THE LIFE EVERLASTING
A REALITY OF ROMANCE
BY MARIE CORELLI
AUTHOR OF THELMA, ETC.
AUTHOR'S PROLOGUE I. THE HEROINE BEGINS HER STORY II. THE FAIRY SHIP III. THE ANGEL OF A DREAM IV. A BUNCH OF HEATHER V. AN UNEXPECTED MEETING VI. RECOGNITION VII. MEMORIES VIII. VISIONS IX. DOUBTFUL DESTINY X. STRANGE ASSOCIATIONS XI. ONE WAY OF LOVE XII. A LOVE-LETTER XIII. THE HOUSE OF ASELZION XIV. CROSS AND STAR XV. A FIRST LESSON XVI. SHADOW AND SOUND XVII. THE MAGIC BOOK XVIII. DREAMS WITHIN A DREAM XIX. THE UNKNOWN DEEP XX. INTO THE LIGHT
THE LIFE EVERLASTING
A REALITY OF ROMANCE
In the Gospels of the only Divine Friend this world has ever had or ever will have, we read of a Voice, a 'Voice in the Wilderness.' There have been thousands of such Voices;—most of them ineffectual. All through the world's history their echoes form a part of the universal record, and from the very beginning of time they have sounded forth their warnings or entreaties in vain. The Wilderness has never cared to hear them. The Wilderness does not care to hear them now.
Why, then, do I add an undesired note to the chorus of rejected appeal? How dare I lift up my voice in the Wilderness, when other voices, far stronger and sweeter, are drowned in the laughter of fools and the mockery of the profane? Truly, I do not know. But I am sure that I am not moved by egotism or arrogance. It is simply out of love and pity for suffering human kind that I venture to become another Voice discarded—a voice which, if heard at all, may only serve to awaken the cheap scorn and derision of the clowns of the piece.
Yet, should this be so, I would not have it otherwise, I have never at any time striven to be one with the world, or to suit my speech pliantly to the conventional humour of the moment. I am often attacked, yet am not hurt; I am equally often praised, and am not elated. I have no time to attend to the expression of opinions, which, whether good or bad, are to me indifferent. And whatever pain I have felt or feel, in experiencing human malice, has been, and is, in the fact that human malice should exist at all,—not for its attempted wrong towards myself. For I, personally speaking, have not a moment to waste among the mere shadows of life which are not Life itself. I follow the glory,—not the gloom.
So whether you, who wander in darkness of your own making, care to come towards the little light which leads me onward, or whether you prefer to turn away from me altogether into your self-created darker depths, is not my concern. I cannot force you to bear me company. God Himself cannot do that, for it is His Will and Law that each human soul shall shape its own eternal future. No one mortal can make the happiness or salvation of another. I, like yourselves, am in the 'Wilderness,'—but I know that there are ways of making it blossom like the rose! Yet,—were all my heart and all my love outpoured upon you, I could not teach you the Divine transfiguring charm,—unless you, equally with all your hearts and all your love, resolutely and irrevocably WILLED to learn.
Nevertheless, despite your possible indifference,—your often sheer inertia—I cannot pass you by, having peace and comfort for myself without at least offering to share that peace and comfort with you. Many of you are very sad,—and I would rather you were happy. Your ways of living are trivial and unsatisfactory—your so-called 'pleasant' vices lead you into unforeseen painful perplexities—your ideals of what may be best for your own enjoyment and advancement fall far short of your dreams,—your amusements pall on your over- wearied senses,—your youth hurries away like a puff of thistledown on the wind,—and you spend all your time feverishly in trying to live without understanding Life. Life, the first of all things, the essence of all things,—Life which is yours to hold and to keep, and to RE-CREATE over and over again in your own persons,—this precious jewel you throw away, and when it falls out of your possession by your own act, you think such an end was necessary and inevitable. Poor unhappy mortals! So self-sufficient, so proud, so ignorant! Like some foolish rustic, who, finding a diamond, sees no difference between it and a bit of glass, you, with the whole Universe sweeping around you in mighty beneficent circles of defensive, protective and ever re-creative power,—power which is yours to use and to control- -imagine that the entire Cosmos is the design of mere blind unintelligent Chance, and that the Divine Life which thrills within you serves no purpose save to lead you to Death! Most wonderful and most pitiful it is that such folly, such blasphemy should still prevail,—and that humanity should still ascribe to the Almighty Creator less wisdom and less love than that with which He has endowed His creatures. For the very first lesson in the beginning of knowledge is that Life is the essential Being of God, and that each individual intelligent outcome of Life is deathless as God Himself.
The 'Wilderness' is wide,—and within it we all find ourselves,— some wandering far astray—some crouching listlessly among shadows, too weary to move at all—others, sauntering along in idle indifference, now and then vaguely questioning how soon and where the journey will end,—and few ever discovering that it is not a 'Wilderness' at all, but a garden of sweet sights and sounds, where every day should be a glory and every night a benediction. For when the veil of mere Appearances has been lifted we are no longer deceived into accepting what Seems for what Is. The Reality of Life is Happiness;—the Delusion of Life, which we ourselves create by improper balance and imperfect comprehension of our own powers, must needs cause Sorrow, because in such self-deception we only dimly see the truth, just as a person born blind may vaguely guess at the beauty of bright day. But for the Soul that has found Itself, there are no more misleading lights or shadows between its own everlastingness and the everlastingness of God.
All the world over there are religions of various kinds, more or less suited to the various types and races of humanity. Most of these forms of faith have been evolved from the brooding brain of Man himself, and have nothing 'divine,' in them. In the very early ages nearly all the religious creeds were mere methods for terrorising the ignorant and the weak—and some of them were so revolting, so bloodthirsty and brutal, that one cannot now read of them without a shudder of repulsion. Nevertheless, from the very first dawn of his intelligence, man appears always to have felt the necessity of believing in something stronger and more lasting than himself,—and his first gropings for truth led him to evolve desperate notions of something more cruel, more relentless, and more wicked than himself, rather than ideals of something more beautiful, more just, more faithful and more loving than he could be. The dawn of Christianity brought the first glimmering suggestion that a gospel of love and pity might be more serviceable in the end to the needs of the world, than a ruthless code of slaughter and vengeance- -though history shows us that the annals of Christianity itself are stained with crime and shamed by the shedding of innocent blood. Only in these latter days has the world become faintly conscious of the real Force working behind and through all things—the soul of the Divine, or the Psychic element, animating and inspiring all visible and invisible Nature. This soul of the Divine—this Psychic element, however, is almost entirely absent from the teaching of the Christian creed to-day, with the result that the creed itself is losing its power. I venture to say that a very small majority of the millions of persons worshipping in the various forms of the Christian Church really and truly believe what they publicly profess. Clergy and laity alike are tainted with this worst of all hypocrisies—that of calling God to witness their faith when they know they are faithless. It may be asked how I dare to make such an assertion? I dare, because I know! It would be impossible to the people of this or any other country to honestly believe the Christian creed, and yet continue to live as they do. Their lives give the lie to their avowed religion, and it is this daily spectacle of the daily life of governments, trades, professions and society which causes me to feel that the general aspect of Christendom at the present day, with all its Churches and solemn observances, is one of the most painful and profound hypocrisy. You who read this page,—(possibly with indignation) you call yourself a Christian, no doubt. But ARE you? Do you truly think that when death shall come to you it is really NOT death, but the simple transition into another and better life? Do you believe in the actual immortality of your soul, and do you realise what it means? You do? You are quite sure? Then, do you live as one convinced of it? Are you quite indifferent to the riches and purely material advantages of this world?—are you as happy in poverty as in wealth, and are you independent of social esteem? Are you bent on the very highest and most unselfish ideals of life and conduct? I do not say you are not; I merely ask if you ARE. If your answer is in the affirmative, do not give the lie to your creed by your daily habits, conversation and manners; for this is what thousands of professing Christians do, and the clergy are by no means exempt.
I know very well, of course, that I must not expect your appreciation, or even your attention, in matters purely spiritual. The world is too much with you, and you become obstinate of opinion and rooted in prejudice. Nevertheless, as I said before, this is not my concern. Your moods are not mine, and with your prejudices I have nothing to do. My creed is drawn from Nature—Nature, just, invincible, yet tender—Nature, who shows us that Life, as we know it now, at this very time and in this very world, is a blessing so rich in its as yet unused powers and possibilities, that it may be truly said of the greater majority of human beings that scarce one of them has ever begun to learn HOW to live.
Shakespeare, the greatest human exponent of human nature at its best and worst,—the profound Thinker and Artist who dealt boldly with the facts of good and evil as they truly are,—and did not hesitate to contrast them forcibly, without any of the deceptive 'half-tones' of vice and virtue which are the chief stock-in-trade of such modern authors as we may call 'degenerates,'—makes his Hamlet exclaim:—
"What a piece of work is man!—how noble in reason!—how infinite in faculty!—in form and moving how express and admirable!—in action how like an angel!—in apprehension how like a god!"
Let us consider two of these designations in particular: 'How infinite in faculty!'—and 'In apprehension how like a god!' The sentences are prophetic, like so many of Shakespeare's utterances. They foretell the true condition of the Soul of Man when it shall have discovered its capabilities. 'Infinite in faculty'—that is to say—Able to do all it shall WILL to do. There is no end to this power,—no hindrance in either earth or heaven to its resolute working—no stint to the life-supplies on which it may draw unceasingly. And—'in apprehension how like a god!' Here the word 'apprehension' is used in the sense of attaining knowledge,—to learn, or to 'apprehend' wisdom. It means, of course, that if the Soul's capability of 'apprehending' or learning the true meaning and use of every fact and circumstance which environs its existence, were properly perceived and applied, then the 'Image of God' in which the Creator made humanity, would become the veritable likeness of the Divine.
But, as this powerful and infinite faculty of apprehension is seldom if ever rightly understood, and as Man generally concentrates his whole effort upon ministering to his purely material needs, utterly ignoring and wilfully refusing to realise those larger claims which are purely spiritual, he presents the appearance of a maimed and imperfect object,—a creature who, having strong limbs, declines to use the same, or who, possessing incalculable wealth, crazily considers himself a pauper. Jesus Christ, whom we may look upon as a human Incarnation of Divine Thought, an outcome and expression of the 'Word' or Law of God, came to teach us our true position in the scale of the great Creative and Progressive Purpose,—but in the days of His coming men would not listen,—nor will they listen even now. They say with their mouths, but they do not believe with their hearts, that He rose from the dead,—and they cannot understand that, as a matter of fact, He never died. seeing that death for Him (as for all who have mastered the inward constitution and commingling of the elements) was impossible. His real LIFE was not injured or affected by the agony on the Cross, or by His three days' entombment; the one was a torture to His physical frame, which to the limited perception of those who watched Him 'die,' as they thought, appeared like a dissolution of the whole Man,—the other was the mere rest and silence necessary for what is called the 'miracle' of the Resurrection, but which was simply the natural rising of the same Body, the atoms of which were re-invested and made immortal by the imperishable Spirit which owned and held them in being. The whole life and so-called 'death' of Christ was and is a great symbolic lesson to mankind of the infinite power of THAT within us which we call SOUL,—but which we may perhaps in these scientific days term an eternal radio-activity,—capable of exhaustless energy and of readjustment to varying conditions. Life is all Life. There is no such thing as Death in its composition,— and the intelligent comprehension of its endless ways and methods of change and expression, is the Secret of the Universe.
It appears to be generally accepted that we are not to know this Secret,—that it is too vast and deep for our limited capacities,— and that even if we did know it, it would be of no use to us, as we are bound hard and fast by certain natural and elemental laws over which we have no control. Old truisms are re-stated and violently asserted—namely, that our business is merely to be born, to live, breed and arrange things as well as we can for those who come after us, and then to die, and there an end,—a stupid round of existence not one whit higher than that of the silkworm. Is it for such a monotonous, commonplace way of life and purpose as this, that humanity has been endowed with 'infinite faculty'? Is it for such poor aims and ends as these that we are told in the legended account of the beginning of things, to 'Replenish the earth and subdue it'? There is great meaning in that command—'Subdue it!' The business of each one of us who has come into the knowledge and possession of his or her own Soul, is to 'subdue' the earth,—that is, to hold it and all it contains under subjection,—not to allow Its forces, whether interior or exterior, to subdue the Soul. But it may perhaps be said:—"We do not yet understand all the forces with which we have to contend, and in this way they master us." That may be so,—but if it is so with any of you, it is quite your own fault. Your own fault, I say,—for there is no power, human or divine, that compels you to remain in ignorance. Each one of you has a master—talisman and key to all locked doors. No State education can do for you what you might do for yourselves, if you only had the WILL. It is your own choice entirely if you elect to live in subjection to the earth, instead of placing the earth under subjection to your dominance.
Then, again, you have been told to 'Replenish the earth'—as well as to subdue it. In these latter days, through a cupidity as amazing as criminal, you are not 'replenishing' so much as impoverishing the earth, and think you that no interest will be exacted for your reckless plunder? You mistake! You complain of the high taxes imposed upon you by your merely material and ephemeral Governments,- -but you forget that the Everlasting Government of all Worlds demands an even higher rate of compensation for such wrong or injurious uses as you make of this world, which was and is intended to serve as a place of training for the development and perfection of the whole human race, but which, owing to personal greed and selfishness, is too often turned into a mere grave for the interment of faulty civilisations.
In studying the psychic side of life it should be well and distinctly understood that THERE IS AN EVER LIVING SPIRIT WITHIN EACH ONE OF US;—a Spirit for which there is no limited capacity and no unfavourable surroundings. Its capacity is infinite as God,—and its surroundings are always made by Itself. It is its own Heaven,— and once established within that everlasting centre, it radiates from the Inward to the Outward, thus making its own environment, not only now but for ever. It is its own Life,—and in the active work of perpetually re-generating and re-creating itself, knows nothing of Death.
* * * * * *
I must now claim the indulgence of those among my readers who possess the rare gift of patience, for anything that may seem too personal in the following statement which I feel it almost necessary to make on the subject of my own "psychic" creed. I am so often asked if I believe this or that, if I am "orthodox," if I am a sceptic, materialist or agnostic, that I should like, if possible, to make things clear between myself and these enquirers. Therefore I may say at once that my belief in God and the immortality of the Soul is absolute,—but that I did not attain to the faith I hold without hard training and bitter suffering. This need not be dwelt upon, being past. I began to write when I was too young to know anything of the world's worldly ways, and when I was too enthusiastic and too much carried away by the splendour and beauty of the spiritual ideal to realise the inevitable derision and scorn which are bound to fall upon untried explorers into the mysteries of the unseen; yet it was solely on account of a strange psychical experience which chanced to myself when I stood upon the threshold of what is called 'life' that I found myself producing my first book, "A Romance of Two Worlds." It was a rash experiment, but it was the direct result of an initiation into some few of the truths behind the veil of the Seeming Real. I did not then know why I was selected for such an 'initiation'—and I do not know even now. It arose quite naturally out of a series of ordinary events which might happen to anyone. I was not compelled or persuaded into it, for, being alone in the world and more or less friendless, I had no opportunity to seek advice or assistance from any person as to the course of life or learning I should pursue. And I learned what I did learn because of my own unwavering intention and WILL to be instructed.
I should here perhaps explain the tenor of the instruction which was gradually imparted to me in just such measures of proportion as I was found to be receptive. The first thing I was taught was how to bring every feeling and sense into close union with the spirit of Nature. Nature, I was told, is the reflection of the working-mind of the Creator—and any opposition to that working-mind on the part of any living organism It has created cannot but result in disaster. Pursuing this line of study, a wonderful vista of perpetual revealment was opened to me. I saw how humanity, moved by gross egoism, has in every age of the world ordained laws and morals for itself which are the very reverse of Nature's teaching—I saw how, instead of helping the wheel of progress and wisdom onward, man reverses it by his obstinacy and turns it backward even on the very point of great attainment—and I was able to perceive how the sorrows and despairs of the world are caused by this one simple fact—Man working AGAINST Nature—while Nature, ever divine and invincible, pursues her God-appointed course, sweeping her puny opponents aside and inflexibly carrying out her will to the end. And I learned how true it is that if Man went WITH her instead of AGAINST her, there would be no more misunderstanding of the laws of the Universe, and that where there is now nothing but discord, all would be divinest harmony.
My first book, "A Romance of Two Worlds," was an eager, though crude, attempt to explain and express something of what I myself had studied on some of these subjects, though, as I have already said, my mind was unformed and immature, and, therefore, I was not permitted to disclose more than a glimmering of the light I was beginning to perceive. My own probation—destined to be a severe one—had only just been entered upon; and hard and fast limits were imposed on me for a certain time. I was forbidden, for example, to write of radium, that wonderful 'discovery' of the immediate hour, though it was then, and had been for a long period, perfectly well known to my instructors, who possessed all the means of extracting it from substances as yet undreamed of by latter-day scientists. I was only permitted to hint at it under the guise of the word 'Electricity'—which, after all, was not so much of a misnomer, seeing that electric force displays itself in countless millions of forms. My "Electric Theory of the Universe" in the "Romance of Two Worlds" foreran the utterance of the scientist who in the "Hibbert Journal" for January, 1905, wrote as follows:—"The last years have seen the dawn of a revolution in science as great as that which in the sphere of religion overthrew the many gods and crowned the One. Matter, as we have understood it, there is none, nor probably anywhere the individual atom. The so-called atoms are systems of ELECTRONIC corpuscles, bound together by their mutual forces too firmly for any human contrivance completely to sunder them,—alike in their electric composition, differing only in the rhythms of their motion. ELECTRICITY is all things, and all things are ELECTRIC."
THIS WAS PRECISELY MY TEACHING IN THE FIRST BOOK I EVER WROTE. I was ridiculed for it, of course,—and I was told that there was no 'spiritual' force in electricity. I differ from this view; but 'radio-activity' is perhaps the better, because the truer term to employ in seeking to describe the Germ or Embryo of the Soul, for— as scientists have proved—"Radium is capable of absorbing from surrounding bodies SOME UNKNOWN FORM OF ENERGY which it can render evident as heat and light." This is precisely what the radio- activity in each individual soul of each individual human being is ordained to do,—to absorb an 'unknown form of energy which it can render evident as heat and light.' Heat and Light are the composition of Life;—and the Life which this radio-activity of Soul generates IN itself and OF itself, can never die. Or, as I wrote in "A Romance of Two Worlds "—"Like all flames, this electric (or radiant) spark can either be fanned into a fire, or allowed to escape in air,—IT CAN NEVER BE DESTROYED." And again, from the same book: "All the wonders of Nature are the result of LIGHT AND HEAT ALONE." Paracelsus, as early as about 1526, made guarded mention of the same substance or quality, describing it thus:—"The more of the humour of life it has, the more of the spirit of life abounds in that life." Though truly this vital radio-active force lacks all fitting name. To material science radium, or radium chloride, is a minute salt crystal, so rare and costly to obtain that it may be counted as about three thousand times the price of gold in the market. But of the action of PURE radium, the knowledge of ordinary scientific students is nil. They know that an infinitely small spark of radium salt will emit heat and light continuously without any combustion or change in its own structure. And I would here quote a passage from a lecture delivered by one of our prominent scientists in 1904. "Details concerning the behaviour of several radio-active bodies were detected, as, for example, their activity was not constant; it gradually grew in strength, BUT THE GROWN PORTION OF THE ACTIVITY COULD BE BLOWN AWAY, AND THE BLOWN AWAY PART RETAINED ITS ACTIVITY ONLY FOR A TIME. It decayed in a few days or weeks,— WHEREAS THE RADIUM ROSE IN STRENGTH AGAIN AT THE SAME RATE THAT THE OTHER DECAYED. And so on constantly. It was as if a NEW FORM of matter was constantly being produced, and AS IF THE RADIO-ACTIVITY WAS A CONCOMITANT OF THE CHANGE OF FORM. It was also found that radium kept on producing heat de novo so as to keep itself always a fraction of a degree ABOVE THE SURROUNDING TEMPERATURE; also that it spontaneously PRODUCED ELECTRICITY."
Does this teach no lesson on the resurrection of the dead? Of the 'blown away part' which decays in a few days or weeks?—of the 'Radia' or 'Radiance' of the Soul, rising in strength again AT THE SAME RATE that the other, the Body, or 'grown portion of the activity,' decays? Of the 'new form of matter' and the 'radio- activity as a concomitant of the CHANGE OF FORM'? Does not Science here almost unwittingly verify the words of St. Paul:—"It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. There is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body"? There is nothing impossible or 'miraculous' in such a consummation, even according to modern material science,—it is merely the natural action of PURE radio- activity or that etherical composition for which we have no name, but which we have vaguely called the SOUL for countless ages.
To multitudes of people this expression 'the Soul' has become overfamiliar by constant repetition, and conveys little more than the suggestion of a myth, or the hint of an Imaginary Existence. Now there is nothing in the whole Universe so REAL as the Vital Germ of the actual Form and Being of the living, radiant, active Creature within each one of us,—the creature who, impressed and guided by our Free Will, works out its own delight or doom. The WILL of each man or woman is like the compass of a ship,—where it points, the ship goes. If the needle directs it to the rocks, there is wreck and disaster,—if to the open sea, there is clear sailing. God leaves the WILL of man at perfect liberty. His Divine Love neither constrains nor compels. We must Ourselves learn the ways of Right and Wrong, and having learned, we must choose. We must injure Ourselves. God will not injure us. We invite our own miseries. God does not send them. The evils and sorrows that afflict mankind are of mankind's own making. Even in natural catastrophes, which ruin cities and devastate countries, it is well to remember that Nature, which is the MATERIAL EXPRESSION of the mind of God, will not tolerate too long a burden of human iniquity. Nature destroys what is putrescent; she covers it up with fresh earth on which healthier things may find place to grow.
I tried to convey some hint of these truths in my "Romance of Two Worlds." Some few gave heed,—others wrote to me from all parts of the world concerning what they called my 'views' on the subjects treated of,—some asked to be 'initiated' into my 'experience' of the Unseen,—but many of my correspondents (I say it with regret) were moved by purely selfish considerations for their own private and particular advancement, and showed, by the very tone of their letters, not only an astounding hypocrisy, but also the good opinion they entertained of their own worthiness, their own capabilities, and their own great intellectuality, forgetful of the words:— "Except ye become as little children, ye shall not enter into the Kingdom of Heaven."
Now the spirit of a little child is receptive and trustful. It has no desire for argument, and it is instinctively confident that it will not be led into unnecessary difficulty or danger by its responsible guardians. This is the spirit in which, if we are sincere in our seeking for knowledge, we should and must approach the deeper psychological mysteries of Nature. But as long as we interpose the darkness of personal doubt and prejudice between ourselves and the Light Eternal no progress can be made,—and every attempt to penetrate into the Holy of Holies will be met and thrust back by that 'flaming Sword' which from the beginning, as now, turns every way to guard the Tree of Life.
Knowing this, and seeing that Self was the stumbling-block with most of my correspondents, I was anxious to write another book at once, also in the guise of a romance, to serve as a little lamp of love whereby my readers might haply discover the real character of the obstacle which blocked their way to an intelligent Soul-advancement. But the publisher I had at the time (the late Mr. George Bentley) assured me that if I wrote another 'spiritualistic' book, I should lose the public hearing I had just gained. I do not know why he had formed this opinion, but as he was a kindly personal friend, and took a keen interest in my career, never handing any manuscript of mine over to his 'reader,' but always reading it himself, I felt it incumbent upon me, as a young beginner, to accept the advice which I knew could only be given with the very best intentions towards me. To please him, therefore, and to please the particular public to which he had introduced me, I wrote something entirely different,—a melodramatic tale entitled: "Vendetta: The Story of One Forgotten." The book made a certain stir, and Mr. Bentley next begged me to try 'a love-story, pur et simple' (I quote from his own letter). The result was my novel of "Thelma," which achieved a great popular success and still remains a favourite work with a large majority of readers. I then considered myself free to move once more upon the lines which my study of psychic forces had convinced me were of pre- eminent importance. And moved by a strong conviction that men and women are hindered from attaining their full heritage of life by the obstinate interposition of their merely material Selves, I wrote "Ardath: The Story of a Dead Self." The plan of this book was partially suggested by the following passages from the Second Apocryphal Book of Esdras:—
"Go into a field of flowers where no house is builded. And pray unto the Highest continually, then will I come and talk with thee. So I went my way into the field which is called Ardath, like as he commanded me, and there I sat among the flowers."
In this field the Prophet sees the vision of a woman.
"And it came to pass while I was talking with her, behold her face upon a sudden shined exceedingly and her countenance glistened, so that I was afraid of her and mused what it might be. And I looked, and behold the woman appeared unto me no more, but there was a city builded, and a large place showed itself from the foundations."
On this I raised the fabric of my own "Dream City," and sought to elucidate some of the meaning of that great text in Ecclesiastes which contains in itself all the philosophy of the ages: "That which Hath Been is Now; and that which is To Be hath already Been; and God requireth that which is Past."
The book, however, so my publisher Mr. Bentley told me in a series of letters which I still possess, and which show how keen was his own interest in my work, was 'entirely over the heads of the general public.' His opinion was, no doubt, correct, as "Ardath" still remains the least 'popular' of any book I have ever written. Nevertheless it brought me the unsought and very generous praise of the late Poet Laureate, Alfred Lord Tennyson, as well as the equally unsought good opinion and personal friendship of the famous statesman, William Ewart Gladstone, while many of the better-class literary journals vied with one another in according me an almost enthusiastic eulogy. Such authorities as the "Athenaeum" and "Spectator" praised the whole conception and style of the work, the latter journal going as far as to say that I had beaten Beckford's famous "Vathek" on its own ground.
Whatever may now be the consensus of opinion on its merits or demerits, I know and feel it to be one of my most worthy attempts, even though it is not favoured by the million. It does not appeal to anything 'of the moment' merely, because there are very few people who can or will understand that if the Soul or 'Radia' of a human being is so forgetful of its highest origin as to cling to its human Self only (events the hero of "Ardath" clung to the Shadow of his Former Self and to the illusory pictures of that Former Self's pleasures and vices and vanities) then the way to the eternal Happier Progress is barred. There is yet another intention in this book which seems to be missed by the casual reader, namely,—That each human soul is a germ of SEPARATE and INDIVIDUAL spiritual existence. Even as no two leaves are exactly alike on any tree, and no two blades of grass are precisely similar, so no two souls resemble each other, but are wholly different, endowed with different gifts and different capacities. Individuality is strongly insisted upon in material Nature. And why? Because material Nature is merely the reflex or mirror of the more strongly insistent individuality of psychic form. Again, psychic form is generated from a divinely eternal psychic substance,—a 'radia' or emanation of God's own Being which, as it progresses onward through endless aeons of constantly renewed vitality, grows more and more powerful, changing its shape often, but never its everlasting composition and quality. Therefore, all the experiences of the 'Soul' or psychic form, from its first entrance into active consciousness, whether in this world or in other worlds, are attracted to itself by its own inherent volition, and work together to make it what it is now and what it will be hereafter.
That is what "Ardath: The Story of a Dead Self" seeks to explain, and I have nothing to take back from what I have written in its pages. In its experimental teaching it is the natural and intended sequence of "A Romance of Two Worlds," and was meant to assist the studies of the many who had written to me asking for help. And despite the fact that some of these persons, owing to an inherent incapacity for concentrated thought upon any subject, found it too 'difficult' as they said, for casual reading, its reception was sufficiently encouraging to decide me on continuing to press upon public attention the theories therein set forth. "The Soul of Lilith" was, therefore, my next venture,—a third link in the chain I sought to weave between the perishable materialism of our ordinary conceptions of life, and the undying spiritual quality of life as it truly is. In this I portrayed the complete failure that must inevitably result from man's prejudice and intellectual pride when studying the marvellous mysteries of what I would call the Further World,—that is to say, the 'Soul' of the world which is hidden deeply behind its external Appearance,—and how impossible it is and ever must be that any 'Soul' should visibly manifest itself where there is undue attachment to the body. The publication of the book was a very interesting experience. It was and is still less 'popular' than "Ardath"—but it has been gladly welcomed by a distinctly cultured minority of persons famous in art, science and literature, whose good opinion is well worth having. With this reward I was perfectly content, but my publisher was not so easily pleased. He wanted something that would 'sell' better. To relieve his impatience, therefore, I wrote a more or less 'sensational' novel dealing with the absinthe drinkers of Paris, entitled "Wormwood," which did a certain amount of good in its way, by helping to call public attention to the devastation wrought by the use of the pernicious drug among the French and other Continental peoples—and after this, receiving a strong and almost imperative impetus towards that particular goal whither my mind was set, I went to work again with renewed vigour on my own favourite and long studied line of argument, indifferent alike to publisher or public. Filled with the fervour of a passionate and proved faith, I wrote "Barabbas: A Dream of the World's Tragedy,"—and this was the signal of separation from my excellent old friend, George Bentley, who had not the courage to publish a poetic romance which introduced, albeit with a tenderness and reverence unspeakable, so far as my own intention was concerned, the Crucifixion and Resurrection of Christ. He wrote to me expressing his opinion in these terms:—"I can conscientiously praise the power and feeling you exhibit for your vast subject, and the rush and beauty of the language, and above all I feel that the book is the genuine outcome of a fervent faith all too rare in these days, but—I fear its effect on the public mind." Yet, when urged to a given point in the discussion, he could not deny that 'the effect on the public mind' of the Passion Play at Ober-Ammergau is generally impressive and helpful, while he was bound to admit that there was something to be said for the introduction of Divine personages in the epic romances of Milton and Dante. What could be written in poetic verse did not, however, seem to him suitable for poetic prose, and I did not waste words in argument, as I knew the time had come for the parting of the ways. I sought my present publisher, Mr. Methuen, who, being aware, from a business point of view, that I had now won a certain reputation, took "Barabbas" without parley. It met with an almost unprecedented success, not only in this country but all over the world. Within a few months it was translated into every known European language, inclusive even of modern Greek, and nowhere perhaps has it awakened a wider interest than in India, where it is published in Hindustani, Gujarati, and various other Eastern dialects. Its notable triumph was achieved despite a hailstorm of abuse rattled down upon me by the press,—a hailstorm which I, personally, found welcome and refreshing, inasmuch as it cleared the air and cleaned the road for my better wayfaring. It released me once and for all from the trammels of such obligation as is incurred by praise, and set me firmly on my feet in that complete independence which to me (and to all who seek what I have found) is a paramount necessity. For, as Thomas a Kempis writes: "Whosoever neither desires to please men nor fears to displease them shall enjoy much peace." I took my freedom gratefully, and ever since that time of unjust and ill-considered attack from persons who were too malignantly minded to even read the work they vainly endeavoured to destroy, have been happily indifferent to all so-called 'criticism' and immune from all attempts to interrupt my progress or turn me back upon my chosen way. From henceforth I recognised that no one could hinder or oppose me but myself—and that I had the making, tinder God, of my own destiny. I followed up "Barabbas" as quickly as possible by "The Sorrows of Satan," thus carrying out the preconceived intention I had always had of depicting, first, the martyrdom which is always the world's guerdon to Absolute Good,—and secondly, the awful, unimaginable torture which must, by Divine Law, for ever be the lot of Absolute Evil.
The two books carried their message far and wide with astonishing success and swiftness, and I then drew some of my threads of former argument together in "The Master Christian," wherein I depicted Christ as a Child, visiting our world again as it is to-day and sorrowfully observing the wickedness which men practise in His Name. This book was seized upon by thousands of readers in all countries of the world with an amazing avidity which proved how deep was the longing for some clear exposition of faith that might console as well as command,—and after its publication I decided to let it take its own uninterrupted course for a time and to change my own line of work to lighter themes, lest I should be set down as 'spiritualist' or 'theosophist,' both of which terms have been brought into contempt by tricksters. So I played with my pen, and did my best to entertain the public with stories of everyday life and love, such as the least instructed could understand, and that I now allude to the psychological side of my work is merely to explain that these six books, namely: "A Romance of Two Worlds," "Ardath: The Story of a Dead Self," "The Soul of Lilith," "Barabbas," "The Sorrows of Satan" and "The Master Christian" ARE THE RESULT OF A DELIBERATELY CONCEIVED PLAN AND INTENTION, and are all linked together by the ONE THEORY. They have not been written solely as pieces of fiction for which I, the author, am paid by the publisher, or you, the reader, are content to be temporarily entertained,—they are the outcome of what I myself have learned, practised and proved in the daily experiences, both small and great, of daily life.
You may probably say and you probably WILL say—"What does that matter to us? We do not care a jot for your 'experiences'—they are transcendental and absurd—they bore us to extinction." Nevertheless, quite callous as you are or may be, there must come a time when pain and sorrow have you in their grip—when what you call 'death' stands face to face with you, and when you will find that all you have thought, desired or planned for your own pleasure, and all that you possess of material good or advantage, vanishes like smoke, leaving nothing behind,—when the world will seem no more than a small receding point from which you must fall into the Unknown—and when that "dread of something after death, The undiscovered country from whose bourn No traveller returns, PUZZLES THE WILL." You have at present living among you a great professing scientist, Dr. Oliver Lodge, who, wandering among mazy infinities, conceives it even possible to communicate with departed spirits,— while I, who have no such weight of worldly authority and learning behind me, tell you that such a thing is out of all natural law and therefore CAN NEVER BE. Nature can and will unveil to us many mysteries that seem SUPER-natural, when they are only manifestations of the deepest centre of the purest natural—but nothing can alter Divine Law, or change the system which has governed the Universe from the beginning. And by this Divine Law and system we have to learn that the so-called 'dead' are NOT dead—they have merely been removed to fresh life and new spheres of action, under which circumstances they cannot possibly hold communication with us in any way unless they again assume the human form and human existence. In this case (which very frequently happens) it takes not only time for us to know them, but it also demands a certain instinctive receptiveness on our parts, or willingness to recognise them. Even the risen Saviour was not at first recognised by His own disciples. It is because I have been practically convinced of this truth, and because I have learned that life is not and never can be death, but only constant change and reinvestment of Spirit into Form, that I have presumed so far as to allude to my own faith and experience,—a 'personal' touch for which I readily apologise, knowing that it cannot be interesting to the majority who would never take the trouble to shape their lives as I seek to shape mine. Still, if there are one or two out of a million who feel as I do, that life and love are of little worth if they must end in dark nothingness, these may perhaps have the patience to come with me through the pages of a narrative which is neither 'incidental' nor 'sensational' nor anything which should pertain to the modern 'romance' or 'novel,' and which has been written because the writing of it enforced itself upon me with an insistence that would take no denial.
Perhaps there will be at least one among those who turn over this book, who will be sufficiently interested in the psychic—that is to say the immortal and, therefore, the only REAL side of life—to give a little undivided attention to the subject. To that one I address myself and say: Will you, to begin with, drop your burden of preconceived opinions and prejudices, whatever they are? Will you set aside the small cares and trifles that affect your own material personality? Will you detach yourself from your own private and particular surroundings for a space and agree to THINK with me? Thinking is, I know, the hardest of all hard tasks to the modern mind. But if you would learn, you must undertake this trouble. If you would find the path which is made fair and brilliant by the radiance of the soul's imperishable summer, you must not grudge time. If I try, no matter how inadequately, to show you something of the mystic power that makes for happiness, do not shut your eyes in scorn or languor to the smallest flash of light through your darkness which may help you to a mastery of the secret.
I say again—Will you THINK with me? Will you, for instance, think of Life? What is it? Of Death? What is it? What is the primary object of Living? What is the problem solved by Dying? All these questions should have answer,—for nothing is without a meaning,— and nothing ever HAS BEEN, or ever WILL BE, without a purpose?
In this world, apparently, and according to our surface knowledge of all physical and mental phenomena, it would seem that the chief business of humanity is to continually re-create itself. Man exists- -in his own opinion—merely to perpetuate Man. All the wonders of the earth, air, fire and water,—all the sustenance drawn from the teeming bosom of Nature,—all the progress of countless civilisations in ever recurring and repeated processional order,— all the sciences old and new,—are solely to nourish, support, instruct, entertain and furnish food and employment for the tiny two-legged imp of Chance, spawned (as he himself asserts) out of gas and atoms.
Yet,—as he personally declares, through the mouth of his modern science,—he is not of real importance withal. The little planet on which he dwells would, to all seeming, move on in its orbit in the same way as it does now, without him. In itself it is a pigmy world compared with the rest of the solar system of which it is a part. Nevertheless, the fact cannot be denied that his material surroundings are of a quality tending to either impress or to deceive Man with a sense of his own value. The world is his oyster which he, with the sword of enterprise, will open,—and all his natural instincts urge him to perpetuate himself in some form or other incessantly and without stint. Why? Why is his existence judged to be necessary? Why should he not cease to be? Trees would grow, flowers would bloom, birds would sing, fish would glide through the rivers and the seas,—the insect and animal tribes of field and forest would enjoy their existence unmolested, and the great sun would shine on ever the same, rising at dawn, sinking at even, with unbroken exactitude and regularity if Man no longer lived. Why have the monstrous forces of Evolution thundered their way through cycles of creation to produce so infinitesimal a prodigy?
Till this question is answered, so long must life seem at its best but vague and unsatisfactory. So long over all things must brood the shadow of death made more gloomy by hopeless contemplation. So long must Creation appear something of a cruel farce, for which peoples and civilisations come into being merely to be destroyed and leave no trace. All the work futile,—all the education useless,—all the hope vain. Only when men and women learn that their lives are not infinitesimal but infinite—that each of them possesses within himself or herself an eternal, active, conscious individual Force,— a Being—a Form—which in its radio-active energy draws to itself and accommodates to its use, everything that is necessary for the accomplishment of its endeavours, whether such endeavours be to continue its life on this planet or to remove to other spheres; only then will it be clearly understood that all Nature is the subject and servant of this Radiant Energy—that Itself is the god-like 'image' or emanation of God, and that as such it has its eternal part to perform in the eternal movement towards the Eternal Highest.
I now leave the following pages to the reader's attentive or indifferent consideration. To me, as I have already stated, outside opinion is of no moment. Personally speaking, I should perhaps have preferred, had it been possible, to set forth the incidents narrated in the ensuing 'romance' in the form of separate essays on the nature of the mystic tuition and experience through which some of us in this workaday world have the courage to pass successfully, but I know that the masses of the people who drift restlessly to and fro upon the surface of this planet, ever seeking for comfort in various forms of religion and too often finding none, will not listen to any spiritual truth unless it is conveyed to them, as though they were children, in the form of a 'story.' I am not the heroine of the tale—though I have narrated it (more or less as told to me) in the first person singular, because it seemed to me simpler and more direct. She to whom the perfect comprehension of happiness has come with an equally perfect possession of love, is one out of a few who are seeking what she has found. Many among the world's greatest mystics and philosophers have tried for the prizes she has won,—for the world possesses Plato, the Bible and Christ, but in its apparent present ways of living has learned little or nothing from the three, so that other would-be teachers may well despair of carrying persuasion where such mighty predecessors have seemingly failed. The serious and REAL things of life are nowadays made subjects for derision rather than reverence;—then, again, there is unhappily an alarmingly increasing majority of weak-minded and degenerate persons, born of drunken, diseased or vicious parents, who are mentally unfit for the loftier forms of study, and in whom the mere act of thought-concentration would be dangerous and likely to upset their mental balance altogether; while by far the larger half of the social community seek to avoid the consideration of anything that is not exactly suited to their tastes. Some of our most respected social institutions are nothing but so many self-opinionated and unconscious oppositions to the Law of Nature which is the Law of God,—and thus it often happens that when obstinate humanity persists in considering its own ideas of Right and Wrong superior to the Eternal Decrees which have been visibly presented through Nature since the earliest dawn of creation, a faulty civilisation sets in and is presently swept back upon its advancing wheels, and forced to begin again with primal letters of learning. In the same way a faulty Soul, an imperfect individual Spirit, is likewise compelled to return to school and resume the study of the lessons it has failed to put into practice. Nevertheless, people cannot bear to have it plainly said or written down, as it has been said and written down over and over again any time since the world began, that all the corrupt government, wars, slaveries, plagues, diseases and despairs that afflict humanity are humanity's own sins taking vengeance upon the sinners, 'even unto the third and fourth generation.' And this not out of Divine cruelty, but because of Divine Law which from the first ordained that Evil shall slay Itself, leaving room only for Good. Men and women alike will scarce endure to read any book which urges this unalterable fact upon their attention. They pronounce the author 'arrogant' or 'presuming to lay down the law';—and they profess to be scandalised by an encounter with honesty. Nevertheless, the faithful writer of things as they Are will not be disturbed by the aspect of things as they Seem.
Spirit,—the creative Essence of all that is,—works in various forms, but always on an ascending plane, and it invariably rejects and destroys whatever interrupts that onward and upward progress. Being in Itself the Radiant outflow of the Mind of God, it is the LIFE of the Universe. And it is very needful to understand and to remember that there is nothing which can properly be called SUPER- natural, or above Nature, inasmuch as this Eternal Spirit of Energy is in and throughout all Nature. Therefore, what to the common mind appears miraculous or impossible, is nevertheless actually ordinary, and only seems EXTRA-ordinary to the common mind's lack of knowledge and experience. The Fountain of Youth and the Elixir of Life were dreams of the ancient mystics and scientists, but they are not dreams to-day. To the Soul that has found them they are Divine Realities.
"There is no Death, What seems so is transition."
THE HEROINE BEGINS HER STORY
It is difficult at all times to write or speak of circumstances which though perfectly at one with Nature appear to be removed from natural occurrences. Apart from the incredulity with which the narration of such incidents is received, the mere idea that any one human creature should be fortunate enough to secure some particular advantage which others, through their own indolence or indifference, have missed, is sufficient to excite the envy of the weak or the anger of the ignorant. In all criticism it is an understood thing that the subject to be criticised must be UNDER the critic, never above,—that is to say, never above the critic's ability to comprehend; therefore, as it is impossible that an outsider should enter at once into a clear understanding of the mystic Spiritual- Nature world around him, it follows that the teachings and tenets of that Spiritual-Nature world must be more or less a closed book to such an one,—a book, moreover, which he seldom cares or dares to try and open.
In this way and for this reason the Eastern philosophers and sages concealed much of their most profound knowledge from the multitude, because they rightly recognised the limitations of narrow minds and prejudiced opinions. What the fool cannot learn he laughs at, thinking that by his laughter he shows superiority instead of latent idiocy. And so it has happened that many of the greatest discoveries of science, though fully known and realised in the past by the initiated few, were never disclosed to the many until recent years, when 'wireless telegraphy' and 'light-rays' are accepted facts, though these very things were familiar to the Egyptian priests and to that particular sect known as the 'Hermetic Brethren,' many of whom used the 'violet ray' for chemical and other purposes ages before the coming of Christ. Wireless telegraphy was also an ordinary method of communication between them, and they had their 'stations' for it in high towers on certain points of land as we have now. But if they had made their scientific attainments known to the multitude of their day they would have been judged as impostors or madmen. In the time of Galileo men would not believe that the earth moved round the sun,—and if anyone had then declared that messages could be sent from one ship to another in mid-ocean without any visible means of communication, he would probably have been put to torture and death as a sorcerer and deliberate misleader of the public. In the same way those who write of spiritual truths and the psychic control of our life-forces are as foolishly criticised as Galileo, and as wrongfully condemned.
For hundreds of years man's vain presumption and belief in his own infallibility caused him to remain in error concerning the simplest elements of astronomy, which would have taught him the true position of the sphere upon which he dwells. With precisely equal obstinacy man lives to-day in ignorance of his own highest powers because he will not take the trouble to study the elements of that supreme and all-commanding mental science which would enable him to understand his own essential life and being, and the intention of his Creator with regard to his progress and betterment. Therefore, in the face of his persistent egotism and effrontery, and his continuous denial of the 'superhuman' (which denial is absurdly incongruous seeing that all his religions are built up on a 'superhuman' basis), it is generally necessary for students of psychic mysteries to guard the treasures of their wisdom from profane and vulgar scorn,—a scorn which amounts in their eyes to blasphemy. For centuries it has been their custom to conceal the tenets of their creed from the common knowledge for the sake of conventions; because they would, or might, be shut out from such consolations as human social intercourse can give if their spiritual attainments were found to be, as they often are, beyond the ordinary. Thus they move through the world with the utmost caution, and instead of making a display of their powers they, if they are true to their faith, studiously deny the idea that they have any extraordinary or separate knowledge. They live as spectators of the progress or decay of nations, and they have no desire to make disciples, converts or confidants. They submit to the obligations of life, obey all civil codes, and are blameless and generous citizens, only preserving silence in regard to their own private beliefs, and giving the public the benefit of their acquirements up to a certain point, but shutting out curiosity where they do not wish its impertinent eyes.
To this, the creed just spoken of, I, the writer of this present narrative, belong. It has nothing whatever to do with merely human dogma,—and yet I would have it distinctly understood that I am not opposed to 'forms' of religion save where they overwhelm religion itself and allow the Spirit to be utterly lost in the Letter. For 'the letter killeth,—the spirit giveth life.' So far as a 'form' may make a way for truth to become manifest, I am with it,—but when it is a mere Sham or Show, and when human souls are lost rather than saved by it, I am opposed to it. And with all my deficiencies I am conscious that I may risk the chance of a lower world's disdain, seeing that the 'higher world without end' is open to me in its imperishable brightness and beauty, to live in both NOW, and for ever. No one can cast me out of that glorious and indestructible Universe, for 'whithersoever I go there will be the sun and the moon, and the stars and visions and communion with the gods.'
And so I will fulfil the task allotted to me, and will enter at once upon my 'story'—in which form I shall endeavour to convey to my readers certain facts which are as far from fiction as the sayings of the prophets of old,—sayings that we know have been realised by the science of to-day. Every great truth has at first been no more than a dream,—that is to say, a thought, or an instinctive perception of the Soul reaching after its own immortal heritage. And what the Soul demands it receives.
* * * * * *
At a time of year when the indolent languors of an exceptionally warm summer disinclined most people for continuous hard work, and when those who could afford it had left their ordinary avocations for the joys of a long holiday, I received a pressing invitation from certain persons whom I had met by chance during one London season, to join them in a yachting cruise. My intending host was an exceedingly rich man, a widower with one daughter, a delicate and ailing creature who, had she been poor, would have been irreverently styled 'a tiresome old maid,' but who by reason of being a millionaire's sole heiress was alluded to with sycophantic tenderness by all and sundry as 'Poor Miss Catherine.' Morton Harland, her father, was in a certain sense notorious for having written and published a bitter, cold and pitiless attack on religion, which was the favourite reading of many scholars and literary men, and this notable performance, together with the well accredited reports of his almost fabulous wealth, secured for him two social sets,—the one composed of such human sharks as are accustomed to swim round the plutocrat,—the other of the cynical, listless, semi-bored portion of a so-called cultured class who, having grown utterly tired of themselves, presumed that it was clever to be equally tired of God. I was surprised that such a man as he was should think of including me among his guests, for I had scarcely exchanged a dozen words with him, and my acquaintance with Miss Harland was restricted to a few casual condolences with her respecting the state of her health. Yet it so chanced that one of those vague impulses to which we can give no name, but which often play an important part in the building up of our life-dramas, moved both father and daughter to a wish for my company. Moreover, the wish was so strong that though on first receiving their invitation I had refused it, they repeated it urgently, Morton Harland himself pressing it upon me with an almost imperative insistence.
"You want rest,"—he said, peering at me narrowly with his small hard brown eyes—"You work all the time. And to what purpose?"
"To as much purpose as anyone else, I suppose,"—I answered—"But to put it plainly, I work because I love work."
The lines of his mouth grew harder.
"So did I love work when I was your age,"—he said—"I thought I could carve out a destiny. So I could. I have done it. But now it's done I'm tired! I'm sick of my destiny,—the thing I carved out so cleverly,—it has the stone face of a Sphinx and its eyes are blank and without meaning."
I was silent. My silence seemed to irritate him, and he gave me a sharp, enquiring glance.
"Do you hear me?" he demanded—"If you do, I don't believe you understand!"
"I hear—and I quite understand,"—I replied, quietly, "Your destiny, as you have made it, is that of a rich man. And you do not care about it. I think that's quite natural."
He laughed harshly.
"There you are again!" he exclaimed—"Up in the air and riding a theory like a witch on a broomstick! It's NOT natural. That's just where you're wrong! It's quite UN-natural. If a man has plenty of money he ought to be perfectly happy and satisfied,—he can get everything he wants,—he can move the whole world of commerce and speculation, and can shake the tree of Fortune so that the apples shall always fall at his own feet. But if the apples are tasteless there's something wrong."
"Not with the apples," I said.
"Oh, I know what you mean! You would say the fault is with me, not with Fortune's fruit. You may be right. Catherine says you are. Poor mopish Catherine!—always ailing, always querulous! Come and cheer her!"
"But"—I ventured to say—"I hardly know her."
"That's true. But she has taken a curious fancy to you. She has very few fancies nowadays,—none that wealth can gratify. Her life has been a complete disillusion. If you would do her and me a kindness, come!"
I was a little troubled by his pertinacity. I had never liked Morton Harland. His reputation, both as a man of wealth and a man of letters, was to me unenviable. He did no particular good with his money,—and such literary talent as he possessed he squandered in attacking nobler ideals than he had ever been able to attain. He was not agreeable to look at either; his pale, close-shaven face was deeply marked by lines of avarice and cunning,—his tall, lean figure had an aggressive air in its very attitude, and his unkind mouth never failed, whether in speaking or smiling, to express a sneer. Apparently he guessed the vague tenor of my thoughts, for he went on:—
"Don't be afraid of me! I'm not an ogre, and I shan't eat you! You think me a disagreeable man—well, so I am. I've had enough in my life to make me disagreeable. And"—here he paused, passing his hand across his eyes with a worried and impatient gesture—"I've had an unexpected blow just lately. The doctors tell me that I have a mortal disease for which there is no remedy. I may live on for several years, or I may die suddenly; it's all a matter of care—or chance. I want to forget the sad news for a while if I can. I've told Catherine, and I suppose I've added to her usual burden of vapours and melancholy—so we're a couple of miserable wretches. It's not very unselfish of us to ask you to come and join us under such circumstances—"
As he spoke my mind suddenly made itself up. I would go. Why not? A cruise on a magnificent steam yacht, replete with every comfort and luxury, was surely a fairly pleasant way of taking a holiday, even with two invalids for company.
"I'm sorry," I said, as gently as I could—"very sorry that you are ill. Perhaps the doctors may be mistaken. They are not always infallible. Many of their doomed patients have recovered in spite of their verdict. And—as you and Miss Harland wish it so much—I will certainly come."
His frowning face lightened, and for a moment looked almost kind.
"That's right!" he said—"The fresh air and the sea will do you good. As for ourselves, sickly people though we are, we shall not obtrude our ailments upon your attention. At least I shall not. Catherine may—she has got into an unfortunate habit of talking about her aches and pains, and if her acquaintances have no aches and pains to discuss with her she is at a loss for conversation. However, we shall do our best to make the time go easily with you. There will be no other company on board—except my private secretary and my attendant physician,—both decent fellows who know their place and keep it."
The hard look settled again in his eyes, and his ugly mouth closed firmly in its usual cruel line. My subconscious dislike of him gave me a sharp thrust of regret that, after all, I had accepted his invitation.
"I was going to Scotland for a change,"—I murmured, hesitatingly.
"Were you? Then our plans coincide. We join the yacht at Rothesay— you can meet us there. I propose a cruise among the Western isles— the Hebrides—and possibly on to Norway and its fjords. What do you say?"
My heart thrilled with a sudden sense of expectant joy. In my fancy I already saw the heather-crowned summits of the Highland hills, bathed in soft climbing mists of amethyst and rose,—the lovely purple light that dances on the mountain lochs at the sinking of the sun,—the exquisite beauty of wild moor and rocky foreland,—and almost I was disposed to think this antipathetic millionaire an angel of blessing in disguise.
"It will be delightful!" I said, with real fervour—"I shall love it! I'm glad you are going to keep to northern seas."
"Northern seas are the only seas possible for summer," he replied— "With the winter one goes south, as a matter of course, though I'm not sure that it is always advisable. I have found the Mediterranean tiresome very often." He broke off and seemed to lose himself for a moment in a tangle of vexed thought. Then he resumed quickly:— "Well, next week, then. Rothesay bay, and the yacht 'Diana.'"
Things being thus settled, we shook hands and parted. In the interval between his visit and my departure from home I had plenty to do, and I heard no more of the Harlands, except that I received a little note from Miss Catherine expressing her pleasure that I had agreed to accompany them on their cruise.
"You will be very dull, I fear,"—she wrote, kindly—"But not so dull as we should be without you."
This was a gracious phrase which meant as much or as little as most such phrases of a conventionally amiable character. Dulness, however, is a condition of brain and body of which I am seldom conscious, so that the suggestion of its possibility did not disturb my outlook. Having resolved to go, I equally resolved to enjoy the trip to the utmost limit of my capacity for enjoyment, which— fortunately for myself—is very great. Before my departure from home I had to listen, of course, to the usual croaking chorus of acquaintances in the neighbourhood who were not going yachting and who, according to their own assertion, never would on any account go yachting. There is a tendency in many persons to decry every pleasure which they have no chance of sharing, and this was not lacking among my provincial gossips.
"The weather has been so fine lately that we're sure to have a break soon,"—said one—"I expect you'll meet gales at sea."
"I hear," said another, "that heavy rains are threatening the west coast of Scotland."
"Such a bore, yachting!" declared a worthy woman who had never been on a yacht in her life—"The people on board get sick of each other's company in a week!"
"Well, you ought to pity me very much, then!"—I said, laughing— "According to your ideas, a yachting cruise appears to be the last possible form of physical suffering that can be inflicted on any human being. But I shall hope to come safely out of it all the same!"
My visitors gave me a wry smile. It was quite easy to see that they envied what they considered my good fortune in getting a holiday under the most luxurious circumstances without its costing me a penny. This was the only view they took of it. It is the only view people generally take of any situation,—namely, the financial side.
The night before I left home was to me a memorable one. Nothing of any outward or apparent interest happened, and I was quite alone, yet I was conscious of a singular elation of both mind and body as though I were surrounded by a vibrating atmosphere of light and joy. It was an impression that came upon me suddenly, seeming to have little or nothing to do with my own identity, yet withal it was still so personal that I felt eager to praise for such a rich inflow of happiness. The impression was purely psychic I knew,—but it was worth a thousand gifts of material good. Nothing seemed sad,— nothing seemed difficult in the whole Universe—every shadow of trouble seemed swept away from a shining sky of peace. I threw open the lattice window of my study and stepping out on the balcony which overhung the garden, I stood there dreamily looking out upon the night. There was no moon; only a million quivering points of light flashing from the crowded stars in a heaven of dusky blue. The air was warm, and fragrant with the sweet scent of stocks and heliotrope,—there was a great silence, for it was fully midnight, and not even the drowsy twitter of a bird broke the intense quiet. The world was asleep—or seemed so—although for fifty living organisms in Nature that sleep there are a thousand that wake, to whom night is the working day. I listened,—and fancied I could hear the delicate murmuring of voices hidden among the leaves and behind the trees, and the thrill of soft music flowing towards me on the sound-waves of the air. It was one of those supreme moments when I almost thought I had made some marked progress towards the attainment of my highest aims,—when the time I had spent and the patience I had exercised in cultivating and training what may be called the INWARD powers of sight and hearing were about to be rewarded by a full opening to my striving spirit of the gates which had till now been only set ajar. I knew,—for I had studied and proved the truth,—that every bodily sense we possess is simply an imperfect outcome of its original and existent faculty in the Soul,- -that our bodily ears are only the material expressions of that spiritual hearing which is fine and keen enough to catch the lightest angel whisper,—that our eyes are but the outward semblance of those brilliant inner orbs of vision which are made to look upon the supernal glories of Heaven itself without fear or flinching,— and that our very sense of touch is but a rough and uncertain handling of perishable things as compared with that sure and delicate contact of the Soul's personal being with the etheric substances pertaining to itself. Despite my eager expectation, however, nothing more was granted to me then but just that exquisite sensation of pure joy, which like a rain of light bathed every fibre of my being. It was enough, I told myself—surely enough!—and yet it seemed to me there should be something more. It was a promise with the fulfilment close at hand, yet undeclared,—like a snow- white cloud with the sun behind it. But I was given no solution of the rapturous mystery surrounding me,—and—granting my soul an absolute freedom, it could plunge no deeper than through the immensity of stars to immensities still more profound, there to dream and hope and wait. For years I had done this,—for years I had worked and prayed, watching the pageant of poor human pride and vanity drift past me like shadows on the shore of a dead sea,— succeeding little by little in threading my way through the closest labyrinths of life, and finding out the beautiful reasons of living;—and every now and then,—as to-night,—I had felt myself on the verge of a discovery which in its divine simplicity should make all problems clear and all difficulties easy, when I had been gently but firmly held back by a force invisible, and warned, 'Thus far, and no farther!' To oppose this force or make any personal effort to rebel against it, is no part of my faith,—therefore at such moments I had always yielded instantly and obediently as I yielded now. I was not allowed to fathom the occult source of my happiness, but the happiness remained,—and when I retired to rest it was with more than ordinary gratitude that I said my usual brief prayer:—For the day that is past, I thank Thee, O God my Father! For the night that has come, I thank Thee! As one with Thee and with Nature I gratefully take the rest Thou hast lovingly ordained. Whether I sleep or wake my body and soul are Thine. Do with them as Thou wilt, for Thy command is my joy. Amen.
I slept as soundly and peacefully as a child, and the next day started on my journey in the brightest of bright summer weather. A friend travelled with me—one of those amiable women to whom life is always pleasant because of the pleasantness in their own natures; she had taken a house for the season in Inverness-shire, and I had arranged to join her there when my trip with the Harlands was over, or rather, I should say, when they had grown weary of me and I of them. The latter chance was, thought my friend, whom I will call Francesca, most likely.
"There's no greater boredom,"—she declared—"than the society of an imaginative invalid. Such company will not be restful to you,—it will tire you out. Morton Harland himself may be really ill, as he says—I shouldn't wonder if he is, for he looks it!—but his daughter has nothing whatever the matter with her,—except nerves."
"Nerves are bad enough,"—I said.
"Nerves can be conquered,"—she answered, with a bright smile of wholesome conviction—"Nerves are generally—well!—just selfishness!"
There was some truth in this, but we did not argue the point further. We were too much engrossed with the interests of our journey north, and with the entertainment provided for us by our fellow-travellers. The train for Edinburgh and Glasgow was crowded with men of that particular social class who find grouse-shooting an intelligent way of using their brain and muscle, and gun-cases cumbered the ground in every corner. It wanted yet several days to the famous Twelfth of August, but the weather was so exceptionally fine and brilliant that the exodus from town had begun earlier than was actually necessary for the purposes of slaughter. Francesca and I studied the faces and figures of our companions with lively and unabated interest. We had a reserved compartment to ourselves, and from its secluded privacy we watched the restless pacing up and down in the adjacent corridor of sundry male creatures who seemed to have nothing whatever to think about but the day's newspaper, and nothing to do but smoke.
"I am sure," said Francesca, suddenly—"that in the beginning of creation we were all beasts and birds of prey, eating each other up and tearing each other to pieces. The love of prey is in us still."
"Not in you, surely?" I queried, with a smile.
"Oh, I am not talking or thinking of myself. I'm just—a woman. So are you—a woman—and something more, perhaps—something not like the rest of us." Here her kind eyes regarded me a trifle wistfully." I can't quite make you out sometimes,—I wish I could! But—apart from you and me—look at a few of these men! One has just passed our window who has the exact physiognomy of a hawk,—cruel eyes and sharp nose like a voracious beak. Another I noticed a minute ago with a perfectly pig-like face,—he does not look rightly placed on two legs, his natural attitude is on four legs, grunting with his snout in the gutter!"
"You are a severe critic, Francesca!"
"Not I. I'm not criticising at all. But I can't help seeing resemblances. And sometimes they are quite appalling. Now you, for instance,"—here she laid a hand tentatively on mine—"you, in your mysterious ideas of religion, actually believe that persons who lead evil lives and encourage evil thoughts, descend the scale from which they have risen and go back to the lowest forms of life—"
"I do believe that certainly"—I answered—"But—"
"'But me no buts,'"—she interrupted—"I tell you there are people in this world whom I see IN THE VERY ACT OF DESCENDING! And it makes me grow cold!"
I could well understand her feeling. I had experienced it often. Nothing has ever filled me with a more hopeless sense of inadequacy and utter uselessness than to watch, as I am often compelled to watch, the deplorable results of the determined choice made by certain human beings to go backward and downward rather than forward and upward,—a choice in which no outside advice can be of any avail because they will not take it even if it is offered. It is a life- and-death matter for their own wills to determine,—and no power, human or divine, can alter the course they elect to adopt. As well expect that God would revert His law of gravitation to save the silly suicide who leaps to destruction from tower or steeple, as that He would change the eternal working of His higher Spiritual Law to rescue the resolved Soul which, knowing the difference between good and evil, deliberately prefers evil. If an angel of light, a veritable 'Son of the Morning' rebels, he must fall from Heaven. There is no alternative; until of his own free-will he chooses to rise again.
My friend and I had often talked together on these knotty points which tangled up what should be the straightness of many a life's career, and as we mutually knew each other's opinions we did not discuss them at the moment.
Time passed quickly,—the train rushed farther and farther north, and by six o'clock on that warm, sunshiny afternoon we were in the grimy city of Glasgow, from whence we went on to a still grimier quarter, Greenock, where we put up for the night. The 'best' hotel was a sorry affair, but we were too tired to mind either a bad dinner or uncomfortable rooms, and went to bed glad of any place wherein to sleep. Next morning we woke up very early, refreshed and joyous, in time to see the sun rise in a warm mist of gold over a huge man-o'-war outside Greenock harbour,—a sight which, in its way, was very fine and rather suggestive of a Turner picture.
"Dear old Sol!" said Francesca, shading her eyes as she looked at the dazzle of glory—"His mission is to sustain life,—and the object of that war-vessel bathed in all his golden rays is to destroy it. What unscrupulous villains men are! Why cannot nations resolve on peace and amity, and if differences arise agree to settle them by arbitration? It's such a pagan and brutal thing to kill thousands of innocent men just because Governments quarrel."
"I entirely agree with you,"—I said—"All the same I don't approve of Governments that preach peace while they drain the people's pockets for the purpose of increasing armaments, after the German fashion. Let us be ready with adequate defences,—but it's surely very foolish to cripple our nation at home by way of preparation for wars which may never happen."
"And yet they MAY happen!" said Francesca, her eyes still dreamily watching the sunlit heavens—"Everything in the Universe is engaged in some sort of a fight, so it seems to me. The tiniest insects are for ever combating each other. In the very channels of our own blood the poisonous and non-poisonous germs are constantly striving for the mastery, and how can we escape the general ordainment? Life itself is a continual battle between good and evil, and if it were not so we should have no object in living. The whole business is evidently intended to be a dose conflict to the end."
"There is no end!" I said.
She looked at me almost compassionately.
"So you imagine!"
"So I KNOW!"
A vague expression flitted over her face,—an expression with which I had become familiar. She was a most lovable and intelligent creature, but she could not think very far,—the effort wearied and perplexed her.
"Well, then, it must be an everlasting skirmish, I suppose!" she said, laughingly,—"I wonder if our souls will ever get tired!"
"Do you think God ever gets tired?" I asked.
She looked startled,—then amused.
"He ought to!" she declared, with vivacity—"I don't mean to be irreverent, but really, what with all the living things in all the millions of worlds trying to get what they ought not to have, and wailing and howling when they are disappointed of their wishes, He ought to be very, very tired!"
"But He is not,"—I said;—"If He were, there would indeed be an end of all! Should the Creator be weary of His work, the work would be undone. I wish we thought of this more often!"
She put her arm round me kindly.
"You are a strange creature!" she said—"You think a great deal too much of all these abstruse subjects. After all, I'm glad you are going on this cruise with the Harland people. They will bring you down from the spheres with a run! They will, I'm sure! You'll hear no conversation that does not turn on baths, medicines, massage, and general cure-alls! And when you come on to stay with me in Inverness-shire you'll be quite commonplace and sensible!"
I smiled. The dear Francesca always associated 'the commonplace and sensible' together, as though they were fitted to companion each other. The complete reverse is, of course, the case, for the 'commonplace' is generally nothing more than the daily routine of body which is instinctively followed by beasts and birds as equally as by man, and has no more to do with real 'sense' or pure mentality than the ticking of a watch has to do with the enormous forces of the sun. What we call actual 'Sense' is the perception of the Soul,- -a perception which cannot be limited to things which are merely material, inasmuch as it passes beyond outward needs and appearances and reaches to the causes which create those outward needs and appearances. I was, however, satisfied to leave my friend in possession of the field of argument, the more readily as our parting from each other was so near at hand.
We journeyed together by the steamer 'Columba' to Rothesay, where, on entering the beautiful bay, crowded at this season with pleasure craft, the first object which attracted our attention was the very vessel for which I was bound, the 'Diana,' one of the most magnificent yachts ever built to gratify the whim of a millionaire. Tourists on board our steamer at once took up positions where they could obtain the best view of her, and many were the comments we heard concerning her size and the beauty of her lines as she rode at anchor on the sunlit water.
"You'll be in a floating palace,"—said Francesca, as we approached Rothesay pier, and she bade me an affectionate adieu—"Now take care of yourself, and don't fly away to the moon on what you call an etheric vibration! Remember, if you get tired of the Harlands to come to me at once."
I promised, and we parted. On landing at Rothesay I was almost immediately approached by a sailor from the 'Diana,' who, spying my name on my luggage, quickly possessed himself of it and told me the motor launch was in waiting to take me over to the yacht. I was on my way across the sparkling bay before the 'Columba' started out again from the pier, and Francesca, standing on the steamer's deck, waved to me a smiling farewell as I went. In about ten minutes I was on board the 'Diana,' shaking hands with Morton Harland and his daughter Catherine, who, wrapped up in shawls on a deck chair, looked as though she were guarding herself from the chills of a rigorous winter rather than basking in the warm sunshine of a summer morning.
"You look very well!"—she said, in tones of plaintive amiability— "And so wonderfully bright!"
"It's such a bright day,"—I answered, feeling as if I ought somehow to apologise for a healthy appearance, "One can't help being happy!"
She sighed and smiled faintly, and her maid appearing at that moment to take my travelling bag and wraps, I was shown the cabin, or rather the state-room which was to be mine during the cruise. It was a luxurious double apartment, bedroom and sitting-room together, divided only by the hanging folds of a rich crimson silk curtain, and exquisitely fitted with white enamelled furniture ornamented with hand-wrought silver. The bed had no resemblance whatever to a ship's berth, but was an elaborate full-sized affair, canopied in white silk embroidered with roses; the carpet was of a thick softness into which my feet sank as though it were moss, and a tall silver and crystal vase, full of gorgeous roses, was placed at the foot of a standing mirror framed in silver, so that the blossoms were reflected double. The sitting-room was provided with easy chairs, a writing-table, and a small piano, and here, too, masses of roses showed their fair faces from every corner. It was all so charming that I could not help uttering an exclamation of delight, and the maid who was unpacking my things smiled sympathetically.
"It's perfectly lovely!" I said, turning to her with eagerness— "It's quite a little fairyland! But isn't this Miss Harland's cabin?"
"Oh dear no, miss,"—she replied—"Miss Harland wouldn't have all these things about her on any account. There are no carpets or curtains in Miss Harland's rooms. She thinks them very unhealthy. She has only a bit of matting on the floor, and an iron bedstead— all very plain. And as for roses!—she wouldn't have a rose near her for ever so!—she can't bear the smell of them."