."
"I hope not!" I responded, with a smile. "It never does to think the worst of anything. I assure you I realize it perfectly. I am in the world's sight a ruined man,—I quite understand!"
He shrugged his shoulders with quite a desperate air, and left me. I am convinced he thought me mad,—but I knew I had never been so sane. I did indeed entirely comprehend my 'misfortune,' or rather the great chance bestowed on me of winning something far higher than all the coffers of Mammon; I read in my loss of world's cash the working of such a merciful providence and pity as gave me a grander hope than any I had ever known. Clear before me rose the vision of that most divine and beautiful necessity of happiness,— Work !—the grand and too often misprized Angel of Labour, which moulds the mind of man, steadies his hands, controls his brain, purines his passions, and strengthens his whole mental and physical being. A rush of energy and health filled my veins,—and I thanked God devoutly for the golden opportunities held out afresh for me to accept and use. Gratitude there should be in every human soul for every gift of heaven,—but nothing merits more thankfulness and praise to the Creator than the call to work, and the ability to respond to it.
England at last!—I bade farewell to the good ship that had rescued me and all on board her, most of whom now knew my name and looked upon me with pity as well as curiosity. The story of my being wrecked on a friend's yacht was readily accepted,—and the subject of that adventure was avoided, as the general impression was that my friend, whoever he was, had been drowned with his crew, and that I was the one survivor. I did not offer any further explanation, and was content to so let the matter rest, though I was careful to send both the captain and the ship's doctor a handsome recompense for their united attention and kindness. I have reason to believe, from the letters they wrote me, that they were more than satisfied with the sums received, and that I really did some actual good with those few last fragments of my vanished wealth.
On reaching London, I interviewed the police concerning .the thieves and forgers, Bentham and Ellis, and stopped all proceedings against them.
"Call me mad if you like," I said to the utterly confounded chief of the detective force—" I do not mind! But let these rascals keep the trash they have stolen. It will be a curse to them, as it has been to me. It is devil's money! Half of it was settled on my late wife,—at her death, it reverted by the same deed of settlement, to any living members of her family, and now belongs to Lord Elton. I have lived to make a noble Earl rich, who was once bankrupt, and I doubt if he would lend me a ten-pound-note for the asking! However, I shall not ask him. The rest has gone into the universal waste of corruption and sham—let it stay there! I shall never bother myself to get it back. I prefer to be a free man."
"But the bank,—the principle of the thing!" exclaimed the detective with indignation.
"Exactly! The principle of the thing has been perfectly carried out. A man who has too much money creates forgers and thieves about him,—he cannot expect tomeetwith honesty. Let the bank prosecute if it likes,—I shall not. Iam free !— free to work for my living. What I earn I shall enjoy,—what I inherited I have learnt to loathe!"
With that I left him, puzzled and irate,—and in a day or two the papers were full of strange stories concerning me, and numerous lies as well. I was called 'mad,' 'unprincipled,' 'thwarting the ends of justice,'—and sundry other names, while scurrilous civilities known only to the penny paragraphist were heaped upon me by the score. To complete my entire satisfaction, a man employed on the staff of one of the leading journals, dug out my book from Mudie's underground cellar, and 'slashed' it with a bitterness and venom only excelled by my own violence when anonymously libelling the work of Mavis Clare! And the result was remarkable,—for in a sudden wind of caprice, the public made a rush for my neglected literary offspring,—they took it up, handled it tenderly, read it lingeringly, found something in it that pleased them, and finally bought it by thousands! … whereat the astute Morgeson, as virtuous publisher, wrote to me in wonder and congratulation, enclosing a check for a hundred pounds on 'royalties,' and promising more in due course, should the 'run' continue. Ah, the sweetness of that earned hundred pounds! I felt a king of independence ! —realms of ambition and attainment opened out before me,—life smiled upon me as it had never smiled before. Talk of poverty! I was rich !— rich with a hundred pounds made out of my own brain-labour, —and I envied no millionaire that ever flaunted his gold beneath the sun! I thought of Mavis Clare, … but dared not dwell too long upon her gentle image. In time perhaps, … when I had settled down to fresh work, … when I had formed my life as I meant to form it, in the habits of faith, firmness and unselfishness, I would write to her and tell her all,—all, even to that dread insight into worlds unseen beyond the boundaries of an unknown region of everlasting frozen snow! But now,—now I resolved to stand alone,—fighting my battle as a man should fight, seeking for neither help nor sympathy, and trusting not in Self, but God only. Moreover I could not induce myself yet to look again upon Willowsmere. The place was terror-haunted for me; and though Lord Elton with a curious condescension (seeing that it was to me he owed the free gift of his former property), invited me to stay there, and professed a certain lame regret for the 'heavy financial losses' I had sustained, I saw in the tone of his epistle that he looked upon me somewhat in the light of a madman after my refusal to take up the matter of my absconding solicitors, and that he would rather I stayed away. And I did stay away;—and even when his marriage with Diana Chesney took place with great pomp and splendour, I refused his invitation to be present. In the published list of guests, however, which appeared in the principal papers, I was scarcely surprised to read the name of 'Prince Lucio Rimanez.'
I now took a humble room and set to work on a new literary enterprise, avoiding everyone I had hitherto known, for being now a poor man, I was aware that 'swagger society' wished to blot me from its visiting-list. I lived with my thoughts,—musing on many things, training myself to humility, obedience, and faith with fortitude,—and day by day I did battle with the monster, Egotism, that presented itself in a thousand disguises at every turn in my own life as well as in the lives of others. I had to re-form my character,—to mould the obstinate nature that rebelled, and make its obstinacy serve for the attainment of higher objects than world's renown, —the task was difficult,—but I gained ground a little with every fresh effort.
I had lived for some months like this happily enough, when all the reading world was suddenly electrified by another book of Mavis Clare's. My lately favoured first work was again forgotten and thrust aside,—hers, slated and screamed at as usual by the criticasters, was borne along to fame by a great wave of honest public praise and enthusiasm. And I? I rejoiced—no longer grudging or envious of her sweet fame, I stood apart in spirit as it were, while the bright car of her triumph went by, decked, not only with laurels, but with roses, —the blossoms of a people's love and honour. With all my soul I reverenced her genius,—with all my heart I honoured her pure womanliness. And in the very midst of her brilliant success, when all the world was talking of her, she wrote to me, a simple little letter, as gracious as her own fair name.
Dear Mr Tempest,
I heard by chance the other day that you had returned to England. I therefore send this note to the care of your publisher to express my sincere delight in the success your clever book has now attained after its interval of probation. I fancy the public appreciation of your work must go far to console you for the great losses you have had both in life and fortune of which I will not here speak. When you feel that you can bear to look again upon scenes which I know will be sure to rouse in your mind many sad and poignant memories, will you come and see me?
A mist came before my eyes,—I almost felt her gentle presence in my room,—I saw the tender look, the radiant smile,—the innocent yet earnest joy of life, and love of purity that emanated from the fair personality of the sweetest woman I had ever known. She called herself my friend! … it was a privilege of which I felt myself unworthy. I folded the letter and put it near my heart to serve me as a talisman, … she, of all bright creatures in the world surely knew the secret of happiness! Some-day, … yes, … I would go and see her, … my Mavis that sang in her garden of lilies,— some day when I had force and manliness enough to tell her all,—save my love for her! For that, I felt, must never be spoken,—Self must resist Self, and clamour no more at the gate of a forfeited Paradise. Some day I would see her, … but not for a long time, … not till I had, in part at least, worked out my secret expiation. As I sat musing thus, a strange memory came into my brain, … I thought I heard a voice resembling my own which said—
"Lift, oh lift the shrouding veil, spirit of the City Beautiful! For I feel I shall read in your eyes the secret of happiness!"
A cold shudder ran through me,—I sprang up erect, in a kind of horror. Leaning at my open window I looked down into the busy street below,—and my thoughts reverted to the strange things I had seen in the East,—the face of the dead Egyptian dancer, uncovered to the light again after two thousand years,—the face of Sibyl! … then I remembered the vision of the 'City Beautiful,' in which one face had remained veiled,—the face I most desired to see! and I
trembled more and more as my mind, despite my will, began to weave together links of the past and present, till they seemed growing into one and the same. Was I again to be
the prey of evil forces? did some new danger threaten
me?—had I, by some unconscious wicked wish invited new temptation to assail me? Overcome by my sensations, I left my work and went out into the fresh air, … it was late at night,—and the moon was shining. I felt for the letter of Mavis,—it pressed against my heart, a shield against all vileness. The room I occupied was in a house not far from Westminster Abbey, and I instinctively bent my steps towards that grey old shrine of kings and poets dead. The square around it was almost deserted, 1 slackened my pace, strolling meditatively along the narrow paved way that forms a short cut across into Old Palace Yard, … when suddenly a dark Shadow crossed my path, and looking up, I came face to face with Lucio! The same as ever,—the penect impersonation of perfect manhood! … his countenance, pale,
proud, sorrowful yet scornful, flashed upon me like a star!
he looked full at me, and a questioning smile rested on his lips. My heart almost stopped beating, … I drew a quick sharp breath, … again I felt for the letter of Mavis, and then, … meeting his gaze fixedly and straightly in my turn, I moved slowly on in silence. He understood,—his eyes flashed with the jewel-like strange brilliancy I knew so well, and so well remembered!—and drawing back, he stood aside and—let me pass! I continued my walk steadily, though dazed and like one in a dream,—till reaching the shadowed side of the street opposite the Houses of Parliament, I stopped for a moment to recover my startled senses. There again I
saw him! the superb Man's form,—the Angel's face,—the
haunting, splendid sorrowful eyes! he came with his usual
ease and grace of step into the full moonlight and paused,— apparently waiting for some one. For me?—ah no !—I kept the name of God upon my lips,—I gathered all the strength of faith within my soul,—and though I was wholesomely afraid of Myself, I feared no other foe! I lingered therefore —watching;—and presently I saw a few members of Parliament walking singly and in groups towards the House,—one or two greeted the tall dark Figure as a friend and familiar, and others knew him not. Still he waited on, … and so did I. At last, just as 'Big Ben' chimed the quarter to eleven, one man whom I instantly recognised as a well-known Cabinet minister came walking briskly towards the House, … then, and then only, He whom I had known as Lucio, advanced smiling. Greeting the minister cordially, in that musical rich voice I knew of old, he took his arm,—and they both walked on, talking earnestly. I watched them till their figures receded in the moonlight, … the one tall, kingly and commanding, … the other burly and broad and self-assertive in demeanour;—I saw them ascend the steps, and finally disappear within the House of England's Imperial Government,— Devil and Man,—together!