I Approached and examined the box he held. It was perforated with finely drilled holes for the admission of air, and within it lay a brilliant winged insect coloured with all the tints and half-tints of the rainbow.
"Is it alive?" I asked.
"It is alive, and has a sufficient share of intelligence,"— replied Rimanez. "I feed it, and it knows me,—that is the utmost you can say of the most civilized human beings; they know what feeds them. It is quite tame and friendly as you perceive,"—and opening the case he gently advanced his forefinger. The glittering beetle's body palpitated with the hues of an opal, its radiant wings expanded, and it rose at once to its protector's hand and clung there. He lifted it out and held it aloft, then shaking it to and fro lightly, he exclaimed—
"Off, Sprite! Fly, and return tome!"
The creature soared away through the room, and round and round the ceiling, looking like a beautiful iridescent jewel, the whirr of its wings making a faint buzzing sound as it flew. I watched it fascinated, till after a few graceful movements hither and thither, it returned to its owner's still outstretched hand, and again settled there, making no further attempt to fly.
"There is a well-worn platitude which declares that 'in the midst of life we are in death,' "—said the prince then softly, bending his dark deep eyes on the insect's quivering wings— "But as a matter of fact that maxim is wrong as so many trite human maxims are. It should be 'in the midst of death we are in life.' This creature is a rare and curious production of death, but not I believe the only one of its kind. Others have been found under precisely similar circumstances. I took possession of this one myself in rather a weird fashion, —will the story bore you?"
"On the contrary,"—I rejoined eagerly, my eyes fixed on the radiant bat-shaped thing that glittered in the light as though its veins were phosphorescent.
He paused a moment, watching me.
"Well,—it happened simply thus,—I was present at the uncasing of an Egyptian female mummy;—her talismans described her as a princess of a famous royal house. Several curious jewels were tied round her neck, and on her chest was a piece of beaten gold quarter of an inch thick. Underneath this gold plate, her body was swathed round and round in an unusual number of scented wrappings; and when these were removed it was discovered that the mummified flesh between her breasts had decayed away, and in the hollow or nest thus formed by the process of decomposition, this insect I hold, was found alive, as brilliant in colour as it is now."
I could not repress a slight nervous shudder.
"Horrible!" I said—"I confess, if I were you, I should not care to make a pet of such an uncanny object. I should kill it, I think."
He kept his bright intent gaze upon me.
"Why?" he asked. "I'm afraid, my dear Geoffrey, you are not disposed to study science. To kill the poor thing who managed to find life in the very bosom of death, is a cruel suggestion, is it not? To me, this unclassified insect is a valuable proof (if I needed one) of the indestructibility of the germs of conscious existence; it has eyes, and the senses of taste, smell, touch and hearing,—and it gained these, together with its intelligence, out of the dead flesh of a woman who lived, and no doubt loved and sinned and suffered, more than four thousand years ago!" He broke off,—then suddenly added—"All the same I frankly admit to you that I believe it to be an evil creature. I do indeed! But I like it none the less for that. In fact I have rather a fantastic notion about it myself. I am much inclined to accept the idea of the transmigration of souls, and so I please my humour sometimes by thinking that perhaps the princess of that Royal Egyptian house had a wicked, brilliant, vampire soul,—and that … here it is !''
A cold thrill ran through me from head to foot at these wordy, and as I looked at the speaker standing opposite me in the wintry light, dark and tall, with the 'wicked, brilliant, vampire soul' clinging to his hand, there seemed to me to be a sudden hideousness declared in his excessive personal beauty. I was conscious of a vague terror; but I attributed it to the gruesome nature of the story, and, determining to combat my sensations, I examined the weird insect more closely. As I did so, its bright beady eyes sparkled, I thought, vindictively, and I stepped back, vexed with myself at the foolish fear of the thing which overpowered me.
"It is certainly remarkable,"—I murmured—" No wonder you value it,—as a curiosity. Its eyes are quite distinct, almost intelligent in fact"
"No doubt she had beautiful eyes,"—said Rimanez smiling.
"She? Whom do you mean ?''
"The princess, of course !" he answered, evidently amused; "The dear dead lady,—some of whose personality must be in this creature, seeing that it had nothing but her body to nourish itself upon."
And here he replaced the creature in its crystal habitation with the utmost care.
"I suppose"—I said slowly, "you, in your pursuit of science, would infer from this, that nothing actually perishes completely?"
"Exactly !" returned Rimanez emphatically. "There, my dear Tempest, is the mischief,—or the deity,—of things. Nothing can be entirely annihilated ;—not even a thought."
I was silent, watching him while he put the glass case with its uncanny occupant away out of sight.
"And now for luncheon," he said gaily, passing his arm through mine—" You look twenty per cent, better than when you went out this morning, Geoffrey, so I conclude your legal matters are disposed of satisfactorily. And what else have you done with yourself?"
Seated at table with the dark-faced Amiel in attendance, I related my morning's adventures, dwelling at length on my chance meeting with the publisher who had on the previous day refused my manuscript, and who now, I felt sure, would be only too glad to close with the offer I had made him. Rimanez listened attentively, smiling now and then.
"Of course!" he said, when I had concluded. "There is nothing in the least surprising in the conduct of the worthy man. In fact I think he showed remarkable discretion and decency in not at once jumping at your proposition,—his pleasant hypocrisy in retiring to think it over shows him to be a person of tact and foresight. Did you ever imagine that a human being or a human conscience existed that could not be bought? My good fellow, you can buy a king if you only give a long price enough; and the Pope will sell you a specially reserved seat in his heaven if you will only hand him the cash down while he is on earth! Nothing is given free in this world save the air and the sunshine,—everything else must be bought,—with blood, tears and groans occasionally,—but oftenest with money.''
I fancied that Amiel, behind his master's chair, smiled darkly at this,—and my instinctive dislike of the fellow kept me more or less reticent concerning my affairs till the luncheon was over. I could not formulate to myself any substantial reason for my aversion to this confidential servant of the prince's,—but do what I would, the aversion remained, and increased each time I saw his sullen, and as I thought, sneering features. Yet he was perfectly respectful and deferential; I could find no actual fault with him,—nevertheless when at last he placed the coffee, cognac, and cigars on the table and noiselessly withdrew, I was conscious of a great relief, and breathed more freely. As soon as we were alone, Rimanez lit a cigar and settled himself for a smoke, looking over at me with a personal interest and kindness which made his handsome face more than ever attractive.
"Now let us talk"—he said—" I believe I am at present the best friend you have, and I certainly know the world better than you do. What do you propose to make of your life? Or in other words how do you mean to begin spending your money ?''
I laughed. "Well I shan't provide funds for the building of a church, or the endowment of a hospital"—I said—"I shall not even start a Free Library, for these institutions, besides becoming centres for infectious diseases, generally get presided over by a committee of local grocers who presume to consider themselves judges of literature. My dear Prince Rimanez, I mean to spend my money on my own pleasure, and I daresay I shall find plenty of ways to do it."
Rimanez fanned away the smoke of his cigar with one hand, and his dark eyes shone with a peculiarly vivid light through the pale grey floating haze.
"With your fortune, you could make hundreds of miserable people happy,"—he suggested.
"Thanks, I would rather be happy myself first,"—I answered gaily—" I daresay I seem to you selfish,—you are philanthropic I know; I am not.''
He still regarded me steadily.
"You might help your fellow-workers in literature… ."
I interrupted him with a decided gesture.
"That I will never do, my friend, though the heavens should crack! My fellow-workers in literature have kicked me down at every opportunity, and done their best to keep me from earning a bare livelihood,—it is my turn at kicking now, and I will show them as little mercy, as little help, as little sympathy as they have shown me !''
"Revenge is sweet!" he quoted sententiously—" I should recommend your starting a high-class half-crown magazine."
"Can you ask? Just think of the ferocious satisfaction it would give you to receive the manuscripts of your literary enemies, and reject them! To throw their letters into the waste-paper basket, and send back their poems, stories, political articles and what not, with 'Returned with thanks' or 'Not up to our mark' type-written on the backs thereof! To dig knives into your rivals through the medium of anonymous criticism! The howling joy of a savage with twenty scalps at his belt would be tame in comparison to it! I was an editor once myself, and I know !''
I laughed at his whimsical earnestness.
"I daresay you are right"—I said—" I can grasp the vengeful position thoroughly! But the management of a magazine would be too much trouble to me,—too much of a tie."
"Don't manage it! Follow the example of all the big editors, and live out of the business altogether,—but take the profits! You never see the real editor of a leading daily newspaper you know,—you can only interview the sub. The real man is, according to the seasons of the year, at Ascot, in Scotland, at Newmarket, or wintering in Egypt,—he is supposed to be responsible for everything in his journal, but he is generally the last person who knows anything about it. He relies on his 'staff—a very bad crutch at times,—and when his 'staff are in a difficulty, they get out of it by saying they are unable to decide without the editor. Meanwhile the editor is miles away, comfortably free from worry. You could bamboozle the public in that way if you liked."
"I could, but I shouldn't care to do so," I answered—" If I had a business, I would not neglect it. I believe in doing things thoroughly."
"So do I!" responded Rimanez promptly. "Iama very thorough-going fellow myself, and whatever my hand findeth to do, I do it with my might!—excuse me for quoting Scripture!" He smiled, a little ironically I thought, then resumed—" Well, in what, at present does your idea of enjoying your heritage consist?"
"In publishing my book," I answered. "That very book I could get no one to accept,—I tell you, I will make it the talk of London!"
"Possibly you will"—he said, looking at me through halfclosed eyes and a cloud of smoke,—"London easily talks. Particularly on unsavoury and questionable subjects. Therefore,—as I have already hinted,—if your book were a judicious mixture of Zola, Huysmans and Baudelaire, or had for its heroine a 'modest' maid who considered honourable marriage a 'degradation,' it would be quite sure of success in these days of new Sodom and Gomorrah." Here he suddenly sprang up, and flinging away his cigar, confronted me. "Why do not the heavens rain fire on this accursed city! It is ripe for punishment,—full of abhorrent creatures not worth the torturing in hell to which it is said liars and hypocrites are condemned! Tempest, if there is one human being more than another that I utterly abhor, it is the type of man so common to the present time, the man who huddles his own loathly vices under a cloak of assumed broad-mindedness and virtue. Such an one will even deify the loss of chastity in woman by the name of 'purity,'—because he knows that it is by her moral and physical ruin alone that he can gratify his brutal lusts. Rather than be such a sanctimonious coward, I would openly proclaim myself vile."
"That is because yours is a noble nature"—I said—"You are an exception to the rule."
"An exception? I?"—and he laughed bitterly—"Yes, you are right; I am an exception among men perhaps,—but T am one with the beasts,—in honesty! The lion does not assume the manners of the dove,—he loudly announces his own ferocity. The very cobra, stealthy though its movements be, evinces its meaning by a warning hiss or rattle. The hungry wolf's bay is heard far down the wind, intimidating the hurrying traveller among the wastes of snow. But man gives no clue to his intent—more malignant than the lion, more treacherous than the snake, more greedy than the wolf, he takes his fellow-man's hand in pretended friendship, and an hour later defames his character behind his back,—with a smiling face he hides a false and selfish heart, —flinging his pigmy mockery at the riddle of the Universe, he stands gibing at God, feebly a-straddle on his own earthgrave—Heavens!"—here he stopped short with a passionate gesture—"What should the Eternities do with such a thankless, blind worm as he!"
His voice rang out with singular emphasis,—his eyes glowed with a fiery ardour; startled by his impressive manner I let my cigar die out and stared at him in mute amazement. What an inspired countenance !—what an imposing figure !— how sovereignly supreme and almost god-like in his looks he seemed at the moment;—and yet there was something terrifying in his attitude of protest and defiance. He caught my wondering glance,—the glow of passion faded from his face, -—he laughed and shrugged his shoulders.
"I think I was born to be an actor"—he said carelessly— "Now and then the love of declamation masters me. Then I speak—as Prime Ministers and men in Parliament speak— to suit the humour of the hour, and without meaning a single word I say!"
"I cannot accept that statement,"—I answered him, smiling a little—"You do mean what you say,—though I fancy you are rather a creature of impulse."
"Do you really!" he exclaimed—"How wise of you!— good Geoffrey Tempest, how very wise of you! But you are wrong. There never was a being created who was less impulsive, or more charged with set purpose than I. Believe me or not as you like,—belief is a sentiment that cannot be forced. If I told you that I am a dangerous companion, —that I like evil things better than good,—that I am not a safe guide for any man, what would you think?"
"I should think you were whimsically fond of underestimating your own qualities"—I said, re-lighting my cigar, and feeling somewhat amused by his earnestness—"And I should like you just as well as I do now,—perhaps better,—though that would be difficult."
At these words, he seated himself, bending his steadfast dark eyes full upon me.
"Tempest, you follow the fashion of the prettiest women about town,—they always like the greatest scoundrels!"
"But you are not a scoundrel"—I rejoined, smoking peacefully.
"No,—I'm not a scoundrel, but there's a good deal of the devil in me."
"All the better!" I said, stretching myself out in my chair with lazy comfort—" I hope there's something of him in me too."
"Do you believe in him?" asked Rimanez smiling. "The devil? of course not."
"He is a very fascinating legendary personage''—continued the prince, lighting another cigar and beginning to puff at it slowly—" and he is the subject of many a fine story. Picture his fall from heaven !—'Lucifer, Son of the Morning'—what a title, and what a birthright! To be born of the morning implies to be a creature formed of translucent light undefiled, with all the warm rose of a million orbs of day colouring his bright essence, and all the lustre of fiery planets flaming in his eyes. Splendid and supreme, at the right hand of Deity itself he stood, this majestic Arch-angel, and before his unwearied vision rolled the grandest creative splendours of God's thoughts and dreams. All at once he perceived in the vista of embryonic things a new small world, and on it a being forming itself slowly as it were into the Angelic likeness,—a being weak yet strong, sublime yet foolish,—a strange paradox, destined to work its way through all the phases of life, till imbibing the very breath and soul of the Creator it should touch Conscious Immortality,—Eternal Joy. Then Lucifer, full of wrath, turned on the Master of the Spheres, and flung forth his reckless defiance, crying aloud—' Wilt thou make of this slight poor creature an Angel even as I? I do protest against thee and condemn! Lo, if thou makest Man in Our image I will destroy him utterly, as unfit to share with me the splendours of Thy Wisdom,—the glory of Thy love!' And the Voice Supreme, in accents terrible and beautiful replied— 'Lucifer, Son of the Morning, full well dost thou know that never can an idle or wasted word be spoken before Me. For Free-will is the gift of the Immortals; therefore what thou sayest, thou must needs do! Fall, proud Spirit from thy high estate !—thou and thy companions with thee !—and return no more till Man himself redeem thee! Each human soul that yields unto thy tempting shall be a new barrier set between thee and heaven; each one that of its own choice doth repel and overcome thee, shall lift thee nearer thy lost home! When the world rejects thee, I will pardon and again receive thee,— but not till then.'"
"I never heard exactly that version of the legend before," —I said,—"The idea that Man should redeem the devil is quite new to me."
"Is it?" and he looked at me fixedly—"Well—it is one form of the story, and by no means the most unpoetical. Poor Lucifer! His punishment is of course eternal, and the distance between himself and Heaven must be rapidly increasing every day,—for Man will never assist him to retrieve his error. Man will reject God fast enough and gladly enough —but never the devil. Judge then, how, under the peculiar circumstances of his doom, this ' Lucifer, Son of the Morning,' Satan, or whatever else he is called, must hate Humanity!"
I smiled. "Well he has one remedy left to him"—Iobserved—"He need not tempt anybody."
"You forget!—he is bound to keep his word, according to the legend,"—said Rimanez—" He swore before God that he would destroy Man utterly,—he must therefore fulfil that oath, if he can. Angels, it would seem, may not swear before the Eternal without endeavouring at least to fulfil their vows,— men swear in the name of God every day without the slightest intention of carrying out their promises."
"But it's all the veriest nonsense"—I said somewhat impatiently—"All these old legends are rubbish. You tell the story well, and almost as if you believed in it,—that is because you have the gift of speaking with eloquence. Now-a-days no one believes in either devils or angels;—I, for example, do not even believe in the soul."
"I know you do not"—he answered suavely—"And your scepticism is very comfortable because it relieves you of all personal responsibility. I envy you! For—I regret to say, I am compelled to believe in the soul.''
"Compelled!" I echoed—"That is absurd—no one can compel you to accept a mere theory."
He looked at me with a flitting smile that darkened rather than lightened his face.
"True! very true! There is no compelling force in the whole Universe,—Man is the supreme and independent creature,—master of all he surveys and owning no other dominion save his personal desire. True—I forgot! Let us avoid theology, please, and psychology also,—let us talk about the only subject that has any sense or interest in it— namely, Money. I perceive your present plans are definite, —you wish to publish a book that shall create a stir and make you famous. It seems a modest enough campaign! Have you no wider ambitions? There are several ways, you know, of getting talked about. Shall I enumerate them for your consideration?"
I laughed. "If you like!"
"Well, in the first place I should suggest your getting yourself properly paragraphed. It must be known to the press that you are an exceedingly rich man. There is an Agency for the circulation of paragraphs,—I daresay they'll do it sufficiently well for about ten or twenty guineas."
I opened my eyes a little at this.
"Oh, is that the way these things are done?"
"My dear fellow how else should they be done?" he demanded somewhat impatiently—"Do you think anything in the world is done without money? Are the poor, hardworking journalists your brothers or your bosom friends that they should lift you into public notice without getting something for their trouble? If you do not manage them properly in this way, they'll abuse you quite heartily and free of cost,— that I can promise you! I know a 'literary agent,' a very worthy man too, who for a hundred guineas down, will so ply the paragraph wheel that in a few weeks it shall seem to the outside public that Geoffrey Tempest, the millionaire, is the only person worth talking about, and the one desirable creature whom to shake hands with is next in honour to meeting Royalty itself."
"Secure him!" I said indolently—" And pay him two hundred guineas! So shall all the world hear of me!"
"When you have been paragraphed thoroughly," went on Rimanez—" the next move will be a dash into what is called 'swagger' society. This must be done cautiously and by degrees. You must be presented at the first Levee of the season, and later on, I will get you an invitation to some great lady's house, where you will meet the Prince of Wales privately at dinner. If you can oblige or please His Royal Highness in any way, so much the better for you,—he is at least the most popular among royal personages,—so it should not be difficult to you to make yourself agreeable. Following upon this event, you must purchase a fine country seat, and have that fact' paragraphed'—then you can rest and look round,—Society will have taken you up, and you will find yourself in the swim.''
I laughed heartily,—well entertained by his fluent discourse.
"I should not," he resumed—"propose your putting yourself to the trouble of getting into Parliament. That is no longer necessary to the career of a gentleman. But I should strongly recommend your winning the Derby.''
"I daresay you would!" I answered mirthfully—" It's an admirable suggestion,—but not very easy to follow!"
"If you wish to win the Derby," he rejoined quietly—" you shall win it. I'll guarantee both horse and jockey."
Something in his decisive tone impressed me, and I leaned forward to study his features more closely.
"Are you a worker of miracles!" I asked him jestingly— "Do you mean it?"
'' Try me!" he responded—"Shall I enter a horse for you ?''
"If it is not too late, and you like to do so"—I said—" I leave it in your hands. But I must tell you frankly I don't take much interest in racing matters."
"You will have to amend your taste then"—he replied— "That is if you want to make yourself agreeable to the English aristocracy, for they are interested in little else. No really great lady is without her betting book, though she may be deficient in her knowledge of spelling. You may make the biggest literary furore of the season, and that will count as nothing among 'swagger' people, but if you win the Derby you will be a really famous man. Personally speaking I have a great deal to do with racing,—in fact I am devoted to it. I am always present at every great race,—I never miss one; I always bet, and I never lose! And now let me proceed with your social plan of action. After winning the Derby you will enter for a yacht race at Cowes, and allow the Prince of Wales to beat you just narrowly. Then you will give a grand dinner, arranged by a perfect chef,—and you will entertain His Royal Highness to the strains of ' Britannia rules the waves,' which will serve as a pretty compliment. You will allude to the same well-worn song in a graceful speech,—and the probable result of all this will be one, or perhaps two Royal invitations. So far, so good. With the heats of summer you will go to Homburg to drink the waters there whether you require them or not,—and in the autumn you will assemble a shooting-party at the country seat beforementioned, which you will have purchased, and invite Royalty to join you in killing the poor little partridges. Then your name in society may be considered as made, and you can marry whatever fair lady happens to be in the market!"
"Thanks!—much obliged!" and I gave way to hearty laughter—" Upon my word Lucio, your programme is perfect! It lacks nothing !''
"It is the orthodox round of social success," said Lucio with admirable gravity—"Intellect and originality have nothing whatever to do with it,—only money is needed to perform it all."
"You forget my book"—I interposed—"I know there is some intellect in that, and some originality too. Surely that will give me an extra lift up the heights of fashionable light and leading."
"I doubt it!"—he answered—" I very much doubt it. It will be received with a certain amount of favour of course, as the production of a rich man amusing himself with literature by way of whim. But, as I told you before, genius seldom develops itself under the influence of wealth. Then again 'swagger' folks can never get it out of their fuddled heads that Literature belongs to Grub Street. Great poets, great philosophers, great romancists are always vaguely alluded to by 'swagger' society as 'those sort of people.' Those sort of people are so 'interesting' say the blueblooded noodles deprecatingly, excusing themselves as it were for knowing any members of the class literary. You can fancy a 'swagger' lady of Elizabeth's time asking a friend—' O do you mind, my dear, if I bring one Master William Shakespeare to see you? He writes plays, and does something or other at the Globe theatre,—in fact I'm afraid he acts a little—he's not very well off poor man,— but those sort of people are always so amusing!' Now you, my dear Tempest, are not a Shakespeare, but your millions will give you a better chance than he ever had in his lifetime, as you will not have to sue for patronage, or practise a reverence for 'my lord' or 'my lady,'—these exalted personages will be only too delighted to borrow money of you if you will lend it.''
"I shall not lend,"—I said.
His keen eyes flashed approval.
"Iam very glad" he observed—" that you are determined not to 'go about doing good' as the canting humbugs say, with your money. You are wise. Spend on yourself,—because your very act of spending cannot but benefit others through various channels. Now I pursue a different course. I always help charities, and put my name on subscription-lists,—and I never fail to assist the clergy."
"I rather wonder at that"—I remarked—"Especially as you tell me you are not a Christian."
"Yes,—it does seem strange,—doesn't it?"—he said with an extraordinary accent of what might be termed apologetic derision—"But perhaps you don't look at it in the proper light. The clergy are doing their utmost best to destroy religion,—by cant, by hypocrisy, by sensuality, by shams of every description,—and when they seek my help in this noble work, I give it,—freely!"
I laughed. "You must have your joke evidently"—I said, throwing the end of my finished cigar into the fire—''And I see you are fond of satirizing your own good actions. Hullo, what's this?"
For at that moment Amiel entered, bearing a telegram for me on a silver salver. I opened it,—it was from my friend the publisher, and ran as follows—
"Accept book with pleasure. Send manuscript immediately."
I showed this to Rimanez with a kind of triumph. He smiled.
"Of course! what else did you expect? Only the man should have worded his telegram differently, for I do not suppose he would accept the book with pleasure if he had to lay out his own cash upon it. 'Accept money for publishing book with pleasure' should have been the true message of the wire. Well, what are you going to do?"
"I shall see about this at once"—I answered, feeling a thrill of satisfaction that at last the time of vengeance on certain of my enemies was approaching—"The book must be hurried through the press as quickly as possible,— and I shall take a particular pleasure in personally attending to all the details concerning it. For the rest of my plans ''
"Leave them to me!" said Rimanez laying his finely shaped white hand with a masterful pressure on my shoulder; "Leave them to me!—and be sure that before very long I shall have set you aloft like the bear who has successfully reached the bun on the top of a greased pole,—a spectacle for the envy of men, and the wonder of angels!''